Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Firmly on Mr. McGregor's Side: A Reality Check

Remember the days when we fondly thought being poor as churchmice would be an adventure? Just think how those 5 little Peppers grew, despite their poverty! Or, what about being short? After all, the Borrowers had such a life of adventure. Then, there's the romantic way Ma and Pa made that little sod house on the prairie. What a life! Can there be too many adorable Peter Rabbits in the world? Wouldn't raising your kids on a diet of Yorkshire moor air be just the thing for their health? Better yet, who wouldn't want to reclaim a secret garden from 10 years of neglect?

Those of us raised on a steady diet of great children's books have no doubt all experienced adulthood as one big reality check. Am I right? Currently, I'm firmly on the side of Mr. McGregor, wishing all little bunnies were being good little bunnies who only ate blackberries (instead of my tomatoes and cucumbers!). I think Mr. McGregor was totally justified in making Peter's father into a pie.

I've also been forced to admit (so far, only to myself) that being poor is not really much fun*; being short is not always a blessing; feeding and raising kids is a lot harder than Mrs. Sowerby makes it out to be; doing yard work/gardening is fun sometimes, but frequently just a lot of hard work; and I don't even want to imagine what cleaning a sod house with dirt floor would be like! And yet, I'm delighted--utterly delighted--that my children are entering the worlds of Mrs. Tiggywinkle and Jemima Puddleduck...soon to be followed with stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Mary Lenox, and other great literary characters. Despite the reality check that eventually comes, great literature teaches us to see things better, to understand people better, to see the Great Story better (creation, fall, redemption). After all, I'm quite sure the Swiss Alps were so beautiful to me in person because I'd already seen them with Heidi, I love roses in part because they were the essence of the Secret Garden, and I can never look at a horse without appreciating the hard work we humans have put them to--especially as London cabby horses. Don't you still think there might be little people under your floorboards borrowing thimbles and whatnot, fairies amongst the fireflies at night, dolls that talk, animals that all get along when the moon is full, and mermaids?

*I must admit that we are not poor by any stretch of the imagination--we had some tough times when hubby was finishing grad school, but even then the Lord had blessed us with more than enough! We were tight enough and continue to budget enough that I can appreciate how much hard work it truly is to make ends meet when you really don't have enough.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices

Paul Fleischman has created a truly unique offering for children in his Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. A collection of antiphonal poetry, the poems in this charming volume are all about bugs. Antiphonal poetry involves two people reading each poem; the lines of the poem are arranged in two columns so that each narrator can figure out his or her lines. In JN, the readers will sometimes be speaking alone, sometimes in unison, and sometimes overlapping--each with a unique line.

Fleischman's little book is organized by the seasons in that the first poems deal with the insects we first encounter in the spring (grasshoppers); the final poems end with winter and what that means for the world of creepy-crawlies. Most poem are in first person--from an insect point of view. The language changes for each insect, gaining speed in the "Whirly-gig Beetle" offering, moving rythmically in the "Waterboatmen" version, chirping away in "House Crickets."

This is one of those books that you simply must experience in audio format. It is less than half an hour long--it would make a nice preschool or kindergarten offering in the midst of longer, "older" books during a long car ride. It fits in well if you're simply running errands, too, since each poem is quite short. The narrators are top notch (I listed to the Recorded Books, Inc. version--those are often found in libraries), and poetry should always be heard, rather than merely read. I think the collection will most resonate with preschool-kindergarten-aged children, but anyone who enjoys bugs and the insect world will appreciate the subtle humor, the variety of language, and the intricacies of hive life that Fleischman includes in his charming poetry collection.

For other audio book recommendations (for those summer trips!), check out the audiobooks category in the right-hand column.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Award Winners--Newbery

The familiar Newbery Award has been around a long time! Nearly 100 years old, it was first awarded in 1922. Awarded annually, to the "author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children," it usually signifies a book worth reading. Still, though, remember that these books are judged by other people--it represents an opinion you are free to disagree with! They are worth getting to know because libraries stock them, and they often wind up on curriculum lists in elementary/middle school classrooms.

These are meaty books, even though they are for "children." They also range from Millions of Cats to Frog and Toad to The Giver in level and content. It's interesting to note that some of the now-standards were only "honor" books back in the day, partly because the committee wondered if their content was too dark (i.e. Charlotte's Web and Old Yeller). Here's the list of winners.

Here are Betsy's faves (I haven't kept up with the Newbery scene as of late; I haven't read many of the newer ones):
  • A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (2002 Winner)
  • Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (2001 Honor)
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (2000 Winner)
  • Holes by Louis Sachar (1999 Winner)
  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (1998 Winner)
  • The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (1997 Honor)
  • Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (1995 Honor)
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (1994 Winner)
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (1990 Winner)
  • Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples (1990 Honor)
  • Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleishman (1989 Winner)
  • Jacob, Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1981 Winner)
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1979 Winner)
  • Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson (1978 Winner)
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (1977 Winner)
  • The Perilous Guard by Elizabeth Marie Pope (1975 Honor)
  • The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (1974 Honor)
  • Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel (1973 Honor)
  • Sounder by William Armstrong (1970 Winner)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1963 Winner)
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (1961 Winner)
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (1959 Winner)
  • Old Yeller by Fred Gibson (1957 Honor)
  • Charlotte's Web by E. B. White (1953 Honor)
  • King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (1949 Winner)
  • My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (1949 Honor)
  • The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (1945 Honor)
  • Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (1937 Winner)

Award Winners--Printz

The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. The Printz Award is a relative newcomer to the award scene; it was first awarded in 2000. It is worth noting one of the key differences between the Printz Award and the more familiar Newbery: the age of the target audience. Printz Awards are given for young adult literature versus the children's literature that receives the Newbery. Sometimes, the protagonist's age doesn't differ greatly, but the subject matter, content, and overall tone will differ extensively.

The pattern, so far, in the Printz Award winners seems to be literature that is most definitely for the upper end of the YA spectrum (age-wise). These are not books to hand casually to your 11-year-old. They are edgy, complex, "messy," open-ended, and, admittedly, well-crafted. They merit much discussion and often include elements that parents are uncomfortable with. They also happen to be books that wind up in high school (or even middle school) classrooms on the curriculum list. It's worth knowing what your children may be reading in school. Certainly, their peers are devouring these books.

Betsy's favorites:
  • American Born Chinese by Gen Yang (2007 Winner): A graphic novel about a Chinese-American boy's struggle to find his cultural identity. Really, a fascinating and well-done book.
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2000 Honor): This one winds up in classrooms regularly, particularly in 8th and 9th grade. It's a sobering, poignant book about a young girl who gets raped at a party during the summer between 8th and 9th grade; she struggles to find her voice (literally) throughout her freshman year. The ending was a bit overdone, in my opinion, but the book tackles a topic worth examining, and Melinda's "voice" in the book (she's the narrator) is readily identified with, even if you haven't undergone the trauma she has experienced.

Here's the list of winners.

Award Winners--Caldecott

"You can't judge a book by its cover" --even when that cover is emblazoned with an award seal!

Award winners are not always the best of the best; this is a subjective group of human beings judging and you are entitled to disagree!

Caldecott Medal (CM): Awarded annually since 1938 to the artist of the "most distinguished American picture book for children." Thus, the Caldecott is awarded to the illustrator, not the author. A quick sampling of the winners shows a fascinating peek into the ways in which children's illustration has evolved over this past century. Here's the list of award winners. Some of Betsy's favorites are (check them out from your local library!):
  • The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (2010 Winner)
  • Red Sings from Treetops illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Joyce Sidman (2010 Honor)
  • Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes (2005 Winner)
  • Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky (1998 Winner)
  • Golem by David Wisnewski (1997 Winner)
  • Tuesday by David Wiesner (1992 Winner)
  • Lon Po-Po by Ed Young (1990 Winner)
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears by James Marshall (1989 Honor)
  • Ox-Cart Man by Barbara Cooney (1980 Winner)
  • Noah's Ark by Peter Spier (1978 Winner)
  • Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel (1971 Honor)
  • Drummer Hoff illustrated by Ed Emberley; text: adapted by Barbara Emberley (1968 Winner)
  • May I Bring a Friend? illustrated by Beni Montresor; text: Beatrice Schenk de Regniers (1965 Winner)
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1964 Winner)
  • Little Bear's Visit illustrated by Maurice Sendak; text: Else H. Minarik (1962 Honor)
  • Chanticleer and the Fox , illustrated by Barbara Cooney; text: adapted from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales by Barbara Cooney (1959 Winner)
  • A Tree is Nice , illustrated by Marc Simont; text: Janice Udry (1957 Winner)
  • Play With Me , by Marie Hall Ets (1956 Honor)
  • Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (1949 Honor)
  • The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton (1943 Winner)
  • Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (1942 Winner)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What the World Eats

My neighbor, Lisa, introduced me to this fascinating book: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. Written for children/young adults, this is a tally of what the world eats. The authors (photographer/writer team) interviewed 25 families in 21 countries; the families are not necessarily typical of every other family in that country, but they do represent a chunk of the population. The countries span the globe and reach from refugee camps through the developing world on into the fully industrialized countries. Islands, mainlands, dessert, mountains--all are included.

The authors are hoping to get all of us to evaluate what we eat across several standards, promoting such websites are Global Footprint and the like (see the book website). Nonetheless, the book is not preachy. Instead, here's what you come away with (in addition to appreciation for the terrific photography):

  • Some people in the world eat so little!!
  • The amount of packaging differs widely between developing and industrialized countries.
  • Much of the world does not have the variety of food we do.
  • Much of the world spends more time preparing food than we do.
  • Some countries spend much more money than we do on food.
  • Some countries spend much, much, much less money on food.
  • Many people must grow their own food.
  • Many people are much more limited by their nation's topography: island types eat fish; arctic types eat things like seal; etc.
  • Some groups eat very little fruits and vegetables; others eat massive amounts.
  • Some countries eat much more meat than others.
  • The countries with the highest health care costs per person also tend to have the highest life expectancy rates.
  • Industrialized nations might eat more processed foods but we also tend to have the highest percentage of safe/sanitary water!
  • The industrialized countries consume vast quantities of sugar! (no surprise)
The families interviewed each get their own section. Every so often, the family narratives are broken up by charts depicting life expectancies for the countries researched, pounds of meat consumed, numbers of obese people, etc. There are also recipes sprinkled throughout. All in all, this is a fascinating book to check out from your local library.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rescue Boys from Captain Underpants!

(I wrote this post a year ago and forgot to post it!)

World Magazine
puts out an annual "Books Issue" every year; this is my favorite issue of the year, and I always make time to read it. This year's issue just came out, and it coincided with an interesting conversation I've been having with a friend of mine: what do we give boys to read (boys who are good--even excellent--readers)?

World did a small survey of the Accelerated Reader program (AR; a program in which school children read books and then take small comprehension quizzes on them. Most schools have contests/rewards that are based on the number of points each student/class earns. Books are given points based on difficulty level.). They were looking primarily at the different books that seemed popular across the gender line, or were preferred by girls or boys. This was interesting to me because I have two friends who have each bemoaned to me that there is a lack of good reading material for boys who are excellent readers, but need some censorship on the maturity scale. Both of these boys are/were reading chapter books by age 5 or 6 (one boy is age 5 now and is currently reading Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series--The Black Cauldron and so forth).

According to World, boys seemed to prefer primarily the same books/authors year after year while girls read a wider variety of material. Captain Underpants books are among the most popular for boys in several grades (sigh). I have to admit that I've never actually read a Captain Underpants book, but there would have to be a lot of redemptive qualities about the text for me to get over that title. Girls read all sort of things: Anne of Green Gables, The Series of Unfortunate Events, etc.

So, what are some good choices for our young men? Megan and I have been compiling a list of what we think are some good choices--books which provide some challenge academically and contain appropriate content for a young man (think 1st grade here) to read. Of course, these books would interest boys far older than first grade as well. The list contains books of varying academic difficulty and literary merit, but all are "good reads." If you would like to add something to our list (we love new ideas!!), then leave us a comment!

Brian Jacques' Redwall series
The Great Brain
Encyclopedia Brown
Bobbsey Twins
Hardy Boys
Trixie Belden
Horatio Hornblower
Stowaway by Karen Hesse
Series of Unfortunate Events
Katherine Paterson's books
Dear America series
Treasure Island
Jungle Books
Peter Pan
George MacDonald's fairy tales (Princess and the Goblin, etc.)
good translation of Grimm and Andersen fairy tales
Tom Sawyer
Swiss Family Robinson
Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry
Secret Garden
Black Beauty
Wizard of Oz
Wind in the Willows
Lois Lenski's books
Dr. Dolittle
My Father's Dragon
Where the Red Fern Grows
Old Yeller
The Yearling
The Black Stallion books
Marguerite Henry's Horse books

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver is one of the most thought-provoking and enjoyable books I have ever read. In it, Kingsolver chronicles her family's move from the Southwest back to a family farm in Virginia. Their quest: to eat only local food for a year, growing most of it on their farm. A truly herculean task in some respects, but Kingsolver is the first to admit that their situation had some benefits that many don't have: an existing farm set smack in some of America's most fertile land, a family of four of which all can contribute, flexible work schedules outside of farm life (her husband is a professor and she is a writer), and some scientific background. Nonetheless, her story is inspiring and made me want to start homesteading!

Why is this book so inspiring? Part of it is surely the amazing talent Kingsolver has as a writer. Her writing is poetry to read; a narrative of her own experience thus becomes just as gripping as a made up character's in a novel. Her scientific background also helps; this book is full of helpful information and tidbits. Her husband, Steven Hopp, writes many insightful sidenotes throughout the text, offering interesting statistics and ways to work towards their goal for the average American. Finally, daughter Camille includes her own thoughts as a college-bound student: menus she creates, her reasons for becoming more and more vegetarian, and the like.

One of my favorite parts in the book is the section in which Hopp outlines some strategies for those of us shopping in the grocery store as we strive to get more local food onto our plates. I also made mental note of the tomato varieties discussed, was thankful I don't have to harvest my own turkeys, and am more eager than ever to continue gardening. I read this book for the first time a year ago, and we had a nice, small garden last summer. This year, I skimmed it again, planned a bigger garden, and have had a great time so far feeding bunnies (and being very thankful I don't depend on my garden for all my food).

A word of caution for this book: it makes homesteading look amazing--wonderful hard work. But, it's also full of evolutionary background and a bit of a liberal agenda in terms of political impact for all of our food choices. Yes, the information is excellent. Yes, we should be practicing good stewardship with our food, our growing practices, and the way we "produce" meat. However, we also need to make sure we get the full story before we jump the conventionally grown produce ship and head for our local farmer's market in an attempt to live off the land (ours or our neighbor's).

Barbara Kingsolver: Southern Writer

I mentioned a while back that I wanted to do a small series on Southern writers. Better late than never at fulfilling that goal, I suppose. Barbara Kingsolver is a terrific place to start, partly because her recent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is causing many people to rethink what we eat--and is often read by people who read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (see my review). Both books are hot topics right now. I plan to write a separate review for A, V, M because it is not a novel like the others of Kingsolver's I've read; as such, it doesn't fit the characteristics of Southern fiction I outlined in my earlier post on the subject.

Bio on Kingsolver
Before I jump into Kingsolver's works and examine them, a brief bio on the author herself might help those unfamiliar with her works and background. She is married to Steven Hopp, an environmental sciences professor, has two daughters, and lives in Virginia (she was born in the Southeast as well). She has a traveled extensively, lived in Arizona for a time, and also has pursued degrees in such scientific areas as evolutionary biology. For more information, see here.

Some Literary Analysis
I have not read all of Kingsolver's works, but I've read enough to be fairly conversant with her style and themes. She fits into the characteristics I outlined earlier for Southern fiction nicely. I'll break them down below, using examples from Kingsolver's work. If you are unfamiliar with her work, see here for some summaries and excerpts. I will focus on The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, and Prodigal Summer.

First, Southern novels and short stories tend to showcase the protagonist(s) relationships and conflicts with family, tradition and culture, and the land. Kingsolver is no exception here; her massive tome The Poisonwood Bible is full of this very subject matter. A minister, his wife, and their four daughters head to the Congo as missionaries. The women narrate the story in turns, and each individual story line is rife with analysis of the minister in his various roles as husband, father, and minister/missionary. They also reflect on their relationships with each other. The traditions and culture of the Congo form a central staging for conflict, and all five women spend much time reflecting on the differences between the Congo and their American home as well as the differences in themselves over time as a response to the cultural transition they're undergoing. Two girls elect to stay in Africa when their time as missionaries comes to a close, but for very different reasons. All of the women react to Africa significantly--the land itself as well as its cultural stage. In The Bean Trees, the entire narrative centers around Taylor's new relationships in the Southwest, particularly the three-year-old "Turtle" who becomes her companion. Prodigal Summer rotates between three different storylines: an older, crotchety couple who live next door to each other, a young newly wed couple, and a woman scientist who is trying to live as a hermit (but doesn't succeed). This novel is sexually charged partly because Kingsolver draws so much of the natural world's life cycle into the narrative. Everying from flowers to animals to people becomes part of the great life cycle going on.

Second, Southern authors showcase the rich tradition, especially present in the Appalachias, of storytelling. Kingsolver is an expert storyteller and her books are sheer pleasure to read as a result. The characters in her book don't tell stories as an event (like some of Lee Smith's characters), but the books read much like a storyteller would tell them.

Third, these Southern works are almost always intergenerational; that is, several generations are involved in the story. Poisonwood Bible, as mentioned above, revolves around the relationships between parents and children; The Bean Trees, similarly, centers on Taylor's relationship with Turtle--not a biological connection, but very similar to mother and child.

Fourth, Southern works focus on personal struggles; these are frequently somewhat depressing in nature which is why I have to take a break every now and then! These struggles include everything from family tension, racial issues, identity crises, and the like. Taylor's story in Bean Trees is full of struggle--the very reason she ends up in the Southwest is because she's leaving her old life to strike out on her own.

My Evaluation/Critique in a Nutshell
Kingsolver is a true Southern author--one of the best. Her writing is lyrical, rooted in the natural world, brimming over with humanity. Her work is a delight to read partly because of her gift with words. I highly recommend reading her works, but would also caution readers that she has a definite agenda. Her books often carry post-colonial thought (white men are bad because they took over and ruined places like Africa during colonial expansion). Her books are very evolutionary friendly; Prodigal Summer is a prime example of this. It's a wonderful book to read in some respects--particularly if you enjoy nature and nature writing. However, it's full of evolutionary subtexts. And, of course, we don't take our human relationship standards from fiction--Taylor's story in Bean Trees is a good example of why! So, if you're looking for a truly talented author to read, check out Kingsolver, but read with a critical mind, as always!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Restful Illustrations

Sorry for the unprofessional nature of this post--I'm not even taking the time to double check authors' names and such...

As I've read stories and books to my children millions of times over the last 3.5 years, I've begun to notice something about the illustrations in children's books and their "restful" qualities (or lack thereof). If I can make a gross overgeneralization here, it seems to me that older picture books are much more restful in tone, numbers of images per page, and subject matter than most newer picture books. Am I going to take the time to find examples of these illustrations online to include here? No. (If I had that kind of time, there would be more posts on here; instead of waiting for that time, I thought I'd just post the text version of my thoughts....).

Interestingly, my daughter (3.5 years old) really loves the older picture books and consistently gravitates towards them. The newer ones she enjoys, too, but doesn't seem to go back to them over and over and over. I'm sure text/storyline has something to do with it, but I also wonder if the pictures themselves are part of the charm. Consider the following titles, all of which have fairly monochromatic illustrations or, at most, colored images on only a few pages:

Make Way for Ducklings (McCloskey)
Blueberries for Sal (McCloskey)
Play with Me (? Can't remember off hand)
Curious George--old ones (Rey)
Madeleine (?)
Good Night Moon (Brown)
Millions of Cats (Gag)

There are also older picture books which have color illustrations on every page, but the colors are somehow softer and less intrusive than the bright flourescents of today. In addition, not as many colors are used per page and there are fewer images overall per page--all of this adds to less visual clutter. Consider the following titles:

Peter Rabbit (and others)
older Golden Books, such as The Color Kittens, The Saggy-Baggy Elephant, The Poky Little Puppy
Winnie-the-Pooh stories
Frog and Toad books (and other Lobel books)
Little Bear Books
Where the Wild Things Are

I could go on and on with this list. I realize that the vivid illustrations we have today in picture books were not possible in the earlier books. Some of the newer picture books have done a good job (newer Curious George books have cute illustrations; DK books have great photographs and usually put a nice number on a page). But some of the newer picture books, perhaps in an effort to "stimulate" a child's imagination, are visually cluttered and tend to get put aside more quickly than those books which quietly worm their way into a child's heart and mind.

(I'll try to post a list of non-restful titles at some point--just wanted to throw this initial idea out there and see what the peanut gallery thinks.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Rooibos Tropica

While we're on the subject of Teavana's divine teas, I must review my family's favorite: Rooibos Tropica. I don't like plain Rooibos (aka the African Red Tea to many), but this concoction is perfection!

It's got a floral, fruity aroma and taste--sweet without any added sugar. It makes a wonderful iced tea as well, especially if you're trying to cut back on sugar. It doesn't have a "sweet tea" flavor when iced, but it does have a faint sweetness that precludes the need for added sugar. It's a favorite of both mine and my husband's, hot or iced. Since Rooibos is naturally caffeine free, we can enjoy this tea any time, day or night.

I also enjoy rose tea (similar to rose hip or hibiscus); Teavana carries a Rooibos Rose tea that is quite similar to the Tropica and just as delightful.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What Smaug would drink?

I’m catching up on describing some of the interesting teas I have tried lately. My next Revolution tea sample is Dragon Eye Oolong, a very unusual and distinctively flavored tea. It tasted green, flowery, fruity, smoky and dignified, just what I can imagine Smaug drinking while he hoarded his treasure. I don’t have much experience with Oolong yet so I’m not sure how this compares to others (I’ll let you know). It’s a bold, wild tea, not quite calming for evening or meditative for Scripture reading and prayer, but worth experiencing if you’re ready for something really different.

Tea review: Teavana Almond Biscotti

We’ve been considering books for a while here on LiterariTea, but I don’t want to overlook the teas we love to enjoy with our reading!

Since Betsy introduced me to Teavana, one of the first teas I ordered was Almond Biscotti. Now, it’s definitely more expensive with shipping (unless you happen to be walking down the street in Charleston and see a Teavana store right there!), but a wonderful treat if you’re looking for one. Now for flavored teas, I’m a fan of Celestial Seasonings’ herbal Dessert teas after dinner when I don’t want the caffeine. I especially like Almond Sunset because my Grandma served me “cambric” Almond Sunset tea with milk and sugar when I was growing up, but Almond Biscotti is a unique choice for the beverage connoisseur who divides their choice of pleasure between good coffee or good tea, preferably in a choice location, while reading a good book.

Almond Biscotti tea is just different. It has a nutty taste (probably because of the chopped almonds mixed in with the leaves), and with a little sugar, definitely reminiscent of a good cookie (without the chocolate). But it’s still an excellent tea, and you can’t miss that, and shouldn’t.

Definitely one to try.

Friday, January 9, 2009

In Defense of Food

Do you ever ask someone for his or her opinion merely to hear your own opinion reinforced? This is especially gratifying if you're asking someone who's more knowledgeable, respected, or interesting than you are....

Guilty as charged! That's exactly what I felt like when I finished this book. Ah ha! I told you so! Well, Michael Pollan told us so, but I knew it already....

In Defense of Food is an engagingly written critique of processed foods (and the accompanying industry), the "science" of nutrition, the obsession Americans have with food/nutrition/etc., and the way America eats (both what and how). Pollan is a whole foods advocate, but doesn't sound as edgy as some whole foods advocates do. He comes across as a man of common sense who is troubled by the inconsistencies and discrepancies he's learned of in relation to food and how we consume it in America. I found his comments on the necessary, but lamentable, reductionism in nutritional science very interesting and thought-provoking.

At the end of the book, he develops his opening 7 words in more detail: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants. His approach strikes the reader as both doable and sensible. Even more refreshing, it sounds tasty and enjoyable. I've been mulling over some other thoughts related to Pollan's ideas that I hope to flesh out more eventually on Tarnished Teapot, but for now, I'll end with the encouragement to everyone to think more about what you eat and how you eat it! Read those nutrition labels, eat your veggies, and slow down....

A final note: Pollan is most definitely coming at this issue from an evolutionary/non-religious standpoint. As one who believes adamantly that God created the world (from nothing) and created humans as the pinnacle of that creation, I must disagree with Pollan's comments about humans and their diet evolving over time, almost magically. Nonetheless, I do think we, as Christians, have some responsibility to evaluate our lifestyles, including our diets, and make sure we are being good stewards of the earth and ourselves as we seek to glorify our Creator.

Recipes for an English Tea

(Oh, poor, neglected little blog of ours.... )

My aunt picked up a delightful little book for me when she was in England with my cousin this past year. It's a tiny book with the alluring title: Recipes for an English Tea. Perfect! I'll be trying out some of these little recipes hopefully and posting any that seem worthy, but for now, I'll leave you with the wonderful opening quotation:

"Tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally coarse in their nervous sensibilities...will always be the favorite beverage of the intellectual."

~Thomas de Quincy 1785-1859

p.s. I've now looked through my little book... I won't be making these recipes, but they are charming examples of a Victorian tea! We don't even use measurements/ingredients like this anymore, so I'll have to find some modern interpretations.