Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Pally Thompson

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Well, I certainly didn't think I'd be THIS slow with my posts. I felt sure that I would be posting with a much greater frequency. I've been meaning to write for quite some time now with regards to an EXCELLENT book that I read over the summer, "Bobby Rex's Greatest Hit." My mom recommended it to me, and, as usual, her recommendation was absolutely sublime. Bobby Rex was one of the best books I've ever read, and certainly the highlight over the summer, despite my delving into the quality literature that was required for my literature course. I had to blog about it, including my favorite quotes. You know, the kind of quotes that seize your heart and wrench it a bit, but in a good way, because you know you've felt exactly what was described and you understand the feeling that the character is feeling COMPLETELY.

"Bobby Rex's Greatest Hit" tells the story of Pally Thompson, a small-town Southern girl who has never quite let go of the desire for something more, even though she's not too keen on departing from the comfortable happiness of the familiar North Carolina hamlet where she resides. Bobby Rex, of the pithy title, is the stereotypical high school hunk who is destined for greater things, namely, stardom in the country-western music world. When Bobby Rex releases a risque chart topper entitled "Pally Thompson", Pally is instantly plunged back into her memories of high school, introducing us to the good ol' boy boyfriend and the wild, spirited best friend (with an unusual Southern name, of course), all while building up the suspense about Bobby Rex-why would he write such a song if nothing ever happened between them? Whether the reader is left satisfied or wishing that Pally truly had found something greater in her life, you just can't help to appreciate the book, for the warmth and pathos that emanate throughout. Everyone can relate to Pally. To quote a recent movie preview for a chick flick that undoubtedly suffered in the box office, "High school is never over!"

One of my favorite parts of the book comes from a conversation that Pally has with her mother. Pally's father, Speedy, died an tragic, immature death, but Pally's mother has always allowed him to LIVE in the stories that she shared with her daughter. Here she shares with Pally her sentiments about Orfax (the North Carolina hamlet I mentioned previously) and why she hasn't left.

"Anyway-" She took a deep breath. "You could hear the train coming for miles: the Southern Crescent. First a low-down rumbling in the earth. The willow trees seemed to stop swishing. The crickets hushed up. The approach of that train was a serious event. The air was black and serious and still. It had a weight to it, then the faintest sort of tremble. When it began to smell sparky, we held our breaths in order to hear the train better. And always Speedy would whisper in my ear: "Hey, girl, let's hop it."

Sometimes I knew he wasn't joking. And the insistence in his voice gave me gooseflesh. "We'd have a big time." And he'd hug me so tight I'd feel winded.

"Where does the train go?" I recall asking him once.

"Oh, D.C., Baltimore, New York City, Boston-take your pick."

"What will we do when we get where we're going, Speedy?" I'd ask him, making a game.

He'd sweep a hand through his dark hair as if the gesture stirred up better thoughts. "Oh," he'd say, "we'll find us a first-class hotel and have them send us supper on a tray with lots and lots of pink champagne. Then, after we eat, if you're not too tired, we'll go dancing."

"But if we hop a train tonight, this very minute," I said, "I won't have my red high heels, the ones I like best for dancing. You know the shoes I mean."

Then, he'd consider everything we'd said, for a moment, and say, "Well, then we'll just have to find us some place that's got sawdust floors like Woody's Danceland. You don't need shoes to dance in sawdust. You don't even WANT shoes. And there's bound to be a place like Woody's in a great big town like New York or Boston. A place where everybody dances barefoot.

"Well," I'd say, "if we're going to ride the Southern Crescent all that distance just to scare up a place exactly like Woody's, why bother? Why not stay right here?"

And Speedy, who was nearly always agreeable, would hug me half to death and say, "Okay, we'll stay this time. But NEXT time we come to the depot, be sure to wear your red high heels."

Then the train would roar past like a solid wall of thunder and, in a way, I'd feel we'd barely escaped going. I'd say, "Whew!" and cling to Speedy, because there was something almost too thrilling about the Crescent plowing through all that sleepy farmland, something so full of risk that I felt lucky to have been spared.

Isn't that just beautiful, somehow? Next time, be sure to wear your red high heels? I love it. And here, another moment, after Bobby Rex finally hits the road and leaves Orfax behind.

I felt like I was in mourning. I sat on the stone-cold radiator in the bathroom and cried my eyes out. Now I knew he was impossible. Now the phone would never ring. Bobby Rex Moseley was one chance gone from my life, and it seemed that as you got older, what you lost, one by one, were chances. People talked about losing your youth, your health, your friends, love. But it all boiled down to losing the chances for those things.

I loved this book, can feel my heart warming as I reread the words...Mom really does know best!!!

Monday, July 16, 2007

saucy Jane

Monday, July 16, 2007

I was certainly accurate in judging that I would not be a regular poster or a fanatical blogger, but I did not intend to let months pass by before I wrote again. As I have been residing in sunny Palo Alto, California for the past six weeks, I have not had as frequent an opportunity to cook for myself. This is not to say that I haven't continued to have lovely food experiences. My mother-in-law, whom my husband and I have been residing with while he completes a summer internship, is a wonderful cook. Along with her natural ability and gastronomical talents, we have been fortunate to experience the bliss of a California garden. Fresh, tiny cherry tomatoes are readily avaiable in a large terracotta pot just outside the kitchen door, and one can hardly express the sheer pleasure of biting into one of them, especially in the mild heat of the day, when they burst into the mouth with a flood of warm juice. Alongside the tomato plants are pots for herbs, mainly basil, rosemary, thyme, mint, and cilantro. One of the dishes that my mother-in-law and I made together this summer was tabbouleh, and it was so wonderful to pluck the fresh mint leaves ourselves before adding them to the delicious grainy mixture of bulghur wheat, tomatoes, parsley, cucumbers, and lemon juice. Tabbouleh is something that is extremely easy to compose, and highly addictive and satisfying to eat. I have decided that I need to make it more often-it's so healthy, and it's also quite good piled on top of warm whole wheat pita bread. To revert back to my earlier discussion of a California garden, one of the absolute highlights of being in California is walking around the neighborhoods and seeing large oranges dangling precariously on orange trees and tiny olives starting to grow on olive trees. Among other glorious food items that simply grow in typical back yards here are figs and Meyer lemons.

I have been rereading "Jane Eyre" for an evening course that I've been taking at Stanford, and I'm quite impressed, again, by its feisty heroine. In more recent times, (due not in small part to the stirring film performance by Keira Knightley) Elizabeth Bennett has been lauded as an admirable heroine, and while I certainly do admire her, she is simply no Jane Eyre. Jane is not only independent and absolutely certain of her strength and character, she is of extremely tough and unshakeable moral fiber. Even from the very beginning of her life she was rather saucy. Her response to her ruthlessly degrading and cruel cousins:

"Don't talk about her, John: I told you not to go near her; she is not worthy of notice; I do not choose that either you or your sisters should associate with her." [words of Mrs. Reed, in reference to Jane] Here, leaning over the banister, I cried out suddenly, and without at all deliberating on my words,-'They are not fit to associate with me.' "

I adore that scene, and relish imagining the young Jane in my mind, most certainly acting in a very rude, though justified manner towards her caretakers.

I especially love Jane later on in the story, just before the elusive, aggressive, and not entire attractive Mr. Rochester professes his love and intentions for Jane. She believes him to be preparing for a marriage to the cold, gold-digging Blanche Ingram, and she will not stay around at Thornfield Hall to see such a dreadful thing happen.

" 'I tell you I must go!' I retorted, roused to something like passion. 'Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? -a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? -You think wrong! -I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty, and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: -it is my spirit that addresses your spirit, just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God's feet, equal-as we are!"

So saucy, that Jane! I am no feminist, but I admire her unwillingness to ignore her feelings, her absolute embracing of the opportune chance that she had to tell Mr. Rochester exactly how she felt, with no regard for rules and societal norms of behavior. Later on, when we are exposed to the secret that Mr. Rochester has been harboring, we are again given a chance to admire Jane as she, quite without hesitating, "does the right thing" in leaving Thornfield Hall, unwilling to be Mr. Rochester's mistress or take part in an illegitimate marriage. There really aren't enough Jane Eyres in this world, enough of us who will shoulder the burden of the hard, but right road, and go through inevitably difficult circumstances in order to keep our own moral compass intact. So many people take the proverbial easy way out, compromising themselves all along the way. God never intended for our way to be simple. Just a few days ago, in my C.S. Lewis devotional, I read these words:

"As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, 'every father is pleased at the baby's first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son.' In the same way, he said, 'God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.' "

So I have made a lovely segue from "Jane Eyre" to C.S. Lewis! This is part of what I adore about classic literature-so much more attention was paid to what is good, and real, and true, about the struggle to live a Christian life.

Perhaps I will have cooked a new dish by my next post, which hopefully will not be sometime in October!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

a rainy day

Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Today I had every intention of stopping by Whole Foods after school, purchasing some fresh lump crabmeat, and creating a delicious dinner of crab cakes with wilted spinach and tomatoes, a la Rachael Ray in her lastest cookbook, 2, 4, 6, 8: Great Meals for Couples or Crowds. I was deterred, however, by the constant stream of rain that persisted in falling all just didn't seem like an evening for crab cakes. Instead, I opted to make Charred Tomato Soup with Pesto and Prosciutto Stromboli, a recipe that I'd often passed by from my most often used Rachael Ray cookbook, 365: No Repeats. Granted, when most people crave soup on a rainy day, it's because the damp cold has seeped into their bones and they feel that they need the comforting warmth of soup to soothe them. Here in Austin, however, there are no chills to be had. Instead, I was faced with a Amazonian jungle-like wave of humidity as I quickly made my way from my car to the grocery store. Not pleasant. I almost reconsidered my earlier craving for soup, which really came when I was forced to stare out the window at school, as a respite from the utter drudgery of administering a state standardized exam. The steam bath that I encountered upon going outside was not recognizable from that window! Needless to say, all it took was a glance at the lovely bank of plum Roma tomatoes waiting in the store to convince me that my craving was really for tomato soup, not the proverbial comfort of soup.

This particular recipe involved slicing the tomatoes in half lengthwise and throwing them on a baking sheet along with chunks of red onion, topping them with a drizzle of olive oil and generous sprinkling of freshly ground pepper and salt, and roasting in the oven for about 10-15 minutes. There is something amazingly wonderful about roasting vegetables. It truly is as if they take on completely different, more pronounced flavor, one that is much more rich and defined. An experience only slightly less enjoyable than biting into a delicious roasted vegetable (all roasted vegetables, by the way, are delicious) is basking in the warm glow that seems to permeate a kitchen when vegetables are roasting. It reminds one of of mom, growing up, holidays, getting warm after being out in the cold, and coming home, all at once... Quite satisfying, too, when one aspires to have a welcoming home for a husband to come home to.

The roasted vegetables were pureed in the food processor to make a base for the soup, which turned out very well. The pesto and prosciutto strombolis were even better-I only used the tiniest slices of prosciutto and provolone to top the pesto filling, and the results were great! A salty, spicy treat that was so good dipped in the hot, creamy soup. Turned out to be exactly what I wanted!

Perhaps I will try crab cakes tomorrow...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

My First Post

Sunday, April 15, 2007
The lovely old quote from Little Women, a book that many besides myself cherish, perfectly describes the state of life in which I have happily found myself. Granted, I would hardly give myself the credit that Louisa May Alcott has given Meg-I certainly do not bring as much energy and cheerfulness to my household as I would like!-but I do aspire to make my home a veritable haven of domestic bliss for my adored husband. Unlike Meg, I spend the greater part of each day at my challenging, but rewarding, job as an elementary special education teacher. It's probably a good thing that I have a limited amount of time on my hands when I get home-I'm fairly easy to distract. Even with that limited time, however, I have found myself wishing that I could document some of my domestic experiences. I've been poring over cookbooks almost since I began to read, but oddly enough, it wasn't until I met my beloved that I was ever inspired to actually cook any of the recipes I relentlessly read about. He's a man of many talents, including an innate ability to know exactly how much flour and butter to combine to make a white sauce and a sixth sense about the readiness of a heated pan for a pile of onions and garlic. While he sticks to the things that he knows best (bolognese, steaks, Danish comfort food, French toast) and rarely relies upon recipes, he nonetheless motivated me to delve into cooking for myself. Ever since then, I have been reaping the benefits and enjoying the satisfaction that comes from cooking for yourself and/or the ones you love. Truth be told, my belief in my own cooking abilities comes not just from my man, but also from the oft-loved, oft-loathed food personality phenomena known as Rachael Ray. I won't go in to all of my feelings about Rachael in my first post, but to put it briefly, she has definitely changed my life. While I occasionally diverge from my Rachael Ray cookbooks and reach for Jamie Oliver or Donna Hay, I almost exclusively cook directly from Rachael Ray's recipes.

Along with writing about my love (which is rather newfound) of cooking and Rachael Ray's recipes, I wanted to also express my appreciation of literature. While I certainly don't read as much now as I did when I lived in New York City and had an hour commute on the subway, each way, each day, I have continued to pore over wonderful books, both old and new. My husband is currently attending graduate school, and when he is overburdened by group projects and study sessions, I often find myself at home, sitting in the peacefulness of warm, golden afternoons at my dining room table, a novel or cookbook propped up in front of me, planning what I might make that evening or wishing that authors of now wrote with the passion and intelligence of authors past.

Needless to say, this blog will be a combination of both my loves, cooking and literature. I won't ever be an obsessive poster-weeks might go by between posts!-but I am planning to chronicle the most notable of my domestic adventures and my literary revelations. Until next time!