To Honor Julia, Just Add Butter

Today would be Julia Child’s 100th birthday.

This will be me tonight, Mastering the Art of Roasting a Chicken

I love this woman. Mastering the Art of French Cooking sits on my kitchen counter, not only as a beautiful decoration, but also as a quick go-to reference whenever a question pops up. I’ve watched Julie and Julia countless times, marveling at Meryl Streep’s command of Julia’s eccentric personality. And I love butter.

Butter may just be one of my favorite foods, if butter can be considered a food unto itself. No? Well, perhaps I can lump it in with dairy. Cream, Butter, Cheese, Milk – I love them all. Good quality butter cannot be beat, especially if it’s raw!

So tonight I’ll be honoring Julia by cooking her Roast Chicken, complete with copious amount of melted butter. Of course, I’ll have to put my own spin on it slightly by adding potatoes to the carrots that will marinate in pan drippings, but other than that it will smell like a French Bistro in my house this evening. Maybe I’ll even throw on some classical french music and grab a glass of Bordeaux.

I just love theme nights, especially when they coincide with something I really care about. Julia, here’s to you!

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A Magical Olympic Opening Ceremony

As Simon Schama said in his review of the opening ceremony:

No one does the darkness of childhood, its realm of startled pathos, its deep hauntings, like the Brits, from Alice and Peter Pan to Harry P.

Even though London has taken a few beatings over the theatrical nature of their opening ceremony, I personally think they knocked it out of the park. It wasn’t just about the current affairs of their nation, or what it took to arrive at where they are today; it was a culmination of everything Britain was – and still is.

Having Voldemort battle Mary Poppins, Captain Hook pop up alongside Cruella Deville, and JK Rowling read aloud from JM Barrie’s classic children’s story was exactly what the London Olympics should have been about. It’s about dreaming, imagining, and allowing children to grow up believing in magic.

Many Olympic athletes present that night were familiar with these stories. Most spectators knew the tales, as well. Britain was merely proving that when they do something, they do it right. They certainly led the way in children’s literature, and I’m certain they will continue being a highly imaginary country many years from now.

Fairy Tale Food by Lucie Cash – Bringing a Little Magic to Your Cooking

The book arrived at my doorstep on Cinnamon-scented wind. It came cradled in a basket like a baby brought by stork. Although no one rang the doorbell to announce its arrival, I knew something lay just beyond the threshold by the smell of chocolate and faint whirls of steam I could see rising over the panes in the door’s glass.

Actually, none of this happened. The book came wrapped in an Amazon plastic bag and crammed into my mailbox. But once the wrapping was off, I was enchanted.

Fairytale Food: Enchanting Recipes to Bring a Little Magic to Your Cooking. The name itself made me happy as I opened up the cover. Once the binding was creased, the pages within held even more wonders.

Every page has a drawing of some sort – a character, a magical food, a depiction of a fairytale. The illustrations, by Yelena Bryksenkova, are intricate, inviting the reader to do more than just glance at the recipe they are trying to recreate. They showcase each story and the food associated – for instance, Snow White has a section that includes Evil Stepmother’s Stew and Blood Red Velvet Cake. A little story accompanies each recipe, explaining its reason for being included.

This is another way that Fairytale Food departs from your typical cookbook. Food is not arranged according to courses (appetizers, soups, entrees), but by Fairytale. Each story generally has an entree, side dish, and dessert. Take Belle and her Beau – this section includes Beauty and the Beast Burgers, Pretty Sweet Potatoes, and True Love’s Hearts.

Other sections may include fewer courses, but are no less involved than others. Fairy Folk is filled with sweets – Enchanted Forest Gateau, Fairy Chocolate Cups, and Goblin Granitas.

Although I haven’t attempted any of the recipes yet, there are plenty of tips that will allow me to begin in the correct manner. A list that includes common sense information such as “Ensure that your cauldron is sparkling clean” comes just before lesser-known wisdom like “When stirring, always stir widdershins (counter-clockwise)…” Who knew cooking magically could be so easy? Keep in mind that the book was published in the UK, meaning that measurements will have to be converted for anyone more familiar with US measurements.

This will be such a fun cookbook to use in the future with children. I can just imagine creating tea-time treats as we dress up according to the menu of the day!

European Vacation Reads

I’m hoping someone might be able to point me in the right direction here!

7 Days from today – actually, less when considering that we’ll already be flying by this time next Thursday – Jeremy and I will be on our way to Europe for our Grand Mediterranean tour!

I can’t wait to explore the sights, taste the culture, and snap many photos to bring back and share (I bought a new camera for just that purpose). But I also can’t wait to relax and do a bit of FUN reading. Fun – meaning nothing that relates to my graduate school classes.

Having recently finished Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, I would like something along the same vein, but haven’t had much luck located what this might be. Any thoughts? Suggestions? Jeremy will be reading The Night Circus during the trip, but I’ll need something fresh and new!

Germany’s Märchen Straße – An Introduction to the German Fairy Tale Road

Germany is the home to rolling hills, winding rivers, and forests so densely wooded they’ve been termed black – in all, the perfect setting for fairy tales to be woven into folklore.

To read more about this enchanted route, simply head to FairyTaleMagazine.com, where I’ve written an article highlighting my travels to Grimm country!

This will be the first in a three-part series, so be on the lookout for more tales of cottages and castles to come.

Of Sea Shanties and Pirates

The opening of Parnassus Books in Nashville has resulted in a discovery of many unique books for this voracious reader. The store features not only a recommended section, with both little-known and bestselling books, but they also have a table filled to the brim with books by local authors. It was on this table that I happened upon one in particular by A.S. Peterson – The Fiddler’s Green.

Unfortunately, when I got it home I realized this was the second book in a series. Obviously I couldn’t crack open the cover without having first read its predecessor, so I had to wait until my next Parnassus visit. In the meantime, I became engrossed in the lore of pirates and seafaring folk.

I spent a few days simply doing research on all things of the sea. This, in turn, led to a decidedly “watery” poem for my creative writing class this past week. After all, with a theme of ancestors to work with, I knew that at some point, my forefathers (and mothers) would have had to travel to the New World by way of sea and ship.

Ships have always fascinated me, although not the modern kind with their engines, swimming pools, and dance clubs. No, I like to romanticize the days of sails, rigging, and calls of “Avast!” when a sword fight was eminent. While its most likely that those ships were anything but romantic, there is still something I find lacking in modern times. Cruise ships with apathetic passengers aren’t quite what I would term an adventure. No, a large part of me longs for cannons, buccaneers, and perhaps Johnnie Depp.

Back to subjects of paper and binding, I finally picked up the first book in Peterson’s series. The Fiddler’s Gun begins in the way that any true tale of shanties and pirates should – with a song. Appropriately entitled The Seaman’s Shanty, from the 18th century, the selection of the ditty that Peterson decided to open with was perfect for getting me excited about the story I had ahead of me:

Blown out o’ the harbour,

gone a’sailin’ all alone

down the briny ‘Lantic

on a hurricanic foam.

Dancin’ to the music

o’ the cannon an’ the gun.

‘Round the horn,

we’ll ground and shore

the wayward sailor’s home.

I get stuck on words like briny, hurricanic, and wayward. How beautifully lyrical! Anything that conjures up images of a gypsy nature will always make me pause and envision the people singing their tale. Do you picture a woman whispering this lullaby into the wind? I see her at the back of the ship, having climbed up into the rigging where she tries to catch a glimpse of her home, which has long-since disappeared into the horizon. She’s a stowaway – naturally – but has ventured out on deck because the pull of that view was simply too strong. Yet she also longs to be a part of this seafaring crew and their strange yet intriguing captain.

Coming back to reality, I think I’m going to enjoy this story…which has nothing to do with my daydreams, by the way. Or perhaps it does – I’ll have to read to find out!

The Witch of Northampton

Discovering who’s blood runs through my veins has become my latest obsession. By way of my creative poetry class this semester, I’ve been able to delve into and explore the world of the past, opening graves long-buried and taking a peek into the people that had until this point been lost. Overwhelmingly, I’ve discovered that many of the women of my past were located in the vicinity of Salem during the time of the witch trials in 1692.

A Young Mary Bliss Parsons with Child

No less than six of my female ancestors had to deal with ongoing persecution on a daily basis. I couldn’t ignore the odds of this, and picked my way through the rubble of the past in order to uncover just who these women were. But, I hadn’t quite looked back far enough. 17 years before the infamous trials, Mary Bliss Parsons found herself one of the first women in America to be accused of witchcraft.

A More Mature Mary Bliss, Clutching a Mysterious Book as if Inviting Others to Speculate over its Contents

Parsons is my 9th great grandmother on my mother’s side. She was repeatedly accused and tried for witchcraft by her neighbors, although each time eventually found innocent. From accusations ranging from the murder of an infant to the poisoning of farm animals, Mary was never far from the end of a pointed finger. This would eventually find her in the dank cell of a Boston prison while she awaited yet another sentence that would decide her fate.

Gossip finally turned to a trial for Mary Bliss, but even after she was found innocent of the charges, those rumors would circulate. In 1679 she was the subject of yet another inquiry, just three years before Salem would turn itself inside-out. However, before this could occur, she and her family left Northampton, fleeing the persecution that defined Mary’s life. Until the day she died, she would be accused. Hate and anger followed even her grandchildren.

A descendant of Mary Bliss has already written a book about her life. Karen Vorbeck Williams is a distant granddaughter like myself, and researched the story for over 20 years before finally writing My Enemy’s Tears: The Witch of Northampton. My hope is that the book will live up to the person I have come to know these last few weeks.

From Werewolf Hunters to Rights Activists: Updating Fairy Tale Heriones: An Article

It’s possible that when you, or the current generation of little girls, read Cinderella, there was something about her that you didn’t like, even if it was only the idea of her. She’s covered in ashes, scrubbing the floor, singing – certainly not complaining or trying to do anything to get herself out of the physically and mentally abusive situation in which she’s found herself.

When the Grimm brothers wrote down fairy tales such as these, women at the time had very little rights – if any at all. Stories like Cinderella offered them hope; if they behaved and kept passive, perhaps they would be lifted from their position in society. She had to be deserving of help, whether that came from a prince, a fairy, or some other outside force beyond herself.

Marissa Meyer, author of a new version of the Cinderella story, which debuts this month, discusses this idea in an article she wrote for Tor.com, titled “From Werewolf Hunters to Rights Activists: Updating Fairy Tale Heroines”. She goes on to humorously explain why it is that today’s generation takes issue with the protagonist in Cinderella, and the call for revisions to the classic stories.

Here’s a taste of what she had to say:

Today’s teens want heroines who are courageous and empowered, who are willing to fight for what they want and choose their own destinies. And while dashing heroes continue to populate today’s fiction, the trend is leaning toward an equality between the protagonists, with skills and strengths that complement each other, and it’s perfectly acceptable for the princess to slay the dragon herself when called upon.

…While writers continue to experiment with settings, time periods, and tales both common and forgotten, this trend seems to be here to stay. Those passive girls of old are becoming extinct, being replaced with bold and plucky heroines that don’t only deserve a happy ending, but go out and claim it.

I 100% agree with her viewpoints on this. Interestingly, I found this picture on Pinterest, which highlights what Meyer discusses by way of Disney’s leading ladies throughout the years.

I think we’re seeing a surge of strong female leads coming to the forefront, whether that be in books like The Hunger Games, or in children’s movies like Tangled and the upcoming Brave. It gives me hope to know that should I have a daughter in the future, she will have strong role models to enact as she plays pretend.

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

In case you missed it over the holiday break, the creators of Lord of the Rings have announced that they are making a prequel in the form of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit. I had been content with the fact that my glimpses of Middle Earth were going to either come from movies in the past, or my overactive imagination. But now New Line Cinema is going to keep the story fresh on everyone’s mind and appease my Tolkien-loving heart!

Tolkien’s book features Bilbo Baggins as the lead character, setting off on an adventure with dwarves, elves, and of course, Gandolf the Grey. The movie is much the same, although comments from Elijah Wood have made it clear that they are taking liberties by adding to the original. He notes, “It definitely expounds upon the book; there are already characters that are cast that are not in the book, so that indicates that it goes slightly outside the boundaries in the structure of the original novel.”

It also seems The Hobbit will be shot in two parts. I’ve been missing the familiar list of characters, and it seems like many will make an appearance in either the first or second release, including Orlando Bloom as Legolas and Ian McKellen revisiting the role of Gandolf.

Like all amazing movies lately, this one will be shot in 3D. There is an official blog full of information, photos and videos, but I had to share a few of my favorites on here!

Plotting the Course for 2012

Who knew Fall 2011 would fly by the way it did? I certainly didn’t, especially when I signed up for two graduate level college classes. And while there were certainly moments when I gave in to Scarlett O’Hara type outbursts that the end would never come (I take no pleasure in reading Freudian theory), there is, nonetheless, a feeling of accomplishment that I hardly feel I have a right to feel just now. Like many things in life, it seems it went so quickly as I look back on it.

Primarily, it was CHALLENGING. My husband is working on his third, yes third, masters. I naively felt that since he breezed through it, barely mentioning exams and research papers, I would do the same.  Instead I found myself reading every piece of material I was assigned. Not just skimming through in order to get it over with, but really reading each word and attempting to make as much sense of it as possible. Of course, that slowed things down a bit, and I wound up averaging about 20 hours a week of study. Not to mention that my writing style didn’t jive with one of the professors, and I took it upon myself to impress her (or at the least, earn an A). I have no idea how anyone manages to have a traditional, full time job while going to graduate school.

With the purchase of a new house and all the home improvement projects that I’ve tasked myself with, I am very tempted to only take one class next semester. It would be so much easier to simply allow myself time. Time to work on those projects, as well as time to polish my own, personal writing. But then I second guess this temptation. I’ve made friends in these classes, and many of them will be taking on two courses. Over the past year I’ve primarily been alone as I write, but now I have a core group of people that understand the highs and lows that come with pouring your heart onto a piece of paper (or a computer screen). Sure, one class will give me some of those same people – but two would prove twice the community.

But it’s also more than that – there’s a deep-seated feeling inside of me that if I only take one course, I will be missing out on knowledge. I’ve learned so much just within the last three months. More about myself, my writing, and other people. I’ve even gained some obscure random knowledge that’s really helped on Tuesday trivia nights!

Life is rarely easy – but I’m not sure I want to attempt to make it that way, either.