Onward And Upward In The Garden

I admit I have been lax about reading and reviewing lately so perhaps it’s time to offer an explanation.  I have become, finally, a gardener.  And it is Spring.  And I can hardly take the time to dress after waking to rush from the bed to the garden to see what has happened.  Because a garden is a miracle, and no more so than in an unseasonably warm Spring when everything is behaving not as it should but as we hoped for.  Today, however, when the sun finally disappeared behind the thick grey curtain of fog and clouds I went indoors and wandered about a bit.  I felt, quite honestly, bereft.  I tried this and that to amuse myself but it was difficult to start anything when every few minutes I kept rushing to the windows to see if the sun had come out in the garden.  Needless to say, it had not.

No worries however, for I soon figured out what to do and picked up a favorite books of mine by the late fiction editor of The New Yorker, Katharine S. White.  Everything about this book is wonderful if you love to garden as much as I do.  Like any avid gardener Katharine was a reader and collector of garden catalogues and this book consists of her reviews of them, as well as her thoughts in general about the garden. The reviews themselves originally appeared in The New Yorker in the 1950’s and what a surprise it must have been at the time to elevate the seed and garden catalogues of the day in the pages of the magazine.  An editor and writer of great note on her own Katharine was also married to E. B. White, who provides a fine introduction to this excellent volume.  I highly recommend anyone who takes an interest in the earth beneath us put this book by their bedside to dip into when it is too cold or dark to venture out into the garden itself.  It is a truly wonderful volume for the gardener and writer in all of us.

“As I write snow is falling outside my Maine window and indoors all around me half a hundred garden catalogues are in bloom.” — Katharine S. White

Off The Menu – Staff Meals From America’s Top Restaurants

Admittedly, I love to eat far more than I love to cook so I am the first to suggest the nearest restaurant, especially one I haven’t tried yet.  And often while reading the menu I’ve wondered what the chefs, sous chefs, line cooks, managers, dishwashers and staff have gathered together to eat hours before opening.  So it’s little wonder this book intrigued me, as the idea of a behind-the-scenes look into America’s most favorite kitchens seemed sure not to disappoint.

Happily it doesn’t.  There are over fifty restaurants profiled here and along with many recipes of the meals that staff prepare and serve to themselves there are also some great interviews with chefs, tips for dining out, and many fascinating photos of some of America’s most legendary kitchens.

The author, Marissa Guggiana has selected farm to table restaurants from across the country.  It’s clear they all honor and respect the local produce and livestock in their area.

While I’ve yet to eat in many of these restaurants you can bet if I find myself in any of these cities I am making a reservation.

The meals themselves range from small plates to multi-course meals, some using the leftovers on hand, others all new ingredients.  Bon appétit!

Bossypants – 5 Reasons To Love Tina Fey

First let me say that I am funny.  No.  Really.  I am.  I am funny.  Ok, well, maybe not funny funny, but funny in that dark, dry, omg did he/she really say that kind of way.  But, sadly, I am not — I repeat NOT — Tina Fey funny.  And perhaps no one is.  Which, of course, is what makes Tina Fey so…well…funny.  And so, without further ado, here are 5 Reasons to love Tina Fey.  Which you can later prove by running out and buying your edition of Bossypants.  And reading it.  Preferably alone, so no one will see you snort milk through your nose or change your Depends.

1. Tina Fey knows you can not “have it all” and has accepted it.

“There was no prolonged stretch of time in sight when it would just be the baby and me.  And then I sobbed in my office for ten minutes.  The same ten minutes that magazines urge me to use for sit-ups and triceps dips, I used for sobbing.  Of course I’m not supposed to admit that there is a tri-annual torrential sobbing in my office, because it’s bad for the feminist cause.  It makes it harder for women to be taken seriously in the workplace. It makes it harder for other working moms to justify their choice.  But I have friends who stay home with their kids and they also have a tri-annual sob, so I think we should call it even.  I think we should be kind to one another about it.  I think we should agree to blame the children.”

2. Tina Fey knows where she stands.

“My only other request was this: I never wanted to appear in a “two shot” with Mrs. Palin.  I mean, she really is taller and better looking than I am, and we would literally be wearing the same outfit.  I’d already been made to stand next to Jennifer Aniston and Salma Hayek on camera in my life; a gal can only take so much.  And honestly, I knew that if that picture existed, it would be what they show on the Emmys someday when I die…”

3. Tina Fey has perspective.

“If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important Rule of Beauty.

‘Who cares?’ “

4. Tina Fey knows how to get what she wants. And works for it.

“If I was really ambitious, I would get a Whopper Jr. at Burger King and then walk to McDonald’s to get the fries.  The shake could be from anywhere.”

5. Tina Fey had a worse, and funnier, childhood than you.

I shoved the box in my closet, where it haunted me daily. There might as well have been a guy dressed like Freddy Krueger in there for the amount of anxiety it gave me.  Every time I reached in the closet to grab a Sunday school dress or my colonial-lady Halloween costume that I sometimes relaxed in after school — ‘Modessssss,’ it hissed at me.  ‘Modessssssis coming for you.’ “

Obviously I could go on and on.  But I won’t.  Thankfully, Tina Fey does.  Read Bossypants.  That is an order.

Down The Garden Path

I’m just going to admit it.  I am a huge fan of Beverley Nichols.  Whenever winter wanes and I begin to venture out into the spongy soil I think of the Jazz Age playboy turned gardener, a cigarette in one hand, cocktail shaker in the other, walking down the rows of the chalky and sullen soil he turned into a bit of paradise in Huntingdonshire in the 1930’s.  Surely, I think, if he could make a garden out of a stubborn piece of earth I ought to be able to grow a row of veg and a flower or two.  And if I can’t, I always have his acid wit to turn to in the gardening memoirs he wrote and that is enough to comfort and amuse me.

For those who don’t know, and I don’t know why many would, Beverley Nichols was a popular British author of plays, mysteries, poems and children’s books when he bought and began to renovate a home and garden in the village of Glatton.  He sat down to write about it and in virtually no time produced what is referred to as the Always Trilogy, which is composed of the three books featured here.  That anyone could write about a garden with such wit and irony is a constant source of enjoyment and as the trilogy progresses we move from the garden to his home to the village and all its many colorful inhabitants.

A Thatched Roof is the second book in the trilogy.  The books have been in almost constant print since their publication but these new editions from the Timber Press are very worth tracking down.  If you can’t find them anywhere else, you can certainly find them at http://www.timberpress.com.

It’s always sad to come to the end of a series but don’t despair.  Nichols produced a second trilogy between 1951-1956 about his renovation of a Georgian Manor house that is absolutely hilarious.

My prediction?  If you become as addicted as I am you will soon find your shelves filling with these fine editions.

“Do you not realize that the whole thing is miraculous? It is exactly as though you were to cut off your wife’s leg, stick it in the lawn, and be greeted on the following day by an entirely new woman, sprung from the leg, advancing across the lawn to meet you.

Surely, you would be surprised if, having snipped off your little finger, and pushed it into a flower-pot, you were to find a miniature edition of yourself in the flower-pot a day later.”

— Beverley Nichols 1898-1983

The Elements of Style

If language has a holiday, does that mean today we can stop fussing over how we say what we have to say? Well, today is National Grammar Day and for my part I can only hope the name alone is enough to cause bloggers, texters, and twitterers to stop in their tracks since, sadly, as our methods of communications change, the very idea of “rules” for language have fallen by the wayside.  With this in mind, today is probably an excellent opportunity to pause and consider the simple, but brilliant, book by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White which has been the standard “how to” for over fifty years.  Fear not, it isn’t a dry manual of rules and regulations.  It is an eloquently simple book.  Pick it up and put it out and have it on hand.  Consult it as you might a much-loved cookbook.  There’s even a recent edition with illustrations by the great Maira Kalman to help you along.  Note to self: Blog Maira Kalman.  She is a genius.

“A schoolchild should be taught grammar–for the same reason that a medical student should study anatomy. Having learned about the exciting mysteries of an English sentence, the child can then go forth and speak and write any damn way he pleases.”
― E.B. WhiteWritings from the New Yorker 1927-1976