Thursday, February 26, 2015

Article Club III

Tonight's article club will feature this piece.   A welcome change of pace since our past 3 articles have had more of an emphasis on personal growth and social psychology.   In Article Club, we rotate moderators.  The moderator picks the article, the place to meet and will lead the discussion.  My hope is that each person brings a new perspective or topic of interest, that I may not have ordinarily have chosen for myself.

My biggest takeaway from the piece on the hunt for one of Mexico's biggest cartel leaders is the origins of motivation.   They describe Guzman as similar to Bin Laden, in that he would live in a remote mountain area, basically cut off from civilization living like a pauper despite the hundreds of millions he had in the bank.   He was a master of escape.  He took elaborate measures to make sure he could not be followed.

Ultimately, they caught him.  He went down without a fight.  Whether that was to protect his young twins and his wife who were with him at the time of his capture, or if the capture was entirely staged and he once again orchestrated the whole escapade, remains unknown.

The article interestingly points out, there will be a new leader.   And if it's not drugs, its human trafficking, sex trade or illegal commodity trading.  Until human beings are not motivated by power and greed, there will be criminals exploiting the markets.   It's part of the string that ties us as humans. Whether we're discussing drug lords, church ministers or venture capitalists, when the circumstances of our external lives collide with the power of our unique intrinsic motivation we may be presented with a historic criminal or world leader.   Each of us is formulaically one-of-a-kind.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Table Comes First - a recap

   This morning I finished Adam Gopnik's, The Table Comes First. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was very well researched and the writing was smart, witty and interesting. He carefully crafted a story of the importance of food, reflecting on both its history and its future with an emphasis on the future of French cuisine.

   He tied a lot of philosophy into the piece, which I enjoyed. He questioned taste and preference. Movements of localism and sustainability. Did you know that a famous research team calculated the energy spent on raising lambs in New Zealand and transporting them to UK vs. raising them in the UK. Raising them locally in the UK consumed nearly 4x more energy because of the unfavorable conditions. Neither Gopnik nor myself is trying to say that the movement toward local food is a waste of time, or worse, but it was interesting to hear a different spin.

   Gopnik very deliberately reminded readers that everything is a passing phase. A reminder that most things (with the possible exception of Ferran Adria's work at El Bulli) and a few other notable masters, has been seen before and will recycle through time to be seen yet again. A refreshing sentiment as we deal with trends of today - juicing, paleo, et al. and their hyper insistent, holier than thou, followers.

   Though the book touches on rock n roll, antisemitism, French revolutionaries, sugar addiction and Padma Lakshmi and our most recent obsession with food on television, it circles back to man's relationship with the food we eat. Regardless of time or circumstance, food sustains us. It appeals to all of our senses - beyond just taste, the smell of bread baking, the sound of sizzling bacon, the sight of a perfectly arranged cheese plate.

   In his recent piece regarding his terminal cancer diagnosis, Oliver Sacks writes, "I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure." I think Gopnik ends his book with a similar conclusion. Food, in its tradition, its range, its forward progress, helps us to live as sentient beings. Its existence and consumption engages our sensory experience and contributes to our feeling of being truly alive.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Meals as memories

I've been listening to the audio version of The Table Comes First.  It's been a really informative and enjoyable listen - a blend of food writing with anthropology and sociological components.   The author doesn't merely give a history of food but adds a lot of hypothesizing about taste, preferences and how cultural shifts affect our eating style.

The writing is very smart but he inserts a wit and facetiousness to keep it moving along.

I'll write a more cohesive synopsis when I finish, but for now he's got me thinking about how food inserts itself in our memory.

My grandmother died when I was only 7 or 8, but I have absolute, unquestionable memories of the food she made. Her italian minestrone soup was better than anything I have ever tasted and likely ever will.   Nobody knows her secret - was it the bone she got from the butcher down the street or the end of the parmesan cheese block.   Unfortunately, that soup went on with her.

My mom has food that will forever conjure memories too.  Her homemade sauce and meatballs, a staple for us growing up and also present at most family holidays.  Eggplant parmesan, sausages and peppers, pizelles, and some appetizers that we only see once a year at Christmas time.  Her food will live on because I know how to make most of it now.

My mother-in-law is as advanced a cook, in Brazilian style, as I will ever know.  She can make main dishes - her black beans are to die for as is her lasagna - as well as desserts - she made a banana cake for us in Rio 5 or 6 years ago that still makes my mouth water.   When she visited us this fall, she cooked non-stop.  I worried that she wasn't enjoying her vacation enough but truth be told, cooking for her family is one of the greatest expressions of love.  Nothing makes her happier than seeing her children and grandchildren devour her meals.

As we chop, peel, and simmer in the kitchen we not only nourish and sustain our family, but we create lasting memories.   Through the senses of taste, smell and sight we engrain a certain love and tradition into the psyche of those we feed.

(the food in our house these days is most certainly a Brazilian-American hybrid.  Most meals are served with Brazilian style rice and American prepped veggies.  The proteins are less culturally specific.)  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Friday, February 13, 2015

Peabody Essex

J and I are meeting a friend and her boy tomorrow at the Peabody Essex Museum.  Apparently, they have a wonderful children's space and let's be honest, Joe has the time of his life at Jordan's Furniture or the pet store so I think he's pretty easy to please.   But I love a new destination and opening my own eyes and ears to something I haven't seen before.  

The thing with kids (and dogs) that doesn't get mentioned as much as may deserve, is their presence really forces you beyond your own habits.  I can't tell you how many times I've taken the dog out, thinking "he needs some exercise", only to have a lovely walk through the woods.   Or brought J to a class so he could socialize, and end up chatting with a fantastic fellow mom that I otherwise wouldn't have met.  

It's not hard to find writing about the lack of sleep or the financial expense of children.   Conversely, you hear about the joys of watching them learn, grow, achieve.   But what can't be overlooked is the side of myself that my son brings forward.  In all my pre-parent years, when truth be told, I had a tremendous amount of disposable time - how often did I get up and out and meet a friend on Saturday morning at the Peabody Essex Museum.   Not once.  

Children help expose your own potential, a gift that I am grateful to receive. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Magic Power

Some people dream they could fly or be invisible, I day dream that I possess handwriting and/or calligraphy skills.  I'm so envious when I see stuff like this! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Historic Snow

Here in Massachusetts, we're experiencing record snowfall.  I think the totals are up around 90" - when a normal season is 30-40".  It's been tiring as schedules have been tipped upside down, commutes have been doubled or tripled, houses are springing ice dams.   Life in New England is not for the faint of heart.

Alas, the show goes on and these snowed in days and breaks from the routine have given me more time than usual with my baby J.   These days he's so giggly.  He loves to make us laugh --- he'll throw himself on the floor or do other intentional "jokes" then pop up with a fake belly-laugh.   He'll adamantly insist he needs to feed the dog - AGAIN.   If you ask him to wiggle, he'll shake his little butt and laugh.   He'll march over to the closet and point for "BLUE" - his blue play-doh like sand.

This little guy knows what he wants but at his heart, he really is a pleaser.  He wants to see us happy and is so affectionate.  He'll happily lay in bed all morning exchanging cuddles.   Oh - and his curiosity - we can't have a bowl or plate without him taking a peak to see what's inside.

So yes, our kitchen sprung a leak due to accumulated ice dams.  And yes, my ride into Boston takes me two+ hours most days but I've had the luxury of being cooped up with my little one and treasuring these days.   The snow is taller than he is.  His boots light up.  Everything makes him laugh.  We are making history, too.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


The pounding of snow we've received here in Boston for the past two weeks has completely thrown me off.  Between cancellations, traffic, and commuter train woes I hardly know what day it is.   But it's winter in New England so the show must go on.

When all else fails, a simple gratitude list:

1. All members of my family making it to/from their required destinations safely, even if slowly.

2. The delicious avocado toast I had for breakfast this morning.

3. Heat and adequate winter clothes - as the temps have been consistently in the single digits, I am keenly aware of the simple privilege I have to keep myself warm.