Little Women Christmas Breakfast

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Last week I drove home to Ohio: twelve hours from Boston to Columbus, snow covered New England trees giving way to long stretches of farmland and grain elevators. I never thought I would be homesick for Ohio until I left it. For years I vowed to get out, convinced that some life affirming epiphany would take place if I finally managed to escape the Midwest. But that didn’t really happen. And the truth is I love Columbus, the familiarity and the people and the food (GOD the food.) While I was back home I stopped into Schmidt’s Sausage Haus to pick up the best sausages in the world for this project: bahama mamas. Savory and spicy and amazing. (I also may have indulged in their world famous cream puffs…and by indulged I mean inhaled.)

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Little Women focuses primarily on the importance of home and family (though it also offers preachy, old-fashioned lessons on embracing womanly virtues and modesty so that I wish Jo’s reluctance to marry had stuck.) Underneath all that moral pomp, however, the message remains true. We follow the lives of Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy from childhood to adulthood in the mid-nineteenth century as they grow up from girls to women. I remember being charmed by the story of their foibles and sisterly bonds, before my years of cynicism set in. And like every other girl with writing aspirations I longed to be Jo (though I suspect I was more of a Beth.)

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One such exploit has the March girls selflessly give up their breakfast to the poor Hummel children on Christmas morning, and although the food is not heavily described in the book (it alludes to buckwheat, muffins and cream) I always pictured something mealy and festive. I decided to do my own take on a Victorian breakfast with sausages, baked potatoes, biscuits, eggs in cream, an assortment of fruit and a Christmas pudding. Most of the dishes here are pretty easy (the eggs are simply baked with chopped spinach and cream) so the recipe I’m including here is for the toffee Christmas pudding.

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“That was a very happy breakfast, though they didn’t get any of it. And when they went away, leaving comfort behind, I think there were not in all the city four merrier people than the hungry little girls who gave away their breakfasts and contented themselves with bread and milk on Christmas morning.”

Ingredients for cake: 1 cup chopped, pitted dates, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 stick of butter, 1 cup brown sugar, 2 eggs

1. Heat oven to 350°F and grease ramekins with butter or oil.

2. Mix dates, baking soda, water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Set aside.

3. In a separate bowl whisk flour and salt. Bring a medium pot of water to a simmer. Set aside.

4. Combine butter and brown sugar in a bowl and use an electric mixer to beat for 5 minutes. Add vanilla extract and eggs. Use spoon to stir in date mixture and flour mixture (don’t overmix.)

5. Pour batter in ramekins and place them in a baking dish. Pour simmering water into the bottom of the dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 60 minutes.

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Ingredients for toffee sauce: 3/4 stick of butter, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar

1. Melt butter in a medium sauce pan, add brown sugar and vanilla extract. Heat for 5 minutes.

2. Add cream while stirring, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Pour over cooled cakes and sift powdered sugar on top.

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Schmidt’s Sausage Haus is located at 240 E Kossuth St, Columbus, Ohio. Purchase sausages online at Schmidt’s Sausage Shop.

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The Boxcar Children Stew

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My favorite game to play when I was a kid was homeless. I realize how terrible that sounds, but in my defense I lived in the suburbs. I didn’t have a lot going on. Also, I was eight. I put peanut butter sandwiches in a bundle with a flashlight and my Tamagotchi (you know, the essentials) and then I tied it to a stick (seriously), slung it over my shoulder and went out into the neighborhood to pretend I was destitute. Apparently to be truly nomadic you needed to look as hobo as possible: tattered flannel (it was the ’90s so I had it in abundance), toothpick in mouth, walking stick, a sad Charlie Brown gait. I admit…I loved doing this. Perhaps it was my first foray into independence, however imaginary, that made it so appealing. It was no wonder, then, that The Boxcar Children was my favorite book.

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Four orphans set loose upon the world stumble upon a rundown boxcar in the woods and make it home. They use a nearby brook to keep their milk cold, scour a junk pile for dishes and slowly increase their quality of living (and eating.) This was the first book I read where I took a profound notice of the presence of food. It was all so very quaint, from modest meals of bread and blueberries and milk to cooking up a stew from discarded vegetables in a pot over a fire pit.

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“When he arrived at the boxcar, he began to smell a delicious smell. “Onions!’ he shouted, running up to the kettle. ‘I do like the smell of onions.’ ‘I like the turnips best,’ said Violet. Jessie took off the cover carefully and stirred in the salt, and Henry sniffed the brown stew. It was boiling and boiling.”

What you see here is beef stew cooked in my beloved crockpot, Betty Crockerpot (what.) I strayed from the recipe by using a little red wine to bring out the flavor of the meat. And no, I am not the meat….yes I am. Whatever, I’m allowed to eat candy for breakfast and drink wine while I cook because I am a sophisticated adult person and not a pretend orphan (sorry boxcar kids.)

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Ingredients: 1 pound of chuck roast cut into 1 inch cubes, 1 large russet potato chopped, 1 large turnip chopped, 1 medium onion chopped, 1 cup baby carrots, 2 tbsp tomato paste, 1/4 cup of red wine or cooking wine, 1 1/2 cups beef broth, 1 packet onion soup mix, 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup water, 2-3 cloves of garlic minced, 1 tbsp pepper

1. Combine broth, wine, tomato paste, garlic, onion soup mix and pepper until well blended. Stir in vegetables and meat.

2. Cook in crockpot on high for 6 hours.

3. Mix flour and water together and pour into crockpot to thicken sauce. Cook additional 1 hour. Top with fresh parsley and serve with bread and butter.

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#EatingArt2014

I will be spending all day at The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on December 23rd 2014 in an attempt to answer the question “…Does anyone actually get art?” The museum is home to 450,000+ pieces of art and galleries span from the Americas to Europe to Africa and Asia to textiles and prints to musical instruments to jewelry to how the hell am I gonna see it all…

SCHEDULE:
12/23 – All day live tweeting begins at MFA Boston from the @eatingb00ks twitter account (follow along/interact using hashtag #EatingArt2014)

– A long essay broken up into a series of posts will be featured on the blog chronicling my time there. Expect: interpretation of art, musings on philosophy, love, life, sarcasm, frustration, restlessness, hunger, the idea of “good” and “bad” art, pretentiousness, judgments on people contemplating art, judgments on myself contemplating art, random observations, off topic tangents, unexpected clarity, cabin fever, hallucinations, lewd renderings of sculptures, hysterical laughter, crying, meowing…

AFTER CHRISTMAS – Live tweets from The Museum of Bad Art (date TBA) followed by a conclusion on the blog to end the essay.

It all started with a cow…

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Lit Style: Sylvia Plath

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MODCLOTH: Work to Play dress / Charter School cardigan / Nick & Mo Brown cape / See the Sprig Picture scarf / Truly Gritty & Gorgeous bag / Voila, Quinoa gloves / Stylish Stomp Bootie

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Sylvia Plath’s classic New England style is what I chose to depict here using fall pieces from Modcloth. Clean lines, sparse accessories, layers. She keeps her hair simple, loose in curls or pulled back. The choices here reflect that minimalism, the soft, poetic vision we’ve come to know of Plath. But in the summer of 1954, in what is commonly referred to as her “platinum summer,” a young Sylvia sports a blonde Marilyn bob, sunbathes on the beach in a stylish white two piece and looks so exquisitely bright and cheerful that it’s almost surprising to know she wouldn’t live another ten years. This Sylvia was an attempt to reinvent herself as she battled her demons.

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Plath is one of those writers that is synonymous with a certain idea, the unfortunate side effect when the manner of your death ends up eclipsing your work. But while it is easy to look at the life of Plath as a cautionary tale, the scope of her influence is not something I associate with anything dark or gloomy. In these photos she is radiant, vibrant. Happy. The Bell Jar ends on a hopeful note as Esther Greenwood prepares to leave the asylum and enter the world again. I have always looked at Plath as a hopeful figure. Her writings show her struggle with mental illness and depression, but she is vocal about wanting to live.

“Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that—I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much—so very much to learn.”

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Now that I live in Boston I find myself identifying with her more and more. In such the way her Esther glamorized New York before her arrival, so did I with Boston. Recently I picked up The Bell Jar again and find it as relevant to me now as it was when I was a teenager. These days when I get homesick, when I feel that cloud begin to form, that malaise begin to sink in, I step outside into my new city and listen “to that old familiar brag of my heart.”

I am, I am, I am.

So it goes.

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When I’m feeling particularly superficial I refer to this line in Slaughterhouse Five: “Like so many Americans she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.” Vonnegut was referring to religious meaning, a crucifix as replacement for church, but I’d rather think of my affinity for material goods in philosophical terms, especially when I’m eyeballing a designer handbag and going

So is spending an exorbitant amount of money on, say, a Kate Spade clutch justified, in the literary sense, if it’s a book clutch? By virtue of the object does it turn my artificial wants into something more meaningful? Or is my intellect called into question when I’m wearing a book as a wrist ornament?

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von1Forever21 top, Abercrombie & Fitch jeans, Shop Ruche heels, Out of Print Clothing necklace

My appreciation for pretty things stems from the basic rules of aesthetics: quality and symmetry. I like to think the same goes for books, words that compose an appealing aesthetic in the mind. The Kate Spade book clutch is really an ingenious marketing scheme. The appeal is stolen from the reputation of the story or the author, the mindful aesthetic, and turns it into something visible and functional. It serves two purposes: Purse, obviously, but our choice in book cover serves as a statement, the connotations carried over to reflect ourselves perhaps as cynics (The Age of Innocence) or romantics (Pride and Prejudice). The same can be said of our carefully curated book shelves. Books that I treasure I seek to own and admit deliberation in my display of them. The objects speak for themselves and in turn for me. This reappropriation of literature is evident in the books we choose to read (or I guess wear?) outside of our Kindles. As far as money goes this may be the first, and only, time in my life that I can splurge on things that aren’t important. I have a decent job, no car payments, no mortgage, no kid (my cat basically takes care of himself.)

I guess you can call this my roundabout way of trying to justify these superficial tendencies. So the book is judged by its cover. But it’s not defined by it. It’s okay to drool over Tory Burch shoes and also wax philosophical about Nietzsche. I don’t need to be pigeonholed intellectually or as a person based on these things. And I will forever live by the Tom Haverford mantra:

Bruce Bogtrotter’s Chocolate Cake

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I did a guest blog for Maria of Sift & Whisk, baker extraordinaire and archest of my enemies, while she is on maternity leave. It features a simple chocolate cake inspired by Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Don’t think me a hypocrite for collaborating with the most terrible human on the planet (and she just made another one. UGH.) It’s all part of my plan to foil her. I’m just biding my time…

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Lit Love & Giveaway Winner

1. The winner of the 500 Followers Giveaway:

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 11.16.15 AMCongratulations geralynwichers!  Please email rebecca@theartofeatingbooks.com with your mailing address to receive your prize. Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway via the comments or Twitter!

2. House of Sand and Fog – I read this book after my time at The Antioch Writer’s Workshop. It chronicles the story of an addict who is mistakenly evicted from her home by the county and an Iranian former general who purchases it at auction. Andre De Bus III talked about his process for plot development using the characters in this book as an example and I was curious to see it played out. I was pleased with the story and found the plot line highly original and compelling. It fascinated me to examine this kind of conflict, where both sides aren’t necessarily right or wrong but everything must come to a head.

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3. Kate Spade book clutchThe original Olympia Le-Tan book clutches are a bit out of my price range (I don’t have a grand to drop on what is essentially a hollowed out book, though I loved Natalie Portman’s “Lolita” clutch from that collection.) These Kate Spade ones are a little more reasonable, though I wish I could replace the more schmaltzy covers with books more my taste. I would love Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Still, quite cute, if not a little flowery in terms of book selection. That might be my biggest pet peeve when it comes to products geared towards women (but that’s for another post.)

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4. Nan Lawson artwork
I love her style. She does a lot of literary related prints and movie characters. 

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5. Tory Burch for Fitbit Less lit, more love, but lately I’ve been trying to be healthier. I have always taken my fast metabolism for granted and all I have to show for it are these puny little bird arms. I’m taking the respected field of bro science to heart and lifting all the things (ALL THE THINGS!) 

I just purchased a Fitbit Flex so I can track my activities like the meticulous control freak that I am, but I’m pretty sure I bought it just so I can get the new Tory Burch accessory:

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Also half the reason I work out now is to annoy everyone with fitness memes.

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6. Breakfast at Tiffany’s bathtub couchI am a mutt (Korean/Irish/German) so life can be an identity struggle at times. But there are some moments when I simply can’t deny my blatant whiteness: binge watching Orange is the New Black, shameless love for pumpkin spice lattes, and girling out over Holly Golightly’s claw foot bathtub couch.

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I found some replicas for sale, though the more crafty Audrey fan could even make their own. I am, however, convinced that the universal Audrey Hepburn crush among women somehow transcends race and just becomes a typical human thing.

7. Release the Hounds Poetry & Performance Festival Now in it’s second year, this edgy literary festival takes place in England and features poetry performances and innovative theatre. I just like the idea of an alternative lit fest and this sounds promising.

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8. Jeffrey Eugenides speech to the 2012 Whiting Award winners I like to reread this from time to time, when my writing seems to lag and I need to remind myself of what’s important:

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9. Clementinum National Library in Czech Republic

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10. This quote:

“You must write every single day of your life…you must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads.” – Ray Bradbury

Buy the ticket, take the ride

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I am a big Hunter S. Thompson fan. Sometimes I think it’s an odd fit. I’m a feminist (though I could argue that seeking out misogyny in prose written by “dead white males” is for a tireless sort, which I am not.) I don’t do psychedelic drugs. I’m not trying to be a journalist. But I am drawn to the off-kilter, the experimental, the cynical. As an aspiring writer I admire his brand of journalism, his uncanny ability to somehow encapsulate an entire generation, sometimes in a single sentence.

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“Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives…and to the “good life”, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.”

image_3I found a screen printing company based here in Columbus called Skreened where I was able to design this shirt. It’s printed on an American Apparel unisex v-neck with an outline of Hunter S. Thompson’s face on the front and the Gonzo logo on the back. I was inspired by Brodie’s t-shirt in Mallrats.

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I roll the sleeves up and typically pair it with a blazer and combat boots. It’s one of the best things I own. There’s also something really satisfying about knowing that I’m the only one with this shirt. You can sell your designs on Skreened, but I wanted this all for myself (because I am a beautiful and unique snowflake.)

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Skreened tshirt, H&M blazer, Adriano Goldschmied jeggings, Doc Martens, Target watch, YesStyle bracelet

500 Followers & Book Giveaway!

This little blog has reached 500 followers! That or my follow button has seriously malfunctioned (the only logical explanation.) To celebrate 500 people who aren’t yet annoyed by my antics I’m throwing some free stuff at you.

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WIN: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. (This book and a particularly famous food scene will be featured in an upcoming post.) You will also get a $25 Amazon gift card and some surprise goodies.

HOW TO ENTER: Leave a comment stating your favorite book and why OR Retweet THIS TWEET on Twitter for an entry.

Giveaway closes Sunday, August 17th at 12pm. A winner will be announced later that day. Thank you for sticking around! You’re all on drugs, clearly.

COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED.

Lit City: Yellow Springs

A few months ago I won a scholarship to The Antioch Writer’s Workshop. It took place mid July in Yellow Springs, Ohio and I tripped it from Columbus to go nerd out at book camp (or something.) I spent my weekend in writing seminars, specialized classes for poetry and nonfiction and trying to find Dave Chapelle. (I didn’t.)

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The keynote speaker was Andre Dubus the III. He was very engaging and lively, the type of person who asks your name and remembers it hours later. I learned a great deal about character development from his morning craft class and walked out feeling inspired. He signed my book and I felt like an infinite nerd for geeking out about it. I wonder if it’s only writers that get excited about other writers? Celebrity is all relative I guess.

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Yellow Springs is something of a hippie town, progressive and pretty liberal. I stopped along an eclectic little block of shops, wafts of patchouli in the air and tie dye as far as the eye could see. In this block was Dark Star Books, a pretty awesome book store with a mix of comics, manga and floor to ceiling bookshelves. There was also an assortment of literary related trinkets and I had to stop myself from going home with a stuffed Totoro. I heard rumblings about a book store cat roaming around, but unfortunately he was as elusive as the wily Chappelle.

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I stopped by Clifton Mills, which might as well have been a Bob Ross painting. I was hoping it would be a nice place to sit and write, but it was a little more touristy than I hoped. Still, it was secluded enough and I spent a good deal of time on a bench in view of the waterfalls. 

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I stayed in Yellow Springs adjacent Cedarville after my original hotel fell through at the last minute. This seemed strangely apt because my winning essay was about the suicide of my friend who lived in Cedarville. I stayed at a bed and breakfast called The Hearthstone Inn, a charming Civil War themed hotel. Considering Ohio was a Union state I was nonplussed by all the Confederate flags adorned all over the place. Still, it always seems odd to me to make whimsy of war. It’s a fine line to walk.

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I spent a lot of my days driving to and from Antioch University to Cedarville, traipsing through back country roads, losing wifi and realizing how much I depend on it for modern survival. It began the basis of a story in which a technology dependent girl gets stranded on the side of the road in a strange small town and stumbles upon a murder plot. I, uh, may or may not have become paranoid when I lost signal to my GPS and was about to run out of gas in the rain at night fall. Most of the story was written in my head as I panicked and imagined myself being eaten by wolves…because, you know. That happens.

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I think there is something about Yellow Springs, about the Midwest in general, conducive to inspired writing. Something about open skies, grain elevators and sprawling fields perhaps. I gathered a lot inspiration during my time there, and not just from the workshop, which brought together like minded individuals for a week of immersive writing. To subsist in a collective love of writing was comforting, like we were all in the same, sinking ship. I could come up with more nautical metaphors, but I’ll spare you my sad attempts to be witty. It’s far too taxing.yellow2 yellow1 yellow3

Dark Star Books is located at 237 Xenia Ave, Yellow Springs, OH, Clifton Mills is located at 75 Water St, Clifton, OH, and The Hearthstone Inn is located at 10 S. Main St, Cedarville, OH.