Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Dinner - Herman Koch

There is much to recommend about this book. Let me start with that. Then, let me tell you that this book left an ache in my heart and a sour taste in my mouth. I so wanted the story to end with satisfaction that all parties had 'done the right thing' - but they didn't. And in that about face taken within Herman Koch's searing story line, I was left with questions about the state of the 'class structure' in today's world, about parenting and what we parents will do to protect our kids, about honesty and trust within marital relationships, about the ethics of money and just what it will buy, about dispensible morals and our willingness to rationalize all sorts of bad behavior in ourselves and our loved ones. 

Mr. Koch poked a sharp stick at the innards of our social conscience when he wrote this story. Several chapters into the book, I was thinking of several high profile crimes that have piqued world-wide curiosity and thought, "Oh, he is taking inspiration from those cases." Making the connection between the disappearance of a young American high school student in Aruba, the brutal death of an English student in Italy, and the brutal beating of an elderly man on the streets of New York, I was still shocked at the callous and haunting crime that is at the center of the parents' confrontation in The Dinner

Koch's development of the characters around the dinner table is masterful. The novel is narrated by Paul Lohman, a high school history teacher on leave for erratic behavior toward students and lesson presentation. He and his wife, Claire have a fifteen year old named Michel. Paul has a no nonsense form of delivery, a sharp sense of humor that is laced with sarcasm, social irony, and a bit of a bitter sense of social cynicism. So, it's with this 'voice' that the story unfolds and it's through the lens of Paul's character that we begin to form opinions about  Paul's wife and son, his brother, Serge and Serge's wife and children, the people in the restaurant they are visiting, and the various other characters that Paul discusses. 

No spoilers, but things are not what they seem ...

This would be such a good book for a book group discussion, as there are so many issues that Koch throws at the reader. I wish I would happen on an on-line discussion ... any takers?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Provence, 1970

Oh, to be a fly on the wall ! How many times do we utter that old statement when we wish we could be present at key points in time with famous or infamous folk ? Luke Barr has given his readers the distinct feeling of being that fly on the wall in the kitchens, restaurants, dining rooms, and offices of the key bon vivants, food writers, and culinary icons of 20th century American foodie culture. His gleanings from his great-aunt's notebooks, letters, diaries, and business correspondence have given him a rich source from which to weave an overlapping picture of a meeting of the foodie greats in Provence during 1970.

From M.F.K. Fisher's (Barr's relation) travels between Paris and Provence with her sister, Norah to momentous meals with Richard Olney to rescuing James Beard from the diet clinic and taking him to Julia and Paul Child's La Pitchoune for a French-style chicken dinner and wine feast, the reader is treated to the events, the commentary between the players, the rivalries and side bar ranting about each other, and insight into their growing notion of a burgeoning American cuisine that takes its roots from the rigor of French food preparation techniques, a use of the freshest seasonal food items, and a more fluid and flexible use of what's available in developing menus and less reliance on strict recipe regimen. We see the peckishness of Beard, who bridles at having to address his health problems and struggles to make a dietary lifestyle change, the overt snobbishness of Richard Olney when he dines with the Childs and M.F.K. Fisher, the ruminations of Julia Child as she makes the transition from 'the French chef' to embracing more techniques from world cultures and their cuisines and thus, opens the way for American cuisine to develop its melting pot persona. It's all a fun and almost gossipy romp through those few weeks when the greats converged on the south of France and cooked their way toward a bit of a food revolution.

This has been an intriguing book with a strange consequence. The evening before I reached the chapter on the dinner at Julia and Paul Child's French vacation home, I made SB and I a dinner of roasted chicken, potatoes, and green beans. Far humbler than Julia's roasted chicken, gratin dauphinois pommes de terre, and haricots verts, but the same main ingredients just the same! I do think I will be making her gratin dauphinois potatoes soon, as a tribute to the grande dame of American cuisine and all her cohorts.

Good job, Luke Barr.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Strawberry Season!

... straight from the strawberry bed and right into my morning yogurt ...

It's strawberry season in New Hampshire ... now, if we can only keep the chipmunks from raiding our gardens, we'll be very happy backyard farmers!

shared with Saturday Snapshot ... check it out!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Slip Loose - A Poem for My Dad

Slip Loose

Slip loose, dear soul and slide adrift
Look back just once and smile
We’re here caressing hand and brow
Talking you softly on your way

One will whistle softly and laugh
Another recall old times on skis
Another camp and fishing trips
The last a barbeque lesson and beer

I remember a hand on the wheel
Me on the cushions in the bow
You tending the boat out on the waves
Lulling me to a nap on the river

But now, it’s our turn for lulling
So we whistle like you
Chuckle over a story or joke
And wait to send you on your way

Slip loose, dear soul and slide adrift
The waves are gentle, the time is right
Ride off to solve the mystery
Look back just once and smile

Richard William Miller
January 11, 1923 - June 2, 2014