Monday, March 4, 2013

On the Hand-written Letter, and Roasted Cauliflower and Sweet Potato Soup

My husband bought a Kindle not long ago.  He loves it, and reads most of his books that way now.  I, on the other hand, use it only when necessary and expedient.

I'm a book person.  You know -- the kind of person who flips slowly through the paper, drinking in the heady smell of the freshly turned page.  I love the feel and the weight of a book: I appreciate a smooth matte jacket, and I appreciate knowing both how far I've come and how far I have to go, just by eyeballing the location of my bookmark.  But honestly, much as I work diligently not to contribute to massive deforestation, I'm probably just a paper person in general.  At meetings for local civic groups, I find myself printing out e-packets just so I can write in the margins and spread them out all over the table.  The leaves take up space and overlap and rustle in a satisfying way that electronic media simply can't.  I love the three dimensionality of it, the completeness of the sensory experience.  And there's less and less of that in my life these days.

In addition to keeping a paper journal, I also used to write letters.  They were long, lovely, thoughtful affairs, written with the epistolary novel in mind, I think; I even had--and still have--a fountain pen and a wax seal to complete the romantic authenticity.  I had several friends with whom I corresponded in this way, and I've saved many of their letters from those years, imagining some day a relative would find them and be able to mine my past from the perspective of another person.  (I don't know why, but I felt more comfortable about this possibility than I feel about having my email read somewhere in the future.  Why is that, I wonder?)

The other day, after I'd responded to a of hers comment on my blog post, a friend of mine promised a letter.  She is an excellent letter writer (an excellent writer in general, but it is its own genre), and every once in a while, when she feels frustrated by the internet, or when it seems like it's simply not enough, she writes to me.  I usually write back, and sometimes there are three or four letters before we lapse back into electronic communication.

It's been a while since we'd done this, and I when I got her letter, I went to respond, only to discover that I no longer had a single sheet of stationery in my house.  It was depressing.  Good letters are more than words; they are works of art, unique because of the paper you've chosen to write them on, the vulnerability of the author's handwriting.  They're an important genre, a little window onto the soul that I'm not sure is the same in a published blog post.

I carefully tore a few pages out of one of my journals, and while my vegetables roasted for soup, penned a response, which may even have smelled just a little bit like garam masala and cauliflower and sweet potato.  And I determined to go stationery shopping in the not-too-distant future.  Because some art forms are too important to lose.

Did you ever write letters, and do you still do so?  If you received letters, have you saved them over the years?  How would you feel about having your email read some day, and archived in the same way that some writers preserved their letters?  Do you feel like reading someone's handwritten correspondence is the same as reading their email correspondence?

Roasted Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Soup
adapted from Isn't That Sew

3 large sweet potatoes, 1" cubes
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
4 large carrots, cut into 1" rounds
2 T. olive oil
2 t. garam masala
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
4 cups vegetable stock
5 cups water

Preheat the oven to 400.  Toss sweet potatoes, cauliflower and carrots in a large bowl with garam masala and olive oil.  Place on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment.

Roast vegetables for 30 minutes or until just beginning to brown checking every ten minutes or so to stir, loosening the vegetables from the bottom of the sheet and avoid burning.  Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a large stock pot, saute onions and olive oil until just translucent, about 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and saute one minute.  Add broth, water, and roatsed vegetables, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender.  Using an immersion blender, blend the remaining ingredients until smooth.  (Add more water at this point if you like your soup less thick.)

Serve topped with toasted pepitas, or if you prefer, a swirl of heavy cream.
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  1. First of all, the soup looks amazing, second of all, you managed to articulate exactly why I don't have a kindle - I feel the same way about books, it is one of the last sensory experiences that I have and truly enjoy. Also, I love letters. I went to college before email and I kept up with a lot of my HS friends this way. I still have many of those letters, and I treasure them - and they are not easily forgotten about and disposed of with the push of a delete button!

  2. I use my Kindle and paper books. The Kindle is great for reading in the car, for bringing along in case of a quiet spell at work. The soul of a book is not its paper any more than the soul of a person is her body.

    Sometimes the body is very important, of course, both for a person and a for a book. I'd be a pretty terrible doula if I argued otherwise, but books on my kindle can still make me laugh and make me cry, and transport me to places my body can never go.

  3. 107I'm with Jennifer, I have both. I'm a book lover and a reading addict. The book lover in me loves to go to libraries and bookstores and just browse and pick up books, and to own bookcases filled with books. The reading addict in me wants the sequel right NOW even though I'm stuck indoors during a blizzard. The reading addict wants another book right away when the one already underway turns out to be a dud. Before my Kindle, the reading addict would go back to the shelves and re-read a book, now I wish that some of my Kindle books were hardcovers so I could hold them :) Both mediums have their positive and negative sides.

  4. I got a Kindle (unexpectedly; not requested) for Christmas two years ago and I haven't read a whole book on it yet. My husband has read a few things, but more for the sake of it than because he likes it that way. It will be a while longer before we're converts, I think. I like having books. I like owning them and looking at them on my shelves. I know people felt the same way about their CD collections and now are quite happy with their iPods, but... you can tell so much by browsing someone's bookshelves. You can't really ask someone on a first visit to their home if you can riffle through their Kindle.

    I wrote long, long epistles to my boyfriend before we had e-mail, back in the dark ages. I have to admit I prefer the immediacy of electronics for that, and the way the keyboard doesn't make my wrist ache. But I still have his letters, somewhere.

  5. I sometimes write letters. I do have a stationary drawer. And I just bought three paper books this weekend, driving out to the store instead of purchasing them on the iPad. Sometimes I'm scared that electronic purchased will disappear. I like to be able to see my books. If I buy an electronic copy to have the book with me, I almost always purchase a paper copy too.

  6. Well (at risk of badly dating myself), I grew up when long distance calls were expensive and writing paper letters was the norm. No e-mail, no Facebook. I had several penpals (including two I am still in touch with today), and there are still boxes full of letters from them and other friends in the closet of my bedroom at my parents' house. I do need to go through them one of these days, although I know I will find it very hard to throw most of them out. I've also kept all the letters dh & I sent to each other in the years before we were married. I write very few letters by hand these days, let alone send any through the regular mail. I do still write fairly lengthy letter-style e-mails to some of the friends I once wrote letters to. And I still send paper cards for birthdays and Christmas, etc. There is definitely something about paper. I still have a stack of boxes of paper stationery & thank-you notes in my desk drawer.

    Having my e-mail read (at some distant future date) would not bother me. : )

    I have a Kobo e-reader, and it is fabulous for commuting and vacations (takes up much less space -- and weight -- than a stack of books would in my suitcase!). But I still love paper books too. Dh & I spend just about every Saturday night at our local megabookstore, browsing the shelves. You can't really do that with e-books. Not in the same way, anyway.

  7. I am unabashedly a Kindle girl through and through. I laughed at the thought of e-readers in general when they first gained popularity. I swore it wasn't the same and I couldn't see why people preferred them over paper books. It wasn't until I was getting ready to head abroad that I changed my mind. I realized that there was a high probability any paper books I bought would have to be either mailed home (expensive) or (more likely) left behind. I was an immediate convert because, no matter how many books were in my digital to-be-read pile, it always took up the same amount of space in my suitcase. I'm much more picky about the paper books I buy now. They're mostly reference, knitting, or cookbooks with the occasional novel thrown in. Books I expect to keep for years and years and need to be able to write notes and adjustments in.

    On the other hand, I write postcards and letters when I'm overseas, and to a lesser extent to people overseas when I'm home. I just bought stamps this week to send letters. I have all of the cards and letters written to me, and even a handful of the envelopes. They sit in a box on my bookshelf next to art I bought as souvenirs.

  8. Oh! I was one of those long art form type letter writers. I would write to my grandparents overseas. I would write to school friends. I even wrote to my (then) soon to be husband even though it was the Age of Email.

    I do not have a Kindle and can't imagine ever having one. I can't imagine reading an entire book on a computer; the experience would not be the same.

  9. I was slow to getting a Kindle for the same reasons but it's been really convenient since having Ian in that I can download books when I'm ready for a new one. I still get a lot of books from our local library when I'm able so enjoy a mixture of both.
    I have a couple of friends that I exchange letters back and forth with occasionally, it's always such a nice surprise to get one of the letters in the mail.

  10. I've never been a good letter writer. I did it but I always procrastinated...don't know why.

    I feel like Jennifer does...there is something to be said for both mediums. The romantic part of my soul love books, both paperback and hardback, but the practical part of me knows I ran out of bookshelf space about 15 yrs ago. I love both the space saving nature of my Nook and the instant gratification of my "I MUDT HAVE THE SEQUEL NOW" urge.

  11. I, too, love the multisensory experience of a real book.

    And I, too, have no stationery in the house.

    And I, too, am going to make this soup!


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