Posts Tagged: reading

Noshed in a Book: Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own

“I’ve always known that a book will find you when you need to be found…”

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When trying to pin-point how I came about this book, I decided to trace my internet searching steps back to a certain piece or key phrase I had found, but to no avail. The transient nature of a browser search should not be lasting, that might make life a little too convenient.  Thus, all I can say is that I’m grateful I found this book and Kate Bolick’s writing.  Though I am a happily married woman to a very lovable man, this book called out the the independent woman in me that has never been stifled by coupledom.  I don’t mean this as an affront to the love I have for my life partner and our commitment to one another, but more as a compliment to the love I also have for myself and for the person I hope to be. The lifelong assignment of finding out what this life of mine means is a most unique gift and there’s not a day that passes wherein I don’t contemplate how I want to share it, who with, and what drives my mind and heart.  Being cognizant of this, let’s take a look at Kate Bolick’s first book.

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

“In my early twenties, the “spinster wish” was my private shorthand for the novel pleasures of being alone.  As I grew older, and felt more strongly the cultural expectation of marriage, the words became more like a thought experiment, a way to imagine in detail what it would look like to never settle down.  The word wish is crucial.  A wish is a longing, not a plan of action.  It was perhaps precisely that I conjured such an escapist fantasy, not because I didn’t want such relationships, but because I also wanted to find other avenues of meaning and identity.”

Through honest yet discreet personal accounts, Bolick delivers a book that’s well-worth a read for anyone who’s ever questioned societal norms. It’s obvious from the carefully designed structure of her book that Spinster was a labor of love that flowed from a most genuine and natural place.  Bolick utilizes different women writers–you’ll have to read her book to find out who they are–that she refers to as her ‘awakeners’ to unfold her thesis that a woman’s role in life is that for which she makes it, and the drudgery of societal impressions of marriage should never be a factor in marring your personal and artistic process of becoming a fully developed woman.  What is more, though her text does speak directly to women, I happen to feel that her message could be palatable to any gender.  Bolick embarks on a journey through this book that rarely transcends where she starts, but the text does anchor its message in taking comfort in one’s circumstance while being aware of its impact, be it good or be it bad, on one’s identity.

“The term bachelor girl was coined in 1895 to describe a specific breed of middle-class woman who chose to pursue the  new educational and vocational opportunities opening up around her, which allowed her to live alone and support herself–so very unlike her sister the spinster, who was closely associated with the home, and the working-class women for whom work was an economic necessity.”

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Is it all really just a matter of diction?  What’s incredible about Bolick’s deductions about the term “bachelor girl”, versus “spinster”, is that she establishes the imposed separation of the terms while embracing a generalization that a woman in pursuance of her own life, independent of a man’s financial support, is whatever label she chooses for herself. Bolick does seem to struggle with absolving herself of guilt from passed relationships by qualifying her actions as those which were necessary to lead her on her path of independence.  In this, I feel her concept is flawed.  She posits that a woman must give something up in joining to a partner, yet bases this observation on her own experiences of becoming complacent in the routine of in-practice monogamy and her awakeners experiences.  However, she juxtaposes this idea when speaking about becoming complacent and stale in her single life as well.

“How do you embark on your adulthood when you don’t know where you’re headed?”


 

“It was like looking into the future and discovering that my unremarkable self had somehow become a person of consequence.”

Finally, and what’s most moving about this book, is Bolick’s meticulous and attentive vision of the agony of self-discovery and the joy of finding one’s voice.  She’s able to speak about feminine self-loathing without belaboring the point or projecting an heir of desperation, because, let’s be honest, if there’s one thing women need less of, it’s another voice that harkens negativity.  Bolick’s well earned confidence is why she’s able to conjure a book that would surely have made her awakeners proud, and should make all of her readers grateful.  Reading this book was a pleasure, and more than anything, it helped me understand that’s it’s okay to be joined in matrimony to someone and still have a singular identity. In fact, it’s imperative.

“It never ceases to astonish me how readily we presume to know ourselves, when in fact we know so little.”

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As for edibles, I decided to utilize Sarah Britton‘s The Life-Changing Crackers to touch on the simplistic, yet enriching approach to food Bolick speaks about in her book.  It’s not my intention to imply I think she would have any interest in preparing this cracker, but I do think this recipe represents an alteration in routine, which is just what Spinster speaks about.  So here’s to crackers, life-changing crackers!

  • Because crackers are a wonderful food for writers who are mulling over an idea.  They’re crunchy and can be paired with many a side dish be it savory or sweet treats like Bolick did with her father over lunch.
  • Because crackers remind me of autumn , which reminds me of change, shorter days that lend to hibernation and strength in warming foods that ties back into crackers. 😀

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What are you thoughts on this text?  Did you find that any particular yummy food ideas popped into your mind while reading?  In the theme of changing routines, I am sad to say that the frequency of my posts has lessened as I’m sure you’ve seen, but please know that Connect a Bite is still very special and important to me.  I have started a new and exciting job, and my routine has been sufficiently shaken.  Fear not! Once the dust settles some, I hope to be back in full-force with content!  And with that, I’ll leave you for now.  Check out more Noshed in a Book posts and share some of your own #noshedinabook thoughts with me.  Join me in my next reading selection, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.  And remember…bite responsibly!

Healthy Regards,

RAM

 

Noshed in a Book: Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty

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“No dream can live up to its expectations.  Ownership is brief; in fact, it’s a fiction.  And beauty?  Beauty is a discovery that diminishes the truth of reality.  So keep looking.”

When I picked up Then Again, Diane Keaton’s first memoir and homage to her late mother, I remember spilling myself over each page as if I could heal my neuroses by learning from her’s.  I have, as you all will or have already come to know, a love for personal tales, memoirs, and biographies.  Understanding the strokes that make the painting of a person’s life, does not instill you with their one-of-a-kind nature or change the path you’re on, but there’s always a chance your endurance could be strengthened, and your will refreshed.  This was a safe book choice for me and I must admit, though expectations typically lead to disappointment, it’s only human to feel such a way when you’ve harbored a connection to a person’s life.  On that note, let’s talk about Keaton’s second book, shall we?

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Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton

A book that gives you an insight into the idiosyncratic mind of Keaton starting with the Introduction.  She combs the reader into the many ways in which she organizes her thoughts and her approach to life; an approach for which she makes clear, even she is still trying to figure out.  She cannot be faulted for this, in fact I take some comfort in knowing not everyone has it figured out, even in your sixties, but I did wonder at multiple times throughout this reading, what her true intention was for writing this book.  Learning a few life lessons from a woman I’ve garnered as one of my favorites for years, by the end, I thought that somehow I would have a better understanding of her intention, but I came away from this text more confused than sated.

“All of my feelings and all my emotion come out on my face–my sixty-seven-year-old face.  You see, my face identifies who I am inside.  It shows feelings I can’t put into words.  And that is a miracle, an extraordinary ordinary miracle, one I’ll think twice about before I change.”

“I was ready to go home to Black and White and Gray all over.  I wanted to be light on my feet, like Cary Grant.  I wanted to put on a smoky gray dress suit with suspenders.  I wanted to be an international stilt walker, with an ironic smile and a dimpled chin.”

But I can’t help but picture the goofy and well-timed performance of Keaton in Sleeper, where she imitates Marlon Brando’s performance in the cinematic version of A Streetcar Named Desire.  Her ability to break down the wall of celebrity superiority and the ego of a man like Brando, is part of the reason why I respect her, despite her lack of focus in this memoir.  She has always been, and remains to be, a star that is relatable, and one whose verbalized consciousness of her aesthetic appeal grounds her as just another human, instead of being of the alien race of Celeb.  What Keaton does beautifully in this memoir, is explore how acting is a tool for her to find the colors of the palette that make her life’s painting.  Her emphasis on accepting imperfections, mistakes and the challenges of aging, helped me understand the efficacy of mindfulness and positive thinking about one’s life.  I came to understand that our philosophy on life is different, but there’s beauty in this contrast, and for this I felt grateful to read her musings.

“Like the sparrows, I’ve flown into some serious plate-glass windows, but I survived.  On the way, I’ve learned a few things.  Namely this:  beauty’s a bouquet gathered in loss.  The sad part about my bouquet is that it keeps growing.  Now that Mother is gone, darkness is spreading across my fading petals.  Light is beautiful, but darkness is eternal.”

“I regret what I haven’t seen, but I’m thankful for what I have, and I promise myself this:  I will try harder to look for what I don’t see when it’s staring me right in the eye.”

“…but my love of the impossible far overshadowed the rewards of longevity.  I fell for the beauty of a broken bird.  The ecstasy of failure.  It was the only marriage I could make with a man.  Black with a little white.  Pain mixed with pleasure.”

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As for edibles, I decided to make a variation of French Toast.  Diane Keaton adopted two children for whom she devotes mornings to making breakfasts and school drop-offs. At one point, she mentions her son requesting French Toast and I thought it the best match to the book.  Semi-complicated with many variations and comfortable in it’s imperfections.  I now present to you my take on this sweet morning treat.

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 “That’s Neat” French Toast

Ingredients

  • 8 to 10 slices gluten-free bread (I used this one)
  • 1 cup almond milk (unsweetened, plain)
  • 1 tbsp ground chia seeds
  • 3 tbsp all purpose gluten-free flour (or almond meal)
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • two grinds sea salt
  • coconut oil for skillet
  • Extra toppings:  toasted coconut, coconut whipped cream, berries, maple syrup, banana, nuts, powdered sugar, sliced strawberries, sliced figs

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, mix together all ingredients except bread and toppings and let sit in refrigerator for twenty minutes to activate chia seeds.
  2. After mixture has set, heat skillet or griddle over a medium flame and begin to melt or disperse a small amount of coconut oil (just enough for a thin coating).
  3. Pour mixture into shallow container, I used a pie pan.
  4. Dip each slice of bread into mixture to soak the bread, but don’t let it become soggy.  About twenty seconds on each side in mixture.
  5. Place the soaked slice on the skillet/griddle and press with spatula until each side is golden brown, taking care to let each side sit before flipping to allow browning to occur.  About five minutes.
  6. Enjoy your “That’s Neat” French Toast with any of the above mentioned toppings or toppings of your choice.  I enjoyed mine with raspberries, maple syrup, and a few sprinkles of powdered sugar.  Don’t forget a delightful cup of tea or coffee, if you please, on the side. 😀

Notes:

  • I made enough to have some leftovers because I wanted a treat for another day, but if you’re just making a quick breakfast for two, I would recommend splitting this recipe in half.
  • The more dense the bread, the less crispy and absorbent your french toast will be. Keep this in mind.
  • I don’t recommend using a cast iron, as the retention of heat can have an adverse affect on the consistency of each slice’s browning.
  • Re-heat in toaster or toaster oven.

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Making this dish allowed me time in the kitchen to mull over my relationship with this text, something I think is key for anyone to do when reading.  There’s a delicacy to talking about the intricacies of one’s life, and though Keaton is not the most graceful, her no-nonsense, quirky and creative language exposed her truest self.  Chipping all the dried, peeling paint away, this book imbued a sense of urgency in me to live life more fully and never hasten to forget the power and beauty of making mistakes because those mistakes make the masterpiece.

What are your thoughts on this book?  Did you prepare something else while reading it?  I want to hear all the details at #noshedinabook and see all of your pictures!  Check out previous Noshed in a Book posts and join me in my next reading selection Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick.  And remember…bite responsibly!

Healthy Regards,

RAM

Noshed in a Book: The First Bad Man

“My eyes fell upon the grey linoleum floor and I wondered how many other women had sat on this toilet and stared at this floor.  Each of them the center of their own world, all of them yearning for someone to put their love into so they could see their love, see that they had it.”

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I’m rarely in step with reading an author’s work within a year of a new release, much less their debut novel, but Miranda July is a writer that I both admire and who’s work I relate to on a subconscious level. Thus, I couldn’t let too much time pass before feasting my eyes on her first novel.  No One Belongs Here More Than You , July‘s first book is a series of short stories that, for whatever reason, took me a few months to get through.  Don’t misunderstand my lengthy drought in reading for exhaustion with her writing.  More than anything, I just wasn’t in the right head space, nor did I devote as much time to reading as I do now.  I go through phases.  All this to say, these stories are not the easiest to digest; they are tormenting and at times confusing.  They resonate because of their raw and intimate understanding of the darker side of the human condition.  My confusion came from trying to understand why July would write such pitiful fictional characters into the world and leave them their, waiting.  The answer? It’s reality.  Life doesn’t tie itself up into perfect bows, most of the time.  July’s writing is the gritty dirt under your toenails and the dried booger you find as you graze your hand under the multi-generational office desk chair that squeaks every time you move.  Now that I’ve left you with this delightful bit of imagery, let’s move on to the novel at hand.

“I had spent years training myself to be my own servant so that when a situation involving extreme wretchedness arose, I would be taken care of.”

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The First Bad Man by Miranda July

July’s first full-length novel is the kind of book that makes the confident, self-conscious and the self-conscious, wildly neurotic. I was bewildered and engrossed in this book and in Cheryl’s– our protagonist’s–world, if only because she made me once again question why it is we use the word insane to describe those individuals who are mentally disordered, and the word sane for those who are in their ‘right’ mind.  I was once a barista, and one of my lady barista co-workers and I would talk about the saneinsane topic and spout scenarios to one another wile frothing and stirring.  Any book that makes you question ‘things’ has redeeming qualities.  July reveals nothing but fearlessness in her writing and distinguishes the idea that women cannot write wry and honest material.

The text did feel unpredictable at times, but this too felt like a purposeful act by July to create a character within the tone of the book.  However, I cannot say I enjoyed this aspect of it the book.  Countless narratives have a moment of truth and muddy sadness by the middle of the book, and though July took no restraints in making her characters suffer, it felt as though she herself may have been a bit lost in the structure of the book by mid-way.  Fortunately, the story remained intact and the uncensored nature of her writing races you through the rest of the text.  July eloquently, and without excessive crudity, exposes the rigid nature by which many humans handle matters of sexuality, and the gross dishonesty that’s tied to instinctual behavior.  July also presents a realistic impression of the sexual subconscious as a being that’s wild, unwieldy, fickle and unpredictable.  By the end of this book, I felt as though July was setting up a challenge for me to dig a little deeper into the way I manage my perspectives and realities, and for this, I’m grateful.

“I had accidentally been cruel; this only ever happens at times of great stress and my regret is always tremendous.”

“‘I think I might be a terrible person.’ (he said) – For a split second I believed him–I thought he was about to confess a crime, maybe a murder. Then I realized that we all think we might be terrible people.  But we only reveal this before we ask someone to love us.  It is a kind of undressing.”

“There had been options, before the baby, but none of them had been pursued.  I had not gone to nightclubs and said ‘Tell me everything about yourself’ to strangers.  I had not even gone to the movies by myself.  I had been quiet when there was no reason to be quiet and consistent when consistency didn’t matter.  For the last twenty years I had lived as if I was taking care of a new born baby.”

“But as the sun rose I crested the mountain of my self-pity and remembered I was always going to die at the end of this life anyway.  What did it really matter if I spent it like this–caring for this boy–as opposed to some other way?  I would always be earthbound; he hadn’t robbed me of my ability to fly or live forever.  I appreciated nuns now, not the conscripted kind, but modern women who chose it.  If you were wise enough to know that this life would consist most of letting go of things you wanted, then why not get good at the letting go, rather than the trying to have?”

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As for edibles, I chose to make a simple kale dish as a dedication to Cheryl and her system.  I even used the same white plate I served this kale on to eat another dish later, before cleaning it.  We must have a system!  No matter the season, there’s nothing more savory and satisfying to me than wilted greens and I thought there could be no better time to share my recipe with you all than in conjunction with this book.

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Wilted Kale for Cheryl

Ingredients

  • 1 large bundle kale of your choice (rinsed, ripped into pieces and massaged by hand; I used purple kale)
  • 1 bulb shallots (thinly sliced; mine worked out to about three ‘cloves’)
  • 3 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp fleur de sel
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil over medium flame and toss shallots and garlic gently for 2 minutes  (take care not to burn garlic)
  2. Add kale in handfuls, and using tongs, shift kale around to coat all leaves with oil
  3. Once kale is bright and shiny, begin to add fleur de sel, red pepper flakes, and vinegar and use tongs to mix everything together until kale is bright green or mildly wilted
  4. Turn off heat and enjoy!

Notes:

  • I like to use my cast iron skillet to make wilted greens because it adds to the flavor and they cook down perfectly
  • Feel free to use whatever salt you have on hand if easier and cut out the spice if you’re not into spicy foods, but be aware that the flavor will not be as bright and tangy

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After reading Miranda July in the month of July, I feel happy to know that I’m on target with new releases and with an artist like her.  I hope you all got as much out of this book as I did!  What are your thoughts?  Did you chow down on anything in particular while reading this book?  Share some of your #noshedinabook photos with me and check out what else I’ve been reading this year.  Join me in my next reading selection, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton.  And remember…bite responsibly!

Healthy Regards,

RAM

 

 

 

Noshed in a Book: Live or Die & The First Biography of Joan of Arc

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I added a surprise second selection for this particular Noshed in a Book post.  Most of the time, before I begin reading a book, I take some time to ponder the title and what it may or may not mean in relationship to the text.  Collections of poetry are no exception to this rule, and, I would have to say, heighten a stronger sense of my analytical self than prose.  Then of course there’s biographical books, which often–not always–follow a restrictive naming; the reader needs to grasp the purpose of the book immediately.  Oddly enough, reading Live or Die by Anne Sexton unfolded a series of poems that revealed the true meaning behind the title, but The First Biography of Joan of Arc–my surprise additional reading for this post–did not deliver on the title.  Titles are important, but maybe this was a lesson for me and us all that you can’t judge a book by its title, and if you do, expect to be surprised and don’t be disappointed if you’re not.  Let’s dive in!

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Live or Die by Anne Sexton

A series of poems that are organized chronologically, which for better or worse focus on our delicate relationship with not just death, but life as well.  My approach to poetry is one that is unpracticed because I tend to not read collection after collection, instead spreading out poetry collections over time.  Also, there’s a level of apprehension I have when reading poetry.  Each word is precisely chosen and I often fret about not giving due time to each poem and respecting its pacing and structure.  Anne Sexton’s writing is remarkable and flows and I didn’t once feel overwhelmed by the direction or pacing of her poems.  Just some of the topics Sexton touches on in this series are dreams, womanhood, death of love, death of literal life, mother and daughter confessions, and bones.  Here are a few excerpts that moved me.

 “Awake, I memorized dreams.

Dreams came into the ring

like third string fighters,

each one a bad bet

who might win

because there was no other.”


 

“I was tired of being a woman,

tired of the spoons and the pots,

tired of my mouth and my breasts,

tired of the cosmetics and the silks.

There were still men who sat at my table,

circled around the bowl I offered up.

The bowl was filled with purple grapes

and the flies hovered in for the scent

and even my father came with his white bone.

But I was tired of the gender of things.”


 

“Death’s a sad bone; bruised, you’d say,

and yet she waits for me, year after year,

to so delicately undo an old wound,

to empty my breath from its bad prison.”


 

“If I’m on fire they dance around it

and cook marshmallows.

And if I’m ice

they simply skate on me

in little ballet costumes.”

Additionally, I recommend checking out these particular poems in their entirety:  Mother and Jack and the Rain; Christmas Eve

The First Biography of Joan of Arc by Daniel Rankin and Claire Quintal

A book that is by no means a page turner, but by all accounts clear and concise in its diction, this text outlines the life of Joan of Arc–know as the “Maid”–a heroine of the fifteenth century who led and structured a siege in order to take back France from England during the Hundred Years War.  Only a teenager at the time of her leadership of the French Army–behind King Charles the VII–and at the time of her horrendous death–she was burned alive–Joan of Arc stands as a figure of bravery and as a trailblazing representative of the “YOLO” concept before it was ever a concept.  She lived her life for a purpose and broke through many class and gender barriers to be the figure she was for the people of her time and generations after.  This book, as I stated earlier, did not deliver on its title.  Maybe my expectation was too simplistic, but I wanted a straightforward description of her life up front with factual information pieced in categorically after this.  I feel like I have come to know more details about Joan from other sources over the years, but this book did a great job of outlining sources of materials and chronology.  Here are a few quotes from the texts that may intrigue you.

“You believe, gentlemen that because I am a woman, I do not know how to conceal a secret.  For your information I know every detail you have discussed.  Here I give you my pledge–I WILL NEVER REVEAL PLANS WHICH ARE TO BE KEPT SECRET.”


 

“The Maid has made use of magic and diabolic cunning.  She is a heretic.”


 

“For some time past it has been known to all and it is notorious that a woman who insisted on being called Joan the Maid, discarding the garb and vesture of the female sex, an act repugnant and forbidden by all law, a deed contrary to Divine Law and abhorrent to God, put on and wore men’s garments and likewise armed herself as a man.”


 

“As soon as her armor was made she put it on, went out into the fields of Poitiers with other armed combatants where she handled her lance as well or better than any man there.  She rode spirited chargers, the capricious ones that no one else dared mount without fear.”


 

“Without the presence of Joan of Arc it seems certain that the courage and stamina of the soldiers marching toward Reims would have dissolved into a speedy disaster.”

 

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Recipe Inspiration

As for edibles, I decided to make a piña collada smoothie.  This all started a few weeks ago, on a Friday evening, in the midst of pizza making.  All of a sudden I started thinking about piña colladas, and how I HAD to have one.  The Mr. and I started to scour the kitchen for all of the basic ingredients and had to improvise.  Let’s just say, after extra handfuls of ice and almond milk it was eventually edible. This culinary experimentation got me thinking about how I wanted to do this the right way, with or without the buzz.  Although it has been noted that Anne Sexton liked Dry Martinis and taking on the town with Sylvia Plath, I can’t help but feel she too would have loved the indulgence of a tropical treat every once in awhile, especially in the summer.  As for The First Biography of Joan of Arc, well, some of you may need something to liven up your day after this dry read and perhaps even have a lively discussion on women’s cultural icons with your gals.  Either way, enjoy the treat!

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Piña Collada Smoothie with  Mango (animal-product-free, gluten-free, soy-free)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coconut milk (from a can)
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 heaping cup fresh or frozen pineapple
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen mango chunks
  • 1/4 tsp Madagascar vanilla extract
  • 1/2 -3/4 cup ice cubes
  • 1 full dropper of liquid stevia (or to taste)
  • Cherries(frozen or fresh) and dried coconut for garnish

Instructions

  1.  Pour liquid ingredients into blender first, then add frozen fruit, vanilla extract, ice cubes and the sweetener
  2. Blend well until creamy
  3. Garnish with cherries and dried coconut
  4. Enjoy in your favorite glass

Notes:

  • Spike at will with your choice of rum, or if you’re my husband and there’s not rum around, use whiskey (don’t get me started, haha)

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Poetry and history have a differing tone that’s unmistakable, but reading the voice of a strong woman followed up by reading about the voice of another strong woman, was both inspiring and empowering.   When you read these books, what tasty treats come to mind and what are some of your favorite Anne Sexton poems or excerpts?  Know any special factoids about Joan of Arc?  I can’t wait to hear from you all.  Share your #noshedinabook pics and thoughts and check out more Noshed in a Book posts.  Join me in my next reading selection, The First Bad Man by Miranda July.  And remember…bite responsibly!

Healthy Regards,

 

RAM

 

 

 

Noshed in a Book: Ghost World

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When I discovered the film adaption of this graphic novel, I was a teenager, and the story felt, “like, exactly how I feel about life.”  I remember obsessing over the music from the film, spending hours searching for tracks on limewire, kazaa, napster–the appropriate, or maybe inappropriate, sources for music ‘downloading’ of the time. I remember Enid’s–our protagonist–unique style and non-conformist attitude, would later move me to cut off my long locks before I started college–my friend and I had been growing out our hair anyway for Locks of Love–hoping to ‘become a new person’, only to realize, I was still in the same skin.  Moving from adolescence to, what I like to call, ‘semi-adulthood’, is one scabby knee that takes awhile to heal, and the fact that there were films like Ghost World out there helped get me through the worst parts of the scabbiness.  Cutting your hair, dying your hair, piercing and tattooing your body, changing your look dramatically from day-to-day, and so forth; these changes won’t make you a different person inside.  More on this in a bit.  Reading Ghost World the graphic novel in my twenties, years after my first of many watches of the Ghost World film, was an entirely different experience.  Thanks Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff for these creations. They changed me for the better.

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Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

Detached from expectations, I tried to approach this book with an unbiased mind–unsuccessfully–especially considering that I saw the film adaptation first.  Clowes immediately dunks you into the world of Enid and Rebecca, two young women whose friendship is beginning to waiver and lose its stability outside of the confines of High School normalities and their boring ghost of a town.  One young woman more straight-laced and seeking stability, while the other is hanging on to the last vestige of her superiority–both of intellect and uniqueness–the audience is never unsure of the protagonists’ determination to bash anything and everything that is remotely mainstream within their sight.

 

What’s important to keep in mind about Ghost World, is that the characters are all real people facing real situations, which felt like a perfect follow-up to Madame Bovary–also falling in the vein of realism.  I don’t know about you, but I still feel like I experience random, and intermittent bouts of identity crises and because of this, I have a love and appreciation for most coming of age tales.  That is, in many ways, what Ghost World is.  It’s the story of two young women who aren’t quite sure who they are, who they want to be or where they are going, whether that means backwards or forwards.

On the topic of time and ghosts, it could be said that Enid, our not entirely likeable protagonist, is haunted by the ghosts of other people’s pasts and her decaying town.  She’s fascinated by old ephemera, media, fashion, and most relics of the past and because of, or in spite of, this obsession, Enid is somewhat afflicted by these spirits and doesn’t know how to handle the transition of time she’s experiencing.   This transition is made especially difficult by the city in which she lives, which is drowning in homogenized businesses and a corrupt political system; ya know, the stuff of most American towns.

Ghost World also touches on the imposed ideas of femininity and the entire artificial world of feminine culture that’s created for young girls through magazines–like the fictional one Sassy in which Rebecca is reading–and music–like the childhood record Enid is searching for titled, A Smile and a Ribbon.

However, amidst the grime and struggle, Clowes manages to bring us back to the core of Ghost World‘s message with blue-hued illustrations, setting the tone of this piece from the very first panel.  This books legitimacy is strengthened not just in its writing and flow of the narrative, but in its raw and honest images.

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As for edibles, I decided to make something that Enid orders in one of her excursions to the “original 50’s diner” Hubba Hubba.  Really, I can only imagine her diet consisting of processed, prepackaged food, so I tried my best to combine a little bit of my world with her world.  I hope you enjoy these onion rings!

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Crispy Baked Onion Rings (animal-product-free, gluten-free, soy-free)

Ingredients

Dry Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup garbanzo flour (or quinoa flour)
  • 1/2 cup arrowroot powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 2 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 1/2 tsp onion granules
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic granules

Wet Ingredients

  • 2 medium yellow onions (peeled and sliced into 3/4″ rings, separated)
  • 1 3/4 cup unsweetened plain almond milk (or milk of your choice)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp ground flax
  • 6 tbsp warm filtered water
  • undetermined amount of extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. Combine ground flax and water in a small bowl and whisk together; place in refrigerator for 25 to 30 minutes to sit
  2. Mix together all wet ingredients excluding onion rings
  3. Mix together all dry ingredients and use fork to break up any clumps OR sift all dry ingredients together
  4. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat
  5. Preheat oven to 400°F
  6. Pour wet ingredients into shallow dish
  7. Place dry ingredients into shallow dish
  8. With clean hands, dip individual onion rings into wet mixture, then into dry mixture and then onto lined baking sheet(s)
  9. Once all onion rings have been coated, spray or lightly sprinkle olive oil over dressed onion rings
  10. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, remove from oven and flip, baking for 4 to 5 minutes more until crispy and golden brown
  11. Enjoy plain or with your choice of dipping sauce (preferably something spicy!)

Notes:

  • I discovered that a little bit of mixed dry ingredients go a long way, so don’t over dip or you’ll get an onion ring that’s too flour crusted.
  • These would be especially tasty with a chipotle dipping sauce.

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If ever you wanted to read a book that would help you exercise a friendship demon or feel less weird and alone in this crazy world, Ghost World should be added to the list.  Our outer-expression is special and certainly a part of our unique self, but using this expression to escape yourself should never be the answer, and I think Clowes truly touches on this in Ghost World.  With Independence Day on the horizon,  whiz through this book and chow down on some onion rings while you’re waiting on your grilled veggies and tasty desserts, and of course chat about changing the ghost of a town you might be living in into a burgeoning hot spot for unique shops and creative thinkers.  What did you think about Ghost World?  Did you read the book first or see the film?  Share your thoughts and photos about #noshedinabook and check out what else I’ve read this year, here.  Join me in my next reading selection–POETRY!– Live or Die by Anne Sexton.  And remember…bite responsibly!

Healthy Regards,

RAM

p.s. A track I love entitled Ghost World–with relevant lyrics–by one of my favorite musicians.

 

 

Noshed in a Book: Madame Bovary

“But life for her was cold as an attic whose window faces north, and boredom, a silent spider, spun its webs in the shadow of every corner of her heart.”

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The location for which you read this book is critical.  Place yourself in a garden–preferably a quiet one with no mosquitoes and a cool breeze–for the first half of this book.  Make sure you’re resting against a big, soft, fluffy pillow cushion for the last half.  Honestly, this was my first read of Madame Bovary (I know, I know), and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I don’t often find myself being emotionally wrecked by a book–instead tending to associate “tearing up” with watching an emotional scene in a film–but by the end of this work I could barely stop gulping, and tears were abruptly streaming down my face like random Texas rain showers (except my tears weren’t followed by bursts of sunlight through the clouds).  Treasured for centuries, this was my first reading of Madame Bovary, and my initial thought was, “why the hell has everyone been talking about this book like it’s juicy ripe tomatoes on a summer day?”  Actually, I didn’t think about tomatoes, but damn, summer tomatoes are great. I digress.  It’s not as though I didn’t generally appreciate the book, but I felt then, and still feel now, as though I’m not sure what I should take away from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, but perhaps that’s the point.

“How she yearned for those ineffable sentiments of love which she had tried, in imitation of books, to envision for herself.”

Not muddled in figurative language, Gustave Flaubert wrote this book in a way that’s structurally approachable by any reader.  His syntax, dialogue and plot movements were all right on target.  The work never dragged and I grasped each of the main characters, except the book’s namesake herself, Madame Bovary.  I don’t mean to say that Flaubert’s movement and character traits were not intimate and well thought out, but his ability to truly connect the reader to Emma Bovary’s life within those pages, felt lost for me.  From the moment we’re introduced to her, Emma is generally in anguish or in a fretful state of self-hatred.  Her beauty– inflated by what she sees as the inadequacies of her husband–her insecurities and vulnerability–tarnished by her greed and shallow spirit. Madame Bovary suffered ceaselessly, but for what?  What is clear to me is that the purpose of this story was to wander aimlessly, the way life can.  That’s the true beauty of this work.

Without ranting, I must comment on one particular aspect of this book–a big one–that is unsettling to me.  Emma takes to reading novels to ward off her boredom with the world she’s living in and to educate herself.  However, after Emma’s homemaking abilities plateau, the elder Madame Bovary suggests that books be prohibited.  The overt denouncement of Emma’s want for literacy, as a driving force for her deranged and calamitous behavior, is an obvious commentary on societal expectations of women and the roles that both men and women play therein.  Though obviously purposeful, I have to wonder what Flaubert’s intention was by accelerating and perpetuating Emma’s constant state of torment and tension.  All the while, Flaubert seems to understand the repression that was–and in many ways still is–woman’s plight.

Some quotes that stood out to me for you all to contemplate.

 “Perhaps she might have wished to confide all these things in someone.  But how to express an unanalyzable disquiet which changed aspect as clouds do, tormented by the wind?  She lacked words, opportunity, courage.”


 

“Self-assurance depends upon the environment in which it is placed:  one does not use the same manner of speech on the drawing-room floor as in the servant’s quarters, and a wealthy woman seems to have about her, to defend her virture, all her banknotes, like a coat of mail, within the lining of her bodice.”


 

“But vilifying those we love always alienates us from them to a certain extent.  Idols should not be touched:  the gilding comes off on the hands.”


 

“She was so melancholy and so calm, at once so gentle and so remote, that in her presence one felt overcome by a glacial charm, as one shudders in churches under the touch of flower scents mingled with the chill of marble.”

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As for edibles, I decided to make something wherein I could utilize some of the vibrant and cooling summer produce we’ve started to get in our CSA box (you all know me, I love to take advantage of my box goodies).  The ending of this book made me feel stuffy, confused and irritable.  My mind was trying to parse together the connection between the beginning and the end.  I needed something to refresh me.  That’s why I decided make a chunky summer salad.

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Refreshing Summer Cucumber Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 medium cucumbers (rinsed and cut into 1/2 quarter pieces)
  • 2 small red onions and 1 small yellow onion (cut into small pieces)
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes (rinsed and cut into chunks)
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley (or handful of leaves if fresh-rinsed)
  • 1 tbsp garlic granules
  • coarsely ground black pepper (about 4 turns)
  • 1 tsp fleur de sel (or to taste)
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Instructions

  1. After all veggies are rinsed and cut, place them in a medium-sized bowl along with the remaining ingredients
  2. Toss with clean hands until well mixed
  3. Serve immediately or chilled

Notes

  • If serving immediately, try adding some avocado chunks!

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My edition of this book is very old, as it was my great aunt’s and then my grandmother’s after her.  It has been through a lot, and probably shouldn’t have been read, but I couldn’t resist being a part of this literary artifact.  Slowly, the binding came off in pieces and, forgive me for being impractical, but it felt well-timed with the arc of the storyline.  What are your thoughts on Madame Bovary?  Find more Noshed in a Book posts here and share some of your #noshedinabook pics with me.  I can’t wait to see what you’ve been reading and preparing!  Join me in my next reading selection, Ghost World by Daniel Clowes.  And remember…bite responsibly!

Healthy Regards,

RAM

Noshed in a Book: House of Incest & Bird by Bird

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There are entire sections in bookstores devoted to self-help and existential crises–strings of volumes about a particular topic that ails your mind or social life–but I have found that the most inspiring and motivating writing, cloaks itself in books and pieces that you may not have imagined moving you in such a way at the onset.  The pairing of these two books, came not because of some underlying connection I foresaw between them, but rather their inherent differences; one book comments about guidelines while the other is stripped of a typical structure and speaks to its reader through a kind of stream of consciousness.  My introduction to Bird by Bird began a few months ago after taking a class and being given some lines from the text.  Intrigued by the no-nonsense nature of Lamott’s writing, I purchased the book in no time.  My acquaintance with Anaïs Nin started on an unspecific date some time ago and I’ve wanted to read her writing in more depth ever since.  I chose to start with House of Incest because, though obviously personal to Nin, this short text is connected to dreams and the relationship a person can have with them.  I loved the idea of pairing dreamy and practical prose together and seeing where my hunger would take me.

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House of Incest by Anaïs Nin

There were many directions this piece of fiction took my mind.  A short, seventy-two page text that, without me telling you what it is about, grips onto reality and pulls down her unmentionables.  There were times when I felt as though I was caught in a loop of words, twirling in her dedicated syntax and palpable mission with her diction.  It’s the kind of text best read in one sitting, although I didn’t have this privilege; I was guilty of re-reading pages, just to take in her fluidity with language and mood once more.

Nin camps out in a world of dreams–or a stream of dreams, if you will–and we the audience come along as her fellow camp kids, getting to hear her stories of sameness and the selfish human lust for anything that’s accepting and similar.  Never resting too long on any one particular message, Nin quickly morphs her audience–along with her characters–into a relationship of trust.  Do we, as human beings, find oneself in another person and call this love, or are we infinitely selfless in our love?  She posits that love, and our interpretation of it, is questionable, and her challenge of this idea is aptly put.  Nin also depicts moments of consciousness directly beyond the womb and the trauma of birth.  She comments on human fragility–particularly female fragility–and what it means to feel as if you could be vanquished at any moment; the gulping hedonism that tears us all open and exposes our lesser side.  This text is one for which you should begin with an open mind and heart.  I felt confused and unnerved with some aspects, yet in love with others.  This book was an inspiration for writing TO your ideas and feelings, not structuring them.

Additionally, the particular edition of the book I read had incredible photo montages by Val Telberg, a visual artist of the early twentieth century, which truly added to the intensity and brevity of the text.  If you can find this edition, I highly recommend!

“When human pain has struck me fiercely, when anger has corroded me, I rise, I always rise after the crucifixion, and I am in terror of my ascensions.


“I could not bear the passing of things.  All flowing, all passing, all movement choked me with anguish.”


“The world is too small.  I get tired of playing the guitar, of knitting, and walking, and bearing children.  Men are small, and passions are short-lived.  I get furious at stairways, furious at doors, at walls, furious at everyday life which interferes with the continuity of ecstasy.”

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The subtitle of this book is Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and Lamott is true to her word.  This book was as much about giving thoughtful advice as it was about writing, and without spoiling too much, let me say that you will not come away from it without some stronger sense of purpose for your position in life and how you approach it.  Our propensity for writing comes from an internal drive to ignore the inertia that may take over otherwise.  Art is not always something that most have a natural and innate aptitude for, but rather is something that is learned and practiced with dedication and grit.  If any of us hope to be good at, or aim to succeed at, anything in life, it is just that we should commit to being devoted and steadfast in our wish to learn and improve. Only then can we unleash our skills and talents and, most importantly, learn to trust in ourselves and others.  Lamott contends that a life worth living is one for which we’re lucky enough to wrestle with our demons long enough to find what we’re willing to practice and dedicate ourselves to, long-term.  This is our lasting gift, if we choose to let it reveal itself to us.  I would recommend this book not just to writers, but to anyone who wants a more genuine and practical take on living life to its fullest.

“My deepest belief is that to live as if we’re dying can set us free.  Dying people teach you to pay attention and to forgive and not to sweat the small things.”


“You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along with way.  You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you.”

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As for edibles I decided to make something with pumpkin seeds.  I wanted to utilize food that was high in a particular amino acid, tryptophan, known for raising serotonin, which stabilizes sleep, mood, and anxiety.  Pumpkin seeds are a wonderful source of iron as well, and happen to be one of my favorite noms.  House of Incest and Bird by Bird call to attention not only the necessity of dreaming, both literally and metaphorically, but what we can learn from the act of sleeping and dreaming soundly.  There could be no better fit of a foodstuff to pair with these two books than pumpkin seeds.  Reading does not require a person to be relaxed nor does sitting down for a meal, but both tasks remain more approachable and filled with joy if we’re rested and calm.  Additionally, you all know how much I love mint, and our most recent CSA box had the most beautiful bundle of mint; I couldn’t wait to put it to use.  In fact, my mind is brimming with ideas for mint this summer so maybe I’ll be able to share a few more of them with you.  For now, enjoy the delightful flavor of this pesto and have sweet, vivid dreams.

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Pumpkin Seed & Mint Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 bunch fresh mint leaves (discard or set aside most of stems/rinse)
  • 6 sun dried tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp pink Himalayan salt (or to taste)
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast

Instructions

  1. In dry skillet, spread pumpkin seeds out and toast for a few minutes over a medium flame or heat until they are golden.
  2. Place garlic cloves, pumpkin seeds and mint in food processor and pulse three or four times until roughly chopped and blended.
  3. Now, add in remainder of ingredients and blend until smooth but still modestly chunky.
  4. Enjoy with zucchini noodles (as pictured) or with pasta, as a dip, on pizza or whatever suits your fancy!

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I thoroughly enjoyed the close reading of these two books.  Insight shows itself in unexpected places; open yourself up and you’re sure to be filled by some wonderful words of wisdom.  If you’re interested in reading other Noshed in a Book posts, I’d be delighted, and please take a second to share some of your #noshedinabook thoughts and pics.  Join me in my next reading selection Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. And remember…bite responsibly!

Healthy Regards,

RAM

Noshed in a Book: A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove

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“What’s more important, the food itself or the meaning we give it?”

Watching the weather is a favorite pastime for some–and there are dramatic headlines to draw you in–but when I was a kid, the weather mattered to me for different reasons than pure daily drama.  Sure, when I lived in an area that was riddled with tornadoes, I knew to keep abreast of the weather updates through whatever means I could–probably a news bulletin on the television–in order to stay safe.  Maybe the weather even ruined an anticipated, outdoor field trip every now and again.  But most importantly, there were the days when I planned to make a sweet dessert called divinity with my grandmother (Mama -“mawmaw”).

Crafting the sugary confection was hard work, and she’d always tell me ahead of time “if it’s humid or rainy we won’t be able to make it.”  The thrill of her perfected method of making this dessert instilled in me an unusual need to whisper to mother nature to hold off on her sweaty hot flashes and crying jags for a couple of days so I could get some dessert work done.  Sometimes she leaned in and heard my requests, sometimes I left my Mama’s house sans candy and feeling sore about the weather.  You see, making this candy with my grandmother made me feel important and a part of something I don’t think I understood back then.  Making divinity was part of my womanly right of passage.  Forming those white fluffy clouds of decadence was hard work–a delicate sweet treat to be respected–and my grandmother understood its finicky nature, as well as my own, and introduced this process as a way to train me to concentrate, remain dedicated, and follow through.  Though you’ll never see these instructions listed in a divinity recipe, I can assure you they are key.  Cooking and baking were a part of my life lessons, as I’m sure they are for many women and men during their formative years.  However, today we speak just about women and their role and evolution as creatures of the kitchen, and how they’ve come to translate this position over the years.  Laura Schenone explores women’s history through food and helps us all understand American history through a new lens.

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A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove by Laura Schenone

Told through a series of recipes, anecdotes, historical lessons and personal recollections, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove blooms into a field of fragrant flowers as it pollinates and harvests myths and perfunctory exaggerations about American women.

Schenone explores the long trajectory of women’s time in the kitchen and how they embarked on a world beyond.  Women were of the first to display signs of cooking and would use books to raise money for worthy causes.

Women’s rights, suffrage and winning WWI

Preparing food and cooking for wounded soldiers represented a point of freedom disguised as oppression.  Women’s frugality and inventive nature with what little foodstuffs they had, left them free of having to ingratiate themselves to higher powers for change. Their actions and intentions, born out of necessity and a nurturing nature, were loud and clear.

“American women did not have the constitutional right to vote, yet the food conservation campaign appealed to their love of democracy.  With the housewife’s help, liberty and freedom would prevail.  Each extra bit of food conserved meant more for American soldiers and the Allies.  All this was a woman’s job–essential, morally right, and heroically grounded in the kitchen.”


“In this way, food–in its endless connection to women’s lives–pushed forward the cause of suffrage.  In 1919, Congress passed an amendment to give women the constitutional right to vote in all elections.  In 1920, it was ratified, and a seventy-year battle was won.”

Forced conformity, perpetuity of labels and roles for women in the late 19th century

Still, in the twenty-first century, women are backed into a dusty corner, overrun with spider webs, and told we’re supposed to be something that is innately not who we are.  Conformity has bludgeoned most of us at some point in our life and if you are one of the fortunate few to have made it past your teens with nary a metaphorical bruise, I salute you.  Schenone asserts that even in her role as a skilled physical worker of the land and a provider of nutrition, woman has been denigrated.

In the midst of the war, women were still expected to be “pretty, practical, and patriotic.”


“Neat, clean, pretty to the eye–and above all not too spicy or offensive–these things both food and women were supposed to be.”


“They simply did not, could not, and would not comprehend that hard physical work out-of-doors could possibly be a source of respect and power for women.”

Connecting our life to our nourishment

A most touching motif of this book is woman’s connection to the earth.  I was reminded that what is most beloved about the kitchen, is the depth for which our hands and minds can connect us–by way of preparing a meal or baked good–to the beauty of nature’s offerings.  From one set of hands to the next, a fresh basket of green beans finds its way into my kitchen in spring, and I’m grateful for the love and care that will soon be transposed into my body.  Schenone’s book expresses a pure sense of gratitude, and I respect her perspective on women’s roles because of this.

“‘The act of putting into your mouth what the earth has grown is perhaps your most direct interaction with the earth.”” – Frances Moore Lappé


“By caring about the act of cooking itself, by believing in it, we give food a higher meaning.  Once we value food and cooking, from there other good things follow.  We make good choices.  We care about the animals and earth and other human beings involved in our food chain.  We find nourishment.  We take care of others, ourselves, and the planet.”


“In my most idealistic moments, when I go to the stove or cutting board, I try to think of myself connected to a long human story.  Then, I know that a dinner of sandwiches or a fresh salad with the right amount of grace and love can be superior to the finest presentation of salmon or squab with saffron that is cooked with disregard.”

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As for edibles, I decided to make Gypsy Soup, a recipe representative of rebellion against both corporations and simplified palettes that had taken over America in the mid to late twentieth century.  To me, this soup symbolizes female strength and ingenuity.  Although a hot dish, it folded perfectly into the end of spring here in Austin, Texas, as this part of the state has seen an unusual deluge recently, and a hearty soup felt perfect to top it all off.  Enjoy this recipe, straight from Moosewood Cookbook (1977) by Mollie Katzen; I pulled a copy of this recipe from A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove.

“The main ingredients–brightly colored sweet potatoes and wholesome garbanzo beans–seamed to stir ancient memories of Mother Earth.  The “gypsy” could be found in the scent of garlic and onion and turmeric, promising and adventurous culinary and spiritual journey far away from those commercialized kitchens of the 1950s.”

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Gypsy Soup (animal-product-free)

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 medium bell pepper, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • 2 cups sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cups spring or filtered water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp basil
  • dash of cinnamon
  • dash of cayenne
  • 1 bay leaf

Instructions

  1. Heat a medium-sized saucepan full of water to boiling.  Core the tomatoes, and plunge them into water for a slow count of 10.  Remove the tomatoes, and peel them over a sink.  Cut them open; squeeze out and discard the seeds.  Chop the remaining pulp and set aside.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a deep pot or Dutch oven.  Add onion, garlic, celery, and sweet potato, and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Add salt, and sauté 5 minutes more.  Add seasonings and water, cover, and simmer about 15 minutes.
  3. Add tomato pulp, bell pepper, and chickpeas.  Cover and simmer for about 10 more minutes, or until all the vegetables are as tender as you like them.  Taste to adjust seasonings, and serve.

Notes

  • I made this recipe almost just as it’s listed.  It was delicious and just what we needed!
  • About 45 minutes to prepare
  • Chickpeas need to be prepared in advance of soup prep; canned ‘ok’
  • Yield:  4 to 5 servings
  • The Vegetables in this soup can be varied.  Any orange vegetable can be combined with any green.  For example, peas or green beans could replace–or augment–the peppers.  Carrots, pumpkin, or squash could fill in for the sweet potatoes.  Innovate!

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Reflecting on my history as a woman in the kitchen, and that of my friends and ancestors, has been a challenging awakening for me.  This book combines my love of food and feminism and is a literary recipe you’re bound to walk away from satisfied.  Share your thoughts and photos about #noshedinabook and check out what else I’ve read this year, here.  Join me for my next reading selection, House of Incest by Anaïs Nin and a supplementary reading selection of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.  And remember…bite responsibly!

Healthy & Happy Kitchen Regards,

 

RAM

Noshed in a Book: Salt: A World History

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Salt and pepper shakers were always on our table and near the stove, growing up.  In fact, salt, specifically, was the seasoning used in most of our meals besides maybe garlic salt.  I remember sitting down to meals with my family and the first thing my parent’s would reach for–even before tasting their food–was the salt.  It always seemed strange to me to not taste food before salting it, but from inception to completion, I can’t imagine preparing a savory dish without at least a pinch of salt.  A few months ago, I spent hours–I kid you not–searching around for salt and pepper grinders that suited me, considering coarseness adjustment ‘settings’, grinding mechanism durability, aesthetics, and more, I’m sure.

Salt, generally, plays a bigger role in our lives than we know.  And to think, I can’t even remember being told what salt was as a child; I just remember it being around.  A staple.  If my throat was sore, I gargled with salt water.  Stainless still sink looking a little grim? Start scrubbing with salt.  A rare Texas Icepocalypse? Throw salt out on the driveway and sidewalks so as not to slip and fall.  Of all the kitchen table adornments, this functional and ubiquitous substance has made its presence known, as Mark Kurlansky proves in this week’s ‘Noshed in a Book’ outing…

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Salt:  A World History by Mark Kurlansky

An undertaking to be sure, get ready to be instantly transported into the world of salt in Mark Kurlansky’s historical homage to this special crystalline substance.  Contained in these pages is everything you ever wanted to know about salt, save for present day practical purposes and a specific break down of types of salt to flavor.  If you’re a foodie or just a seeker of historical knowledge through a different lens, this is the book for you.  Within its first hundred pages, enticed by the exploration of far-away places and the excavation of salt, but as the book wore on, I began to be turned off by the commentary on human and animal slavery and pages and pages in succession about curing animal flesh and the like.  Don’t misunderstand my feelings for this subject as impatience; what I was feeling was an immense discomfort with our societies’ usage and abuse of other beings.  Our sense of privilege and drought of unquestioning behavior is disturbing to me.  Being a human of the twenty-first century–with many centuries behind me to learn and understand–it is imperative to never let the history of the world become forgotten, but sometimes facing those truths is difficult.  Difficult because we are faced with the physical and moral abuse of others for the luxuries we now all partake in. Luxuries like, yes, salt.

On superstitions and word origin.  People’s credulity is endearing to me as I’m a superstitious woman. Here are a few excerpts from the text that may surprise you.

“A high-fat diet was considered a sign of wealth, and city people luxuriated in more fat than peasants” – In Hungary, 16th Century


“The Romans salted their greens, believing this to counteract the natural bitterness, which is the origin of the world salad, salted.”


“The Roman army required salt for its soldiers and for its horses and livestock.  At times soldiers were even paid in salt, which was the origin of the word salary and the expression “worth his salt” or “earning his salt.”  In fact, the Latin world sal became the French word solde, meaning pay, which is the origin of the world, soldier.”


“Every important period in ancient Egyptian history produced tombs containing detailed information about food.  |  The poorest may have had little to eat but unraised bread, beer, and onions.  The Egyptians credited onions and garlic with great medicinal qualities, believing that onion layers resembled the concentric circles of the universe.”


“The medieval French, Like the Chinese, believed that the presence of women could be destructive to fermentation.  In France, a menstruating woman is said to be en salaison, curing in salt.  It was dangerous to have a woman in a room full of fermenting food when she herself was in fermentation.”

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On non-human animals as important figures.  The human body necessitates a certain amount of sodium intake, as do other animals.  Animals in the wild–in search for their regular intake of ‘salt’–came upon deposits with salt that they could consume in intervals to stay healthy.  They would return regularly to these spots, which would come to be known as a salt lick.

“In fact, it was animals, not so-called trailblazers such as Daniel Boone, that had carved the original trail across the Allegheny Mountains to the Ohio River Valley.” -On salt-licks

On something small starting something big.  In the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, the Indian National Congress was under British rule and one of the tools to set this change of rulership in motion was the salt campaign, or the salt satyagraha.  Mohandas Gandhi, a peaceful leader of independence, saw salt–something so small–as an “example of misrule that touched the lives of all castes of Indians.”  Gandhi went on to lead a march of thousands because of how symbolic salt was to the freedom of the Indian people.  Salt has changed lives for the better.

“Gandhi would resist with satyagraha–the force of truth, a force that, he said, would lift both sides.” – On Gandi’s view of striking against British higher powers

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As for edibles, I decided to make easy picked veggies.  Brine and pickling has been a prevalent usage of salt all over the world for centuries, and while I’ve tried my hand before at making kimchi, I’ve never tried pickling other veggies.  I wanted to make something I could enjoy sooner rather than later, and with certain veggies starting to pile up, pickling some of them was a perfect way to put them to use.

” Traditionally, though less so today, a Japanese meal ended with pickles, and in the north pickles are served with afternoon tea.”

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Overnight raw pickled veggies

Ingredients

  • 6 cloves of garlic (thinly sliced)
  • 3 medium to large parsnips (julienne)
  • 3 medium to large carrots (julienne)
  • 5 or 6 green onions (cut into 1 inch pieces)
  • 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 1/4 cups spring water
  • 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 4 tsp salt

Instructions

  1. After rinsing and cutting all veggies, mix them well in a medium-sized bowl using your hands.
  2. Separately, fill a medium-sized saucepan with water, vinegar, red pepper flakes, salt and coconut sugar. Simmer, then turn off the heat.
  3. Using the jar(s) of your choice–I used two different sized mason jars–fill each with the ingredients until just under convex portion of jar and edges.
  4. Pour liquid brine into each jar until veggies are covered, completely immersed.
  5. Place lid on each jar and set in the refrigerator.
  6. Best to let these sit overnight, maybe two nights for a more tender veggie.
  7. Enjoy in a salad or maybe even as a side dish.

Notes:

  • Feel free to mix up the veggies you use: try red onion slices, radish slices, jalapenos, etc…
  • If these veggies are too spicy, cut out the red pepper flakes.

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The world of salt was, and will probably continue to be, one that has its dark chapters.  Sadly, some of the most important materials and commodities in our world have a doleful past, but education and recognition of these events is a step in the right direction.  Without teetering on melodrama, I hesitate not when I say that buying and using salt will never be the same for me again after reading this book, but I’m grateful for the knowledge.  If reading a 400+ page book about salt doesn’t turn you on, I get that, but this book is more than salt, it’s discovery, revolutions, culture, myths and most importantly, salty.  What did you think about this book?  Did it make you feel more connected and aware?  Share your thoughts and photos about #noshedinabook and check out what else I’ve read this year, here.  Join me for my next reading selection, A Thousand Years over a Hot Stove by Laura Schenone. And remember…bite responsibly!

Healthy Regards,

RAM

 

Noshed in a Book: Just Kids

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“I have vague memories, like impressions on a glass plate, of an old boathouse, a circular band shell, an arched stone bridge.”

Another sweet gift from a friend, Just Kids by Patti Smith made its way into my life a few years ago.  Once again–I’m sure you’ll hear this more and more out of me–I don’t know how I went so long without reading this book.  Taking in every sentence as if it were smooth poetry, Just Kids was like delicious ice cream on a hot summer day; you’re moved to gobble it down but you don’t want it to be over. I cannot say that I wanted to live inside of Patti Smith’s world, but I appreciated the books ability to transport the reader into her mindset about life, art, and how we view ourselves and our pursuits, both creatively and personally.   When I was in college I came across Patti Smith’s music and was immensely moved.  A little over a year ago, I had the privilege of seeing Patti Smith perform in a relatively intimate venue and she was incredible.  She was both humble and confident in her ability to jam the hell out!  As the audience, we couldn’t get enough; a motif I see in myself when it comes to her art.

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Just Kids by Patti Smith

A promise takes written form in this meditative and exploratory look into her–Patti Smith’s–early life and her close companion Robert Mapplethorpe, the celebrated photographer and creator of art in many forms.  The delicacy Smith takes with her words and the majesty she holds with her stories has me, still, in a state of awe with her writing.  I have no complaints about this book except that it had to end and begin with the sadness surrounding her dearest friend’s passing.  Smith remarks on her mistakes, but never dwells in the negativity that surrounded each event or transition in her life.  Her portrayal of her personal narrative and the necessity she places in not judging herself too harshly put me at ease.

“I felt a fleeting pang in my heart for I knew that innocent phase of our life had passed.  I slipped an envelope with the black-and-white shots of Woman I that I had taken at the Modern into my pocket but left behind my failed attempts at painting her portrait, rolls of canvas splashed in umber, pinks, and green, souvenirs of a gone ambition.  I was too curious about the future to look back.”

On finding yourself, not selling yourself.  I have this theory that every person has a part of their brain or heart that they put on clearance.  Some people have this clearance regularly and they’re defining who they are by selling themselves short, while others utilize only temporary mark-downs and then spring back to their full-price self.  Whatever sale-rack you tend to place yourself on, if at all, taking note of your shortcomings will only get you so far, and then you have begun to wallow in the self-deprecation and self-doubt.  What’s enlightening about Patti’s story is that while she certainly goes through trials, she never puts her whole self on sale.  She reflects on her moments of self-doubt and leaves it there.  Everyone–but I feel women especially–could use a little more shelving of their self-doubt and less liquidation.

“I bought stacks of books, but I didn’t read them.  I taped sheets of paper to the wall, but I didn’t draw.  I slid my guitar under the bed.  At night, alone, I just sat and waited.  Once again I found myself contemplating what I should be doing to do something of worth.  Everything I came up with seemed irreverent or irrelevant.”

“I craved honesty, yet found dishonesty in myself.  Why commit to art?  For self-realization, or for itself?  It seemed indulgent to add to the glut unless one offered illumination.”

On optimism.  Maybe a little positive thinking can help fill up your goodwill water balloon for life and splash it all over you and those lives for which you touch.

“The goodwill that surrounded us was proof that the Fates were conspiring to help their enthusiastic children.”

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As for edibles,  I decided to make my version of jelly doughnuts.  Smith’s reverence for this nom during a tumultuous time in her life, helped me see beyond the negative view we have of comfort eating.  It allowed me to see that connecting to food happens on many levels and we should respect this.  Also, there were times in Smith’s life when she had only day-old bread and a wilted head of lettuce to eat and share with someone else.  Paled in comparison to this experience is the indulgence of a jam doughnut.

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“Every Sunday I would take a long walk to a deserted beach café to have a coffee and a jelly doughnut, two things forbidden in a home regimented by healthy food.  I savored these small indulgences, slipping a quarter in the jukebox and listening to “Strawberry Fields” three times in a row.  It was my private ritual and the words and voice of John Lennon provided me with strength when I faltered.” [On being pregnant for the first time and staying with a healthy-living surrogate family.]

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Strawberry Jammin’ Doughnuts (animal-product-free, gluten-free, soy-free)

Plain Cake Doughnut Ingredients

[Inspired by this recipe]

  • 1 cup coconut sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/3 cup garbanzo bean flour
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil (a little extra on the side for oiling up your doughnut baking pan)
  • 6 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar plus some extra for sprinkling on top

Doughnut Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F
  2. With clean hands use some of the coconut oil that has been set aside and rub it on the doughnut baking pan in each crevice
  3. Sift all dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl to break down any large clumps.
  4. In a small bowl mix all liquid ingredients:  water, vanilla extract, applesauce, coconut oil
  5. Pour liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir using bowl scraper.
  6. Fill each doughnut region using a tablespoon.  Make sure to fill it above the middle separation as to create a bottom for the doughnut.
  7. Bake for 8 minutes in the center of the rack, then turn the pan and bake for 7 to 8 more minutes or until the doughnuts are a golden-brown color.  Use a toothpick or fork to making sure it comes out clean.
  8. Let doughnuts rest in pan for 5 minutes, then flip over onto a cooling rack and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
  9. If serving immediately, place powdered sugar in zip seal baggie and place each doughnut in–one at a time–and gently shake around until doughnut is coated in sugar.  Remove and cool for above listed time (10 to 15 minutes).
  10. Once cooled, fill holes with strawberry jam. [I let it spill out, best eaten with a fork. :D]
  11. Using a sieve, sift some of the leftover powdered sugar over the jam and ENJOY!

Quick Strawberry Jam Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups strawberries (cleaned, rinsed, cut into quarters)
  • 2 heaping tbsp raw honey
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar

Jam Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients into saucepan and bring to boil over a medium-high heat.
  2. Stirring consistently until most of liquid has cooked out.
  3. Allow to cool before filling doughnuts.
  4. The mixture should become thicker and the strawberries will be mainly broken down.

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There are few people whom I can say I truly admire, but Patti Smith is one of them.  This book, much like her music, pushed me out of a rut and forced me to stand up on my feet and take a better look at my life and the world I live in, and I’m eternally grateful.  I had such a blast making these doughnuts–which we shared with friends–and it allowed me to feel a little more connected to her world.  What are your thoughts on Just Kids and jelly doughnuts?  Let me know in the comments section below and share pics of your #noshedinabook creations. Check out more Noshed in a Book posts to see what else I’ve been reading this year.  Join me for my next reading selection,  Salt:  A World History by Mark Kurlansky.  And remember…bite responsibly!

Healthy Regards,

RAM

Smith in other places:

Commencement speech

 Special site

Free listening

On Lou Reed

Off the Shelf