Monday, October 31, 2011

Reasons to Be Happy

Katrina Kittle takes on big issues in her novels. I've blogged about her previous book The Blessings of the Animals, tackling grief and healing post divorce. Her three prior novels dealt with AIDS, child abuse, and  deceit. Reasons to Be Happy is her first book for younger readers and I wondered if she would stay true to her big issue pattern. I was not disappointed. Addiction, in the form of bulimia, is the core of this story but it is beautifully and skillfully imbedded in a tale of conflict with parents, dealing with mean girls and peer pressure, first love, and staying true to one's self.  So how do these serious issues end up being such an engaging and uplifting book? 

Well, the main character, 8th grader Hannah, kept a list in a purple journal of her Reasons to Be Happy.   This list gives us insight into Hannah before she changed schools, before her mother became sick, before she lost bits of herself to peer pressure. By the end of the book, she has traveled full circle back to herself. Along the way she meets a young man passionate about music and secure in himself, orphans in Ghana who teach her about what matters, and artists young and old dedicated to their craft. Each meeting reminds her of parts of herself that she has abandoned and gradually reclaims. 

We are a culture that reveres thin. Pressure to be thin begins young and continues... forever. We are so concerned with "outside" that often who we are is lost. It is all about how we look. It is heartbreaking to realize how objectified women are. And it's not just the males who are doing this. We do it to ourselves. How many catty remarks do women make about other women's weight? How much time is wasted worrying about how much we weigh? What if we devoted that time to creative pursuits?  What could we accomplish? What problems could be solved? The basic fear is... Am I good enough? We are looking for validation outside our selves. 

Addiction is about numbing pain, tamping down fear. The market is saturated with books, television shows, and magazine articles proposing that food is often the legal "drug" used to achieve this. It seems the more we focus on losing weight, the heavier we are all becoming. I'd so love it if we could accept and value each person for who she, or he, is. Unconditional love and acceptance, now there would be a wonderful reason to be happy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rue Dumaine - C'est Magnifique!

As a committed life long learner, I enjoy taking and moderating, classes at UDLLI (University of Dayton Lifelong Learning Institute). One of my favorites this session has been the Dining in Dayton Sampler. Each class features speakers from one or two local restaurants who share their restaurants' history, menu options, and specialties.

Anne Kearney, Chef and Owner of Rue Dumaine

Today's presenters were Anne Kearney and Tom Sand of Rue Dumaine in Centerville, Ohio. Anne was charming, inspiring, modest, and... brought delicious food to share. Tom, her husband and fellow owner, added insight as to the business and beverage (They have great wines and innovative cocktails!) side of the restaurant as well as some wry humor. This American Bistro has many French influences and they thoughtfully include a small glossary of French terms on the reverse of the menu.

Anne's "Food of Love" began at fourteen as she took over making the family dinner when her mother began to work outside the home. She experimented with family favorite recipes and had even catered a wedding before she graduated from high school. After a year of college, she began to pursue her true passion at the Greater Cincinnati Culinary Arts Academy. I especially love this part of her story. Too often our culture dictates that you must have a college degree to be successful. It is one of my hopes that we again begin to value the artisans who prepare our food, repair our cars and plumbing, build our homes, create stories, plant gardens, and follow their passion in a myriad of other ways that do not require a college degree. I loved college but do not think it is the only way to prepare for a life of passion and worth.

Some of the seventy participants in the Dining in Dayton session

From Cincinnati, Anne moved to New Orleans where she was sous chef at Peristyle and both cooked and helped develop recipes at Emmeril's. She later purchased Peristyle, where in 2002 she received the James Beard "Best Chef Southeast award. It is our fortune that Anne and Tom returned to the Dayton area to be near both their families. In 2007, they opened Rue Dumaine.

Their passion for food, ambiance, and innovation is evident. As Anne prepared a fall salad and a gluten-free dessert, a slide show behind her added a visual feast of the plated meals, glassware, hanging meats, fresh vegetables, and even one of the farms that make Rue Dumaine special.  

Slide features Michael Malone of Hungry Toad Organic Farm

Tom remarked on the richness of the Dayton area with regard to restaurants, excellent markets, and availability of local and organic meat and produce. Post cancer, I have deliberately sought restaurants that use local, organic foods. Rue Dumaine's weekly menu lists the local farmers and artisans they have as suppliers for that week. Each dish is prepared when ordered so substitutions can be made to accommodate customer needs or preferences.

It is a lovely thing to spend a few hours listening to two people share their passion for both their restaurant and for Dayton. It is always energizing and inspiring to be in the company of folks following their dream.