July Joy

DSC_4732Joyous weddings nurture my spirit.

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Daddy dance: our son and the flower girl (our Aria) dancing

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Wine tasting with Dan and la Bella (my brother and sis-in-law, Valeri)

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I’ve wanted one of these giant (= mellow) wind chimes for years. An early birthday gift!

DSC_5160Kizzy, Little Bit, Jemima, Baby Girl, Violet, Pony Boy, Cookie

DSC_5243The Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” is this plant’s theme song.
Not to be dramatic, but sometimes keeping it alive seems my greatest challenge.

DSC_5250Reintroducing radishes to my palate.

DSC_5210A royal bloom

DSC_2836A byproduct of forced frugality early in life is the thrill of a matched set later in life!

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Reading aloud to my grands is one of my passions. I often read during meals as they eat. Water colors, sketching, markers, or play dough also help occupy their hands during non-meal times. This was my oldest grandson’s creation during today’s read aloud session.

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How Can I Keep from Reading? Pt 2

 

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My nightstand in 2011

Why I Read, Part 2

The second answer is short: because I’m hungry.

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I could respond to the Why do you read? question with Why do you eat?

I’m hungry to know, hungry to discover, hungry to learn. Hungry for story, hungry for wordsmithery, hungry for surprise. I’m hungry to see, hungry to really see my world, your world, their world over there. I thirst for books that establish my roots and for books that bend my thoughts. I don’t mind books that give me a needed smack-down. I want to laugh, I want my throat to constrict, I want to gasp, to nod, to stop reading and ponder. I want to recognize, to reform, and I dearly want to remember.

In my mind, I often classify my current read by a food equivalent. This is butternut soup: light, but nourishing. This is chocolate torte: rich and sweetThis is steel cut oats: not very exciting, but it gets the job done. This is burnt garlic: yuck! This is a cup of tea and a sit-down. This is an omelet: satisfying protein. This is flour and water: half-baked! This is a glorious main-dish salad: it took some time and effort, but so worth it.

A confession: I love cotton candy. It’s pure sugar, I know, but those yummy sticky pink wisps whisper joy, joy, joy…—until they are suddenly thoroughly revolting. Shoved in the garbage. You know that kind of book? Mediocre writing, but a catchy storyline. If you finish, you feel filmy and regret the hours you just wasted. I don’t like retching; better to avoid wretched things, even when they appear so seductively lovely.

There is a time for easy reading (fast food), reading magazines or online articles (snacks), and escape reading (ice cam from the carton). I have a few favorite comfort books, all British, which I admit are in the suburbs of sentimental. Excellent books for children are my first choice when fatigue and grief confound me.

 

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A page from my commonplace (quote-collecting) book.

 

 

 

The Bookshelf Project

DSC_1834I blame the movie Julie & Julia. Do you know how many times I’ve thought about cooking through every recipe in one of my 46 cookbooks? It messes with my all-or-nothing propensities. So many times, I’m browsing among the books and think: wouldn’t it be fun to read exclusively from this shelf until I’ve read everything?

The all-or-nothing system hasn’t been good to me. Because, you know, the nothing side hits the playground pavement with a bang and the all side is swaying, suspended in the air above the teeter-totter.

So I made a bargain. I eyed the shelves and did the math. What if? I whispered to myself. Stop! the other me warned. No, this is reasonable, I countered. What if I committed to reading one book from every shelf on the big white bookshelf? There are 30 shelves in total. Subtract three that hold CDs, Audio books, and DVDs. Subtract the one narrow shelf about which I can say, “I’ve read them all.”

26 books from my own shelves. That’s about half of the number of books I read in a year, so it allows room for the books in other rooms in my house, on my Kindle, or yet to be published.

I’m not going to decide which title on each shelf right now. I’m a bit schizophrenic in my reading. When I am mindful of how little time I have left on the earth, I determine to only read the best books. When I think about making room on the shelves, I read the book I want to read, but don’t think I’ll want to keep. And when I don’t want to work, I go for easy reading.

And I won’t shelve a new book, so I can say I read it off my shelves. Dirty pool!

So here’s a glance at my options:

DSC_8173There are two shelves of history. On the top shelf I’m inclined toward The Pity Of War: Explaining World War Ior The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill.

On the lower shelf, it’s an excruciating decision. McCullough’s book on the Brooklyn Bridge, Barbara Tuchman, Stephen Ambrose or Paul Johnson?

DSC_8174Oh, man. Several titles on these two shelves come highly recommended. The Widow of the Southis set in Franklin, TN. I want to read The Monuments Men before the movie comes out this year.

DSC_8175Two sets of Churchill to choose from: I’ve read A History of the English-Speaking Peoples and would like to re-read them. But Edmund Burke  beguiles me.  Three sets sit on the bottom shelf: 13 years of Cook’s Illustrated, a set of Dumas and a set of Dickens.

DSC_8176Short biographies, a collection of collections, and Willa Cather.

DSC_8177Small books with short stories and gorgeous books about Britain with watercolor plates.

DSC_8178Business and culture.

DSC_8201Classics. My husband and I are enjoying A Study in Scarlet, so we may well continue with more Conan Doyle. But I’ve never read Kimso I may choose Kipling.

DSC_8180Education and Witold Rybczynski.

DSC_8181I insist on reading one science book a year, weak as I am in science. I highly recommend Microbe Huntersand Longitudeif you need your science in narrative form. I think Lives of a Cellis calling my name.

DSC_8182Oh to have room to store my beloved Penguin collection upright! Whoever invented orange covers ought to be shot. I would love to read all those orange Trollopes so I can be done with them.

DSC_8183These two shelves are at the center of my collection. Deep. love.

DSC_8184More groups of authors that I love.

DSC_8185This shelf is a pass on my read-from-my-shelves project. Jan, Anne, and Mma.

DSC_8186Foodie books!

DSC_8187More foodie books.

DSC_8194True story: it’s easier for me to read about various methods of eradicating dust bunnies than to bend over and pick up the dust bunny.

DSC_8195Books on writing and books on books. Pure deliciousness.

DSC_8196Music. Poetry.

DSC_8198Art.

Children’s books, theology, travel and memoirs have their own bookcases. But they will have to get in line.

Intentional reading: the good life.

Hey! You with the eye for interior design? What would you recommend for the tops of my shelves? I’ve thought about framed photos (in matching frames) but I’m afraid they will make it too busy. Woven baskets? Eclectic collection of pottery/baskets? Empty? Your opinion is welcome.

Babette’s Feast

BabetteA year ago I received Babette’s Feastfrom . Yesterday morning, a full ironing basket beckoned. I was in an unhurried mood one needs to watch Babette. After all the shirts were pressed I grabbed some tea and just soaked it in.

A great movie rewards each new viewing. Like many foreign films, the story is acted with subtlety rather than told point-blank in the dialog. But one shouldn’t be fooled by the slow pace. There is humor tucked into pockets of every scene. And irony—rich irony—becomes more evident, and more enjoyable, each time I’ve watched.

Babette’s Feast delivers a blow to gnostic pietism: the belief that worship is divorced from the way we dress, chop wood, sing, balance accounts, do laundry, have sex, eat and drink.The small Jutland community despises the physical—read: body—; only the “spiritual” is valued.

The two sisters, Martina and Philippa, have a heart for good works, but the disgusting bread ale fish stew they bring to shut-ins is a symbol of the impoverished culture in which they live. Their French servant Babette fixes a feast in which every sense is heightened. Her preparations are the pinnacle of the film: simmering soup, sauces, pastries, wine, chocolate. But she also pays close attention of the table setting, the presentation of the food, the order in which it is served.

I had no sympathy for the “dear Pastor” whose control of his daughters excluded the possibility of their getting married. His mocking laughter—I had not noticed it before— as he delivers a “dear John” letter from his daughter exposes him for the shriveled soul that he is.

I’m quite sure now that I didn’t “get” this movie the first time. The extravagance of one fine meal defies logic. As I grow, my appreciation deepens. I see layers upon layers, deeper meanings.

And the juxtapositions! In their paranoia the dinner guests agree to not mention the food. “It will be just as if we never had a sense of taste.” That was a laugh out loud moment! So they sit, silent and suspicious, while the general can’t stop talking about the exquisite dishes he is eating.

The general’s driver sits in the kitchen, watching and eating the same feast in a warm corner. Unlike the general, for whom the food recalls a Paris restaurant in his past, the driver has never before tasted French cuisine. He resides in the background of the movie, but his bright nose and twinkling eyes, his one word benediction: “Good!” is a fitting contrast to the others’ silence.

One distraction: the movie is Danish with English overdubbed. The chasm between the dubbing and the subtitles was hilarious!

I am eager to read Isak Dinesen’s (Karen Blixen’s) short story that is the basis of the film. After a long search, I found a pdf copy of it. It has been twenty-five years since this movie was made. I would love to see a talented filmmaker remake this one.

Jerky

 

At the bottom of my email inbox—a dark and very deep well—I have two requests for jerky (or biltong, the South African version) recipes, in response to the September 2011 post, I’m Converting. I’ve delayed because no two batches of jerky are ever the same. My son, Carson, made a large bunch of jerky a decade ago that still evokes fond sighs. If only we had written down those proportions!

We make jerky from hamburger, using a jerky gun and a food dehydrator. It is easy to mix and easy to chew.  You can make it in the oven, in a smoker, even in the sun if you live in a very hot climate.  It sounds obscene to say, but we make jerky to use up leftover burger in our freezer.  You know, that hunting thing.

Substitutions are allowed. I would never use plain salt in a jerky recipe. My cupboards are brimming with smoked salt and various seasoned salts. The heat in the jerky can come from cayenne, red pepper flakes, hot sauce. Two years ago I had a banner crop of jalapenos, which I dried and ground into red pepper flakes, which I am still using.

You need a LARGE bowl for mixing the ingredients. Wash your hands and plunge them into the meat and spices. Squeeze, twist, turn, squeeze, until it is thoroughly mixed. This would be a “critical” step.

I grew up eating raw hamburger, only one of the bizarre items in my catalog of eccentricities. Hence, I have no problem taking a bite and adjusting the seasonings. If you are normal, you don’t want to do this. Plop a tablespoon in a fry pan and cook it; then you can taste the flavor and correct, if needed.

 

Recipe A – Hamburger Jerky

4 lbs. hamburger
2/3 cup brown sugar
4 T salt
1 t garlic powder
2 T black pepper
1/2 – 2 t cayenne
1 T onion powder

Mix and refrigerate for 24 hours.

If you don’t have a jerky gun, roll 3/16″ thick, place on racks. Smoke approximately 10 hours. Cut into strips. Store in refrigerator.

 

Recipe B – Hamburger Jerky

11 1/2 lbs. hamburger
2 T – 3 T liquid smoke
1 T  meat tenderizer
3 T onion powder
2 T lemon pepper
2 T seasoned salt
2 T garlic powder
4 1/2 T red pepper flakes
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup Yoshida’s sauce
1 T hot sauce

If you have questions, please ask. I might answer by Christmas 2013.

 

News You Can Use

 

I learned a trick from Vicki, my sister-in-law, that makes the thankful all year long. It involves yogurt containers and water.

 

 

Filled cleaned plastic containers—like the ones yogurt and sour cream come in—with water, leaving some head space. Freeze. Presto shazam! You have ice for a small lunch-sized cooler. You have ice for ice-water, drink dispensers, lemonade, iced tea. I especially like the one pound containers; they fit every pitcher in our house.

Here is a Iced Tea Syrup recipe that is great for thirsty souls. One hot summer afternoon we were at a friend’s house for lunch. We gulped down a gallon of iced tea. She picked up the empty pitcher and brought more cold tea to the table a minute later. Who stores iced tea by the gallon? “How did you do that?” I asked. “Oh, I have a syrup concentrate,” she replied. It’s my go-to tea now.

Heather’s Iced Tea Syrup

2 quarts water
2/3 C tea leaves (=8 family sized tea bags)
4 mint tea bags
4 C sugar * 
8 whole cloves
mint leaves

Bring water to boil.
Turn heat off, let bubbles die down.
Add tea; cover and steep for 15 minutes.
Add sugar and cloves.
Stir well.
Keep covered in the refrigerator.

Mix 1 part syrup to 4 or 5 parts water,
or to taste.

* I have used Splenda instead of sugar, with good results.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Climbing the Mango Trees

 

I remember the moment. The cover beckoned, winked, seduced me. I was browsing the shelves at Sunflower Books, a charming local book shop. And, full price or not, I had to have it. Unwittingly I had purchased a book by Madhur Jaffrey, the celebrated author of Indian cookbooks. Once obtained, I held it in reserve, a hoarded treasure which continued winking from the shelf. I almost enjoyed the five years of anticipating the read as much as the cozy evenings with my nose in this book. Memoir, ethnic, family, foodie—it has all best ingredients for a delightful read. 

The child of a happy marriage, she begins by explaining her name:

My father, … , firmly named me “Madhur,” which means “Sweet as Honey,” an adjective from the Sanskrit noun madhu, or “honey.” My grandfather, apparently, teased my father, saying that he should have named me “Mahbhari,” or “I am sated,” instead, as I was already the fifth child. But my father continued to procreate, and I was left with honey on my palate and in my deepest soul.

Jaffrey’s is the life of privilege with a curious blend of cultures. She describes her family as Hindu by origin but heavily veneered with Muslim culture and English education. Two motifs spiral through the book: her father’s quest for the best education for each child and her mother’s preparation of the most delicious food for every occasion. 

All of us sisters liked to read. we could be caught all over the house in the weirdest positions: legs flung over the back of a wicker chair, books on chest; lying flat on the takht (divan) on our stomachs, book on floor; head down on the desk, book an inch from eyes.

Mrs. McKelvie was my history teacher. She didn’t just teach me Indian history and British history, which were part of the set curriculum; I also learned from her that any subject could be fascinating if I delved into it deeply enough. She showed me how history, for example, could be researched from a hundred angles, some obscure and seemingly unrelated; that the study of maps and drawing of maps led to ever-greater clarity; that understanding the character of emperors and generals was sometimes as important as memorizing the dates of their battles.

During her school days (before India was divided) Madhur and her girlfriends shared their lunches: some Hindi, some Muslim, some Punjabi, one Jain.

It was not so much the ingredients—the ingredients we used at home were not all that different, though we did use less chili powder—as the hand that put these ingredients together, and the order and timing it chose to use. That hand had a different rhythm, a different energy from my mother’s, and from our own Hindi cooks from Himalayan villages. It produced a Muslim result.

Her family participated in a prayer gathering with Gandhi days before he was assassinated. Anyone interested in 20th century India would benefit from reading this book. A bonus for those interested in Indian cuisine is the fifty pages of family recipes included in the back.