Thursday, February 4, 2021

Ruth Reichl's Comfort Me with Apples ~ my review


Comfort Me with Apples ends with Ruth Reichl’s saying she took her title from Song of Solomon. Also significant is what comes just before “comfort me with apples”: “He has taken me to his banqueting table, and his banner over me is love.” [Song of Solomon 2:4]


Reichl’s memoir of her early days as a food writer is truly a love story and a banquet. I enjoyed her candor in describing the men she loves during the years covered in Comfort Me with Apples, as well as how she lovingly manages her mother’s irritating idiosyncrasies. But her love for food completely captivated me. What a refined palate she has! And I could almost see, smell, and taste the food from Reichl’s sensual descriptions. Here are three examples:


“I stuck my nose in the glass and the light scent of spring flowers came drifting up.” [p.201]

“… as he set one [bowl of soup] before me the steam wafted up, bathing my face in warm fragrance. I leaned into it, liking the feeling, and saw pale cubes of foie gras floating languidly in the broth. I fished one out. As my mouth closed over it a small explosion occurred: The foie gras had dissolved, leaving only its melted center. The richness flooded down my throat and I thought what an astonishing sensation it was, to see solid and sense liquid.” [p.58]

“The crust was flaky but once I got through, I hit the truffle, which tasted the way a forest smells in autumn when the leaves are turning colors and someone, far off, is burning them.” [p.44]


Oh, and Reichl introduces readers to Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, and other famous chefs, as well as some of their restaurant struggles; and she includes recipes. I found this memoir fascinating.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle ~ my review

In Tattoos on the Heart, Greg Boyle weaves both tough and tender anecdotes with timeless truths about God. In fact, Boyle admits in the introduction, this whole book is about God. Thank God for Gregory Boyle, better known among the gangs of Los Angeles as Father G! A Jesuit priest, G has dedicated his life to treasuring folks whom society has discarded as useless and troublesome. He treats them as Jesus would. When people fear God must look at them and think “disappointment,” Father G shows that God is actually thinking “delight.” Left-out, self-destructive gang members renew hope at Homeboy Industries, where many excel at gainful employment.


Homeboy Industries hires many gang members for neighborhood cleanup, graffiti removal, landscaping, construction of a child-care center, running a bakery, to name a few of their projects. When a gang member gains enough confidence to seek employment, as a symbol of his heart change, he often wants some of his bitter-outburst tattoos removed, so Homeboy includes a tattoo-removal service. The Tattoos on the Heart title of this book is based on a homie Sharkey’s response to G’s complimenting his courage. G tells him he is a giant among men. Sharkey responds, “Damn, G, I’m gonna tattoo that on my heart.”


Reading this book both warms and breaks my heart. In anecdote upon anecdote, I meet Luis, Lencho, Rigo, Lula, Elias, Jason, Lorenzo, Moreno, Freddy … and I feel their shame, joy, despair, and hope. They walk in the ways of their violent neighborhoods until they see they can walk toward a productive life. Often G’s showing them God’s unconditional, nonjudgmental love is their pivotal point. Sometimes they don’t make it out alive. Sometimes they do. Some stories are tragic. Others are funny. So often though, G’s anecdotes expand my horizons along with those of his homies.


Greg Boyle’s stories in Tattoos on the Heart illustrate the power of Jesus Christ’s love to change lives. I was changed to hear about a father who just can’t take his eyes off his kid, who in his eyes could not be one bit better.  Boyle quotes Anthony De Mello: “Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.” God does not love us with a disapproving love. That’s a huge truth to grasp. As homie Scrappy enters through the narrow gate, he finds expansiveness on the other side. Boyle writes: “No part of our hardwiring or our messy selves is to be disparaged. Where we stand, in all our mistakes and imperfection, is holy ground. It is where God has chosen to be intimate with us and not in any way but this. Scrappy’s moment of truth was not in recognizing what a disappointment he’s been all these years. It came in realizing that God had been beholding him and smiling for all this time, unable to look anywhere else.” [page 35]


Carmen wanders in to G’s office and tells him, “I … am … a … disgrace.” Boyle admits, “Suddenly her shame meets mine, for when Carmen walked through that door, I had mistaken her for an interruption.” [page 42] Boyle then reflects on shame and its central role in life-destroying addictions. He notes, “There is a palpable sense of disgrace strapped like an oxygen tank onto the back of every homie I know.” What a perfect metaphor; I can relate to breathing in shame as the only thing I knew to breathe. Boyle includes here a beautiful quote from Beldon Lane, a theologian: “Divine love is incessantly restless until it turns all woundedness into health, all deformity into beauty and all embarrassment into laughter.” That gives me hope.


Father G’s incomprehensibly large compassion for other humans inspires me. Boyle’s teaching style in Tattoos on the Heart combines personal stories with his own observations with insightful quotations of others. I find this style both effective and entertaining. I had many Hmmm and Wow moments while reading this book. I will finish here with just one more quote. On the subject of fearing your kindness will be perceived as weakness, Boyle writes, “Sooner or later, we all discover that kindness is the only strength there is.” [page 124]


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Password Lunacy

It's only Tuesday, and already this week I've had so much blatantly false security, I'm ready to reserve a room in the nearest psych ward for refuge from this crazy world. Everything one does nowadays requires a password. And I'm on it. I follow professional suggestions for secure passwords. I rarely use the same password for different accounts. I ~ a senior citizen with a simple life ~ have 95 passwords. How do people with truly complex lives manage all these passwords? Not to mention user names.


Okay, a fun new one was generated so that I could attend certain concerts. But then Google decided to not accept my established password, so I made up a new one. My homeowners' listserv changed providers this week, so hey, new password. Even though Medicare and Social Security are related agencies, their websites require separate passwords. Now security is a two-step process, so confirmation codes valid for only 30 minutes now clutter my text list.


Suddenly one e-mail account gets too much weird spam, so I'm trying to change that password, but can I? No. Clicking every icon on the home page, I cannot find a way to do this. After waiting on-hold forever, my provider told me a different department handles passwords. Maybe tomorrow I'll muster the patience to call back. When I look online for Christmas gifts and a merchant requires a password, I go elsewhere. I'm fed up. And I can't keep up.


Precautions, it turns out, don't eliminate fraud, only reduce the odds. Yesterday my luck ran out. I received a letter showing someone had filed for unemployment benefits in my name. Yep, you guessed it ~ To report this fraud, I had to generate three new passwords, for the Department of Employment Services, the government's identity theft website, and a credit bureau. Sigh.


Where can I go if the psych ward doesn't have free beds at the moment? A monastery? Cave? Oh, wait ... Maybe my therapy can be holding my neighbor's new puppy. No password or user name required, only a mask. I can handle that.