Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jane Austen Sightings: A Series of Unfortunate ...

Perhaps it's so obvious, dear friends, that years ago it was discussed to death (that would be unfortunate). What is the biggest literary allusion in a series of books for children that contain numerous literary allusions? A series of unfortunate... 



We know Lemony Snicket peppers his books, from a bad beginning to the very end, with references to classic books.

Of course, Jane Austen has to be in the mix! Not just in the mix, but hovering over every book cover, every unfortunate event. Here is Colonel Brandon, in Sense and Sensibility, alluding to some most unfortunate circumstances:

"I speak from experience. I once knew a lady who in temper and mind greatly resembled your sister, who thought and judged like her, but who from an enforced change -- from a series of unfortunate circumstances" ---- Here he stopt suddenly; appeared to think that he had said too much, and by his countenance gave rise to conjectures which might not otherwise have entered Elinor's head. The lady would probably have passed without suspicion, had he not convinced Miss Dashwood that what concerned her ought not to escape his lips. As it was, it required but a slight effort of fancy to connect his emotion with the tender recollection of past regard. Elinor attempted no more. But Marianne, in her place, would not have done so little. The whole story would have been speedily formed under her active imagination; and every thing established in the most melancholy order of disastrous love.

You can find it in volume 1, chapter 11. But the story of his lost love, Eliza, awaits you later in the novel (volume II, chapter 9).




Monday, August 29, 2011

It's Vegan Y'all/Confetti Slaw


Oh my, this isn't just a delicious recipe, it's a beautiful one. Shirley knew that many coleslaw recipes call for lots of sugar but this one doesn’t need it.  Shirley served it in barbecued sandwiches.  As Shirley said,  "This is similar to what my mother used to make when I was a kid.  It was good then and even better now.  It is a refreshing salad." Maybe the weather is going to break down here in Texas, finally, but we'll still need refreshing food. So why not triple the recipe, as I did for this photo!


Confetti Slaw
Serves 6 - 8



6 - 8 cups shredded green cabbage (approximately)
1   cup shredded carrots (approximately)
1   large organic red apple, diced
1/4 cup dried cherries or golden raisins or both
4   green onions, thinly sliced
1   cup vegan mayonnaise such as Vegenaise
1   tablespoon fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
2   tablespoons vegan sugar
1   teaspoon dry tarragon flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt

1.  In a large salad bowl, combine cabbage, carrots, apples, cherries and onions.

2.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together tofu salad dressing, vinegar, sugar, tarragon and salt.  Pour dressing over cabbage mixture and toss.  Chill before serving, if possible.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jane Austen Sightings: Piano Playing

My son, Ben, a piano player, gets credit for the latest Jane Austen sighting. He is reading What Every Pianist Needs to Know about the Body. And, just barely into the book (page 2 to be precise), he finds two references to Jane Austen novels.

The authors, Thomas Mark, Roberta Gary, and Thom Miles, are discussing "Finger Orientation." They write, "Ironically, one of the most obvious facts about piano playing has also been an obstacle to understanding." The obvious fact? "We play the piano with our fingers." Well, I'll let them explain:

"The spectacle of a pianist's fingers at work has enthralled audiences throughout the history of the piano. An early example, the more telling since it comes from a novel, not a method book, is in Jane Austen's Persuasion, published in 1818. As Anne Eliot plays the piano, Mrs. Musgrove exclaims, 'Well done, Miss Anne!... Lord bless me! how those little fingers of yours fly about!'" (This is found in Book I, Chapter 6.)

Because the movement of the fingers is so obvious, but the movement of other parts of the body more subtle, "people have tended to conclude that the fingers do most of the work of piano playing." This causes the authors to think of Jane Austen. Her writings, they assert, reflect this assumption about the fingers doing the majority of the work. This time, the authors turn to Pride and Prejudice, specifically Elizabeth's response to Darcy about what practising involves. (Of course, her response is referring to more than piano practice.)

Elizabeth says, "My fingers ... do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault--because I would not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution". (Volume 2, chapter 8.)

Their book will go on to argue against a finger-oriented approach to piano playing, drawing on principles of the Alexander technique. So, for them, Jane Austen provides negative examples of what it means to focus on fingers as the primary means for creating music. But, still, I love that at least one of these co-authors reads Jane Austen!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's Vegan Y'all/Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake

Rick Perry may be gobbling up some Texas-sized attention these days, but we Texas vegans have something he just can't imagine. We've got the legacy of Shirley Wilkes-Johnson's decades-long project to create the best darn vegan recipes this side of the Rio Grande. Perry needs to posture, and those 22 pairs of cowboy boots he's been given don't seem to be helping him these days (supposedly he has resorted to some much more comfortable black tennis shoes). But, hey, even though Shirley died before we could get a picture of the two of us in our vegan cowboy boots, all is not lost. For more than two years Shirley and I worked on identifying her best of the best recipes. This blog inaugurates my posting of these recipes with the permission of her right hand man, friend, partner, and creative cook, himself, Ben Johnson.

As I said in my remembrance of her, Shirley never met a recipe she couldn't veganize. Her instincts and taste were exquisite. She wanted to create down home, stick-to-your-ribs, traditional and contemporary Texas recipes. I miss her, especially on Mondays, the day we used to talk about vegan cooking and her recipes. But her legacy is secure, and we've got some gobbling, chewing, tasting, and enjoying to do! Bring your Texas-size appetites because it's vegan, y'all.

Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake

Shirley called this “a rather decadent old fashioned recipe.” Shirley always used Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread for the margarine. Many concerns have been raised about where Earth Balance gets its palm oil. Shirley consulted Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Colleen concluded that if you buy organic Earth Balance you are supporting sustainable farming practices that are not destroying the habitats of Orangutans.

Shirley recommends using a jelly roll pan, which is approximately 10x15-inches with 1-inch sides. It’s like a large cookie sheet. I went out and purchased one just to make this cake. Shirley says you can use a 9 x 13-inch pan, but the cake will be thicker. I think the jelly roll pan is the way to go. It makes the cake just the right thickness. One morning this summer, I made three cakes for a family celebration. EVERYONE loved it (even those who didn’t think they would). But how could they not? It’s a recipe from Shirley Wilkes-Johnson, and it’s vegan y’all.

1 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

2 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup vegan margarine
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1  cup water

2 teaspoons vanilla

Chocolate Pecan Icing (see below)

1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a 10x15 inch jelly roll pan.  (Shirley used PAM spray; I use Spectrum spray.)
2. In a mixing cup, combine the soy milk and the apple cider vinegar, and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking soda and mix well; set aside.
4. In a medium saucepan, mix together margarine, cocoa, and water. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring often. Pour over flour and sugar mixture. Add vanilla to the soymilk and vinegar mixture, and then whisk into other ingredients. Turn batter into prepared pan.
3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately frost top of hot cake with Chocolate Pecan Icing. Usually, you wait until a cake cools before icing it - but not in this recipe.
Let cool then cut into squares.

Chocolate Pecan Icing:

1/2 cup vegan margarine softened
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/3 cup soy milk 

1 (1-lb.) powdered sugar 

1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

In a medium bowl, beat together margarine, cocoa, and soy milk with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes - or you can use a food processor. Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat on high speed until well blended. Stir in pecans.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Barbara Pym and Jane Austen's desk

On August 11, 1943, Barbara Pym visited Jane Austen's house. Here is what she recorded:

"Visit to Jane Austen's house... I put my hand down on Jane's desk and bring it up covered with dust. Oh that some of her genius might rub off on me! One would have imagined the devoted female custodian going round with her duster at least every other day."

It seems to me that Barbara Pym got her wish!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jane Austen Sightings

I have noticed recently, how many references to Jane Austen appear, not in books ON Jane Austen, herself, but just in passing, in novels and nonfiction. I have decided to call these "Jane Austen Sightings." Here's the first one:

David Shields in Reality Hunger: A Manifesto observes:

#254. The person who loses the presidential election is the person who seems most fictional. In 2000, Gore simply was Mr. Knightley from Emma. So, too, in 2004, Kerry--Lord Bertram from Mansfield Park. During the 2008 presidential election, reality hunger in the face of nonstop propaganda resulted in regime change. Obama won because of his seeming commitment to reality, the common sense of his positions." (p. 86)

Really, Al Gore as Mr. Knightley?


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