Stories

luxembourg_gardens_paris.jpgA good friend of mine from London moved back to Paris a few years ago and met her now-husband on her first weekend back in the City of Lights.  He is now a Senator, and this lovely couple invited us to join a private tour and dinner at the Sénat last night.

I hadn’t entirely understood what we were getting ourselves into.  I’ve strolled around the Jardins Luxembourg almost every day since we arrived in Paris seven weeks ago, and though I knew that the gardens technically belong to the Sénat, I hadn’t stopped to consider the actual building and what went on inside.  We were late (of course), and the tour was in rapid fire French, so I can’t be too precise about the politics, the electoral system, how a bill becomes a law, or even if Senators are the people who are responsible for making laws in France.

I can, however, speak to the few gems that I was able to glean on our whiz through the second half of the tour, including some obvious contrasts between the Sénat here and the United States Senate and its Capitol Building in Washington, DC:

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beeflowerThere is much in this world that leads us to believe that as humans, we are superior to other life forms. We have opposable thumbs, and the kind of intellect and consciousness that allow us to build more than a hive or a dam and shape our future with intellect rather than instinct. We have religions that teach us that we are “stewards” of the earth, as if we had somehow been handed a title by an unseen force who we may actually have invented.

We do not, often, look at ants as they carry a fallen comrade across our bathroom floor and consider whether we would do the same. We worry about how they got into our house, and how best to kill them. No one is going to be bothered to carry every ant, spider and fly outside – they are, after all, encroaching in our homes with their dirty little feet. We particularly hate stinging creatures like bees, hornets, and wasps. We say things like “I see a purpose for bees, at least honey bees, but the other ones don’t do anything useful.”

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gonegirlFirst, here’s what I didn’t read: anything that included a vampire or a werewolf. I did read about one ghost—in Anne Tyler’s The Beginner's Goodbye.

Much of my summer reading focused, as usual, on mysteries: I read all three of Gillian Flynn’s novels, starting with this summer’s blockbuster Gone Girl and then working my way through her two earlier ones — Dark Places and the even darker Sharp Objects. Three clever and engaging picks were Joanne Dobson’s academic mystery Cold and Pure and Very Dead, Harry Dolan’s pomo noir tale Bad Things Happen, and Tana French’s Broken Harbor (just as riveting as her other novels).  

I devoted two nights to James Renner’s The Man from Primrose Lane, which veered from noir to sci fi, and made me think longingly of the relatively simpler physics of The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffinegger, a past summer’s selection. It did occur to me that some might find my liking for mysteries obsessive when I realized that I was reading Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters while watching an episode of Inspector Lewis. Mysteries, however, with their murders, trickery, and restoration of order, remain an excellent antidote to articles on education (I read roughly 500 of those).

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brussels-sprouts-and-wild-rice-024Many would say the only way to prepare Brussels sprouts, the cruciferous vegetables that look like a miniature cabbage, is to roast them. I do love the ease of preparing roasted Brussels sprouts. The nutty flavor they develop in a hot oven is magnificent. But, there is another way to prepare the little green sprouts that offers wonderful flavor and crisp texture.

I’ve discovered that by slicing Brussels sprouts into thin ribbons, they can be stir-fried with other vegetables.

A little time with your chef’s knife is all it takes to prepare the sprouts for stirring up in a hot pan with onions, peppers and garlic. Add some honey and vinegar for a sweet and sour flavor. Then, just stir in some cooked wild rice. Viola!

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My brother is at odds with Thomas Wolfe. He is living proof that you can go home again. Oklahoma City is just that kind of place. I can’t really describe what makes my hometown so special to people who have never passed through the capital of the panhandle state. Perhaps the folks best suited to explain the city’s certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ are its chefs. Chefs like my brother, Jonathon Stranger, Mark Dunham, Josh Valentine, Chris Becker, Kurt Fleischfresser, Russ Johnson, and the father of Mission Chinese, Danny Bowien.

Like many members of this crew, my brother left Oklahoma City at eighteen and explored various parts of the globe through a cook’s lens. At age 27, armed with folders full of harrowing but valuable tales from the restaurant world and some culinary tools in his belt, he returned and thought about how he could make his mark on the city’s landscape without turning a blind eye to his roots. And so Ludivine was born, a farm to table restaurant set in Midtown, a newly revitalized area of the city, where Oklahomans could taste dishes inspired by and using fresh, local ingredients, like bison (the tenderloin is my personal favorite).

But what I think makes Oklahoma City’s chefs so unique is not just that they are simply introducing new approaches to food and what it means to dine out to its customers, but that they are working together, side by side, to foster a sense of community in this collective venture. They love food as much as they love the people they serve, the people they grew up with, the people of OKC.

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Which is why when the devastating tornado touched ground in Moore on May 21st, leveling entire city blocks and taking 24 lives, including 9 children, it was only natural that this eclectic group would find a way to bring people together and raise money for the victims in a setting that would celebrate who we are as proud, resilient Oklahomans.

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