Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Metabolizing Lemon Cake

   Thanks for enduring my longwindedness on this book review.  In case you haven't read the preceding essays and are interested in doing so, here is an overview, some talk of our lucky phone conversation with the author, and thoughts on Joseph becoming a chair.  Following is probably the last piece, and I really hope it encourages you to find this book and read it!  If you've already read it, please share your thoughts!

***** SPOILER *****

   It should come as no surprise that reading The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake had great impact on my eating habits during those weeks.  The bright blue volume was slipped into my purse when I went on a trip to Texas.  I read page after page while feasting on one incarnation of Gulf shrimp after another.

I guessed that the proprietor of the waterfront, open-air cafe
where this gorgeous salad was purchased felt chronic optimism. 
She tried to see the negative in her life but was endlessly plagued
by the perfume of the ocean and the smiling energy of cash-rich tourists.
She quietly provided me unlimited refills of Diet Coke
while I sat in her clean, sunny dining room and read about four chapters.
This was a favor that only one optimist might pay to another.
The avocado grower, on the other hand, had a serious gambling addiction.
His ripe green fruit tasted of risk and bankruptcy.

   It bears mentioning that as the big date for our book club meeting approached, most of us were researching lemon cake recipes.  We always make book club night a pot luck affair, reliably providing enough food to feed three times as many women as we host.  So, on the evening in question I expected to see at least one tall, layered, chocolate-frosted lemon cake on the table, just like the one on the cover.

A typical book club spread.  We never leave hungry.

   But no!  We all considered it, and we all decided that surely someone else would jump on the opportunity.  So rather than ending up with seven lemon cakes, we had exactly zero.  Great minds think alike.  Then they second guess themselves similarly.
   In keeping with the many lively debates surrounding this reading selection, we Oklahomans (plus one Texas transplant) had a hard time with the use of chocolate frosting on a lemon cake.  Is this a California thing?  Because all any of us Land Run Ladies could imagine using was either butter cream, vanilla glaze, or maybe cream cheese frosting.  The devil is in the details.  Onward we go...

Our members started assembling about
two hours before Aimee was due to ring us.
It felt like Christmas Eve around here.
We tested the land line, which is rarely used these days,
about a hundred and eighty-six times before 7 pm, CST.
Then when the phone rang promptly and at its maximum volume,
I had a mild heart attack.

   Okay, metabolizing.  We posed to our gracious author guest, Aimee Bender, some very grassroots questions about how she arrived at the idea for this book.  She offered the most satisfying answer:  it had occurred to her in talking through things with her friends that people tend to use the imagery of food and consumption when referring to how they react to ideas.  "Let me digest that and see how I feel..." 

   Brilliant!  Seriously, that is true.  People love to use an edible vocabulary whenever possible.  I have been known to call all sorts of things "delicious."  Things you would never, ever put in your mouth, like an orange and pink sunset or a single weeping violin.   Yet these things certainly evoke emotions, and relating those experiences to people using an edible vocabulary is really effective.

   Anyone who enjoys the smorgasbord variety of expression available in language can appreciate that Aimee found lots of pleasure in writing about food.  Talk about a fun and relatable vehicle for your idea!  Not everyone feels exactly the same grief, but we all know what salty is.  We can basically agree on the differences between bitter and savory, and just try to describe good chocolate without reeling in a few sexy expressions...

   The notion that a person might be able to literally detect the emotions of another person preparing food is a clever extension of what we all do already.

There must be a primal relationship between eating and reading.
Perhaps nourishing your body while you nourish your mind?
Whatever the truth behind the practice, it keeps me on the elliptical machine.

   Two or three of our members found Rose's adult life to be told in a more flip way than was her childhood.  One commented that she felt less and less empathy for Rose the more her tasting talent evolved.  This is interesting.  It reminds me of an old joke that tries to explain why children are born as adorable babies and not frustrating teens.  I don't really know the entire joke; you'll have to imagine it for yourself.  Okay?

   An element of Rose's character development I found especially delightful was that as her skills became sharper and the feelings more intense, her physical appetite changed.  She craved hand-prepared food less and less, turning more frequently to overly processed, factory-made junk.  No human source was numbed enough to insulate her from feeling their strong, messy emotions.  

      To this, Aimee replied that she was not trying to make an overly political statement, just that she was happy to call attention to a different way of looking at the issues of food origin, processing, health, animal handling, etc. 

   Here is where a tape recorder would have been a real benefit: this was a tremendous thought-provoker, but I cannot find notes on exactly what she said!  Grr...

   Anyway, the timing of such a statement, even in fiction, even in science fiction, is just great.  How many of us are taking a second glance at localvorism?  Are you growing a garden, or do you prefer to bake your own breads and cakes rather than use mixes?  I for one have on my 2011 reading list the title, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  A Year of Food Life." 

   Big, juicy kudos to Aimee Bender for making that conversation a lot more palatable!  (Sorry, I could not resist.)  I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure, and I cannot wait to see how this book is handled in twenty years.

1 comment:

  1. Of course! We digest information, we sample new ideas, and we drink in our surroundings. Why didn't I think of that?!

    I'm very interested in localvorism, though I'm not dedicated to it. I'm learning more about it and making decisions slowly about specific situations. When given the choice, I'll always choose local, all other things being equal. I avoid national chain restaurants as much as possible, though that still doesn't say the food itself is local.


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