Friday Faves: Apple Season!

“Pumpkin spice” is advertised everywhere we look from September through Thanksgiving (and I’ll admit I made these “pumpkin spice” energy bites yesterday), but for me, the real treat of the fall season is a crisp, sweet, tart apple.

Sidebar: The quotes around the words pumpkin spice are because in reality, there is no such thing as “pumpkin spice”. Flip over any package of the stuff, which is ubiquitous on spice aisles this time of year, and you’ll find a list of ingredients that you already have in your pantry. Or at least you have them when you cook as much as we do: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and possibly allspice.

While these are indeed used to flavor pumpkin pie, they’re also used for sweet potato pie, some apple pies (minus the ginger, of course!), butternut squash recipes, and many more that I won’t bother to list. My point is that the pumpkin spice gimmick has been a cash cow for the food industry when most home cooks already have the stuff in their cabinets. You can even flavor your own coffee with it for a fraction of what Starbucks charges! But as usual, I’ve digressed from the topic at hand, which is the happiness apple season brings me!

For today, I was trying to decide how to list my favorite apple varieties. I concluded that I’ll list my top five -in no particular order- along with what I use them for. Not all apples shine best in the same ways!

Granny Smith: a great baking apple. These were cultivated in Australia in 1868 by a “granny” named Maria Ann Smith. Something about Granny Smiths makes just about anything you bake with them taste phenomenal. I suspect it’s that bit of tartness juxtaposed against the sweetness of the other ingredients it is baked into. I will occasionally eat a Granny Smith just because, and one of my daughters only ever wants to eat Granny Smith, but I consider it best as a baking apple.

Pink Lady: Cultivated and principally grown in Australia (in 1973), pink lady apples are a cross between tartness and sweetness. They are a little crunchier and a little sweeter than Granny Smiths, and they work well when making drinks such as apple lemonade. We’re big around our house about making eclectic drink combinations for Sunday dinners.

Gala: Cultivated in New Zealand during the 1930s, these are my favorite economical snacking apple. The perfect combination of crunchy and sweet makes them a favorite to slice and eat along with a salad for lunch.

Honeycrisp: Hands down, the apple I most look forward to this time of year! These apples, cultivated in the 1970s in Minneapolis, taste like a very decadent treat. They are more expensive than most other varieties of apples, but in my book, every bite is worth the added cost per pound. Cooking Light explains here why Honeycrisps are so expensive.

Those are my favorite apples along with some random trivia about when and where they were cultivated. We don’t experience much resembling a change of seasons down here, so we have to take our bits of fall however we can get them. For many Southerners, that’s pumpkin spice. For me, it’s all about the apples.

Do you enjoy the apple season? If so, which are among your favorite varieties? There are so many, after all!

My Reading Life

I pilfered this idea from Rod Dreher, who posted his answers to these questions after reading Clive James’ answers to them at The Guardian. I thought it was an excellent idea, and contemplating the answers made me think deeply about my own reading life, so here goes:

The Books I Am Currently Reading:

I’m currently reading three books. The first is Dorothy Sayer’s Mind of the Maker. The second is Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley. The third is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I’ll probably finish them in that order, so stay tuned.

A Book That Changed My Life:

Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one that immediately springs to mind. It was an excellent opportunity to be reminded that as Christians, we would do well to be thankful for our mutual fellowship. We should be looking for common ground rather than reasons to bite and devour one another over minutiae. It really is a classic exploration of Christian community. A second one might be The  Heart of the Five Love languages by Gary Chapman. It really helped me reconsider how I interact in my marriage and personal relationships.

A Book I Wish I’d Written:

I can’t really think of a book I wish I’d written, although the books that I immediately thought of when I read the question are the ones by authors who drew on their local culture: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, The Lion’s Paw by Robb White, and  Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski, all set in Florida during overlapping periods, are the kinds of books I wish I could write. I am not inclined, however, towards fiction writing so I can’t say definitively that I wish I’d written any of them.

A Book That Had the Greatest Influence on My Writing:

For right now, I’m thinking it’s probably How to Be Unlucky by Joshua Gibbs. I’m sure this is partly because it’s still relatively fresh in my mind, but it’s also because I really appreciate his ability to write about faith in a genuine way without over spiritualizing every facet of life.

I haven’t yet determined whether or not this speaks well of my spiritual state, but I want to be called higher (and to call others higher), from down here among the wrestling rabble, not from the pretense of on a lofty plane, of having arrived. I hope, when I can sort my thoughts enough to produce an entire volume, I can find the sweet spot Gibbs hits in his writing.

A Book I Think Is Most Over/Underrated:

Persuasion, by Jane Austen, hands down. Unless I’m in a conversation among die hard literature types, I never hear any mention of this novel of hers. And it is among my favorite Austen books, second only to Emma which I love for its humor.

A Book That Changed My Mind:

Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell was the first book I read that made me think completely differently about economic policy and politics as an integrated subject. It was partially the beginning of my abandonment of liberalism and the discarding of incongruent thinking on the subject of, well…basic economics.

The Last Book That Made Me Cry:

Books don’t generally make me cry. While I can’t think of one which fits that specific bill, I can think of one that moved me emotionally as I read it. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis is a book that lays bare the stages of grief in a way that almost anyone can appreciate.

The Last Book That Made me Laugh:

My Man Jeeves and Other Stories, by P.G. Wodehouse. Wodehouse is among the best humorist writers and reading his books are guaranteed to make me chuckle.

A Book I Couldn’t Finish:

Fierce Angels was the latest one. I just couldn’t swallow all the intersectionality and oppression talk. Sometimes even I, who can wade through quite a lot of muck for the sake of information, have to throw in the towel.

The Book I’m Most Ashamed Not to Have Read:

I tend to think that if I haven’t read a book yet, it’s okay. It’s even okay if I never read it. However, I used to feel kind of icky that I’ve never read The Odyssey. Oh, well. Maybe one day.

My Earliest Reading Memory:

The Dick and Jane books in first grade. I could already read when I got there, so it was a drag reading these.

My Comfort Read:

The Bible, followed by almost any Jane Austen novel.

The Book I Give As a Gift:

I recently gave How to be Unlucky as a gift to a friend, and a Frog and Toad collection to an expectant mother. I don’t have a go-to book that I give as a gift. I’m a gift card kind of gal and a gift card to Barnes and Noble frees the giftee to choose whatever they want to read.

The Book I’d Most Like to Be Remembered For:

I don’t have an answer for this one as I haven’t published a book yet. Time will tell either way…

Now to the important part: Tell me all about YOUR reading life by answering some of these questions in the comments!

 

On Books and the Unchanging Nature of Things

old and new

The wonderful thing about books is that if you’ve read a sufficient number, you quickly realize that King Solomon was right: There truly is nothing new under the sun. Cultural shifts occasionally offer the illusion that we’ve cooking up something new, but once you take a bite, it’s readily apparent that this just another case of, “New Look! Same Great Taste!”

I just started reading Dorothy Sayers’ Mind of the Maker, originally published in 1941. In light of our current political, social, and cultural trajectory, this quote from the first chapter stood out to me:

The more closely the moral code agrees with the natural law, the more it makes for freedom in human behaviour; the more widely it departs from the natural law, the more it tends to enslave mankind…

This corroborates what we already know, at least some of us. Our tendency to enforce utopian ideals by fiat, despite their blatant incongruency with the ingrained laws of the universe, is not a new one. It hasn’t worked before, and despite the technologies that have shrunk our world, it isn’t working now, for obvious reasons:

The moral code depends for its validity upon a consensus [8] of human opinion about what man’s nature really is, and what it ought to be, when freed from this mysterious self-contradiction and enabled to run true to itself. If there is no agreement about these things, then it is useless to talk of enforcing the moral code.

It’s not that we don’t know these truths. We do, but it sates the soul when those who have gone before, and are smarter, more articulate and presumably more wise than we confirm what we can see and sense in our hearts as true.

Behold the power of a great book!

* I’m still reading this particular book, but have learned that it is a part of the public domain in Canada. Ergo, although I’ve already spent money on it, there is online access to it. Weirdly, we are supposed to consult the laws in our country before reading it or something, so consider this your public service announcement.

Proverbial with Joshua Gibbs

I’m not much of a podcast kind of gal. In fact, I often forget that they exist unless my husband sends me a recording or another friend directs me to something profound or otherwise entertaining. Youtube I utilize, but anything that suggests I need to add another app leaves me cold.

Or at least, that was the case until my friend made me aware of the upcoming series of podcasts by Joshua Gibbs aptly titled, Proverbial. You can listen to the introductory overview of what to expect at this Castbox link.

It wasn’t long ago that I reviewed his excellent book, How to Be Unlucky, and included a short excerpt, the spirit of which appears to be the motivation for the podcasts:

The modern man wants every proverb qualified, asterisked, and stated so tentatively that it has nothing to do with himself. Only a common man cares about what commonly happens, but ours is a generation of proud weirdos. For a proverb to be of value to a man, he must see himself as normal, ordinary, common. He must not see himself as special, atypical, excused from the law of averages. A proverb is not a law, but a description of the world right down the middle. Thus, the more unique a man thinks himself, the less open he is to the wisdom of the ages, for Solomon is not interested in describing the unusual cases, but the conventional ones. p.91

Yeah. I’m totally looking forward to listening to this, seeing as I am a woman constantly in the throes of disavowing myself of my uniqueness and sense of self-importance.

In His Steps

In His Steps, Kindle Edition, by Charles M. Sheldon. Originally published in 1896. 156 print pages.

In His Steps is the classic Christian novel by Charles M. Sheldon. It is, I think the first fictional work I’ve read in quite some time that ran counter to my usual experience of reading fiction much more quickly than nonfiction. In fact, I’ve spent a couple of extra weeks both reading this book and contemplating my review of it.

I know what I think of the book, and I know what I am supposed to think of this beloved and renowned work and its author, and my challenge is reconciling my two warring perspectives of the book. Last night, as I was falling asleep, it hit me. Dubois’ theory of double consciousness strikes at the heart of my wrestling with this book. In reality, this inner conflict is hardly isolated to the realm of race in America. I am increasingly able to see how, given our history of merging the political and the religious, the American Christian, sans vigilance, can be afflicted by this same phenomena of double consciousness. We’ll get back to that in bit.

Since I both liked and struggled with In His Steps, depending on the scene it which it was set, we’ll start with a brief synopsis of the plot of the story.

The Rev. Henry Maxwell, pastor of First Church of Raymond, experiences a crisis of faith after a homeless man enters his church and challenges him and his congregation concerning the veracity of their faith in action. A few days later Jack, the homeless man, dies. Maxwell grapples with everything the man said to his congregation that day, and begins to earnestly pray and reconsider his and his congregation’s comfortable, self-satisfied faith. Not only is it void of personal sacrifice, but it is more of a merit badge signaling class and decency than evidence true, Christian discipleship.

The next Sunday, Rev. Maxwell enters the pulpit a changed man, with a renewed passion for Christ and the gospel message. After shocking his congregation with a sermon and prayer lacking the rehearsed polish and poise they have become accustomed t, he ended the morning’s worship by challenging his congregants to embark with him on a new journey. Specifically, he has resolved to filter every life decision through prayer and the answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?”

So WWJD wasn’t just a 90s slogan that looks good on t-shirts and rubber bracelets!

Initially, about 50 of his congregants join him in prayer and resolve to do nothing without prayerfully and earnestly considering whether Jesus would do the thing in question. The results are remarkable, and many of the players involved encounter situations where their commitment to living as they believe Jesus would come at great personal sacrifice. Some lose jobs, some lose money, and others find that relationships are tested. However, having pledged wholeheartedly to embrace the Christian promise that every one that has forsaken houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundred times, and shall inherit everlasting life, they forge on in faith.

There were a few who fell away when difficulties arose, but overall, the town itself was reinvigorated with all that was taking place. I especially appreciated the way that the congregation of First Church of Raymond left their cushy, prosperous lives and donated time and energy to minister to the people in the roughest, most obviously sin-scarred parts of their town. It was a picture of revival that any Christian can’t help but be moved by.

In addition to the self-sacrifice and commitment to being the hands and feet of Jesus outside the four walls of their brick and mortar edifices, there were others who were committed to transforming their entire city for the glory of Christ. Commitments to be more active in promoting Christians in politics and shutting down saloons to curb liquor consumption was a theme that ran strong throughout the book. It’s also where my wrestling began until I recognized that this is not a new problem and that W.E.B. DuBois had expressed it well describing the freed slaves in America trying to reconcile their American citizenship with an oppressive culture constantly reminding them of their foreignness. Before I explain further, here’s a portion of DuBois’ original quote:

“One ever feels his twoness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Now I’ll rework it to show how it directly relates to the conundrum of the American Christian, particularly in light of our traditional intertwining of our faith and our governing principles:

One ever feels his twoness, — an American citizen, and a citizen of heaven; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one fleshly body, whose strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

As I read the portions of In His Steps from my current spiritual (and political) vantage point, I couldn’t help but fell a sense of wariness at the notion that Christians can somehow “Christianize” the dominant culture as many of the well-meaning actors attempt to do in Sheldon’s city of Raymond, and later as the book’s setting moved to Chicago. The whitewashing of external unpleasantness can make it easy to become complacent about our need for repentance. The temptation is strong to believe teetotalling, calf-length dresses, and sin locked away in the dark is evidence of our spiritual fitness. Michael Horton expands on this way of thinking in his piece on American captivity of the church.

Because of my tendency to inwardly squirm with discomfort at the idea, I had to remember that books are written relevant to the time and place in which they were written. Once I was able to remember that, I was able to relax and enjoy In His Steps a lot more and understand why it has remained a beloved book, touching the hearts of generations of Christians new and old for over 100 years. We would all do well to ask ourselves “what would Jesus do?” in our day to day living, and then act and love others accordingly. Against such things there is no law.

4 out of 5 stars

Friday Faves: Literary to Film Adaptations

When a new movie is released that is based on a renowned piece of literature, my usual approach is to not watch the movie until I have read the book. That hasn’t always been the case, and  plenty of times where I finally got around to reading the book years after having watched the film.

Today, I decided to share my favorite page to big screen adaptations, and to find out which ones are your favorites. In no particular order:

~The Godfather (1972): This movie, featuring Al Pacino in a masterful portrayal of mob boss Michael Corleone, is a great film and one of my favorites. Yes, it’s violent and all that other stuff, but the combination of wonderful performances and a gripping story is why it made my list.

I was slightly older than newborn when this movie was released, so it stands to reason that there was no way I could have read it before the film was released, but I still haven’t read it. I’ve decided that I will read it after the Advent season has passed, at the begiining of next year, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. That there is your southern idiom lesson for the week. 🙂

~Sense and Sensibility (1995)– As I’m sure many of you might guess, I have read -several times over- the book from which this film was adapted. Jane Austen’s classic trope of lovely yet penniless young women seeking marriage and hopefully love is brought delightfully to life in this 1995 adaption. Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, as sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood make this a worthy adapation.

~True Grit ( 1969 or 2010 take your pick!) – Whether we’re discussing the 1969 version starring John Wayne, or the 2010 version starring Jeff Bridges, both of these movies are really great adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel. I have a strong bias towards Jeff Bridges so my vote goes to the later version, but as I said, both are great.

~The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)– This adaptation strays far from James Thurber’s 1939 short story, but it’s a fun movie and it’s one of the few where the time and trouble to read the original and compare notes is easily accessible. The short story doesn’t wrap up with a happy ending gift wrapped and handed to reader with a bow on top the way the film does. But having experienced both, I did come away wondering if it were possible for the original Walter Mitty, even at his more advanced stage of life, to break out of the doldrums and live a happier life in the reality he was born into. We recently discussed Thurbers story right here.

Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)– Based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a very fun film. Much more fun than the 2005 version which we didn’t like all that much. I wasn’t born yet when this movie was released, so again, I didn’t read it before it hit theaters. I was born a little later that same year, but I didn’t read the book until I was a married mother. It’s a great book.

The Help (2011)– I tend to weary of movies that depict slavery or the Jim Crow south, unless there is a very unique unheard angle worth exploring.  But this film (and the 2009 book) had so much humor woven through it and the performances were so well done that I got past it. Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, and Allison Janney (had to Google the cast members!) made me laugh so much that it was worth it to me to watch the film.

That’s my short, but certainly not exhaustive, list.

What are some of  your favorite book to film adaptations?