Category: Books (page 1 of 3)

Chasing Maud Hart Lovelace In Mankato, Minnesota

Wanderlust is real. It’s the constant longing to take a road trip. The moment you get back from one, you’re itching for the next. The desire constantly nags and all-consumes. If you can relate, you probably have wanderlust too.

This weekend, I took a miniature road trip to Mankato, Minnesota located about 1.5 hours southwest of the Twin Cities. This was not just a road trip, this was a literary quest.

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The Most Remarkable Thing About Drew Barrymore’s Wildflower

Sometimes I get the urge to shout, “I’m not Josie Grossie anymore!”

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Interesting Things I Learned In Rinker Buck’s The Oregon Trail Part I: The Trail & Mules

For having grown up playing The Oregon Trail a lot, I don’t know much about the Oregon Trail.

Am I finally reaching the age where I can’t remember things well, or did we gloss over this in grade school? Anyway, this is what I thought I knew about the Oregon Trail: Pioneer people traveled by covered wagons pulled by oxen to Oregon and California in search of land and the gold rush. Many died of dysentery.

Please don’t make fun of me.

I randomly picked up the book The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck at the library and now I’m obsessed with the Oregon Trail. That’s usually how it goes, eh?

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A Sandwich Made With Apples Soaked In Maple Syrup

I just learned about the most lovely sandwich made with apples soaked in maple syrup.


In her memoir The Mud Season, author Ellen Stimson shares her family’s experience selling their St. Louis, MO business and moving to a small town in Vermont because it was pretty. They buy an old country general store and have misadvanture after misadventure with livestock, weather, and quarrels with local residents. In one chapter, Stimson discusses how her banker had to inform her people had stopped shopping at her store because she moved the bread to a different shelf, and, in another, the challenges of adopting orphaned lambs.

Although I can’t relate to running a rural general store in Vermont, I can relate to Stimson trying to fit into a new community. I love this piece of advice a neighbor gave her:

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What captivated my attention the most was her description of a toasted sandwich layered with meat, Vermont cheddar, and maple syrup-soaked apple slices. The book is back at the library now and I can’t quite recall her exact recipe. I do remember Stimson recommending that one should try to soak the apple slices in maple syrup for at least two hours and describing how Vermonters prefer Grade B maple syrup because it has more flavor. I never find grade B maple syrup at the stores, but would love to try some.

This sandwich is so wonderful because of all of the contrasting flavors and textures; the mapley sweetness and crunch of the apples, melted cheddar, and salty ham. It’s like the best grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

Here’s how I recreated it at home:


Sharp white cheddar
Apples soaked in maple syrup


  1. In a small container, soak thin slices of apple in maple syrup.
  2. To assemble the sandwich, layer sliced ham, apples, and sharp white cheddar.
  3. Toast sandwich in butter until the cheese melts and the bread turns golden brown.
  4. Slice and serve.

Life Below Stairs Answered Many Of My Questions About Downton Abbey

I haven’t seen very many episodes of Downton Abbey, but the episodes that I did watch left me curious about life during the Edwardian era. When a topic peaks my curiosity, I obsessively search for information and learn as much as I can. I spent many an hour Googling questions such as, “How accurate is Downton Abbey” and “What was life really like for Edwardian servants.” When I found the little book Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants at our libraryI eagerly checked it out.

This book truly is little. Online reviews critique it for not being very thorough, not going into enough detail, and lacking photos. While I can’t really argue with these criticisms, I found this a quick and interesting read. I knew absolutely nothing about life during the Victorian, Edwardian, and post-Edwardian eras and enjoyed reading an overview of the basics. It’s continued to pique my curiosity on the subject, though. I just requested Margaret Powell’s memoir Below Stairs detailing her experiences as a kitchen maid and cook.

Here are some of the most interesting things I learned from reading Life Below Stairs:

Young women who wanted to enter maid service spent years saving for their first uniforms. A “print dress, a black dress and several white aprons” could cost two years’ wage (p. 61). Sometimes families bought their staff fabric each year for a new uniform, but the servant had to either sew an outfit on their own time or pay someone else from their meager wages (p. 67).

Servants in the Victorian period typically worked 16-hour days, yet received one afternoon off a week to attend church. By the 1900’s, households also gave their servants an afternoon and evening off each month. However, this free time coincided with completing their duties after lunch and having to return by dinner or a nine p.m. curfew. Some people saved up for years to return home for a day. In the early 20th century, it was normal to receive a week-long paid holiday, and two weeks after WWI. Because this rare time-off was so precious, taking it away from employees was a common punishment (p. 85).

Lady’s Maids were like fashion consultants and skilled hair dressers. They prided themselves in their signature recipes for hair washes, pomades, boot polish, and face cream. Valets offered their signature boot polishes (p. 30).

The Butler got the least amount of sleep. He held the highest position on the Edwardian servant tree, ranking above the female housekeeper. Sure, he got paid a higher salary than the other staff and a more generous beer allowance. He got to sample the family’s food and received occasional tips (p. 31), but had the worst schedule. The book outlines the schedule of a real man who served as a butler in 1893: His day started before 7: a.m. and he literally had to make himself available until his master decided to go to bed. Dinner started at seven p.m. followed by evening tea at 9:30 p.m. He locked up the house and put out the fire at 1 a.m.

Laundry was a seven-day process, beginning with soaking the clothes on Monday, scrubbing them on Tuesday, hanging them on Wednesday, starching and ironing on Thursday and Friday, and folding on Saturday (p. 100-101).

Dinner parties consisted of up to ten courses and occurred once-twice per week (p. 112). The really wealthy households offered guests three choices for some of the courses and wine pairings.

Land Stewards lived in their own houses on the property and often had families (p. 26). For many female servants, though, marriage was the only social acceptable exit.

More affluent households employed two different types of cooks: A Professed Cook who prepared fine dining meals and Plain Cooks who prepared day-to-day meals and those for staff (p. 36).

Fancy dinner parties were a big ordeal. Often times, the staff was instructed to prepare so much food that leftovers still got thrown away, even when given to the staff (p. 112). It was the role of the footman to greet guests at dinner parties. He would announce each guest’s arrival to the host and hostess who waited in a separate drawing room (p. 117).

In the early 1900’s, a woman named Rosa Lewis rose from a servant to a successful caterer and hotel owner with the help of her cooking skills (p. 127). The book lists a recipe for her Quail and Beef Pudding. All you need is 12 quail breasts, “game sauce” and some beef suet pastry.

I’ve recently set a goal to read more and spend less time online. So far, I’ve accomplished the “read more” part. It seems like many of you share my enthusiasm for food-related literature. I love talking books. This might make me seem like a dinosaur, but I still haven’t taken the e-reader plunge. I like holding paper books and flipping through them, even though they’re a pain to move. It’s not that I don’t want to purchase books, but the truth is that I read so quickly that we don’t have the budget or the space to purchase everything I read.

Do you have any recommendations for books that might thrill a Downton Abbey enthusiast? How do you feel about e-readers? 

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