Commonplace Book 28 (ish)

So, my last Commonplace Book posted, but was backdated, and when I tried to fix it, I deleted it. It was all very livejournal circa 2004. So, picking up where we left off:

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Sausage barley spinach soup. (Slow cooker, obviously, or are you new here?) You can add the onions and garlic and sausage in raw, but I’ll warn you that the ground sausage will fuse into a strange puck you’ll have to chop haphazardly with a wooden spoon later on, so consider wisely…
  • Scallion pancakes. These are kind of a major pain, but not really hard: just labor-intensive. But the payoff! Almost exactly like the cheap Chinese dive version I love, but with a certain something reminiscent of the hot “chapat” we used to get at the hospital canteen for breakfast in Uganda, warm and wrapped in grease-spotted notebook paper. Is this not helping to sell them? Seriously. Delicious.

What I’m reading:

  • Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter and MeThis one is doubly personal for me, because a.) I am an Anne devotee and b.) I married into a family that also includes an adopted mother and adopted Korean little sister. I had expected to love the reflections on Anne but often I find them prone to dull summary, which may just be loyalty or jealousy  — I can nearly quote the original. But parts of the personal storytelling ring like Shauna Niequist’s essays, which is never a bad thing: sensory details and bustling families and warm, intimate friendships.
  • Dumplin‘: I had read a recommendation for this from, I think, Annie of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia (who I knew casually in high school, and who is now a real-like Kathleen Kelly), and audiobook is definitely the way to go on this. J doesn’t like the profanity emanating from my iPhone as I wash dishes in the evening, but the narrator, a prickly, overweight teenager from rural Texas named Willowdean Dixon reminds me of some of my favorite Southerner college friends.
  • Someone tell me if it’s worth reading all of The Well-Trained Mind right now all at once. I’ve made it to middle school and I’m losing steam because my oldest child is, in fact, four. But I’d like the big picture! Please advise.

Commonplace Book, 27

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Samosa Pie. We loved this. I used ground beef instead of ground chicken because the use of poultry substitutes is grounds for abandonment in J’s mind. I also halved the jalapeño because I was also making a batch for a newly postpartum friend and her children. And then I stained our counter quite impressively with turmeric. But still. Worth trying.
  • Things with our friends’ Whole30 leftovers. (Don’t pity them. They’re in Hawaii now. Don’t grudge me my cashew milk chocolate pudding and carrot coconut milk soup.)

What I’m reading:

When we stop feeling like we need to make every moment of our kids’ lives picture perfect and enjoyable, it leaves us some room to breathe and (get this!) really, truly enjoy more of their childhood.   These year are precious, there’s no denying it; but more important than just enjoying them, we can actually be at peace in them (and not just in retrospect), knowing that we’re fully present and accepting of both the good and the hard.

  • The Boxcar Children series with Pippin. I remember reading these as a kid and delighting in them, in the kids’ independence and housekeeping, and P loves them, too. But reading them as an adult is so surreal, this weird double vision, a haunting awareness of how Gertrude Chandler Warner walks this tightrope around all the darkness in the children’s lives. As an adult, I think of the real bitterness of orphanhood when the Aldens mention casually their parents are dead; I think of the children I saw climbing in the dump in Uganda when the kids go hunting for treasures in the junkyard. And yet the passages where they forage blueberries and wash them down with a bottle of milk cooled in the stream are just as bewitching.
  • I finished A Tree Grows in Brooklynand despite my early reservations, I really loved it and had trouble putting it down by the end. I’ve never felt very at home in New York City, but I loved reading about Francie looking out over her Williamsburg neighborhood, thinking of the evening I spent on my sister’s roof almost 100 years later, when she spent a stint in Bushwick:

She looked out over Brooklyn. The starlight half revealed, half concealed. She looked out over the flat roofs, uneven in height, broken once in awhile by a slanting roof from a house left over from older times. The chimney pots on the roofs…and on some, the shadowing looming of pigeon cotes…sometimes, faintly heard, the sleepy cooing of pigeons…the twin spires of the Church, remotely brooding over the dark tenements…And at the end of their street, the great Bridge that threw itself like a sigh across the East River and was lost…lost…on the other shore. The dark East River beneath the Bridge, and far way, the misty-gray skyline of New York, looking like a city cut from cardboard.

Francie feels like the kind of character who becomes a watchword for discerning kindred spirits, like Anne, like Harry. You love Francie? Me, too! Katie I just adored and forgave all her limitations; Johnny I struggled with. When did you first read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?

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The high class A+ photography you come here for; Brooklyn roof life, 2013

 

Commonplace Book, 26

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • It’s possible I’ve shared this before: pesto bread machine bread. I’ve found if you add something like pesto or pureed pumpkin to your dough, it often tastes less “bread machine-y” than a more basic recipe. Do you have any favorites?
  • Everyday chocolate cake from Smitten Kitchen. But I forgot to sift the flour, and it mattered.
  • Add to the vaguely ethnic slow cooker recipes: vaguely French slow cooker cassoulet.
  • Quick tip obvious to everyone but me: if you do a whole chicken in the slow cooker, if you stick it in the oven for a few minutes at 400 degrees before serving it, you will make the chicken-skin eaters in your crowd really happy, because the oven will crisp the skin, while the slow cooker leaves the white meat tender and lovely.

What I’m reading:

  • Minimalism gets it wrong: This is something I’ve been thinking about a bit since reading some of the Little House books with Pippin at the end of last year. It’s not that we should have fewer things because the material world and everything bodily is bad; it’s that we should have fewer things because we only acquire those that are good and useful and beautiful — not to pass the time, or keep up with trends, or any of the other reasons we accumulate junk. The Ingalls family values their meager possessions, from the beautiful impractical ones, like Ma’s china doll, to the direly essential ones, like the horses that transport their wagon. An orange, or scattered Indian beads, are noteworthy treasures for Laura, and as our Christmas approached, this struck me all the more. A truly lovely Catholic church, like my college church, manifests this truth: it is in no way minimalist, but there is nothing trendy or junky or extraneous, either. I guess Marie Kondo hints at this, talking about things that bring you joy, but that’s not quite the same, is it?
  • A Tree Grows In Brooklynthis is the first time I’ve read this, and it’s beautiful and lyrical but so sad that I’m not enjoying it as much as I expected. I wanted something like Shadows on the Rock or Little Women, with lots of light amidst its lyricism, and this is much grittier than I’d expected —

    “The sad thing was in the knowing that all their nerve would get them nowhere in the world and that they were lost as all the people in Brooklyn seem lost when they day is nearly over and even though the sun is still bright, it is thin and doesn’t give you warmth when it shines on you.”

  • Housekeeping (audiobook) because I think it’s the only Marilynne Robinson novel I haven’t read yet. I don’t love it as much as Gilead but that’s not to say I don’t love it, if you see what I mean.
  • Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating because, you know.

Commonplace Book, 25

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Once I read a piece that talked about the culinary creativity that comes with “nap jail,” but I like “serendipity of the (pantry) shelf” — to modify a library term — better, as some of my innovations have to do with working around sleeping children, but a lot is just me being cheap and using what I’ve got. Anyway, earlier this week, the thing I was going to make ended up being impossible because I was completely out of soy sauce, but I had thawed chicken breasts, and this recipe — fragrant garam masala chicken stew with peas and potatoes — fit what I had on the pantry shelf without too many substitutions. And maybe it’s just that we ran out to the local ethnic deli for their lovely spiced rice to accompany it, but we ended up loving this dish probably better than what I’d intended to make.

What I’m reading:

  • At our Advent party, a friend and I got to talking about Children of Men when she saw it on my shelf and how it compared to the film. And I wish I could say the book is better but…it’s really not. I was reminded again reading this reflection on the movie, ten years after its debut.
  • This Christmas, I read In this House of Bredewhich I feel like has been recommended by every Catholic literary type ever, and it totally lived up to the hype — I think I’m still wandering the hushed and peaceful halls of the monastery now. There’s so much I’d like to excerpt, but I’ll stick to just one. A young nun reflects on Holy Saturday:

“As the candles caught their light one from another, Cecily had a vision of the flame running in the same way from one church to another throughout Christendom, far around the world: new light, new joy, fresh hope. Thousands of candles, pure wax, wax of bees, made through the year by the wings and work of infinitesimal creatures like us, thought Cecily, made for this night.”

I remember thinking something similar — though infinitely less lyrical — as a teenager in Mass, imagining the same feast being celebrated the world over, century upon century. And look! Dwija is reading it now, too!

  • My read-this-so-you-don’t-gasp-at-the-interstate-traffic book this year was Uprootedby Naomi Novik, which I doubt I would have picked up if it hadn’t come recommended by a friend. I’d describe it as a vaguely Polish fairy tale, but that would do it a disservice. It subverts all kinds of fairy tale tropes, self-consciously evaluating its own story in light of tradition. I especially like the way it doesn’t stoop to action movie scenes, as when the protagonist looks down from a high tower at warring soldiers:

That was a story, too; they all had stories. They had mothers or fathers, sisters or lovers. They weren’t alone in the world, mattering to no one but themselves. It seemed utterly wrong to treat them like pennies in a purse. I wanted to go and speak to that boy, to ask him his name, to find out what his story really was. But that would have been dishonest, a sop to my own feelings. I felt the soldiers understood perfectly well that we were making sums out of them—this many safe to spend, this number too high, as if each one wasn’t a whole man.

Don’t you just love that! I hate action movies and skim action sequences in books (also: Quidditch), but Uprooted highlights the humanity between warring sides, and its fantasy is truly innovative: spooky and unpredictable, deep and wide, like there’s a whole world just beyond the scope of the story. Anyway, highly recommend.

Profesh shot of me by the four year old in Cabbagetown, Atlanta, last week beside a mural made by an acquaintance

Commonplace Book, 24

packing and holiday chores with toddler help

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Cinnamon ornaments: Not for eating, though Scout has tried her darnedest. We made these one afternoon with Pippin while Scout slept off her second cold of the winter. He loves cinnamon, and is an indifferent eater, and I loved that I didn’t have to swoop in and be precise about measurements since these aren’t after all, edible. (Dog biscuits are also great in this regard for toddler/preschool baking projects.)
  • TELL ME YOUR INSTANT POT RECIPES. I just got one, and I have big plans to make four-minute rice this evening, but after that, I’m kind of at a loss. Please advise!

What I’m reading:

  • Sorting Jane Austen Characters Into Hogwarts Houses: The Definitive Guide: made my nerd heart glow and caused legit LOLs more than once. Seriously, though — Henry Crawford is definitely a Slytherin, right? (Also, we started to talk Anne characters in the comments and “basically Ron in puffed sleeves” will now be my new catchphrase.)
  • Uganda Police Arrest “Separatist” Tribal King’s PM: This was our tribe in Uganda when we lived there in 2008-9, and we saw the king a time or two at the cathedral, flanked by his blockbuster-about-Africa-scary-sunglassed guards. The tribe has a fraught history with the rest of the nation — I try to explain it as sort of the hill people of Uganda, politically alienated, disadvantaged, comparatively fundamentalist and poorly educated, but the situation is further strained by the tribe being split across the border with DRC. I definitely don’t understand everything (much!) about the situation, but it doesn’t sound good.
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. I started and quit this once before, but listening to the audiobook is going much better. (J’s read it before, and I refuse to have him read something I haven’t. Except pure philosophy. Also geometry of any kind.) After having just read those monk picture books for co op, it’s fun to continue steeping myself in monastic culture, albeit post apocalyptic rather than medieval:

Now a Dark Age seemed to be passing. For twelve centuries, a small flame of knowledge had been kept smoldering in the monasteries; only now were there minds ready to be kindled. Long ago, during the last age of reason, certain proud thinkers had claimed that valid knowledge was indestructible—that ideas were deathless and truth immortal. But that was true only in the subtlest sense, the abbot thought, and not superficially true at all. There was objective meaning in the world, to be sure: the nonmoral logos or design of the Creator; but such meanings were God’s and not Man’s, until they found an imperfect incarnation, a dark reflection, within the mind and speech and culture of a given human society, which might ascribe values to the meanings so that they became valid in a human sense within the culture. For Man was a culture-bearer as well as a soul-bearer, but his cultures were not immortal and they could die with a race or an age, and then human reflections of meaning and human portrayals of truth receded, and truth and meaning resided, unseen, only in the objective logos of Nature and the ineffable Logos of God. Truth could be crucified; but soon, perhaps, a resurrection

Sometimes, of course, it feels like we really are in an age that is rejecting reason. (Also, this passage seemed a better choice than my true favorite, “Bless me, Father. I ate a lizard”…!)

  • In This House of Brede. Not very far in, and loving it, despite Godden’s kind of hyphen-y style. More religious life! And just coincidence, since it’s something my parents got me off my Amazon wish list for my birthday. But so far it’s such a gentle, peaceful book for sleepy, firelit Advent evenings.

Happy Advent, y’all!

 

Commonplace Book, 23

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • You’re overdosed on fancy Thanksgiving stuff, I get it. But that’s all I have to report: the yearly construction and consumption of my annual pumpkin praline trifle. Because if someone gives you a trifle dish as a wedding present, you might as well employ it.
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Thanksgiving ain’t over till you cook down the bones.

What I’m reading:

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“Helping” the artist

 

 

Commonplace Book, 22

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Ree Drummond’s Chicken Pot Pie, which, for better or worse, is pretty unrecognizable when I get done with it, having used frozen pie crust; a combination of roasted onions, carrots, mushrooms, potatoes and frozen peas; subbed thighs for a full chicken and milk with a couple spoonfuls of yogurt for the cream, etc., etc. But it always helps me to have a template to work off for ratios, temperatures and times. Are you a more intuitive cook?
  • Slow Cooker Vegetarian Pumpkin Chili for Pippin’s birthday party which pleased even the determined meat-eaters and pumpkin-avoiders among us.

What I’m reading:

  • All the Light We Cannot See still and again, as a combination of audiobook and hardcover. (Now I know how to pronounce “Laure,” so that’s something.) J came in while I was changing the sheets and listening to Werner solve trigonometric equations the other night and I really hoped he’d notice and be impressed but no dice.
  • Little House on the Prairie with Pippin. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t read this as a kid, or if I did, I have zero memory of it, which is maybe worse. But Pippin’s way into it and keeps asking for more chapters. The descriptions are more beautifully lyrical than I somehow expected, although occasionally I get Giants in the Earth flashbacks, as below:

“It was strange and frightening to be left without the wagon on the High Prairie. The land and the sky seemed too large, and Laura felt small. She wanted to hide and be still in the tall grass, like a little prairie chicken.”

Grab me my trunk, folks. I’m going in.

  • Entirely too much election coverage. But who isn’t?
Pretzels and books to the rescue on a disastrous afternoon