September 30, 2007

On Rue Tatin

On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town by Susan Hermann Loomis
Nonfiction - Travelogue/Culinary Memoir
Finished on 9/24/07
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
Armchair Travel Reading Challenge #2

When I arrived at the train station in Normandy I was met by a tall, thin, harried-looking woman who drove me to her large stone house. We entered a huge courtyard with its sculpted privets and riotous dahlias and I saw the image of all I love in France. Solid and square with graceful proportions, it was a maison bourgeoise, its facade a parade of tall windows each hung with a different antique lace curtain. Geraniums and pansies spilled out of window boxes, an antique bicycle leaned against the wall, the wicker basket on its back fender overflowing with petunias.

Book Description

Susan Loomis arrived in Paris twenty years ago with little more than a student loan and the contents of a suitcase to sustain her. But what began then as an apprenticeship at La Varenne École de Cuisine evolved into a lifelong immersion in French cuisine and culture, culminating in permanent residency in 1994. On Rue Tatin chronicles her journey to an ancient little street in Louviers, one of Normandy’s most picturesque towns.

With lyrical prose and wry candor, Loomis recalls the miraculous restoration that she and her husband performed on the dilapidated convent they chose for their new residence. As its ochre and azure floor tiles emerged, challenges outside the dwelling mounted. From squatters to a surly priest next door, along with a close-knit community wary of outsiders, Loomis tackled the social challenges head-on, through persistent dialogue--and baking.

On Rue Tatin includes delicious recipes that evoke the essence of this region, such as Apple and Thyme Tart, Duck Breast with Cider, and Braised Chicken in White Wine and Mustard. Transporting readers to a world where tradition is cherished, On Rue Tatin provides a touching glimpse of the camaraderie, exquisite food, and simple pleasures of daily life in a truly glorious corner of Normandy.

What a charming book! And, I have absolutely no idea when or where I got it. I suspect the pretty cover enticed me, but I have no recollection of the purchase. Thanks to Lesley's Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge, I picked it out of my nonfiction stack, and am so pleased to have discovered such an entertaining author. It's a wonderfully readable narrative, which pulled me in right from the very beginning, making me long for a trip to France (and a larger kitchen!). Loomis writes with a very conversational voice and I found it easy to envision her home, family and the surrounding village. She's the type of person I'd love to have for a next door neighbor. Imagine the delicious treats and cooking tips shared over a cup of café au lait!

I have several pages marked with sticky notes, but the majority turn out to be references to the town of Louviers. I want to be prepared should I ever get lucky enough to visit this quaint village.

The book is filled with lots of tempting recipes, all of which are preceded by one or two paragraphs describing either the origin of the recipe or why it's one of the author's favorites. Here are just a few mouth-watering examples: Melting Apple Custard, Pear and Honey Clafoutis, and Audrey's Yogurt Cake. I didn't find quite as many to test as I did in Consuming Passions, but I wound up enjoying this delightful book much more so than West's. And, should I ever find myself wondering how in the world to prepare leg of wild boar, I can simply turn to page 202 and follow Loomis' detailed recipe for Rôti de Cuisse de Sanglier. Then again, seeing as how wild boar are a bit scarce in Nebraska, I suppose I can always substitute with a pork shoulder or haunch.

And, of course now I'm tempted to buy everything Loomis has written, starting with Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin and Tarte Tatin.

But even more tempting is to make plans to do this!

September 29, 2007

Nonfiction Five Challenge - Finished!

I finished Joy's Nonfiction Five Challenge earlier this month and am quite pleased with the results. While I didn't read all 14 that were on my original list, I did read the specified five. Here are the results:

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas (4/5)

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron (4.5/5)

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (3.5/5)

Loud and Clear by Anna Quindlen (4/5)

Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life by Michael Lee West (2/5)

I thoroughly enjoyed A Three Dog Life, I Feel Bad About My Neck, and Loud and Clear. These are all keepers and will most likely wind up on my Top Ten List for 2007. I liked A Walk in the Woods and am glad I read it, but it wasn't nearly as good as I anticipated. Consuming Passions was my only disappointment, although with all the tempting recipes I plan to test, it may turn out to be one I can recommend.

Thanks, Joy, for hosting this fun challenge. I was able to knock a couple of older titles off my TBR stack, as well as pick up some newer books I'd been eyeing.

September 27, 2007

My Oregon Trail (Part Two)

Depoe Bay, Oregon
September 6, 2007

I didn't get any pictures, but we did see a few gray whales blow (spouting) just off the coast a bit. (The first was actually quite close to Little Whale Cove.) It's always such a treat to see the whales, especially if they stick around for more than just a few minutes.

This path is a mere block away from Mom & Bill's house

Looking south toward Newport

Little Whale Cove is just around the bend

Gorgeous homes right along the bluff!

The sea! the sea! the open sea!
The blue, the fresh, the ever free!
Without a mark, without a bound,
It runneth the earth's wide regions round;
It plays with the clouds; it mocks the skies;
Or like a cradled creature lies.
~ Barry Cornwall

I loved the Sea.
Whether in calm it glassed the gracious day
With all its light, the night with all its fires;
Whether in storm it lashed its sullen spray,
Wild as the heart when passionate youth expires;
Or lay, as now, a torture to my mind,
In yonder land-locked bay, unwrinkled by the wind.
~ Richard Henry Stoddard
(Carmen Naturoe Triumphale)

The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.
The touch of the sea is sensuous,
enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.
~ Kate Chopin
(The Awakening)

"Look at that sea, girls--
all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen.
We couldn't enjoy its loveliness any more
if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds."
~ Lucy Maud Montgomery
(Anne of Green Gables)

Looking north toward Depoe Bay

September 26, 2007

My Oregon Trail (Part One)

Well, it's been two weeks since we got back from our week-long vacation in Oregon and I'm just now getting around to posting some pictures! We had a wonderful time at Mom & Bill's. Plenty of R&R&R (rest, relaxation and, of course, reading) and a ridiculous amount of clam chowder consumed at a variety of restaurants. Mm-mm-good!

We've been to Depoe Bay several times, but this trip we decided to play tourist and do a bit more sightseeing than usual. We arrived in Portland very late due to mechanical difficulties with our connecting flight from Dallas. Fortunately, we had already planned to spend the night in Hood River, putting off the 2 1/2-hour drive down to Depoe Bay until the following day. We spent that first day exploring the area around Hood River, stopping at various fruit stands along the scenic "Fruit Loop," followed by a lovely drive up to Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood. Thanks to our wonderful tour guides (Mom & Bill), we saw some beautiful country that we might otherwise never have taken the chance to see.

All in all, the weather was gorgeous during our entire trip, actually getting rather hot one afternoon as we wandered around Newport. And yes, I bought books. I'll post a separate entry for the bookstores visited once I complete my photo essays. Enjoy! (Reminder: Click on pictures for full-size viewing.)

The Columbia River (Hood River, Oregon)
View from our hotel balcony

Our first stop along the Fruit Loop in Hood River County

Mt. Hood in the distance

Lavender Valley, Hood River, Oregon

We just missed the harvest, but we did get to meet
one of the world's mellowest black labs ever!
Click on the link above to see a picture of Max.

September 24, 2007

One True Thing

One True Thing by Anna Quindlen
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 9/12/07
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
2007 TBR Challenge #7

Publisher's Blurb: 

She was Ellen Gulden, successful magazine writer, who ate ambition for breakfast--and anyone who got in her way for lunch. Until the day she quit her job, left New York, and returned to her scorned hometown to care for her dying mother. Ellen Gulden had something to prove--she had to prove she had a heart. Five months later she stood before a grand jury, accused of killing her own mother.
Suddenly, she was Ellen Gulden, daughter, stepping into her mother's role as the quintessential homemaker, seeing into her mother's soul. Discovering a woman she had never truly known, and now Ellen Gulden was about to accept responsibility for an act she did not commit...

Last month I had the pleasure of reading a collection of Quindlen's essays. The success of that read prompted me to quickly pick up One True Thing for my September selection for the 2007 TBR Challenge. I've owned this book for many, many years; probably bought it soon after seeing the movie back in 1998. I couldn't help but picture Meryl Streep, William Hurt and Renee Zellweger as I read the novel and while most of the storyline was still familiar after almost a decade, I'd forgotten one key element which increased my enjoyment, making it impossible to put down.

One would think a story about a daughter returning home to take care of her cancer-stricken mother would be maudlin and sappy, but Quindlen is a superb storyteller, drawing the reader in with deftly drawn details of suspense and drama, all the while avoiding overwrought and gratuitous sentimentality. This is definitely one to read and watch a second time. Off to Netflix to put the movie in our queue.

September 22, 2007

Farewell to Summer

A summer in pictures...

Kayaking on Holmes Lake, Nebraska

Floating in Lincoln, Nebraska

Soaking up rays in the Pacific Northwest

Blogging in Seattle, Washington

Playing in Hood River, Oregon

Sandcastles at Nye Beach, Oregon

Green Zebra Tomatoes in Depoe Bay, Oregon

Frisky dogs at Pacific City, Oregon

Sitting Duck Gull in Newport, Oregon

Pelicans at Little Whale Cove, Oregon

Pasta-making lessons in Lathrop, Missouri

4-Wheeling in Lathrop, Missouri