She worked briskly and efficiently, taking her brush and pan from the drawing-room to the top of the stairs and making her way back down, a step at a time; after that she filled a bucket with water, fetched her kneeling-mat, and began to wash the hall floor. Vinegar was all she used. Soap left streaks on the black tiles. The first, wet rub was important for loosening the dirt, but it was the second bit that really counted, passing the wrung cloth over the floor in one supple, unbroken moment…There! How pleasing each glossy tile was. The gloss would fade in about five minutes as the surface dried; but everything faded. The vital thing was make the most of the moments of brightness. There was no point dwelling on the scuffs. She was young, fit, healthy. She had–what did she have? Little pleasures like this. Little successes in the kitchen. The cigarette at the end of the day. Cinema with her mother on a Wednesday. Regular trips into Town. There were spells of restlessness now and again; but any life had those. -Sarah Waters (The Paying Guests)
It may be hard to believe, but November is here in all of its fiery red and gold autumnal glory. Or at least, it was, when I started writing this post last weekend. Since then, two storms and strong winds have whipped through the area, leaving the trees looking half bare and flimsy. I have to remind myself that this is what life on the east coast is like at this time of year: a quick shift in seasons and darkening skies, but, all in all, a slow gearing up for the starkness yet to come. Am I ready? I don’t know. I can at least say, however, that both my pantry and my bookshelves have been properly winter-proofed.

Another small shock to the system is the realization that we’ve now been in Delaware for a little over two months; in the great scheme of things, barely any time at all. Of course, there are days when it feels longer than that, but a quick look at the calendar confirms that this existence is still as fragile as the leaves remaining on the trees. When you consider that most of my days revolve around business hours in California (though I operate on east coast time, my work computer is strangely set to Pacific Standard Time) and then add to that the two weekends in October that were spent in other states, one in New York for the wedding of a college friend and another in Pennsylvania for the planning of our own wedding, it’s hardly surprising that we haven’t entirely found our footing here.
If our first month in Delaware was dedicated to the establishment of the basics–getting back to work, learning where things are, exploring–the second has been centered on community integration: joining the library and different clubs, seeking out volunteer opportunities, finding a good year-round CSA and, most importantly, being more active. I am reminded on a daily basis that it’s not easy to build a life in a new place, but I’ve been trying to push myself out of “my comfort zone” (a truly awful phrase if there ever was one; what about life is ever comfortable? If we’re really honest with ourselves, don’t we all breathe sighs of relief at night when we realize we’ve made it through another day?) lately. While it may all sound a little like Character Building 101 (a class I’m sure I’ve enrolled in a few times before), or How to Survive in the Big Bad World and Live a Life with Meaning, it’s essentially about finding the small pleasures in a new life and routine, both inside and outside the house. This, at least as I see it, is perhaps the only way to combat the feeling that our existence, when you get down to the bare bones of it all, is rather small and monotonous: work, sleep, eat; sleep, eat, work…Or maybe it’s the balance between the internal and external that makes life more bearable, not to mention appear more expansive than it actually is. Whatever it may be, my recent efforts to be out and about as much as possible seem to be working for me. I find myself knowing which street to turn on to get to the yoga studio or the doggy daycare without looking at my iPhone; to vanquish the feeling of suburban laziness and vehicle reliance that you can’t escape in a place like Delaware, I bought a FitBit and, my self-competition awakened, am now driving places just so I can walk around. Maybe it’s the endorphins, but, all in all, I suddenly feel more grounded here, less resistant to this place I never thought I’d live in, more settled in a home that is still, as homes with more rooms than people and creatures are wont to be, a work in progress.

Now that things are finally falling into place, my hope is to be back here more frequently, to finally share the story of our road trip and to write about a few new recipes, both from cookbooks and my own kitchen experiments, before the end of the year. As a dear friend and I recently agreed to blog at least once a week, this should be possible, but, as I recently fell off the blogging wagon and also find myself being pulled away from the virtual world by the demands of real life (cases to be litigated, books to be read, people to be met, many, many–too many–vegetables to be cooked), we shall see how successful I am. For now, though, November’s food for thought:

I have long been a fan of Nigel Slater; I like his proclivity to cook with cream, his poetic and simple approach to food and, most of all, his modesty. When I read this piece in The Guardian, I may have just cheered aloud. We need more of this kind of cooking in our lives, rather than fad food journalism, test kitchens galore (with their rapid-fire levels of recipe and cookbook production) and convenience cooking (even if this one does have Mark Bittman as its face).

The best food writing I’ve read in a long time.

When cooking lately, I’ve been avoiding food blogs, relying instead on my own food memories and cravings, as well as on a few recipes marked with post-it notes in my books. That said, when a friend sent this peanut butter cookie recipe to me, I had to try it. Even if made with natural peanut butter, which won’t lead to a truly puffy cookie, these cookies had an amazing texture.

I also was excited to discover Lottie and Doof’s feature of Voracious, a book that combines a love of food with a strong appetite for literature. I had never read Cara Nicoletti’s blog before (probably because I object to the word yummy), but, her use of that word aside, her taste in food and books makes me think we are kindred spirits; she wrote about The Paying Guests not too long ago.

In the past year, I have become obsessed with cooking pots of beans, so much so that I have a whole post I want to write about it (forthcoming, always forthcoming). My newfound interest in beans aside, I am a traditionalist, meaning I soak, drain, rinse and then cover the beans with fresh water before cooking them. But when I read Molly Wizenberg’s recent post on beans, I wondered if maybe I was doing it all wrong.

Back when I was in charge of a little library on the Berkeley campus, I remember how grumpy people would think I was being when I wrote asking them to clean up after themselves or when I insisted that they respect the fact that they were in a library, not a social hall. It’s funny to look back on those days, though, because I’m pretty sure that I never used grossly demanding or authoritative language. In fact, I probably sounded a lot like this. Why? Because this is simply how women speak.

I fought the good fight, but I couldn’t get through Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red. Some of the language was beautiful and the novel’s central mystery compelling, but I felt that the circular nature of the individual characters’ stories weren’t adding up to much for me.  I was, as Elif Batuman wrote about The Black Book, “deeply, viscerally bored.” Pamuk fans, did I give in too quickly?

In political news from the past week, it seems that, while George Herbert Bush’s strange use of the words “iron-ass” got a lot of press (perhaps understandably so), including an NPR article on the etymology of the term, most columnists have chosen to gloss over the fact that Bush Senior blamed Dick Cheney’s wife and daughter for turning him into the “iron-ass” monster that he became. I am no lover of the House of Cheney, but are we so numb to the workings of the patriarchy that we don’t even blink when we’re confronted by it?

I recently read this article in The New Yorker on the Salem witch trials and liked it so much that I bought the book (I’ve been reading a lot about witches lately, having just gotten back into the All Souls trilogy–I’m on book two– that a good friend had recommended to me in the spring). Then, as is the way of the world, I read a review in the New York Times book review that excoriated it. But the review was written by a professor of history at Harvard and the whole article crackled with the tension that exists between academic and popular literature. While it may be true that Schiff, as a biographer, bit off more than she could chew by approaching a whole cast of characters instead of the central figure that usually dominates her work, we still must ask whether “popular” literature should be held to the same standards as an academic study.

I saw the new James Bond movie on Friday and, while it had all of the trappings of the Bond films that we have come to expect–sleek cars, global travel and beautiful women in slinky dresses with accents, as well as the sick post-9/11 obsession with crumbling buildings and endless bombings (interestingly, the real threat of worldwide surveillance and loss of privacy was pushed to the background)–it left me rather cold. Anthony Lane’s review was nothing if not incisive.

If you read this blog, then I imagine with this last link I’m probably preaching to the choir, but still it’s always nice to have a reminder about the importance of taking a step back from the internet and reading novels.

4 thoughts on “Food for Thought

  1. How have I not commented on this?! I am the world's worst blog club buddy. There is so much to say! My Name is Red is not my favorite Pamuk, and parts of it were very sloggy for me too. I know it is Daniel's favorite, though. I would ever so highly recommend The Museum of Innocence, though–it is glorious and not at all sloggy, though–fair warning–it will make you want to drop everything and fly to Istanbul. Which is sort of what I did, a few years later:) But you have already been, so it might be even more fun for you–it's a very Peterburg-ian experience, I think, or Dostoevskian, perhaps? In the sense that the novel is so deeply rooted in the city. I am excited for his new novel for the same reason (Christmas list!) I did also like Snow and The Black Book. And you might like Istanbul, which is sort of Speak, Memory-ish? But not exactly Nabokovian. Speaking of NYT reviews, our beloved polyglot stole the front page of the book review last week! I was happy to see that the reviews were mostly positive. And then I was sort of unnerved by the excoriating review–not of the recent publication of Nabokov's letters to Vera, but of the man himself. I am not sure when I have read something so vituperative in print. It made me wonder how much is dimmed by the central glow of my affection for Dar and Lolita…and how much of him I will just never understand. This is all a very long way of saying that it's so interesting that it's Schiff who got the same treatment recently. It reminded me that Brian Boyd had advised her against writing it, but then helped her very chivalrously, and it reminded me that I have the book and haven't read it. next on the list! Also, obe final thing I meant to tack onto my comment on the Vegas post: it gave me hope that we could blog through our road trips now, all these months later! I still would really like to get to it before it's buried under the tidal wave of the holidays. So I shall try to join you in road trip blogging! XO

  2. Don't worry! I understood; it must have been friend telepathy or something (I hadn't realized, before I bought The Witches of Salem, that Schiff had written a book about Vera Nabokov, but it sounds interesting. In any case, most reviews say that she does a superb job focusing on one person, rather than on a whole cast of characters like in The Witches. I do like that she refuses to engage with questions that don't interest her; I hate when reviewers talk about all the things that *could have been* discussed.). And I believe I will give Pamuk another try; I do own The Museum of Innocence and also The Black Book, so I am practically obliged to do this. 🙂

    And three cheers to the hope that we can finish blogging the tales of our road trips before the end of the year! I think I'll be lucky if I get through New Mexico (I have a schedule; I am already behind) :/, but I'm okay with things bleeding over into the new year. I just means I get to relive the trip. Although wedding prep is going to have to begin in earnest soon.


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