Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book Review: Keeping the Feast by Paula Butturini

Win an Advance Copy!

In conjunction with this review, Paula graciously shared one of her favorite cold weather recipes with me. You'll find her recipe for Zuppa di Fagioli/Italian White Bean Soup, along with my thick and hearty version (this soup is made for improvising!) here.

When Lisa at TLC Book Tours asked if I'd be interested in 'reviewing another book that has food a central theme' for an upcoming tour (I was part of last year's TLC book tour for The Laws of Harmony, written by one of my favorite novelists, Judith Ryan Hendricks), I naturally said yes.

I started reading Paula Butturini's memoir, Keeping the Feast, which will be released on February 18th, while sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a doctor's office waiting room while a noisy health news show reverberated off the walls. I made it to the third sentence.

A few days later, cozied up under a heavy layer of flannel sheets and quilts after being knocked down by the flu, I turned on my soothing little bedside stained glass lamp and once again started to read. Much better. The food showed up in the fourth sentence and never left.

The morning before moving day, I took a notebook instead of a shopping bag to the Campo dei Fiori, and wrote down everything on offer at one of the more modest stands in the square. A truck farmer named Domenico presided over that stand, and much of what he sold he grew himself.

On that sunny August morning, Domenico was selling fat, round heads of soft Bibb lettuce and wild-looking heads of curly endive. He had crates of Romaine lettuce, whose elongated heads form the base of many salads, and tight little knobs of red racicchio, to add color. He had fistfuls of wild arugula, which the Romans call rughetta and use to add a peppery bite to a meal. He had foot-long bunches of Swiss chard, tiny new shoots of broccoli rabe, bunches of slim scallions. He had bouquets of zucchini flowers, which Romans stuff with mozzarella and anchovy, dip in a light flour and water batter, then deep fry till golden.

He had flat green broad beans, the kind the Romans stew slowly in garlic, onion, and tomato. He had red and white runner beans, which housewives use to fill out a summer vegetable soup, and regular green beans, tiny, just picked, perfect for blanching and serving with a dribble of olive oil and lemon juice.


This amazing list goes on for two more pages.

Paula Butturini and John Tagliabue met as foreign correspondents in Rome in 1985, and proceeded to live 'four essentially joyous years' afterward. Only then, says Paula, were we sucked into what I came to think of as our own private tornado. While covering a story, she was severely beaten by police in Czechsolovakia two weeks before their wedding; three weeks later John was shot and nearly killed on the job in Romania. He then began a debilitating, 'long, slow slide into textbook depression' which lasted for years.

Keeping the Feast is not a lighthearted tale of living in Europe, filled with fabulous food where every meal is a cause for celebration, a la Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence or a Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun (both of which I loved—and the six-hour made-for-TV version of A Year in Provence is wonderful, too). Unfortunately life isn't aways joyful and funny. What has the power to help you survive the toughest times? Love and food—and in this very personal story, Paula Butturini proves just that.

Cooking was my way of trying to make us both feel at home again, to make us feel as safe and nourished as we did as children, when we ate all our meals surrounded by utter familiarity and routine. During that year on the Via Giulia, I went to the Campo six days a week, to multiply the good I took away from each visit. I bought enough food to last for a day, two at most. Everything we ate seemed to have been picked just the night before, just for us. During that year, I cooked every comfort food from my childhood and John's: pastina in chicken broth for me, simple risotto or chicken baked with garlic, rosemary and potato wedges for John.

Each chapter begins with one of Paula's food-centered memories from her Italian-American upbringing in Connecticut, which then somehow ties in to the current narrative. These stories are one of the things I enjoyed most about the book.

Until I went away to college, I ate virtually every Sunday lunch of my life with a dozen or more of my mother's relatives in my grandparents' tiny apartment. Except for those first moments of silence when everyone dug into the steaming plates before them, Comparato, Romano, Tozzi, Delia, Fucci, Gabriel, and Butturini never stopped talking, kidding, joking, telling stories, swapping news or listening to the latest tales of wacky customers at Gabriel's Meat Market. We ate a ritual menu: Jennie's pasta al ragu; followed by meatballs, sausage, chicken, pork, and braciole, thin, slices of herbed, rolled beef, all of which had flavored her thick, Neapolitan sauce. A mixed salad, "good for the digestion," always followed the meat.

The only variable dish was dessert, usually one of Jennie's homemade American specialties: fresh blueberry, apple, cherry, or pumpkin pie, depending on the season; Boston cream or lemon meringue pies on occasion; pineapple crush cake (made with zwieback, eggs, condensed milk, pineapple, and whipped cream); or on birthdays, my favorite, Auntie's chocolate cake, a moist, sour-milk, two-layer concoction spread thickly with Jennie's soft, white frosting and covered in grated coconut. . . I never lost the recipe for Auntie's birthday cake, no matter how many times I have moved. The recipe, stained with melted chocolate and vanilla, travels with me to each new country, each new kitchen. I make Auntie's cake at least once a year.

I don't have much time to read these days, and after a long and tiring, often frustrating, sometimes heartbreaking day on the farm (I don't tell you all the bad stuff!), I tend to gravitate toward books that cheer me up. Reading about depression can be, well, depressing, and much of the second half of Keeping the Feast is about 'John's illness.' There were a few times when I chose to pick up something else to read instead, wondering if I really wanted to finish the book. But later I realized that I was already looking forward to reading parts of it again.

Would you like to win an advanced copy of Keeping the Feast? To enter, simply leave a comment in this post telling us something—anything—about how food or cooking has in some way, big or small, helped you or someone else heal or survive a tough time.

One entry per person, please. I moderate comments, so if I'm away from the computer it may be several hours before yours actually appears.

You can enter through next Monday, February 1st, and I'll announce a random winner a day or two later. Please check back to see if you've won, especially if I have no way to get a hold of you (for example, if you have a blogger profile, is it public and does it list your correct e-mail address?). Sorry, but the book can only be shipped to a U.S. or Canadian street address (no P.O. boxes).

Related links:
Pre-order Keeping the Feast from amazon.com
Keeping the Feast TLC Book Tour schedule
Paula Butturini's website
Paula's blog

Other book reviews on Farmgirl Fare:
The Laws of Harmony (and readers share favorite food novels)
Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant (and what readers eat when alone)
Local Breads (and my favorite Four Hour Parisian Daily Baguette Recipe)
Cooking with Shelburne Farms (& Lamb Burgers w/ Red Pepper Olive Relish)
Comfort Food (readers share favorite comfort food stories & recipes)
The Cornbread Gospels (readers share cornbread memories & recipes)
The Artist's Palate (a beautiful cookbook for food and art lovers)
Falling Cloudberries (Greek Leg of Lamb & readers talk food/travel)
The Vegetable Gardener's Bible (my favorite gardening book)
Astrological Gardening: The Ancient Wisdom of Successful Planting & Harvesting by the Stars

© 2010 FarmgirlFare.com, the bookworm foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres—and there's nothing better than curling up with a good book, except curling up with a good book and some good food. Keeping the Feast excerpts copyright Paula Butturini. Disclosure: I was provided a review copy of this book from the publisher.

70 comments:

  1. Count me in! I would love to read this book!

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  2. Pie has always been my family's specialty. Celebrations, death. Everyday existence. Pie is second nature to me.

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  3. My standard way of dealing with stress in the last twenty years or so has been to bake cookies. I can practically do it in my sleep, but the rhythm of the steps -- creaming butter, cracking eggs -- is soothing, and at the end, there are cookies! I usually actually only want to eat one or two and bring the rest in to my office, which is either good or bad for my coworkers, depending on how you think of it.

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  4. Being from the south, food and funerals go hand in hand. A table laden with pot luck dishes, to soothe and heal.

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  5. I recently posted a recipe on my blog for Sock-it-to-me cake, my favorite birthday cake. What I failed to mention was that the first time I ever tried it was when a neighbor, Mrs. Gleaves, made the cake for our family at the death of my paternal grandmother just a couple of weeks before my 8th birthday. Instead of reliving that dreadful moment, the cake represents the love our neighbors and the celebration of the life of one my favorite people in the world, Memaw.

    Susan

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  6. This one sounds amazing, count me in. A funeral means food and family you may have not seen for years with everyone sharing stories of the deceased as they drink and eat.

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  7. My husband had left me and the children, and I had just gotten a very low paying job and could not meet all the bills. One sat morning before the children were up I sat at the kitchen table and cried. I could either pay the mortgage or buy food, not both. I did not even have enough for breakfast in the house without shopping first. If I bought food not only would I owe the mortgage but the late penalty. The children were still not up yet when there was loud rappping on the door. There stood a friend and her daughter with grocery bags in their arms. She had just been shopping and said "For some reason i knew you needed this." In came food for a week. I never forget that my prayers were answered and the kindness of that friend, 30 years later.

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  8. Good food, favorite foods are a way of showing love for our families and friends. Sharing memories by connecting the fresh baked bread with the days back in Gramma's kitchen or having grilled steak on Dad's birthday - 10 years after his passing.

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  9. The book sounds interesting. Thanks for doing this!

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  10. I was in a bit of a bad way while attending grad school. I was didn't get to know anyone I went to school with [mainly b/c we were all so busy juggling so many other things], was far away from my family and even farther from my boyfriend. Cooking and starting my food blog helped me deal with everything, and in the end brought me closer to everyone and made me new friends in the blog world. The photos on your blog especially bring me comfort day after day. Thanks!

    Cheers,

    *Heather*

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  11. Would love to win this book, although I'd have to fight for time to read it. My mother and maternal grandmother both showed their love with food ("Eat, eat!"). I am more of a tomboy, but I do take pride in baking bread and desserts that some people swoon over.

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  12. My grandma would say to always have your cookie jar full incase someone stopped by to visit. At her funeral a year ago we had a dinner after the service that some people in the town put on for the family. We shared this story with them and on each table they put a cookie jar with different cookies in each. It was such a perfect touch for the occasion and my grandma would have loved it.

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  13. I bake either bread to cheer myself up and feel productive, or my Mom's chocolate chip cookies as a remedy for homesickness.

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  14. When my husband and I left home together we moved to a city across the country where we knew no one. We were broke and way too determined to make it on our own to call home and ask for money (which likely wouldn't have been given as they didn't approve of our young love). We refused to eat junk food, however, and so for six months we lived on the cheapest meat we could find -- liver. It probably kept us healthy that first winter, as we had no good winter clothes, and boy did we get creative with it. Those six months solidified our belief in eating well and eating healthy, no matter what.

    We've never been able to cook liver as a meal since.

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  15. Oh yes! Even if I don't win, I'll be buying the book. Food brought me back to life from an "incurable" infectious disease(s). I'm in the process of writing about my own story...and reading everything I can get helps push me along that journey!!!

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  16. My father-in-law passed away 2 1/2 years ago. As his birthday was approaching (the first week of January) my husband and I were talking about how much we miss him. He was the best grandfather to our boys (who are now 17 - 24) and just an all around wonderful man. Our daughter did not get the chance to know him as well as her brothers. We talked with our children and they had been thinking about Grandpa, too. We decided to have a dinner on his birthday and honor him and his favorite food - Mexican! We ate and talked about all the wonderful memories we have of him. It was a great way to honor him. We decided that every year we will get together and have dinner on Grandpa's birthday - He would have loved this idea!

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  17. My husband is currently deployed. I try to have some of the wives of other deployed soldiers over once a week for a nice home cooked meal. It's also great for me because I don't have to stop cooking just because my husband is gone.

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  18. Sharing food with family and friends has always been a wonderful way of binding those I love together.

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  19. We lost my Dad last year two days before Christmas. We went ahead and prepared the turkey and dressing with all the goodies, but it was not the same. He was the official taster for the dressing and the gravy, etc. This year we made the same menu basically, but it was a time for good memories of him. I love to read food based books, so please pick me. Thanks so much!

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  20. i hope i win! this book sounds really good. food allows me to express my love and creativity to the people around me. my favorite thing is to try new recipes for dinner, especially vegan ones

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  21. I bake bread whenever things are going badly - even if it was just exams time in college. I can count on a loaf of bread to rise when I can't count on other things going the way I think they ought to.

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  22. My husband always jokes that I cook to deal with stress. On the cross-country plane flight after his mother died unexpectedly, we carried with us 2 pans of homemade roasted zucchini lasagna - it was how I had gotten through the preceding night.

    When my son was born, and I started sinking into serious post-partum depression, I was able to carve out a few moments of peace by filling his naptimes with the smell of warm spices, the satisfaction of colorful vegetables spread out on a plate... Now that I'm better, cooking is one of our favorite mother/son activities, him with his little hands in the flour, stirring and sniffing and patting up on his stool, me trying to keep everything in the bowl.

    I do like to know about the sad things, too - it keeps your farm real to me.

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  23. Sounds like a great book! I'd love to have it.

    Food is a way of bonding with people. I love cooking for family and friends, giving them the gift of my time and talent. They always say "You went to so much work!" but to me it's not work. It's a joy.

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  24. I'm the same way with depressing books - I tend to put them down. But, I always go back for food talk, so who's to say how I'd feel with this book.

    Regardless, I definitely hear the "heal with food" message, because that's absolutely how I live and have lived all my life.

    I remember when I first moved back to CA from college out of state, into a 1 1/2 bedroom apartment with two friends who offered to take me in so that I could get a job in SF during a time when I was dead broke and housing was at its most expensive.

    They were so incredibly kind to me and so, my first day in the apartment, when they were off at work and I hadn't begun interviewing yet, I made a pot of my mom's (and grandma's, and great grandma's) homemade chicken soup and baked some loaves of challah to thank them.

    To say that it was well received would be an understatement. I was just hoping they wouldn't regret offering to have me in their office.

    Here's to the healing powers of a good home-cooked meal.

    Cheers ~

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  25. everyone around here has a favorite chicken casserole recipe. It's pure comfort food. I used to make it and freeze it in little tubs and take them to college with me for a special homemade treat when I was really lonely or just needed something good to cheer me up.

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  26. I grew up in the South and food played a big role in celebration and sadness as well as day to day life. I always associate ham & biscuits with comfort, I think because they were a staple at my grandma's house, but also because the neighbors would bring them by after the loss of a family member.

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  27. Sounds like a great read!

    When my dad was undergoing chemo, even when he would have an appetite, the smell of food cooking would make him nauseous. The solution was to have fully prepped food frozen and ready to be zapping (even tho I'm not a huige fan of the microwave, it serves its purpose here!).

    These days, I cook for sick neighbors who are going through chemo. And, remembering my dad, I cook it through, then portion individual servings and freeze in microwavable containers.

    I hope it brings cmffort to them. It helps me deal wiith their situations.

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  28. When my mom died, her church circle provided us meals for the week. Having good food magically appear was certainly a blessing.

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  29. The year my mother died, when I was 18, my brother's wife and I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the family at our house (8 people). It was the first time I'd ever cooked a turkey and the meal prep kept my mind off the fact that Mom was not with us. To this day (31 years later), Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday meal to cook.

    The book sounds wonderful. Count me in for the drawing, please.

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  30. Hope it's ok to write to you all here; I'm Paula Butturini, who lived through and wrote Keeping the Feast. After sitting quietly in my dining room banging away on my computer for the last couple of years,it's amazing to 'hear' people talking through the internet about both the book and what food means to them. I'm cheered by the review and comments. Read through till the end; it may not be a Hollywood happy ending, but it's a real one.

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  31. LindainStLouis1/26/2010 5:50 PM

    Many years ago when my sons were small and there I was, a single mom, I needed emergency surgery. I had enough savings that we didn't go deep in debt, but I didn't have enough "sick time" to cover my time off. So I had no immediate cash on hand and no paycheck coming. A few of my co-workers went together and bought food so I didn't have to worry about getting to the store or how I was going to pay for it. They bought enough to last a couple of weeks. We survived thanks to their kindness.

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  32. I loved reading about Auntie's recipe and how, no matter how many moves she'd made, the recipe stayed with her, stained with memories and love.

    I keep all my family's favorite recipes and when I bake a pie I can see Gram McKinstry's artistic flourish of flowers and vines on the crust. Her hands flew like lightning strikes and every pie was tastier and more beautiful than anything I could ever make.

    My recipe card with my Nonie Clarke's Heavenly Pie is now framed and hanging next to my Grandmother Lovejoy's recipe for Heavenly Pie, which is now a delicious and treasured family tradition.

    I could go on and on about cherishing family recipes, but the important thing is that I hope others will do the same and turn to cooking when life gets too difficult. The kneading of bread, stirring of soup fills a home with more than good food, it brings light and life into our days.

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  33. I've been in a gloomy mood these last few weeks and the weather in Chicago isn't helping. I decided to invite my closest friends over for a meatloaf party/contest! It was great and really lifted my spirits. Food and friends can always make me feel better. Not only that but i got to try 6 different meatloaves!

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  34. I would love this book. So you will be picking my number for sure.

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  35. I was an off and on cook for many years after I left college. I was in the military and often away from home. But when my husband (then fiance) was sent to Afghanistan for a year just as I was going to shore duty (and would therefore be home all the time), I found myself with a lot of empty, extra, echoing time on my hands. That's when I discovered what I've heard referred to as "poor kitchen" cooking, particularly peasant cooking from France and Italy. Using the freshest ingredients prepared in some of the simplest ways, cooking became a way of getting through that time. (And giving me something to chat about in letters and e-mails to my fiance... "I made the most wonderful soup today ...") It helped me feel normal even when there were days that would find me sitting on the bedroom floor beating it with my fists in frustration and sobbing because I hadn't heard from him in days and none of the news coming out of Afghanistan was good.

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  36. I love food, family recipes, holiday favorites...it keeps us all close in my family.

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  37. Actually, my first comment made me think of another way food helped during that time. My fiance and I were (and still are) very fond of Indian food. The food in northern Afghanistan is very similar and he was always thrilled when he recognized something that we liked. I've never asked, but I think even that familiarity may have made it a bit easier for him to cope with some of the awfulness of war and being away from loved ones. Funny how something as simple as naan could stretch across two continents and an ocean to bring the two of us together again.

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  38. MidnightBaker1/27/2010 12:36 AM

    My mother was very sick last year, and after three long months in the hospital, she finally made it home at a whopping 69 pounds. I live three thousand miles away, and not being able to be there every day with the rest of my family was heart wrenching. After she was out of the hospital I made a special trip to help with the transition back to life at home. I was only able to be there for about two weeks, but I did everything in my power to find foods that would help her gain weight and energy. Our favorite recipe became hollandaise sauce from Mastering the Art of French Cooking --let me tell you butter is certainly a powerful energy source! Thankfully Mom is doing better, and hollandaise is going to hold a special place in our hearts for years to come!

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  39. After I left home to go to college then onto my own home, my Mother would always prepare "my feast" when I would come to visit. It was fried chicken, homemade ravioli, an Italian salad, and a blackberry cobbler. It amde me feel special and so very welcome in my parents' home.

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  40. ...multiply the good. Those are surely words to live by, either on the farm or in the city. The good is all around and at our feet every day, we only need remember and move it onward, if only to our own hearts.

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  41. pamela in nj1/27/2010 9:25 AM

    As part of a group of awesome women at church we often help each other out with meals. Whether someone has a baby, a family member dies, or they are just having a bad day someone is always ready and willing to bring the family a meal.

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  42. Before I race over to your review on The Laws of Harmony, I must share these two links. They're about the time I met Judi Hendricks on jury duty and the day she came to visit.
    http://www.the7msnranch.com/2009/10/i-will-confess-to-being-just-tad.html

    http://www.the7msnranch.com/2009/10/day-book-tour-came-to-7msn-and-pie.html

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  43. I think the best food memories I have are of when I was growing up on our little 2 acre farm in Oregon. I remember summer time and all the wonderful fruits. We had apples, at least 12 varieties, pears, grapes, elderberries, raspberries, and best of all were the loads and loads of huge, sweet, aromatic blackberries. They grew everywhere, and during late summer and early fall, we picked them by the gallons. They were delicious eaten fresh and warm right off the thorny vines. I would also help my mother can jelly. We did lots of jelly every year. Mostly blackberry, but also apple and even pear. We had muslin bags of draining jellies hanging all over the kitchen. We also canned lots of vegetables and fruits as they came in season, for winter eating. Those were great times. Lots of work, but it kept me busy, especially during my teen years when I did tend to be a little melancholy.
    Anita

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  44. When my best friend died, several folks who'd known him--people who didn't know each other all that well but were drawn together by G's life and death--got together for a funeral feast. It was in a rooftop garden somewhere in Boston. We ate...well, everything. I can't remember the menu now, almost twenty years later, except there was a lot of Spanish food, a lot of chocolate, and far too much booze. We laughed and cried and resolved we'd "savor every bite" of life in his honor.

    I'm still keeping that promise. I've long since lost touch with the others, but I hope they are too.

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  45. When my husband died, I didn't seem to know how to cook for myself alone. So I cooked and shared what I made. Cooking got me outside myself and the ensuing trials of being a young widow. I didn't have children, but looking back on it now. I think feeding a family would have been the ultimate feeling of safty and nurturing. I did make dog treats, learend about hot bran mashes for my horses. Made treats for my neighbors kids. All and all I think the simple act of cooking kept me centerd. I still think of the kitchen as the heart of my home.

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  46. My grandmother made "sticky buns" every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Before she died, I asked her to give me the recipe. She wouldn't give me the bread recipe (she didn't like hers and wanted me to find my own) but she gave me the recipe for the sticky topping. The Grandmother (as my sister and I referred to her) has been gone since 2001 but every year I make her sticky buns and we remember her. That's what food is all about for me...memories.

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  47. cdeck21@sbcglobal.net1/27/2010 1:38 PM

    I have been a faithful reader of your blog for a long time and have made many of your wonderful recipes. When I was young my mother used to make Beef Orzo soup and then when I grew up I made it with her. She's been gone for many years and I think of her every time I make this simple soup. Now my daughter makes it too and hopefully my grandchildren will carry on this tradition. The wonderful food connection!

    Carol

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  48. I'd definitely love to join in on this! I so want to read this!

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  49. I recently baked my way out of a severe depression. Baking is my joy.

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  50. When I first married and moved across the continent..I made grannie's cinnamon buns to feel close to the good times of being with family..

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  51. I baked my husband back in love with me. No, seriously. After a near-divorce at 22 years, I renewed my love of "everything homemade" - the results happy "ME" helped create a happy "US".

    :)

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  52. I was never much of a foodie until I married an Italian boy, so cooking is a big part of our family. It's tradition to make and share good Italian food that is Americanized! Your blog is wonderful. I've really enjoyed your daily pics and stories. Makes my day when I read your blog and stories, no matter how sad, it's part of life, thank you for sharing! - JMF

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  53. after a traumatic event a couple of years ago, i found that automatic inhalation of breath trigged by the aroma of somethign freshly baked from the oven was the only thing that could get me really breathing deep enough again. and that is still true today and the struggle w/ the afermath continues.

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  54. Oh this sounds like a wonderful book. I'd love to win a copy and even if I don't I just may buy one.

    When I'm upset I cook. I can't claim to be a good cook but you'll always know when I'm bashing pots in the kitchen that I'm working out a problem and to stay away.

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  55. When times are tough I make bread - seems mixing and kneading and baking are stress relievers for me - and eating the first slice out of the oven slathered with butter helps also...Marcia in WY

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  56. Eating has always been one of my favorite things. Cooking has become one. To me, it's just another creative outlet.

    We have suffered financially over the past few years. As a result, we have not been able to go out to eat hardly at all. This has forced me to up my cooking skills to a new level to satisfy my palette. I have had a great time doing it.

    However, nothing beats the joy of cooking for a grateful, friendly crowd. I love that food brings people together.

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  57. I knew cooking was different for me when it helped heal my own stress, when I was horribly stressed out from some family issues, my dad finally said to me after hearing too much complain, go back some cookies, you'll feel better, I didn't know my love for cooking was so ingrained in me, but boy, going into the kitchen and just creating makes the world's and my own woes a lot more easy to deal with,
    I've been lurking for sometime now, but this book looks too good to pass up, love your blog, thanks for sharing!

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  58. My job, like so many others, is really really stressful. About a year and a half ago, my boyfriend said, you know, I never see you happier than when you are in the kitchen. It made me realize that he was totally right. Ever since I was little, my happiest memories are of cooking and baking. So I decided to keep working (sigh the mortgage still needs to get paid) but I'm working on building my baking skills (maybe even going culinary schools at night) and hopefully opening my own bakery/cake decorating business in a few years. It's the light at the end of the tunnel.

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  59. Cooking is how I unwind at the end of the day. I find immense satisfaction in chopping, peeling and sauteing. Even if I'm the only mouth at home to feed, I still enjoy the simplicity of putting together a good, healthy meal.

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  60. Hi, as a long-time reader of your blog, I'm ashamed to say this is probably the first time I've left a comment. I enjoy all your stories, happy and not so happy ones, your animals and your food postings. I have chronic health issues, and I can certainly state that changing food habits have helped me maintain a stable health. Also, being unable to work, I am able to home cook all my family's meals, and also started working with yeast in my baking...a very big thing for a yeast-phobic baker.Baking has helped me deal with my everyday health stresses....when I bake I lose myself in the act of creating a tasty treat, and do not think of what I'm unable to accomplish that day. As an Italian-Canadian, I can relate to the author's sense of relationship with family and food. Where there is one, the other will make an appearnce. It is also important to keep traditions and cherish family recipes...when our loved ones are no longer physically with us,they still share a place at the table.

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  61. Dinners with my extended family at our family farm were the centerpiece of shared good times together. With my grandparents and father now long deceased, I can readily call up the warmth and fun of our family by thinking of one our meals. Can still visualize each of us sat at our old farm table, though our places are now filled with fresh faces. You never wanted those meals to end, and indeed they haven't.

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  62. in 2008, my husband suffered a minor heart attack & had a quintuple bypass all within 2 days. when he came home from the hospital, he finally agreed to let me makeover his favorite foods so that they were healthier. he also agrred to eating the healthy low-fat meals i usually cooked without complaining. he's doing great almost 2 yrs later. i'm very proud of him for his progress to healthier eating.

    thanks for your e-ltr. hope your & your animals are surviving the snow.

    also hope you are better from the flu by now.

    take care, claudia

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  63. Warning: this gets a bit graphic--no sexual content, but medical stuff.

    Food has always been exceptionally important to my family. Almost every phone conversation begins with, "how was lunch?" We cook together, garden together, eat together as a way of showing love. Last birthday, I was sent seeds (to grow kale, my favorite veg) and country ham from Tennessee.

    A number of years ago, my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 naso-pharyngeal cancer. Since the tumors were located just off of her brain stem, they were inoperable. We were warned by her docs that the chemo and radiation combo necessary to combat the disease might kill her anyway. She chose to have the treatment and moved in with me, since I lived close to the treating facilities.

    On the very first night after chemo, I made her homemade chicken and wild rice soup. About an hour later, she projectile-vomited the soup across my washer and dryer. She didn't stop vomiting for months. As chemo progressed, she became more and more ill, unable to brush her teeth, drink any water--in short, she couldn't have anything in her mouth at all.

    I started eating all of my meals outside, where she wouldn't be able to hear or see me eat. I stopped cooking, because I didn't want the smell to make her vomit. Every day I left work for two hours, took Mom to radiation, took her home, bathed her and went back to work.

    Her fever started spiking up to 102 or 104 weekly, necessitating emergency hospital visits. Since she couldn't eat, she often lost consciousness. The docs continued to give her radiation every M-F, with chemo every 3 weeks.

    One night I forged her signature so that the docs could insert a GI feeding tube. It was the only way she was going to live. Otherwise her body would have eaten itself and collapsed before they could finish treatment. After the tube was inserted, we had to "feed" her several times a day with Ensure or other products. She hated it, just loathed the smell of the product.

    Finally the Ensure gave her enough calories to get some mental clarity back, and she told the docs that enough was enough. She stopped all treatment and went home to die.

    She was on the Ensure for another three months while her body flushed the chemo's heavy metals, unable to eat or drink anything else. The docs couldn't confirm whether they'd "killed" enough of her to get the cancers or not. So we waited.

    One day she called me and asked that I drive down for the day. I took a day off work. When I walked in the door, I found that she'd made some chicken and rice soup for me--from the same recipe we've used since I was a child, full of wild rice and carrots, dill and scallions. It was the first time she'd cooked since starting treatment.

    She ate a little bit that day, and for me it was like an act of god. I'd never thought she would make it so far. She ate and was happy. That was as good as life could be for me, pretty much ever.

    I don't know how or why, but my mom's okay. She went into remission--NO ONE goes into remission at stage 4 with this particular cancer--and she's okay. She's had to have another GI tube put in, because the radiation did so much damage to her esophagus and salivary glands, that she can't eat enough to maintain weight. (She was a size 20 pre-cancer; has gone in between 0 and 4 since). She is prone to pneumonia because some food inevitably goes into her lungs.

    Every Sunday she makes a bit pot of soup, because it's one of the easiest things for her to eat. She calls me to ask for advice--what pairs well with the Portugese chorizo I sent?--or to tell me about this week's haul of Asian greens from the garden. Sometimes she even gets so hungry that she eats while we're on the phone.

    Listening to my mom slurp soup is the most beautiful sound in the world.

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  64. food has always been a way to bring my family together. likely, it has also brought yours together as well. for nearly the last 30 years in this country, we had been blessed with good health and happiness in our family. unfortunately, a year ago, i had an uncle succumb to cancer. it hit us all pretty hard. so we did what we knew. we came together as a family and we cooked and we ate and we hugged and we cried. we toasted and we remembered. baked goods, fresh desserts, wonderful soups and stews bring us together, through thick and thin.

    oh. and cookies.

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  65. Books and eating! Great combination at anytime! My Mom came to us from the hospital and was dying. She had been over-medicated with psycotropic drugs and was expected to die withing days. Two years and many nourishing meals later made with love and tenderness she is still with us! She has lost much of her vision and now listens to "books on tape". The power of love, food and the written word to nourish and sustain our souls is very evident here.

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  66. Oh I would love to win an advance copy of this book. Looks like a great one! MMMMMMMM I can't wait to make the soup.

    Kelly Lilley
    2102 Orange Factory Road
    Bahama, NC 27503

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  67. Sounds like a very interesting book. In know what you mean about not having much time to read and then not piling depressing books on top of a less than cheery day; I've been turning to romantic comedy flicks because of that. For me, just the act of cooking, creating something that smells good, is what brings me back. Even after a long hard week nothing makes me feel as good and the creative process of cooking something. When I'm really longing for home, my guilty pleasure is so simple its laughable but makes me feel so good. I fry some broken up capellini(fideo) noodles until as many of them are browned as possible but none burnt. Then I add tomato paste, water and salt. The noodles simmer in that till cooked through and the sauce recuced. Umm, I' think I'll make some for lunch.

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  68. This sounds like a lovely book so count me in! I will have to say that our family recipe for cut-out cookies is the best salve ever... coincidentally, I just baked a batch this morning to fulfill a customer order! Of course, there are always a few left over for me and the hubby. :)

    Now I'm off to read the earlier post with the White Bean Soup recipe. Ummmm!

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  69. I'd like a copy of the book! I've found I have less and less time for reading books as I find myself reading more and more from various people online.

    I've always found it comforting to make "Grandma's macaroni and cheese" and "Grandma's potatoes." There's something about family recipes that makes them taste better! Though they never taste quite the same when family isn't there to enjoy them with.

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