Monday, November 30, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Volume 10, Number 3
Earth to Table
by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann
Okay, let me give it to you straight. This book is
If you love food, or if you love the earth, or if you're concerned about health, or if you are curious about what makes a restaurant tick, or if you'd like a little glimpse into an organic farm, or if you like good, personable unpretentious writing.....or if you are buying for someone who is any of these things, you cannot go wrong with Earth to Table.
The concept is simple - how to eat in season, locally.
It would be easy enough to describe the philosophy and method of eating seasonally - there are convincing arguments ranging from your health to your tastebuds to your carbon footprint - but these authors have done more than that. They have plumbed the depths of growing your own produce, mixing your own compost, and foraging in ditches for ramps (wild leeks). In the process, reading this book, you feel galvanized by their knowledge and enthusiasm.
They have embraced the local, seasonal concept in their own restaurant (both are members of the Slow Food Movement), and have teamed up with an organic farm on which they actually grow their own wheat (Red Fife, a Canadian heritage strain), for the 70 loaves they bake at the restaurant daily.
I could go on, and on, and on about this beautiful book. But I did promise to make these pre-Christmas reviews shorter, so I'll just say:
- only tried one recipe so far (pizza dough), loved it
- so well-written and nicely photographed
- totally worth the cover price
Thursday, November 19, 2009
If On A Winter's Night
If you've heard "Songs From the Labyrinth" you'll have a better idea what to expect from "If On A Winters Night". Sting, in his maturity, seems lately to have been drawn to ancient music: consider also that this recording, like "Labyrinth", was released on Deutsche Grammaphon, a classical label.
The music itself is flawless. It has a keen sound quality - particularly on the pieces with stripped-down instrumentation - and the arrangements are careful.
If you are interested at all in Sting as a person, the liner notes will prove invaluable. There are six closely-printed pages written by Sting: musings on his agnosticism, his childhood memories of winter, the seasonal cycle as it affects humans. It's interesting and introspective.
I would classify this CD not as "Christmas", as I've seen it described, but as "solstice". It reminds me a little of the New Age/Pagan CDs that comprise my favourite winter listening.
I love If On A Winter's Night. It is full of lovely winter songs, beautifully interpreted by a first-class musician.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Volume 10, Number 2
Her Fearful Symmetry
If you've read The Time Traveler's Wife, you already know this amazing author's penchant for the eerie. As 'eerie' goes, her new offering, Her Fearful Symmetry, doesn't disappoint.
Elspeth Noblin, the novel's most influential character, dies in the first couple of pages. She leaves her London flat, overlooking Highgate Cemetery, to her two American nieces: twins, as Elspeth herself was a twin.
The twins, Julia and Valentina, move to London with all their baggage and.....well, baggage. Their relationship - like that of their aunt and mother - is one of the defining forces of the novel. It moves the plot and determines the fate of the two girls, who at the beginning of the book are not so much sisters, as one person split between two bodies.
When the twins get to London, they find that though she is dead, their aunt has never really left her flat at all...
Haunting is a difficult plot point - it is so often written with a heavy hand, resulting in improbably corporeal spirits, or sensationalist plot lines high on spook-factor. Audrey Niffenegger handles it carefully, gently bringing the reader around. Her ghost is a nicely drawn blend of the humdrum and the mysterious.
The whole thing is very deftly written. Niffenegger managed to suspend my disbelief throughout the novel, and in fact (though I am loth to admit it) to smoothly trick me into liking somebody that I shouldn't have - no mean feat considering how many books I have read and dissected. At this stage in my reading career it takes a good bit of sleight of hand to get a villain past me...Audrey did it brilliantly.
Do read this book if you get a chance. It's quite different to The Time Traveler's Wife - less sexual for one thing (darn), and in a totally different style. There is a lot of good writing, clever plot points, and well-disguised metaphor.
HSB Highly Specialised Book Rating System
Her Fearful Symmetry gets:
Given to Others? Yes.
Friday, November 13, 2009
"Please leave all wireless communication devices off until the captain has turned off the seat belt sign and we have arrived at our final destination. This is regardless of whether or not you think I can see you.
I can see you.
Put it away."
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Take these men for your example. Like them, remember that prosperity can be only for the free, that freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.
Monday, November 09, 2009
The entire point of this handy little volume is to help you cope with the pressures of the festive season. How, you ask? Well, Valerie Peterson thinks the best way to get you into good spirits is to get good spirits into you. And she's got plenty of ideas for the tastiest and most efficient way to achieve this.
It's more than a bartending guide, though, it's a comic romp through winter, from Thanksgiving to Epiphany. There are loads of funny little sidebars, plenty of pictures that, frankly, could have come from the family album of almost anyone I know. Swap out one or two faces, and maybe the wallpaper in the background, and these photos could have been taken in 1968 in my grandmother's house. "Adults," Peterson says, "in the celebratory photos of yesteryear, looked like they were having a good time...what was the secret? I searched and searched and, after a whole hour on the Internet, I found the answer: liquor."
There's a "Mayflower Mulled Cider", whose introduction observes "That fateful gathering in 1621 wouldn't be remembered so fondly if Chief Massasoit and his ninety men showed up year after year, complaining to the pilgrims that the turkey was dry..." Then the "Turkey Tamer" notes that the holiday bird will be fine, "as long as the stressed-out cook remembers to brine. Herself, that is."
For Christmas there are scores of yummy sounding libations, including Scrooge and Cratchit's final-chapter bowl of Smoking Bishop, and the "Emergency Ginerator" for when your light display blows the entire powergrid and you are forced to "review the inconvenient truth of your kilowatt hours."
My favourite one, though is that immortal, controversial "Tom and Jerry". Remember the famous Tom and Jerry post and comment frenzy? Well, we were right - Peterson has you beating the egg white until very stiff, and beating the yolks with sugar and vanilla until thick, light, and creamy yellow. Then you beat in cinnamon, rum and brandy, and mix the whites and yolks back together. Also, you add hot milk, not hot water. Much better, I think.
This book is not only laugh-out-loud funny, it's completely unapologetic about its subject matter. I love that - I expected a certain amount of guilt, especially in these Puritanical times when having a drink to cope means you are suspect of substance abuse, and a candidate for intervention. There's no sign of that here - it's all simply good fun. The unspoken expectation is that you ought to already know about drinking responsibly. The few warnings given in the "Contraindications" section include pregnancy, driving, and maybe church services...other than that, have at 'er!
HSB Highly Specialised Book Rating System
Peterson's Holiday Helper gets:
Given to others? Absolutely!
Monday, November 02, 2009
I went to a movie the other day. I had high hopes for it, and was certainly prepared to have a good time.
I didn't have a good time, though.
I got punched in the gut. Where The Wild Things Are put a whammy on me.
It got released on my birthday, and I thought we might take the kids to it after dinner. I checked parent previews and got the idea it wouldn't be appropriate - I asked a friend and she said this:
Where the Wild Things Are is a dark and disturbing movie. I wished I hadn't seen it...the movie should carry a warning label: for people with happy carefree perfect childhoods only...I am still disturbed, four days later.
I was interested. And I thought, I pretty much had a happy carefree childhood, I should be golden.
Because I am a human...because I was a child, and have come full-circle to parenthood, Wild Things was a sucker punch.
The Maurice Sendak book, which of course everyone has read, is a terse and symbolic story of a child's defiance, punishment, and capitulation. During his punishment (sent to his room), a jungle grows up around him and he sets sail across an ocean, in a private boat. He arrives at a strange land full of strange creatures: Wild Things. They threaten to eat him, but he tames them with magic, and they crown him king.
There are several pages, in the middle of the book, with no words on them. Max's adventure is barely narrated at all - and his emotions are only named in one tiny line - "Max was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all." Aside from that line, the reader is left to infer what she will about what's going on in Max's head.
The movie is, on the surface, significantly different from the book. (Which - okay, the book has, what, 8 pages? and the movie takes nearly two hours, so you'd expect some fleshing-out.) In reality, though, it is not different at all. Every event, every extra character, every change made by the writers, seems perfectly natural to the original text.
Max's journey to the place where the wild things are is, like in the book, a turning inward. The place where the wild things are is a manifestation of his internal landscape as, in fact, the wild things themselves are manifestations of Max, his family members, his habits, his fears, his longings. Their characters are not static - they keep shifting as power dynamics change, as Max's will first unites, then divides them. The wild things are often children - they submit to his kingship, relieved to have an authority figure again.
This theme surfaces again and again throughout the movie, as characters admit their need for "a king". They need guidance, they want someone to look after them and make everything all right. (It's significant that Max, in his real life, doesn't live with his father - the reason is never made clear. We don't know whether the father is dead, or just gone.)
For a while Max becomes that authority they need (while at the same time, one of the wild things has become Max's father figure), but soon the wild things discover, as Max once did, that nobody has enough power to make everything all right.
Parents and children, and the hurt they inflict on one another, is a huge theme in this movie. There is one scene that cut me right to the bone. Judith, a wild thing who has always been more or less skeptical about this upstart king, has a jeering match with Max. No words are said, but she and Max just mock and roar more and more loudly at each other, him imitating her with a look of contempt on his face. She is in a trench, looking up at him (the only way he would be taller than she is), and after she screams at him for the last time she cries out, before he has a chance to answer her, "YOU CAN'T DO THAT BACK TO ME!"
He stops, taken aback.
"YOU CAN'T BE UPSET!" she yells. "We can be upset but you can't get upset! You're the king! If we say 'I'll eat you up', you have to say [gently] 'oh no! what'll I do! don't eat me!'"
Max stares at her. You can see the realisation of what he's done - the same thing that has been done to him - on his face. Then he turns around and walks away.
It is gut-wrenching.
I am a parent who has anger problems. Thank God I am not a hitter, but sometimes things escalate. I push, they push back, and then - well, I am ashamed to say that I, too, have imitated my daughter's words or voice, which she has used to me out of hurt and impotent anger. I have turned it around on her and have wounded her, deliberately, by using my position of power to subdue her, demean her.
It seemed harmless at the time. It seemed like a way to show her how it made me feel when she said that - how it felt to have someone talk to you that way. But what she needed from me...what she always needs from me...is for me to be the parent, the adult, the mother - the one in control. It's a paradox, because she's trying to hurt me...but she doesn't want to succeed.
When I saw Max and Judith behaving like parent and child, I sobbed. I felt such a conviction of guilt for the few - thankfully - times in our lives when I have done this to my own child. I had heard those exact words from her. "You can't get upset! You shouldn't imitate me!" And once, heartbreakingly, "I'm just a child Mummy!" Watching this movie, I remembered what I had forgotten. I knew it as a child, knew it right at the core of my soul. I remembered that fear I felt when I pushed her, hoping against hope that she would react with love and not anger. That she would reach out instead of lashing out.
It's not too much to say that Where the Wild Things Are changed my life. It absolutely wounded me. It reached out of the screen, tore me out of my Now, and shoved me back into my Then. It reminded me what it was like to be powerless, to trust out of necessity. It reminded me what it was like to burn with rage and helplessness, to lash out in pain, needing to smash and destroy. And it reminded me what it was like to want, so badly, to be treated with gentleness, to be treasured above all else - even just to be given the gift of my mother's gaze. Without anger, without distraction.
If you had told me a week ago that a movie could make me feel this way, could double me over in pain, make me run home to my children, make me change the way I am with them, I'd have laughed out loud. A movie, though, is just a vehicle for a voice. The message can be a teeny little folded up thing that flies inside you disguised as laughter, disguised as fantasy, imagination, nonsense.....and then when you've lowered your defenses, taken it in and given it a place to Be, it unfolds itself. You look at it differently. It's a part of you. You understand what you've really been seeing.
That moment of comprehension can be devastating.
I don't know whether you, in particular, should go see it, or not. I will say that it's the best movie I've seen in probably a decade. I'll also say that I'm buying the soundtrack, and I'm buying the DVD, and then the special edition DVD, and then the ten-year anniversary director's cut DVD box set, and then....you get the idea.
A lot of people don't like this movie. It's painful - no doubt about it. And a lot of people probably don't understand this movie - you should have heard some of the people in the theatre. They were mystified, and slightly resentful. "That wasn't in the book!" But, for my part, I came away changed - and for the better. As I said to my sister, "Run, don't walk."
Photo from IMdb, used totally without the permission of WarnerBros.