In Praise of Folly


I’ve been sick and in bed a lot (Florida’s motto should be The Pollen State) and dreaming of everything I want to do when I’m feeling better. You know, practical, productive activities like cleaning my house, making dinner for my kids, and organizing my desk.

I kid! I’ve actually been dreaming of the wonderful and utterly nonessential. Things like making my own sourdough bread and picking a bouquet of teensy flowers for my daughter’s dollhouse. Oh, and writing out my favorite recipes to fill an antique recipe box. Why? Because it’s prettier than my binder full of recipe clippings, that’s why.

Illness has stripped away my ability to be energetic and efficient, but I am not daydreaming about regaining my productivity. I am daydreaming about Folly.

The capital F is important. Do you know about Follies? Those small architectural oddities which dotted the landscapes of eighteenth-century British aristocrats? If you’ve seen the latest film version of Pride and Prejudice you know what I’m referring to. Elizabeth and Darcy exchange words when they take shelter from the rain in a miniature reproduction of a Greek temple. That is a Folly with a capital F.

It serves no purpose. It has no point. It is as if those who built them said, “I am going to create something beautiful. And, then, I am going to look at it.” That is all.

We can easily criticize the Folly (and the one who built it) for its ridiculousness. Its wasteful extravagance. What is the point? What does it do? Aren’t there better uses for your time? Your money? Your life?

I have no desire to defend those eighteenth-century aristocrats. Is it a coincidence that this century ended in revolution or the threat of it all around the globe? Probably not.

Lying in my sickbed, however, I find a lot to like about the idea of Folly with a capital F. Folly, as it appeals to me, has more to do with beauty than foolishness. It means acknowledging that life is not Life if it is all efficiency, productivity, and utility. It must also make room for beauty, creativity, whimsy, and delight.

For homemade sourdough bread. For handwritten recipe cards. For tiny tabletop bouquets bestowed on a family of dolls.

For art.

For music.

For dance.

For embracing the Creator in whose image we are made.

“How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!

People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house;

you give them drink from your river of delights.

For with you is the fountain of life;

in your light we see light.”

(Psalm 36:7-9)

 I’d love to know: what is bringing you delight during these late winter days?


For the Love of (Food) Books


I write a great deal about books on this blog. You know that I love Irish poetry and the novels of Virginia Woolf. You know that I love Harry Potter and the Hunger Games. You may not know that I love well-written detective novels like those by Margery Allingham (past) and Kate Atkinson (present).

A significant sub-genre in the large category of Books I Have Loved is Food Books. This includes my childhood favorite Little Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Even today, I could happily read those descriptions of nineteenth-century farm meals over and over and over. Wilder can make me drool even for headcheese.

It also includes Food Memoir. This seems to be a very popular genre today. I haven’t actually read many of these books, but I have noticed whole stacks of memoirs with words like cupcake, lemon, chocolate, etc. in their titles. My own favorite food memoir may be Down the Kitchen Sink, by Beverley Nichols. His gardening books are the best, but I love Nichols no matter his subject. He’s sentimental, nostalgic, and rather snobbish (well aware of his own foibles, he would no doubt prefer the term “romantic”), but he’s witty, supremely British, fond of name-dropping and more comforting than the most comforting comfort food.

Lastly, there are cookbooks. I read them like novels and am drawn both to the glossy and new (Ina Garten! Babycakes!) and the vintage and worn (The Kitchen Garden Cookbook with watercolor illustrations by Tasha Tudor!). One of my all-time favorites for reading pleasure is Apples for Jam. The recipes are organized by color (pink! green! white!) rather than food type or meal. It’s totally impractical and wonderfully inspiring.

Last spring, I inherited (via estate sale) a whole stack of vintage cookbook treasures. When I paid for them, the daughter of their previous owner sighed and told me that her mother used to read cookbooks like novels. I told her I’d be keeping them on my bedside table for just that reason.

My favorite of her books is The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. The title may sound corporate and rather soul-less, but if you could hold it in your hands you would know right away how wrong that first impression is. This is a hefty, hardback covered inside and out with delicate ink drawings, many of them in full technicolor glory. Originally published in 1963, mine is the 1965 edition.

It is part cookbook, part memoir (as the best cookbooks usually are), and describes the life, times, and food of Margaret Rudkin. Apparently, Mrs. Rudkin was inspired to begin baking and selling Pepperidge Farm bread because of her child’s food allergies. Thus, she is dear to this mama’s heart.

Part One of this book describes Mrs. Rudkin’s childhood in a New York City brownstone. It seems they ate a lot of soup and fish. I might try the recipe for Strawberry Soup. Likely, I will skip the Pickled Lambs’ Tongues.

Of course, I also enjoy actually cooking. And certainly, I love to eat. Still, one can only cook or eat so much. But reading … ah, reading. With books I am never sated.

Do any of you share my love for cookbooks and books about food? Any recommendations? I’m always hungry for more.


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