8.31.2013

I'd say that's a win

Way back in May we planted four small tomato plants of varying types - a lovely cherry tomato that a friend started from seed, a bushy little patio tomato from the farmer's market, and two medium sized tomato plants that I can't remember the name of but we bought because the farmer said they wouldn't surpass my height (liar). And here we are in August with heaps and heaps of tomatoes (!). By the time I'm actually getting around to writing this, our plants have all started to slow down, with a sad sign of the end of summer. But with these four not-so-small tomato plants we have made batch after batch of homemade salsa, lovely tomato salads, several kinds of grilled pizza with fresh tomato, mozz, and basil, and many other tomato-inspired meals. For a little while there I was eating tomatoes with every meal. Last week at the farmer's market my friend bought an entire bushel of tomatoes to make sauce. A bushel!

You gotta love summer's end - when she spills out the very best and last of her harvest in all its glory, one final push of produce to over-indulge in preparation for a garden of quiet for many months.

I've got one last tomato-rich recipe on the docket: a lovely Herbed Tomato Tart.


I also just finished a great end of summer book, The Last Summer of the Camperdowns. A saucy and cleverly written story about a WASP-y family on New England's coast. The dad, "Camp," is running for office while his wife trills and snarks about absolutely everything, living like a queen, and refusing to face their mountains of debt. And their daughter, Riddle, left to deal with them both, navigating her own summer between childhood and adulthood, holding tight to what she knows of a mysterious disappearance and how it could destroy her summer. A great summer read with an incredible ending! Don't miss this one.

In other news, I am both sad and excited to be welcoming September in this week. It means there were a few things I missed on my summer to-dos, many stories I failed to write about, and several blank canvases that are sitting beside me still blank. Work has been super nuts and most evenings consist of a short run, a salad (with tomatoes, maybe?!), a bit of clean up/catch up, and a good book to hide away in. Not to mention the two weeks in early August that I was struck down mighty hard with an ear-sinus infection duo. But I refuse to mourn the summer's failures. I'd much rather celebrate the summer's successes. 

Two very excellent camping weekends.
Two equally excellent weekends at friends' lakehouses. 
Eight pounds of freshly picked blueberries. 
Several pounds of freshly picked peaches. 
A few blueberry peach pies, and tarts and cakes and salads.
Countless trips to the farmer's market.
A good tan and sun-lightened hair.
And a slew of good books.

I'd say that's a win.

And last weekend we celebrated a hot and sunny Saturday with pie at Bang Bang Pie Shop. A real Chicago gem. Iced coffee on tap. Chocolate pecan and summer ice box pie made with sage ice cream, lemon curd and macerated blueberries. And a biscuit with jam for good measure. Yum. Definitely a success.



Not only did we celebrate pie this week, we celebrated a great man, a world-changing speech, and a march for freedom. Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.


With recordings of I Have a Dream still ringing in my ear, I read this in My Utmost:

Continually bring the truth out into your real life, working it out into every area, or else even the light that you possess will itself prove to be a curse. 
The mountain-top experience must be so genuine that it shows in your life.
Your theology must work itself out, exhibiting itself in your most common everyday relationships.

Maybe that's some of what MLKJ was getting at. That if we believe in truth and justice and beauty, then we better be working it out in our everyday. A sobering thought. If that dream, that light, is as genuine as we say it is, then the whole world should see it. Starting with the most common everyday relationships. 
And maybe a slice of pie or an herbed tomato tart to share.

8.13.2013

This one stuck with me

I've been pouring through books lately. I read this really great book that left me ravenous and then went two whole days with nothing to read. I ended up at the library scouring the latest Book Review publication for recommendations. I no longer trust only the bestseller lists. First thing I look at are the endorsements. I want to know who's backing the book, and if it's an author or a publication that I respect, then I'm game.

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, had been on my to-read list for a while. I had my eye on it when it was first published, waiting for it to be released in paperback. It was worth the wait. Unlike some memoirists, Strayed has both a great story to tell and is a great writer. Sometimes I'm amazed by a story, but so disappointed by the writing, that it ruins it for me. Wild is an incredible story of the 26 year-old Cheryl Strayed's somewhat spontaneous trek across the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from the tip of California to the tip of Washington. She goes into her journey in the midst of a bit of a life crisis - having lost her mom, her marriage, and her sense of direction in life. It is an epic story of perseverance, camaraderie, and the strength of the human spirit. Like so many of my favourite authors, at the start of each section of the book, Strayed has included quotes or lines from a poem. This one stuck with me:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
-Mary Oliver, "The Summer Day"

After Wild, a friend had recommended Wonder, by RJ Palacio. She said that everyone should read this book, especially every school kid. It's a young adult book, which are sometimes real gems, about a boy named August who has a whole combination of symdroms or diseases that have severely disfigured his face. The story is told mostly from his perspective, about his first time going to a real school and the incredible family and friends who surround him. It is another triumphal story of the human spirit and the human capacity for goodness and light. The book closes at a school award ceremony, where the principal shares these words before August, his class, and their families after a year of struggle and victory, from the great J.M. Barrie's Little White Bird:

Shall we make a new rule of life...always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?

I wrote it down because I wanted to remember it, and the story of August, and make this one of my own rules of life.

I went into a camping trip this past weekend armed with my hammock and a slew of new books. I had read Jeanette Wall's first two books ages ago, when they were first published. She is another of those memoirists who really knows how to tell a story. Her stories are small-town, tragic and triumphant. The families in her books are always quite broken, and her latest, The Silver Star, is no exception. It is a Scout Finch-like story about the determination of two sisters to continue living despite their mom's inadequacies. With the help of a distant uncle, a small town, and sheer tenacity, Liz and Bean make it out just as well and with as many wounds as Jem and Scout.



I am only about 70 pages in to Khaled Hosseini's latest, And the Mountains Echoed, and it is already proving to be another page turner with a heartbreaking story of an Afghani family. He opens with these lines from 13th century poet Rumi:

Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and right doing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

Summer is not yet over, folks. Here's to many more good reads before the day is done.