In the Quiet

IV.

LORD, one of these days
I’ll stop singing other people’s songs.
Their words will die on my
lips when a simple melody
creeps out of my fearful heart
and makes a dash for freedom,
growing stronger in the light
like all things good.

~K

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My Life in France, by Julia Child

It’s a joy to recommend a good book. This one is light, yet inspiring, easy to pick up here and there, in the quiet moments.

 My Life in France is much more than an easy gift for the foodies in your life.  Julia Child’s memoir of her time in France is the story of her love affair with a country and its remarkable culinary tradition.This light and engaging read offers a glimpse of the inspiring passion of a woman who  changed the way Americans thought about cooking.

For this reader, the details of classic French cookery are sometimes nauseating. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a friend to butter, cream, fat, and all those awful things that taste so delicious. But I tend to enjoy simply prepared vegetables and food that hasn’t been overly fussed about. Consider the following passage, a brief description of her three-days labor to create a “mammoth galantine de volaille”:

First you make a superb bouillon–from veal leg, feet, and bones–for poaching. Then you debone a nice plump four-pound chicken, and marinate the meat with finely ground pork and veal stripe in Cognac and truffles. Then you re-form the chicken, stuffing it with a nice row of truffles wrapped in farce and a fresh strip of pork fat, which you hope ends up in the center. You tie up this bundle and poach it in the declicious bouillon. Once it is cooked, you let it cool and then decorate it–I used green swirls of blanched leeks, red dots of pimiento, brown-black accents of sliced truffle, and yellow splashes of butter. The whole was then covered with beautiful clarified-bouillon jelly.

Call me pedestrian, but after reading that, all I want it is a fresh salad and a  glass of cool water.

But the charm of Child’s memoir is not the food–it’s fascinating, painstaking preparation or the toothsome result of all that meticulous effort– it’s her enthusiasm for her work. She pursues her beloved with relentless energy and curiosity. When evaluating the recipes that would eventually form part of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she writes,

Working on soups, for instance, I made a soup a day chez Child. On the day for soupes aux choux, I consulted Simca’s recipe as well as the established recipes of Montagne, Larousse, Ali-Bab, and Curnonsky. I read through them all, then made the soup three different ways…my guinea pig, Paul, complimented the three soupes aux choux, but I wasn’t satisfied.

She is a perpetual student, a scientist, an evangelist, and at her story’s end she has converted her home country to the joy of cooking in the tradition of her beloved France.

~K. Ashby

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Short Stories

I have written two short stories solely for the purpose of exploring individual characters from a longer work. There were two benefits to this exercise. First, I got a firmer grasp on each character’s motivations. Second, I was able to procrastinate on the longer work and still claim to be writing.  The following excerpt is the first couple of pages from one of these exploratory shorts.

She drove from the east, and the sunrise glowed from behind her, softening the dry, ragged contours of her destination. For a moment, it seemed that the town regained its youthful flush and swagger when bulging cattle cars lumbered from its tiny depot to Chicago slaughterhouses, and tankers, swollen with oil, slid in from the west.  Ivy ignored the illusion. She knew that the mid-day sun would burn it away and return her hometown to its weary habit.

Minutes later she parked in front of her mother’s home on a street of neat one-story houses that were pounded together at the end of World War II. Once as bright and eager as the newlyweds crossing their porches, these homes now squatted comfortably, their faces faded and worn from years of raising families.

A sidewalk, cracked and uneven, led to her mother’s front yard where a courageous bit of garden welcomed visitors.  It was a lush patch in the small town where much of the landscaping looked as if the owners had left for vacation and forgot to pay the neighbor’s kid to water the yard. There were roses, lavender,ornamental grasses, and tough succulents. There were heavy blossoms reaching for the sun on stately stems, and shy shade-lovers creeping out from below the taller growth, anything her mother could keep alive in this reluctant earth.

In the kitchen, Ivy’s mother was just straightening up from the oven, and her hands, engulfed by quilted mitts, grasped the sides of a formidable roasting pan. The oven released its heat in a breath laden with roasted garlic, vegetables, and rich meat, the familiar Sunday afternoon fragrance of her mother’s kitchen.

“Sugar,” her mother exhaled the endearment as she set the pan onto waiting trivets, “Sugar, can you pop the casserole in there? I don’t think I can bend down again after that.”

“Sure Mama.”

After easing the oven door shut, Ivy straightened and turned to see her mother holding out a length of pressed red and white gingham. Tiny roosters strutted across the small checks.

“Don’t want you to splash anything on that pretty dress.” She gave the apron an impatient shake and then pressed it into Ivy’s hand.  “Would  you rather have mine? I think it’s longer–might even cover your whole skirt.”

“No, Mama, this is fine.” She ducked her head through the neck strap and fumbled with the ties before her mother stepped forward, and putting her arms around Ivy’s waist, secured the apron.

“Welcome home, baby girl.”

“Thanks Mama.” Ivy kissed her on the temple, right where her mother’s thick, blonde-white hair met the soft skin of her face, now reddened from her time in the cramped kitchen. “I don’t even wear these at home,” she admitted.

“Well. I know I always made you wear them in this kitchen.” Her mother paused in front of the refrigerator and stared for a moment at the faded red OKLAHOMA! magnet that memorialized her lone venture from her home state. “Remember the blue and white one with the eyelet lace?” She pulled the refrigerator door open, freeing a wisp of cool air to swirl at their legs, and began handing fruit to Ivy.

“I loved that apron!”She laid the fruit on the counter. Pineapple, banana, strawberry, kiwi. “Didn’t it have a rainbow on it?”

“No, no, no, that was your fourth-grade apron. You know, you loved to wear the blue one and pretend that you were Dorothy.” Her mother pulled a white paper napkin from her own apron pocket, folded it in half, and pressed it to her forehead  and above her upper lip.  “You would wear that apron all day and carry Stripey around in my wicker yarn basket calling him ‘Toto’. You made it to the grocery store once in that get-up and almost to church another time before we noticed.”

“That poor cat,” Ivy laid the pineapple across the cutting board and removed the top and bottom with quick, heavy strokes. “No wonder all his hair fell out before he died. I tortured him and Stanford medicated him.” She rubbed her thumb over the pineapple’s prickly surface and smiled, “I wonder what Stanford’s patients would think if they knew he started out on cats?”

Her mother frowned at the bowl she was cleaning, “Your brother’s patients adore him. Finish that fruit and toss it with the lime juice. Family will be here soon.”

————————————————————-

~K

Some Thoughts

VI.

Some thoughts I think so quietly
I don’t realize
that they’re there,
lightly passing.
My mind might
grasp one and take
it out for air, but some–
some are stuffed
out of sight–
locked tight away
where two small windows let in the light of day.

~K