13 October, 2009

I'm only 17 pages in and I can tell that this is going to be a pivotal book in this hungry season of my life.

"The satisfaction of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, because he has no real effect in the world."

- p. 15, Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford

12 October, 2009

Timing is a funny thing. I can only throw up my hands and laugh at this unsettling trend in my life -- unfinished projects, untended interests. The whole reason I undertook this Gourmet project was to work on bucking that trend, while doing something I love with the aid of a magazine for which I have an inordinate affection. First month: A success. I was ready for whatever November would throw at me.

Then Conde Nast sucker-punched me and all foodies everywhere with their decision to pull the plug on the finest institution in American food journalism. I felt physically ill when I read the headline, hoping for a few dizzy seconds that it was all a cruel joke, a pretend headline ripped from "The Onion." But no. No, after the end of this month I will have one less of the simple pleasures that connect the dots of my days. Every month I look forward to -- you could very well say that I crave -- the arrival of the next issue, wondering what glorious work of art will grace the cover, what new parts of the world I will learn about through food, what food-related issues and controversies will have been uncovered through excellent journalism. Good food and the enjoyment of it is one of the lenses through which I love to look at the world, and this past year Gourmet has been a wonderful teacher. The prospect of life without it is a gloomy one.

I think it a great shame that quality must suffer in deference to the mighty dollar. I think about this often enough as one who is interested in design, art, museums, etc. Cultural institutions are the first to suffer when funds are tight. I understand that at the end of the day, a magazine is a business, and a business decision must be made. But I'm still not content that things must be this way.

As for cooking, I'll continue, but I'm not sure yet what my new motivational "dare" for myself will be. For now I will enjoy what is here and in no danger of being ripped from me: the faithful arrival of autumn, the very best of the four seasons; the pleasure in making big pots of butternut squash and lentil soup; and the community that can indeed be found, "even in the suburbs."

05 October, 2009

This weekend I was near little Bedford, PA for a church retreat. I always look forward to this annual event, because it is a weekend spent in woodsy tranquility, amidst rolling hills that look like something out of a Thomas Hart Benton painting. We cradle mugs of warm something in our hands all day, we pull out the sweaters that have been dormant all summer, we sit on rocking chairs and get to know each others' weekday selves. Let us really relax, and there might even be some square dancing.

Late in the afternoon on Saturday some of us went to the Jean Bonnet Tavern (est. circa 1762, French pronunciation optional). In the sun-filled tavern, seated at high oak tables, I enjoyed the best pumpkin ale I've ever had; it had a lot more spice than I expected. I also tried something so simple that I would never have thought of it: Oatmeal Pie. It consists, quite simply, of oatmeal baked in a pie crust. I was skeptical until the first maple-syrupy bite. Rural PA, sometimes you have your moments of brilliance.