Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Suicide Index

In 1991 Joan Wickersham's father committed suicide. In 2008 her memoir, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father's Death in Order, was published. Wickersham uses The Sucide Index as a way to try to make sense of her father's death. For this reason, she chooses to write this book in an unique way, in that of an index. I was a bit skeptical but found that this 'index' really works because it represents the struggle that Wickersham went through to make sense of these events in her life. All of these stories and observations make up Wickersham's realizations, but not necessarily in a sequential way.

What I enjoyed most about The Suicide Index is Wickersham's honesty. This could not have been an easy story to tell for her or for her family. Wickersham's mother, while often charming and funny, receives the most harsh treatment, as we learn how she treated her husband, before and after his death. Wickersham cannot help wondering if her mother's desire for a more extravagant life, her self-absorbed nature, her friendship with another man, helped lead to her husband's final act. What about his business dealings, the money he owed, how did this contribute? And why now? Her father had seen hard times in the past, grew up with an abusive parent, was it one event or a series of life's disappointments that pushed him over the edge? And how does this bode for Wickersham - is she or her children at risk of suicidal tendencies, too? Wickersham considers all these facts, as she attempts to find answers, and figure out who was this man she thought she knew. Her father is not only gone and unable to provide any answers, but is also considered and classified as 'a suicide'.

I probably wouldn't have read this book had it not been offered to me for review, but I'm glad I did as it is quite moving and Wickersham is a gifted writer. I haven't experienced suicide in my own family, but as Wickersham finds, many people have who seem to find some healing in sharing their stories. While those affected by suicide will especially find much to identify with in this book, this is also a story of a father and daughter, a mother and daughter, and we can all identify with that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Heaven in a bowl..

I've been waiting 12 months for this...

Just add pasta.


Halved cherry/grape/pear tomatoes, shallot, basil, salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic, cheese (Parmesan or in this case I used Piave). Less than 15 minutes from putting the pot on to boil to the first bite.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wife in the North

That sounds like it could be a book about me, doesn't it? I'll bet Judith O'Reilly, author of Wife in the North, is glad she's not a wife in MY north, here in the northernmost part of the US, complete with 8 months of winter. (I mean, the tomatoes are just now turning red, and we'll have a frost within a month.) In any case, Judith O'Reilly was not what you'd call completely thrilled when she and her husband decided to move to Northern England with their three small children. O'Reilly is a city girl, but she agreed to move on a trial basis to give her husband the opportunity to fulfill his dream of living in a small village.

There's a lot in this book that I and other mothers of young children can empathize with. Feeling like a single parent when your spouse is working long hours. Going from career woman to stay-at-home mommy and feeling as though you've lost your identity. Moving to a far-away place where it seems you will never fit in. Parenting your own children when it seems your own parents are beginning to need parenting. The most poignant parts of this book were when O'Reilly discussed the trouble her son had at school with bullying and the struggle she went through to help him. She stood up for him - and wrote about it publicly - at the risk of loosing friends which she did in some cases. The Vicar even asked her to tone it down a bit. I felt admiration for O'Reilly in the way she handled herself and how she helped make school a more welcoming place for her son.

Wife in the North is made of a series of what feel like diary entries and what are, in fact, blog entries. The style of writing took me a while to get used to since it did not flow in a traditional way and felt more 'choppy' than fluid. This prevented me from every really feeling immersed in this story. At times, I also questioned why O'Neill found herself in this position in the first place. Her husband, the full time wage earner in the family continues to work in London, so O'Neill finds herself alone quite a bit which seemed counterproductive. Overall, this was an entertaining book, and is probably of most interest to young mothers, rather than people who are looking to begin a new life in a new place.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Roasted Tomato Sauce

I would say this is my famous tomato sauce, but it's so good I'm rather greedy with it and have a hard time sharing. This sauce is great to make when you have a lot of tomatoes since they DO NOT need to be peeled or seeded. You could make a smaller batch than seen here, as well.

Here is what you'll need:

Tomatoes, onions, carrots, garlic, basil, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar, other herbs - I used thyme. Those peppers were for another recipe.

Wash and core tomatoes and roughly chop. Throw out the rotten bits. Peel and roughly chop carrots, onion, and garlic. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a bit of sugar. It will look like this:


Place in 450 degree oven and stir every half hour or so. You'll need to check more often on a smaller pan. It will become extremely juicy, then as it contines to cook the juices will evaporate leaving an amazing concentrated tomato taste. I added the thyme after about an hour and stirred the basil in just as this finished. The big pan cooked for close to 2 hours. Here is what it should look like:

Let cool, and then process in food processor. The result is very thick and has quite a bit of small carrot chunks. I'm sure if you processed it longer it would be less chunky, but I like it like this.

I freeze approximately 12 ounce portions in these zipper bags and then double bag them in gallon freezer bags. We ate our last 2007 serving last month and it still tasted great. I have 18 bags worth from this batch.

This took me around 5 hours from start to clean-up with lots of breaks since my back was killing me. I only serve this sauce with pasta and no other additions because I love it so much. It is extremely thick and needs to be diluted with some of the pasta water to thin it out. Let me know if you decide to try this!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

How about a review - or two?

I'm still catching up on my reviews for books I've finished in the past weeks which is actually a good feeling, knowing I have some in 'the bank'.

Song of the Cuckoo Bird is the second novel by Amulya Malladi I've read this year. I chose Song because it is described as a 'sweeping epic', 'an intergenerational saga' - descriptions like these rarely fail to pull me in. This is the story of an ashram, Tella Meda, located in India, full of people who are there because they really have no other place to go. Men and women, young and old, widowed, and unmarried, they live and grow up together in this separate world. The book covers the period from 1960 to 2000 and each chapter is proceeded by a few sentences about the political and social situation in India at the time. At times the residents of Tella Meda are affected by and discuss these events, but in many cases we see how their insular existence keeps them a world apart.

I had a bit of trouble at the beginning of the novel, and thought I might even put it aside. The first several chapters felt somewhat like short stories to me, with several consistent characters, each one bringing in a new person whose history is explained. At the end of several of these chapters, a statement would often be made - that they never saw this person again. I was just at a loss each time these chapters ended. Why introduce a character only to pull him or her away again, which did not propel the story forward? I persevered and was rewarded as Malladi found her pace and told a tale of lives intersecting in various ways, and how family does not always mean being related by blood. Ultimately, I found this to be a satisfying read.

I read a few fascinating reviews for Little Face by Sophie Hannah written by the British Book Bloggers, so I was excited to find a copy at bookcloseouts. The premise of Little Face is horrifying; Alice Fancourt leaves her two week old daughter at home with her husband David at her mother-in-law's insistence. When she returns she insists that the baby in her daughter's crib is a stranger, that her baby has been swapped. A police investigation ensues and David's behavior and attitude toward Alice become that of a madman. This is heavy psychological stuff, horrifying for a parent or a spouse who is being treated as though it is she who has gone mad. This book is not for the faint of heart, and the descriptions of David's treatment of Alice will offend some readers. I found this to be compelling reading but was put off at first by the twist at the end. I was really bothered by this and felt as a reader I'd been led astray. I went back and re-read some passages and found that the truth had always been there - just not in an obvious way. What Hannah achieved was really extraordinarily clever, writing with her endpoint in mind, and being able to convince me of one thing while she was really saying another. I'm looking forward to reading more of Hannah's work. I obtained a copy of her second thriller, Hurting Distance, and am looking forward to the ride.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Farmer's Market - Week 8

Here are the goods from this past Saturday. There is a little hand at the bottom of the shot trying to reach for that carrot shaped like a rabbits head. It didn't last two more minutes.

I have to admit that I came home that day quite disappointed. You see, I saw a huge box of Roma tomatoes that I wanted to buy to make my sauce with, but by the time I came back around to buy it - they were gone. The farmer said she had more at home which she would bring the next morning. I walked around and tried to buy tomatoes from some other farmers. No one would sell them to me in bulk - there are just not as many tomatoes this year and they can make more money selling in smaller quantities. I understand this.

I set my alarm so that I could arrive at the Market right before they opened at 8am Sunday morning. I even had a dream about the tomatoes - I didn't get them. I set out on my mission, parked my car with purpose, raced over to the already busy market, set eyes on the box of tomatoes that was for sale and handed over 25 dollars. Here is what I came home with on Sunday.

My roasted tomato sauce deserves its own post so I'll share that later.

Friday, August 15, 2008

On Hitler's Mountain

On Hitler's Mountain by Irmgard A. Hunt is the memoir of a woman who grew up in Germany during the reign of Hitler. She lived in a small Bavarian village that was overlooked by Obersalzberg, a hamlet where Hitler built his home and headquarters. On Hitler's Mountain begins with the story of Hunt's grandparents and parents who lived through WW1 and had never been in a financially stable position. The experience of this family, and probably many others, helps to understand in some ways how they came to elect Hitler German chancellor despite knowledge of his anti-semitism. This is an interesting book on many levels - growing up in Bavaria, growing up in Hitler's Germany with parents who supported Hitler, and especially life in occupied Germany after the war. I had really never understood before what happened when the allies occupied Germany, so the reading of this as well as additional research has been a good education for me.

This book is an important document, I think. I'm certainly not aware of many other books detailing life inside Germany during WW2, particularly from a child's point of view. As the author describes, in most cases, people in Germany at that time would prefer to forget which is understandable.

I had a difficult time with this book on an emotional level in ways that I'm not entirely comfortable with. Obviously life for Hunt and her family was difficult, living in Europe during WW2. The author made a great effort, in my opinion, in trying to give factual information and describe things how they were, not to gain sympathy but to educate. I continued to find myself, thinking, about the fact that yes, her life seemed uncomfortable, and yes, she was hungry, and no, she didn't get new clothes or toys, and the life she led is one no child should have to live. But. None of this compared in my mind to what everyone else in Europe was going through at the time. Even though it is utterly irrational on my part, I just couldn't help feeling that she didn't have it so bad in comparison. Though I struggled with these feelings throughout this book, I do recommend this book as an interesting perspective of this terrible time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Yes, this actually is a book blog...

There's been a fair amount of reading going on behind the scenes around here...I finished these books a couple of weeks ago.

In the Woods by Tana French was not exactly what I was expecting. This is the story of detective Rob Ryan, who is investigating the murder of a young girl along with his partner, the bright and adorable Cassie Maddox. It just so happens that detective Ryan grew up in the area where this murder takes place, and was involved in another murder case as a child. He entered the woods with two of his friends as a boy, and was the only one ever seen again. He remembers nothing of that time.

I think I was expecting more of a psychological thriller, and what I got was more of a police procedural. There was a psychological piece, but it was more about the detective and not the victim or suspects. That's not to say I didn't enjoy this book - I really did and found it to be a page turner and quite well written. It is more of a literary mystery than some others that I've read. Some of the aspects of the case bothered me, namely the fact that the victim was a young girl. The detectives immediately targeted her family as suspects which made me feel very upset. I couldn't help thinking, what if my little girl went missing and instead of figuring out who had harmed her, the police were targeting me. The relationship between Rob and Cassie was interesting as well, complete with lots of sexual tension, and an outcome that was not entirely unexpected.

I definitely didn't see the ending coming, so I think French did a good job of maintaining suspense with this clever storyline. I was a bit disappointed though in one aspect of the ending that I was expecting more resolution with. I think if you've read the book you'll know what I mean. I liked this book enough to request French's latest book The Likeness from the library. It also features detective Cassie Maddox. The storyline sounds just as compelling as this one.

So Long at the Fair by Christina Schwarz is told in alternating storylines, one taking place in 1963, the other in present day. As the stories unfold it becomes clear how these stories relate and the character's complicated relationships with one another are revealed. The main part of the story has to do with present day Jon and his wife Ginny, who Jon is cheating on with Freddi, a coworker. We follow them though one hot, sticky, summer day, as they go through their day and encounter various other people who also seem to have a history of relationship troubles. There is even a stalker, Ethan, who follows Freddi around. His behavior veers from disturbing to terribly frightening to downright funny. He is bit of a food snob and being sort of one myself, I found it humorous to read about his preoccupation with table manners and food in general.

I cannot really say that I enjoyed this book, mainly because I am not really interested in reading about infidelity. This was an ARC supplied to me by the publisher which is why I continued with it. It is certainly a readable book, and a well-told story which leads to an improbable and rather dramatic conclusion. It is a book about relationships, but unhealthy ones, which is perhaps why I never connected to any of the characters or the story itself.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Farmer's Market - Week 7

Here are the goods. There are heaps of corn, potatoes, and carrots behind the scenes. I could barely carry everything back to the car. There are other vegetables I'd like to try, but I seem to stick with favorites this time of year.

I'm getting a little nervous that there won't be any frozen tomato sauce this winter. I've barely seen any Roma tomatoes, and last year I used an entire crate. Oh, well. I'll just have to try new recipes, and there's always 2009.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

From Cornfields to the Big City

We drove to Iowa last Sunday so that my daughter could attend vacation bible school at the church my in-laws belong to. We saw some of the flood damage the next day. We could see how high the water of the Des Moines river was in several different places. This is supposed to be a parking lot.

Things are still a bit of a mess in lots of places.

On Tuesday, my husband and I drove past mile, after mile, after mile of cornfields. What used to seem fairly boring and benign, now looks poisonous to me. Fields of corn, unfit for human consumption, government subsidized and headed for cows, high fructose corn syrup, and ethanol.

Our destination though - far from boring. One of my favorite and arguably one of the best cities in the world. My old hometown.

My kind of town, Chicago is.

Stayed steps off of Michigan Avenue. Enjoyed happy hour with old friends along the Chicago River. Wonderful meals, old favorites and new restaurants discovered. A museum visited. A walking tour of the Gold Coast.

Walks by the lakefront.

Could there be a more beautiful city? The first time I drove along Lake Shore Drive, right here, between the beach and the high rises, I said "I'm going to live here." And I did.

I even bought a few books.

I love the small independent, but there is something to be said for the huge chain. While I feel like I've seen everything in my local Barnes and Noble, the Michigan Avenue Borders had new things to discover, books I'd never seen or heard of. Love that.

Love being home, too.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Neither here nor there

I meant to review two books today. I meant to thank 2 lovely people for giving me a generous and kind award earlier this week and last week, and bestow it on some well-deserving friends. I can't do either justice right now, so I'll have to do them later. I'm just going to share this instead.

I'm packing and getting ready to work all weekend, then leave town Sunday until next weekend. So, I'll see you after that. Take care.