Thursday, April 4, 2013

My Weekend with Maeve

Recently, I spent a long weekend in the west of Ireland and didn't have to cross the 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 CANTERBURY 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.

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 New York City and harbors a secret.

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, Greece, and other locales with Binchy as my tour guide. I'll miss her.

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 Ireland plus sorbet and ice cream for dessert?

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?


Jennette Marie Powell said...

Never read anything by Ms. Binchy - sounds like my reading has been lacking! It would be hard to pick a favorite dessert - that depends on what the main course was. But chocolate anything is generally good, as are most cheesecakes. :D

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,

I've never read anything by Maeve Binchy but I will look for the book. I've never been to Ireland but I know many Irish people - interesting people in a strange way (full disclosure: my grandparents came from Limerick,Cavan and Fermanagh).

I'm kind of weird too so I guess it all makes sense.

As we get older, no matter who we are or what we do, weight just seems to creep on. I started my fourth diet this year on Monday and you tempt me with your ice-cream recipe. Sigh. But it really looks great - and I love ice-cream. And I'm sure your attempt at making it was a bigger success than you're willing to admit!

I can't cook anyway so the temptation is really not that bad.

- Pat

Lark Howard said...

I discovered Maeve Binchly years ago when I checked out Circle of Friends on tape (yes, a LONG time ago)from the library to help pass time on my daily commute to work. I've been a fan ever since! The accents of the reader were wonderful! I've been a fan ever since!

A lovely dessert! I'm not much of a dessert fan in general but enjoy coconut ice cream and a nice sorbet together. Yum.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Chocolate's my hands-down favorite, and I love cheesecake, too. Trouble is, I can't resist seconds of my favorite desserts. The solution, for me, is to make desserts I like but don't crave. The ice cream bombe fits the bill. It's tasty and tangy, is company-worthy, but it doesn't lure me to the fridge at midnight.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Ah, but the dessert recipe doesn't call for cooking, Pat, so you may have to give it a try. My biggest challenge was making space in the freezer.

My forebears hailed from Counties Clare and Roscommon. Interesting in a strange way? The description fits me so probably fit them as well.

We shall speak no more of age and weight gain. Yes, I'm into denial.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Coconut ice cream and lime sorbet would be lip-smackingly good together, Lark. Thanks for the idea.

Congrats on your goldenness, that is, your RWA Golden Heart finalist status. Did you see the congrats that came in for you here last week? I'm super excited for you.

Anonymous said...

Yes,Pat, I'm into denial too.

As they say in my neck of the woods: Denial (de nile) is NOT a river in Egypt. - Pat

Liz Flaherty said...

I miss her, too. I always loved that in a used book store in Kinsale, I found a Binchy I'd never read. I bought it, read it, and left it at the B & B because we were traveling so light (backpack only--10 days!)It's one of the sweetest memories of Ireland.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

LOL, Pat!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Liz, you got to read a Binchy book in Ireland? That's a sweet memory, indeed. I like that you left the book at the B&B for someone else to discover and enjoy.

Lynette M Burrows said...

I haven't read Ms. Binchy either, but you are luring me to add her to the TBR pile. :)

BTW, I'm with you on making deserts that do not tempt me. If it's chocolate it is a siren song that ensnares me no matter how much cotton I stuff in my ears. Plus, I'm just not the cooking goddess that some are. So something sweet and tart with NO cooking?? I'm in!

Anonymous said...

The read sounds wonderful. Now you've ignited my desire again to hop a plane and zip off to Ireland. Someday I will get there.

The desert looks and sounds heavenly. That's all calorie free, right? ;)

Debra Kristi~
Posting Anonymously because Blogger doesn't like either of my IDs. :(

Debra Eve | Later Bloomer said...

Like Lark, I started with Circle of Friends and became and instant fan! I'm jealous, Pat. Sounds like a lovely weekend.

Coleen Patrick said...

I like a lot of desserts! Sometimes it has to be chocolate and others something gooey and with cinnamon or a fruit pie. I could go on and on... :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lynette,
Binchy marks a change from the SF you read. No red planet, no planet eaters, no struggle to survive in a hostile environment. In A Week in Winter, each of her characters struggles with a personal dilemma.

Speaking of personal dilemmas: to make chocolate desserts or not? I do so very, very rarely--and I force guests to take leftovers home. I can't resist chocolate's siren song either. If you try the Barefoot Contessa's ice cream bombe, I think you'll like it. No cooking, I promise!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Oh! Debra! Calorie-free desserts are the best!

Seriously, you could do three layers of sorbet, or use ice milk instead of ice cream for the center.

I'm making a wish you get to go to Ireland within five years.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

It was a terrific weekend, Debra, and I'm still feeling the therapeutic effect of time spent with Maeve Binchy's characters.

I can't remember whether my first Binchy book was Circle of Friends or Light a Penny Candle. Heart and Soul, though, is one of my many favorites.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Don't get me started on desserts, Coleen! Argh, too late. Now I want an apple pie with a crumb topping and lots of cinnamon.