Recently, I spent a long weekend in the west of
and didn't have to cross the Ireland Atlantic via plane or ship. Irish writer Maeve Binchy transported me to a seaside village via A WEEK IN WINTER, the book she finished shortly before her death last July.
The premise of A WEEK IN WINTER is the time-honored one of strangers gathering for a specific purpose. Remember Chaucer's
TALES? In both works, most of these strangers are, at least initially, identified by their occupations. Chaucer introduced us to the Prioress, the Friar, and the Knight. Binchy gives us the Principal, the Doctors, and the Librarian. CANTERBURY
The pilgrimages in A WEEK IN WINTER are mental or spiritual. The strangers hope to restore themselves with long walks along the cliffs, sea air, and good food. To that end, they gather at Stone House, a mansion-turned-inn operated by Chicky Starr, an Irishwoman who spent twenty years in
and harbors a secret. New York City
Within a frame narrative, Binchy tells each person's story. In addition to the Principal, the Doctors, and the Librarian, Stone House attracts an American actor traveling incognito, a youngish woman and her difficult mother-in-law to-be, a Swedish musician grappling with his duty to take over the family's accounting business, and a couple who supplement their income by entering contests.
We also learn about Stone House's employees Rigger and Orla and the mansion's original owner, Miss Queenie Sheedy, who is thrilled to see her family home restored to glory.
Chicky Starr's story is compelling, as is her desire to create a refuge where others can relax and recharge.
Readers can dip into the book one character's story at a time or devour the whole thing at once. I enjoyed the mention of characters from previous Binchy books, particularly Ania, the young Polish cleaning lady/factotum from
HEART AND SOUL who is now, I learned, training to be a nurse. (Yes, Ania is fictional, but I am happy for her all the same.)
I enjoyed my stay at Stone House and am grateful for the hours I've spent in
, Ireland , England , and other locales with Binchy as my tour guide. I'll miss her. Greece
The following dessert is a recipe from Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa. My first attempt wouldn't have passed muster with Chicky Starr, but I'll improve. This treat is ideal for summer and is much easier to prepare than I thought it would be. That said, I did NOT, ahem, make my own mango sorbet. I bought Trader Joe's version. (And TJ's raspberry sorbet, too.) The Barefoot Contessa says the recipe serves eight, but it easily serves twelve.
Above is a shot of the ice cream bombe I made, with the photo of Ina Garten's (from her BAREFOOT IN PARIS cookbook) in the background. As you can see, I poured the berry sauce with too heavy a hand. (Mine, by the way, was made with blackberries.)
Who wouldn't enjoy a weekend in
plus sorbet and ice cream for dessert? Ireland
Are you a Binchy fan? If so, do you have a favorite book or character? When it comes to dessert, do you have a favorite? What is it?