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.”
I tried to snap a picture of my pretty porch lights at night, and of the living room with all the lights out but for my tiny little tree, but I just couldn't get it to work with this new camera. There was a button on my old one, for turning off the flash. That came in real handy when you wanted to take close-ups of food, or perhaps capture the effect of twinkle lights in a dark room. There was also a menu of settings you could scroll through, which covered pretty much every possible scenario.
Of course, I didn't learn how to use all that until I'd had the camera for several years. Unlike my husband, who devours a new instruction manual the way most women devour a juicy romance novel, I have to absorb stuff like that slowly, over time. Once I finally figured it all out though, I was getting some darn good photos out of that little point & shoot. So, of course, John replaced it.
This new camera is so smart, you don't have to make any decisions at all. Just aim it at your subject, and it will choose all the settings for you! Which is pretty cool most of the time...until you actually want to take a photo of a darkened room, but it decides you need more light. The manual that came with it was surprisingly small. That's because it just covers the barest basics, and for everything else, you're directed to a website. I suppose I'll wade through and absorb all that information eventually. Then I'll need a year or two to practice and get up to speed. But by then, there will be another little box under the tree, and...
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Know what I love most about blogging? The thing that keeps me at it every day and makes me wonder if I will ever be able to give it up? Finally having a voice! I have no ambitions about book deals or movie rights, or having my blog go viral and get thousands of hits per day. What really does it for me is that there are a few people in the world who finally know me. Really know me.
As I've mentioned before, I'm not the most articulate person in the world. I'm the girl who always forgot your name when she had to make introductions, even though she'd known you for years; the one whose voice got all quivery and whose eyes teared up when she tried to tell you about a cause she was passionate about, and who could never remember a single fact to back up her opinions, no matter how much she had read on the subject; the one who was always meek and quiet in the classroom, a very well-behaved girl, but who is still intimidated by teachers and authority figures to this very day; the one who hates discord and seems to avoid confrontation at all costs...well, except for here, on this blog. Here I am someone else altogether.
Here I can be myself. Speak my mind. Shake things up a bit. Let it all hang out. It's as if the moderator from that old 50's game show finally said "Will the real Becky T. Lane, please stand up!" Most exciting of all is the seed of an idea that reader Musing Egret planted for me in a recent comment. She mentioned "the legacy" that I have built up for my kids and grandkids, with all these stories of mine. I have often dreamed of finding a secret diary, hidden away somewhere, that belonged to my mother or grandmother when they were young. I would have given anything to have found such a treasure, for surely it would have opened a window into their hearts, and let me see a part of them that was never revealed to me.
So, in essence, that is what I am doing here. I'm hiding this diary of mine in a trunk, way back in a corner of the attic, for future little Lanes to stumble across after I am long gone. I have no wish to be remembered as a well-behaved lady. We all know that well-behaved women rarely make history. No, I'd much prefer it if they got a big laugh out of some of my stories, cried over others, then turned to one another and said "Wow! Granny Beck was a real doozie, wasn't she?"
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Thinking about our first Christmas here in Wimberley reminded me of how much of it I spent watching Food Network! I happened across it when I was flipping channels one day, and when I saw this gorgeous young Italian woman named Giada, who was preparing for a holiday get-together, I decided to pause and watch for a while. A moment or two later, I was hooked!
I tried a few of the other shows this channel offered, but none of them called to me the way Everyday Italian did. This chef used real food, fresh herbs straight from the garden, everything she cooked made my mouth water, and best of all, she made it look doable! She made me realize that putting good, fresh food on the table for my family didn't have to take any more time or be any more difficult than going to fetch take-out or using a bunch of packaged, processed stuff.
By watching the way she chopped an onion, smashed a clove of garlic, and sizzled them together in a bit of olive oil, I came to realize that such things did not have to be painful or tear-inducing, and that by grabbing a handful of frozen, pre-chopped onions from a package, I was depriving myself of one of the most meditative, aromatic, sensual parts of the whole cooking process. She also made me realize that it really wasn't necessary to have shelves full of cookbooks and collect hundreds of recipes. After watching her show for a while, I couldn't help but notice that she was doing the same basic steps over and over again, and once you had those down, the rest was just variations on a theme. So, in essence, she brought about her own demise, for after that, the show began to feel a bit repetitive.
But, that was a good thing, wasn't it? For, if I've learned anything at all since embarking on the good life, it's that it is far better to be doing and making, rather than just watching and taking!
P.S. Many thanks to teale-edwards.com for the image above.
Monday, December 6, 2010
I just adore the colors of the season. They go so well with my home decor! Oooorrr...perhaps I decorated my entire home, so that it would go well with the colors of the season. Who knows?
John just left to go back to Houston this morning. It was really lovely, having him here for an extra day. The weekends fly by so quickly, we rarely have time to just putter around the house, as we did yesterday. Soon, though, we'll have all the time in the world! Last night, while I was cooking up a yummy dinner, John sat out on the porch, enjoying the view with his stereo blaring, whilst sipping a drink and smoking a cigar -- his favorite way to relax. Later he told me that he'd been making a mental list while out there, of all the things he planned to do once he was here full-time. Such a happy boy!
Unfortunately, we kinda spoiled his glow with the Christmas movie we decided to watch after dinner. Remember the book I mentioned earlier this week, called On Strike for Christmas? Well, unbeknownst to me, they turned it into a movie, and it just happened to be showing last night on Lifetime or LMN. A few minutes into it, John snidely said "Yeah, yeah, yeah! I see where this is going!" "Probably not," I replied. "If it's following the book, it will take a surprising turn. But that's OK, we don't need to watch it. I already know the story, and these made-for-TV movies are never all that great anyway." "No,no. That's OK. I can take it!"
I guess he hasn't read my blog lately, because mid-way through the movie he started looking kinda sad, then he turned to me and asked "Is this why you didn't put a tree up this year?" "Well, no, not really," I assured him, "though the book did contribute to my desire to simplify things. It helped me realize that I'd rather spend less time decorating and trying to make things "perfect", and more time relaxing and enjoying the company of my loved ones." I don't think my answer did much to mollify him though, cuz by the end of the movie, he was looking downright pitiful! When I flipped off the movie and got up to leave, he pulled me back into his lap, gave me a big squeeze, then apologized for all the times he left it up to me to "make Christmas happen." After a moment though, the impish grin returned, and he called after me, saying "But don't forget all the time I've spent in there on the computer, working my fingers to little nubs, shopping, shopping, shopping!" That's my boy.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
We had a great time at our meet-up with Paula and Tim in Bastrop yesterday, for the secret Santa hand-off. If the only part of that town you have ever seen is the highway leading from I-10 to Austin, you have really been missing out. Next time slow down, and take the road less traveled.
Paula has been sorting through old photos recently, and mentioned some she found of our early Christmas get-togethers when we were pregnant and/or had brand new babies. It got me to thinkin', and I realized that the reason we have such a close bond is not only that she and I get along just as well as Tim
and John do. Even more important is this wondrous tapestry of shared experiences that we have woven together over the last thirty-five years. In fact, Paula is the one person, other than John, that I have shared more important life experiences with than anyone else in the world, including my mother and sisters!
When we first met we were both newlyweds living in Bahrain. Our husbands were roomies on an offshore platform, so we were left on our own in a foreign place, not speaking the language, for weeks at a time. If that's not a bonding experience for two young Texas girls, I don't know what is!
We all ended up in Houston after that, so we searched for jobs together, bought our first homes together, partied together, and dealt with Tim's cancer and my frequent miscarriages and related surgeries together. Because of the cancer and miscarriages, we both came to the conclusion that giving birth just wasn't in the cards for us, so we started wading through the adoption process together, then somehow wound up pregnant and giving birth to our two miracle babies together - the ultimate bonding experience! Unfortunately, both of our mothers were pretty absorbed in issues of their own at that time, and were unwilling or unable to play the doting grandma, and so we had no one to turn to for advice or assistance but each other. Well...there was a fantastic pediatrician, and one very wise sister-in-law as well, who had gone the Lamaze/La Leche League route herself.
And so it has continued for more than three decades now. We've shared everything from potty training to college searches and failing parents. The tables have turned a bit. Now Tim and I are the healthy ones, while Paula and John both have heart issues. I thank my lucky stars every day that we are able to support one another in this as well, without making it the focus of our lives, and still have a damn good time whenever we are together!