Sunday, December 8, 2013

Virtual Advent 2013: NYC Christmas Tree Stands

Kelly and Marg are once again hosting the Virtual Advent Tour for bloggers where each day a blogger (or 2 or 3) share a special holiday memory, tradition, story, etc. This is my third year participating - I love the run up to Christmas and this seems like a great way to lean into it! In the past I have written about my ornament collection and my favorite holiday movie, Love Actually. Today, I am writing about a NYC institution, the street Christmas tree vendors.

Each year, just after Thanksgiving, Christmas tree stands pop up and trees line the sidewalks creating these lovely alleys of Christmas spirit. I love the smell of freshly cut trees and it brightens my walk home from work. You see families and couples weighing up the trees and can imagine the scenes as they set them up in their city apartments. The arrival of the trees are quintessentially NY to me and signal the start of the season.
My neighborhood tree stand - Pin

This year I was introduced to the book Christmas on Jane Street; this short book chronicles the story of the Romp Family who come each year from Vermont and live in a trailer selling Christmas trees on Jane Street and 8th Avenue. The story is really not about the business of selling trees  - it is about giving joy at the holidays, about the special relationship between a father and daughter, and self-discovery through the observations of others. It is touching and the perfect accompaniment to the holiday season - I heartily recommend it and can see re-reading it each year.

Prior to reading the book, I had never given much thought to the stories behind those selling these trees or the little bits of people's traditions they become part of each year.  This book certainly brought that to light for me - I will think of it each time now as I stroll through the little wonderlands created on the street annually by these vendors.

The video below (produced by BBC) tells a little about the Romp Family and you can see their operation in action.

Please check out the other Virtual Advent stop today - Trish from Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Audiobook Review: The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (narrated by Cassandra Campbell; 6 hours, 4 mins)introduces us to Lillian and her restaurant where she teaches a Monday night cooking class. Food has always played an important role in Lillian's emotional life and she gets pleasure not just in bringing food to her patrons but in teaching her students how cooking can bring them joy and solace. Each of the students arrives at the class fleeing loss or drama in their life and ostensibly looking for cooking skills but really looking for companionship and distraction from their daily troubles. Lillian and the school offer much more than that. 

There are eight students in the class and each has their own story driving them to seek something from the experience of this class. Antonia is a kitchen designer who has recently immigrated from Italy hoping to start fresh in the US; Chole is a teen who doesn't quite fit in and is seeking acceptance; Claire is an overwhelmed mother who has lost her identity in taking on the role of mother; Tom is a young widower and still grieving the loss of his wife; Carl and Helen are an older couple with their own troubles in their marriage even though they appear quite content and Ian is a software engineer living a very linear but lonely life. Each of their stories are told throughout the book and are weaved together by the Monday nights at Lillian's cooking school. Lillian has her own difficult history and, perhaps because of that, seems to intuitively know what each of her students needs. She tailors the dishes and the intructions to meet them where they are emotionally and to teach lessons that go far beyond meal preparation. The cooking heals as does the companionship of the other students.

My Thoughts
This book is delightful - certainly anyone that enjoys food or cooking will love it but even those that struggle with cooking (see my last Weekend Cooking post!) will find something to love in this book because the food and the cooking is really a conduit to the telling of the emotional journeys of the eight students. The descriptions of food are beautiful and sensuous  - while I listened to this on my walks, I found myself getting hungry or feeling as if I could smell the dish being prepared.

Cassandra Campbell has become a favorite narrator of mine - I could listen to her voice for hours (and do!). The audio is excellent - listening to the descriptions of the food makes them come alive in a way I am not sure they would on paper.  I am looking forward to listening to the next installment in the series, The Lost Art of Mixing, to return to Lillian's and her students.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: Karma Gone Bad by Jenny Feldon

In Karma Gone Bad: How I Learned to Love Mangoes, Bollywood and Water Buffalo by Jenny Feldon, we follow the author to India as she and her husband relocate there for two years for his job. When Jenny left behind NYC for Hyderabad, India, she had visions of living a glamorous ex-pat life. After arriving in the dirty city with intermittent power and where getting a simple cup of coffee took herculean effort, Jenny started to question the move. Before long, she was losing sight of who she was and her relationship with her husband was strained - dreams of a glamorous ex-pat lifestyle were a thing of the past. Jenny thinks India and the stresses of living there are the problem but maybe the problems run deeper than the couple's locale.

 Jenny was very satisfied in NY - she loved everything the city had to offer and didn't feel the need to search for more. Traveling abroad was not her dream - she had everything she needed right outside her door. When her husband is asked (read: told) by his company to go to India for a two year stint, Jenny has some reservations but wants to be a supportive wife and fools herself into imagining a jet set lifestyle on the Indian subcontinent. She doesn't seem to do much research about her soon to be new home; her lack of preparedness becomes clear as she aruges with her husband about the number of designer dresses she should bring with her. When she arrives in India, her small dog in tow, she is assaulted by smells and sounds as soon as she deplanes. After a harrowing drive from the airport to their new apartment, Jenny and her husband discover their toilet is in their shower.

Everything is a challenge in their new city - going grocery shopping, getting a coffee, getting from point a to point b. As her husband throws himself into work, Jenny wants to play the perfect housewife but can't bring herself to overcome the many challenges of daily living. Rather than rise to those challenges, Jenny begins to retreat into herself and doesn't try to assimilate to her new home - she becomes overwhelmed by how different everything is from home and starts to resent India and her husband for bringing here there.

 My Thoughts 
I have been to India twice and both times I have been both fascinated and overwhelmed. NYC is fast-paced,loud and smelly but seems ordered as compared to the chaos of India. The author did an excellent job of portryaing what it looks like on the streets of India with cattle roaming about and drivers zipping along without observing any road rules. She also captures the experience of being an anomaly - it was unnerving to have people constantly stare at me (or even touch my skin) because I was white and tall where most people were brown and petite. The sense of personal space which we take for granted doesn't exist in India and I can appreciate how different that must have been from NY where you can be surrounded by people but still anonymous and encased in your own bubble.

At times, I was frustrated with the author - I found so much to appreciate while in India and I couldn't understand why she wouldn't grab on to this experience and wring everything out of it. I have to remember, of course, that I was only there for vacation or a business trip and not to live for two years. Many of the things that frustrated the author where taken care of for me by a tour guide or colleague. Although she didn't prepare effectively for the trip and went into it somewhat blindly, it must be difficult to live there and assimilate under the best of circumstances. My frustration abated as I watched her use the experience to gain insight into her marriage and her own limitations and to start to make changes to better navigate her new home.

This is an excellent travel memoir - I read it in two sittings - the author brings India to life and some of the scenes are laugh out loud funny. The author doesn't shy away from revealing her own foibles which invests the reader in her journey and pretty soon the frustrations with daily living in India fall away and you are watching a young woman learn about herself, her young marraige and how to live in the moment.  I have seen the book referred to as "Carrie Bradshaw meets Eat, Pray Love" and I think that sums it up really well!

Author of the popular blog Karma (continued…), Jenny Feldon was named one of BlogHer's Voices of the Year in 2012. A Massachusetts native, she lives in Los Angeles where she balances writing, motherhood, and giant cups of coffee—mostly all at once.

I received a copy of this e-galley from Netgalley.