Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review: Caleb's Crossing, A Recipe and Other Random Things

I am now over last week which I have named The Week of Great Insanity. It is (thankfully) over and I am back to normal after Wednesdays mini-meltdown. And my mom is coming this weekend which means lot of time cooking and doing crafty things with the boys. Yay!

As I mentioned in my last post, I did manage to get a little reading done during The Week of Great Insanity. I finished Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. I have been doing a lot of hemming and hawing about whether or not to review this book for ya’ll as my intention when I started this blog was only to review books I liked. My thinking was that it would be silly to waste space on the interwebs (not to mention your time) writing about books I was not fond of that I don’t recommend that you read. And my mom always told me not to say anything at all if I don’t have anything nice to say about something or someone, and that advice has kept me in good stead for the past 33 years.

Which leads me to the Caleb’s Crossing Conundrum. On one hand I really liked this book. On the other hand, I really didn’t like this book. I know it’s odd to have two very opposite feelings about the same book, but that’s just the way it is.  So, I thought I’d separate this review into the things I liked about this book and the things I didn’t like about this book and let you decide for yourself. I’m going to start with the things I liked because I’m a positive, glass-is-half-full kind of girl.

But first a very brief synopsis:  Bethia Mayfield lives in a small community of Puritans on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1660s. As a pre-teen she meets Caleb, the son of a Wampanoag Chieftain and develops a deep and enduring friendship with him that spans decades, geography and the cultural divide.

Things I liked:

Bethia. I loved, loved, loved Bethia. She is spunky and smart and not afraid to stand up for herself in an era when women were encouraged to do just the opposite. She is also compassionate, nurturing and kind hearted. Bethia rocks!

The fact that the story is rooted in history. There really was a Caleb Chessahahteaumuck of Martha’s Vineyard who was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.  Very little is known about him and Brooks filled in the many pieces of his life with well-written and meticulously researched fiction. And Bethia’s last name of Mayfield is very similar to the surname of one of the first Puritan settlers of MV – Mayhew. I have a degree in history so this appealed my inner history buff (but a degree in history does not get you a job so I went to grad school for a more marketable skill, but that’s a story for another day.) That degree in history also means I am very critical of historical fiction, but I have no issues with what Brooks has done with Caleb’s Crossing.

The setting of Martha’s Vineyard and Cambridge, Massachusetts. I am always drawn to books that are set in a place I know and love. I lived one town over from Cambridge for seven years. I currently work one town over from Cambridge. My children were born in Cambridge and The Scotsman and I used to hang around in Cambridge a lot before the kids were born. As for Martha’s Vineyard, we visited this beautiful island for the first time three years ago. Despite the fact that I had never been there before, immediately after stepping off the ferry I felt completely at peace and had a sense that I’d “come home”. Odd and cheesy, I know, but that’s the way I felt and still feel every time I visit. We are fortunate to spend 10 days on MV every summer and if The Scotsman and I every win the lottery we’d like to buy our own house there and live there year round instead of renting someone else’s house for a tiny portion of the summer. Although I don’t think there are many techie jobs for The Scotsman on an island miles from anything, but if we won the lottery would that matter? But I digress…..

Things I didn’t like:

Certain attitudes were  shoved down my throat. I am well aware of the fact that men were considered to be better than woman in the 1660s and that the way Native Americans were treated was horrible, wrong, narrow-minded, etc. But I don’t need to be reminded of it on every single page. You know, in case I didn’t get it the first time it was explained.

Caleb was a very flat character. There was lot of room to develop him more.

There wasn’t much plot. The story just kind of plodded along. I said the same thing about The Peach Keeper, but the authors wonderful writing style kept me interested in the story and I gave it 4 stars without hesitation. The same thing can’t be said about Caleb’s Crossing. Yet I kept reading. Which makes me question how big a deal the lack of plot really was. Hmmm…..

Martha’s Vineyard is a beautiful island with a unique landscape. I feel the book would have benefited from making the island more of a “character” in the book. Or maybe I’m just biased because I love MV so much.

Spoiler Alert: a lot of characters you grow to like die. It’s a bit of a bummer.


I really don’t know how to rate this on Goodreads. I’d like to give it a 3.5 but Goodreads doesn’t allow you to give half stars so it going to have to be either a 3 or a 4. Until I decide it is marked as “Currently Reading” on my Goodreads profile. Is anyone as miffed as I am that amazon has purchased Goodreads? We’ve just become one giant focus group for amazon.

A few years ago I read another book by Geraldine Brooks: People of the Book. I liked that one much better.

Random Things That Have Little or Nothing To Do With The Book:

I discovered this blog by Susan Branch. Martha’s Vineyard is very much a character in this blog which is what drew me to it. But if MV isn’t your thing, this blog is full of wonderful craft ideas, yummy recipes and whimsical illustrations by Branch. Love it! I am also sure that her husband (who is pictured on her blog) is the guy on page 39 of The Black Dog Summer On the Vineyard Cookbook but I’m not sure how to leave a comment to that affect on her blog without seeming stalker-ish.

If anyone is looking for something to get me for Mothers Day (ahem, The Scotsman), I’d like this.

Did you know that Roald Dahl wrote a cookbook? I loved his books when I was a child and am in the midst of introducing them to Jake. And I love all things food and cooking. So how perfect is a cookbook by Roald Dahl?

And Finally, A Recipe…..

I’m the culinary bibliophile, right? So here’s one of my faves from The Black Dog Summer On the Vineyard Cookbook. It’s called Quahog Chowder in deference to the variety of clams abundant in New England, but any type of clams will do. This recipe is true to the chowder they serve in The Black Dog Tavern, which I am completely obsessed with. I will eat this steaming hot in 90 degree heat because it is that good. Hope you all have a great weekend and Happy Patriots Day (for those of you who live in Massachusetts and Maine)!

B.D. Quahog Chowder – Serves 8-10 (or just 2 if you’re making this for me and The Scotsman)
From The Black Dog Summer On The Vineyard Cookbook by Joseph Hall and Elaine Sullivan

2 oz salt pork, rind removed (I slice up 3 strips of normal bacon)
2 cups diced onion
1 cup diced celery
3 cups diced potato (I use Yukon Gold)
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp black pepper
4 cups shelled quahogs (or any type of clam) with juice (about 6 lbs in the shell)
½ cup salted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ quarts light cream

Dice the salt pork (or slice the bacon) and sauté in a large pot until translucent.

Add the onions and celery and sauté for 5 minutes

Pour in about 1 ½ cups of juice from the clams and add the potatoes and seasonings.

Simmer the mixture until the potatoes are tender. This should take about 10 minutes.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. When it’s bubbling, add the flour and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.

Roughly chop the quahogs/clams, reserving any liquid.

When the potatoes are tender, add the clams to the large pot and simmer for 2 minutes.

Stir in the butter and flour mixture and continue simmering for another 5 minutes, stirring often. This is your chowder base.

In a separate saucepan (yes, you can yell at me about all the dirty dishes this is creating), scald the cream by heating it until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan. Do not boil.

Stir the hot cream into the chowder base, mix together and remove from the heat.

At The Black Dog they serve it topped with a dollop of butter and oyster crackers or crusty bread. YUM!!

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