We have been having a great week, although I did have a touch of the "ick" yesterday and spent most of the day on the couch, unsure if it was a result of over-indulgence or a touch of the flu. Either way it doesn't matter; I had the house all to myself as Barry and the kids went to see his parents for the day.
The time between Christmas and New Years Eve often has a "cut off from the rest of the world" quality about it to me. We do see people, but the TV is almost always off, save for the odd movie we watch together or our holiday tradition of watching the British Year End Show "The Big Fat Quiz of the Year". Mostly, there is chatting, listening to music, and reading.
Thursday night we saw very old friends - folks I went to graduate school with in the 1980s and it was so much fun to see them and have great conversations and tell funny stories. These are smart-as-whips folks; truth be told I had forgotten how clever and insightful they are and was glad to bask in their intellect for a few hours over a glass of cabernet sauvignon!
Given my horizontal day yesterday, I was able to read one of my Christmas books in its entirety: Provence 1970, by Luke Barr, which describes the intersecting lives of Julia Child, Barr's Great-Aunt MFK Fisher, James Beard and Richard Olney in Provence in December 1970.
Whereas other books I've read about Julia have focused on her love affair of French Cuisine, this book describes a seminal moment when America's food giants began to turn away from the rule-bound and perceived preciousness and snobbery of French cookery towards a more relaxed and convivial approach to food.
I really enjoyed the book. I have certainly been aware of MFK Fisher, the preeminent food writer of her time, for years, but have never read any of her work, which I plan to remedy in 2014, since the snippets of prose contained in this book are lovely and evocative. The same could be said of James Beard; he looms as a distant memory in my mind, a great bear of a man who I'd seen on TV chat shows as a child but knew little about. Julia on the other hand, was a force of nature until the day she died and was able to keep a relevance about herself within popular culture by evolving along with the rest of society in her own Julia-like way.
|James Beard, source|
|MFK Fisher, Source|
This book evokes a time when the first wave of America's obsession with good food was coming to an end - what would replace it? The democratization and education of the public about the importance of good ingredients, eating locally and seasonally, that's what. I can recall growing up in a small town in New Brunswick in the 1960s and 1970s - there were two types of lettuce, herbs were all dried and sold in little bottles, maybe the odd garlic bulb could be found, but mostly your mum used garlic powder. Because of Fisher, Child and Beard, the public began to demand access to fine ingredients that had long been available to their European counterparts. The grocery stores of 2014, with their multi-ethnic options and fresh produce are so dramatically different from the grocery stores of my youth that they might be different places altogether!
Most importantly, this book documents a remarkable friendship between Fisher, Child and Beard that supported and sustained them all. Olney is the outsider, the agent provocateur, who is demanding and judgemental of the three giants, perhaps with reason, and serves as an instigator of sorts to the three others as they plan their next projects and new directions. The story of them cooking ensemble at Child's place in Provence, La Pitchoune, is wonderful, and the author, a writer for Travel and Leisure Magazine, rented the place for a couple of months while writing this book. You can read a wonderful article by him about that experience here.
Reading the book made me hungry, but I wasn't feeling good at all, so my supper was a humble, but tasty event: pasta with many herbs. About 2 days after Christmas I always only crave green things and this did the trick - I chopped every herb I had in the crisper, dill, basil, marjoram, rosemary and parsley and tossed it with the pasta and the olive oil and a wee bit of parmesan cheese. I made a large batch so I would have some for lunch tomorrow.
I am contemplating doing a bit of cleanse for the first two weeks of January, just before my birthday: no alcohol, no bread, no coffee or sugar, just fresh fare and small portions and good juices. This is less about dieting than about giving my system a healthy kick-start in the new year.
There are still thousands of people without power here in New Brunswick, over a week after the big storm. It has stormed twice since then and today we are supposed to have another blizzard-becoming-freezing rain storm - 25 to 30 cm more. I have friends without power a couple of hours away, and while they are staying with friends and family, I cannot help but feel guilty in my cozy home that is so sustaining me this holiday season, and am sending prayers that the storm doesn't make it even worse for the workers who are working so desperately to restore power. It is important to remember that this is New Brunswick - these people who have no power and the temperature outside on Thursday night was -20. Not good at all and they could use your good thoughts...
The world is just white, white, white, here; the sky is white, the trees are all white, the roads are white; it is as if we have become the movie set for Narnia under the White Witch's reign.
I keep expecting to stumble upon a lamp post at any moment....
The only colour is the odd dead leaf or bark and the Christmas lights that still twinkle.
What's up for today?
Well we hope to have our friends over with their young kids this afternoon to play board games and make pizza before the big snow storm starts. And I will be digging into my next book - will it be The Goldfinch or The Interestings? I have been reading voraciously and am happy to say I hit 60 books for 2013 yesterday, which makes me about as happy as a person can be.
I also have a lovely coffee table book that my son gave me about 100 years of Vanity Fair Magazine and I ought to clean up some as well... So many decisions.....
Have a wonderful Sunday and stay safe out there!