Friday, December 31, 2010


Yesterday morning I asked John "Don't you need to go to Walgreens or Home Depot over in Drippin' today?" "Not really. Why?" "Well, I've got this audio book from the library that's just

about due, and I'm not making much progress on it. We need to drive somewhere that takes more than five minutes, so I can finish it up." A moment later he was standing by the door, cap on and keys jangling, so I scrambled to get ready and we took off.

He headed straight for Dripping Springs, but instead of turning in at Home Depot, he whizzed right on past and kept goin'. I settled back into my seat with a grin. "What? No questions? No demands to know where I'm taking you?" "Nope. I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the adventure!"

At the point where RR12 dead-ended into another road, we spotted a wonderful old filling station/restaurant/bar/bait shop and decided to stop for a soda. Alas, though the neon "Open" sign was lit, the doors were locked and it was dark inside. That's when we noticed the "For Sale" sign in the flower bed, and the slick new station that had gone in across the street. We couldn't help feeling a wee bit sad, as we continued on our way.

After passing signs for "Bee Cave" and "Hamilton Pool", the area beside the road began to drop away and undulate, and I got the feeling that we were nearing water. Sure enough, as we rounded the next corner, I spotted the sign for "Lakeway", but instead of the green hills and valleys we remembered from college, we found a sea of MacMansions, stacked one upon the other. We ended up having lunch at a fun little place called The Iguana Grill, and as we sat there looking out over the lake, we reminisced about skinny-dipping at Hippy Hollow and other adventures from "back in the day."

After lunch, we explored the area a bit more, and discovered that the residents of Lakeway no longer need to drive into Austin, for Austin has come to them. They now have a huge mall and pretty much every chain establishment you could want, including my favorite, Mandola Market. Kinda nice, I guess, since it means we no longer have to fight the traffic up I-35 to get a city fix, but still...

On the way home I realized that we were about to pass the Doctor Pound Pioneer Farmstead in Dripping Springs, and we decided to pull in. It was the perfect antidote for the "march of progress" we'd been witness to all day, and an ideal ending to another lovely day of adventuring with my Squeedunk.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


I thought it might be fun to go back and read what was going on around this time five years ago, when we'd owned the place for a year. We've come a long way, baby!


Yippie-kai-yo-kai-yay! They're coming to pave our driveway today! I'm so excited, I can hardly stand it - even if it does mean we will probably be trapped here at the house once they start work. Now if only we had a washer and dryer here, things would be perfect.

By Monday, the day after Christmas, we were running out of food and underwear, so Lex loaded up all the dirty laundry and hauled it over to the laundromat in San Marcos, and I went to exercise and do the grocery shopping. Unfortunately, the dryers at the laundromat don't actually get things completely dry, and since Lex was going straight from there to Austin, to meet up with friends, she stuffed all the damp clothes back into the laundry bag, and it spent the night in the trunk of her car. Tuesday morning we pulled them out of the bag, and had to spread them out all over the bed, and drape them over chairs. They are finally dry now, but the wrinkles are something else! Let me think, do I even have an iron here in Wimberley?

Once we finished with that, I went with John to get his hair cut at the old-fashioned barbershop in town. It shot me straight back to the sixties, when I used to accompany my little brother for haircuts occasionally. The shops were almost identical, except for one major difference. At this one, one chair was manned by your typical good ol' boy, who just loved yakking about fishin' and huntin', but the other was manned (or should I say wo-manned) by a young gal with very long legs, and a very, very short skirt. Looks like she's pretty popular, too. I heard her taking lots of calls while I waited, and it sounded like she was booked way ahead, whereas John was able to walk right in and get a cut from the guy with no appointment at all. Hmmm, go figure? Oh yeah, there was one other big difference from the shop of my childhood. We didn't get any Double Bubble gum when they finished John's haircut, or even a lollipop. Bummer.

* * * * *

Well, I guess my excitement about the excavator was a bit premature. We waited around all day on Wednesday, and finally, sometime in the late afternoon, we heard someone chugging up the driveway. When we looked out the door, we saw a truck pulling a trailer up the hill, with a tractor loaded on it. The driver proceeded to unload the tractor, but then got back into his truck and just drove away! That was it. Zip. Nada. Well, I reminded myself, what the contractor actually promised was that the tractor would be there by Wednesday, not that they would begin working then, so I can't really say he was lying, can I? The next day, we waited in vain all morning. After lunch, another tractor showed up, but again, the driver turned around and left. Round about supper time, a piece of pipe showed up. So, we're zipping right along on this project. "Remember Becky", I remind myself again, "you wanted a slower-paced lifestyle!"

* * * * *

It is now Friday morning, and my hands are shaking so hard, it's difficult to write. I had been working in the kitchen earlier, when I heard a loud crash from the direction of the bedroom. I had all the windows open, so I assumed that something big had blown over. When I ran in there to check it out, I discovered that was not the case. What I had heard was the sound of the ceiling beam (or rather, the huge board that forms the base of an artificial one) that runs across the 20 ft. peak of our ceiling, crashing down onto our bed. In fact, one end of it was propped up on the wall at the foot of the bed, and the other was resting smack-dab in the middle of John's pillow, as if someone had aimed a huge javelin directly at his head. It's not even 10:00 a.m. yet, and if I had not awakened him early, John might well have been lying there now, with this beam embedded in his skull!

After John's third or fourth mishap here, my brother-in-law Bud said "Has it ever occurred to you that this place might be cursed, and you need to git while the gittin's good?" At the time, we just laughed, but now I'm beginning to wonder. The couple that actually built the house turned out to be friends of my sister-in-law's family. We found out from them that shortly after the house was completed, the husband discovered that he had lung cancer. I don't think they ever even moved up here full-time. After his death, the wife decided to stay in New Braunfels, and put this house up for sale. It had been on the market for at least two years before we came along. It was kind of a strange house, obviously built with their specific needs in mind, rather than an eye towards resale. However, it had everything that was on our wish list, and the price was right, so we decided to go for it.

After moving in, and learning all of this from Jack and Alma, I decided to write a little note to the wife, telling her how much we adore the place, and how grateful we are that she was willing to sell it to us. She wrote back and said that building this house had been her husband's life-long dream, and that we would never know how much love, passion, and attention to every tiny detail, he had put into it. Out next to the pump-house is a marble bench with a great view. This is now John's favorite place to sit after supper, smoke a cigar, and survey his new kingdom. I would imagine that it was the previous owner's favorite spot as well, because there is a little plaque on the ground in front of it, bearing his name. One day John and his buddy Tim were out there chewing on their cigars, and discussing how that plaque resembled a grave-marker. They went on to postulate that perhaps his family had scattered his ashes over the hillside there, if that was, in fact, his favorite spot in the world. I started imagining his spirit wandering the property. In a way, it was comforting, but it also made me a little bit nervous.

When we decided to call the place Seasonality, even though we knew he had dubbed it Fox Hill House, I couldn't help but wonder what he would think about that. When we painted the kitchen yellow, I wondered again if he would approve. One of the only things that really bothered us about the house was that the outside was totally beige - beige stone, beige stucco, beige trim, beige doors, beige porch rails... I kept trying to picture what I could do to give it a little more character. If only they had stained the porch columns a nice, natural cedar color, or if only we had room to add some rustic louvered shutters to the windows - anything to break up that sea of beige. Now don't get me wrong. I think they had excellent taste. They built a beautiful house, and we love it. It's just that John and I love color, and since we spent so many years being transferred from place to place, we always swore that once we settled down, there would be no more neutrals! Eventually, we decided to paint the porch rails a nice sage green, and that is exactly what John was working on when the beam came crashing down on his pillow. Think maybe someone didn't approve of his color choice?

Oh, by the way. It is now January 8th, and our driveway still isn't finished!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Well, the year is winding down. I can't believe I already got my first seed catalog in the mail! I'm still waiting to get something edible out of my fall garden, and here it is time to start planning the spring one?

January is going to be a crazy month for the Lane family, from the very first day (John's birthday) to the very last, when we hand over the keys to our Houston townhouse. So much to be done. So much to figure out. Walls to be patched and painted. Carpets and oven to be cleaned. Movers to be scheduled. What furniture to keep and where to put it? How to dispose of the rest? Usually January is a slow month, a time to rest and recoup from the holidays, and to make plans for the year ahead. But not this year. This year we've got to hit the ground running. I just hope little Lexie's birthday, mid-month, doesn't get lost in the shuffle!

Ah well, there're a couple of days of this year left yet and, you can bet your booties, I'm gonna savor every minute of 'em! There will be much reading, relaxing, and sipping of tea going on here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I don't know all the ins and outs of how the Danish government works, but I know enough not to have been at all surprised when a recent survey ranked the Danes as "the happiest people in the world." Years ago, when we were on our way back from living in the Middle East, Copenhagen was one of the many stops we made along the way. While there, we took a tour of some government run facilities, including a day care center and a retirement home. They were unlike anything I had ever seen in the states, and I couldn't believe the Danes got to use them for free.

Later, when we signed up to host an exchange student for a year, we were lucky enough to get a Danish boy named Eric, whom we have stayed in touch with for about 30 years now, and visited a couple of times. I remember telling my father once, about how things worked in Denmark -- how they don't have "the dole" as we know it, but that each Dane is guaranteed a job that pays a living wage, good child care so that they can perform this job, and great public transportation so that they can get to this job, not to mention health care, education and geriatric care. Dad was horrified. "So where's their motivation to go out and work their asses off building a career and becoming a success?" I had no answer for him.

At first it seemed as if Eric had set out to prove my father's point. He never did settle into one career and throw himself into clawing his way up the ladder as America's youth were expected to do. He loved to travel, and he loved spending time with his kids, so he would work at a job just until he had saved up enough money, then they would take off to do something amazing -- like spending the summer on the beaches of a Greek island and learning to scuba dive. When they returned, he'd try on another job for size.

Thirty years later, this is still his modus operandi. Was my father right? I'm not so sure anymore. Is their way of doing things really so bad? What did our singleminded determination to be "successful" get us? An entire generation of kids whose parents were never home? Who completely missed out on seeing their kids grow up, and the chance to really know them? Landfills overflowing with all our discarded "stuff"? Rampant greed and corruption? A country that can no longer feed or fuel itself?

Eric's life has been anything but carefree. He has been dealt some shattering hardships -- of the sort that have forced many Americans to end up living on the streets -- but because he is Danish, he has received excellent medical care, has stayed employed, has a decent home, his kids are going to get a good education, and he knows that he will be well cared for in his old age. Best of all, he has been an important part of his kids' lives every step of the way. Is it any wonder that the Danes are so happy?

P.S. Many thanks to for the above image.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Christmas Day involved: being wide awake by four a.m., then working my way through my handy list of obnoxious tricks for waking others up; opening a mound of gifts (most unique were Lexie's gifts to her brother - hand knitted Dr. Who

Tardis socks and a very succulent dinosaur, while most heartbreaking was the Mohican Wind Harp I ordered for John, but which arrived with half it's wires snapped); partaking of John's sumptuous Christmas breakfast, the one time per year when he steps up to a stove voluntarily; being introduced to Rock Band: Beatles by son Austin (what a hoot!); seeing the wonderful movie True Grit: and, last but not least, gathering round the table with our nearest and dearest for roasted beef tenderloin with horseradish sauce, potato gratin, spicy roasted sweet potatoes, curried fruit compote, rosemary focaccia, and apple pie. We are so very blessed.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


On Friday we introduced my sister and her husband to a few of the Christmas Eve traditions we've acquired since moving to the Hill Country: hot chocolate at Cafe 1886; a visit to our favorite haberdashery, where the kids each came

away with jaunty new hats; time spent browsing at Book People and Waterloo Records; lunch at 24, right next to Waterloo - YUMMO!; time spent cruising through the flagship Whole Foods store, picking up delicacies for our top-your-own-pizza dinner, drooling over all the Christmas confections and checking out the ice rink set up on the roof; last but not least, the traditional bad sci-fi movie selected by John. What a day!

Friday, December 24, 2010



In our family, Christmas has always been something of a slumber party affair. It's not enough to just be in the same town as your loved ones. You really need to be in the same house, for the duration! Lex fixed us all a fabulous Beef Bourguignon for supper (though it took a bit of encouragement from her father, before she could summon the nerve to set the cognac aflame), then she could have gone home to her own nice comfy bed in Austin, only 45 minutes away, but she didn't dare. You just can't chance missing out on any of the fun!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


If there's one thing I've seen and heard over and over again this past year, it's a smirky little grin, followed by a comment along the lines of "We'll see how that goes once John is here full-time!" It was usually in response to a comment from me regarding my newly-formed eating, writing, meditating, cleaning or organizational habits. It appears their concerns were not unfounded.

Today is Christmas Eve Eve. Lex and John are both here now, and the rest of the gang comes in today. I should be giddy with excitement, thinking of all the fun we are going to have over the next few days. Instead I sit here staring at a chair, and grinding my teeth. The chair is the one John sat in night before last, and it's still sitting out in the middle of the room, where he left it when he shoved away from the table. It blocks the path from the living room to my little morning meditation spot, so I'm faced with a choice: a) shove the chair back under the table for him, as I've been doing since we first married (even though we had a discussion about this very thing the last time he was here, and he knows how much it means to me); b) continue walking all the way around the table just to get to my spot, indefinitely -- or at least until he decides to sit at the other end of the table, and blocks that route as well.

Of course, you realize, don't you, that the chair is not an isolated incident, but instead represents our particular dance, as it has been choreographed over the last 35 years. The subject came up last night as we watched a Christmas movie together. I think Lex asked what the plans were for the next day, and I probably replied with something like "Clean up all Dad's messes before Kathy and Bud get here. They both snorted and rolled their eyes, then John said "We never shoulda let her stay up here alone for so long. Guess it's time to snap her back to reality!"

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but I really don't believe that. I think it just takes a whole lotta patience -- more patience than most humans have. How much do I have? I guess we're about to find out.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


One of the things on my 12-yr.-old niece's wish list this year was "A Lego Game." I didn't know Lego made games, so I went in search of one. Being in the Lego department again brought back such great memories of Christmases past. In fact, not too long ago my son said he really missed getting a big Lego set each year, and that Christmas just hasn't been the same since.

I picked up the Minotaur game for my niece, and read over the instructions on the back. Much to my surprise, it sounded pretty fun--not too childish, something even I might enjoy playing. Then my eyes wandered to the other game choices. One was a pirate game. Have I mentioned that my son's birthday happens to fall on National Talk Like a Pirate Day, and that he once showed up at school clad as a pirate in honor of the dual celebration? Another choice was a Harry Potter game. My daughter's dream vacation is to go Universal Studios in Orlando, so that she can visit Harry Potter World.

My gut started whispering that one is never too old for a great board game showdown with the cousins during the holidays. My gut was right on the money.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


My sister-in-law Dani drew my name for Christmas this year. Apparently she reads my blog occasionally. Not only does she read it, she pays attention. How else could you account for this amazing assortment of chocolates, teas, and tea accoutrement? My future tea parties have just been kicked up to a whole new level. Why, she even included a CD, for proper tea-sipping ambience!

Uh-oh. Know what I just realized? I was in such a hurry to get my out-of-town gifts mailed off, I forgot to take any pictures first! Hey Ohio and Wisconsin clan - please take pics and send them back this way, for post-Christmas blog posting!

The first of my peeps (John) arrives today, and starts the snowball a-rollin'. Yikes. Christmas is really here! As usual, these last few days are gonna be a bit crazy. No matter how hard you try to plan ahead and stay on top of it all, there will always be stuff that has to be done at the very last minute: shopping for perishables; cooking; going to the laundromat and remaking guest beds, so the kids don't have to move to sleeping bag and sofa any sooner than necessary; cleaning the guest bathrooms, so they don't get messed up again; not setting the table with Christmas finery until everyone has finished their package wrapping, etc.; not sweeping the porch too soon, since our trees are still dropping leaves and it just wouldn't last... This is always so frustrating to me! I would much prefer to complete everything before anyone arrives, then spend the next several days sipping tea and reading a good book, but you just can't put life on hold, now can you?

Monday, December 20, 2010


I had to wake myself up out of a really bad dream this morning. I won't go into the gory details (I'm doing my best to forget them) but it was obvious that someone was trying to send me a message. The message was this: we need to get John's health back under control before we head off on our Aventure Francaise this May.

He was doing so well in the months right after his bypass surgery, but then along came the BP affair. Being tied to the call center around the clock for weeks on end (which BP was keeping stocked with doughnuts, ice cream and candy), having to eat whatever the in-house caterers happened to bring in, and not getting any exercise other than an occasional quick walk down the hallway, well, it set off a downward spiral that John has never quite managed to pull himself out of.

He's supposed to be meeting up with his new cardiologist in Austin sometime soon (handpicked, and even trained, by his Houston specialist) and I'm hoping he can hook us up with some type of rehab/exercise program for cardio patients -- of the sort John should have been enrolled in as soon as he recovered from the surgery, but which somehow fell through the cracks. Cuz, 'though I really want this dream trip to be memorable, I sure don't want it to be because John keeled over in the middle of it!

Sunday, December 19, 2010


...even if I am Jerseylicious!

When I was a kid of 8 or 9, and my big sister was about 16, on rare occasions she would succumb to my incessant pleas for her to fix my hair like a teenager--which meant to rat it up and use lots of hairspray the way she did each morning. My very favorite "do" was when she gave me either pigtails or a ponytail "with a bubble on top." I thought it made me look like a "Go-Go Dancer", and would have given my eyeteeth for a pair of white Go-Go boots to complete the look.

Lately I've noticed that, thanks to singers like Amy Winehouse, and the invention of something called "Bumpits", those dos are coming back into vogue. What I didn't know is that they are also quite popular with the stars of a certain reality show called Jersey Shores, otherwise I might not have pestered big sis into working her magic on me this weekend. On the other hand, what is more fun than having someone play Beauty Shop with you? I guess it was worth the new nickname.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Know what I love? Salty & Sweet. I get that from my big sister, originator of the infamous Junior Mint/Movie Popcorn combo. So, when my niece Megan posted the link to this Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treat recipe on facebook, well, I just had to make some for Miss Poo! Know what else I love? Colored plastic wrap at Christmastime!


It's a Texas thang. In fact, I noticed on that funky yard art tour in Austin, some people leave them up all year, to protect themselves from vicious stabs.

Well, this is it guys and gals. I'm calling it quits on decorating and shopping. What hasn't been done, ain't gonna get done! Unless, of course, that one remaining mail-ordered gift doesn't show up in time. In which case, you'll find me down at the Armadillo Bazaar on Christmas Eve, doing some serious scrambling along with all the other nut jobs.

And now, it's off to Dallas for another crazy-wonderful Thomas Family Confab!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I witnessed the strangest phenomenon this morning. I was expecting it to be rather chilly out, so I went to my indoor nest on the dining porch, and opened the window just enough to hear the sounds of the world waking up. It was surprisingly balmy out, however, so I threw it wide open. The cloud cover was so solid, I couldn't see a single star.

Around 6:45 John's wind chimes suddenly began clanging up a storm. A few moments later, it was as if a couple of stage hands had grabbed hold of a massively heavy curtain from its left end, and were slowly trudging it across the stage, revealing a perfectly clear, sunny backdrop as they went. At one point they grew weary, and had to pause for breath. That's when I noticed that, if I looked out the windows to my left, it was broad daylight with scarcely a cloud in the sky, though the temps were suddenly much cooler. When I looked out the windows directly in front of me, however, it was still dark as night, with a solid blanket of clouds. So, in essence, a cool front blew in, and literally chased the night away.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I used to wonder why some of our friends take trips every year, while all we ever do is talk about it. Then one day Outdoor Woman mentioned that she and her hubby sometimes have trouble traveling together, because they both like to be in charge, the one calling all the shots and making the arrangements. That's when I realized that John and I are the exact opposite of that. We're more of a "Where do you want to eat? I dunno, where do you want to eat?" kinda couple, and never get around to taking trips because neither of us wants to take charge of doing the dirty work. I mean, you wouldn't believe the lengths my hubby will go to, to get out of planning a trip!

For instance, two years ago, when we talked about going to Tuscany or Provence to celebrate our 35th anniversary? He decided to spend it having by-pass surgery instead. Then last year, when the subject came up again? He managed to get himself embroiled in the BP fiasco, setting up their call center for them and working around the clock for weeks on end. We did squeeze in one little weekend get-away during that period though -- back to the hospital!

Of course, I'm only kidding about him doing that to avoid taking charge. I think. The truth is, we never even got as far as deciding which place we'd rather go! Which is why I'm so flabbergasted over what he did this weekend. We were at a party on Saturday, and just happened to strike up a conversation with a young woman whose family had recently taken a Viking riverboat cruise down the Seine, from Paris through Normandy. The more she talked about it, the more I thought, "Wow. That sounds like my kind of travel. Slow Travel."

By Monday John had us scheduled for a cruise in May, but not through Normandy. Through Provence. With a 3-day extension in Paris! Oui Oui! (which is what I did when he told me)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


It's getting down to the wire people! I'm in that final flurry of activity, where I'm busting my you-know-what to get all the knitting/shopping/wrapping/mailing/etc. done, or things won't arrive in time for Christmas. Once that's done, however, I will suddenly have too much time on my hands, and I'll be wondering what to do with myself until the others arrive.

The temptation will be to get in the kitchen and start whipping up some goodies, but the last thing I need in this house is counters piled with sweet stuff, especially when there's no one here but me! I've already made two batches of pralines, but managed to give them all away before I could do too much damage. I should quit while I'm ahead, right? Still, there is that one recipe I spotted on Pioneer Woman's blog, but which actually came from a lovely site called A Cozy Kitchen...the one for these fabulous sounding Salted Caramel Thumbprint Cookies...

Monday, December 13, 2010



After nine or ten years of hearing about it, and selling the t-shirts and advertising for it at the garden shop where I worked, we finally made it to Houston's Lights in the Heights street festival! The Heights is my favorite neighborhood in all of Houston, one of the earliest "master-planned" communities, located off I-10 near downtown. It's full of charming old houses like my grandma's both had, and every year the Woodland Heights section blocks off a few streets, encourages everyone to string up lights, gets people to volunteer their porches and driveways for everything from classic rock bands and jazz trios to a capella carolers, then invites the entire city to come enjoy the sights and sounds - for free!

So what were we waiting for, you ask? An invitation, I suppose, and this year we finally got one. Thanks to Austin's good buddy Carl, Carl's girlfriend, and his housemates, who were hosting one of the bands on their porch, instead of being on the outside looking in, we got to be on the inside this year -- one of the cool people that are seen in houses and yards all along the route, enjoying catered affairs under tents, or just roasting marshmallows around a firepit, and dancing in the street.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


I want you all to take note of this: Last night as we were headed out to dinner, I told John and Austin, "I can't believe that we are this far into the season, and I still haven't got around to finding the radio station in my car that plays Christmas carols around the clock. Guess I've just been too busy listening to that new audio tape series I discovered." Then my hubby, the man who always tried to fool everyone into thinking he's Mr. Bah Humbug, and that all the Christmas fol-de-ral at our place is my doing, reached over to his dash, punched a button, and flooded the car with "Let it Snow!" "There. Feel better now?" he asked. Well, you sneaky little booger, you. Your secret is out now!

Friday, December 10, 2010


I just submitted this to the Story Circle Network book review site, and thought you might enjoy it as well:

I must first apologize for taking so long to complete this book review. I was expecting this to be a mere cookbook. I thought I would skim over it quickly, try a recipe or two, then tell you if they were any good. Alas, that was not to be. This book will not allow one to rush. It demands that you savor it slowly, one page, one recipe, one photograph at a time, with pauses for absorbing what you have seen. It begins with a quote--most appropriate, considering what was to follow: No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers. ~ Laurie Colwin

In an introduction to the book, Chef Alice Waters says, “We have forgotten how to feed ourselves and each other and are at risk of losing our culinary heritage. However, when the stories are told and the recipes retained, we somehow manage to secure them for the future...Jessica Theroux has taken a gift for connecting with people and new cultures and translated it into an anthology of stories that capture the role of food and family in the lives of twelve remarkable women. Her closeness with the women she has lived and cooked with comes through with clarity and beauty as we meet them through their pasta, beans, and rabbits.”

As a young girl, Jessica Theroux was fortunate enough to have an Italian au pair. Then she and her family traveled to Italy a few times to visit Graziella and her mother, Mamma Maria. “It seems to me now that I was always destined to return to Italy someday to recapture those childhood pleasures...Mamma Maria was the original Italian grandmother for me, and as I set out as a young chef to document and learn Italy’s food traditions, it made complete sense to go back to that beginning, and stay with her first...then hatch a plan for where to go next after I’d adjusted to the Italian way of life with her. I hoped to spend the next year following my taste buds through the kitchens of Italy’s beloved grandmothers. I was convinced that I needed to learn about food in a country whose culture centered on cooking and eating. I also yearned for the sense of nurture and connection that comes with being well fed; I wanted to experience this, and I wanted to learn how to do this for others.” If you too are interested in learning how to do this, I think this book would be a very good place to start.

As someone who is very much into using local, seasonal ingredients, and trying to recapture the “taste of place”, I was especially interested in seeing, through Theroux’s eyes, how the cooking of each of Italy’s regions has evolved and been informed by its geography, history and circumstance. For instance, she tells us that the Lombardian cooking of Mamma Maria’s youth was affected by wartime’s enforced simplicity, with an intimate dependence on one’s garden, on the local trees, on the land and the ocean, on the animals one raised, and on the foods and skills one could trade with neighbors. “As Mamma Maria and I cooked these Lombardian dishes together I started to get a better sense of Northern Italian cuisine. These dishes were heavy, warming, and very sturdy. Mamma Maria was like this, too.”

From there Theroux worked her way south, absorbing all that she could from the women she cooked with along the way, until at last she found herself with another Maria--one who’s cheeses tasted of the local grasses and ocean air--on a tiny volcanic island off the coast of Sicily. And the recipes she picked up along the way? Oh, my, my. Working my way through them will be the next best thing to spending a year in Italy myself!

Theroux says, “This is a book about women and food and listening...Good cooking, the kind that feeds the soul and nourishes the body, is the result of listening openly and acting simply. All of the women in this book taught me something about the power of food to connect us to ourselves, our history, our land, our culture, to our past and to the present moment...My greatest hope is that this book will encourage you to pay the utmost attention to your life, and in particular to your food and the people around you. What you discover could change your life.”