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

Matthew 1

Why Matthew? If you’re interested in the answer to that question, you might want to first read  There’s Always a Beckoning

I began this chapter with a desire to skip it. Genealogy doesn’t interest me much and the whole thing seemed like a lot of boring foundation details for Matthew’s  painstaking argument that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah.  I appreciate Matthew’s purpose in that regard, but it was getting in the way of what I wanted from his gospel. I wanted the Messiah to show up and start talking!

So, I was jogging through the first twenty verses, eager to check this chapter off my list, when I bumped into Joseph, and this is what I saw: a modest, thoughtful man, slow to react, quick to obey, law-abiding, and merciful, a man whose righteousness was characterized not by adhering thoughtlessly to the law, but by careful consideration and compassion, placing concern for Mary above his rights, and by immediately obeying God, even when it meant sudden, drastic changes.

To start, when Joseph finds out that Mary, his betrothed, is pregnant before they have had an opportunity to consummate their relationship,  he prefers that the whole thing be kept quiet, because “he didn’t want to expose her to public disgrace”.  He thinks that a quiet divorce is the best solution. This was a man who was “faithful to the law”, a law which gave him every right to gather men from their village and beat Mary to death with stones.

Then, in verse 20, I read that Joseph is “considering” the whole mess. He is thoughtful,  intent on making a sound decision.  I was reminded of  James,  “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,  because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”( 1:19-20, NIV)  Whatever Joseph may have felt about Mary’s apparent betrayal, he doesn’t lash out with an emotional response, or even react with a quick decision. The time Joseph takes to think things over gives God an opportunity to encourage and instruct him. In the midst of his careful deliberation, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and explains everything to him. God commands him to take Mary home as his wife, and when Joseph wakes up, he obeys.

I was deeply impressed by Joseph’s humility, mercy, and obedience. How often do I bypass an emotional response in pursuit of wisdom and allow God to lead me in my reaction? (Not often enough, I’m afraid.) When I am deeply hurt, I am not inclined to consider what is best for the offender. While I may have the maturity to respond calmly to the situation,  internally I am seething with anger. And if there is any moral code to justify my fury, my self-righteousness will feed on it until I am ready to burst.

Anger has a way of leaping ahead of everything else, demanding first place in my heart. Unchecked, it shoves reason aside, dodges humility and tramples mercy into the dust. In other words, when anger is allowed free reign, I am far too quick to speak; I am slow to listen; I do not produce the righteousness that God desires.

I finished chapter one inspired to practice patience and humility and with a strengthened desire to value righteousness over being right.

~K

 

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

Conversation with Myself

Do you see those people who don’t live in your house,

wear your clothes, sleep in your bed,

speak your thoughts,

and think,

 

“Divinity stitched you together in their image.

You are masterpiece and mystery walking by me,

dust and holy breath.”

 

Or do you keep that for yourself;

love, buried where it cannot grow?

 

~K

There is Always a Beckoning

img_1105I felt restless last year. There was an uneasiness in my faith, a shifting of sands, and something else, too.  A sense of distance between myself and my First Love. And, as I’ve experienced many times before, when there is a distance, there is always a beckoning, a sweet, gentle invitation to draw near. Sometimes the call is to prayer, forgiveness, or to community. Often,  I need time for quiet, solitary meditation. This time, I was drawn to the life and words of Jesus.

Though I grew up in the church and have heard or studied portions of the bible over and over, there are only one or two books that I have read and meditated upon from beginning to end. The gospel stories, for example,  are as familiar as a cozy, well-loved quilt. But, familiarity is not intimacy, and last year, I  was aware of a heart-deep desire to look closely at the life of Jesus as captured by his first biographers, and to carefully read and consider the words he spoke.

Suddenly, I was no longer satisfied with segments, or by any number of paraphrases or commentaries.  I wanted, quite simply, to read from beginning to end. I wanted to take it all in at my leisure and consider the readings in prayer and meditation. Most of all, I wanted to respond to my Love, who urged, “Let me tell you who I AM.”

So, for the last several months I’ve been doing just that. Matthew seemed like the natural starting point, so I cracked open my study bible, laid out some fresh paper and started reading. Sometimes I scour reference materials when my understanding needs a bit of a boost, but mostly I read, reread, note a lot of questions, scribble some thoughts, meditate, check out cross-references, pray, and read some more. I have no set schedule, only the desire to better know the one I call Lord.

Over the coming weeks I’ll share some of the summary thoughts and observations that I jot down as I make my way through the Gospel of Matthew. For now, I’ll say this about the experience: it is good to be near the One I love.

~K