Monday, May 26, 2014

With Cauliflower and Kindness

With Cauliflower and Kindness

     I was young and impressionable. A wife at 19, I was collecting impressions. My eyes were wide open to new aspects of living and learning. Dean and I were newlyweds and attending college together in Massachusetts.

cauliflower soup

     The college was an easy walk to Dean’s sister, whose family, at that time, lived in a wing of the Josiah Quincy House (built in 1770).  Her husband was a photographer for the New England Historical Society. When he had gotten the inside scoop about a live-in curator’s position, he jumped on it. It enabled the family to take advantage of low rent with the condition that my sister-in-law would give tours of the Josiah Quincy House during the summer.

     One evening, in 1979, Dean’s sister invited us for supper. We walked through the old neighborhood over crooked sidewalks, past front porches, green grass and flowers in window boxes. The August sun was pink. It cast a rosy glow on the faces of the white clapboard houses. I thought, “I’d like to live in a neighborhood like this some day.”          

     When Dean and I arrived the little nieces were already tucked into bed. Standing in the narrow kitchen we joined in the chatter. Pots were simmering. The what-smells-so-good-odors filled our noses and set our stomachs growling. A minute later we were abruptly ushered out of the room. Puzzled, we followed our brother-in-law across the hall and through a private door. This door was the shortcut into the museum part of the house.

1770s dinning room

     With a wave of his arm, and the pull of a chair, he seated us at Josiah Quincy’s dinning room table. I blinked twice at the china, silver, cloth napkins and stemmed glasses. A snapshot shows the dinning room as tourist saw it then. (Dean’s father probably took this photograph along with the other Kodak pictures we scanned into the computer for this post. The back of the pictures is stamped 1986.)

Colonial Secretary

     In elegant cream soup bowls, on Josiah Quincy’s walnut table, cauliflower soup was served. I held my soupspoon gingerly, conscious to not sip or slurp. Such pampering made me feel a bit nervous. Intuition told me that this would be the pinnacle dinning experience of my life. Thirty-five years later, I am right so far. Eating in Josiah Quincy’s dinning room, by hush-hush special invitation of the curators, in an intimate atmosphere of American history, and surrounded by 200-year-old antiques, was an experience that has never been topped. 

red fireplace tiles

     I don’t recall anything else about the meal except that I esteemed my sister-in-law for her artistic homemaking skills. I thought, “I want to learn to cook like her one day – with fresh wholesome food.”

red wing chair - Colonial

     It was my first experience eating cream of cauliflower soup. Its garnish of herbs was pinched off the steams of plants growing out front, in a little ancient garden, primly bordered by boxwood. Although I cannot recall the other courses  – I was unquestionably enjoying the conversation  - everything was as delicious and as new to me as a Babette’s feast.

18th century tall case clock

     In the story, Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen, middle-aged Puritan sisters Martine and Philippa were used to plain food. They ate plain food all their lives. And they instructed their new cook, Babette, to keep meals properly bland. But after many years in their employ, and to celebrate a special occasion, Babette begged to make a French meal for them. The food brought to the table that evening was extravagantly French, cooked to perfection, delicious, and in every sense, foreign to the sisters’ palates - a pinnacle dinning experience. I finished reading the story recently. Did you ever see the film?

making cauliflower soup

     Dean’s sister is really a casual sort of person. She evidently dreamed up that supper in 1979 as a wedding gift for the newlyweds. It left a welcome impression on me. I’ve been making cauliflower soup ever since.

     While mincing shallots, sometimes the meal in the museum comes to mind. Then, I am encouraged with,

“as ye are pampered, go ye likewise and pamper one another – with cauliflower and kindness”

- a funny little motto I made up. After all, what are blogs for but for collecting impressions and giving them?

A sprinkle of thyme on cauliflower soup made with coconut milk

Thanks for stopping by my place – as well as Josiah Quincy’s,
Karen Andreola

kitchen fireplace
Our kitchen oven is behind these retractable wooden doors

Post Script

     Josiah Quincy was a colonel in the American revolutionary war. Click here to see his house - which looks like those that girls stitched into their linen samplers in the 18th century.   

Colonial green trim
I'm considering green trim like this Quincy bedroom for my parlor trim

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Little Hands, Little Books, But Not Just Little Words

Little Hands, Little Books, 
But Not Just Little Words

     We watched three wild rabbits grow up last summer. Mornings and evenings they fed and frolicked at the outskirts of the woods, not far from their mother. They skipped and tumbled off rocks and poked their stubby noses under things and into things – even nosing the sprinkler on the lawn when it wasn’t watering. For obvious reasons I called them the Flopsy Bunnies.

     Recently, I noticed the bunnies we have inside the house and that they would do nicely for decorating this post (where I quote from chapter 21 of A Charlotte Mason Companion.)

Pennsylvania wild rabbit

     I’ll let you in on a secret. In my efforts to be interesting, I will polish a post with a word outside of the course of everyday conversation. I'm finicky about words. But I do it also for your entertainment. And, it also helps me present an idea. Even a simple idea, to borrow a phrase of Mr. Darcy, is “brightened by the exercise” of a meaningful word. It goes by principle.
     Do we feel dull? Perhaps we are confining ourselves to the narrow playing field of commonplace vocabulary. Such dullness is what’s in store for children when twaddle is set before them.

     Twaddle, or over-simplified vocabulary, has a deadening effect on the curious minds of children. It seems to be the human tendency to find language exciting, but this tendency will become latent when schoolbooks stick to words with a quickly digested significance.

redware plate with Easter bunny

     Words are wonderful.  The Christian handles them with respect.

     The Maker of Heaven and Earth chose words to make Himself known to us. When a believer is “in the Word” we are closer to Him (1 John 1). We worship the Lord with our actions, our intentions, our hearts, and with words.

     Around the world, wherever Christians have lived in community, the caring work of education has been there, too  – first, to teach the Word, and secondly, to contemplate and consider the words and lives of others. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” Proverbs 10:11

     We want to read children age-appropiate” books, yet let’s be careful not to stagnate their intelligence by talking down to them with the blandest vocabulary. Rather, we can awaken their intelligence with fitting words that are new and delicious.
     There exists no verbal poverty in the stories of Beatrix Potter, for example. Edward Blishen, English teacher and author of the article, “Very Remarkable Words” – in Parents’ Review Vol. 6, wrote:

“Anyone who was brought up on Beatrix Potter will remember how the uncommon words glow in the clear setting of her style. When I first read the speech in Jemima Puddle-duck that begins ‘Before you commence your tedious sitting, I intend to give you a treat,’ I had no firm idea of the meaning of the word, ‘tedious.’ Indeed, the joy of it was that is was not easily capable of firm meaning. It was a word with a tone, a style of its own, to be treasured and used exploratorily thereafter.”

     In the article Mr. Blishen goes on to make his case against the twaddle found in so many children’s books. Twaddly books would never dream of using the word “tedious.” Their authors – who probably spend very little time relating to children, confine themselves to grade level vocabulary.

     I selected phrases from our copy of The CompleteTales of Beatrix Potter. We’ve had it in the house for more than twenty years. Checking, I was happy to find that this edition is still in print and provided a link. In this large volume Miss Potter’s books appear in the order that they were first published. What I’ve appreciated about this edition is the paragraph of introduction – a sort of biographical peek or background - placed before each tale.

     Here are some examples of verbal richness. Apparently Miss Potter was ignorant of strict grade level stipulations. I’m glad, aren’t you?

“It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is soporific.” The Tale of The Flospy Bunnies

“And everything was ready to sew together in the morning, all measured and sufficient – except that there was wanting just one single skein of cherry-coloured twisted silk.” The Tailor of Gloucester (a Christmas favorite of mine)

“And while Mrs. Jeremy sat disconsolately on the edge of his boat – sucking his sore fingers and peering down into the water – a much worse thing happened; a really frightful thing it would have been, if Mr. Jeremy had not been wearing a macintosh!”
The Tale of Jeremy Fisher

“Somehow there were very extraordinary noises over-head, which disturbed the dignity and repose of the tea party.” The Tale of Tom Kitten

“Mr. Jackson rose ponderously from the table, and began to look into the cupboards.” The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse  (I really “get into” reading this tale aloud.)

“Pigling squealed; then ran back frantically, hoping to overtake Alexander and the policeman.” The Tale of Pigling Bland

back of cross stitch

Beatrix Potter's little books    
     Along side, The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter, I have a small collection of the tales in individual books – the way that they were originally designed by Beatrix Potter herself - that is - to fit into the size of a child’s hand. Thus this post’s title: Little hands, little books, but not just little words. 

    After long months, I’m going to see my busy, boisterous grandsons this weekend. When the boys start to run low on steam (which takes quite some time), I will invite them to sit still with Mimi and pick out one of my little books for me to read aloud. If it’s bedtime I can guess they will be happy to stay up long enough for me to read them all.

cross stitch rabbit ornament

Further Reading

“The Art of Beatrix Potter” is an article I preserved in Parents’ Reivew -Volume 4. It is illustrated with line drawings by my daughters Sophia and Yolanda during days-gone-by.

“The Crime in Beatrix Potter’s Plots” is a curious feature of Parents’ Review - Volume 3.

Comments are Welcome,
Karen Andreola

A Special Note
We are in the process of linking to Amazon for financial affiliation. Dean is still looking for work.