Sometimes Old Books are the Best Books (and some thoughts on writing)

You know I can’t resist Robert Farrar Capon. His writing is so quirky (and so, by all reports, is/was he–can anyone confirm whether he’s still alive or not!?) that it defies comparison with any other; Andy Crouch noted in an email that Father Capon’s writing voice sounds like him and no one else.

(Very true. And yet. While I often year “develop a unique voice” as writing advice, I’m not quite sure that this is something that can be aimed at. George Orwell’s Six Rules are a good place to start, especially rule #1: “never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” Beyond scraping away crusty, dried-out turns of phrase, though, I suspect that a distinctive writing voice from having distinctive things to say than aiming at saying things in a distinctive way. Maybe. End of writing rant.)

Anyway. As with Babette’s Feast, which I wrote about yesterday, I feel reluctant to say much about the book, because a book by Father Capon is an experience in itself; to distill the ideas from the whole of the book is to distort them.

I’ll go out on a limb (sorry, Orwell) and say that this book is unlike any other on marriage I’ve ever read or heard of. It’s certainly the antithesis (antidote?) of a certain contemporary book on marriage that released yesterday. It’s deeply Christian and theological without being sectarian or Biblicist. As in much of Capon’s writing, he celebrates the potential of material particularities to call forth, to anticipate, to celebrate the transcendent–the City of God. The marriage “bed” and family “board” (table) are two of these particular, material places where we enact, however feebly, the glories of the Kingdom in the liturgies of the everyday:

“My bed and my board are the choice places of my healing and I go to them with a glad mind. God wills to build the city but while he makes it matter, he refuses to make it serious. The divine mirth lies behind all things and it is in his light that I begin to see the lightness of it all.”

Plus? The cover copy announces that the book

“snatches the subject of marriage away from the adjustment engineers, the sex technicians, and the whole army of statistical de-splendorizers.”

Statistical de-splendorizers, indeed! I’m stealing that turn of phrase.

Find yourself a copy of this book, or really, any by Father Capon. Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about two other recent marriage books–The Meaning of Marriage and Real Marriage by Timothy & Kathy Keller and Mark & Grace Driscoll, respectively. On Friday, we’ll look at another contemporary book on marriage–Are You Waiting for The One?–that far surpasses its contemporaries.

Five Food Films Worth Your Time

5. Supersize Me

Sure, it’s a little gimmicky, but Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 film–documenting his 30 days of eating McDonald’s food exclusively–highlighted some of the most serious problems of our fast-food culture and it did so in an entertaining, visceral way. His point–which I think he made well–was that McDonald’s (and other fast food companies)–are open to many of the same liabilities as the tobacco industry. Just six weeks after the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, McDonald’s announced the discontinuation of the ‘Supersize’ option–which increased the serving of French fries to nearly half a pound and the soda to well over a quart for a mere 39 cents. 
4. Bella Martha (Mostly Martha)

Don’t be scared by the fact that this film’s in German. (And don’t be tempted to watch the English-language remake–No Reservations–with Catherine Zeta-Jones–it’s terrible.) This 2001 film has romance, heartbreak, and humor. Martha keeps her job as a chef only because she’s one of the best–because she’s out of her mind. She terrorizes the restaurant staff and patrons and while she can cook, she doesn’t understand food–or love–or how they might intersect. 3. Eat Drink Man Woman

I can’t resist Ang Lee’s films, and this one is no exception. Though it was remade as Tortilla Soup, the original is much better. It’s a beautiful film, visually, and the fact that it centers on a family held together by the ritual of an elaborate Sunday dinner–and an aging chef-father who is losing his sense of taste–makes it deliciously metaphorical. And it always makes me want to learn Chinese cookery.2. Ratatouille

Yes, I’ve written about this film before, and, yes, maybe you’ve watched it with the kids, but this film is worth a second viewing, if only to pay close attention to the transformation of the Anton Ego character–the food critic. Not just to his words, some of which are simply golden–but to his transformation.

My favorite quote, which seems to me to be a fictional blending of Father Capon and George Steiner:

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

1. Babette’s Feast

And this is where I will say almost nothing about the film except this: it’s slow moving and strange and in Danish but very worth it. It’s beautiful, evocative, and inspiring; its myth is at once humanistic and deeply, deeply Christian. I love it.

{And I hope you will, too!}

Let Him Eat Steak

or, palliative feeding. Wherein I argue with a 91 year old.

So, I’m still bringing those Saturday night dinners to Mr. and Mrs. S. And this Saturday night, we had a little argument, Mr. S. and me.

I told him I’m going to bring a steak every Saturday night.

He said I didn’t need to do that.

I said,

I know that, and what kind of steak sauce do you like?

He said,

A1. 

I said,

Okay, I’m bringing A1 next week.

He said,

No, it will make a mess.

I said,

I’m just going to buy a bottle and bring it with me.

And he said,

Now you’re making this complicated. Don’t do that! Don’t make a fuss! I take what I get.

{note: and he means it; he does, which is part of why he’s part of the Greatest Generation, I guess.}

And I said,

Fine! I’ll never bring you steak sauce, ever, ok?

And he said,

Good!

When I was little I thought the bottle said “Al” steak sauce–like the man’s name Al, nickname for Albert or Alfred. My parents thought this was hilarious; I still think see the name “Al” if I squint. Plus, “Al” steak sauce sounds friendlier.

As I’ve written about before (Grace and a Steak Dinner) Mr. S’s favorite food is steak. It’s the only thing that he seems really excited about eating. And since his appetite’s so poor, that’s important. So I think he’s going to get a steak every Saturday night for the rest of his life, if I can possibly make that happen.

Maybe it sounds really macabre, but as with last meals, feeding Mr. and Mrs. S is less about health and more about love and grace and comfort–palliative feeding.

palliative |ˈpalēˌātiv; ˈpalēətiv|
adjective
(of a treatment or medicine) relieving pain or alleviating a problem without dealing with the underlying cause

I can’t fix the cancer and the infections and the paralysis and the pain from all those things plus the leftover WW2 injury that earned Mr. the purple heart. I can’t erase the fear, the anxiety, the loneliness, or the confusion. There’s so much that I can’t do.

But I can grill steaks.

And I can bring A1 sauce.

Which is what I plan to do.

My New Favorite Cookbook

Okay, so well before “buy nothing day” I bought myself a present: The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook: 2,000 Recipes from 20 Years of America’s Most Trusted Food Magazine. I love Cook’s Illustrated (though I’ve never subscribed) and the previous cookbooks from America’s Test Kitchen, which also produces the magazine, although I don’t own any of them.

There are a few reasons why the recipes, magazines, and books from America’s Test Kitchen appeal to me–first, I love how obsessively they test each recipe. Have you had recipes from cookbooks fail? I certainly have. And let me tell you–it’s not always your fault. What I love about the recipes from ATK is that they’ve been tested and re-tested to achieve a very particular result (hence the very different recipes–ingredients and techniques–to produce soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies versus thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies.)

Related to this, each recipe comes with an explanation for why it’s formulated as it is. I love knowing why a recipe works as it does–why it’s important (or unimportant) to cream the butter and sugar first when making muffins, why to use a certain variety of flour, why to cook things over a certain temperature. It seems to me that knowing some of the theory behind the choices of ingredients and techniques makes a better cook, and ATK resources provide just that.

Much of that theory includes science, which is the third reason I love this new cookbook. I was never too keen on science in school (except for biology, because I liked dissecting things and learning about genetics and the digestive system) but this cookbook delivers just enough practical cooking science so as to make me take delight in the earthy job of cooking.

As Robert Farrar Capon wrote:

“Creation is vast in every direction. It is as hugely small as it is large. The number of water-filled interstices in my three tablespoonfuls of flour runs the interstellar distances a fair second; the appeal to size [implying that people, small in relation to the universe’s magnitude, are insignificant] is a self-canceling argument. Plying my whisk, I know that what goes on here is neither less mysterious nor less marvelous that what happens there…saucepan in hand, I refuse to be snowed.”

{Fr. R.F. Capon, The Supper of the Lamb}

So all that to say, I heartily recommend this cookbook. Take up, read, and follow closely–with lots of love and attention!–and the results are very likely to bring you (and others!) joy.

When Jesus Was Our Guest

The other night we had a fellowship meal at church. The best part was that the boys got to run around and play for an hour beforehand, which helped pique their appetites considerably.

We got to catch up with friends with cute, long-distance grandchildren:

Turns out the HVAC guy + my dad make pretty good spaghetti sauce!

We broke bread together. We reflected on the early church’s practice of love feasts and on Jesus’s promise to be with us when we gather in his name.

And we cleaned up together.

And Christ was with us:

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest,
May this food by you be blest,
May our souls by you be fed,
Always on the living Bread.

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest; Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest

Amen.

(attr. Martin Luther)

here’s the tune you can sing it to: Redhead 76

Here you can watch it in sign language: