August 02, 2018


Calendars (wall for 2019): Downton Abbey; The Great British Baking Show; Signboard Beach; Country Farmhouse. Universe/Andrews McMeel, $14.99 each (Downton; Baking). Andrews McMeel, $14.99 each (Beach; Farmhouse).

Calendar (page-a-day for 2019): What the Cluck? Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

     Summer is a traditional travel time for many families, but the desire to visit new, different and exotic places knows no season. And one of the nice things about physical calendars, as opposed to electronic ones contained in various devices, is that you can decide where you want to go all year and visit that place – or those places – by simply glancing each day at the wall. So summer offers a good opportunity to think about where you would like to “visit” (virtually, of course) after the warm weather is gone and the chill days beginning in January have arrived. In fact, some places are better visited via calendar than in person, such as the otherwise-impossible-to-go-back-to world of the popular Downton Abbey TV series. The six-part series ran from 2010 through 2015, but even though it has been off the air for years now, enthusiasm for its intricate, melodramatic upstairs/downstairs stories of the long-gone world of Great Britain a century ago has scarcely abated among its many fans. The recent announcement that a Downton Abbey movie is in the works has reignited interest in the original TV programs, but of course that film – intended as a continuation of the original series – will not be shot, edited and released for some time. This means that a Downton Abbey calendar for 2019 is just the thing for lovers of the lush, largely authentically designed historical drama and the Crawley family around which the stories revolve. The 2019 calendar neatly transports fans to a dozen different venues associated with the series: indoor and outdoor, among the aristocrats and the servants, with one character shown on horseback and another holding an appropriately attractive dog. And always there are the costumes to focus on and enjoy: period dress bespeaking long-ago elegance of display and manners that may have hidden some levels of misbehavior but did so with very considerable élan. For a visit both to the past and to a much earlier version of Great Britain, the Downton Abbey calendar is ideal.

     But there are other ways to journey “across the pond” without boarding an airplane and without indulging in olden times – even while retaining a television connection. The Great British Baking Show has fans that, it is safe to assume, somewhat overlap those of Downton Abbey but are scarcely identical to them. The show is tremendous fun in a far more lighthearted and participatory way than any period costume drama could be – although the people who actually participate in the televised baking contests are certainly earnest and usually intense about what they are doing. The calendar for 2019 is, above all, a joy to look at, about as perfect to hang in a kitchen as any wall calendar can be. Each month features a gorgeous full-color photograph of baked goods so delicious-looking that kids may be tempted to lick the pages. (Adults may be, too, when no one is watching.) The pies and cakes, the tarts and macaroons, are artfully arranged for the pictures and beautifully photographed to maximize their visual impact and elicit a certain level of jealousy on the western side of the Atlantic regarding the delights clearly being prepared in England. But the jealousy need not last long for aspiring North American bakers, because every one of the dozen deliciousnesses shown comes with a recipe for making your own. That is a particular charm of this calendar: it can transport someone from an ordinary kitchen to the sort of place where The Great British Baking Show takes place, not only geographically but also in terms of the taste of the baked goods – and the elaborate elements of their preparation. Truth to tell, these are not recipes for the faint of heart or limited of time: the gorgeous frangipane tart, for example, specifies superfine sugar, butter that has been chilled and diced, plus medium eggs that are to be at room temperature, and almond meal. And that is just one item among 12. So it may be a bit of a challenge to attempt to make all the lovely desserts shown here – but still, aspiring British-style bakers may want to try one a month, along with spending plenty of time simply enjoying the look of the foods as photographed for the calendar.

     Those who prefer something more homespun and more outdoorsy can enjoy calendar travel as well. For example, why not keep the “beach feeling” of summer alive all year with the Signboard Beach calendar for 2019? Unlike the bright, multicolor photos of British baked goods, the pictures here are all weathered-looking in that wooden-signs-at-the-beach way – and all the pictures actually show signs, which may not really be from beaches but which certainly partake of the relaxed, laid-back lifestyle involved in being very near the sand and water. “Life Is Better in Flip Flops,” proclaims one sign, showing a pair of beach shoes positioned just so in the middle of the words. “Peace, Love, Salty Kisses,” another page says, with a stylized starfish bringing home the atmosphere. That page goes well with “All You Need Is Love,” the words shown in the foreground with two face-to-face, almost-kissing seahorses behind them. The theme of this calendar is neatly encapsulated by the picture of sailboats in the water, birds flying above them, and the words, “Endless Summer: Happiness All Year Long.” That is exactly the point of having this calendar on the wall throughout 2019, no matter how distant a real vacation may be. In fact, it is the point of having the calendar right after official “summer vacation time” ends in 2018 – because this is a 16-month calendar, the first four months (September-December 2018) sharing a single page that shows a stylized seagull and stylized waves, with the words, “My Happy Place.” If the beach is your happy place and you expect to miss it when standard “vacation season” ends, this calendar is a great way to keep the spirit of beach season going from Labor Day 2018 all the way to the end of the coming year.

     Of course, not everyone who travels, in summer or anytime, heads for the beach – some prefer the country, especially if their normal lives keep them in or near a crowded city. And Dan DiPaolo, the same person credited with the Signboard Beach calendar, has one for head-for-the-rural-areas folks as well. Country Farmhouse too is a 16-month calendar with pages resembling well-worn signs, although there is a bit more color in these than in the beach ones – notably a bright red tomato shown one month and an equally red one shown filling the back of a farm-produce truck at a different time. The tremendously hard work of managing a farm is barely present in this calendar’s celebration of such sentiments as “God Bless the Farmer” and “Farm to Fork,” but “If You Ate Today, Thank a Farmer” hits the mark pretty well. From the month celebrating “Ice Cold Milk” (with words on the side of a dairy cow) to the one mentioning “The Best Southern Barbecue” (featuring a pig, of course), each month here focuses on the positive aspects of farming and the huge role it plays in everyone’s life – no matter where you live, work, visit or travel. Of special note is the particularly lengthy proclamation for one month: “Money can’t buy HAPPINESS, but it can buy CHICKENS, and chickens make eggs and breakfast makes you HAPPY.” Now there is something definitely worth thinking about for a full year – or a full 16 months, as the case may be.

     In fact, for those who really want to think about the chicken-egg-breakfast-and-happiness connection, there is a way to do it with a daily calendar for 2019, not just a monthly one. Instead of (or in addition to) hanging Country Farmhouse on the wall, why not find a space on a desk, counter or tabletop for What the Cluck? Here you will learn that it takes a hen 25 to 27 hours to produce an egg – which is why hens lay at slightly different times on different days. You will find out (if you did not already know) that while human eyes have three cones to help us see red, green and blue, chickens have a fourth one that lets them see violet and ultraviolet light – which means they actually see better than people do. You will find out about the special chicken feed that contains marigold blossoms: it makes chicken skin yellower than it would otherwise be and makes egg yolks yellower, too. Stacia Tolman, who collected this plethora of pithy poultry pieces, also includes some spotlights on specific chicken breeds – for instance, the Shamo chicken, which originated in Thailand and is well known in Japan and elsewhere, has a long-necked, vertical posture. There are also occasional quotations here, such as one from Julia Child: “I had come to believe that one can judge the quality of a cook by his or her roast chicken.” There is information here on Ernie, the giant chicken from the cartoon series Family Guy, and on some other things that are made from the same calcium carbonate as an eggshell: pearls and antacids, for example. Here you can learn that a chicken may stand in for an important guest at a Chinese wedding who is unable to attend – the chicken wears red silk over its head. And you can find out that the chicken capital of the world is Gainesville, Georgia, “where it is illegal to eat chicken with a fork.” Tidbits and nuggets of information, wisdom and oddity abound throughout the year in this egg-cellent page-a-day-calendar – just right for an extended trip to a chicken farm without ever having to leave your kitchen or desk. Or roost.

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