Some reading tonight: I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai. This book has been sitting on my nightstand for a few months, and after hearing that she won the Nobel Peace Prize this week, the youngest person to do so, I finally cracked it open. Another article I read today was a piece about trans men at Wellesley, my alma mater. Regarding the article, which I’m still processing – gender and gender identity is inherently a difficult topic to discuss, and it’s always difficult to look critically at your own community. Ultimately I believe strongly in the role women’s colleges have played in supporting women in a society that is built to stifle. But I also care deeply about all members of my community, and dream of a world of love and radical acceptance. It’s not an easy road. And of course, I learned my lesson yet again today: when you care about other human beings, do not read the comments on the internet.
I’m ashamed to admit that it has been far too long since I’ve actually sat down to breakfast of my own making in my house. Usually it’s a few eggs, made into frittata, unceremoniously wrapped in a paper towel and ziplock, and eaten on the go. Or, I’ll stop by a coffee shop near the office and grab something small – or a treat – a seeded bagel toasted with cheddar cheese. But today, run down, and tired, I went to the kitchen and fried some eggs, made a small pot of Turkish coffee, and sat, watching the rain come down. My body, it seems, is due for a little bit of rest.
While foraging in the freezer this afternoon, I stumbled across a single frozen bag of soup – marked 10/1/13 “Pork, Bean, and Sauerkraut“. Exactly a year to the day from when I stirred the pot – I knew I was to have this for lunch. The recipe is a beautiful one: Marcella Hazan’s La Jota – made with pork jowl, and fresh cranberry beans, from her brilliant work ‘Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking‘. I’ve learned so much from that book over the years, and this soup is a winner – cooked ever so lovingly last year, as it was the day after I heard that Marcella had died.
Fortified with soup, I worked through the afternoon, wrapping myself in blankets and hopping on the office hangouts – until I could stand being in the house no longer, and I shut my computer. I was hoping to head into the gym – it’s been so long! – but I knew that with how I was feeling it would be unwise, so option two was a quick bite to eat out of the house. I ended up at 51 Lincoln, where I (uncharacteristically) opted for a small cocktail – the old monk – hoping, seriously, to kill any germs (I drank half, I’m too much of a lightweight), and shared a few small plates: chicken liver pate, home made chorizo, and panisses, over conversation with a dear friend.
I’m still feeling unwell. Perhaps this is my body telling me that after cycling 300 miles in September, I need a little bit of rest.
Ahoy! Let’s talk about summer reading. I *love* a good reading competition, even if the competition is with myself. A few years ago, I challenged myself to read through the BBC Big Read list, and have been slowly ticking off all the great books that I managed to miss out on – who knew that I’d love Jane Eyre so much, or Dune, or Steven King! I also have a b. goal of also reading all of the Man Booker winners, a literary prize given over the past 45 years to the best original English language novel published in UK. (This year, in a startling turn in the book world, the prize was also open to foreign authors, with four Americans making the long list.) Every year, the committee releases a long list, which is then narrowed down to a six book short list, and a final winner. A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned reading through the long list, and given that I was stalled in my summer reading, I’ve taken up this challenge as well.
Now, this attempt might face a few complications – I’ve had a little bit of trouble sourcing all of the books on the list, and The Dog hasn’t been published yet. I’ve gone ahead and requested most of the titles at the library, but knowing my luck, they’ll all arrive at once. I’m also committed to purchasing a fair number at independent bookstores, and given that the Harvard Bookstore has a 15% off fiction deal during summer Fridays, I have a few of these on my shelf already. Onward!
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (Viking)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)
The Blazing World, by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)
J, by Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)
The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)
The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell (Sceptre)
The Lives of Others, by Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
Us, by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Dog, by Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)
Orfeo, by Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
How to be Both, by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
History of the Rain, by Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)
The first book I grabbed was Richard Powers’ Orfeo, a book which I’d classify as primarily about music (and a seventy year old man accused of committing bioterrorism). Honestly, it was one of the books I thought I’d struggle to get through, so I decided that I might as well get it over with. Aside from a few eye rolls in the first twenty pages, I’ve actually been enjoying it!
Anyone else up for the challenge?
Who needs sunshine when the neighborhood flowers look like this? Most of today was spent curled up doing work under a blanket. For some reason I was chilled in 85 degree humidity. I swear I’m not getting sick though – I wouldn’t dare. By late afternoon I hadn’t yet left the house, so I went out to grab coffee before my afternoon meeting, and took three minutes to walk around the block for some floral therapy. And then tonight was Boozy Book Club, another sheepish occasion where I’d neglected to read the book. To be honest, I usually go for the food! After listening in to folks chatting about the book, I plan on reading this one soon – Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner – have you read it? It’s been a full month of half-read books, and I’m looking forward to finishing up several at once, and getting on with some new summer reading.
I follow Food52’s ‘Tournament of Cookbooks‘ – The Piglet – with the same fervor that I follow my Boston sports teams. Every year there are excellent selections, usually books that I have and cherish, and a handful of new ones that I have yet to explore. The judging is done by the culinary elite, professional chefs, food writers, and a few wild cards – this year I grinned excitedly when I saw Josh Malina’s name on the list. The reviews are always thoughtful, the judging is taken very seriously, and most of the time I find myself nodding along as the rounds progress. (One noted exception would be the upset when Burma lost last year, grumble.)
This season I had some favorites: Nigel Slater’s Notes from the Larder (i.e.: Kitchen Diaries II), which has a perpetual home on my coffee table and makes a weekly appearance on meal planning day for inspiration, Megan Gordon’s Whole Grain Mornings, because I hope to have a first cookbook as lovely as this one, and Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy – just a great overall work. The winner, as it turns out, was also one of my favorites: Louisa Shafia’s ‘The New Persian Kitchen’.
I’ve had a copy of Louisa’s book for nearly a year now, and I’ve cooked out of it many times. The seared chicken with peaches (and saffron, turmeric, and cinnamon) became a summer favorite. Her flavors are reminiscent of my own familiar Turkish and Jewish culinary roots, and Sara Remington’s photographs are stunning – especially the ones of Louisa herself. In honor of the win, several of my meals this week are inspired by her recipes, specific recipes with page numbers listed below.
Week of Saturday, March 8th
Saturday: Teriyaki Chicken Legs, broccoli, and mashed potatoes. This is my comfort food. The mashed potatoes in small quantity acquired from the Whole Foods salad bar.
Sunday: Vietnamese takeout. I’ve been meaning to try the Vietnamese restaurant inside the Super 88 – and I have a Bodypump class at Commonwealth Sports Club right next door late Sunday afternoon. Perfect!
Monday: New potatoes with dill and lemon (p. 29), brussels sprouts and pancetta, with some olive oil poached fish (p.93). In my childhood home, there was a line down the middle of our table between the dill lovers (my mom and I), and the dill loathers (the men). I think my brother has now moved into “ambivalent” range, thank goodness.
Tuesday: Creamy beans and chicken/turkey sweet basil sausage, salad. The sweet basil sausages are from Trader Joe’s, and they are excellent! (I like all of their chicken sausages really.)
Wednesday: Lamb meatballs with mint and garlic (p. 88) and cucumber salad. Her version of kufteh is very similar to the Turkish Köfte I make quite often.
Thursday: Turmeric chicken with sumac and lime (p. 103).
What’s on your table this week?
#8. If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
Translated by William Weaver
Paperback, 260 pages
First published 1979
Read on Kindle
“Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be.”
— Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler
I’m not sure that I can really describe Calvino’s novel – a puzzle, a challenge for the reader, an essay on reading itself. Calvino made me think, and laugh, and smile through this entire book. This was a joy to read.
” How can you keep up with her, this woman who is always reading another book besides the one before her eyes, a book that does not yet exist, but which, since she wants it, cannot fail to exist?
— Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler
A large part of the novel deals with language, translation, and the evolution of text which I read with deep fascination. One part of my day job is leading globalization and making an experience that was devised and created for one language, feel fluid and just as relevant in ten different languages. It requires careful choices, flexibility, and ingenuity to get the feeling just so. On that note, I haven’t read a work of translated fiction in a while, and I found William Weaver’s translation to be impeccable. After finishing the novel, I read this interview with Weaver and Calvino published in the Paris Review. It’s a great piece.
“Your house, being the place in which you read, can tell us the position books occupy in your life, if they are a defense you set up to keep the outside world at a distance, if they area dream into which you sink as if into a drug, or bridges you cast toward the outside, toward the world that interests you so much that you want to multiply and extend its dimensions through books.”
― Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler
I’m sure I’ll find myself re-reading this novel in the future, and I’ll definitely be reading more of Calvino’s writing. The man is prolific. Next on my list is Why Read the Classics, a series of essays, summarized recently by Maria Popova of Brainpickings here: 14 Definitions of What Makes a Classic.
Do pick up this book!