Boats and Books

I don’t want to make light of the situation in case this actually really ever has happened to you, but a boat almost fell on me the other day and I just sort of thought that maybe you should add “falling boats” to your list of Road Hazards to Watch Out For While Driving. Along with — in my part of the world, at least — roving panthers (it’s true that the presence of panthers in our area is only a rumor — but there are those who swear it’s true), streams of tobacco juice and lazily drifting plastic Wal-Mart bags. And the thing is that the falling boat was only the beginning to a very strange 24 hours. So strange, in fact, that I had to break it up into two newspaper columns to get the whole story out. Read Part No. 1 and then go on to this past week’s column, Part No. 2. There are just some days when everybody stays away from you because it’s obvious you have somehow invoked the god of bad karma and all your friends are smart enough to take cover. Thankfully, all boats stayed firmly anchored the next day and all was well.

And here is one reason I’m so glad I’m married to my husband. I was browsing through his extensive book collection when I found his decades-old paperback copy of “The Andromeda Strain,” which I’d never read. I zipped through it that night and when he asked me later how I liked it, I shrugged. “It just sort of ended with the scientists saying the organism had evolved into something harmless and it was no big deal,” I said. “Seemed like a letdown for such an intense buildup. My husband just stared at me. “Uh,” he said, “I don’t think you read the whole book. There are a couple of pages at the end that you need to go back and look at it.” So I did, and he was right. Husbands rock!

Girl with the Awesome Menu

I have to admit that I don’t know anything about Sweden beyond that Swedish muppet guy and the wonderful breakfast I order at the Original House of Pancakes in Birmingham’s Five Points that comes with powdered sugar, whipped cream and strawberries. (Now, that’s a breakfast.) Or I didn’t know anything before I got addicted to those internationally bestselling  Stieg Larsson’s “Girl With …” books. If you haven’t picked these up, you’ve got to. And keep the coffee pot handy because that’s basically all they do in these books: Hack into computers, track down killers and drink endless cups of coffee. I can’t get enough. And luckily my food-loving book club read the first book in this trilogy — and extra-luckily our hostess for this meeting is our friend who specializes in creating marvelicious meals for the rest of us to enjoy. She went all out for our “Girl with the Dagon Tattoo” night and created a Swedish smorgasbord that I believe Larsson himself would have felt right at home with. We had smoked salmon, pickled herring, beets, potatoes, ligonberry preserves, pickles, cheese, sandwiches and of course coffee and cake for dessert. Oh my cookies. It was delicious, and she made us feel so special. We always nominate her for Best Hostess Ever and we threaten not to leave whenever she has us over. You’d think she’d learn, but we’re glad she hasn’t.

Cookbooks

 I was so proud of myself. Our recent yard sale had but a major dent in the household clutter, and we’d sold tons of all that stuff that sort of accumulates and nobody in the family knows why or where it came from or why somebody had to have it in the first place. Such as sure-I-can-knit-eight-Christmas-stockings supplies. And I-know-I’ll-use-these-purple-silk-flowers someday. And gotta-have cookbooks. Well … actually … we know where all those come from. Raising hand guiltily. I am a cookbook junkie. I admit it. I’m easily seduced by pretty pictures and promises of attainable culinary delight. I’m eternally optimistic, even though deep down I know I’ll never make all … uh … most …  okay…  any of the recipes. But somehow having the book in my possession makes it maybe perhaps possibly likely that I might someday make Peppercorn Roasted Pork with Vermouth Pan Sauce and Spiced Applesauce Cake with Cinnamon Cream-Cheese Frosting for dessert. Maybe. Anyway, everybody — husband, children, friends — commented on how well I’d cleaned out my cookbook stash, and I was starting to believe that maybe I could be trusted to wander through a cookbook aisle once again. However, the very next weekend after our yard sale (The. Very. Next. Weekend.), we went to a friend’s yard sale and because of course the rule is that you HAVE to buy something at a friend’s yard sale, I naturally gravitated to her Table O’Books — and found these cookbook treasures.  Oh, I should mention that my friend is a newspaper cookbook editor, so it’s possible that in the back of mind I thought maybe I’d find something interesting. Maybe. I mean, “Boy Eats World?” How cool is that? And “The Real Woman Cookbook” is a hoot — all feisty and sassy in the manner of Peg Bracken and Erma Bombeck.  “The Fearless Chef” has some wonderful-sounding recipes, and the “Layers of Flavors” and the book about flavored oils have gorgeous inspiring photos. And I got them all for only $5. “I’ve just got to clean out all my cookbooks,” my friend said. My husband just shook his head. But the minute I create a gourmet feast from one of my new cookbooks, he’ll thank me. And I’ll sure let you know when that happens. The cooking part, I mean.

Girl with Dragon Tattoo

I’ve read/am reading/am trying to read a couple of books that folks are buzzing about lately, and I’m not sure if I like them or not. (SPOILER ALERT: I never want to warn anybody off from reading one of my posts, but if you don’t want to know specifics about either one of these books, tread cautiously.) I’d heard talk, of course, about Stieg Larsson’s “Dragon” book that seems to have taken over the world and somehow I thought it was one of those woman-journeys-to-exotic-locale-to-find-her-true-self (sort of an “Eat, Pray, Get Tattooed” experience) but of course that is waaaay off. We’re reading it in one of my book clubs, and I think I like it. I really dig the Agatha Christie-like mystery part and I love all the coffee-drinking and sandwich-eating those wacky Swedish people seem to do. But the overriding theme of … well, evil and unspeakable violence is disturbing. As it should be, I know. And then there’s the background story of Larsson’s politics and journalism career, which adds a whole other layer of complexity. I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about this book. On the other hand, I know exactly how I feel about the darling of the post-post-modern or whatever crowd, Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad”: Bored. And confused. I just don’t get it. Am I supposed to care about these people? I keep picking it up and trying to read it because I know I should — it keeps getting fantastic reviews — but then after a few pages my attention wanders and I wonder if it’s time to feed the cats or water the plants or do something else more interesting. Like find another book. Or am I just not cool enough to appreciate “Goon Squad”? That seems more likely.

Books and Other Random Thoughts

You all are so sweet to wade through my jumbled and scattered thoughts here in Bloggy World. You have no idea how much I appreciate that. But you’ll be happy to know that I can manage to string together some coherent sentences and actually get them in print — really, I can!!! Here’s proof:

You know the economy has tanked and everybody’s scrimping and saving wherever they can, right? You know folks are cutting back and slashing expenses, right? And you know that the book-publishing industry — like music and movies — is suffering. Then you’ll be as surprised as I was when you find out that there’s one category of books that’s seen an incredible increase in sales. And it’s no wonder — I’ll bet you’re like me and cannot wander past that section in your local bookstore without stopping and checking it out.

And you know what they say when you first start trying to sell your house: Your No. 1 top-priority chore is to declutter. But be careful, because sometimes you end up with more stuff than when you started!

Speaking of family efficiency, how are you at packing? I thought I was pretty good. I had a system based on my method of household organization and it worked for years … until I out-organized myself.

Cookbooks

I’ll bet you thought that “Sister Schubert” was the product of marketing folks sitting around a table brainstorming the image of a sweet and gracious Southern woman who just happens to make The Best Rolls Ever. Ever. But Sister Schubert is an actual real person — she really is a sweet and gracious Southern woman who makes The Best Rolls Ever. Patricia Barnes Schubert — “Sister” is her childhood nickname — is an Alabama native who built a successful bread company from her grandmother’s recipe for Everlasting Rolls. Schubert was in Tuscumbia, Alabama, this past week signing copies of her new cookbook, “Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters,” and demonstrating a recipe for Lemon-Blueberry Trifle at the weekly Spring Park Farmers’ Market. I sat under a tent with her for a few minutes and loved watching people come up to look at the cookbooks and then slowly recognize the woman sitting there as the woman pictured on the book cover. If I had a Sister Schubert roll for every time somebody said, “I didn’t know there was a real Sister Schubert,” I’d have a lot of rolls. These frozen delights are a staple for Southern meals — everybody’s got a pan or two stashed away for bread emergencies. Read the story I wrote about her visit to Tuscumbia and check out the recipe at http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100616/NEWS/100619858. Her story of hard work and determination — and family and faith  — truly is inspiring.

Mother’s Day

I love this book! Younger Daughter gave it to me for Mother’s Day and I laughed all the way through my favorite banana-and-peanut-butter-toast breakfast. Amy Sedaris is a comic genius and her 2006 “I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence” (and, really, isn’t that the best way to offer some?) is the perfect blend of her signature retro humor and actual real recipes. It’s like you stumbled onto your crazy grandmother’s cookbook where she tucked articles on pantyhose crafts and how to make a paperclip necklace in between the pages. I mean, one minute you’re giggling over Sedaris’ advice that children’s parties always should have a time limit, “like, ‘from 2 to 2:30’,” and then you’re salivating over her recipe for “Real Chocolate Cake” and later still you’re pondering the command to look radiant when you open the door to your party guests — “It should appear as though you’ve used witchcraft.” Luckily, Sedaris gives us all the non-witchcraft help you need to be a thoughtful and serene hostess, secure in the fact that you’re covered for every entertaining emergency, even serving lunch to a lumberjack. Because you just never know. If you don’t have a wonderful child who gifted you this book for Mother’s Day, go out and buy it for yourself. And if you want to read it with a peanut-butter-and-banana-toast sandwich like I did, go here, https://cathylwood.wordpress.com/2009/01/05/healthy-eating/, for our recipe.