Reading Matter: Living Well

What does it mean to live well?

This is the question I am trying to answer through trial and error. Living well is definitely having plenty of interesting things to read. And often authors help me further define how to live well.

Penguin Books has released a wonderful series of reprints called “Great Food” (with a penguin holding a knife and fork). I enjoyed MFK Fisher’s Love in a Dish. She wrote inspiringly about food, wine and living well. Like so many gourmands, she lived for a few years in France where she matured in her appreciation for simple but excellent food.

Living well for MFK was about living alive to all of her senses–so eating grey, tasteless food was impossible. The sensuousness of it all is so appealing. I am finding the same discretion in my redesigned life. If the food is likely to be a disappointment (all cookies in NZ), why bother? I am eating very simply and rarely dining out. I do not have the palette of MFK or Alice Waters, but my tastebuds have reawoken to the pleasure of a good crisp apple.

At the end of my post is a sample from MFK Fisher’s “How Not to Cook an Egg.”

Meanwhile, a biography of a very shy, talented writer also helps to answer the question. E.B. White, author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, contributor to The New Yorker, and co-editor of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, has shaped my reading ear my entire life.

Michael Sims’ just released biography gives an intimate glimpse into White’s life. White was very shy and enjoyed observing nature and animals more than being with people. As soon as he achieved a certain amount of success, he moved to his Maine farm and spent more time farming than writing.

I just finished this book so it is still resonating with me. It increased my desire to sink my hands into Radar’s soft fur or pet Chaplin’s smooth coat. And go for a walk along the shore (especially with the wind whipping up the waves today). Eventually, I will have to adopt a dog to really enjoy life in NZ.

In the meantime, I can make “Eggs in Hell…
Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan with a tight cover. Split a clove of garlic lengthwise, run a toothpick through each half, and brown the halves slowly in the oil. Add an onion, minced and cook it until it is golden. Then add 2 cups tomato sauce (the Italian kind is best, but even catsup will do if you cut down on other spices). Then add 1 teaspoon mixed minced herbs, such as basil and thyme, and 1 teaspoon minced parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Coof for about 15 minutes, stirring often, and then remove the garlic. Into this sauce break 6 eggs. Spoon the sauce over them, cover the pan closely, and cook very slowly until the eggs are done, or for about 15 minutes. (If the skillet is a heavy one, you can turn off the flame and cook the eggs 15 minutes with the heat stored in the metal.) When the eggs are done, put them carefully on slices of thin, dry, toasted french bread, and cover them with sauce. Grated Parmesan or a similar cheese is good on this dish.

One of the many variations of this recipe that we used to make, never earlier than 2:00 and never later than 4:00 in the morning, was a strange, modernistic electronic kitchen on the wine-terraces between Lausanne and Montreux. We put cream and Worsestershire sauce into little casseroles, and heated them into a bubble. Then we broke eggs into them, turned off the current, and waited until they looked done, while we stood around drinking Champagne with circles under our eyes, and Viennese music in our heads. We ate the eggs with spoons and went to bed.”

2 thoughts on “Reading Matter: Living Well

  1. Thanks for these thoughts Julie. I love the “To Live Well” topic. For Chip’s and my wedding, we each picked a quote that represented us. Your post made me think of mine by Emily Dickinsen. “Dwell in Possibility.”

    To me, living well means staying in the land of possibility, engaging with what’s possible, and all the while keeping a smile on my face. That could be what’s possible for me and what’s possible for others.

    I’m also reminded of this lady and her 10ish year old son who found me on the computer at the La Quinta up in WA printing our boarding passes to fly home from the wedding we were at a couple of weeks ago. She said she had a crazy question to ask me, and prefaced it with much apology. She said she was broke and wanted to sell me an Office Depot card for half price. While I didn’t have any need for the Office Depot card, I did end up having a very nice conversation with her and her son who awkwardly said that was a crazy question for her to ask me. I said it wasn’t crazy at all, sounded like the real situation to me. They both relaxed and it was interesting to see how their whole demeanor changed when I didn’t treat them poorly for essentially needing money.

    The other situation I am reminded of is dropping things off at Goodwill last weekend. I happened to interrupt the mentally disabled worker’s lunch. He was taken aback that everyone (2 of us 🙂 ) showed up while he finally had a break and was frustrated with us. With a big smile I told him to finish his sandwich, we’d wait, not a problem. You could just see his demeanor switching gears that he had just been respected and that people would wait on him. This resulted in me having a nice conversation with the guy behind me who ended up taking a few of the items (liquids) that I didn’t realize Goodwill couldn’t take. We all left smiling and laughing.

    I thought of these situations because I think living well, means treating others well too. Not making assumptions, taking offense, or putting our needs in front of others unnecessarily. Respecting others no matter their place in life. Respecting the possibility of what may come out of any interaction.

    Have a great day


    • I agree with everything in your comment Mara. I’m trying to find out more about the Maori concept of “mana”, which I believe, if I understand it correctly, can be diminished if you don’t treat other people well. I’ll post on this when I feel like I have a better grasp because I really like their ideas.

      I’m also reading a NZ classic Plumb by Maurice Gee. One of his characters is Victorian in her emphasis on external, class distinctions. Here is a letter to her daughter describing her version of living well, which contains some wisdom:

      “Teach your children to be good, clean, honest and truthful. A child is an unwritten page, a “bundle of possibiliities”. Teach them to have clean habits, clean teeth, clean fingernails, and never to spit before people, or blow their noses violently as that is a habit that assaults the nerves of the eyes, ears and throat. Teach them to value their eyes and their teeth because one set of permanent teeth and one pair of eyes are to last them all their lives and they are precious possessions. Teach them to have nice manners. They should not pick their teeth or their noses, or scratch their heads. These things if they must be done should be done when they are alone. Teach them not sneeze loudly in company. I once lived near a woman who used to come to her back door and sneeze so that all the neighbours could hear her. That is a vulgar thing to do. Make them respectful to elderly people. I hate to hear a young boy address an elderly man as Tom or Jack. It makes life more pleasant to be with good-mannered people. Watch their speech, don’t let them fall into the habit of bad grammer, like children often do. It does not take more than a minute to correct them. Also teach them good manners at the table. I have seen many a meal spoiled by a naughty child. Punish them for swearing. Make them abhor it. Good strong men don’t need this filthiness to make their words tell. Remember your father’s prayer for his children, ‘Let them be original.’ Never call your children ‘kids’. “

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