Tag Archives: Winston Churchill

Poetic cooking while in fetters.

coconut curry with garbanzos

Since my husband’s death three years ago I’ve had three long-term housemates. Two of them have moved on, so that Susan and I are the only ones here, just two of us using the cupboards and large freezer space. This situation dovetails with my own less-burdened mind, which  now is able to grasp:

Yes! The obvious thing is to clean out the larder, use up the food, and start planning and cooking interesting meals with all the bits of this and that squirreled away. Facing up to what is unusable is part of the process; the soup that got lost in the back of the freezer for too long is one of the hidden costs associated with huge life changes, and is not a cause for guilt.

kasha (buckwheat)

Chesterton’s wisdom on creativity always helps me: Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance…  economy, properly understood, is the more poetic. Thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste. It is prosaic to throw money away, because it is prosaic to throw anything away; it is negative; it is a confession of indifference, that is, it is a confession of failure.

The most prosaic thing about the house is the dustbin, and the one great objection to the new fastidious and aesthetic homestead is simply that in such a moral menage the dustbin must be bigger than the house. If a man could undertake to make use of all things in his dustbin he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare.

Another development since I returned from India is that I can’t go back to the weird eating habits I had fallen into as soon as I no longer had anyone to cook for routinely. Eating normally and very tastily for eight weeks cured me forever, I think, of my go-to frozen chopped spinach that I had been eating as the main part of every meal. Yesterday I used the last of it with a little container of likewise defrosted meaty red sauce and a (fresh) egg, to make a perfect breakfast:

These limitations I have placed on myself made me remember other things Chesterton said about art and painting and limits, and that led me on an interesting path through fields of quotes on the topic. Talk about limits and people will argue that they only exist in your mind, and must be “dropped,” if you are “to go beyond them into the impossible.” Even Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “The vistas of possibility are only limited by the shortness of life.” But he wasn’t trying to get dinner on the table in an hour.

Modern man seems especially prone to this delusion, but there are many sage exceptions, like Robert Browning: “So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!”

In matters of food and cooking, even if you had unlimited money you have limited time, and limits on whom you might find to prepare the ingredients, the choice of which is always limited to some degree, and on and on. I know you all know these things; this is my philosophical rambling you’re reading.

“Untitled” by Richard Diebenkorn

I am not advocating for an unhealthy fear of trying something new, but actually the opposite. As George Braque said, “It is the limitation of means that determines style, gives rise to new forms and makes creativity possible.”

And though Richard Diebenkorn was talking about painting, this word from him is empowering when considered at the beginning of any creative work: “My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful, the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles.”

Yesterday I found several very ripe bananas in the freezer, and I did not want to waste them, even if their monetary value at purchase was minimal. You can imagine what they looked like after being there for a while; I’m sure I couldn’t have found a neighbor who wanted them. Anyway, part of my “style” is to stay home. I avoid going shopping, and knocking on doors for any reason. If only I had got my hoped-for worm bins set up, I would have given them to the worms!

But various baking supplies were sitting in the refrigerator begging to be used, so I put everything together into an unusual banana bread. It started from a “paleo” recipe with almond flour, but when I substituted egg replacer for the eggs I created a Grain-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread.

It is a work of super enjoyably edible art!

Reading letters by the fire.

Pippin and The Professor gave us a book for Christmas, Letters of Note, letters of notea compilation by Shaun Usher, whom I might call Usher the Gusher, he is that enthusiastic a promoter of his book. I wish he would let the letters speak for themselves, but his glowing commentary doesn’t detract too much from the delightful pastime of reading the letters.

It’s the best kind of browsing book, and makes me want to dig up and display cherished letters I have been blessed to receive over the years from relatives and friends. It also makes me want to write more letters myself…I actually should be writing some Christmas thank-yous right now!

This evening I’m very tired in body and mind, and am so happy to have such reading material — it could only be improved by being in two volumes so that a weary woman could more comfortably hold one while sitting in a straight-backed chair by the fire. The wind is blowing icily here these days, and it seems that windy cold is better than still because it is chasing the pollutants away and making it o.k. for us to burn wood.

Nixon letter from boy crp

So far I have read at least a couple dozen letters including some from children to government leaders, e.g. Fidel Castro to FDR, and the one pictured above, in a very different spirit; letters from widows and widowers to their deceased spouses, e.g Richard Feynman and Katherine Hepburn;  and a letter from Clementine Churchill to her husband advising him to rise above his stressful situation and be a nicer man (below).

Clementine to Winst crp

Many of the letters are shown in a facsimile of their original typed or handwritten form, like this one from Ray Bradbury responding to a letter from someone who had concern about the effects of robots on society.

Ray Bradbury letter - robots

One of the most compelling so far is from Lucy Thurston, who endured a mastectomy without any anesthetic. In the 19th century she was a missionary from Massachusetts to Hawaii along with her husband. After the surgery in 1855 she lived another 21 years. This letter of which I show a small part is to her youngest daughter:

mastectomy report

mastectomy survivor
Mary Thurston

The book includes 125 letters, but when I run out I can go to Usher’s website, also called Letters of Note, where 900 missives await my discovery. Some of those no doubt are printed in the book, but that still leaves 775….

Going now to stoke the fire.

My encounter with Churchill’s friend.

Almost nine years ago I was in the middle of a Winston Churchill immersion experience, in England with my daughter who is a big fan of the man. We visited the Churchill War Rooms museum in London, his country estate at Chartwell, his birthplace at Blenheim Palace, and his grave.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was a huge collection of quotes, unfortunately displayed in an “interactive” touchscreen format so that I couldn’t easily or thoroughly access them, and I didn’t have the time to write any down, but the essence of one stuck in my mind the way a tasty seed lodges between the teeth and surprises you later on with its savor. I counted on the trusty Internet to help me find the quote after I returned home.

From London we’d taken a side trip to Chartwell, Churchill’s beloved country estate in Kent. We were in his very library, with his own books and furniture. I could just imagine him sitting there enjoying some book that had nothing to do with the government or war; this was the place he came to when he needed to decompress from the strain of his usual days.

from the Internet

I told the docent about the quote I had read the day before, in which Churchill had advised us to think of our books as our friends, and if we couldn’t read them all, at least we could take them off the shelves and touch the pages, and perhaps read a line or two. She didn’t know of this quote, but it was permitted to handle the books on the library shelves, so I did take one down and try to follow his advice.

It was one of those times when I just want to sit down and be there. I’d have liked to read a few lines from several books, or a chapter from one book, or see how they all were organized.  But I was so nervous about meeting this book friend that I didn’t even catch his name. I was trying to keep up a conversation with the docent, and we needed to get through the house to the grounds before the rain started….Now it seems like a fairy story that I was ever there at all.

It’s the anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, Anna reminded me on her blog that is a compilation of “Seven Quick Takes” on him today. I was going to leave a comment on her blog about how I never could find that quote — and I had tried so hard. But then I thought, it’s been a couple of years since I searched; maybe, just maybe if I look again….

And it came up in flash, on Goodreads. One of these experiences that makes you love the Internet.

If you cannot read all your books…fondle them—peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.

The last Churchill place we saw was his humble grave not far from Blenheim Palace, at St. Martin’s Church, Bladon. It was more humble then than now, as it was renovated in 2006.

Mr. Churchill, I honor you on the day of your death; may you rest in peace. One day I hope to get back and spend an hour soaking up your library and making friends with your books.