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Did you have one? Something that made you feel warm and comfortable no matter where you were? I never had a favorite blanket, or even a treasured doll.  But I do have somethings that revive the steady sense of security I experienced as a child:  books

 Sturdy hardbacks with page after page of beloved characters and engaging narratives:  Anne of Green Gables; Agatha Christie collections; a Hans Christian Anderson compilation.  When I open these old friends, I always bring them close to my face, hoping to capture the faintest hint of new-book smell that I imagine lingers deep within the binding, a fragrance unique to each book that evokes memories of the person who gave it to me and the countless readings when I was younger.

No less treasured are the paperbacks.  I have a small, fat volume containing all of Jane Austen’s published novels.  An inexpensive, tattered Chronicles of Narnia has a new home on my daughter’s shelf.   And every few years I reread a unnassuming copy of Jane Eyre

These favorites have their own associations that elevate them above the realm of great literature.  One was a gift from my husband who knew of my affection for the author; another we read aloud together when we were dating;  and one marks the transition I made from enjoying a good read to more deeply appreciating the craft of character development.

Some of these books take me back to the couch in my parent’s living room where a fire burned in an unlovely black stove and everyone had a favorite seat and a favorite read.  Others remind me of the life-altering moments when I discovered the beautiful language and characters within their pages.  Like the Sunday I first drew The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from the shelves of our church library and stepped into Narnia.  Or when I huddled in the dark of our family’s suburban during the late Christmas-night drive home from my grandparent’s house and read Anne of Green Gables for the first time by the thin illumination of my father’s key chain flashlight.

There is no childhood possession that can rival the fine words of my favorite books.  No toy can  stand against compelling images or beautifully drawn characters.  These precious books stimulate more than sensory memory.  They engage my mind, fire my imagination and inspire  creative responses. 

~K

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Finally, I’ve reduced the stack  on my nightstand! This was a light read, easy to pick up and put down as time and responsibilities demanded.  

Leeks

I have a thing for leeks. I hope they're actually mentioned in this post somewhere...

Julia Child’s memoir of her time in France is that of a love affair with a country and its rich culinary tradition. 

For this reader, the details of classic French cookery are frankly, 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 enjoy fresh or lightly cooked vegetables and food that hasn’t been overly fussed about.  Consider this passage, a brief description of her three-day’s 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.

Whew!  Call me pedestrian, but after reading that, all I want it is a fresh plate of greens with a bit of nice oil and vinegar and a tall glass of cool water. 

The charm of Child’s memoir is not the food, 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 that

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 the end of her story she has converted her home country to the joy of cooking in the tradition of her beloved France.

Happy reading and happy eating,

~K

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BooksI always have three to four good reads stacked on my bedside table, a symbol of the glass-is-half-full part of my nature.  It’s unlikely that I will read even one of those books in the time I’ve allotted (usually one week.) To imagine that I could finish all of them is pretty far out there. 

But that stack represents more than incautious optimism.  It’s my passport, a booklet bound by passion and stamped with memories. The world I first entered as a child always waits between the cover of a good book.  (Or even a not-so-good book.)

In this world, words are supreme.  Images are created, characters unveiled and plots unwound, without sound or illustration.  Words, crafted, invoke  emotions and memory,  and persuade me to momentarily disregard what I know to be true and accept the premise of the world they create. 

This is my current stack:

 

My Life in France, Julia Child, with Alex Prud’Homme

The City in Which I Love You, poems by Li-Young Lee

The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, Charles Neider, ed.

What are you reading right now?

Lovin’ my library card,

~K

 

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