Sunday, December 18, 2011

Persephone Secret Santa 2011

I just had to participate in the Persephone Secret Santa again this year--as it was such a treat last year. I have so much fun being introduced to another person out there that loves to read these interesting books as well. This time I was Santa to S out in Washington State. Her blog is here at luxe hours (great name!). I specially like this aspect of the Secret Santa because inevitably I gain many more book titles to add to my "To Read" list through getting to know these other Persephone fans.

From my Secret Santa (who still remains a secret!), I received Bricks and Mortar. I am very excited about this, and truly grateful for the effort my Santa put in to procuring this particular volume for me. I had no idea when I wished for this title that is is currently out of print! Thankfully my santa was able to find one and sent it along to happy me.

I haven't been blogging very much this year... I think I wrote a grand total of 22 (not including this one). Anyhow, after such grand ambitions for the year, it seems a little disappointing to have not been writing very much this year--however, the lack of posting has not been due to any waning of interest or lack of activity. Much to the contrary. Our life has been very full this year, and for that I am grateful. I am going to try and come up with a more manageable, and yet still active posting schedule--perhaps a little more focussed topically. We'll see.

Back to Persephone... I have been reading a lot of the books that J gave me for my birthday last year recently (all Persephones). Every Eye, Dimanche and Other Stories, The Journal of Katherine Mansfield, Cheerful Weather for a Wedding, and now Greenery Street. By far my favorite so far has been Every Eye. It is such a tight story, interesting narrative structure, and fabulous Modernist imagery. Greenery Street is already promising to be my number two, but I haven't finished it yet, so it's hardly fair to the others to say yet!

Dimanche has a couple fantastic stories, and many that made me kind of hate French social culture and were loathsome to finish. It is not fun to read story after story about self-absorbed misanthropes who do very little. Many of the later stories in the book showed the cutting brilliance of Suite Francaise, so I was happy over all.

I described The Journal of Katherine Mansfield to J as a book that I really want to have read, but was not happy reading. The Journal is interesting because each of the sentences or paragraphs jotted down in it were these dense images--intense but utterly disconnected from one another or any narrative arch. So it was tough going. I had not finished it by the time our book club rolled around to meeting on it, but have since. Since finishing it I have a much better idea of why it's considered so brilliant. It's a very intimate glimpse into how a writer jots down and begins to form or re-form characters, situations, or fleeting moments. I sat down and tried to write down a common scene of my every day life to see if it was really so hard--since KM makes it seem so natural and effortless. It was nearly impossible for me. That exercise made me appreciate what she was doing with The Journal a lot more--but don't expect this to be an enjoyable read, or indeed really like a journal in the more prosaic sense--it's more like a writer's sketchbook. This "journal" contains almost no personal information ("I am going to X and with Y."), only intimate, detailed vignettes. The only real glimpses into KM's state of mind was her preoccupation with suffering. The reader does not get any progression of events or life changes really--so reading it is slow going.

Cheerful Weather for a Wedding was a surprise to me. From the title I thought it would be somewhat saccharine and light. It was not. It is really a long short story or novella about one day in a household that happens to be a wedding day. The fact that we know it is a wedding day provides all of the unity of plot and tension of character for the reader. As. V. Woolf said of it, "It is astonishingly good."

I will just touch on Greenery Street here, and hopefully do a complete posting on it when I finish reading it. I would love to just post quotation after quotation of it up--but I will just say that as the book opens with the Grandmother giving the young couple an enormous rocking horse for the nursery, which displaces the linen cupboard, which then has to join the sewing machine and the cook's trunk in the young husband's closet--which of course he does not mind--I could hardly stifle my laughter quaking body so as to not wake up my own dear young husband. I put the book down and turned out the light smiling.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Prague Cemetery

Here is a fantastically interesting interview with Umberto Eco about his latest novel, Prague Cemetery. I am dying to read it--though it sounds pretty grim.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


I walked up to the deli counter at Wegmans this evening--always an exciting activity--I eagerly looked over the case to see what was new. As I looked at the delectable freshly sliced bacon my eye fell on an odd looking few slices arranged on a nearby platter.

I asked the man, "What is that?!" I was afraid that they were highlighting blood sausage for the holidays, or something similar. The man behind the counter said, "That's bresaola. It's like prosciutto, but it's beef." At $19.99 a pound I wasn't about to pounce, but then he offered me a slice... and my world will not be the same. It is heaven for meat eaters! I am hooked. It is one of the best things I have ever had in my mouth.

Note that, of course, Jamie Oliver has a wonderful looking peach bresaola salad and here's a brief description. 

I love this quotation, Italian Bresaola "is moist and delicate, and completely unlike the salty and slightly leathery domestic versions, or the dryish Swiss bundnerfliesch that Americans have had to make do with for so long... It has an intriguing, musty bouquet. And unlike prosciutto, bresaola is utterly lean, with no discernible striations of fat. When sliced paper-thin, it is almost translucent."

I think that is what really is so amazingly compelling about bresaola. Besides the wonderful taste--it is so gorgeous. It is like eating beef stained glass. It makes me want to create art project meals. And that's all I will say about it. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Spirituality of the Church

A provocative little interview with Pastor David Coffin:

"The Rev. Dr. David Coffin is pastor of New Hope Presbyterian church, a 20-year-old congregation that meets in Fairfax City's Fire Station No. 3. Coffin, a student of early American theologians Jonathan Edwards and Robert Dabney, is said to be one of the most learned men of his denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. Coffin will speak in Washington at Christ Reformed Church's "Christianity and Politics" lecture series later this month alongside other well-known Reformed intellectuals. Coffin sat down with The Washington Examiner to talk about his lecture, "The Spirituality of the Church," and his own faith in God.

"Examiner: Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?
Coffin: I'm certainly a Christian. The problem is that's a pretty generic term these days. I would say that I'm a Catholic Christian in that I hold to the fundamentals of the faith as set forth in the historic creeds of the church. I'm a Protestant Christian in that I believe the Reformation was a return of the church to its original scriptural foundations. I'm a Reformed Christian, meaning that the way of salvation understood in historic Reformed or Calvinistic Christianity seems to me most faithful to the Scriptures."

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, October 03, 2011

H Mart

"It's so great! It's so they can live before they die!" -- G, on the fish tank at H Mart

I am really proud of G for this! I have worked really hard to instill in her that food comes from animals, and that it's a very good thing that God has made the world this way--that there is nothing gross about it, and that it's good to be humane about your food before it comes to your plate. Every time I roast a chicken she asks if it can wave goodbye to her, and we do a little naked chicken dance... 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Religious Architecture

It seems to me that the best examples of religious architecture are among humankind's proudest accomplishments. When working in the service of some higher entity, we humans seem capable of surpassing our reach and perhaps even our expectations. Motivated by faith, but guided ultimately by common sense, these builders created constructions that reveal a level of ingenuity, ambition, and craftsmanship rarely found in secular architecture. 
-- David Macaulay, Mosques  

Monday, March 07, 2011

Is Social Network an Oxymoron?

This is why I will always love Lawler--there is no one better on flat souls than him:

So I've been thinking some about the fact that "The Social Network" portrays people--even techno-meritocrats--as worse than they really are.  I've been criticized, of course, for not recognizing the artistry in that approach as a revelation of the emptiness of our time.
One reason I wasn't so impressed by that approach is that it's nothing new.  It was present in the controversial best-seller of the last generation--Allan Bloom'sThe Closing of the American Mind (1987).  Bloom described the smart and sophisticated students he taught at the University of Chicago as having flat souls, by which he meant souls without longing.  And souls without longing, of course, aren't really souls at all.
Bloom described his students as unmoved by loved and death, fit to be competent technical specialists and nothing more.  They were social solitaries, locked up in themselves, the most erotically lame people ever.  They weren't open to God, didn't think of themselves of citizens, didn't have real heroes, and even found it about impossible even to think of themselves as family men and women. Bloom even said that their music was nothing more than the rhythm of mechanical rutting.  Their eros had become that one-dimensional!
And so, of course, they even turned friendship into networking.  The social network, from this view, isn't about real friendship or real social life.  It's about people casually exploiting each other to meet their pedestrian personal needs.  The film seems to confirm Bloom's description by not giving us an example of enduring, trustworthy friendship or enduring love between a man and a woman or of a fairly functional and loving family.
For the complete article visit Big Think here.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sola Scriptura

DG Hart writes a fascinating piece on an element, often taken for granted, of one of the tenets of Protestantism: Sola Scriptura. He argues that rather than emphasizing the personal devotion of churchgoers, as is largely assumed today upon discussion of Sola Scriptura, "Anyone who reads the early sermons or commentaries of the reformers" would see that the "chief element of the Reformation was not individual or subjective but corporate and objective."

Hart goes on in "The Nature of Reform" to state that

"Obviously, conditions are not today what they were in sixteenth-century Europe and Protestant concerns about personal holiness may be a welcome addition to character of being Protestant.  At the same time, churches today give every sign of needing the kind of reform for which Calvin and others called in the sixteenth century.  In fact, a plausible case could be made that a turn toward personal godliness has come at the expense of zeal for the faithfulness in the forms and ministry of the institutional church.  Protestants today may want to reconnect with those original objections to Roman Catholicism to understand that the institutional church was not inconsequential to the recovery of the gospel or the cultivation of holy living.  It was actually the reverse."

On Reformation Italy find also an interesting discussion of early American anti-Catholocism ("The Good, The Bad, The Un-Christian") with gems such as this:

"If Rome was an opponent of republican forms of government and liberalization of thought and economic life during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, American Protestants were equally wedded to modern political arrangements in their condemnation of Roman Catholicism. Rome stood for ignorance, bigotry, and superstition while Protestants conceived of the Reformation as a harbinger of the Enlightenment, like General Electric, bringing the good things of knowledge, tolerance, free markets, and political liberty to light."

I love reading DG Hart. 

Read further for Hart's very concise argument for remaining Protestant today (a series which he promises to continue for us here). 

ps. I don't know what happened to my links, but they are there, you just have to hover over the words to find them!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fish: Without a Doubt

Thanks to my thoughtful brother-in-law, I am the proud owner of Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore. I started reading it at Christmas time, but had to shelve it for the past month and a half due to unflagging business. Tonight though, I had three fillets of Orange Roughy waiting for me, and I pulled out Fish Without a Doubt for some inspiration. I can't say much more than 1. I think it is the best fish (maybe dish) I have ever cooked, 2. The sauce was worth waiting for, 3. This is one of the best cookbooks that I have on my shelf--if you like fish or even wish you did--buy this book!. By the way, my husband agreed. I made some quick alterations based on the ingredients in my cupboards, and the result was still fantastic (I used 1/2 a bag of frozen leeks from Trader Joes, and Vermouth instead of red wine, and I substituted Orange Roughy for the Turbot). I'm going to include the Red Wine Butter Sauce recipe below, but go to the source for the best way to cook the fillets!

Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion

Red Wine Butter Sauce

1 cup sliced shallots
3 Sprigs of Thyme
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1/2 cup ruby port
2 stick butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Put the shallots, thyme, and red wine in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat and simmer until the wine has reduced to about 2 tablespoons and the shallots are very tender. 

Add the port and reduce to about 1/3 cup.

Remove the thyme. Turn the heat to very low. Use an emersion blender to start pureeing the shallots. Start adding butter a piece or two at a time, tilting the pan and using the blender to emulsify the butter and liquid. Continue adding butter bit by bit, incorporating what you have in the pan before adding more. 

[I did not do this part] Strain the sauce through a sieve... etc, etc.  

Add the vinegar. 

January 2011 Photo Round Up

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

2010 Recap Books: Pt. 2

I'm not going to comment on every book on my list, but there are a few that I would have loved to devote an entire post to, but didn't so will try to briefly deal with a couple of them.

The Medici Conspiracy was written by a journalist, is a true story of illegal art smuggling, and was about as boring as watching ticker-tape run. It ended up being a somewhat fascinating, appalling list of items stolen by the same 5 people. Although it easily could have dealt with fascinating questions such as 1. Who does this art belong to? 2. Does it matter that it was illegally excavated if museums end up with it anyhow? 3. Should museums be the cultural guardians of all antiquities? What would the value of having these items be more widely collectable be? 4. Questions of provenance and repatriation. Unfortunately, the book neither asked nor answered any of these. On the other hand Museums and American Intellectual Life was written by a historian, is about the development of museum theory in the late 19th C. early 20th C. and was fascinating and well written: the scope of understanding and implication is breathtaking and stimulating. I have quoted from it extensively in my Victorians post. I could go on and on, but won't. It's on my top 10 list of books that have brought about a sea-change in my mind.

The Glass Room. It's hard to know where to start with this one. This is one of the most well written, literary books I have read recently. The images are visceral, and the story odd and sad. I think what I loved most about this book is that the text itself was so violent and harsh, and the story was all clean lines, glass panels, and black marble. It's hard to recommend though because of one specific incident in the story that still brings bile to the back of my throat.

After I was introduced to British murder mysteries through Agatha Christie, I quickly moved on to Margery Allingham's hero Albert Campion. When these were made into BBC mini-series, I will admit here to all of The Internet that Campion was my first crush. It was so fun to re-watch these recently with BarkSavage and thought I would re-read them as well. Last year I made it through the first half of the Campion books--all set in the late 30s, and written about then as well. The stories are light, humorous, stylish, and a nice foil to the farcical PG Wodehouse Bertie and Wooster stories. What I did not realize in my earlier reading of the series was that Allingham continued the series after an almost 30 year hiatus. I have started in on these and was so interested to read them--they are really different in tone, still with the characteristic humor, but not the same light subject matter. They take place 20 years after the first books, so Campion has married and aged; he was in the intelligence service during the war. I love that she gave him a history, as she had as well. The tone is drastically different that the first set. It's fascinating to see her set the same society type dramas, but in the early post-war period. Her observations about the changes in society and how that affects the story really are so interesting. I love too that they were written close to that same time, so that the verisimilitude is exacting.

I'll include a quick example:
"She was neither drunk nor drugged, and indeed looked remarkably healthy and most unlikely to be the victim of some toxic condition, but everybody in the room recognized her typical symptoms with the same sense of dismay.
   The breaking middle-class wife, driven by one of twenty possible shortcomings of her own or her husband's, strained by a speed of living for which she was not designed, and
permitted by the absence of any cast-iron code of manners to destroy them both by public attack, was a figure of the second postwar period. Melisande Mayo was a casualty as familiar and distinctive ti the group in the rectory as any gang of Mods and Rockers out for a bash, and the fact did not make her any easier to have about the house."

The Mysterious Benedict Society. A fun book, employing many of the now recognizable forms of a good adventure series: an odd assortment of outcasts or loners work together to solve the impossible threat to the whole world. Interestingly it crosses over to some of the themes in both The Mind Readers (Allingham) and The Shallows (Carr) in discussing the talents of children's brains, and the affects of radio waves (or other media) on them. I liked it enough to move on to the rest of the series sometime in the future.

I'll deal with Penelope Fitzgerald in another post...

Monday, January 31, 2011

2010 Recap: Books, pt. 1

Here is my catalogue of books completed in 2010. As you can see I had a healthy dose of British mysteries mixed in with everything else. I have a tendency to try and read everything an author has written, in chronological order (as far as I can), if I really like the author. Last year I was making my way through Margery Allingham, Martha Grimes (both of which I have already done once before), and Penelope Fitzgerald. I'll post again on a couple of the highlights.

The Medici Conspiracy, Peter Watson
Museums and American Intellectual Life 1876-1926, Steve Conn
Alice and Wonderland, Lewis Carol
Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carol
The Glass Room, Simon Mawer
The Crime at the Black Dudley, Margery Allingham
Mystery Mile, Margery Allingham
At Freddie's, Penelope Fitzgerald
So I have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald
Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald
The Golden Child, Penelope Fitzgerald
Jamie's Dinners, Jamie Oliver
Morning & Evening, Charles Spurgeon
Babywise, Ezzo
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins, Weisbluth
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Weisbluth
Baby Sleep Solution, Suzy Glordand
Mothering Multiples, Le Leche League
Rainbow's End, Martha Grimes
The Horse You Came in On, Martha Grimes
The Defector, Daniel Silva
Look to the Lady, Margery Allingham
Police at the Funeral, Margery Allingham
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
Super Baby Food, Ruth Yaron
Super Foods for Children, Michael Van Straton & Barbara Griggs
Sweet Danger, Margery Allingham
Death of a Ghost, Margery Allingham
The Black Cat, Martha Grimes
The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald
The Rembrandt Affair, Daniel Silva
Flowers for the Judge, Margery Allingham
The Means of Escape, Penelope Fitzgerald