Archive for the 'books' Category


fantasy & illusions

Every restaurant is a theater, and the truly great ones allow us to indulge in the fantasy that we are rich and powerful. When restaurants hold up their end of the bargain, they give us the illusion of being surrounded by servants intent on ensuring our happiness and offering extraordinary food.

-Ruth Reichl Garlic and Sapphires


Fisher on Ratatouille

“I learned to make ratatouille from a large strong woman, a refugee, not political but economic, from an island off Spain: There was not enough food to go around in her family, and she and her husband were the sturdies, so they got out. They ran a vegetable store with one little window and almost no space….She was a great big beautiful woman: coal-black hair, big black eyes, but a very big grossly overweight body. I do not know how she squeezed through that little square hole. She and her tiny husband evidently slept, ate, lived down there.

“She taught me more than her stew, without knowing that I often pondered on how she washed her gleaming hair and stayed generally so sweet smelling, when it was plain that both she and the lettuces must bathe at the public pump and sleep in the dark cellar or under the little counter. She cooked on a gas ring behind a curtain at the back of the store, and that is how I came to ask her questions, because her stew had such a fine smell. She looked at me as if I were almost as ignorant as I was, and after my first lesson from her I bought a big earthenware pot, which I still use.

“The first ingredients were and still are eggplant and onions, garlic, green peppers, red peppers, plenty of ripe peeled tomatoes and some good olive oil. Proportions are impossible to fix firmly, since everything changes in size and flavor, but perhaps there should be three parts of eggplant to two of tomatoes and one each of the peppers and the onions and garlic. I really cannot say.

“Everything is sliced, cubed, chopped, minced, and, except for the tomatoes, is put into the pot…thrown in, that is, for the rough treatment pushes down the mass. At the end, when there is less than no room, the tomatoes are cubed or sliced generously across the top, and the lid is pressed down ruthlessly. When it is taken off, a generous amount of olive oil must be trickled over the whole to seep down. Then the lid is put on again. It may not quite fit, but it will soon drop into place. The whole goes into a gentle (300 degree) oven for about as long as one wishes to leave it there, like five or six hours. It should be stirred up from the bottom with a long spoon every couple of hours. It will be very soupy for a time, and then is when it makes a delicious nourishing meal served generously over slices of toasted french bread with plenty of grated dry cheese. Gradually it becomes more solid, as the air fills with the rich waftings which make neighbors sniff and smile. When it reaches the right texture to be eaten as one wishes, even with a fork, the lid can stay off and fresh shelled shrimps be laid amply on the top to turn white before they are stirred in, or small sausages already cooked well in beer or wine. Or it can simply be left in a turned-off oven to be chilled later for probably the best so-called ratatouille ever eaten.”

-MFK Fisher in Long Ago in France: The Dijon Years


The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy

I just finished reading it. I read all the serious preggers books the first time around. Truth be told? What to Expect When You’re Expecting scared the heck out of me and Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way cast a scathing eye on mommies who choose pain management…not cool. As Mrs. Iovine (author of the Girlfriend’s Guide, hereafter to be referred to as the GGP) points out, there’s no medal for natural birth moms after the stinker shows its wrinkled face! The author leans toward epidurals…she had a c-section with one of hers, and honestly, I have nothing against pain management during labor. It’s a woman’s personal choice. I braved O’s arrival without, however, if they ever bring pitocin within a foot of my iv again, I guarantee, I’ll be begging the anesthesiologist to just put me under completely! The GGP covers all those topics a gal is either too embarrassed or to naive to ask her midwife or OB. She talks about feet, breasts, skin, hair and oh, yes…the million dollar question, sex during and after pregnancy. She kept me laughing from cover to cover (she does swear a bit, so be warned, I thought it was funny.) I only disagreed with her on a few points. First, amnio and chromosomal abnormality testing. I give those tests a big, fat veto. If God blesses you with a baby, you take it. If you don’t want to have a child with disabilities, you need to buy one, not make it. There’s no return to sender option in pregnancy. And secondly, the advise to lie to your husband about the post-partum 6 week rule to get out of sex is ridiculous! Maybe I just got lucky, but Ben never asked or made me feel guilty about being out of commission of my wifely duties after Ophelia was born. He was actually more conscientious of the fact that I had just “passed” a person then I was. Also, I’ve only ever met one or two Christian wives who wanted to wait 6 weeks before getting things back to business in the bedroom. Personally, I couldn’t wait to feel like a woman again. The GGP does have some good helpful tips if you happen to be having problems getting ye old libido going again, though. As good Christian wives, I think it’s our duty not to milk the 6 week rule for all it’s worth. This really is a great read for first time moms and as a reminder to already moms. I had forgotten about sciatic nerves and cramping calves. GGP serves up the realities with a snicker and a suggestion. It’s good for pregnant mommies to know they aren’t alone and they aren’t un-necessarily crazy. The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy makes sure you know, too.


Favorite Children’s Books

My husband likes to read to us. He’s good at it, too (I have too many lysdexic tendencies :-)). Before Ophelia was born, he would read Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, or Leithart every night before bed. It was a great way to wind down and have a bit of us time together. Now that O is here, we changed our material, a bit. We really like these books for her. They have solid morals, and great illustrations. We are always looking for more. Suggestions?

Tales of Hans Christian Anderson          Where the Wild Things Are 

Goodnight Moon                                        Grimm’s Fairy Tales 

Gleam and Glow                                        The Spider and the Fly


learning contentment

I’d like to recommend a book that I first read about five years ago for a ladies’ book study at church. The Art of Divine Contentment, written by Thomas Watson, is a book that has blessed me many times in the few times I have read it. The book was first published in 1653, and the writing is beautiful. Thomas Watson was a very poetic writer, using wonderful imagery to gently exhort his parishoners to follow Paul’s example in Philippians 4:11 (the book is his collection of sermons on the topic of contentment).

In his chapter on the “Reasons Pressing to Holy Contentment” Watson points out many discontented people in the Bible who would have come to great harm if they had gotten what they wanted.

“We fancy such a condition of life good for us, whereas, if we were our own carvers, we should often cut the worst piece. . . Rachel was very desirous of children: ‘Give me children or I die’ (Genesis 30:1), and it cost her her life in bringing forth a child. . . Is it not well for the child that the parent choose for it? Were it left alone, it would perhaps choose a knife to cut its own fingers.”

The other day, B and I had just gotten home from the grocery store, and there was a gallon of milk sitting on the dining room table waiting to be put away. Little B went over and reached up to grab the gallon, and from across the room I told her not to touch the milk. She chose to disobey and proceeded to pull the gallon off of the table, at which point it went straight to the floor, taking her arm with it, and making her cry. I took the opportunity to explain to her that this was why she should listen to her parents. We don’t withold things from her because we take some sick pleasure from it; I didn’t want her grabbing the milk because it was too heavy and would hurt her. It’s an interesting sensation to be teaching your child something while at that same moment you are realizing somewhere in the back of your head that maybe, just maybe, this is something that you yourself need to learn.



Consider the Oyster

Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher is certainly on my top 5 authors of all time. If you’re not familiar with her, well, you should be. She is one of the few writers I have found to not only inspire, encourage and instruct me in culinary philosophy, but to just downright make me hungry! Fisher has written over 20 books plus two volumes of journals and correspondence. I have every intention of reading all of them (just not before bed, because it makes my tummy roar with discontentment.) Since we are into the fall season, I will encourage you to start with this masterpiece. I was never a fan of seafood. Especially the squishy kind. That is, until I read Consider the Oyster. It is a short (76 pages), affordable, educational (“He is a she.”) and absolutely delightful read. She covers the basic science of the thing, myths, mouth watering recipes, and anecdotes to capture the attention of the most ADD reader among us.

“Then love was the pearl of his oyster,
And Venus rose red out of wine.”
-Dolores, C.A. Swinburne