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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Good-by, James Joyce, Until We Meet Again

For the last meeting of our Ulysses study group, Marilyn offered to prepare an Irish dinner and bring it to Steve’s house on Gills Pier Road. My assignment (that is, I volunteered to do something, and this was Marilyn’s suggestion) was to make the Irish soda bread. She found a recipe for me, as follows:
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2-1/4 cups whole wheat flour
¾ cups rolled oats
1 T + 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking soda
1-3/4 cups buttermilk
6 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Knead on lightly floured surface and shape into a 9” round loaf. Slash an X on top of the loaf. (Why? Tradition!) Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Since David and I are preparing an imminent departure from home and I have been trying to use up everything in the house, I didn’t want to buy whole wheat flour and decided to get by with only unbleached white. Bought the buttermilk. All set on Wednesday afternoon. --Oh-oh! Short over a cup of flour! What to do? Substituted uncooked cereal of various grains, including cornmeal. There! Along with rolled oats, that will be a hearty bread! (It was.)

Suggestion: if you try this recipe, add the buttermilk to the dry ingredients and stir it in, then the cooled melted butter. I poured cold buttermilk into cooled butter, and the butter immediately lumped up in an alarming manner, producing my second moment of panic. The finished product, however, turned out presentable and edible.

Marilyn brought her aromatic lamb stew in a crockpot, but we did not dig in immediately, tempted as we were. (I’m speaking for myself, at least.) Our fearless leader, Big Steve, had prepared excerpts for us to read aloud, one from each chapter of the book, and that was the first order of business. It was delightful to share these passages again and recall their places in the story. A little Jameson’s didn’t hurt, either.

I intended to get a picture of the stew but (once again!) was distracted by eating and forgot my camera, lying ignored on the table beside me. Also, Marilyn, a retired lawyer, had interesting observations to make about the decision of the judge to allow this book into the United States, effectively lifting the ban that had previously been imposed. Needless to say, we all agreed with the judge that Ulysses is a work of art and not “obscene material.” Other topics discussed over dinner were: What does the future hold for the three main characters? What do they think of and feel for each other? How would you rate this book next to everything else you’ve read? If you could be a book—or take only one book to a desert island—would you consider this one? Others? What others? What will you be reading next? Will you read this book again someday? Would you recommend it to other people?

We all agreed that Ulysses was well worth the time and effort; that the study group had helped us get through it and get much more out of it than we would have alone (the rest of us gave Steve the major credit, while he said the group had pushed him to keep going); that we felt enriched by having taken this work into our lives; and that James Joyce was a genius. Over Marilyn’s Bailey’s cheesecake, we listened to a recording of the last of Molly’s soliloquy at the end of the book. Everyone was smiling.

This group was a resounding success! Thank you, Steve! We parted in a glow of accomplishment and warm feelings toward one another.

Out on M-22, Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern is closed for the month of January, as usual. Owner Paul doesn’t fly off to Belize or anything, though he may take a little getaway time in the U.P., but in general January is his month each year for undertaking a refurbishing project, something that can’t easily be done around restaurant patrons and bar regulars. One year it was new stools at the bar; another year all the table tops were refinished. What will it be this year? We’ll find out when we return in the spring.

Note: I am uploading this post from the Leelanau Township Library in Northport while we wait for a call from Van's Garage in Leland to tell us they've got the snow tires on the vehicle we want to take to Florida. Checking e-mail and updating the blog from a library feels somewhat like being in Florida, with these differences: this library is smaller, cozier--and full of friends! We will miss this place and these people while we're gone.


Susan said...

This is a lovely tribute to the power of friends (and food) to force you to open your horizons. I, however, will not be taking on "Ulysses" unless Steve creates another reading group.

P. J. Grath said...

Susan, it could happen! Two other people are already interested in reading ULYSSES in a group, and Steve will be here this winter.

About the food--we didn't reward ourselves with dinner until the last meeting. We did have wine and snacks for our other meetings, though.

P. J. Grath said...

I forgot to include in my post a wonderful coincidence: yesterday's "Shelf Awareness" newsletter had Michael Gates Gill (son of Brendan Gill) responding to the question "Favorite line from a book?" with this answer--"Molly Bloom's last sentence taking many pages from James Joyce's ULYSSES ending with the words: 'yes, I said yes, I will YES.'" Perfect timing, Shelf Awareness!

Anonymous said...

Wait, wait - you have treats at your reading group? I can see, once again, that we in Antrim County have much to learn from the denizens of the Leelanau. I wonder if we could persuade Steve to spend a week--or a winter--over here, leading a reading group. I would supply the Jameson's if other more competent souls would supply the other treats . . . (the phrase "aromatic lamb stew" is enough to make one weep).

Moving briskly on -"they've got the snow tires on the vehicle we want to take to Florida"?!?

The world is in chaos.

P. J. Grath said...

Snow tires for getting out of Michigan and through intermediate states, Gerry!

The business of food treats for reading groups is something to be approached with caution. I've read of groups that allowed no food whatsoever, on the grounds that anything provided would prove to be a camel's nose and soon the whole camel would be inside the tent and the group would become food-oriented to an undesirable degree. Something like that happened with what started as a brown-bag, drop-in lunch day at the bookstore: it swelled to formal brunch proportions of ever-higher standards! Be careful putting food and books together!

Our ULYSSES group kept things under control by meeting AFTER DINNER, with only wine and light snacks set out and never made the center of attention. The Jameson's, like the lamb stew, we saved for the celebratory last meeting of the group.

Mr G said...

Give me enough Jameson's and I will lead everyone over the Ulyssean cliff.

P. J. Grath said...

People, don't let Mr. G fool you. He kept us on track, on schedule, on topic, and we had a ball the whole time. He loves ULYSSES and knows it inside-out. When I read it on my own before, I never appreciated all the humor. Where was my head?