Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook: From the Garden to the Table in 120 Recipes by Barbara Damrosch & Eliot Coleman

Having been a vegetarian for years, a big supporter of growing most of what you eat, and the local food movement, I was really looking forward to this latest effort from Damrosch & Coleman, two of the foremost authorities on organic gardening and sustainable living.  And it does not disappoint.  It's two books in one.  The first part of the book is devoted to actually growing what you eat, with easy to follow instructions for growing everything from the best tomatoes to berries for a pie.  It covers the basics of preparing your soil, composting, etc.  The second half of the book is a cookbook with 120 recipes to use all those lovely fruits and vegetables your labor will be providing.  And as they say, eating doesn't get any more local than your own backyard.  To me, the first couple of paragraphs in their book say it all:

"The day has begun to cool, so we reach for the sun-warmed shirts we'd shed earlier when we began cultivating the garden. The beds now look clean and tidy, the earth a dark background against which the plants stand out in rich colors. The deep green of the spinach and the bluish cast of the broccoli leaves tell us we've fed these plants well, and that they'll feed us well in return. We pull up some carrots for supper, pick a few cucumbers, dig a handful or two of potatoes, and add a head of lettuce and fresh herbs to the basket. Standing up, we stretch our backs, feeling a pleasant kind of tiredness. After washing up we fix a simple meal, much of it harvested moments before, still alive and flavorful. We feel like the luckiest people on earth.

Does this sound romantic? If so, it's only because people seldom feed themselves from their gardens anymore. Yet for much of human history, it was the normal way to live. It was something everyone needed to know how to do. Then, in the twentieth century, gardening turned into a hobby."

Run, don't walk, to your local library and check this out or to your local bookstore and purchase it for your own bookshelf. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

This novel set in ancient Israel took the author over five years to write.  It is a wonderful blend of history, imagination, and lyricism.  It is the tale of four women who come to Masada (a jewish fortress in the Judaean desert overlooking the Dead Sea), each by a different path, and each with secrets about who they are, where they came from, and who they love.

The history of Masada itself is quite extraordinary.  It was built by Herod the Great.  The summit of Masada sits 190 feet above sea level and about 1,500 feet above the level of the Dead Sea.  The "Snake Path" leading in climbs 900 feet in elevation. Fifteen long storerooms kept essential provisions for time of siege.  After Judaea became a province of the Roman empire, it became a refuge for the last survivors of the Jewish rebellion.  In 70 CE, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans.  Only two women and five children survived.  Today Masada is one of the Jewish people's greatest symbols (next to Jerusalem), and Jewish soldiers take an oath there that it shall not fall again.
This is the tragic backdrop that is the setting for this story.  It is a story about destiny, love (how it defines us and shapes us), and sacrifice of unimaginable proportions.  It is a powerful story rich with the history of daily life two thousand years ago containing mythology and magic and told through the eyes of bold and resourceful as well as sensuous women.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Loving Andrew by Romy Wyllie

Down syndrome is among the most common genetic birth abnormalities. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, 1 in 691 babies are born with Down syndrome in the United States.  When Romy Wyllie's son Andrew was born in 1959 and diagnosed as mongoloid (the term they used in those days), the prevailing medical advice was to institutionalize the child.  Although they mourned the perfect baby they had expected, they rejected the doctor's advice and followed their own natural nurturing instincts.  They took Andrew home and decided to try to give him the best life possible.  Parenting is tough under any circumstances.  The parents' role in a child's development is crucial, never more so than in the case of a child born with Down syndrome.  The provision of an enriching environment appears to accelerate cognitive development.  A high level of attention in a positive family environment and effective social and educational stimulation are critical.  These are things Romy Wyllie knew instinctively, but in 1959 with little information and no follow up, her family began their journey through the maze of parenting a developmentally disabled son.

This inspiring account of the challenges and rewards Wyllie faced while raising a Down syndrome child as an integral part of her family will appeal to a broad audience--not just caregivers and those who love and interact with a Down syndrome child or adult--but the casual reader as well.  As she says in her preface, someone with Down syndrome is first and foremost a person--a human being with a life to live and a role to play.  With modern improvement in medical technology and prenatal testing as well as the capability of terminating a less than perfect baby, it is especially important to be aware of the progress that has been made in treatment and acceptance of these very special individuals.

Wyllie does an excellent job of relating the changing societal perceptions towards the Down syndrome child over the years, compares her own experience from 1959 with those of two other families with Down syndrome children born in 1980 and 1994, and does not flinch when it comes to detailing her frustrations, mistakes, and concerns.  There is a raw honesty here that is very appealing.

It has been said that the biggest disability any of us may ever face is our own attitudes.  This moving memoir of one family's love and devotion to their son--which allowed him to master the skills of life and become a contributing member of society--will go a long way to improving societal attitudes towards those born with disabilities.

Monday, March 4, 2013

"Slow Books" Movement

U. S. independent book sellers meeting in Kansas City are optimistic.  According to this article in the Kansas City Star, the talk there has been that young audiophiles are returning to LPs and culinary types are asserting the attraction of “slow food.”  They think we could very well be witnessing a retro-fueled backlash against the digital tide. It could be more than wishful thinking that the rise of eBooks has slowed. They call the attraction of ink on paper the “slow books” movement.  Well, I've been a member of that movement for a long time...maybe many of you have too. 

Read more here:
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