Road Trip–Fallingwater Edition (concluded, finally)

          We headed off to our final stop on this trip—Bird-in-Hand, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, where we stayed in a modern hotel overlooking beautiful, cultivated fields. This is Amish country, and yes, we saw the horse and buggies, and yes, perhaps they weren’t Amish, but Old World Mennonites. I have been told that you can tell them apart because of a difference in bonnet styles, but I don’t know what that difference is. I was pleased to note that women did drive carriages.

          This was the most touristy place we visited, and we went into a place that called itself an Amish market. It had “cute” clothing often featuring logos of Blue Balls, Pennsylvania, or Intercourse, Pennsylvania, on them, and many items that could be found in similar shops around the country—refrigerator magnets, coasters, coffee mugs, framed pictures. An adjoining building had foods: pickles, jams, candies, cookies, breads. What drew my eye were the meat counters and the arrays of sausages. I have seldom spotted a sausage that I did not want to buy, but we were without refrigeration, and I resisted. But I did succumb enough to buy a not-yet-read history of the Amish.

          The area is a quilting center, but a quilting museum that we had hoped to see was not open. However, quilting stores were in business. The spouse quilts, usually baby quilts for friends’ children, and we went to one of the stores. (See the spouse’s post of June 17, 2020, with pictures. Search Results for “”piecing it together”” – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog)) Fabrics, threads, quilts, quilt kits, and more. The spouse said it was too much to take in in one outing, but she was not so overwhelmed that she did not buy some fabric, a kit or two and like that. Pennsylvania Dutch country is also known for hand-crafted wood furniture, and the next day we bought a set of dining room chairs, which the spouse insisted we “needed” even though we do not sit on the floor now around the dining room table. They cost more than a few yards of fabric and a quilting kit. The chairs are custom made and won’t be delivered until next spring. I must agree that they will look good in the country house.

          In between the two buying sprees, we went to dinner at the kind of restaurant that dots Amish country—a buffet for a modest set price. A half dozen or more serving stations with hot and cold food and a carving station of ham, roast beef, and turkey. All you can eat. Clean your plate and go get another one. And try to save room for one of the dozen pies, cakes, and puddings. The list price was $24.95, but we had a coupon for five dollars off. Is the food good? Not really, but it’s not bad, and it is all amazing, and the place was jammed. And looking around at the patrons, many of whom were on bus tours, I felt, in spite of my dad bod, almost thin.

          The restaurant we chose traced its origins to the 1920s, but it was not Amish. It served alcohol. We thought that we might try one of their specialty cocktails. However, our server told us that they were short on staff, and the restaurant did not have a bartender that night to mix drinks. We settled for a beer and a glass of wine. After we got our bill, I held it and waved over the server. She looked concerned, but I said that she had forgotten to charge us for the beer. She laughed and said that seldom had she been told something like that. When she came back with our amended bill, she told us that because we had been so honest, she took something off the beer price. We paid one dollar for the drink.

          And then the next morning we headed to our Pennsylvania cottage a three-hour drive away ending this journey. All in all, it was good trip.

          Any suggestions for the next one?

It Is, and Isn’t, a Fluke

I just finished reading Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, which won the Booker Prize last year. It is a remarkable book, set in Glasgow a generation ago, but it is a hard read. The book centers on a family whose members all love in their own ways, but, because of the society in which they are trapped and the damage that has been inflicted upon them, they do harmful things to themselves and to each other. Stuart does not spare us the pain, but he also produces a book with so much human emotion that I simultaneously wanted to set it down because it is so sad and rush to the end because it is so compelling.  

When I returned the book to the library, I looked for something a bit lighter. I pulled out of the “New Mystery” section Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Murder. I was not familiar with the book or the series of which it is a part (“A Hannah Swenson Mystery with Recipes”) nor its author, Joanne Fluke, but I thought the title promised a pleasant read.

When I got it home, I noticed a blurb on the back that labeled Fluke “the queen of culinary cozies.” I often place the many mysteries I have read into different categories, such as a drawing-room mystery, or dark ones featuring  Scandinavian serial killers, or the sins-of-the-fathers mysteries as in Ross MacDonalds, or a literary mystery such as Dorothy Sayers or Tana French, but I have not known that there were “official” mystery genres, and I had certainly never heard of a “culinary cozy.” So I googled (or safaried or binged, I don’t remember which) and learned that this is an entire category of books presenting a foodie detective—a baker, cook, chef, gourmand—along with many mentions of food and accompanying recipes. Puns and food references sprinkle the titles.  

then looked up Joanne Fluke, which turns out to be a pseudonym for Joanne Gibson Fischmann, who also writes young adult thrillers and romances under other pen names. She has published about fifty books of which thirty or so are in the Hannah Swenson series. Since I have cooked or baked for much of my life, enjoy reading recipes, and often pass the time with a mystery, I thought that this accomplished author’s Triple Chocolate should be a good way to perk me up after Shuggie Bain.

And it was. The recipes were primarily for sweet baked goods, and they sounded delicious, but I am unlikely to make them. I know that my cardiologist would severely chastise me if he knew I was eating them. I apparently would need to buy Costco-sized drums of cream cheese, gallons of cream, and a whole lot of salted butter. (I was taught to use unsalted butter and add my desired amount of salt.) And for the non-pastry dishes, I would have to invest heavily in cans of condensed cream soups and buckets of shredded cheeses.

The writing style did not tax my reading powers. Few things were mentioned only once. Information was repeated often a page or two later and then again in a dozen more page and the prose, including the dialog, was stilted, which I would have edited. (An example: Mike had asked for another piece of pie. “Hannah smiled. If there had been any doubt that Mike liked her pie, it was certainly erased now. He’d already had two pieces and now he wanted another. ‘How about some Chocolate Hazelnut Toast Cookies instead? I just made them this afternoon and they’re great with coffee.’”) (Another example: Norman has just said that he wants to make a Boursin omelet. “‘With that marvelous cheese I love?’ ‘That’s right. I chopped up some shallots and I thought I’d make both of us three-egg omelets.’ ‘Perfect!’ Hannah said quickly, smiling at him. ‘I’d love that, Norman. I haven’t had an omelet in a long time and it sounds great! I don’t think I have ever had one with Boursin cheese and shallots inside.’”)

Although it is not billed that way, I felt as if this book was aimed for those in junior high school. Not surprisingly, the apparent homicide was resolved with everyone happy—the bludgeoned dead guy was a bad person and it was so clearly self-defense that the killer was not even charged.

I don’t know if this writing style is the same for all culinary cozies, but I am unlikely to read more to find out. Nevertheless, the repetitive, unnatural prose reminds me of another genre which, to my surprise, I have picked up more than once–Amish romances. My Poconos home is not in Pennsylvania Dutch country, but there is a weekly Amish farmers’ market. Through the years I have chatted with a few of the Amish and learned a little bit about them. However, upon a visit to Sarasota, Florida, I saw a boy and girl walking near the waterfront in what I took to be Amish garb. Then in various parts of town, I saw several men with beards and suspenders and women in long dresses and distinctive head coverings that signaled Amish. In driving around town, a mile or two from the Gulf, I found an enclave of modest houses on narrow streets with families in Amish attire getting around on three-wheel bikes.

When I asked about this, people told me that there was an Amish settlement in Sarasota. (It could have been old world Mennonites, but who can tell the difference?) They were driven down each winter in big buses and stayed until it was planting time up north. The town had several Amish restaurants, and they had good food, but the pie was always especially outstanding.

When I went to one of the restaurants, I stopped in the gift shop on the way out. I found a rack of paperbacks, many of which had a heavily clothed, attractive young woman on the cover. I read the back cover of one and found that it was a romance about some Amish young people. I enjoyed reading it mostly because I felt as if I was learning some about the Amish. For example, each congregation has different rules; some but not all could have a telephone booth on the property but not in the house. Also, Amish and Mennonite women can be distinguished by the style of head coverings, but I no longer remember the distinctions. The prose, like that in the culinary cozy, was repetitive and simple, and I assumed that this was necessary for Amish readers who had not received much formal education. The stories were pleasant with love winning out without clothes being shed. I read a few more of the Amish romances, and I thought I would ask the Amish at the Pennsylvania market if they wanted the books, but every time I went to buy corn, tomatoes, and watermelons, I forgot to bring them.

Now I am glad that I failed in what I thought were good intentions. I had noticed that the authors of the Amish romances I read were not Amish, although the women (all the books I read were written by women) claimed to have Amish friends who helped them understand the Amish culture. I did a bit of research which informed me that the authors of Amish romances are almost always evangelical Christians, and that the Amish are mystified by these romances partly because the books often misrepresent Amish theology.

I learned also that this genre (some call the genre “Bonnet Rippers”) has hundreds of titles. While the Amish do not buy these books, somebody does. One source said that the top three writers of Amish romances have sold over 24 million books (!).

And yet again, I wonder if I made wrong career choices.