Thursday, February 23, 2017

Two enjoyable books of culinary changes and delights

I enjoyed reading both Provence 1970 and My Life in France by Julia Child.  Child's book is published in 2006, two years after her death.  It's a lovely retelling of her life with her husband Paul as they lived in France (and then Germany, Norway and then back in the States, in the Boston (Cambridge) area).  

It recounts many wonderful meals, and even more tells the story of how Child went from being a self-confessed horrible cook to becoming a great and even famous one.  I really appreciate Child's candor, her honesty about who she was when she was young, what she had to learn and how she learned French cooking and baking.  Her and her husband Paul's natural love of other peoples (they met in Ceylon, courted in China and married in the States) and an appreciation for other cultures and their food is deeply beautiful and something to treasure and strive to emulate.  To love another one must have an openness to the place and persons; to see what one can learn from being there.  Child clearly loved France in a very deep manner, the people, the markets, the food... yet she is able to tell you what she loved in Germany and then Norway.  It's quite remarkable to have such a good outlook and attitude towards other places and people.  

I also appreciated her loss and frustration with those, sadly including her father, who were incurious and unwilling to engage in ideas past what they believed to be true and were comfortable with.  While on many levels my outlook on life is different than Child's, I can keenly appreciate her wish for people to be well-read and open to listening to others.  I  believe it is possible to engage in the work of dialogue, exchanging ideas and having friendships with people who have different outlooks than oneself.  

Of course, if the expectation to be open and listen to the other really was an expectation of one to change their ideas to match the one they are exchanging ideas with, then I would say this is not only an unfair expectation but sets up an underlying unwillingness to listen and understand another's view while not needing to change one's own.  That one can do this balance is something sadly lost in our culture today in many areas.  

Thankfully Child seems to be a very warm person and one that could hold a conversation with many. 

The book Provence 1970 is a lovely read, though I would say that Child's is better by virtue of being an autobiography that tells the story of Child's life, not a story about an idea of the change in "American Taste" that focuses more on the idea than the full life stories of the authors Barr discusses.  

Provence 1970 has a lot to recommend itself: very readable, weaving in MFK Fisher, Julia Child, Simone Beck, James Beard and Richard Olney, with smaller mentions of Elizabeth David in London.  In other words, many of the culinary greats at the time.  Barr, the great-nephew of MFK Fisher had the fortune of using his Great Aunt MFK Fisher's personal papers to better understand how both Fisher and Child were changing, expanding their scope of culinary expertise and writing to be beyond France and the less tenuous fixed rules of French cuisine.
While I have books by MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David and Julia Child, I had not read deeply on the culinary history of that time period.  Barr's book is a delight on this front, as he is very adept at storytelling.  I have a better sense of the changes that were happening during this time; I find that social history is a tale told in many ways and culinary history is one. Fascinating! 

Barr's writings on how these writers were introducing and influencing cooking and restaurants is excellently written.  I saw clearly how cooking became more of an art form, how much of what we take for granted now (good bread and how to bake it, seasonal cooking, farm-to-table and so much more) began because of Child, Fisher, Beard, Olney,

There are, I find, two weakness in Barr's book, however much I can recommend it.  First, I found his emphasis on the sensuous in Fisher's personal life and writing, distracting and a bit disappointing.  It is not that Fisher was not a great artist in words, no.  My disappointment is in her being yet another artist with whom there were many lovers. While may would not think anything of this, I still find it shocking how there is so little register of what this lifestyle means in terms of individual's lives and societal change and decline. However, Fisher clearly has the second (or perhaps third part, her last) part of her life in seclusion and solitary, this part of her life appears to have changed, while her love and writing of food continues.   

I appreciated very much Barr's writing of his Great-Aunt's struggle with seclusion and that to turn too much inwardly is disastrous, even for an introvert.  It's a real struggle that Fisher seems to realize and act upon to counteract (by being in social settings, even when alone).  If found this to be very wise and perhaps a more mature Fisher is seen here.  I love how this happens - when you see an author suddenly grow; I remember reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh's dairy and seeing quite vividly an inward maturity suddenly blossom.  

The second weakness is that his premise, of how both Fisher and Child, by and in 1970, are finding themselves in a different space, wanting to be more inclusive, inventive and open to cooking methods and cuisine of countries other than France.  I feel that he is trying to paint a picture of some great 'liberation' that is found for them, being free from France's culinary rules and able to appreciate American cooking, in all of it's diversity. That suddenly they are free to explore both curries and sea-food chowders.  I do not deny the truth of this premise, in that surely both Child and Fisher did move on to explore more than French cooking, with these precise French rules. However, I find that Barr not only repeats this premise unduly (some editing could of helped there) but in pushing his premise, he not only has to do some quick 'turn-arounds' in the story but is not telling the full story.  Nor did he acknowledge, I felt, that Child still felt deeply (spiritually) attune with France; she did move on to include more than French cooking but her love of France never dissipates.   In short, his premise is, in part, something of an ill-fitting box to tell the story of Child's life, in particular.  Child, as she records herself, had to move on from professionally collaborating with Simone Beck whose deep cultural roots kept her from understanding how to translate French cooking into an American landscape.  However, I got the impression from Barr that Child broke off completely with Simone until Barr himself mentions how Child's France house is neighbouring Simone's and on Simone's family property. It is clear from Child's book that she remained very loyal to Simone and cared about her as a dear friend, even when it was clear that they could no longer professionally collaborate.  

I experienced an similar surprise when you realize that the new cook, described in Barr's book, Richard Olney, is not someone who fails miserably at publishing cookbooks or never becomes an established recognizable cook, bringing about great influence in seasonal cooking.  To Barr's credit, he shows very well the changes in Olney and shows Olney's personal journal and maturing. 

The newly republished The Spice Cookbookfirst published in 1964, which discusses many dishes from around the world, tells me that the story I am hearing from Barr is incomplete.  It is true that Child and Fisher had an enormousness influence on American cooking, but this book demonstrates that the interest in other ethnic cuisine just a few years after Volume One of Mastering the Art of French Cooking is published.  Thus, while the personal individual journeys of both Fisher and Child changed after 1970, the change they helped usher in, with a greater fullness, began well before.  (Though one cannot compare the vast influence of Child's books and legacy with the more unknown 1964 Spice Cookbook!). 

All this to say, Barr's book was still a delight to read and brought me quickly to read Child's autobiography and to dust off my cookbooks to reexamine them!  Barr's telling of culinary history is engaging, informing and gets to the roots and influences of so much of today's enjoyable culinary landscape - ones that we would be desolate without.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Salmon Recipe...

I am remembering to put my salmon recipe that I have had
handwritten since about 2003...
Now I just have to get the timing down for baking;
I think the salmon I would have when I lived in Canada was all one
thickness and the type I get now is not uniform in thickness so I have a harder
time not over-baking it... 
Soon it will be Great Lent, 
meanwhile, I am enjoying such treats such as this + milk in my tea!
(Also, I usually do this recipe with salt, pepper and oil, not butter!)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Making Room for Lent

Today, for me, was a bit of a whirlwind.
I baked so much last week,
my house was in a bit of shambles.
I don't regret the work I did, and it was a
lot of work... it was a blessing to do...
but it meant that my Christmas ornaments were in boxes
but not yet in closet and my kitchen was a bit upended, with so many
platters, tart + spring form pans, 9x13 cake pans, all needed to be
washed and put away... 
I reorganized part of our walk-in closet, everything is much saner now,
laundry is almost caught up.
And I got my Lenten icons out and put the Christmas icons away.
I did a new arrangement of icons on the second buffet we have, and I am 
really pleased with them... 
warm and comfort, as if standing by this makes me feel like 
the dearest of friends who protect are right there by me...
I am really hoping to get back in a better reading-prayer schedule again.
It's been pretty impossible to do, with Mr Husband and I's illness,
helping Mr Husband for 5 weeks, then +Patrick's quick decline and 
falling asleep in the Lord.
It was so quick; we are still reeling from it; my Husband is one of 
the main people to help in the aftermath of Patrick's passing,
we are thinking of him a lot and praying... 
It's funny, I did not feel ready to give up meat for Lent yet,
yesterday but now it seems OK and I feel more ready.
Easing into it with this being Butterweek...
one more week of milk in my tea!
I am hoping that this Lent will at least be one of physical health
and that I can work on regaining what I had lost...
Well, one day at a time.
And as the Lord's Prayer/Our Father says:
Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
We may never know how times of sickness and trial are 
putting into us not only a grain of spiritual health but the ability to
handle life that will be ours to live through later. 
Lord have mercy on us! 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

+Patrick's funeral and Mercy Meal

I told Mr Husband that +Patrick timed things perfectly:
Funeral Liturgy for Soul Saturday
(a day we pray esp for the departed world wide in
all Orthodox Churches)...
Psalter Reading, then the 6th and 9th hour,
then Liturgy, then the Funeral service,
then the Burial, then the Mercy Meal.
The Roses at the funeral were incredibly beautiful...
the icons of St. Patrick (one given by dear friends of Patrick
a few Christmases ago) and St. George from Patrick's icon corner,
were so wonderful to see throughout the service...
I am not going into detail about it here, but the Orthodox
Funeral Services, to me, are the most healing,
the most freeing, the most natural way to deal with what
is most unnatural - that a person with an immortal soul dies and 
is put back into the earth he/she came from.
I have personally been deeply healed from unresolved grief of 
20 years by having a memorial service done, years ago,
for my dear childhood friend Timothy Mark.
Hard to believe that this summer will be his 30th year since
we lost him on this side of Heaven.
It was so wonderful to be at +Patrick's funeral today.
I am deeply grateful to the Lord that He gave me
the strength and health to bake for the
Mercy Meal.
I was able to give the 8 mini-loaves of
Cranberry Orange Cake away in memory of +Patrick
and had good amount leftover that DV will be used 
for the church coffee hour after liturgy tomorrow,
Mr Husband printed the icons of St George and St Patrick for 
dear friends of Patrick and myself...
and let me buy (and pointed out to me!) tins of tea as a 
comfort to them and to me as we grieve...
We took a cab to the funeral and from the mercy meal -
they were at different places... 
My Husband is still on the weak side of recovering 
and it was over an hour drive each way.
We had really nice cab drivers....
We ate simple food for dinner,
including Pascha bread from last Pascha,
which somehow seemed deeply fitting,
as the true resolution and healing of all pain and loss is found
in the Lord's Holy Pascha.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Lemon Pie + Cranberry Orange Cake for +Patrick's Mercy Meal

It was so nice to spend the morning cutting up the lemon,
as paper-thin as I could, skins and all... used meyer lemons!
The afternoon was the second lemon pie and two double batches of
Cranberry Orange Bread.
Total Count for Patrick's Mercy Meal Desserts (+possible gifts of cake etc):
2 9x13 Pans Chocolate Mint Brownies
3 Grapefruit Pound Cakes (unglazed)
2 Lemon Pies
1 Cranberry Orange Bundt Cake (with orange glaze/icing)
8 mini-loaves of Cranberry Orange Cake 
Earlier in the week I made 8 mini-loaves of Koek for memorial gifts.
Neat trick for the second lemon pie:
I used a smaller Spring-Form Pan and knew that the 
lemon-egg-sugar filling would possibly need extra baking time,
since it was more condensed as opposed to spread out in a tart pan.
My good friend A., who is the Mother of my godson L, 
told me to use my instant read thermometer as I was basically
baking lemon-curd in a pie (as the recipe itself says!) and 
Lemon-curd is ready at 170F... so that's what I did and I am excited to 
see how this pie turns out!
it was the first time using my nice digital scale that I got 
late last year; I am very pleased with it and esp. that I can 
measure in both lbs or kgs.
I also bought this super cute 
that Mr Husband said I can have as my 
Pascha Present this year!
I feel like it is also in memory of +Patrick
as I discovered it while baking my cakes today...
The main thing is that I need to remember to grease the pan first...
my friend M. finds that the spray coconut oil works well!
My Husband is still weak,
I don't really do NJ highways, so we are going to cab it to 
church tomorrow for +Patrick's funeral liturgy.
I have lunches packed for us and will make tea for myself to take along
for me + water bottles for both of us.
I listened to 2 (older) requiems today + an Orthodox CD called
Candles + lampada were lit throughout the day,
including a big blessed candle.
I got some encouraging emails and am grateful for the support
we have been given. 
Lord have mercy on us all!