Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fiji Natural Artesian Water

Sorry, but it tastes no different than tap water.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Review of Dinner with Dad by Cameron Stracher

I was intrigued by the title and sure it would be on my reading list before I ever checked reviews or sales rankings for Dinner with Dad by Cameron Stracher. A lawyer, professor and author in New York, Stracher tells the story of his hurried life, saying:

As my salary increased, my appetite grew, until I needed every dollar I was making and lived from paycheck to paycheck. I was trapped in a cycle of my own making from which the chances of escape appeared dim. But I could stop the carousel if I wanted. I could get off.

The author is caught up like so many in chasing success and avoiding life but eventually promises to turn it all around. With his wife and two young children at home, he deeply desires to return not only to his family, but to his favorite pastime: cooking. The book is framed through the story of planning for, preparing and cooking dinner, and then sharing meals together at least five nights a week including weekends, for one year.

I thought he presented the experiment beautifully, even without possessing a basic appreciation for the Zen of cooking myself. I underlined several well-told lessons that I found intermittently woven throughout his story. He tells of the inescapable trade-off between family and work, later alluding to Eugene O’Kelly’s Chasing Daylight (another one that I’d recommend), and speaking of the inability to control the future or the outcome of one’s own dreams. He describes his role as father: “Who [my children] were what they would become, [was] a function of who and what I was and how I lived.”

At times the book takes long stretches to describe the process of preparing meals with detailed descriptions and list of ingredients that I’ve never heard of, and also at times feels like grandstanding for his recent noble efforts, sometimes minimizing his wife’s attempts to contribute to family meals, and making sure to describe the newfound admiration he receives from others. But if the reader shares Stracher’s passion for cooking and his promise to be a better family man, then the book might be a most inspiring.

Here’s the best excerpt for making the correlation between cooking and working:

Unlike my jobs, which nourish my family in their own way, putting a plate before my children is direct, visible, and tangible. The results are immediate and clear. Working is abstract and conceptual, while cooking is concrete and corporeal. Work takes me away; cooking brings me home. The former is necessary but not sufficient, the latter essential and primordial. One is absence, the other presence. On his deathbed, no one has ever prayed for more work. Plenty have died from hunger, however.

Meet Ben

Benjamin Midler was born in Poland 79 years ago and spent four prime years of his boyhood from ages 11 to 15 in concentration camps during World War II. Later he fought with the Israeli Army, including the 1948 War of Independence and the 1956 Sinai Campaign. At age 23 Benjamin married his sweetheart, born in Egypt, and he has been married to her for the past for 56 years with three daughters and four grandchildren. For 25 years Benjamin owned an auto parts store in the Chicago area before retiring to San Diego where he worked for two years as a driver for Car Quest store, and then retired for good, presently living in Rancho Bernardo.

Early last Friday morning I’d taken my aisle seat on the United flight from San Diego to Chicago and was reading Sick, a book by Jonathan Cohn about the healthcare crisis in the United States, unaware of the great story sitting beside me in the middle seat. Eventually the man and I engaged in small talk. He was on his way to Madrid for an eight-day tour while his wife stayed home because she doesn’t like to travel anymore. We chatted a little about current events, and he offered his People magazine to me with an article he found interesting about a woman who recently had a baby from invitro fertilization using the sperm of her husband who’d perished in the War in Iraq a few years ago. He said a few words about the tragedy of war, and then uttered something about spending time in concentration camps as a boy. I dropped the magazine onto my lap, turned aghast toward the man, and nearly asked him to repeat what he’d said. “You were in concentration camps?” I asked the man with something between incredulity and shock. He rotated his left forearm and presented the evidence: a faint blue series of numbers tattooed on his skin many years ago.

For a couple hours I asked questions and he shared stories. He remembers seeing a photo of himself as a boy with a younger sister but has no other memory of her. He said people who’d gone through that experience tend to block entire periods of time from memory, and this is probably why he doesn’t remember the sister in the photo. He seems heartbroken by the toll of wartime – all wars, even today. He meets monthly with the New Life Club, a group of about 100 survivors of concentration camps now living in the San Diego area. I asked him if he’s written down his story, and he replied instantly that he wrote a book in 1993, self-published and given away to his friend and family.

We introduced ourselves to each other. “I’m Ben,” he said.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Halloween candy

Halloween is coming and Melissa was recently quoted in this Washington Parent article with her "unique solution to the dilemma of too much candy."