Wrapped Up in Books.

I’m many things, but a New Years resolutionist I am most certainly not.  That said, I am trying to be a bit more positive-minded, as opposed to my regular the-glass-isn’t-just-half-empty-but-also-about-to-fall-off-the-table-and-smash-into-a-million-pieces-on-the-floor mentality.  So rather than lamenting how I spent barely any time last year on writing posts, I’m instead going to focus on the fact that I spent a good amount reading books. And since I know there’s no way I’d be able to write proper-length posts on all of them, but I’ll give some simple summaries of each, along with my opinions.  Since I started recording what I read last year in April, that’s where I’ll begin.  I’ll keep writing these bookish posts and finish with the last book I read this month.

April

  • Winston had just died, and all I wanted to do when I got back to Boston from New York was reread the beautifully-written novel Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, about the titular geisha’s life before, during and after World War II.  I found the following apropos passage on grief, which I then emailed to my mother: “Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.”
  • Not Becoming My Mother: and Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way by Ruth Reichl has been renamed For You, Mom. Finally for paperback, which is not unusual but still something that surprises me.  Something else that surprises me is that I don’t remember much of this memoir.  This is incredibly odd for me, as I have a remarkable memory.  I’m sure the writing is fantastic, as Ms. Reichl’s always is.
  • I do remember The Report by Jessica Francis Kane quite clearly, as I am fascinated by World War II and found this debut novel about a tragedy in the Bethnal Green tube station/air raid shelter to be ridiculously and enviously well-written.
  • A Polish emigrant and a New York adolescent are the sad and cynical narrators of Nicole Krauss‘s The History of Love.  Strange as it is to say, I didn’t care either way about the plot, but since I loved Leo the Pole so much, I managed to overlook everything else.
  • I’ve been obsessed with Suzanne Collins‘s Hunger Games trilogy for a while, and reread The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay for the first time in April.  It held up.
  • While I did enjoy Lynn Barber’s memoir An Education — which was made into the multi-nominated film with a star-making performance by Carey Mulligan — I wonder if part of the reason why I flew through it was because it was so short or because I was on a plane en route to Asia and therefore trapped.  Regardless, Ms. Barber is a perfectly fine writer who recounts her life in the heyday of 1960s England in a refreshing, straightforward way.
  • Ugh, I did not like An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray, a hardback book club read that I lugged from Massachusetts to Manila, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong and back again.  Protagonist Charles Hythloday plays at being a nobly-born country aristocrat outside Dublin; when he’s forced to eke out a living, it was no surprise to me that this insipid loon struggles to find a place for himself in troubled modern-day Ireland.  There’s another storyline involving explosives and actresses, but I can’t be bothered to go into it.
  • Another novel I brought along on my Asia trip was The Missing by Tim Gautreaux, which set me down a path of kidnapping, violence and crime — in my readings, that is.  Mr. Gautreaux’s book is the truly compelling story not just of abduction, but also of redemption and revenge.  Oh, and there are riverboats.
  • I finished reading Bringing Adam Home: The Abduction That Changed America (by Les Standiford with Det. Sgt. Joe Matthews) in Siem Reap, and that night in my hotel room I used the dodgy Internet connection to Wikipedia Adam Walsh’s 1981 kidnapping.  From there I read about Ottis Toole, Henry Lee Lucas, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and pretty much every other serial killer I could think of until I was too freaked out to open the door for room service.
Wrapped Up in Books” by Belle + Sebastian.
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Lunch at The Eagle.

Our last London meal was a bit stressful.  We needed a place that would be quick, didn’t require a reservation and was near where we had stored our luggage.  Oh, and ideally, the restaurant would be atmospheric and the food delicious… With these caveats firmly in place, we found ourselves at The Eagle, a gastropub in the Clerkenwell neighborhood of Islington.

When I use the word “gastropub,” what I really mean in this case is The Gastropub.  The team behind The Eagle were the first of London’s pubs to not only start serving dishes beyond the usual pub fare of bangers and mash or fish and chips, but to also create the genre of food itself.  In fact, if you look up gastropub on Wikipedia, there’s a photograph of The Eagle at the top of the page.  Seriously.

It was a typical British day (sunny in the morning, bullet-sized raindrops by mid-day) when we squeezed in amongst the crowded tables.  The Eagle is incredibly popular; we luckily snagged two stools at the counter overlooking Farringdon Road.  From there we could watch the activity behind the bar, where immense sausages were frizzling away on a flattop grill.  We also had a great view of the dining room itself; it’s a massive, window-lined space full of tables, mismatched chairs and squashy looking sofas underneath a pressed tin ceiling and framed with hunter green walls.  It was also absolutely packed with loud, chatty Londoners tossing back pints and ordering their lunches up at the bar, where the day’s offerings are chalked up on blackboards.

the-eagle2While I warmed my wet feet on the radiator underneath the narrow counter, Keith got in line at the bar.  He decided to go with a few of the aforementioned sausages; I chose the chicken, ham and mushroom risotto (£8.50), mostly because it’s a dish I have no patience to make myself.  The thought of all that stirring makes my arm feel sore even now, as I sit comfortably on my sofa, nowhere near a stove.

The Eagle’s risotto has a lovely creamy texture, and the dish wasn’t laced overwhelmingly with mushroom.  It was also neither laced overwhelmingly with any other flavor; the rice was almost too subtle, and I found myself adding liberal amounts of both salt and pepper to my plate, something I very rarely do.  In all fairness, each bite of chicken was especially tender and the ham was amazingly juicy — it was just the rice itself that I found a bit lacking.  Perhaps lacking is not the most appropriate word to use here.  I think missing is more accurate.

The menu at The Eagle begins with very English cuisine like Keith’s sausages, and then moves across Europe to land squarely in the Mediterranean; aside from my risotto, the chalkboard listed both a Spanish fish stew and similarly-styled grilled prawns.  It doesn’t matter if you prefer to stand on the British or Iberian side of the culinary fence, since a trip to London’s first gastropub shouldn’t be skipped.  The risotto, on the other hand…  Well, I’ll leave that up to you.

The Eagle
159, Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3
England
+44 020 7837 1353

The Eagle on Urbanspoon

CSA 2008, Week Twelve.

Keith and I have very specific duties when it comes to our CSA box:  he fetches it, and I figure out what to do with the contents therein.  (We split the eating of it and the salad-spinning of greens and herbs fairly evenly.)  Recently, Keith told me that he likes being the box retriever of our household.

“I’m always one of the first ones to pick up,” he said, “so I can choose the best of the melons.”

May I just say very quickly that I’m fully aware of my biase here, and that I know that this sentence can easily be misconstrued, but regardless — this man knows his melons.  (Keep your minds on fruit, please.)  Apparently, The Food Project piles a mound o’ melons at our pick-up spot in Cambridge, leaving box takers like Keith to select which one they’d like to take home… and let me tell you, the cantaloupe Keith brought home this week was probably amongst the best I’ve eaten.  It was so succulent and sweet that it was almost impossible to believe it had been made by nature.  Honestly, it tasted like cantaloupe candy.  Fantastic stuff.

Though I love them, I can’t help but think cantaloupes are funny fruit.  I love the texture of their rough skins (see extreme close-up here, courtesy of Wikipedia), which for some reason bring to mind the terrain of an alien planet — not that I’ve ever seen the terrain of an alien planet.  Interesting factoid: cantaloupes may originally be from Armenia.

The rest of the box contained the following:

  • Basil
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Hot Peppers
  • Mizuna
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon

You should know that the watermelon Keith chose was also amazing.  He’s got a skill, people.