Welcome to GMR

If you haven’t encountered us before, read on; otherwise skip to the weekly edition which is up every Sunday morning and which alternates with a Story every Wednesday morning.

Everything that interests us as a diverse group of individuals will get attention here, be it Rock and RollIrish music, a  jazz or classical recording, tarot decks,   Folkmanis puppetsmanor house mysteries and science fiction novelsfiction inspired by folklore, sf filmsegg nog recipes,  ymmmy street foodchocolatewhisky and cookbooks… Well you get the idea.

Stories about the Kinrowan Estate will show up every Wednesday, be it Gus the Estate Head Gardener talking about pumpkins; Reynard, our Manager of the Green Man Pub located in Kinrowan Hall, sharing stories; Zina on the Neverending Session and Midsummer as well; or even Iain, our Librarian, talking about life there such as the Several Annies, his Library Apprentices.  And you’ll see material from The Sleeping Hedgehog, the in-house newsletter for our staff, such as Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Estate Gardener here in the Victorian Era, on a tree spirit. You might even meet Hamish, one of the current hedgehogs living in the Library who sleep the Winter away in a basket near the fireplace in our Library.

So if you’ve got something you’d like reviewed, whatever it might be, email me here as you never know what’ll tickle our fancy.

PS: you’ll also get to hear some choice music here every week such as Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’  from his Rodeo album. I sourced it off a Smithsonian music archive which has no details where or when it was recorded which surprised me given how good they usually are at such things.

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A Travels Abroad story: A Visit to St. Petersburg (A Letter to Ekaterina)

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G’Evening Ekaterina,

It’s after four in the morning and I’m wide awake as my leg injury’s keeping me from sleeping long, long after your sister Catherine has turned in for the night. So I’m doing needed correspondence as I’ll get it done without interruption, which doesn’t happen often during the day around this Estate with my apprentices, The Several Annies, and Library patrons alike needing paying attention to.

I’m been meaning to tell you that we’ll indeed visiting you this year after the holidays at St. Petersburg as we’ve got obligations here ’till New Year’s but are free after that. If you could book us at a hotel that you like, we’d appreciate it. Figure we’ll be staying for ten days and we’re flying in on the night of the third as want to be with you for Little Christmas.

We’re both looking forward to a leisurely afternoon of tea, pastries, and gossip with you at the Kempinski Hotel. Great tea shop but far too busy as a place to stay unfortunately.

The Steward’s quite generously funding this trip so we’ll be doing a fair amount of shopping for the Estate including purchasing several cases of Russky Standart vodka, lots of culinary treats and many fine books. And I’ll be getting small gifts for the current Several Annies such as Matrioskas, Dymkovo toys, Vologda lace and the like, as we’ve been studying the material culture of pre-revolutionary Russia.

I’m also looking for residency possibilities and housing for two of my Several Annies, Ingrid and Emma, who learned Russian from your sister these past two years and want to be immersed in Russian culture to really hone their language skills. They’re both natural learners so I expect both to go on to University eventually.

Yours with affection, Iain

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What’s New for the 10th of December: June Tabor at Minnemeers Theater, Music of a Nordic Nature, Ragas, Porn That’s Quite Boring and Some Seasonal Matters

He kissed her anyway, lightly on the cheek, before she turned to get her coat, thinking how long he had known her and how little he knew her and how little he knew of how much or little there was in her to know. — Patricia McKillip’s ‘’The Snow Queen’, first found in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s Snow White, Blood Red

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Damn, it’s nearly the beginning of Winter as measured by the calendar! The days no longer even have a bit of warmth, and they’re barely reaching freezing by afternoon, and Gus, our Head Gardener, has long since harvested everything including the root crops and pumpkins as we’ve already had several hard frosts.

Bjorn, our Brew Master, also long since has claimed the very best of the latter for his legendary spiced pumpkin stout, his take on that seasonal libation. Our Librarian, Mackenzie, said of this brew last year that ‘it was a remarkably well crafted stout — the pumpkin flavor is subtle and smokey.’ We expect an equally great libation this year!

It’s amusing for me as Head Publican to watch the shift that Winter brings to our Pub. With many fewer visitors, it once again becomes a more low-key affair, with even the music played by visiting bands kinder and more restrained, and the Neverending Session is noticeably smaller and leans towards Nordic, Breton and Celtic trad music, which is something staff and visitors alike are quite fond of. Now let’s see what the Editors have selected for this time…

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Jo starts our book reviews off with this review she wrote for Folk Tales, the predecessor of GMR a long time ago.: ‘Folk legend merges with Jane Yolen’s creative world to create a work of pure magic in The Wild Hunt, which should be destined to become a classic in the world of children’s literature. Pitting the forces of light and dark against one another is a common theme, but it is rare for those forces to acknowledge the other as essential to their own existence, as done in this delightful tale. Yolen’s use of time and words have woven a masterpiece from the ancient threads of an old tale together with the modern threads of something totally new and different. The resulting tapestry is beautiful to behold.’

We of course have a look at The  Snow White, Blood Red anthology, so let’s have Laurie explain why it’s for adults: ‘Snow White, Blood Red is the first in a series of books intended to bring fairy tales back from the nursery where they were relegated during Victorian times. Although there are light, frothy tales in this collection, dark, sensual stories predominate. There are very few “happily-ever-afters.” These are fairy tales for adults, where Little Red Riding Hood is a nubile teenager and the Big Bad Wolf is a gentleman who marries Red’s mother so that he has access to Red, who is a knowing accomplice.’

Lory finds Mark I. West’s A Children’s Literature Tour of Great Britain good enough to bring up remembrances of things past, but says it’s lacking in the fine details: ‘Mark I. West, a professor of children’s literature at the University of North Carolina, seems to have his facts pretty straight, but doesn’t include any personal anecdotes about his travels, or many juicy bits about his subjects. You would find the same in any respectable encyclopedia. There is a section of black and white photographs, taken by the author and not very atmospheric, but no maps or other illustrations. West also has little to say about the landscape or countryside that inspired so many great British children’s books; he focuses on houses, objects, or even statues associated with authors, some of which will only interest a real fanatic.’

Robert looks at  a collection by Charles de Lint that he and his wife MarryAnn Harris, who did the cover art, just published in a digital edition on their Triskell Press: ‘Dreams Underfoot is another collection of Newford stories, rather different in feel than those in The Ivory and the Horn. While that collection leaned more toward the “ghost stories” category, this one is much more inclined toward what we’ve come to know as de Lint’s own brand of fantasy: urban, contemporary, drawing on mythic traditions from both Europe and North America, and not quite like anything anyone else is writing. These stories are also what I’ve come to think of as “mature de Lint”: the boundaries between the worlds have become not only intangible, but largely irrelevant, the here-and-now is not irrevocably here or now, and magic is where you find it – if it doesn’t find you first.’

Robert also has some thoughts on a group of stories that are somewhat out of the ordinary: Michael Cadnum’s Can’t Catch Me And Other Twice-Told Tales and Tim Powers’ A Soul in a Bottle: ‘It seems that more and more, the books that cross my desk don’t fit into any sort of traditional category. I have to assume that’s deliberate, since there is a whole generation of young writers who are deliberately blurring the lines between mystery, fantasy, surrealism, magical realism, what have you. Needless to say, the results are often mixed.’

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We’re all adults here, so lets have a look at Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, which is classy porn perhaps, but porn none-the-less. No mere bodice ripper — oh indeed, it’s porny. Porn for everyone: women on women, men on women, men on men, boys on boys, voyeurism. . . . Or is it porn? April said in the editors lounge while reading Lost Girls that ‘Nah. I can’t really call it porn, in the end. It would have to be… exciting to be porn, no? I’m really not sure what to call something that’s cover to cover sex but isn’t really exciting or erotic. Aside from boring.’

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Our fold and drink section this time concerns the time that Vonnie went to a lecture, David Ingle’s The Bacchanalian Tradition in British Isles Songs, 1600-1900, in a historic building with a bunch of fellow folk music lovers to experience, well, much more than a boring lecture. Read her write-up to see what she experienced that night.

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Asher has a look at Aliens Alive, a Nordic recording that definitely stretches musical boundaries — ‘Annbjørg Lien finds, in folk music, everything from fairy tales to science fiction. Indeed, the title of her previous album, Baba Yaga, is drawn from a fairytale. Aliens Alive is a selection of live performances culled from Annbjørg Lien’s 2001 Norwegian tour.“

Cat has some comments on a very non-traditional rendering of the music of Charles de Lint, Zahatar’s The Little Country: ‘Zahatar is more akin to a classical music ensemble than it is to a folk group, and their arrangements of de Lint’s The Little Country compositions very much reflect that. It’s a lively but dignified approach to his songs, more closely akin to what you’d hear if you were listening to any classical music ensemble than to, say, a contradance band.’

Chuck has a trad album worth hearing: ‘On Midwinter Night’s Dream, Boys of the Lough include Aly Bain (fiddle), Cathal McConnell (flute, whistles, song), Dave Richardson (concertina, mandolin, cittern, accordion), and Christy O’Leary (uilleann pipes, whistles, song). They call on Christmas and winter traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Shetland, and Sweden to put together a fine CD.’

Richard went to experience June Tabor at Minnemeers Theater: ‘I have seen June Tabor live numerous times in recent years and I thought I knew what to expect at her concerts. I own just about every recording she ever made, the first review I wrote for GMR, when it was still Folk Tales, was of a Tabor CD and I do not expect many surprises from her performances.’

Robert takes us somewhat far afield with a look at two recordings by two distinguished artists of classical Indian music: Raga Madhukauns and Raga Piloo: ‘The Indian raga, which has enjoyed variable popularity in the West since the 1970s under the influence of a number of musicians from various backgrounds and, if we may speak of such a thing, “schools” (George Harrison and Terry Riley come to mind, and two more disparate musicians are hard to imagine), is the product of a musical tradition that may very well be the oldest still extant – or at least, the oldest with an actual history. (“History” simply because we can actually trace this tradition through written sources back for about four thousand years.)’

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Puppetry is our What Not this time.  In his review of Figures of Speech Theatre’s Anerca, Chris writes of a puppet theater that owes as much to Japanese drama and American-Indian mythology as it does to Jim Henson and Sherri Lewis. ‘Among the complex issues they set out to explore with Anerca are cross-cultural interactions, the misunderstandings of language, and direct emotional communication. Rather than putting Western words into another language, they focus on the emotional tone, physical world and spiritual quest of the characters.’

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Our musical coda befits the Winter season that’s here in force now. ‘Mojas Katrin’  is from Mari Boine Persen‘s Schauburg, Bremen, Germany performance of some twenty five years ago, though the exact date’s unknown. I think that both her voice and playing feel perfect for this season.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Mrs. Ware Prepares an Eventide Meal

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That man is going to drive me mad some day.

What did you just say? ‘Perhaps he already has?’ If it wasn’t so close to the truth I’d swat you for that.

Honestly, Mr. E. is a fine man to work with most of the time, but he has his peculiar ideas. ‘Mrs. Ware,’ he says, ‘have you ever thought about how versatile chocolate is? Savory or sweet, main course or dessert – but always heavenly. I’m sure a fine chef like yourself could make us a whole meal where every dish contained some chocolate.’

And me nodding along like a ninny. The first thing I knew, I was thinking of recipes I’d eaten or heard of or dreamt up. The sly boots had me hooked on the challenge.

Then again, feeding the inhabitants here at the estate which houses Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog is a challenge any day, and thank all the Powers I have such a good staff. Access to the best of ingredients, too, and a reference collection of recipes going back centuries. There are advantages to working for such a place like this one.

Of course, I work for Kinrowan Hall. Did you think Mr. E., or anyone else, could own the Kinrowan Hall? Not in the slightest. It brings people (and others) here to serve it in various roles. Some stay for a few days or months, some for years without number. Liath our Archivist has been around, off and on, for centuries, they tell me. And who are ‘they’? Why, house elves and brownies who’ve been here even longer than she has. Anyway, I’ve been here a long time. When I arrived here as a sous-sous-chef I promised Kinrowan Hall I’d stick around till I got bored, and I’ve never been bored. I’ve worked my way up through the ranks, met and married Mr. Ware (may he rest in peace), raised three daughters and a son and dozens of bouvier des Flandres puppies, trained chefs who now work in the best establishments on both sides of the Border – and never been bored.

Yes, I suppose little challenges like Mr. E.’s must contribute something to the lack of boredom.

Anyway, I suspected he was really dreaming of endless desserts when he set my mind thinking on his little challenge, so I drew up my menu with care. Simplicity and quality were my watchwords.

We started with a mixed green salad drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette, made with the finest in produce from Gus’ gardens and raspberries from a little patch in a clearing just inside Oberon’s Wood. Where was the chocolate? Infused in the vinaigrette. I make my own, of course, and I soaked some cocoa beans in it overnight.

Then we had a hearty, all-in-one main course — tamale pie. It’s basically a thick chili (I had to make a batch each of con and sin carne) cooked under a cornbread crust. Plenty of peppers, plenty of meat (or plenty of beans), plenty of tomatoes — and a healthy dose of powdered cocoa. I found a container in the back of the east pantry that looked like it may have come from an artisanal co-op in Aztec territory (possibly pre-Conquest, though I wouldn’t like to say for sure). I told you Kinrowan Hall gives me access to the best of ingredients.

For dessert, I kept it simple. People had a choice between Mrs. Cormier’s dark chocolate cake with fudge icing, made the day before so that the fudge could melt just a little everywhere it met the cake, and homemade chocolate ice cream. Every staff member I could get my hands on had to take a turn at the churn. I promised those who did that they could have both cake and ice cream if they so chose.

When it came to the beverages, the other obsession around here besides chocolate, I consulted with Reynard. I needed cold and hot, alcoholic and not. Dear Reynard! I can always count on him. He found me a couple of barrels of Sam Adams’ Chocolate Bock and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, and a selection of chocolate liqueurs (including every sort of Godiva under the sun) to add to coffee or pour over the ice cream. I had hot and cold chocolate milk, too, of course — must fight osteoporosis whenever we can.

Was it a success?  That comment I will swat you for! What meal of mine has ever been less than a success? Kinrowan Hall wouldn’t allow it, and neither would I!

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An Irish Music Edition

At any rate, the tune is not a story, but stories might lie behind the tune. For, as mnemonics, the names summon up a tangled web of circumstances; they not only help to summon the tune into being, but recall other times and other places where the tune was played, and the company there might have been. –– Ciaran Carson in Last Night’s Fun: In and Out with Irish Music

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AThe Norns who are knitting in their usual place here in the Pub are strongly hinting that it’ll be both colder than it usually is and quite a bit snowier this coming Winter. Gus, our Estate Head Gardener, says Tamsin, our hedgewitch, said as much during the warm months so he and most of the Estate staff took several days and weather-proofed as much as possible where sensitive plants eXisco and where such creatures as the owls and such will shelter in an even better than is the usual manner here.

The perfect wintertime breakfast for me is an Irish fry-up complete with sausage and fatty bacon, hold the beans though. That and strong black coffee served with real cream will do nicely, provided all of this is served ’round noon, when I’m more or less ready to be awake and sociable.

I’ve been thinking about Irish trad music lately and realise that it’s long overdue for us to do another edition just on that music so that’s what you’re getting, though keep in mind it’s just a bit of the material on that music that’s in our Archives. So lets get to this edition…2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ACat starts us with an academic work edited by Martin Stokes and Phillip V. Bohlman: ‘Celtic Modern, subtitled Music at the Global Fringe, examines the phenomenon that is Celtic music in its many varied strands. While on the surface this volume looks at Celtic music from a number of different standpoints, the content is academically inclined, rather than acting as a general reader, as would, say, a Rough Guide type publication.‘

Cat has a look at Charles de Lint’s Forests of The Heart novel which I’m reading now and it says that we should ‘Have another drink and just listen to the music’. The novel  has some astounding descriptions of Irish music sessions it, so do check it.

Chuck has a book for you that’s very popular to take out from the Library here at Kinnrowan Estate: ‘Ciaran Carson is an Irish poet and musician, who has, in Last Night’s Fun, put together a series of writings, each inspired by a traditional tune. In most cases, these are short essays. For others, he has written poetry or put together sets of quotations. Occasionally the subjects in consecutive chapters are directly related, but that is most likely happenstance.’

A book by Evan McHugh gets a thunbs down from Gary: ‘I love good beer, and I love to travel. I also enjoy reading about both. I find beer writing more interesting than wine writing, because beer experts tend to be less stuffy about their craft than wine experts. And a good travel writer can make you feel almost as though you were along for the ride. So I jumped at the chance to review Pint-Sized Ireland: In Search Of The Perfect Guinness. Writing about travel and beer! What could be better?MWell, as it turns out, it could be better if someone else wrote it.’

Joseph takes a look at Bill Barich’s A Pint of Plain: Tradition, Change, and the Fate of the Irish Pub, which he describes as ‘a brilliant hybrid of new journalism and memoir: ‘By his own admission, Bill Barich is a dreamer on a mission to recapture his youth. But he greets each illusionary fishing hole, village, and forest with clarity and wisdom. In the end, the reader — not the author — feels nostalgic and thirsty for something never really existed.’ And Joseph even tells you how he did it.

Donal Hickey’s Stone Mad for Music gets reviewed by John: ‘Subtitled “The Sliabh Luachra story,” this book attempts to demythologize the heartland of Sliabh Luachra, a legendary area where Irish traditional music is concerned. To fans of Irish music, Sliabh Luachra will need no introduction. Something of a mini republic in Irish music terms, Sliabh Luachra, translated from the Gaelic as ‘the mountain of the rushes,’ is an area that has written its own rule book within the Irish traditional lexicon and produced its share of masterful exponents. The music is characterized by a wild reckless energy, which somehow symbolizes the rugged nature of the area.’

Diana Boullier’s Exploring Irish Music and Dance gets a look from Kim: ’At some point for children seeking to master traditional music, the learning must come through the power of relationship — through parents, friends, neighbors, or teachers. But not every child has access to that world, and many a child may be drawn to folk traditions via a chance exposure to music that calls to him or her. So what’s a parent to do? So many interests seem to pass quickly in these childhood years, making today’s investment in teachers, instruments and so forth the equivalent of pouring sand down the proverbial rat hole. I would also argue that learning to play, dance or sing Irish traditional music requires the dedication of family, teacher, and community. Diana Boullier seeks to bridge the gap between children’s interest and the world of Irish traditional music.’

Harry Long’s The Waltons Guide to Irish Music gets my approval: ‘The subtitle of this book is ‘A ComprehensiveA-Z Guide to Irish and Celtic Music in All Its Gorms’ and for once this is an accurate statement. It is indeed indispensable guide to Irish music in all its varied facets. So let’s look at this wonderful book.’
2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2ABrendan has a look at group that’s Irish to the core, to wit From the beginning: The Chieftains 1 to 4: ‘The Chieftains were one of the first modern Celtic music bands. Although completely traditional in material and instrumentation (even to point of eschewing any guitar or piano), they were one of the first bands to present Irish music to an international audience as a serious craft, whose still-quite-living tradition demanded serious attention. Paddy Moloney — then a founding member of the influential (and much larger) Irish group Ceoltoiri Chualann — formed the band in the early Sixties as a compact ensemble of Irish musicians showcasing purely Irish stylings.’

Gary has an insightful  review of the Traditional Irish Music in America anthology: ‘In the 1970s, something new yet very old was happening in America. Traditional Irish music was being played and recorded. Just when it looked as though Irish music would fade out and disappear in the modern, mechanized world of the mid-20th century, a new generation of young Irish and Irish-American musicians came under its spell. What began happening to roots music of all kinds happened to Irish music. A revival began and became a renaissance until today, it’s played in pubs, dance halls and social halls, on public radio and television, all over North America.’

Jayme looks at the debut album of a well-known group: ‘The surprise is that this album probably doesn’t sound like what the casual Clannad fan expects at all. Every band must start someplace; and Clannad, like most every other Celtic band before and since, started with a repertoire of traditional covers. ’

Jennifer looks at a recording from a member of De Dannan: ‘Fierce Traditional is the long anticipated new solo album from Frankie Gavin, and it sees him paring the sound right down, getting back to the essence of the music. With the usual stalwart suspects in the studio, long term partner Alec Finn, piano/banjo extraordinaire Brian McGrath and brother Sean Gavin, this album is all about the tunes, pure and simple.

She also reviews Tip Toe, an album by Ronan O Snodaigh who she says ‘is probably best known as the front man with Irish band Kila. A poet, songwriter, percussionist, vocalist, and landscape gardener, it seems the ridiculous O Snodaigh talent knows no bounds. He has contributed to the evolution and revolution of bodhran playing in Ireland, and has introduced percussion instruments from all around the globe to the Kila sound, and beyond.‘

Danú’s Think Before You Think gets reviewed by Kim: ‘It’s a great pleasure to begin the a new year with an album of Irish music that is filled with stellar arrangements, tunes and songs that don’t pop up on every second disc, fine musicianship and one of those famous Irish tenor voices singing the traditional style.’

Kim recommends Keoghs Irish Pub, her favorite pub in her hometown of Toronto. She says the owners have made ‘community building seem effortless, and have built the relatively new (circa 1997) pub into a hub for celebrating Irish culture in North America. The bar and its patrons are friendly, and some of the session night regulars appear to be stalwarts of the local Irish music scene. This is no age ghetto either — regulars range from pensioners to young, and often easy on the eyes, patrons in their 20s. The decor is tasteful and simple, not too dark, and the fireplace and kitchen add a bit of warmth, while the snug creates a spot for quiet conversation.’

Kim also saw one of the best Irish trad groups live: ‘Altan were one of the first truly traditional groups I came to love, and they will always be one of my favorites! I hadn’t seen Altan in five years or so — last time was at the World Theater in St. Paul — so this evening was a great treat, and anticipated with bated breath. This concert was also a benefit for the Ireland Fund of Canada, an organization that promotes cooperation between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, and seemed to draw many folks from the Irish expatriate community in Toronto, as well as other diehard Altan fans. Massey Hall is a wonderful theatre in what I’ll call the old style–minimal lobbies, ticket booth openingto the outdoors — but a grand room that has aged well over its life.‘

Lars looks at The Alt, self-titled first album from a new group: ‘and boisterous to the soft and soothing, from the long slow ballads to the fast furious instrumentals. The Alt is a trio focusing on songs, only three of the eleven tracks are instrumental sets, and traditional material. No pipes, no fiddle, but plenty of guitar, bouzouki, that special wooden Irish flute and vocal harmonies. Their sound is much closer to the style set by groups like Sweeney’s Men, Planxty and Patrick Street, than the Dubliner-side of Irish folk.

Lars exclaims of Beoga at Ten that ‘There are times when reviewing is a sheer pleasure. This is one of those moments. Beoga is an Irish five-piece group, four men and a woman, with keyboards, button accordion, fiddle, bodhran/percussion and one member doubling on guitar and button accordion. They were formed in 2002 and this is a recording of a concert to celebrate their first ten years.’

He says Eilean mo Ghaoil: The Music of Arran ‘is the brainchild of Gillian Frame, fiddler and Arran native, and if the Arran tourist board doesn’t adopt it as its official soundtrack (assuming there is such an animal as an Arran tourist board) then they’re definitely missing a bet.’

Beginish is from the band of the same name who Naomi says ‘is a potent Irish traditional group which was born from four musicians who are successful in their own right, and have a long history of collaborating with one another. This history of collaboration is what brought about the birth of this talented group, and I can only hope that they’re here to stay.’

Naomi also pens a look at Barefoot on the Altar, a tasty album indeed: ‘Chulrua (pronounced cool-ROO-ah) is not only the name of this amazing trio of celebrated musicians but the name of the favourite wolfhound of the ancient Irish hero Fionn MacCumhaill. It translates to English as “red back.” Personally, I love how traditional Irish music is infused with so much history; it adds a depth and richness which makes it even more enjoyable.’

Paul looks at ‘, (pronounced Shay), is Gaelic for ‘six’, and as well as the obvious meaning, is a lovely great mouthful of a title. For those of you who may be new to Lúnasa, this is a four-piece (Cillian Vallely joined a number of years back on pipes and low whistles) traditional Irish band. Just tunes. Great, great tunes. Fiddle, whistles, flutes, upright bass, pipes, guitar, bodhran, a little piano and trumpet even… The variety is wide but never overwhelming. It’s one of the things that have made Lúnasa what they are today: the ability to undertstand just exactly what a tune needs, without ever overcomplicating matters.’

Robert takes a look at a retrospective album by the same group,  The Story So Far: ‘As is my habit with new music, I started off by putting Lúnasa’s The Story So Far on the player while going about my daily business, just to tune my ears. My first reaction was, “OK, there’s only so much fiddling I can take at a time.” Then I sat down to listen.’2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AZina, an Irish fiddler and a great lover of Turkish Coffee, is the sole author of our extended What Not this Edition. Let’s start off with her look at the Green Man Pub which leads off this way, ‘Fiddles. They’re everywhere.’

She notes that ‘Probably my favorite kind of Irish music sessions are house sessions, where musicians are invited over to someone’s house for an evening of tunes and perhaps a few songs if there’re any singers along, and of course lots of alcohol and food.’

A great session is followed by a suitable breakfast says she: ‘Oatmeal drizzled with cream, fat pork sausages sizzling with fat, eggs both simple and fancy, bread thick with butter and strawberry jam, scones with clotted cream, calves liver, bacon, lobscouse, crispbreads, tea, coffee, Turkish coffee…’

It’s a sad read but but she wrote an appreciation of an Irish music artist we lost long before we should’ve: ‘Ah, sad news. Mícheál Ó Domhnaill is dead. It’s far too early; he was far too young. I never met the man, yet he is and likely always will be an inextricable part of the fabric of my life–the impact of his contribution to the Irish traditional music I play was all-encompassing; like his guitar backing, it lifts and carries the music forward, never changing the melody but always putting his own stamp upon it.’

She has an excellent review Of both James Carty’s Upon My Soul‘I found that there were no real highlights to this recording: it’s all good’ and a recording from a famed Lonsdon venue called Paddy In The Smoke: Irish Dance Music, From A London Pub which she  nowes ‘is simply one of the most important and influential recordings of Irish traditional music ever made.’2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2A

Let’s finish this edition First off with a tune by Clannad, a band often derided by Irish trad music lovers as just a New Age band because of their later recordings but give a listen to ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’ and I think you’ll agree that they do Irish trad rather well.

A newly composed tune that feel traditional is offered to us by Altan who recorded this while performing at Somerville Theater in Somerville, Massachusets on the 13th of February 1993. It’s ‘A Tune For Mairéad And Anna’ from their performance at the Folkadelphia Session, 7th of March, 2015.

So let’s find something sprightly to listen to end with on this fine Winter day…  Ahhh that’ll do…  Here’s De Dannan performing ‘Jenny Rocking The Cradle’ a trad Irish reel which was first was collected in printed form by O’Neill in his Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies (1903). This version was recorded at the Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, Ohio, sometime in 1982.

This incarnation of the band consisted of Jackie Daly on accordion, Alec Finn plying bouzouki and guitar, Frankie Gavin on fiddle and whistle with Colm Murphy playing the bodhran and Maura O’Connell providing the lovely vocals, which she amply demonstrates on ‘My Irish Molly-o’ from the same concert.

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A Kinrowan Estate Story: Nicholas

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He lowered his head as he walked into the Green Man Pub from the Worlds Beyond on a much too cold late Autumn evening. An impressive thing to do given that door’s a shade over eight feet tall. Dressed mostly in black including his Russian style fur hat save a floor length red woollen jacket trimmed with black fur and red detailing.

Strangely enough though he was no longer as big as a small troll when he reached the bar. Still big mind you and stocky too — six and three quarters feet easily, wide shoulders, and I guessed twenty five stone in weight, none of it fat. When he removed his hat, I saw that he had his black hair tied back in a pony tail clasped with a silver seproent chasing itself. And he bore a neatly trimmed goatee and moustache. And deep grey eyes — a rare thing indeed.

I asked his preference in drink. Mead if you got it, he said, or failing that vodka if it’s from Mother Russia. I started him off with our metheglin, the batch that’d been aged for a decade. Rare stuff indeed in a world where most mead makers think a month’s long enough to age it.

He asked in a deep voice, ‘Is this where the members of Local 564 of the Ancient and Venerable Guild of St. Nicholas, which represents Santas, Santa’s helpers, department store elves, tree trimmers, candle lighters, professional gift wrappers, goose stuffers, roast chestnut vendors, plum pudding makers, sleigh drivers, carollers for hire, bell ringers, and related trades holds their annual post-Christmas meeting?’

I was impressed that he got that correct as it’s an invocation when spoken correctly grants the hearer to admit that yes, that’s right.

After pouring him the metheglin, I asked who he was. I thought I knew who but I wanted to make sure my guess was right. He said that he had many names and many guises down the centuries but he preferred to be known as just as Nicholas though he was known also as Winter by many. He was the personification of all the Christmas deities down the years. And he was here because he felt it was time to visit us as many of his mortal helpers here mentioned him in their thoughts.

You really, I said with the deference due a possible God, don’t look like any of the Santas I’ve seen depicted. Hesitantly I went on and said, You really look like the living version of a Tzar who’s indeed the God that Russian peasants thought he was such as Peter the Great or Nicholas II as painted by a particularly well paid artist.

Instead of the frown I expected, he grinned widely showing many gold teeth and roared out a laugh as deep as the roots of a mountain. Well, he said, I do control what I choose to look like and I choose to be like this.

The rest of this tale I’ll tell another time. Suffice it to say now that I learned much about the secret history of all Winter holidays from who was the very first Snow Queen to why the British Royal Family so enthusiastically adopted the trappings of Christmas after the German royalty that married into that line brought those rituals to them.

So for now, I say good night and sleep well. Dream of sugar plum faeries and such if you want, but I’ll be dreaming of a darker, much more pagan holiday.

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What’s New for the 26th of November: The Gypsy tradition of Serbian music, Kurdish pop, Music from Nightnoise, Hot Cocoa, Classic Fairy Tales, Slipstream, and It’s Snowing!

The odd thing about people who had many books was how they always wanted more. — Patricia A. McKillip’s The Bell at Sealey Head

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Yes that’s snow you see out the Pub windows here. And a quite serious snow storm it is for this time of year. The Met‘s forecasting somewhere around eight to ten inches of snow in our area with the temperature staying well below freezing for the foreseeable future. I’ve tossed several well seasoned logs, one apple and the other being maple, on the Pub Fireplace, for warmth and for the ambiance.

Books are being read by many staffers and conversations held as well this afternoon, though there’s no live music as the Neverending Session, a compact group of three players right now, is mooching off the Kitchen staff in exchange for Swedish trad tunes as Astrid, one of our Several Annies, is baking there and she was expressing here earlier a fondness for such tunes. She’ll be doing the Solstice Edition later this year.

I’ve been reading The Mythic Fantasy of Robert Holdstock which reads a lot better than most such works do. Holdstock did two amazing series, Ryhope Wood and Celtika, both of which are quite long enough to take an entire Winter to read.  Richard will be giving us full reviews of the new trade paper editions of Mythago Wood and Lavondyss as they’ve new intros and brilliant cover art. Now let’s see what we’ve got for you this Edition…

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Grey leads off our book reviews with this tome:  ‘So what does Iona and Peter Opie’s The Classic Fairy Tales have to offer that makes it worth being reprinted numerous times since its first publication in 1974? Chiefly this: collected here are twenty-four of the best-known traditional fairy tales as they were first published in English. The earliest is “The History of Tom Thumbe, the Little, for his small stature surnamed, King Arthvrs Dwarfe: Whose Life and aduentures containe many strange and wonderfull accidents, published for the delight of merry Time-spenders,” dated 1621. The text from which “Hansel and Gretel” — the last tale in the collection — is taken was published in 1853.’’

Lory looks lovingly at a mystery done by the creator of Pooh: ‘In the early years of the twentieth century, A. A. Milne was a well-known writer of plays as well as humorous essays and poems. The Red House Mystery, published shortly before he became world-famous as the creator of Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh, is his only detective novel.’

I really like short story collections and Naomi has a look at one by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling: ‘Black Heart, Ivory Bones is the sixth and final volume in the library of stories inspired by classic fairy tales. It all began in 1990 when the award-winning editors realized that they shared a love of old fairy tales. Not the cute, ‘they lived happily ever after’ tales with their almost blatant morals, which can be found in most nurseries today, but their predecessors. The tales filled with sensuality, darkness, and unexpected twists.‘

For those of you old enough to remember the Golden Age of science fiction, the name ‘Emshwiller’ should ring a lot of bells. Likewise, those of you who are familiar with slipstream/interfictions. Robert takes a look at a biography of two of the most remarkable figures in the field, Luis Ortiz’ Emshwiller: Infinity x Two — The Art and Life of Ed and Carol Emshwiller: ‘The book is also, as so many biographies of figures of the Golden Age seem to be, as much about the history of science fiction as about individual lives. In this case, it is the history of science fiction illustration, with later references to that of avant-garde filmmaking and video art.’

And an additional treat — a look at one of Carol’s books, The Secret City. Says Robert: ‘Carol Emshwiller is one of those writers who seems to have been a closely guarded secret until recently. With the emergence of slipstream fiction, she is becoming more and more of a household word (in some households, at least) and, if The Secret City is any indication, for good reason.’

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As cooler temps become the rule of the day, Denise takes a look at Trader Joe’s Organic Hot Cocoa Mix. She found it a lovely way to start the day, and perhaps even enjoy the evening; “…if you’ve a mind, a splash of Kahlua and/or Bailey’s wouldn’t be amiss.” Now go see what she thinks cocoa lovers should give this one a try.

Continuing the cocoa theme, Robert looks at three chocolate bars from Equal Exchange, to wit Dark Chocolate with Almonds, Chocolate Espresso Bean and Extra Dark Chocolate Panama, which weren’t exactly the best bars he’d encountered. Read his review to see why this so.

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Robert takes a look at Brain Camp, a graphic novel he calls — well, let him tell it: ‘I think the best description I’ve seen of Brain Camp, written by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, drawn by Faith Erin Hicks, is “creepy.” Camp Fielding is a parent’s dream: a summer camp dedicated to taking your young loser and turning him or her into, in the words of the camp director, someone “ready for SATs and beyond.”’

And in an entirely different vein, we have Prince of Persia. Robert says: ‘Prince of Persia presents us with another of the increasing number of spin-offs from gaming. It’s an intriguing story, sometimes filled with pathos, sometimes hair-raising, and always ambiguous.’

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Ahhh Clannad, that sort of Celtic group with New Age pretensions as well as jazzy riffs. Well it wasn’t so always, as Jayme notes in reviewing their debut recording called simply Clannad: ‘The surprise is that this album probably doesn’t sound like what the casual Clannad fan expects at all. Every band must start someplace; and Clannad, like most every other Celtic band before and since, started with a repertoire of traditional covers.’

Kim has a conversation with several members of Danú, an Irish group which was done when they were early on in their career: ‘I spoke with Ciarán Ó Gealbháin (vocalist) and Donnchadh Gough (bodhrán and uilleann pipes) about the influences on Danú’s music, and the blending of new sounds with the old traditions. Their main stage set on Friday evening was one of the high points of the evening for me, they were enthusiastic, with both great instrumentals, and a vocalist with an actual great voice. Danú hail from Co. Waterford, although several musicians have come from other parts of Ireland, and the fiddle player, Jesse, is a U.S. expatriate.’

Robert brings us a look at a CD by a group that is not even remotely Celtic — in fact, it’s from the other end of Europe: Boban Marković Orkestar’s Boban i Marko: ‘There seems to be, in the Gypsy tradition of Serbian music, an affinity for Western jazz. This does not mean that the music performed by the Boban Marković Orkestar is jazz, but simply that jazz wanders in and feels very much at home. What the music is, is lively, often exotic, and yet somehow familiar.’

And another album from an entirely different culture — would you believe Kurdish pop? Robert discusses Sivan Perwer’s self-titled album: ‘It may seem odd to make this statement about a recording by a Kurdish popular singer, but this album rocks.’

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For our What Not this week, Robert hauls out a bit of arcana: the Visconti-Sforza Tarocchi: ‘The Visconti-Sforza Tarocchi is a facsimile edition compiled from decks now housed in the Pierpont-Morgan Library, the Accademia Carrara, and the Casa Colleoni. The cards themselves are beautiful, although somewhat strange to modern eyes – the decks from which this group has been assembled were in use nearly 600 years ago, during the High Middle Ages in Italy, and for those who enjoy medieval art, they are captivating.’

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So let’s finish off with some choice music from Nightnoise, to wit ‘Toys, Not Ties’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain, on the 23rd of April twenty-six years ago. For more on this superb sort of Celtic band, go read our career retrospective here. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and also included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Bonfires

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Nothing warms my heart and body as much as a bonfire does. Oh I know that I could be inside with my wife Bree enjoying the warmth of the fireplaces in our Cottage , but I love, particularly as Autumn gives way to Winter, being outside when a roaring bonfire’s been built.

We build bonfires often in the courtyard here at the Kinrowan Estate. Sometimes we have lively contradances deep into the night with bloody big mugs of hot chocolate, spiced cider or tea to aid in keeping everyone warm, and sometimes the Neverending Session treats those who care to come out in the cold to music by fire and moonlight. There’s something rather amazing to hear those musos play long into the night with the stars overhead.

Now building a proper bonfire is not something most folks know how to do. They think just throwing anything wooden into a pile and lighting is all there is to it.  And we won’t even dwell on the idiots who use petrol to ignite their bonfires which is a sure way to get someone hurt badly.

A proper bonfire first of all needs a pit, preferably made out of stone. Ours is twelve feet across and three feet deep — need I say that it’s set a safe distance from anything that could catch fire? The wood for the bonfire should be a mix of softwoods like spruce and pine for both its quick burning and its lovely crackling sound; the hardwoods we use are maple and oak as they’ll burn a long time.

Our fire pit has a three foot wide flat lip — perfect for sitting on as the fire dies down. As the courtyard has a nice stone tile surface perfect for dancing (at least ’til it gets really cold); we often use the bonfire as a light source for those dances. And we’ve actually roasted whole pigs in the pit — really good eating that makes!

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What’s New for the 19th of November: Of Dragons and Other Matters


I am Jomungand, the Last Dinosaur, destroyer, devourer, ravager of kingdoms and epochs, all greed and covetness, brooding loneliness. Once I was Dragon, but in this scientific age that is no longer stylish. The flames I kept for high drama. Now I, who was once Behemoth, am only pieced-together bones, first believed to belong to biblical giants, fresh-dug by nearsighted archaeologists, given flesh by faint intellects, made poorer by lack of imagination. — James Stoddard’s The High House, volume one of the Evenmere trilogy.

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There are no Dragons here on the Kinrowan Estate save the hidden stone one in The Wild Wood and a de Vinci style drawing of one such creature that appears every so often on the bulletin board near the Green Man Pub. Now Dragons in fiction are quite common, be it le Guin’s Earthsea series, Stoddard’s Evenmere trilogy, Tolkien”s The Hobbit, Yolen and  Ming’s Merlin and The Dragon or the Vald Taltos stories of Steven Brust (although those are a different order of dragon, to be sure). There’s even a touching story of a dragon in Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.

Now there are definitely impressive looking dragons to be found in the Charles Vess illustrated edition of the Earthsea trilogy that Saga Press will be publishing early next year. As the article on the Tor website notes: ‘In 2018, Saga Press will publish all six of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels in one volume, to mark the 50th anniversary of her landmark fantasy series. What’s more, The Books of Earthsea will be the first fully illustrated edition, with the cover and both color and black-and-white interior illustrations (including chapter headings, full-page illustrations, and smaller pictures) by Charles Vess.’  Oh that’s impressive!

Of course there’s a connection to Dragons this time, as you should expect. So let’s see what is here…

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Drawing Down The Moon: The Art of Charles Vess is is an exhibition catalogue for a show that should’ve been for someone who’s illustrated such works as Seven Wild Sisters and The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, a favourite of mine. Let’s have Charles explain why I believe this: ‘All you need to do is flip through the book to realize that when it comes to traditional fairy, folk tale and fantasy art, there are few artists who do it better than Vess.’

Gary looks at a novel that has a very prominent dragon in it, to wit R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit as illustrated by Jemima Catlin: ‘This is a handsome book, green cloth over board with a color-and-gilt illustration of Bilbo resting against a vine-covered tree on the cover. It’s a perfect size for reading aloud, its illustrations just right to be seen when held up by the reader or the book is sturdy enough to be passed around. Those illustrations, as befits this rather gentle adventure tale, are humorous or mildly scary as appropriate. As a bonus, you can read it in just about the same amount of time that it would take you to watch all three installments of the overblown and misguided movie adaptation.’

A book by Stephen Ekman that takes its title from the mythology of these creatures gets reviewed by me: ‘Now we have a really detailed look at the role of fantasy maps and the settings they help create in fantasy literature. (Though weirdly enough, Here Be Dragons has only three such maps in it suggesting the author either had trouble getting permission to use more such maps or the use of them was deemed too costly.) It is not the usual collection of edited articles but appears an actual cohesive look at this fascinating subject.‘

Robert looks at an old favourite: ‘The Forgotten Beasts of Eld was the first book by Patricia A. McKillip that I ever read. Two things struck me about it: it was different than any other fantasy I had read to that point, most of which were in the high-minded, seriously heroic mode, but written in “realistic” prose; and it was funny. I didn’t know fantasy could be funny.’ (Dragon? Of course there’s a dragon.)

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Cat notes of Hellboy: Sword of Storms that ‘If you’re looking for a fix as you wait for the long might be Hellboy film, this animated film along with the other animated film, Hellyboy: Blood and Iron, will hopefully tide you over. They certainly fulfilled my Hellboy jones!‘ Read his review to see how Dragons figure into this tale.

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Soup is a comfort food here on the Kinrowan Estate once cold weather arrives to drag on far too long, so Mrs. Ware and her staff do such things as a roasted pumpkin soup served with a generous dollop of Riverrun sour cream on each bowl when it’s served. The trick is to roast chunks of pumpkin in the wood fired oven until they acquire a bit of char which brings out the rich flavour of the pumpkin… So let’s have Gus tell you the tale of the always simmering stockpots.

Robert lucked out and got to review a Super-Dark Mexican-Style Stone-Ground chocolate from Taza: ‘I have to admit I was somewhat surprised at this one: the strongest chocolate I’ve ever had was 70% cacao, and I was thinking that 85% was really pushing it, but quite frankly, for us certified chocoholics, this is a real treat. The texture is somewhat exotic because of the graininess, but rather than being a drawback, it sort of made me wonder what I’d been missing all these years.’

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The Winter Holidays are fast approaching, so are you looking for that perfect gift for your lover of English folk rock? Oh, do I have a gift that’s perfect! EMI has recently served up A Parcel of Steeleye Span. This triple disc set contains the entirety of their first five albums for Chrysalis, from 1972’s Below The Salt to 1975’s All Around My Hat with A Parcel of Rogues, Commoners Crown, and Now We Are Six being the recordings in between. This completely remastered collection has 46 tracks in all, including a number of very tasty bonus tracks.

Kim notes ‘This is the album that got the Hedningarna phenomenon going, a richly textured, darkly fascinating instrumental album by the “core” trio of Björn Tollin (frame drum, string drum, hurdy-gurdy, moraharpa), Anders Norudde (fiddle, hardanger fiddle, moraharpa, swedish bagpipe, bowed harp, jews harp, wooden and pvc bass flutes) and Hållbus Totte Mattsson (lute, baroque guitar, hurdy gurdy). On more recent albums, the group has expanded to include other players and some dynamite vocalists, most recently exploring the roots of Swedish folk traditions in Russia on Karelia Visa.’

Another take on Swedish folk traditions (among others) is Fylgja’s Strå. Robert notes: ‘“Fylgja” in Scandinavian folklore is a guardian spirit that appears in dreams, often seen as female. Fylgja in contemporary music is a group composed of three Danes and two Swedes, with strong roots in traditional Scandinavian music and a tendency to draw upon whatever tradition looks interesting.’

In that vein, Robert had some thoughts on tradition in music while he was listening to Mozaik’s Changing Trains: ‘What I’m noticing in my journey through “traditional” music is, first of all, tradition is what you make of it (in other words, anyone who works with traditional music is negotiating with the past), and second, there are lots of traditions (which is to say, everyone who works with traditional music is also negotiating with everyone else).’

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Our What Not is not unexpectedly of a Dragonish manner, and let’s have Camille explain for us: ‘Like every Folkmanis puppet I’ve so far seen, the Baby Dragon Puppet is a marvel of workmanship for the price: carefully stitched seams, articulated wings, darts along the inside of the limbs and belly to allow for movement and keep shape. The tag tells us it’s made in China, so we know who to thank.’

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No dragons in our Coda for this week, but a nice little dance by Andrew York that seems to defy time and place — Sharon Isbin plays ’Andecy’, which is also featured on her album Journey to the New World. Give a listen — it will certainly lighten your mood.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Kedgeree

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I had an exemplary kedgeree for my breakfast this morning along with a lovely lapsang souchong tea. Now if you’re reading this in the States, you might be puzzled as to what I ate. And when you hear what it is, you might well say that kedgeree doesn’t sound like a breakfast dish ‘tall!

Kedgeree, as prepared by Mrs. Ware and her kitchen staff here at Kinrowan, is a dish comprised of curried rice, smoked salmon and chopped eggs with a splash of cream as well.  On a cold, blustery morning such as we’re having here in the middle of November, since I promised Gus that I’d be part of the crew cleaning up the nearby grounds, it is bloody fine comfort food.

It’s considered a traditional British breakfast dish but its roots are in East Indian, cooking having started its life as khichari, a simple dish of rice and lentils. Due to the British Raj and the colonization of the sub-continent the, dish was adapted and turned into something more suited to those Brits serving in India, and it returned to Britain with them during the Victorian era.

Notice that I said we make it here using smoked salmon, specifically applewood smoked salmon. The salmon comes from the river that runs through our Estate and it works just fine. I Should note that our Kitchen doesn’t use sultanas, though some cooks do. Ours is also quite a bit more spicy than the somewhat milder version most Brits prefer.

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What’s New for the 12th of November: Dead Can Dance peform ‘The Lotus Eaters’, an Alan Garner novel for adults and other Autumnal matters

I came to the realization many years ago that I like big, strong, even aggressive tastes: cheddars so sharp they make your eyes water, curries in general, though preferably fairly hot, garlic-heavy Middle-Eastern mezes, chilli-saturated Mexican dishes, hugely fruity Aussie wines, and thumpingly, almost aggressively flavoured whiskies. — Iain Banks in Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram

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I can smell garlic, cumin, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and butter-braised lamb as I approach our Kitchen… All welcome smells, especially on this raw, rainy afternoon on this Scottish estate where the temperature will be hard pressed to reach freezing.

It’ll be a day of naps, reading and noshing for most of the Estate staff who can avoid going out into the raw weather. Rebekah, our newish Kitchen staffer who’s from Haifa, uses a day like this to do a stunning array of Jewish sweeks, to wit date-filled hamantash, krembo (a chocolate-coated marshmallow treat), rugelakh, some filled with raspberry jam and some filled with chocolate, and even ma’amoul, small shortbread pastries filled with dates, pistachios or walnuts.

And that yeasty smell that is ever appreciated is freshly baked whole wheat sourdough rolls more than warm enough to warrant butter and the jam of your choice on them are present as will. Join me in the Kitchen after you peruse this Edition.

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April starts our book reviews off with a work from Charles de Lint: ‘Part murder mystery, part horror story, Mulengro is a de Lint urban fantasy of a different sort. Set in and around modern day Ottawa, the novel is, above all else, a study in colliding cultures, namely those of Rom and Gaje (all that is not Rom), that which is resilient yet transitory and that which is possessive.’

Cat has a caution about Boneland,  an Alan Garner work he listened to: ‘Let’s start off with what Boneland isn’t: despite sharing a primary character with The Weirdstone of Brisingame andThe Moon of Gomrath, beloved children’s novels known as The Alderley Tales that were published in 1957 and 1964, this is very much an adult novel not intended for the pleasure of children whatsoever. Indeed its tone is more akin to what the late Robert Holdstock did in his Ryhope Wood series than anything else Alan Garner has done excepting Thursbitch and Strandloper.’

Denise is an unabashed Sookie Stackhouse fan (don’t know that name? Maybe you’ve heard about the television show True Blood? Thought so.) So when author Charlaine Harris came out with The Complete Sookie Stackhouse Stories, she gave it a look. And she liked what she saw. ‘It’s good to be back in Bon Temps y’all. Reading these stories felt like I was slipping on my favorite pair of jean shorts and settling into the front porch swing. Fans of Sookie will definitely feel the same. A tall cool glass of sweet tea is optional, but highly encouraged.’

Robert has a look at one of a series that has become rather more than a mere series. In this case, it’s Kage Baker’s The Machine’s Child: ‘What Baker is doing is putting together an extended mega-novel with all of time and all of humanity as its focus. By this stage of the game, it’s become something on the order of Wagnerian opera, but accomplished with characters and relationships rather than with musical leitmotifs.’

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Films start first as scripts that are continuously amended as circumstances require. Denise looks at Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary’s Beowulf: The Script Book: ‘Unlike most people, I have fond memories of reading Beowulf in high school. Maybe that’s why I’m writing for GMR rather than some other site. But the tale of a hero riding in to save the day — and rip the arm off of a monster with his bare hands — was fantastic to my highschool D&D playin’ eyes. I like barbarians, what can I say? So I figured the script book would be just as interesting.’

Ahh Time Bandits. Not ‘tall surprisingly, Kage, author of the aforementioned, time spanning The Company series, loved it: ‘Time Bandits was a critical and commercial hit. Blessed with a cast that included Sir Ralph Richardson as the Supreme Being, David Warner as Evil, and Sean Connery as King Agamemnon (and a fireman), Time Bandits is a classic magical adventure story in the mold of E. Nesbit’s books, but with an updated edge and a sharper sense of humor. Unlike most candy-coated parables handed out to kids, it tells no lies and ends in a brutal and surprisingly exhilarating way.’pumpkins

As Hallowe’en has come and gone, thoughts turn from Fun Size treats to things more substantial. Denise tore into a bar of Alter Eco Dark Blackout 85% Cocoa Chocolate Bar, and paused just long enough to jot down a review. ‘If this is the kind of stuff Alter Eco puts out, I’m eager to try more. Read on to find out exactly what this dark-but-not-too-dark chocolate lover thought about this treat.’

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April reviews the first volume in an ongoing series by David Petersen: ‘The year is 1152, treachery is afoot, and the Mouse Guard, defenders of all mice, must suss out the traitor in their midst before the Guard is destroyed. So goes the basic plot of Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, a graphic novel collection of Petersen’s award-winning comic. And just so there’s no confusion, Mouse Guard isn’t a nickname or colloquialism — the protagonists really are mice, the small, furry rodent kind.’

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Blowzabella is one of our favourite groups here, so a tune book by them is a great treat! Barb, a practicing muiscian and music teacher, is the reviewer for Blowzabella — New Tunes for Dancing. She says it is ‘a fabulous collection of 130 tunes that have been composed by various members of the band over the years and is supplemented by a wealth of other information: a history of the group, dance instructions, personal histories by ten musicians, photos, discography, and a membership history (complete with a listing of instruments and makers). It is a volume both dancers and musicians will appreciate.’

Gary reports from the mysterious frontier portrayed in the music of Gun Outfit. Their new album Out of Range, he says, is ‘a guitar-laden melange of cosmic Americana, psychedelia and desert airiness, recognizable to fans of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Meat Puppets, Giant Sand and the like.’

Gary also reviews a new album by American singers Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton, founders of the Be Good Tanyas. Wildflower Blues, he says, ‘… has a slightly ramshackle, down-home vibe … that fits these songs and musicians well.’

Kim exclaims of Gjallarhorn’s Grimborg that ‘What is it about Nordic folk music that draws you? Is it the wailing fiddles, the slight dissonance that seems to tap into something very basic? Is it the melodies, the lilt to the tunes? And Gjallarhorn’s magic? Was it the wild cant to the songs that married didgeridoo, fiddle and wild percussion? Or was it the evocative strings? Dear Reader, if you haven’t yet had the Gjallarhorn experience, you’ve missed out!’

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What’s the best way to spend a birthday? For some, it’s a rollicking craic with a few hundred of your nearest and dearest. Others prefer a smaller gathering of friends, while there are those who choose to bask in the company of one, and a single candle to commemorate the occasion. Here at GMR, birthdays are typically a whirlwind affair complete with Cook’s famous/infamous Mystery Cake, ‘Birthday’ by The Beatles on the turntable, and, of course, lots of candles. However you celebrate, be sure to be kind to yourself. And remember, it’s not just a birthday, it’s a birth month. And technically a birth year … but until that time machine is perfected, days and months are all we’ll be getting. Probably for the best.

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We have something a little out of the ordinary for our Coda this week — a glimpse of something sensuous, hypnotic, and almost tropical to counter the wintery day: Dead Can Dance peform ‘The Lotus Eaters’ live in Den Haag. The song is also found on their ‘best of’ album, Wake.

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