Friday, April 27, 2007

rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

A threatening mob grumbles outside the back door. Yes, it's this year's crop of rhubarb, which I thought I'd missed, because it's almost finished being April. I picked the massive stalks and decided to try stewing them, instead of my usual practice of eating them raw with sugar (only advisable with very young and tender rhubarb, snatched untimely from the bosom of the earth) or adding them to apple crumble.
So I cut up five or six mighty stalks, poured some sugar over top, and cooked them at 350ish until I forgot and the Corningware casserole dish boiled over a little.
And it was good. The packet of ginger teamix that I poured in with the sugar was doubtless a contributing factor, because ginger teamix improves almost anything.
Since then we've had stewed rhubarb pretty much every night, and I've gone to microwaving it, which reduces the chances of boiling over (but hey, it made the oven smell lovely for the next three times we used it, so not all bad).
Yesterday I went out to pick some more, and discovered that there's nothing left but scrawny little stalks, and was disappointed. I suppose they'll work too, but there's so much more chopping involved.

Both the rhubarb and the acanthus suffered in the late snow we had, which crushed rather a lot of plants. The rosemary in the herb garden, already taking up more than its fair share, flattened and spread to cover one whole end. The garage-whelming white rose is looking alarmingly dead, except for some tall greening vines by the drainpipe. I need to find the rose-map again, so we can figure out what's been lost or crippled.
The apple trees and the plum came through safely, but have been subjected to severe pruning, and I feel as if I should do something with all those lovely straight fruitwood suckers. Maybe there's something in the basketry book.
Mark cut down a volunteer holly tree or three (one had hidden behind the grape vines for perhaps five years and was very sturdy) and cleared out damaged rose-vines and dead brambles. The results of this clearing lie on the boulevard in front of the house, in a heap of thorny defiance. We are the only ones on the block with a kraal, so if any lions come by, they'll go after our neighbours first.
To make up for the cutting back, we have new raspberry vines, a third blueberry bush, an espaliered cherry and a multi-graft pear. Because my poor old pear tree is coming to an end, after many years of producing far more than we could eat.

Writing, yes, really, and reading
The Willow Knot hit 78k and I'm ready to fill in the blanks of the last quarter, Myl at court. In a book on The Royal Interiors of Regency England, by David Watkin (lovely repros of Georgian watercolour paintings of the various palaces) I found a fascinating insight. After the floorplan of Windsor Castle, showing the many royal apartments, this explanation:
"It may be helpful to consider the sequence of State Rooms as a kind of frozen memorial of the gradual retreat of the sovereign from the public, or rather of the endless encroachment on his privacy by his ministers, courtiers, and subjects. The essential rooms in the early medieval palace had been the Great Hall and the Chamber, the latter subject to use by the King for both sleeping and holding councils. Tudor palaces contained three essential rooms: the Guard Chamber, the Presence Chamber, in which the monarch gave audiences, and the Privy Chamber. Beyond the Privy Chamber there would be a bedroom. By the time of Charles II those seeking audience had invaded the Privy Chamber, so that a 'withdrawing room' was inserted between it and the bedroom. The withdrawing room, in turn, had become a public room by the early eighteenth century. All this would indicate that the rooms did not supersede one another but, as a modern authority has put it, each 'merely added one more unit to the suite'. Furthermore, 'each room retained its appropriate attendants--the Yeoman of the Guard in the Guard Chamber, the Gentlemen Ushers in the Presence Chamber, the Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber in the Privy Chamber, and the Groom of the Stole in the Drawing Room and the private rooms beyond. Each of the principal reception rooms might still boast its canopy of state, marking the position where the King had once sat, one, two, or three hundred years before. The history of the court was therefore encapsulated in the State Apartments of the English royal palaces as the existed in the reign of George III.'
Wow. I had to quote that, because this idea--the concrete tangible show of the receding monarch--just staggers me.
I'd been browsing The Secret Memoirs of the Princess Lamballe and hit the part where Maria Antoinette is delivered of a daughter, and such a crowd of people (unidentified, but presumably courtiers and nobles) bursts into the room that 'Her Majesty was nearly suffocated' and they have to be removed by force so she can breathe.
I guess the Groom of the Stole couldn't keep them out. What were the Yeoman of the Guard doing? Singing Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs?
One knows in theory that royalty and nobles have next to no privacy, but details like that bring it home.

Not getting anywhere with: Aramaya, by Jane Routley, Avon 1999. It's the 3d in the series, so you'd expect the author to be fairly practiced. I'm thus not even going to attempt the earlier books. The writing is passable, but the blend of high fantasy tropes (quest, demons, betrayal, immense magical powers) with kitchen sink drama, or more accurately, what they call in England Aga Saga, is really not working for me, especially when the dialogue lapses into 20th c. suburban slang ("Well, what a grouch") or soap-opera exchanges:
"Oh Shad I didn't mean for it to happen like this,"
"I know sweetheart. It's just a big mess."
Punctuation as in original.
Dion Holyhands is, too, a raging Mary Sue. She's the most powerful demon slayer ever, every mage she meets is awestruck by her, she's pursued by her estranged husband and the incredibly sexy Russian prince/mage, not to mention the demon Bedazzer who still has the hots for her, and all she does is angst about how she can't have a baby. And why can't she? Because her own magic is working against her, as if it had been reading R.D. Laing's Knots.
But I was struggling through, because the Russian setting is unusual, though the use of clearly Russian names (Grigori, Nikoli) in a not-really-Russia annoyed me (like Frank Herbert giving the desert dwellers in Dune Arabic-style names). But when our ill-assorted party got on a riverboat and travelled by river from the Russia-equivalent to an Egypt-equivalent...
Tonstant Weader fwowed book away.

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