I began this book by loving the title, then the cover. As I started reading, I became more and more excited, culminating in this comment after I had read the first chapter: “Wonderful first chapter! Tight. Satisfying.” I started making a list that I maintained throughout my reading, of British things, including: the hob; “he was a comforting constant like Radio 4;” Big Ben; the bin; arsehole; Henry Vacuum; King Edward potato and jammy dodger, to name a very, very few. I listened to a recording of Al Bowlly singing “The Very Thought of You.” I looked up the meaning of “salmagundi,” (precursor to a chef salad or; on a pirate ship, a stew made of whatever the cook had on hand; or a hodge podge of disparate things.) In short, I was learning new things, and googling, and responding to what I read: I was in biblio-paradise.
The book tells the story of Laura, and how she came to be the owner of lost things, charged with the responsibility of returning those things to their rightful owners. In addition to Laura’s story, the reader meets some of the people who owned the objects in Laura’s care. The writing is sometimes playful, as in the following passage: “Eulalia shuffled through to her kitchen, sliding in her slippers and gripping her sticks like a geriatric cross-country skier.” Another passage: “The magpie appeared at her feet as soon as the door was opened. He looked as though he was having a bad feather day; a near miss with next door’s cat perhaps.” The magpie, by the way, is called Rossini, a reference to Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie,” or “La Gazza Lada” in Italian. Finally, an irreverent observation about scattering the ashes of a loved being somewhat akin to dumping the vacuum bag!
An enjoyable read that kept my interest until the end.
Magpies are pretty!
The cover! Although the book cover is beautiful, it doesn’t show the three-dimensionality of the original work. Since you can’t really tell how the cover was constructed, I included the image below from Barbara Beltran Herrera’s (the artist who works in paper sculpture) website to show how the objects extend out from the background. How cool would it have been if the cover had been three-dimensional like this, with plastic cover over it! How much would that have cost? But what a treasured artifact it would have been.
At Christmas, Mrs. Doyle at the shop where Eunice buys their daily doughnuts, was bagging up some slices of Tottenham Cake for the customer just before Eunice. It was so casually mentioned, as though everyone knew what Tottenham cake is. Well, now I, too, know. Tottenham is a district north of London in the borough of Haringey. The cake was originally sold by a baker called Henry Chalkley, a Friend, or Quaker. It was a sponge cake covered in pink icing or jam that sold for one pence. If the piece was irregular or broken up, it was half that. The pink coloring was derived from mulberries growing at the Tottenham Friends Burial Ground. It was originally intended for children, I read, but I’m not sure why.
1½ sticks softened unsalted butter
¾ C sugar
1½ C all purpose flour
2¼ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 heaping cup confectioners sugar
5 tsp water/black currant juice
pink food coloring (only needed if you use water instead of juice)
Pre-heat oven to 350º
Line an 8″x 8″ square tin with parchment paper, then grease the pan and parchment with butter or Crisco.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on high, cream together the butter and sugar until it becomes a light and fluffy. This takes about 2 minutes, but you may need to clear the beaters intermittently to make sure everything gets mixed.
Add the vanilla extract to the butter mixture. Mix until combined. Turn the mixer to low or medium-low and beat in the eggs, one at a time. Once the eggs are mixed, turn the mixer to low and add in the flour all at once. Mix until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool.
While the cake is cooling prepare the icing. In a medium bowl, add the confectioners sugar. One teaspoon at a time add the blackcurrant juice or water and just a bit of food coloring. Mix in between each teaspoon. Keep adding liquid until the icing looks like proper frosting and is thick enough to spread but not so thick it would rip up the cake when you spread it on. (Note: you may not need all the liquid or you may need more, just mix until it feels right to you. If it gets too drippy, then add more sugar) Let the icing sit for a minute it will harden and get shiny. Spread the icing all over the top of the cake.
Cut the cake into squares and serve.
I liked the sponge cake, but the icing was too sweet for me. I would use my homemade raspberry jam next time, and maybe some whipped cream.