Tuesday Treat: “Not Becoming My Mother” by Ruth Reichel

"Not Becoming My Mother" by Ruth Reichl

"Not Becoming My Mother" by Ruth Reichl

Editor in Chief of now defunct Gourmet magazine, restaurant critic and author, Ruth Reichl has dipped her hand into every aspect of the food world.  But Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way is not about food.  At least not in any but an incidental way.  Instead, it is the story of her mother Miriam; a vibrant, intellectual woman who lived in a time when women were supposed to get married, have babies and not have a career. 

As beneficiaries of the feminist movement, women now are coping with the expectation that they will have a career, raise children, run a household and be active in the community.  The superwoman mantra of the 90s is over though and most of us are just plain old tired and sometimes a bit resentful if we’re honest about it.  I for one am happy to have the option to work, to decide if I want to marry (I did, but for a long time I didn’t want to ever get married), and to decide whether or not I want to have children (I don’t) but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be grateful if once in a while one of those damn overweight businessmen would get off their a$$es and help me put my luggage in the overhead compartment!  And seriously, when did opening a door for someone become a crime?  I do it for both men and women (and I help women with their luggage when the aforementioned men can’t be bothered).  Being a gentleman is not a crime or insulting to women. 

In this atmosphere of today, Ruth Reichl’s book is timely.  While some of us are exhausted and many women I meet want nothing more than to be able to quit working, Reichl tells us a story of an intelligent woman trapped in a societal prison.  Miriam was not a good cook, she was not particularly good at housekeeping but she was successful at running a bookstore before she married and writing a few “How To” books early in her second marriage.  She was not successful at being inactive and like many women of her day she became depressed and eventually hostile for many years as a result.  She also became subject to the pharmacopeia of the day, with a continuously changing cocktail of pills to cure an illness that could be remedied by gainful employment.  Miriam finally turned things around after her husband died and her children were grown through employment in an area that engaged her.  She also, throughout her journey, made darn sure that her daughter didn’t end up like her. 

Miriam taught her daughter and she teaches us to be thankful for the options we are given as women today.  It’s a good reminder, especially on those days when you just want to throw it all in.

Tuesday Treat: “The Starter Marriage” By Kate Harrison

The Starter Marriage

The Starter Marriage

As you know, I’ve confessed before to my forays into “chick lit.”  While I have favorite authors in this genre (Elizabeth Noble and Marian Keyes come immediately to mind), most of my experiences are courtesy of my friend Tal who buys and devours random chick lit books at an alarming pace, especially when travelling.  Every time I visit her, I come away with 3 or 4 new books.  And you know what?  They are always good.  Really.  I don’t know how she does it. 

My latest treat was “The Starter Marriage” by Kate Harrison.  In The Starter Marriage, “Tip Top Tess” is completely thrown off her game when her husband of 7 years, soul mate of 15+, leaves her on Boxing Day for “The Curved One” – his younger, blonde, curvy secretary.

Tess, a fifth grade teacher, plummets into despair and extreme slovenliness at home – a 180 degree turn from her former tip-top self.  Her best friend Mel intervenes and suggests she go to a “Divorce Survival Course.”  She resists, but the paper with the phone number keeps surfacing amongst the pizza boxes and dirty clothes lining her apartment.  She gives in. 

The Divorce Survival Course is an 8 week course designed to get over it and get out there.  The course is attended by Tess; Carol-Ann, a loud, brazen, big-haired widow; Natalie, a super in control gym owner and mother; Jo, a journalist lying low; a calm, caring Indian matron; an aging musician; a single dad and a “nothing was wrong with my marriage, I am perfect” PITA.   It is presided over by their fearful course leader William. 

“The Starter Marriage” makes you feel for Tess almost immediately, but as Harrison takes you through Tess’s meltdown, realization and recovery you become more invested until you are literally cheering her on.  She quickly forms a pack with three of the other women in the group and you can’t help loving the “girl power” that ensues.  Each of the central characters in the novel grows and transforms and it is finding out how they came to be where they are and moving to a better, stronger them that makes “The Starter Marriage” so engaging.

 This is a quick engaging read, perfect for a rainy day or a few long baths.

“The Starter Marriage” is Kate Harrison’s debut novel and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Are Our Internet and Big Box Habits Killing Locally Owned Stores?

For things you don’t necessarily need to touch and feel (books, electronics, DVDs, etc.) internet shopping is quick and convenient.  For bargains or the illusion of bargains on staples like bottled water and toilet paper, we gravitate toward Costco, Sam’s Club, Target and Wal-Mart.  Even when we buy our food, it’s so much easier to pop into Safeway, or Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods than to wait for the weekly farmer’s market to come around or visit our local butcher or seafood purveyor.  Why go to several shops when you can buy everything at one?

A column by Danny Westneat in yesterday’s Seattle Times is making me question that philosophy.  The column focusses on the slow death of bookstores, particularly in Seattle.  We’ve lost Horizon Books and Bailey/Coy Books in Capitol Hill, Epilogue Books in Ballard, all the B Dalton bookstores, and M Coy Books Downtown.  Our beloved Elliot Bay Books – an institution in Seattle since 1973 – is moving from its Pioneer Square location and moving to Capitol Hill in an effort to stay in business!  (On a side note, they are liquidating their used books inventory – 40% off – so snatch up those deals while you can).  How can this be? 

Barnes & Noble and Borders likely led to the decline of many small bookstores.  Amazon sped the death and e-books threaten to put the final nail in the coffin.  One of my favorite things to do is browse through bookstores, but I’ll admit, if I know what I want to buy, Amazon or Barnes & Noble online, both of which offer free shipping for purchases of $25 or more, are easier, carbon footprint be damned.  I resorted to both this past Christmas. 

And while I really like Elliot Bay Books, I buy more books at Barnes & Noble because it’s closer to my home and easier to find parking (Elliot Bay Books relocation in March will eliminate this excuse).  This addiction to convenience, however, may be killing the very things we love.

Bookstores are not the only stores feeling the effects of the economy and the internet era.  Clothing stores, which should be safe from internet poaching (most of us still want to try on clothes) have historically lost out to department stores and when Macy’s and even Nordstrom are cutting prices, it’s hard to pay full price at a boutique for a similar item.  The result?  More boutiques are closing.

When we dine out many of us turn up our noses at chain restaurants, seeking out unique, locally owned and operated options.  To me, the proliferation of these small restaurants is one of the many perks of living in a city like Seattle.  So why doesn’t this selectivity in dining experiences carry over to our shopping habits?

Coming from Southern California, I’ve seen the landscape of a predominantly chain and big box world and it isn’t pretty.  The solution?  Shop local.  Maybe not every day and maybe not for every item.  But for every trip to Costco, Whole Foods, or Macy’s stop into one small bookstore, or clothing boutique or your local farmers’ market.  I’ve discovered some great boutiques this way and supporting a small business and the local economy is guaranteed to give you a feel good feeling. 

As for Elliot Bay Books?  I’m not waiting til they move to Capitol Hill – I’m hitting that used book sale now.

Tuesday Treat: “Cooking & Screaming” by Adrienne Kane

Cooking & Screaming

Cooking & Screaming

If you know Adrienne Kane, you likely know her from her blog Nosheteria.  What you may not know is that Adrienne Kane was just about to graduate from UC Berkeley as an English major (and dance major?  not clear) when she suffered a major stroke.  The stroke was caused by an “AVM”;” basically a slight brain malformation that burst.  That bursting caused a stroke which left Adrienne with complete paralysis of her right side and speech and cognition deficits. 

Cooking and Screaming: Finding My Own Recipe for Recovery is Adrienne’s memoir of pulling her life together following her stroke.  As the title implies, outside of therapists and doctors’ offices, Adrienne turned to cooking to reclaim her life and guide her recovery.  She found solace in the everyday comforts of food, the smells, the texture . . . the produce!  She found reward in her increasing ability to cook; from at first just chopping an onion to making and creating complete meals, catering and eventually writing a cookbook.   

Every chapter begins with a recipe and then the part of the story tied to that recipe unfolds.  The recipes range from Bolognese sauce to sage and parmesan popcorn and all look straightforward and delicious.

“Cooking & Screaming” is an inspiring and captivating story of a young woman who used a huge obstacle to discover a triumphant career in food writing , photography, recipe developing and of course, blogging.  For anyone struggling, this is a book that will inspire and motivate you.  For those already happy and content, this is a great read with some drool-inducing recipes.

Tuesday Treat: “Twenties Girl” By Sophie Kinsella

Confession: I love mystery novels (especially ones with recipes – lol) and “chick lit” (hate that term).  I’ve read Sophie Kinsella in the past with mixed reactions.  The first Shopaholic book was good, the second (Shopaholic Takes Manhattan) was still mildly entertaining, by the third (Shopaholic Gets Married) I wanted to throw the book against the wall when Becky Bloomwood still had not reformed her spendthrift ways, after the fourth (Shopaholic and Sister), I gave up on the series altogether.  Fortunately, somewhere between books two and three I read “Can You Keep a Secret?”, which prevented me from completely giving up on Sophie Kinsella.  

Kinsella’s latest novel, Twenties Girl is far and away her best to date.  It’s in keeping with Can You Keep a Secret?, Remember Me? and The Undomestic Goddess in that the story involves a woman’s discovery of her better, more vivacious self.  In Twenties Girl this happens with the help of a ghost.  I know.  The story begins when Lara attends her Great-Aunt Sadie’s funeral.  Lara had never met her Great-Aunt Sadie until the twenty-three year old ghost version of Sadie decides to enlist Lara to help her find a dragonfly necklace that had been taken from her.  Sadie is everything that Lara is not, vivacious, fun-loving, devil-may-care.  As the two hunt for the necklace and unravel the mystery surrounding its disappearance, Sadie also completely turns Lara’s life upside down – for the better of course. 

I won’t say anything more, because I don’t want to give away anything.  I will say, however, that this is a page turner (I devoured it in two days – those long baths are so useful for reading) that will give you a warm glow at the end and maybe help you believe that anything is possible.

When It Comes To Food, Ignorance Is Bliss

I’ve been reading Andrew Weil’s “Eating Well for Optimum Health” (recommended by Kath) and Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” (via books on tape) simultaneously.  The two books have turned out to be complimentary in that while reading in The Omnivore’s Dillema about how all mainstream cattle (including organic) is corn-fed, I’m also learning in Eating Well for Optimum Health that corn-fed beef, chicken and even farm raised fish has skewed our Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratios in incredibly unhealthy ways. 

Both books are serious eye-openers and shed insight into why America has gone from the land of opportunity to the land of fat and type-II diabetes (formerly known as adult-onset diabetes, except, oops now kids are getting it too).  The books also reinforce that old adage that ignorance is bliss, especially when it comes to what is going into your body.  If you want to retain your naiveté stop reading now.  Seriously, STOP.

Ok, I warned you.  Let me first say, while I like animals, especially majestic ones like giraffes, I am not a don’t eat a chicken because it’s cruel to the chicken person.  I know some people are and that’s cool, that’s just not me.  I am, however, opposed to paying for and eating beef, chicken, turkey and any other food that is procured from an animal that has spent the majority of its life being fattened by food nature did not design it to eat (corn and antibiotic combo anyone?) and standing, sleeping, and lying in its own waste.  Health issues aside, that’s just nasty.  That is, however, what most of us are eating, every single day.   

The solution is simple right?  Eat organic.  Nope.  At least not according to “The Omnivore’s Dillema.”  “Certified Organic” it appears is nothing more than loose regulation and really good marketing.  Synthetics in certified organic food?  Check.  Organic milk from CAFOs (confined animal factories)?  Check.  That free range chicken you paid double for?  Free range for about 2 weeks of its entire lifespan.  The end result?  If you buy from any major organic supplier you are just paying double for beef, chicken and their products (eggs and milk) standing, sleeping and lying in its own waste, only this waste dweller is antibiotic free and eating organic corn.

So what are we to do?  I don’t have an answer.  To the extent you can buy local, talk to the farmers about how they farm, visit the farm if you can and see how your meat and produce is raised.  If you don’t love meat, vegetarianism makes things a bit easier.  Write your congressman and senator and seek changes – stronger standards for certified organic perhaps?

My questions are these: How in a nation so obsessed with “nutrition,” labeling and label reading did we become so detached from the process of making our food that we allowed it to become completely adulterated?  How, in a nation where hand sanitizer is king did we decide it was ok to eat meat raised in its own waste?

Tuesday Treat: “The Man Who Ate Everything”

Jeffrey Steingarten's "The Man Who Ate Everything"

Jeffrey Steingarten's "The Man Who Ate Everything"

For the food obsessed or those who just like good old-fashioned stellar writing, this Tuesday’s Treat is Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything.  This book garnered the Julia Child Book Award, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and a James Beard Book Award Finalist.  It’s also just plain fun.

These days Jeffrey Steingarten is best known for his stints as a judge on the Next Iron Chef and his frequent guest judging on Iron Chef and Chopped (he’s the one who always wears a blazer and glasses and thinks pretty much anything is better with bacon – I love this about him).  Before all the Food Network business, however, Steingarten was just a lawyer – and Harvard Law grad – who managed to get appointed food critic for Vogue in 1989.  As his introduction explains, this new appointment made him rethink his food aversions and set out to overcome them.  For anyone who has food aversions or knows someone who does (my husband comes immediately to mind), the introduction alone is a must read as it goes through Steingarten’s own food phobias, the science that reveals that all food aversions are learned, and how Steingarten came to love kimchi and other foods he formerly avoided.

The Man Who Ate Everything is a collection of essays about Steingarten’s forays into the food world.  Told with enthusiasm, curiosity and a sharp wit, his essays take the reader through such experiences as his obsessive attempts to make the perfect bread starter (the chef), the french paradox, the search for the perfect ketchup, being a vegetarian (temporarily of course), Le Regime Montignac (a diet popular in the 90s), and more.  His stories are all interesting, informative, and often made me laugh out loud. 

One of my favorite passages is in his essay on subsistence dining (aptly titled “Staying Alive”), in a handy sidebar entitled “How We Live Today” that takes current statistics and projects them 25 years into the future.  Doing so, Steingarten reveals that “by the year 2050 the average family size will have decreased to about one person.  Everyone in America will be living alone. . . .All women older than eighteen will be working outside the home . . . All women will be older than eighteen.  The inevitable conclusion is that by the year 2050, everybody will order take-out food at every meal . . . Searching it out will become your full-time occupation in the year 2050, more than cooking ever was.  Americans will once again become a lonely race of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers prowling the darkened city streets, wallets honed and sharpened, ready to pounce on the unsuspecting pint of pasta primavera and snare the slow-footed slice of pate de campagne.” 

Storyteller or psychic?  No matter what you decide, get yourself to a bookstore or your local library and grab a hold of The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten.  Let me know your favorite essay and if Steingarten tempts you into trying to conquer any of your own food phobias.

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