Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Home for the Artist

But there is nobody like Mom...if she were here, she'd tell me something about how red is always chasing yellow. I'll never have another new Mom story. I only have the old ones to keep, which is why I have stayed so quiet since she passed, why I 've been keeping to myself, because if I talk, if I say too much about Mom, I'm thinking that the parts I still have will escape, like bubbles. (Nothing But Ghost 217)

Nothing by Ghost by Beth Kephart is a young adult novel that tells the story of the young girl, Katie, who is prematurely launched into independence because of her mother's unexpected death. Both Katie and her father seem to adapt to this tremendous loss by becoming introspective and work-focused. Set during the summer before Katie enters the 12th grade, it becomes a romance, mystery, and psychological exploration on memory and loss. Kephart writes with such tenderness and care as she touches on the subject of friendship, first love and loss.

Listen to the author read a short segment of the book:

I enjoyed this book for so many reasons; it has a magical touching scene in Barcelona, Spain; the loss of the girl's mother is treated with emotional perceptiveness; and the young girl's insight rings true. Beth has written a young adult novel that is warm and honest. Read this book! It is a one day vacation into the life of a young girl who learns how to live after the death of her mother. For anyone who has experienced a similar loss, you know that we all are children again when we lose our parents. (I wrote about the murder of my own mother- here.) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Another Mother-Daughter Dynamic

Who do I miss?

I was watching the mother-daughter fashion show scene on the Gilmore Girls series tonight. I feel so touched when I see them walking down the catwalk together. Oh, I know it's suppose to be funny but I can't help but see how music and play can bring people together. It's a reconciliation dance performed in Nancy Regan red suits and perkily accompanied by Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun."

I love the feeling of forgiveness- both giving and getting. Humans are so fallible and inexpert at human relationships.

I feel so much compassion for us.
The father in Nothing but Ghosts spends his time restoring works of art. I was looking for some information about art restoration for those of you who may not know-and then, I remembered this classic quirky movie. Watch the first few minutes of the clip to get an idea of the profession. Keep watching to see the strange kissing scene when Holly Hunter gets fired. Continue on to suffer with the mother when her teenage daughter is compelled to confess that she is going to have sex with her boyfriend, "We're gonna do it. We've talked about it. We'll be safe."

Home for the Holidays is incredible. (Directed by Jodi Foster) It features an intelligent script, an authentic setting, and fair treatment of awkward family dynamics. In the beginning, the song, "Evil Ways" (great performance by Rusted Root) accompanies the viewer while one odd event after another draws us into the confusion of realistic family holiday dynamics.


While we're on the subject of writing and family, I want to tell you about blogger Sarah Laurence who has just finished her young adult novel, "As U Like it"! Isn't that a great title? Shakespeare and IM-speak! I'm thrilled that she shared some early pages with me and my family. (We were checking the authenticity of her Puerto Rican character's Spanish.) Her own daughter acted as a reader for the book. Isn't that just adorable? And useful!!

Goodbye dear readers and bloggers!

A final shout out (sorry too much MTV) to my own dear grandmother and mother who have both passed on:

Hey, Mom -cool 50's look- bobby socks with flared out skirt! And Grandma Alice-you're looking good in your 40's style fitted skirt!

Grandma Alice (holding my oldest sister, Linda) and "Mama Sue" (holding my older sister, Pamala -spelled with an "a" !)

Postscript: I messed up on the date of the last post. (I dated it a week in the past! So- you may have missed it. I decided to go ahead and post this now since I have an unexpected "free day"(not a snow day...but a sunny day!) The students are on strike!

Love to you...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Say No to Store-bought Bread?

Check Spelling

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Oasis Life: Time for Art and Appreciation

I was reading about Alexandra Day (a pseudonym for Sandra Louise Woodward Darling) the author of the Carl picture book series. (Why didn't she use the name Sandra Darling-it's a name and an endearment all in one.) What got me into this subject? Suzanne Casamento (a young adult book writer) at The Question of the DAY was asking for a picture book recommendation. I started to think about all the books I have shared with my children. I had time to read with them because I cleared my schedule (for the most part) during the first five years of their lives. And we read a lot of books!

What a wonderful experience it is to introduce books to young people. I confess I read to and with them long before they understood what books were about- after all they were still infants. You can never start too early! Have you ever read "Carl's Afternoon in the Park?" I love the mood that the images create. I found the author's website and read her artistically inclined family and it influence on her life. Do you remember the expression, "store-bought?" I love how it evokes a time that's past and honors hand made items. She wrote that at 86 year old mother still makes her own bread because "store-bought bread just isn't the same."

I'm living the store-bought bread lifestyle right now. Are you? There just isn't time (or energy) to do all that I would like to do. Did you notice that I missed a weekly blog post? No time! When will I take painting classes in Old San Juan? When will I finish my writing project? When will I finally create my dream garden? When will I ????

(Painting: "Lady in Boat James Jacques Joseph Tissot
"-aka Pensive Pittmann)

I want to have time to notice that special visitors have arrived for breakfast. Here is a bowl of acorns offered to the early but patient guests over at Willow Manor. Do visiting Chipmunks like acorns? See! I have no time to explore the mysteries of the animal kingdom and much less time to paint them!

Did you know that my little family loves art?

Amber and Alex (daughter and son) study art in school.

Drawing and painting create a kind of uplifting deep meditative concentration.

I can get lost in time when I paint. How about you?

Unfortunately, I haven't painted in a few months.

ALEX contemplates his painting...
"Containing Shapes"


Amber's horse and panda bear were on exhibit at the Baldwin School Art Gallery.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Beautiful bloggers,

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~wishing you (and me) a Homemade Bread life...

Julia Child's "Chick Flicks" (and SOS!)

A Peep of Chickens: Smith Graduate,

Mrs. Julia Child, gives us an amusing -and quirky-lesson!

Presenting Miss Roaster of the Year!!!

[Note: Just in case you actually wanted to view a selection of Chick Flicks -click here to view recent films]

Oasis Remembers: Recipes

Grandma Alice- my French maternal grandmother-had her own ideas about how to approach cooking.
Cooking is serious business!!!

Pardon et moi

Grandpa Al likes to cook! He is my 100% Polish maternal grandfather-a fisherman for fun...and a baker in the Navy and Merchant Marines.


I wonder what Grandpa Al thought of Julia Child?

I remember when he gave me a lesson (one of many) on how to make poached eggs on toast. I can see him now in my mind's eye, he would gently lift the egg out of the boiling water and lay it atop the toast-then he'd ladle over the egg a generous portion of a white colored sauce, which I later discovered was a roux based sauce. (Click on the link for an excellent photo based lesson on how to make a roux.)

Grandpa Al was a born teacher-though that was not his profession. (He retired from General Motors.) Often, he would combine the breakfast cooking demonstration to include creamed chipped beef on toast. He had definite opinions on the correct presentation and quality.

What is chipped beef? It's dehydrated beef-or more specifically a smoked and salted meat product. (Is it actually beef? What part is it from?) I'm sorry about your (and my) delicate sensibilities but our creamed chipped beef on toast was once a food popularly know in military slang as SOS or 'shit on a shingle.' My grandfather occasionally used this reference (with a chuckle) but my young ears had no idea what he was talking about. The "shingle" (as in roofing tiles-rhymes with piles) would be the toasted triangles, which are white bread with the edges cut off-and you can figure out the rest of the reference!!

Julia was also exacting in her opinions. A dinner part for 300? Julia suggests making the flat French omelet-NOT puffy.

And that was the recipe my own mother used... Bon Appétit!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bon appétit! and All Things French

I'm spending the day thinking about all things French.

From my previous post, dear bloggers, you can see that I was a bit overwhelmed this past week. My best strategy for lowering stress is to dive headfirst into a book and start swimming, and Julia Child's My Life in France was just the pool in which to immerse myself. (Julia died in 2004.) I enhanced the background atmosphere by playing the often viewed movie, French Kiss; and, I admit, I was pleasantly distracted. One side issue, I encountered while reading this memoir was an ever insistent pull towards the kitchen...but dear me,

[(photo credit) Vieus port de Marseille- the Old Port of Marseille, France- a place where Julie and Paul Child live and view the amazing tuna-catch just outside of their apartment window]

my kitchen is not Julia's.

Where is the order? Where are the correct pans, measuring cups and ingredients? Oh Juliawould not be happy with me-not at all. I chastise myself- I need to get my kitchen in order, while all the time knowing that I mean that I must get my life in order.

I read about the tuna run in Marseille and think, I hope the fishermen didn't catch any dolphins in their nets. (I have heard of that problem.) Why do I get so fascinated with books that show a part of life I never could relate to? You know I'm vegetarian? When I read about getting the last bit of juice from a carcass, I am both compelled to keep reading and repelled at the same idea.

I'm jumping ahead here...just when I was about to confess another reason Julia would disapprove of my cooking- you see, I share a similarity with one of her co-teachers, Louisette Bertholle (not the excellent Simone Beck). The three women had a little French cooking school, L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes (The School of the Three Hearty Eaters), where they taught Americans how to make basic French meals. The unfortunate similarity I uncovered is that Louisette and I both cook by instinct (-however, this trait is a serious problem with a cookbook collaborator) -in fact-

I do not measure
. (or follow a recipe to the letter!)

I'm one of those cooks who throws everything together in the order that I hope works, tasting along the way, and hoping it all turns out fine. I count on the creative muse to provide me with the substitute ingredients this type of unplanned cooking occasions(-no onions? -just try the garlic.) With this cooking style (or personal flaw!), I insist on no criticism while I am cooking. I believe that if I become angry, the food will express it. (I have proven this to my own subjective satisfaction by burning spaghetti, toast, or tostones while cooking within a climate of anger.) I do not even answer the question, "Mom, what are you cooking for dinner?" because this invites negotiation and I don't want to make false promises. Afterall, I am not sure what will actually turn up on the plate. My muse is the boss. I just follow along. I stand before the pantry and ponder, should I cook pasta or rice? I stare at the bags, canisters, jars and cans- my mind goes blank (or it could be exhaustion!) and then I select what feels right.Now it has happened that I will not pause and just grab what is closest. I start to boil water for pasta when suddenly I know I am cooking rice today and I have to start over.

Yes, Mrs. Child would say "I'm not a serious cook" which is just what she said about Julie Powell as reported in her book and also in the movie Julie and Julia- but I would endure her criticism. It's not so important to be Julia's exceptional student because I just want to be her friend.

I take to heart Julia's wisdom:

One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed. (My Life in France 327)

And I also apply this same philosophy to life.

I imagine myself traveling around France with Julia in a compact car and observe her while she shops at the local markets. I would thrill with delight to hear her "flutie voice" as she visits shop owners and collects bits of local gossip. She is just the kind of toweringly tall outgoing friend that I would love to pal around with. Oh how I would love to stay in her little guest room in Provence and listen to her chat with her husband. Or maybe we could drive around the Côte d'Azur in our compact car (not her blue or black car but a bright little red one -see the photo?). We would gaze at the sea while catching our breath after the shock of driving around those hairpin turns. Soon we would stop at a little out of the way restaurant, and I would delight in listening to her gush, exclaim and sigh over her carefully ordered meal.

After reading her memoir, I think Julia Child would be the perfect traveling companion. One who accepts the occasional discomfort in order to genuinely experience the local feel of a place. A good friend who knows how to appreciate another friend's goodwill.

With that in mind, I want to call your attention to a couple of good blogger friends, Sarah Laurence has a wonderful review of Julie and Julia and Vicki of French Essence also has a few related posts- one about Mastering The Art of French Cooking and one about driving in France. So please, go visit these exceptional writers!