Friday, May 24, 2013

Kingsolver and Wizenburg

A woman who made her home rural Virginia, then spent several years in Arizona, I can relate palpably to the feeling of leaving and then returning to the dusty South. Instead of feeling someways ashamed of my cultural heritage and southern youth, I'm enlivened, enriched, and emboldened by a new sense of comraderie with my fellow locals *and yokels?* here in Tennessee.

Our earth is rich, our sunshine is promising, our culture supports farming well.

I'm amazingly humbled, though, by the expanse of ignorance about local food that encompassed by brain like a thick fog before reading this book.

I'm also a little embarrassed to tell you how many crickets stopped chirping and how small of a pea my brain actually was before reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

What does it mean to actually become a 'locavore'?
The three years it takes to grow asparagus?
The sweat it takes to eat your own cherries?
The weeding required for healthy squash?
The number of tomato recipes to pull out of your own hat?
The temperature needed for making your own mozzarella?

Oh and can I add one more thing to the list?  I know I wasn't supposed to start a vegetable patch *something on my high and mighty to-do list for the Spring* until reading this book.  I wouldn't have known what to do with a tomato. Compared to Kingsolver, slicing it for my salad doesn't compare with bushels of tomatoes in chutney, sauce, canning, and freezing for the rest of the winter. For some this life of canning is the norm- for me, I really think- partially from experience-that it would be a bizarre marriage of confusion and mistake.

Interested in eating locally? Think you like to eat vegetables? Proud of your little patch? If you haven't read it, my advice would be abandon what you think you know, and spend a little time in the pages of this book.  At the least, you will absorb some new vegetable recipes, such as disappearing beans or squash. You will certainly learn something new, even if you don't agree with all of her opinions. I for one am going to wait a year before trying my hand at vegetable-growing. Becoming a locavore will take much longer for me, I'm sure.

The thing I like most about Kingsolver? These words, in her Acknowledgments section:
"Many mentors helped shape this project: Wendell and Tanya Berry were there all along: everything we've said here, Wendell said first, in a quiet voice that makes the mountains tremble."

Leigh Kramer recommended that I read this book next. I know my sister read it, and I think I may have checked it out from the library once before. Time to buckle down an really read it, I think.

I also recently found A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg at the library. Although planning to save it, I plowed through in a couple of days. This was just a fun book to read. I loved the account of how she met her husband, and how she changed through the events of the book. Loved, loved, loved her writing, couldn't put it down. Brilliant storyteller, cathartic account of father's life and death, amazing memory with penchant for charming details, and a quirky sense of humor to boot.

About the Recipes-

Liked/Disliked- I made the Dried Fruit Pie. The crust turned out ahh--mmm-azing, as in, I'm gonna have to write it down. And I liked the filling of (pre-soaked, then drained) prunes, figs, raisins, currents, and chopped walnuts. It was something different from your usual apple/cherry/pumpkin. It called for golden raisins and dried apples, but I substituted the regular raisins and currents because I couldn't find the dried apples and I prefer regular to golden raisins.  I served it (as she called for) with a dollop of sweet real whipped cream. The combo of prunes and whipped cream- to me- was fabulously yummy with this delicious crust. However, the concept "tried and true" doesn't ring right with me. First off, because my kiddos didn't take such a liking to the fruit, and second, neither did the hubby, who usually will eat most anything. They all got a good kick out of crust and cream, though- who wouldn't? My only alteration to the recipe besides my substitutions would be to serve it slightly warm, instead of as the book said, at room temperature.

Want to Try: Homemade tomato soup- because I always eat the canned kind.
All of her salad recipes, including the potato salad and red cabbage and all of them.
And of course I want to try her chocolate cake and all the pickle recipes from her wedding.

Loved- French bread and (melty) dark chocolate. Yummmmmmmmmy. Because a book had to inspire this snack (?! it's true, it did), and I'm nevah goin' back.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

St. Teresa of Avila

I haven't done a What I'm Reading Friday post in a while, so I decided this was the week for a book review! Join the club- if you've read it, or decide to read it, let me know and we'll call it a club.

What I've been reading this week....

The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, vol. 1

Bernini's The Ecstasy of St. Teresa
sculpture in Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Rome

Here is my review of the book:

St. Teresa of Avila compares being close to God to holding up a glass of dirty water up to the light. As the light penetrates, the water that may have looked clear is seen for what it is- full of specks of dust. She was a serious woman with a passion for God.  Her prayer life will blow you away.  Her love for growth in faith will inspire your knowledge of God in a way that really knocks some good sense into you. If you want to work on your humility, I recommend this book highly.

She was firmly convinced that the good she was able to attain was not of herself, but God in her. A quote early in the book humbles, but also encourages:

"So I return to the advice- and even if I repeat it many times this doesn't matter- that it is very important that no one be distressed or afflicted over dryness or noisy and distracting thoughts. If people wish to gain freedom of spirit and not be always troubled, let them begin by not being frightened by the cross,  and they will see how the Lord also helps them carry it and they will gain satisfaction and profit from everything. For clearly, if the well is dry, we cannot put water into it. True, we must not become neglectful; when there is water we should draw it out because then the Lord desires to multiply the virtues by this means."

I found this comforting. At times I don't feel like praying. At times the cross seems disheartening, and I run from it. But like Teresa, I have to remember that God is at work no matter what.  When I experience dryness, dissatisfaction in my work, or affliction of any kind, I must keep working, and being faithful, without the worry- God will bring back the water, and he might surprise us with a flood of grace.

She begins her memoirs at the urging of her superiors in the convent.  She has experienced what she calls "favors" from God- special experiences of prayer and union with Christ.  She seeks to explain how it all adds up.... what were the events leading up to her closeness with God? She warns against the many paradoxes of a life of prayer and virtue.  Namely, pride and a desire for esteem from her peers.  This can be a trick of Satan, and is something to be very careful to protect against.

First off, I must say I knew very little about St. Teresa before reading this work. I was surprised to learn that she experienced severe illnesses throughout her life. Most life-threatening (she was thought dead) was her experience right before entering the convent: severe paralysis. For many years afterward, she experienced symptoms of this first illness and never quite recovered fully. It seems that many saints- St. Catherine of Siena comes to mind- struggled with severe pain or illness in their lifetime. No doubt God uses this to make his children more devout and dependent on him. She expresses a peace in being close to God, despite her many struggles and hardships. Her trust inspires trust in me.

One of the themes of the book, besides prayer, and physical suffering, is the need for learned superiors or educated spiritual directors.  If you are offended by elitists, watch out- she is an elitist in a sense!  The concept of getting advice from uneducated superiors bothered her conscience deeply, because she herself fell into sin and illness because of some bad advice from a superior with bad credentials.  I think delving into her reasons for this conviction in itself makes the book worth reading. She gives many important warnings in shielding ourselves from the Devil's tactics. She also makes an obvious point- if our superiors have gone to the trouble and pain of spending years in prayer and study- why in the world would we neglect to take few minutes to hear their wisdom, and learn from them? Good point, and very true.

Since she is famous for her experiences with "ecstasy" in prayer, I was very curious to understand more about what was meant by this.  It is difficult to put into words what she experienced, and I think you must read her own words to understand more.  I personally found it encouraging, but also a bit too spiritual/confusing to understand at parts.  I have to focus on my task at hand: raising children, being a good Mom, and having peace that I'm not a saint, not even close! I think it was Henri Nouwen who said: read the saints that encourage you and give you peace. I'm going to follow his advice. I think reading more of St. Teresa's work has been enlightening, all in all and I'm very thankful for my time with her book.

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Summer Reading List 2013

Brief memories of things that have happened throughout the week pop into my head - like redemptive stories and funny/cute things my kids have said, but then- flash-wham! They're gone. Pregnancy brain is at work, my friends.

So. Instead of an insightful, redemptive summary of life's highlights, I give you instead, my light and not-so-light Summer Reading List!


(May/June) I've been wanting to read more Spiritual/Catholic books, so since Stephen recently ordered the Collected Works of St. Theresa of Avila, that's going on my list. I'm not claiming I'll read the whole thing, though! 


(June) Another book I've been wanting to read for a very long time- A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg, author of the popular food blog Orangette. So I'm finally ordering that from Amazon and can't wait to have it in my hands!


(June) I loved her book Cooking for Mr. Latte, so I have put her older classic The Cook and the Gardener on the list. (Amanda Hesser is an amazing foodie writer for the NY Times, and did you know she makes a cameo in the movie Julie and Julia?) Read the review on Amazon and I guarantee your mouth will water.;)


(July) Being 8 months pregnant in July, I've got to read something with "cold" in the title. I've read so many reviews on Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist. I'm putting that and Cold Tangerines on my list. (I also want to read Bittersweet, but I think I'll wait on that one.)


(July) The Paris Wife, by Paula McClain. As a departure from Spiritual and Cooking, I'm going to add this novel about Earnest Hemingway's first marriage.


(August) Everyone needs a good "beach read" fiction selection. ;) Ok, it isn't exactly Chick Lit, but I'm going with an old classic, Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens. I saw the movie a few years back and loved it.


(August) Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, by Pamela Druckerman. I had this one recommended to me in a discussion about parenting. I was intriqued and finally am going to check it out!

I love to cook. I love to read. I love to be a parent. I think it's going to be a good summer.

I also need to finish what I'm currently reading!  What are you reading?

Also- ack! I just realized I don't have any good books on writing on the list. I love writing books. Have any to recommend?

Linking up with Jen @ Conversion Diary!