by Elizabeth Gilbert
I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, where pages from your book magically mix with the kitchen and your camera.
I don’t why it took me so long to get around to this book~ I’m probably the last person in North America to read it. My sister-in-law loaned it to me when she finished it two years ago I’m embarrassed to say~ I kept moving it to the bottom on my ever-growing to-be-read pile. I thought it might be too woo-woo for me~ spiritual journey/enlightenment, gurus, etc. I admit I finally listened to this because Audible was having a sale~ having more time to listen than read lately, I wanted to have finished the book before the movie came out~ yes, I am shallow (you probably already had an inkling thru my preferences toward books with pictures, eccentric characters, great audio performances; I like to be entertained :-)
Once I started this book, I surprised myself by laughing out loud, on numerous occasions. The audio version was very easy, entertaining, and compelling to listen to~ read by Elizabeth Gilbert herself, which makes a huge difference when the author reads him/herself. It begins with the author fleeing NYC after her devastating divorce and the heartbreaking end of a passionate affair. A year-long journey of self-discovery and soul-searching takes her to three countries and her gift for storytelling made this read a bit like a travelogue~ with a dash of history, sprinkled with some romance. Her style of writing was chatty and conversational~with irreverent observations and commentary that I enjoyed.
Of course my favorite section of the book was EAT~ in Italy. . .
“It was more that I wanted to thoroughly explore one aspect of myself set against the backdrop of each country, in a place that has traditionally done that one thing very well. I wanted to explore the art of pleasure in Italy, the art of devotion in India and, in Indonesia, the art of balancing the two. It was only later, after admitting this dream, that I noticed the happy coincidence that all these countries begin with the letter I. A fairly auspicious sign, it seemed, on a voyage of self-discovery.”
“While I have come to Italy in order to experience pleasure, during the first few weeks I was here, I felt a bit of panic as to how one should do that. Frankly, pure pleasure is not my cultural paradigm. I come from a long line of super conscientious people. My mother’s family were Swedish immigrant farmers, who look in their photographs like, if they’d ever even seen something pleasurable, they might have stomped on it with their hobnailed boots. (My uncle calls the whole lot of the ‘oxen.’) My father’s side of the family were English Puritans, those great goofy lovers of fun.”
“I was with Luca the first time I ever tried eating the intestines of a new-born lamb. This is a Roman specialty. Food-wise, Rome is actually a pretty rough town, know for its coarse traditional fare like guts and tongues–all the parts of the animal the rich people up north throw away. My lamb intestines tasted OK, as long as I didn’t think too much about what they were. They were served in a heavy, buttery, savory gravy that itself was terrific, but the intestines had a kind of . . .well . . .intestinal consistency.”
Fortunately for me there plenty of food choices for Food for Thought, so many that it was hard to narrow down. . . I’m just thankful lamb intestines were not my only choice :-)
Pasta Cacio e Pepe~ Pasta with Pecorino and Black Pepper, recipe here
“There are so many manifestations of pleasure in Italy, and I didn’t have time to sample them all. You have to kind of declare a pleasure major here, or you’ll get overwhelmed.”
Bruschette~ garlic rubbed toast with tomato, basil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar
“I am a bit ashamed to admit this, but I did not visit a single museum during my entire four months in Italy. (Oh, man–it’s even worse than that. I have to confess that I did go to one museum: the National Museum of Pasta, in Rome.) I found that all I really wanted was to eat beautiful food and to speak as much beautiful Italian as possible. That was it. So I declared a double major, really– in speaking and eating (with a concentration in gelato).”
“The amount of pleasure this eating and speaking brought to me was inestimable, and yet so simple. I passed a few hours once in the middle of October that might look like nothing much to the outside observer, but which I will always count amongst the happiest of my life. I found a market near my apartment, only a few streets over from me, which I’d somehow never noticed before. There I approached a tiny vegetable stall with one Italian woman and her son selling a choice assortment of their produce–such as rich, almost algae-green leaves of spinach, tomatoes so red and bloody they looked like a cow’s organs, and champagne-colored grapes with skins as tight as a showgirl’s leotard.”
One of my favorite chapters was about pizza in Naples, specifically the margherita pizza with double mozzarella at Pizzeria da Michele:
“There’s not a menu. They have only two varieties of pizza here–regular and extra cheese. None of this new age southern California olives-and-sun-dried-tomato wannabe pizza twaddle. The dough, it takes me half my meal to figure out, tastes more like Indian nan than like any pizza dough I ever tried. It’s soft and chewy and yielding, but incredibly thin. I always thought we only had two choices in our lives when it came to pizza crust–thin and crispy, or thick and doughy. How was I to have known there could be a crust in this world that was thin and doughy? Holy of holies! Thin, doughy, strong, gummy, yummy, chewy, salty pizza paradise. On top, there is a sweet tomato sauce that foams up all bubbly and creamy when it melts the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the one sprig of basil in the middle of the whole deal somehow infuses the entire pizza with herbal radiance, much the same way one shimmering movie star in the middle of a party brings a contact high of glamour to everyone around her. It’s impossible to eat this thing, of course. You try to take a bite off your slice and the gummy crust folds, and the hot cheese runs away like topsoil in a landslide, makes a mess of you and your surroundings, but just deal with it.”
. . .pausing to wipe the drool off my chin. . .
There was no way I would attempt to make a margherita pizza for Food for Thought, only to be disappointed in mine by comparison. So I made Chocolate Pizza instead. . .
Chocolate Pizza, recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis, here
“I’m not exercising, I’m not eating enough fiber, I’m not taking any vitamins. In my real life, I have been known to eat organic goat’s milk yogurt sprinkled with wheat germ for breakfast. My real-life days are long gone. Back in America, my friend Susan is telling people I’m on a ‘No Carb Left Behind’ tour.”
“It occurs to me in Bologna that there is no equivalent in English for term ‘buon appetito’. This is a pity, and also very telling. It occurs to me, too, that the train stops of Italy are a tour through the names of the world’s most famous foods and wines: next stop, Parma…nest stop, Bologna. . .nest stop, approaching Montepulciano. . .”
“There’s another wonderful Italian expression: l’arte d’arrangiarsi–the art of making something out of nothing. The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast, or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich.”
“I walked home to my apartment and soft-boiled a pair of fresh brown eggs for my lunch. I peeled the eggs and arranged them on a plate beside the seven stalks of the asparagus (which were so slim and snappy they didn’t need to be cooked at all). I put some olives on the plate, too, and the four knobs of goat cheese I’d picked up yesterday from the formaggeria down the street, and two slices of pink, oily salmon. For dessert– a lovely peach, which the woman at the market had given to me for free and which was still warm from the Roman sunlight. For the longest time I couldn’t even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing.”
“I came to Italy pinched and thin. I did not know yet what I deserved. I still maybe don’t fully know what I deserve. But I do know that I have collected myself of late–through the enjoyment of harmless pleasures–into somebody much more intact.”
On to India. . .
“Dinnertime. I’m sitting alone, trying to eat slowly. My Guru is always encouraging us to practice discipline when it comes to eating. She encourages us to eat in moderation and without desperate gulps, to not extinguish the sacred fires of our bodies by dumping too much food into our digestive tracts too fast. (My Guru, I’m fairly certain, has never been to Naples.) It only stands to reason that you’ll have trouble gliding lightly into transcendence when your guts are struggling to churn through a sausage calzone, a pound of buffalo wings and half a coconut cream pie. Which is why they don’t serve that kind of stuff here. The food at the Ashram is vegetarian, light and healthy. But still delicious. Which is why it’s difficult for me not to wolf it down like a starving orphan.”
I have to say my favorite part of India was meeting Richard from Texas at the Ashram, always ready with words of wisdom, like: “You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be.”
Indonesia. . .
“After the intensity of life in the Ashram, and even after the decadent business of zooming all over Italy and eating everything in sight, this is such a new and radically peaceful episode of my life. I have so much free time, you could measure it in metric tons.”
Liz becomes friends with a Balinese healer~ Wayan, who has a shop where she serves a ‘Mulivitamin Lunch Special’ consisting of:
“Tumeric juice, for keep clean the kidneys! Seaweed, for calcium! Mixed herbs, for not get malaria! and Tomato salad, for vitamin D!”
Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio Salad~ heirloom tomatoes~ sliced extremely thin~ onion, capers, shaved parmesan, basil & olive oil. You can also add pine nuts, shaved fennel, or balsamic vinegar.
I was familiar with Carpaccio, traditionally thinly sliced raw beef~ served with a cold vinaigrette or olive oil, on a bed of greens, like watercress or arugula. I didn’t know until googling that it was “invented” by Giuseppe Cipriani in 1950 at Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy~ and that it was named for the Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio who was noted for his use of red in his paintings.
Ain’t Google great?
“I keep remembering one of my Guru’s teachings about happiness. She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment. It’s easy enough to pray when you’re in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments.”
Be sure to visit Food for Thought to see what everyone is reading & eating!
I’m also joining Michael Lee at Designs by Gollum for Foodie Friday. . . the perfect little food corner in blogland.