Here’s yet another book I pre-ordered well in advance of its US release, based on Simon Savidge’s recommendation, calling it a perfect book. It is the story of three friends. As I think back on the story from the distance of several days since finishing it, the word that comes to mind about their friendship is “sacred.” Because of what they shared, and who they were, individually and collectively, they connected on the very deepest level. It was as though they were never really apart, even when they were, because each person had a little bit of the other two in their heart.
Ellis was at Mabel’s the night Michael came to Oxford after his father died. They were both twelve, and became friends that first night. Ellis worked in Mabel’s greengrocery, as did Michael. The narrative goes back and forth in time, fleshing out the histories of Ellis, Michael and Annie: the three devoted friends. When the novel begins, Ellis is forty-five and working in the local car factory as a tin man, someone who finesses the dents out of the metal panels of cars. Ellis’s artisty, using the sensitivity of his hands to locate infinitessimal creases, defies vision. Gradually we learn about Ellis’s dreams as a young man, Michael’s increasingly secret life, and Annie’s entry into Ellis’s, then Michael’s, life.
Annie had me with this sentence: “Annie loved her books.” And it didn’t hurt to know that she used to sing – somewhat off-key according to Michael – while she cooked, particularly “Fly Me to the Moon” (Frank Sinatra). There are several examples of how the writing moved me to an emotional response, but they would include spoilers, so in the spirit of not ruining the book for those who haven’t read it, I’ll leave them out, and you’ll just have to trust me. You’ll know them when you read them.
There was a point in the story where Michael has taken a trip, and muses, ” I come across signposts to towns and hotels and could easily divert and seek comfort, but I don’t. I’m forcing myself into this solitude and keep on walking. There’s something about movement – the necessity of movement – to deal with trauma. Academic papers have been written about it and I’ve read them. How animals shake to release fear in their muscles. I do that too. Under the sun amidst the scrub, I shake, I shout, I scream. So I keep to the track, transfixed by the motion of walking, trusting in an invisible remedy that will make me feel human once again.” I can relate. Not only does my poor dog suffer and shake at thunder and fireworks, I too, have experienced the healng power of walking. I remember thinking about just that not long ago when my walks took me on increasingly longer routes when I was grieving over the loss of a friend. And I wondered, as I age and loss becomes more a part of my life, will walking continue to help me feel human again? I know, dark thoughts.
This was a quiet book, but when I put it down at its conclusion, I had goose bumps, a shiver down my arms: a physical response to a beautiful book.
Dora’s declaration of independence in her marriage was a picture, a copy of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.” It was “A celebration of the transcendent power of the color yellow.” Two years ago on a girl’s weekend in Maine, I fell in love with a yellow and blue vase. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, and it was like nothing else I’ve owned, but I just loved it and had to have it. It sat in the basement until this summer, when I brought it upstairs and placed it on the hearth with some silk hibiscus flowers in it. I still haven’t found the proper place for it, but looking at it makes me happy, so upstairs it stays. (It’s September now. The hibiscus has been put away for another year.)
Ellis delivered Christmas trees for Mabel’s Greengrocer. His last delivery on a day shortly before Christmas was to a Miss Anne Cleaver. When Anne opened the door when he rang, she was eating a crumpet. So crumpets it had to be.
YIELD: 20 crumpets
This traditional British teatime treat is midway between English muffin and pancake. Like an English muffin, it’s full of holes, perfect for collecting rivulets of melted butter. But it’s also moister and thinner – more like a small pancake.
These are best enjoyed toasted, and spread with butter, jam, and/or clotted cream. Since their holes reach to the outside crust, there’s no need to split them before toasting. This recipe came from King Arthur Flour’s website.
1½ C lukewarm (105º) water
1 C lukewarm milk
2 T melted butter
3½ C Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2½ tsp instant yeast
1 tsp baking powder
1¼ tsp salt
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, and beat vigorously for 2 minutes. A stand or hand mixer, set on high speed, works well here.
Cover the bowl, and let the batter rest at room temperature for 1 hour. It will expand and become bubbly. Towards the end of the rest, preheat a griddle to medium-low, about 325°F. If you don’t have an electric griddle, preheat a frying pan; it shouldn’t be as hot as the temperature you use to cook pancakes.
Lightly grease the griddle or frying pan, and place well-greased 3 3/4″ English muffin rings in the pan, as many as will fit. (If you don’t have English muffin rings, use well-cleaned tuna cans, from which you’ve removed the top and bottom.) Pour the sticky batter by the scant 1/4-cupful into each ring; a muffin scoop works well here.
After about 4 minutes, use a pair of tongs to slip the rings off. Cook the crumpets for a total of about 10 minutes on the first side, until their tops are riddled with small bubbles/holes. They should be starting to look a bit dry around the edges. Their bottoms will be a mottled, light-golden brown. Note: They probably won’t be as full of holes as store-bought crumpets.
Turn the crumpets over, and cook for an additional 5 minutes, to finish cooking the insides and to brown the tops gently. This isn’t traditional; “real” crumpets are white on top.
Remove the crumpets from the pan, and repeat with the remaining batter, until all the crumpets are cooked. Serve warm. Or cool completely, wrap in plastic, and store at room temperature. To eat, warm them in the toaster. Serve with butter, or butter and jam.
I made my first batch too thick, so it took forever to cook, so, do use a ¼ cup scoop, and expect the finished crumpet to look like a pancake, not an English muffin. My husband split the too thick ones and toasted them, eating them slathered with homemade jam. He loved them.