The Sunday Salon: cooking at Le Cordon Bleu and re-visiting some old friends

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Having succumbed to gluttony Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I was appropriately enough reading The sharper your knife, the less you cry: love, laughter and tears at the world’s most famous cooking school by Kathleen Flinn, a thirty-six year old American with a passion for cooking. When Flinn lost her corporate job in London, she made the impulsive decision to enrol at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris and try to earn her diploma. Her book charts the ups and downs of living in Paris and learning French cuisine. It’s full of wonderful recipes I look forward to trying, and was a perfect holiday read. If you enjoyed Julie and Julia, I’d recommend it.

Reading wise, I’m planning to ease into the New Year by re-reading the six novels of Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series, starting with The Warden. It’s always comforting to immerse myself in Trollope’s extensive and ordered world. As Clifton Fadiman put it in his wonderful essay Pillow Books (re the search for appropriate bedtime reading):

“As for novels, give me no profound Russians, no overlucid Frenchmen, no opaque Germans. Give me solid Englishmen of the nineteenth century or early twentieth…Above all give me Trollope, from whom I have received so much pleasure that I would willingly call him another St. Anthony; Trollope, who breaks instantly through the time barrier and teleports the horizontal reader instantly to a divinely settled, comfortable, income-taxless vanished world. His half a hundred novels are good for five years of bedside reading. Of those who minister to the tired, night-welcoming mind, Trollope is king. He never fails to interest, but not too much; to soothe, but not too much. Trollope is the perfect novelist for the bedside.”

I’d only add, for the holidays!

Book Bloggers’ Christmas Swap – Thanks Tanabata!

After a tough day at work yesterday, I was delighted to come home and find my Book Bloggers’ Chrissie swap pressie in my letterbox. When I opened the envelope, I saw this:

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Of course, I couldn’t resist opening it, and was rapt to discover:

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1. A 2009 Library calendar, open to my favourite picture, the Francisco de Burgoa Library in Oaxaca, Mexico.
2. Love and Friendship by Jane Austen- a beautifully published Hesperus press edition of Austen’s juvenalia. I haven’t read this and look forward to doing so soon.
3. An unusual card/bookmark.

All courtesy of Tanabata, who blogs at In Spring it is the dawn. Thanks Tanabata for a lovely and thoughtful gift, I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas.

My first Sunday Salon

I was relieved to see Jane Eyre win over Wuthering Heights in Simon’s most recent weekly poll. Having just re-read Jane Eyre, my choice was clear.

Rochester is far from my ideal man (I often want to shake him and yell GET A JOB instead of marrying for money, how DARE you lie to Jane etc!). A fondness for Byronic leading men then doesn’t explain why I love the book so much.

What does is the character of Jane, who from the days of Mrs Reed through to those of St John Rivers, thinks her own thoughts if not expresses them and is her own woman. First as a bookish twelve-year old (and many times since) I was thrilled to read Jane declare to Rochester:

” ‘I tell you I must go!’ I retorted, roused to something like passion. ‘Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton? -a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh; – it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal, – as we are!’ “

And when tempted to become Rochester’s mistress, to think:

” “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad- as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth- so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane- quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by; there I plant my foot.’ “

Wuthering Heights is a strange and beautiful book but Jane Eyre is for this devoted reader at least, the one with more to say.

Whilst I’m on the subject of women sticking up for themselves, I’ve just finished Shannon Hale’s wonderful re-telling of a Grimm bothers fairy tale, The Goose Girl. Young adult fiction especially young adult fantasy is not my usual cup-of-tea, so I’m surprised to say I enjoyed this. It tells the story of Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isile, Crown Princess of Kildenree who finds herself betrayed and usurped in the foreign kingdom of Bayern and resorts to working as a goose-girl whilst trying to avoid her murderous pursuers and see justice done. It was sad, thrilling, funny and romantic and I look forward to reading the rest of Hale’s work.

In the meantime, I’ve started Things without a name by Joanne Fedler, which tells the story of 34 year old Faith Roberts, a legal counsellor in a woman’s crisis centre. Published this year, it has an awful women’s domestic fiction cover which as a literary snob I wouldn’t have picked up. However I read an interesting interview with Fedler where she described her own experiences as a legal counsellor at a woman’s centre in South Africa prior to migrating to Australia. As I hope to work in the public legal sector once I graduate, I decided to try this and see what I’m in for.  So far, it’s a good if not uplifting read which I’m now off to continue.