>> May 18, 2009
i've been reading house: a memoir by michael ruhlman. i loved his books about the CIA, eric ripert, michael symon, and even digested some of his newest, ratio, while down at my sister's last weekend. memoirs are my favorite genre, so i figured i couldn't go wrong with this one.
the book is basically about the adventure he and his wife take on with the purchase and restoration of a turn-of-the-century house in cleveland, ohio. it's filled with stories about all the horrors of a reconstruction project, from contractor mistakes and long-passed deadlines to unexpected projects and hidden problems. it's also sprinkled with the history of suburbia, the modern american neighborhood, and the development of cleveland as a city. ruhlman weaves this expository line into the personal story of his struggles, carefully adding in emotion and personaility where appropriate.
one of the things i really like about the book is how he incorporates social philosophy and anthropology when he talks about his personal connections. there's a whole section on nostalgia, started by the question "can you ever grow up if you never leave your house?" (paraphrased, the book is upstairs). i loved that idea.
i've moved houses three times, live at college now, and am about to spend my third summer away from home. we've lived here for seven years now, but i've been at school for three, so i really only consider it four years here for me physically. other than that, i suppose i technically lived in bethel park the longest, but the first six years of my life are largely lost in my memory. i think i "grew up" most in chicago, as first to fifth grade are the years you're shaped most by your surroundings. i loved everything about naperville, and i someday hope to return, possibly to raise my own family.
one thing i remember vividly from my childhood are the fieldtrips we took to naper settlement, the historic village in the downtown section set to look like it did at different periods throughout naperville's long life. there was a one-room school house and a log cabin where we learned what pre-revoluationary life was like. we churned butter and used homemade chalk to do math problems. there was a farmhouse with cows (even at the young age of seven i knew better than to grab on to an udder, as they tried to make us do) and chickens, and a horse stable with a blacksmith.
my favorite place was the victorian-era house with an afternoon tea service. the house was white with light purple shudders, intricate molding, and a big, wide wrap-around veranda with wrought-iron furniture. every window had sheer curtains and a window-box teeming with gorgeous flowers. the rooms were full of poufs and settees with ornate feet and beautiful rugs. i'm not particularly prissy or girly, but anything pink, lacey, and european gets me all excited. i chose the victorian american girl doll, had three tea sets, and still dream of traveling to france. so while my classmates liked the rope braiding or cow milking (again, gross), i reveled in sitting with my hands folded and my ankles crossed, listening to someone teach me manners.
before the tea service, we learned how to make finger sandwiches with cucumber and herbed cream cheese. it's something i still love today, and it always brings back memories of that lacey afternoon in the tea house. it's quite simple. mix some herbs-de-provence into a few tablespoons of softened cream cheese. spread this on lightly toasted bread (crusts optional), and top with cucumber slices. i like to eat mine now open-faced with fresh tomato slices, but they're perfect sans tomato as sandwiches, too. i also love loose-leaf tea, and any time we pass a specialty store i have to buy some. capital teas in annapolis, maryland, is super cute and quaint. i bought chocolate creme (above) and apple strudel. sadly, i finished the apple last night. looks like a return trip is in order.
now that it's getting springy outside, these sandwiches are perfect for an afternoon snack with a glass of iced tea or lemonade outside on the veranda... i mean back patio. i long for a veranda.