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Archive for July, 2009

01I am going to review a new food story and then go back to one not so very new.  I read food books for four reasons, identical to why any of us read and collect these books.  We read to be entertained, to be informed about people, places, and times, to collect recipes for future use, and formost to be inspired to hit the kitchen running with a new dish in mind.  Cheat us of any one or more of those purposes and the food book is not worth the shelf space.

Mark Kurlansky edited and illustrated a book long on title The Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait Of American Food–before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation’s food was seasonal, regional, and traditional–From The Lost WPA Files. The WPA files Kurlansky used were the remains of a failed Federal Writers’ Project under Roosevelt’s New Deal Works Progress Administration.  The make work project named America Eats was closed down in May 1942 with the retooling of the nation from peacetime to war footing, before publication could bring shame to all involved.  The material is a mishmash so inconsistent in veracity it is irritating to read.  Kurlansky should have left it where he found it.

If you enjoy regional foods and regional food books then you will love John T. Edge, A Gracious Plenty: Recipes And Recollections from the American South, first published in hardback in 1999, and in paperback in 2002.  Both editions are available from amazon.com sellers at reasonable prices.  Even if the South is not your place you will enjoy the book.  Edge writes on page VII, “the best cookbooks are storybooks, their purpose as much to document the communal draw of the meal table as to show the curious cook how to bake a gravity-defying biscuit or stir up a tasty kettle of Brunswick stew.  When all the dishes have been cleared from the table, these recipes remain, a tangible link to a time, a place, a people.”  Amen.

The Edge book comes from the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi and is drawn primarily from regional and community cookbooks with those spiral bindings that always catch the inside corners of the pages.  If you come from a family that praised cooking then your mother, grandmothers, or aunts contributed to their church or club cookbook project.  These are working recipes fully tested by family and pride.

Sometimes I sit down to go over the recipes in just one section whether Appetizers, Beverages, Breads, Salads And Salad Dressings, Sides And Vegetables, Soups And Stews, Meats, Poultry, Fish And Seafood, Sauces, Preserves Jellies Pickles, Desserts, or Menus.  Or if I just want to enjoy the Southern story, the introduction, chapter headings, and shaded inserts read wonderfully on their own.  My preference is to sit down with on goal in mind and flip through until something catches my eye and seems right for the day.

And finally whoever was responsible for selecting and tying together the photographs knows how to hang a good exhibition.  Charles Marlin

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19RWGOG Ouroboros Ring Whitegold fac garnet eyes head close upTreating yourself to something special is good mental health, supports physical health, restores a sense of self-worth, makes you happier and easier to live with, and creates sustaining memories. We don’t do it often enough for a lot of small reasons that don’t add up to anything.

Something special can be a new recipe, restyling a garment you have stopped wearing, repairing an old appliance or machine that has served you well for a long time but not in recent seasons. It can be a new appliance. It can be visiting Gettysburg or the Warhol Museum or golfing where you have never played. Or it can be adding three native Holly trees to your backyard hoping for a male and female. Or it can be buying a ring like the one above.

I have not worn a ring for decades so why now except that I saw it on the internet and thought why not. It comes from www.planert-jewellery.com.auand is an Ouroboros ring in blackened silver with facetted garnet eyes. The Australian jewellers Martin and Dorte Planert were easy to work with and the ring came in less than a month.

If a ring seems a bit much to you, then I have an excellent suggestion for you to consider. This quarter Clarion Friends is featuring the CCCF Operating Support Endowment Fund on our Donation Page. The fund has no glamour or sex appeal, it even has a dull name despite its critical importance sustaining the community foundation’s work. So far this quarter no one has made a contribution. Your support would be a very special act. In the weeks following your donation you will think of what you did and know that it continues to make you feel good. Maybe better than my ring makes me feel. Charles Marlin

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_John_UpdikeSince John Updike’s death January 27, 2009, at the age of 76, there have been two titles published that were surely planned before his death. One is a collection of poetry Endpoint and Other Poems issued March 31st, and a collection of short stories My Father’s Tears issued June 2nd. I have not read the poetry collection but I have read the short stories.

My Father’s Tears is a masterfully written valedictory book for a man who wrote over sixty titles. A finer close to such an honored career can not be found. Individually, the stories are of a stride he could do without looking down or using a walking stick. The writing is lean, confident, and graceful. When read together each reinforces the one before and builds the one after and so on. They fit so well together they become a novel in all but form.

It would be wrong to call these stories autobiographical and incorrect to say they are not. The list of names for the aging male narrator reads like a list of old high school classmates robbed to give identity to his own story. There is a fierce commitment to truth, truth in living, and truth in facing death, however details are his stock in trade. After so many books, he probably couldn’t remember whether a place was one he created or is located somewhere in New England or is fractured across three states. For the man and the writer, divorces and love affairs begin to homogenize. Though the stories are smooth and easy to read, the truth in them has sharp edges and is scattered rather than stacked.

James, the narrator in the titular story, says, “I have never really left Pennsylvania, that is where the self I value is stored, no matter how infrequently I check on its condition.” The man could also write one hell of a good epitaph. Charles Marlin

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Picture 039lowGrowing up when my parents spoke of Irish potatoes I thought they came from distant relatives. Now I understand a child can be well fed but not well informed. I knew them as red, white, and sweet, the sweet being a kind of cousin to the red and white. Now I know there are varieties and different plants all requiring names with capital letters. Those were early lessons that pale when compared to the history, economics, culture, and globalization explained in Potato: A History Of The Propitious Esculent by John Reader.

Reader has wrapped his Potatoin foil and baked it to perfection. The book is more than you expect as it is a world study of hunger, food, discovery, poverty, freedom, nationhood, marketing, plant development, agriresearch, and the monster of all monsters–globalization.

From garden variety citizens to the shakers and bakers of the world, this book will affect how the use of land, water, and dwindling world resources are viewed. All from a look at potatoes? Yes. The potato was on to globalization before the word was needed or created.

I love it when a book surprises me. I admire it when it is well written. I respect it when the author keeps his hand off my chain as I like to make my own conclusions and applications. Do a good job of giving me the facts and story. I can handle the rest, and that is the case with this book.

I have one complaint. For a topic of such richness and history, the illustrations are a dud. Maybe the publishers William Heinemann and Yale University Press are to blame. Maybe the author. Maybe both. Whomever dropped the potato. Charles Marlin

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A strata is a layered dish that fits in any time, breakfast, lunch, supper, late supper, or as a hot hors d’oeuvre.  You can bake it in a 9 x 13-inch pan or individual 6-inch pie bakers.  You can change ingredients to try for a different effect and flavor.  Here is what I did last time, but make your own choices.  It is variable.

1 1/2 pounds sausage

2  5 oz. packages of croutons (4 cups if made at home)

6 to 8 eggs

1  10 1/4 oz. can of cream of whatever soup

1 pint milk ( or Half & Half)

1/4 teaspoon dry yellow mustard

1/2 batch of finely chopped cilantra ( or 1 teaspoon of another spice)

1  10 oz. package of thawed and squeezed dry spinach

2 cups shredded cheese of your choice

1 cup sliced mushrooms

Brown, crumble, and drain the sausage.  In a large bowl whisk eggs, soup, milk, mustard, and spice.  Stir in spinach, cheese, and mushrooms.

Grease your pan or pans.  Spread the croutons as the first layer.  The crumbled sausage is the second layer.  The third and final layer is your remaining mixed ingredients.

Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.  When ready to use, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Uncover and bake for 50 minutes or until set and with a lightly browned top.

You can change just about everything except the eggs, those you need regardless.  You can even throw in a splash of Frank’s RedHot Sause if your sausage is on the mild side.  Next time I may try a very light sprinkling of McCormick Crusting Blends on the top.  If you use the Fiesta Ware 6-inch pie bakers a full pie baker would make a large serving.  The pie bakers can be frozen for later use.

If you are using this recipe as an excuse to start a collection of Fiesta 6-inchers, let me recommend Scarlet, Cinnabar, Peacock, Sunflower, Persimmon, Rose, Periwinkle, and Tangerine.  That is not to say that I will trade away my White, Black, Evergreen, or Shamrock.  Charles Marlin

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06If you are among the few happy readers who do not have one or more Bernd Heinrich titles notched on your belt, you are in for a “new best writer” experience. You can start with his new Summer World: A Season Of Bounty or go to one of his earlier great titles. Any title is a good starting point. This can be your BH summer.

The newest book is a gentle sorting through of observations, old and current notes on experiments, and life time knowledge about what goes on in nature all summer long. He looks, listens, and scratches around everywhere, his yard, garden, trees, driveway, roadside, creek, pond, you name it he has been in it observing more closely than you can imagine. He will soon have the most layback reader looking more closely and noticing more things happening around them in small to incredibly tiny ways.

BH’s ability to retain so vast amount of detail would in most situations be intimidating and just plain unpleasant, but not with him. He delights in sharing what he knows and seems to accept ignorance as a commonly shared human experience. He has some. You have some. There is enough for everyone, but unlike mosquito bits no one builds an immunity over the summer. The question remains however, when does he sit down to read for the pleasure of reading? If you were around him you might feel you need to find a hiding place for your afternoon nap.

An additional delight in Summer World are the line and colored drawings done by BH. They are a good sipping bourbon added to a pleasant meandering summer conversation. Feel free to join.

Our bullfrog friend from last year’s garden is Rana catesbeiana, but if that is not the correct identification, you know what you must do. Post a correction. Charles Marlin

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fpp_python3_narrowweb__300x368,0You last saw Percy Harrison Fawcett with Indiana Jones in the 1981 movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. His English family last saw him and his young son Jack on December 3, 1924, before his small party walked into the Amazon to find the fabulous City of Z. If he was not for real in every astonishing detail, you would think he was a Hollywood production for summer viewing.

Of a late Victorian cut, self-educated in the craft of Amazonian exploration, he did important mapping of South America for the Royal Geographical Society in London when it was their charge to complete the mapping of the world. There was something in him that prevented him from ever understanding risk and mortal harm in the way others, both sane and some slightly less, understood it. Once he had experienced the purulent extremes, starvation, hostile natives, and assorted agonies of the rain forest he was addicted. He could not stay away.

Many early explorers had written of a city of gold somewhere in the Amazon. The idea obsessed PHF, first in a rational way but before long it had in his mind become a vast city beyond description. He thought the city was built of stone even though he found little in the rain forest. The grain of truth in what he envisioned caused his and many other needless deaths. Today the grain is being scientifically studied by Michael Heckenberger who has written a ground-breaking account in The Ecology of Power.

David Grann has taken the life and aftermath of PHF and put it into a breezy The Lost City Of Z: A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazon. The book will not take you long to read as it sticks to your hand. A little bit of PHF”s Z seems to have rubbed off on Grann or he had it in him from the beginning. After reading all the published material, all the Royal Geographical Society archives, tracking down members of PHF”s family, reading unpublished family papers, he did what you may have guessed. He went in search of the last place the PHF party was known to be alive. He went to find the true bones. So you are warned, this book may cause you to at least fantasize about something too bizarre to mention to employer and family.

Once I read Charles Mann,1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, and then John Hemming, Tree Of Rivers: The Story Of The Amazon, all great books, I thought I had that part of the world covered. Not true. These three books seem to have whetted my appetite. It is nice to have a mild obsession that can be controlled through amazon.com unlike old PHF and the others who make up our entertaining history. Charles Marlin

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