Friday, July 30, 2010

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits


by Ayelet Waldman is available here on Amazon.

I give this book *****

It's been awhile since I've participated in Food for Thought, the bimonthly book review blog hosted by the talented Jain of Once in a Blue Moon and Food With Style. I'm pleased to join in this week to share a book I'd recommend. I read Waldman's book totally unaware of the controversy about this author. My husband, an avid reader of Michael Chabon's works, had picked it up out of curiosity because he noted that Ayelet Waldman was the wife of Michael Chabon. He enjoyed the read, thought I would as well, and passed it along to me.

With the setting in New York City, that fact alone led me to take hold of this novel and jump right in. Once I did, I couldn't put it down. LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS proved to be an interesting read about the all too common drama of contemporary marriages: an office affair which led to a broken family that resulted in shared custody and propelled said guilty party into the role of new wife and stepmom.

I'm not a mom nor a stepmom, and this novel's protagonist was difficult to like in many respects, but the book does offer the reader huge helpings of descriptive passages of Central Park. Considering that Central Park is one of my all time favorite places to spend time, that fact alone won this book five stars from me!

Well written, this interesting story is actually very compelling. Complicated relationships, a second marriage, a precocious know-it-all 5 year old, and the tragic loss of a new born all merge to fill the pages of this book. Emilia, a complex character not easy to like, actually won me over early on. Ayelet Waldman skillfully balances it all with wit, satire, and compassion as she leads the reader down a path of mixed emotions.

Five year old William is as much a devotee of Central Park as Emilia. So I admit again, much of the pleasure of this read for me was that a good part of the story revolves around various ventures into Central Park.

Jack, William's dad and Emilia's now husband, first introduced William to Emilia at the Central Park Zoo, one of William's favorite destinations.

Unlike William, the Central Park Zoo isn't the main attraction of this area of the park in my opinion. For me, it is the Delacorte Clock with its dancing menagerie of whimsical animals. The elephant with his accordion . . .

And the goat with his pan pipes

Both join in with the bear on tambourine, the kangaroo tooting a horn, the hippopotamus with violin, and the penguin on drums. It is here where they all perform a repertoire of nursery rhyme tunes as they glide around the clock each hour and half-hour.

Besides the exquisite and familiar images of Central Park that Waldman conjured up in my mind's eye, there were also plenty of opportunities for Food for Thought. First up there is the reference to Emilia's law school habit of Diet Coke and Raisinettes while studying for exams.

William, the five year old step son, is not only a walking encyclopedia of knowledge, but also suffers from lactose intolerance, or at least his mother (most popular OBGYN in NYC) has convinced him that he does. Waldman offers up comical passages throughout related to this perceived illness. I could easily have gone with any number of references that would appeal to my sweet tooth: strawberry cupcakes or dairy free cupcakes; chocolate sundaes or lactose free ice cream; chocolate cheese cake or rainbow sherbet. Oh, and did I mention little William is also a fan of Bernard Waber's Lyle the Crocodile series? LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE is his favorite book.

Amelia, a Harvard Law grad and an accomplished cook, prizes her time worn copies of ELIZABETH DAVID'S FRENCH PROVINCIAL COOKING and ITALIAN FOOD, which her mom had given her when Amelia left for college. Meals of coq au vin de Bourgogne, or saltimbocca alla Romana were mentioned, and the first meal Amelia cooked for Jack was chilled soup of yellow tomatoes, veal meatballs with artichokes and green olives, and an arugula and fig salad. Dessert was a Meyer lemon cake.

But Amelia, frozen in the fuzzy haze of grief after the death of her infant daughter, hasn't cooked a meal in months. She shops for groceries as if she plans to, but the "plump vegetables, soft ripe cheeses, deep-red wild salmon, organic roasting hens" languish in the refrigerator only to be thrown out by the cleaning service at the end of each week. Chinese take-out substitutes for the nightly fare.

Growing up in a Jewish home is another thread that runs through the pages, and one evening Jack, tired of coming home to take-out dinners, returns home with two bags of groceries intent on preparing his mother's recipe for kibbe. Jack, with his limited cooking experience, begins to forge ahead, a conversation ensues, and Amelia takes over.

So kibbe it is!

Kibbe is a simple dish of ground lamb, bulgur, and spices of cinnamon, allspice, and fresh mint. The meat mixture is formed into torpedo shaped meatballs and baked with olive oil. When served, it is topped with caramelized onions and a mix of pine nuts and dried fruit.

A drizzle of pomegranate molasses tops off the spicy flavors.

Add a side of simple slaw

And another of wild rice with a bit more of the caramelized onions and dried fruit mixture.

Pop the cork on a bottle of red wine . . .

Pour yourself a glass of Merlot . . .

And bite into the savory delight of kibbe.

Though Amelia faces many impossible pursuits along the way, I predict that LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS will warm your heart . . .

And leave you feeling as if you have spent a magical afternoon sailing a little remote controlled boat across the pond in Central Park.

For those of you here for Pink Saturday, this post is dedicated to Isabel, a sweet baby girl angel. I'm also joining Laurie's A Few of My Favorite Things as Central Park, Lyle the Crocodile, and cupcakes are definitely on my favorite things list.
Since LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS is the perfect choice if you are spending a day reading at the beach, poolside, or just curled up in your favorite chair with the AC blasting, this post will link to The Tablescaper's Summer Sundays.

You can click here to see a list of others participating in Food for Thought this week. All credit goes to my personal live in chef for the food prepared in this post.