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26 December 2011

The Joy of Reading Cookbooks

I have found myself reading cookbooks for the last two weeks.  Some of the recipes I am considering are new but most are along the lines of my favorite holiday treats.  My cookbooks are international: American, British, Dutch, South American, Italian, Japanese...these are books I look at and cook from regularly.  I also have a folder full of scraps of papers, printouts and notes on backs of envelopes.  This year's menu includes truffled honey, pheasant and a traditional English Christmas cake with a Chilean twist.

Honestly though, I find great pleasure in just reading recipes and letting my foodie imagination run (directly to my expanding waist line).  Sometimes recipes bring back memories the way only tastes and smells do.  Photographs don't capture a moment the way the menu does.  The last few years, my daughter has been in charge of designing and printing the menu for our guests.  I keep a copy for myself; it is one of the few ways I can re-experience, to a certain extent, meals past.  Food, like music is ephemeral, easy to get wrong and nearly impossible to reproduce when perfect.

Books, especially cook books, can build character over time as you experience and develop your own tastes.  Sometimes, I spend more time reminiscing than looking for a recipe.  I love books that tell me a story because I have experienced something akin; the old cliche: "I can relate to it."  But, this preference is by nature limiting. I do not want to experience the horrors of an addiction (regardless of how entertaining the book is) and I cannot experience Middle Earth outside the books.  Cook books, on the other hand, are by definition manuals of a most personal kind.  These adventures are meant to be experienced, savored and shared.  As your own character grows and, I hope, your palate, cook books offer not only nourishment but love, adventure, risk (ever made an hollandaise?), sex, laughter and even tragedy (when the soufflé drops).  Moreover, these manuals engage so many senses even if only in your imagination.  A risotto prepared with champagne and truffles is from the moment you scan the ingredients already a promise of a life lived without limits; the moment you taste it, a promise fulfilled and in your own home.

I have received cook books as gifts and bought my own.  I enjoy them like I do Murakami.  I read them from beginning to end fascinated with the imagination and magic available to us mortals.  Cook books can bring back to life your grandmother and her wonderful soups.  And if your childhood was not so blessed, cook books are the manuals to a blessed future.

Paradise is not only peace and pleasant harps in the background but smells and textures too.  Ever had lamb in a rose petal curry?  Cook books are the manuals to heaven on Earth, provided, of course, you cook with love. 

07 December 2011

'The New Science of the Teenage Brain' by David Dobbs - National Geographic, October 2011

What can I say?  My first reaction was uncharitable.  'They found a teenage brain!....Perhaps they are all sharing it?'  Obviously, after some thought and deep probing I will admit that at least the teenagers I regularly come into contact with can be intelligent, often in creative ways. When asked whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher, my children spend more time actively defending (or creating) their answers than it would take to empty the dishwasher; the same goes for clothing choice, exam results, homework, music practice or even taking a shower.  On the other hand, they are unable to take a matching pair of socks out of a dryer that contains only whites.

Done venting, back to the article...

In essence, the teenage brain is indeed half baked like parents have always suspected.  This results in lower fear and greater emphasis on pleasure versus pain and\or deferment.  Teenagers can assess risk and calculate weight, velocity and braking (reaction) time just like a grown up when tested alone.  Pleasure, such as impressing friends, however trumps caution.  The pleasure or kudos of driving fast to impress a car full of friends outweighs the risk of redecorating the highway with car and body parts.  This same disregard for real risk (as we calculate it) makes it possible for them to take the risk to leave the nest and explore the world.  So in terms of survival of the species they are ready to go out, conquer and procreate without noting the consequences.

Teenagers are growing new wiring within their brains.  This is like an internal version of the teenage body, growing quickly but unevenly.  The same body that swishes a three pointer will stub its toe on a door frame.  Some things like common sense have to catch up the same way teenage bodies catch up with their shoe size.  Teenagers are also mentally more flexible, perhaps a bit too much so .  Adolescents and their brains  will try new things like technology, the exploration of the next valley over or eating something new and interesting. Unfortunately all this flexibility is sometimes fatal.  Consistency and judgement come with maturity and experience.

It is comforting to know that my children's erratic, occasionally dangerous and absolutely  irritating behavior has a neurological cause shared with other teenagers and that it probably serves some purpose in the long tail of human history (or so some scientists assure readers and writers of National Geographic).  But as a mother in the here and now I have to agree with my parenting guru, Jean Kerr, who said, 'I never wanted to know what that noise was, I just wanted it to STOP.