The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home

More than just a lovely French Renaissance chateau set in amazing landscape of forests, formal gardens and mountains, Biltmore, the home of George and Edith Vanderbilt as told by Denise Kiernan in her latest book, The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, is also a main character in this account of one of this country’s most amazing homes.

Comprised of four acres of floor space, Biltmore dwarfs even the most opulent McMansion of today. The numbers tell all. The home, the largest privately owned house in the U.S., has 250 rooms including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, three kitchens, 65 fireplaces and a library.

But beyond the immense magnificence of the house, Kiernan, whose previous book, The Girls of Atomic City, was a New York Times best seller, brings the house alive with stories of its owners. Meticulously detailed, Kiernan is someone who loves to immerse herself in research. But the Vanderbilt mansion in Ashville, North Carolina is also very personal. A resident of this mountain town for the last 11 years, Kiernan’s connection to the mansion goes back even further when she first visited when in high school.

“This place is unique in that it is still standing and all the original things are still in it,” says Kiernan who describes her book as asking people to go for a walk back in time.  “Many of the great mansions are gone. That’s one more reason why Biltmore is one of the main characters. Those that lived there were just passing through.”

Besides its sumptuousness as well as being a perfect example of how the very rich lived in the Gilded Age (before all those nasty income taxes made the rich just a little less rich), George Vanderbilt also was ahead of his time in that he bought up large tracks of the failing farms surrounding the estate. Then, he hired landscaping genius Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York and the University of Chicago campus, to create America’s first managed forest.

When asked what she would like readers to take away from The Last Castle, Kiernan says she’d like to instill a curiosity of our own history and that people read the book and take away a new appreciation for historic preservation.

“Everyone brings a little bit of themselves to stories they read and I hope the story of The Last Castle is relatable enough that readers will be able to engage with it in their own unique way,” says Kiernan who marvels how interconnected many of the events from the sinking of the Titanic to the invention of the Teddy Bear touch upon the home.  “I also find that no matter how much money you have, there is no protection from harrowing tragedy and personal loss. What is impressive to me is how people handle those kinds of situations.”

Ifyougo:

What: Denise Kiernan Chicago book events.

Where & When:

Anderson’s Bookshop,

123 W Jefferson Ave., Naperville, IL

Wednesday, September 27 at 7pm

(630) 355-2665

The University Club of Chicago

76 E. Monroe St. Chicago, IL

Thursday, September 28 at noon

Tickets available at 847-446-8880

Woman’s Athletic Club

626 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL

Thursday, September 28 at 6-8 pm

312-944-6123

 

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The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye

Lisbeth Salander, computer hacker extraordinaire, social misfit and martial arts expert, is back in The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye.  The fifth in the Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, Salander sentenced to prison for several months after she protects an autistic child in her typical law-breaking but righteous way. But even prison bars can’t stop Salander from assisting muckraking journalist Mikael Blomkvist as he investigates The Registry, a secret group of doctors conducting illegal experiments on twins.  It’s all personal for Salander, who has an evil twin named Camilla.

The investigation is also a chance for Salander to learn more about her abusive past. But there are, as always, barriers in the way. A prison gang leader has put a hit order on her, the Russian mafia and religious fundamentalists are after her and Camilla  is back and more treacherous.

Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the first novel in the Millennium series started by Stieg Larsson and, after his death continued by David Lagercrantz, will be happy that Salander and Blomkvist have teamed up again in this thriller set in Sweden.

For Lagercrantz, a well-established journalist and novelist, the chance to take over the Millennium series was an exciting opportunity. It was also rather daunting as Larsson’s Millennium trilogy sold more than 80 million copies worldwide.

“If I have a gift it is probably to have the ability to write in many ways,” says Lagercrantz. “My sister who is an actor sometimes calls me an actor-writer, I go in to roles. My journalism past helped me a lot. I always say if you want to write good journalism use literary techniques, and if you want to write good fiction use journalistic research. Of course, it helped me to understand the life of Michael Blomkvist. In my heart, I am always a reporter.”

To successfully channel the characters Larsson created, Lagercrantz read the original three books over and over and thought about the characters’ universe day and night.

“My key to writing the book was passion,” he says. “It was the thrill of my life.”

That passion showed. The Girl in the Spider Web, his first book for the series, was a best seller.

Beyond giving his readers an enjoyable story, Lagercrantz wants to help people become more tolerant and understanding than we currently are.

“It is so sad to see the society getting more and more divided,” he says. “Hate is obviously growing, thanks to terrible leaders, and if I can bring just some of us a little tiny bit closer I would be so happy.”

 

Author shares Rosh Hashanah recipes: Cookbook offers sweet, savory recipes to celebrate the new year

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, celebrates heritage and a chance for rejuvenation.

Emily Paster, author of the newly released “The Joys of Jewish Preserving: Modern Recipes with Traditional Roots, for Jams, Pickles, Fruit Butters, and More — for Holidays and Every Day” said the most common Rosh Hashanah tradition is to eat sweet foods to symbolize the hope for a new year.

“Ashkenazi Jews, for example, often begin the Rosh Hashanah meal by dipping slices of apple in honey,” said Paster, who lives in the Chicago area and writes the popular blog westoftheloop.com. “Quince is the traditional Rosh Hashanah fruit for Sephardic Jews. Other foods are traditional because eating them is considered to be a good omen for the new year, bringing luck and prosperity. These traditions are often based on a food’s color or appearance; or, more obscurely, they are a play on the Hebrew or Yiddish name for the food.”

 As an example of this play on words, Paster gives the example of eftes de prasa, or leek fritters.

“With fall being peak season for leeks, these sweet, tender fritters are the perfect appetizer for your Rosh Hashanah meal. And, naturally, leeks are also a symbolic food for the start of the new year. The word for leek in Hebrew is related to the word kareyt, which means ‘to cut.’ Prior to eating leeks on Rosh Hashanah, Sephardic Jews recite a special prayer that those who wish to hurt them will instead be cut down.”

Some of the Rosh Hashanah recipes included in Paster’s book are Fruitful Fig Jam, Golden Pumpkin Butter, Quince Paste and Apple Honey and Rose Water Jam.

“Every recipe in my book was inspired by an idea, and I developed every recipe myself because I wanted it to be a cookbook that everyone can use,” Paster says.

Some recipes call for canning and the use of a pressure cooker. If you’re short on time, you can make the jams, ketchups, pickles, conserves, chutneys and pastes and then refrigerate them. It means a shorter shelf life but less time in the kitchen.

As for Paster, this Rosh Hashanah holiday she’ll definitely be making a round challah.

“Usually challah is a braided oval, but we make a round one on RH to symbolize the never-ending cycle of years and seasons, says Paster, a graduate of Princeton University and University of Michigan’s Law School and a former attorney whose interest in food segued into researching and writing about the subject.

“I begin the meal with chicken soup and a meat-filled dumpling called kreplach. These dumplings are not as famous as matzo balls, but they are very special and traditional for the High Holidays. Some people serve them the night before Yom Kippur — which is the day we fast. I also usually make brisket for the main course. These leek patties are a nice side dish. Dessert is often an apple or honey cake. I like to change it every year.”

Eftes de Prasa (Leek Fritters)

6 leeks, white and green parts only, halved and sliced thinly

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 eggs beaten

1/2 cup dry bread crumbs, such as Panko

1/4 cup chopped chives

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup neutral oil with high smoke point from frying, such as canola or grapeseed

Lemon wedges for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.

Sauté the sliced leeks until softened, about ten minutes, but do not allow them to brown. Adjust heat as necessary. Season well with salt and pepper.

Place softened leeks in a large bowl. Add beaten egg, bread crumbs, and chives and combine well.

Heat oil for frying in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Preheat oven to 250. When oil is shimmering, but not smoking, form golf ball-sized balls of batter with damp hands and drop them, three or four at a time, in the skillet and flatten slightly with a spatula.

Cook fritters until browned on first side, 1-2 minutes and turn carefully turn them over and cook on other side, another 1-2 minutes until browned. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Repeat with remaining batter, adding more oil to the skillet as necessary. Keep cooked fritters warm in the oven until all the batter is cooked.

Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing.

Fritters can be made in advance and chilled until needed. Reheat in a 400 degree oven prior to serving.

Challah

Makes 1 loaf

4 cups all-purpose flour

2¼ teaspoons instant yeast

1 cup water,

approximately 110 degrees

3 eggs, at room temperature

¼ cup vegetable oil

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon salt

Poppy or sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, yeast, and warm water. Stir to combine. Add 2 eggs, the vegetable oil, sugar, honey, and salt.

Mix the dough with the dough hook until a smooth dough emerges, about 5 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and knead by hand for an additional 5 minutes, adding more flour frequently to prevent sticking.

The dough should be smooth and elastic. It may be slightly tacky to the touch.

Place the dough in a bowl that has been oiled on all sides. Cover the dough with a clean cloth and allow it to rise in a warm place for 2 hours or until doubled in size. Punch down risen dough and divide into 3 equal parts. I like to use my kitchen scale to ensure my pieces are of equal size.

Roll each piece into a thin strand about 2 feet long. Pinch the 3 strands together at the top and then braid until you reach the end of each strand. Take the ends and pinch them closed and tuck the under the loaf.

Carefully transfer the braided loaf to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Cover the loaf with a clean tea towel and allow to rise for an additional 30 minutes to 1 hour, until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Before placing the loaf in the oven, beat the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of water in

a small bowl. Brush the egg wash on the challah, making sure to get in the crevices of the braids. If desired, sprinkle sesame or poppy seeds over the top. Bake 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown.

Allow to cool on a wire rack before cutting.

Apple, Honey and Rose Water Jam

Makes four 8-ounce jars

3 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ½-in dice (6 to 7 cups prepped)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1½ cups sugar

1 cup honey

1 teaspoon rose water

Prepare a boiling water bath and heat four 8-ounce jars.

Place the apples, ½ cup of water, and lemon juice in a wide, deep saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stir, and cover the pot. Lower the heat to medium, and cook until the apples are soft, about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent sticking or burning.

Mash the apples coarsely with a fork or potato masher. Add the sugar and honey to the pot, stirring to dissolve. Return to a boil over medium-high heat.

Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and mounds up on a spoon, about 10 to 15 minutes. It will splatter, so use caution.

Remove the jam from the heat and stir in the rose water. Ladle jam into clean, warm jars, leaving ¼ inch of headspace at the top. Bubble the jars and wipe the rims with a damp cloth. Place the lids on the jars and screw on the rings just until you feel resistance. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Allow to cool in the water for 5 minutes before removing. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.