Cheese Scones and Gentle Reading

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How are you coping these days, my friends? With self-isolation, social distancing, sheltering in place…. or even, maybe, quarantine? We’re doing okay. I’m feeling a bit more lonely than Hubby who doesn’t like cities anyway, and who would be quite happy living in the back woods. But we’re good, really. Luckily we find each other endlessly entertaining. And when Hubby’s company is not enough for me, I call my family. Or seek the solace of fictional characters I love, and the company of gentle books, which always help me through challenging days.

Rainy days call for gentle reading.
When there’s no where to go, not even outside.

I know that we’re all on a slightly different timeline with this pandemic, depending on where we live. Hubby and I are two weeks into our own social distancing marathon. Two weeks of only seeing each other, except for his occasional trips to the grocery store, or waving a greeting to other walkers. We’re trying to keep a normal schedule. Not that we were on much of a schedule to begin with. But the days seem slower, and begin to run into each other.

And I’ve been thinking of a quote from To Kill a Mockingbird: “People moved slowly then… took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.” Or in our case outside the boundaries of our own backyard.

To Kill a Mockingbird is set during the Great Depression, but somehow it seems applicable to us, the slowing down, narrowing our boundaries to focus on home and family. One of Harper Lee’s themes is social isolation, which we know can be much more dangerous emotionally, than social distancing. I think that after this whole pandemic thing is over, it would be interesting to teach this book to a grade nine class again. And see whether the students’ own plight has made them more empathetic towards Boo Radley. If you’ve never read this classic, maybe now’s the time to rectify that.

I’m careful with my reading these days. More careful than usual. Pampering myself instead of challenging myself. I guess I’m “comfort reading.” And when Sandra Sallin mentioned recently in a comment on my cooking post that it might be good to do another post on gentle reading, I thought I’d take up her suggestion.

Some of my favourite gentle reads, I’ve written about before on the blog. The books of Dorothy Whipple for instance, in particular The Priory and Someone at a Distance. Or those of Ursula Orange, my favourites being Company in the Evening and Tom Tiddler’s Ground. You can read my post about both of these writers here. I love these gentle books set between the wars, or in the case of Ursula Orange at the start of World War II. I love the wonderful writing, the lean yet detailed description, the charm without sentimentality.

Another of my favourite comfort reads is Jane Gardam’s Faith Fox. I love all of Jane Gardam’s books, but Faith Fox is my favourite. I gave it to my mum a few years ago, and she still talks about that book. Faith Fox is abandoned by her mother who dies in childbirth, by her grieving father who is incapable of looking after her on his own, and by her equally grieving maternal grandmother who cannot face her beloved daughter’s child and runs off with her new man. So Faith is raised by an odd assortment of quirky relatives and friends. This book is moving and funny and lovely. Jane Gardam is witty and wry, and her books are among my favourites. I can’t think why I’ve not written about her before.

I may have mentioned Ethel Wilson’s Swamp Angel before on the blog. It’s a classic of Canadian literature. Maggie Vardoe leaves her home in Vancouver and her unhappy marriage to work at a fishing lodge in the interior of British Columbia. The novel is about healing, about the solace of the wilderness, and about identity. The swamp angel in the title, incidentally, is a pearl-handled revolver owned by Maggie’s eccentric friend and confident Nell Severence. While it’s not necessarily a gentle read, this book is, for me, a reaffirming one. The idea of leaving everything behind to head for the hills, or in this case the wilderness of the B.C. interior, has at times held a certain appeal. Wilson’s book might be hard to find in book stores, but it will certainly be in the library if you live in Canada,

I read Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson last year on the recommendation of a reader of this blog. This book is most definitely gentle reading. And I loved it. A reviewer on Good Reads called it “an enjoyable respite from the real world”, and it certainly is that. Miss Buncle is a gentlewoman, a spinster with a diminishing bank account. She needs money but has no talent, so she decides to write a book. The book becomes a smash hit, and earns her a considerable amount of money. But the problem is that it’s about what she knows, life in her own village. And her neighbours are up in arms. Good thing she published under a pseudonym. Stevenson’s writing is pure escapism, funny and sweet, but never saccharine. Like a more light-hearted Barbara Pym.

When I first heard of Miss Buncle’s Book, I found that the library had one tattered copy for which I dutifully waited a week. So I was excited to see it available in Kindle format today. Along with the rest of D.E. Stevenson’s Barbara Buncle series. As a result I’ve been a bit distracted from finishing this post. I bought the second book in the series to read with my lunch, and was hard pressed to sit down again at the computer all afternoon. I mean, a cup of tea, a good book, and the last of the cheese scones were stiff competition for blogging, I’m sorry to say.

Cheese scones go well with a cup of tea and some gentle reading.
My first attempt at cheese scones.

And just to prove that I really can cook, here’s a shot I took of the cheese scones I made on the weekend. I was inspired by something I saw on Pinterest. And they seemed the perfect thing to go with our chili supper. I’d never made scones before. Biscuits, tea biscuits, or baking powder biscuits, yes. Scones, not so much. I read a great article on “How to Make Perfect Cheese Scones” from The Guardian before I started. This is the recipe I used. We didn’t have cheddar cheese so we used a combination of Gruyère and some smoked Gouda that we had in the freezer. I also substituted dry mustard for the cayenne. And I must say, they were delicious. Perfect with our favourite chili. Here’s our chili recipe if you’re interested. It’s from the cookbook Eat Shrink and Be Merry.

Chili and cheese scones.
Almost forgot to take a shot of supper.

Now I’ve made a cup of herbal tea with honey and lemon, and I am going to take that, along with my Miss Buncle book, off to bed. There’s been too much distressing news today and I am in need of some gentle reading.

A little gentle reading on a rainy day.
A little gentle reading on a rainy day.

Hopefully it will be sunny and warm tomorrow. Or if not tomorrow then the next day. Sunny enough for me to plan my outfit for our fictional tea party at the Chateau Laurier here in Ottawa on the weekend. I do hope you can join us in a bit of fun. And if possible take a photo of yourself in your tea party outfit. And send it along in an e-mail to me by Thursday night if possible. Here’s the link.

P.S. I hope every one of you are well, and able to cope with whatever challenges you’re facing at the moment. Maybe a little gentle reading will help you like it helps me. If you have any titles you’d like to suggest let us know in the comments.

P.P.S. The book links are affiliate links. I will earn a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking my link.

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41 thoughts on “Cheese Scones and Gentle Reading”

  1. You must be reading my mind…while I am enjoying The Mirror and the Light it seems a bit overpowering for the present days so am picking it up and putting it down, a bit every now and then. Like you, comfort reading, or at least reading that does not require too much of my attention or too much twanging of emotional responses, seems to be my quest. I found a book of Daphne du Maurier short stories on the shelf yesterday and it is just the ticket. Re-reading a longish story that I had little patience with when I was young and finding it quite a different affair now. As for cheese scones…probably one of my favourite foods of all time but one which I can rarely eat now. Please have another batch for me. Any cheese will do.

    1. Annie,completely agree with you about The Mirror and the Light-she writes so good,with so many details…but overpowering right now…so,I’m reading it piece by piece
      D.

  2. While it’s scary as hell with the death toll rising at a horrible rate, I guess we’re doing as well as can be expected. We’ll get used to it and will adapt as necessary.

    Hopefully we’ll see a downward trend much sooner than later and things get back on track before the whole year gets away.

    One good thing to come from it is I’ve never seen such a sharp rise in efficient hand washing techniques by the general public !

  3. Brava for the scones…I adore them but can’t trust myself right now-I could eat all of them at once.
    Your first photo is amazing
    I’ll read these books (Faith Fox and Miss Buncle’s Book first), I like the description….
    I’m reading Peter Grainger’s An Accidental Death right now (from your last book post)….
    It is not a gentle reading ,but an excellent book indeed: Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please Look After Mom. Nevertheless,I highly recommend it- especially now when it is so precious to appreciate what our true values are and how some people,situations and things were taken for granted
    Dottoressa

  4. Wendy in York

    Yes , I’m needing gentle reading too . Like Dottoressa I’m immersed in Peter Grainger’s books just now but on my book pile -A Russian Childhood ( thanks Dottoressa) , Women in Black by Madeline St John & a couple of Margaret Millar books . Can’t comment on any of them yet . I really like the 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander Mcall Smith . I prefer it to his Ladies Detective Agency series . Thanks for your latest recommendations too . I’m a Jane Gardam fan after reading your book posts .
    Looking forward to our get together . I’ve checked out the venue , very nice . Rather like my own little abode – especially the chandeliers , so I should feel quite at home 😉

    1. I love Alexander McCall Smith, but could not dredge up any interest in the characters at 44 Scotland Street. I have loved his Sunday Philosophy Club series with Isobel Dalhousie – heartily recommend.

    2. I hope you like the Peter Grainger books, Wendy. I must tell you that after not being able to get ahold of Lady in Waiting, I’m listening to it on Audible Read by the author…. at her age, imagine! .

  5. Dear Sue,
    Thank you so much for the quote from To Kill A Mockingbird. How it resonates just now. Would you consider using it on an Instagram post, just so that the message travels a bit further?
    I am so enjoying your posts. They are like a quick but satisfying personal visit. I too been alone in the country with my husband, and find contact through very select social media sites and blogs to be a welcome change from the news, which I too am avoiding as much as possible.
    I hope the sun is shining in your neck of the province as well as mine today. A walk outside will be a welcome change from enforced inside activities the days of rain and gloom have brought on.

  6. Thanks for the additions to my book list! Agreed – gentle reading is what’s called for right now! I, too, would eat all those cheese scones at once, but they sound PERFECT with chili.
    I’m terrified of coming out of this much heavier, as I’m not used to being home all day, with my kitchen singing its siren song, and so much time to cook and eat comfort food.

    1. The cheese scones were indeed perfect with the chili. I’ll be making them again… just not too often. They are very rich. And I do want to fit into my clothes when I’m able to go somewhere to wear them again.

  7. Hey Sue,
    Kevin says to tell you that the scones look yummy. I am having a hard time settling into a novel right now. I finished Jane Urquhart’s Away (weird that I don’t remember having read that one even though it is in my bookcase), and I’ve started Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black. The voice in Washington Black is very rich and satsifying, but I just cannot bring myself to commit. It’s back to speculative fiction short stories – The Dozois Year’s Best series. I have almost every one all the way back to 1987. While the SF is not exactly comfortable – it is a genre that challenges complacency and comfort – the works are familiar to me, and so they are comforting. Thanks for keeping up the blog.

    BTW- Have you seen the Facebook meme going around about the song that was #1 on your 12th birthday being your isolation theme song? Mine is The Beatles’ “Get Back” – pretty apropos, eh?

  8. Suz from Vancouver

    Husband and myself are fine. Like most, sheltering in place and keeping in touch with friends and family using various social apps. We try to take daily walks (separately so we get some alone time 😊),  watch the news…..
    I just finished A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ( fantastic) and am currently reading The Editor by Stephen Rowley ( a light read, half way – so far good)

    I am cooking and baking more but housework still doesn’t seem to get high priority hahaha.
    My screen time on the internet is up but at least there are some interesting sites out there for “something different “

    This is a good list of virtual museums

    https://artsandculture.google.com/partner

    You might enjoy this link if you have not already seen/heard it. Fantastic- Definitely worth a listen….

    ‪https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdcS0Nbo7Ng‬

    Thanks for posting
    Take care
    Suz from Vancouver

  9. That’s a lovely quote that you selected from to kill a mockingbird. For me, when I need the intervention of some gentle reading, I turn to turn to poetry or to a collection of surprising and sometimes sensual short stories (on love) that I’ve enjoyed for more than a decade. Specifically, this is a book called “my mistress’s sparrow is dead.” As for your cheese scones, tsk tsk. The last thing I need is some thing that looks so delicious and is so seriously fattening! I spent the first two weeks of my now three weeks of social isolation eating eating eating. (I am currently sipping sipping sipping herbal tea instead and confining my calories as much as I am confining my movements beyond a locked door. Sigh… (The perils of pandemic pleasures—too many comfort foods – the only pleasures available – thankfully they are all consumed and I will not order any more.) 😁

    1. I love poetry but these days I can’t concentrate unless I’m reading a narrative. Although I have started listening to The Lady in Waiting on Audible. Recommended by a couple of readers but not available here in Kindle yet.

  10. Hey Sue! Husband, dog and I are fine.
    I’ve beeb slowly working on Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferrari’s. It’s a bit of a mystery that takes place in Saudi Arabia and involves the gender differences. It was our book club book for March, but alas…
    One comfort read I think you might love is The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil by Lesley Choyce. Very much comfort reading, takes place out East and has sold over 100 copies at my local independent bookstore! Lesley Choyce heard about the sales and made a visit one evening last year. Very exciting.
    Stay healthy!

  11. Your photo of the rain down the window is wonderful. Like everyone else here I need some lighter reading right now so a big thank you for the ideas. I do miss having a real book in my hands and have resorted to reading on the iPad and for me it’s not the same. Now to see if I can pick up some of the books mentioned. Stay safe and keep healthy.

  12. Sue, thank you for your recommendations. I’ve just purchased Miss Buncle’s Book. One of my new year’s resolutions was not to buy any more books until I read everything I already have on hand. Yesterday I surveyed my bookshelves and was not drawn to anything there, so I gave myself some grace today to order this.
    I’m going to bake some bran muffins for my pregnant daughter in law who has just been told she needs more iron. We all know what that means. Our Chief Public Health Officer has given us permission to get together with one other family exclusively, as long as no one shows symptoms, so I can deliver the muffins later. And then I am going to enjoy my new book. I am thankful to be healthy in a lovely, warm home with everything I need.

    Keep well.

  13. Amanda, I am so sorry for your distress. You are obviously struggling to cope. I’m not being sarcastic…I am truly sorry for the pain you are experiencing. There are local distress lines you should be able to access. Or reach out online to almost any church.

    Sue does not deserve this treatment…she spent most of her working life pouring into younger generations. It would be decent to offer an apology.

  14. Gentle reading is exactly what I need these days! I have reserved an e-copy of Miss Buncle’s Book and will definitely come back to this post for further suggestions.

    Jane Austen counts as gentle reading for me too — I have read her novels so many times that opening any one of them feels like reconnecting with an old and beloved friend. I’m currently using an audio version of P&P as an aid in falling asleep if I wake up in the wee hours with my thoughts churning. (Hmm … that would be just about every night for the last couple of weeks …)

    And on a non-reading note, we use exactly the same chili recipe as you do!

    1. I recently listened to Pride and Prejudice read by Rosamund Pike. She is a wonderful narrator. Our chili recipe is the best one I have ever had. Must be the extra beans, and the lime and honey, I think.

  15. This past year I discovered O Douglas [Anna Buchan] (The Proper Place, A Day of Small Things, Jane’s Parlour). People and places (houses and rooms and meals and clothes) are described with gentle attention to detail, and the permeating post-WW1 sense of loss (and then of the next conflict coming) keeps them from being cotton candy sweet. That drone tone gives an extra resonance to stories where, really, nothing much happens, which may be why I’ve pulled them back off my shelf these past weeks. The Proper Place, at least, is available free online.

  16. I do love Swamp Angel — especially since it begins not more than a few kilometres from where I live. My students always enjoyed that, seeing their own province having its literary moment 😉 Good to know that yours also responded to it, for other reasons, way across the country. I also quite like Wilson’s Love and Salt Water. . . I’d say both these novels stretch the definition of “gentle reading,” in interesting ways. They both accommodate the darker realities of life. . .

    1. It does stretch the definition. Maybe just a favourite book instead. I find anything about retreating to the wilderness appeals to that part of my psyche.

  17. Ann in Missouri

    “Comfort Reading!” What a great term. It will be an important precept for me for the rest of my life.

    I’m now reading Miss Buncle’s Book, and I thank you so much for the recommendation. It’s EXACTLY what I’ve needed right now.

    See you at the Chateau Laurier next week! 🙂

    Ann in Missouri

  18. Thanks for a comforting post! When you write about books you’ve enjoyed I always add them to my Amazon cart and then look for them in my local library. With our libraries closed it wil be awhile till I can get them. I will you those scones, they look delicious!

  19. Thank you. I needed this post. I trust you and your book recommendations.I just picked up a set of D.E. Stevenson’s kindle books after reading your blog. You are my bright star in the book firmament. I also need to look at your scones and chili recipes. Let’s see if I have the ingredients. We’re in lock down here in Los Angeles. Actually it’s been weeks. You are always a delight. I always appreciate your views on stuff. So keep it up!

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