Saturday, April 16, 2005

Hi Honey

This week my favorite treat/salvation-when-the-blood-sugar-starts-to-plummet has been plain Greek yogurt with walnuts and honey. That's the full-fat stuff pictured above though the low-fat stuff is fine too, if you aren't in need of having your extra-creamy pleasure-center stimulated at the moment. Lately I've been using some terrific Sourwood honey I bought on my friend Jen's recommendation while down in North Carolina. If I had a little more pantry space I'd probably start collecting honey; it is awfully fun to sample the subtle differences in the varieties and gives one many excuses to eat hot buttered toast slathered with the stuff. I'd say the sourwood honey is a bit more astringent (a fancy word for the obvious "sour") than our usual house honey: raspberry honey that they sell at Makielski's berry farm out on Platt Road.

I'm already a bit of a mustard collecting addict, a hobby I know Ed also enjoys, and I dream of getting a fridge with more condiment shelves to house my collection. Actually I dream of getting a new fridge regularly because it is the only appliance I currently have that doesn't work well--it keeps freezing stuff on the bottom shelf, no matter what the warmness setting. The latest victim was a nice bunch of asparagus (I know, it should have been in the produce drawers, but they are just too darn small for the quantity of produce I like to have in the house). I'm trying to think of a good name for the fridge. Yes, we are a household that names machines. My evil old stove was called "the inferno" since it had two settings--"off" and "burn". What do you think I should call the fridge--Iceman? The Frigid One? Mean-Mr.-Icy (sung to the tune of The Beatles' Mean Mr Mustard)? Suggestions anyone? I've found that tolerating an inferior appliance is much easier when you can insult it by name.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Crochet question

The mustard sweater finally gets a little attention

I have a crochet question for all the multi-talented fiber-fiends out there--how the heck do you travel with crochet and keep it from popping off the hook and unraveling? Last night Sarah and Brian and Nicholaus kindly had me and my brood over for dinner and some insane-play-kid-time and in the midst of 3 very happy kids making a racket I managed to start the crochet on the edge of the much-neglected mustard sweater. I'm really unsure about crochet, but managed the above on the edge of a sleeve. I started doing the same on the bottom edge of the sweater, but only got a little way before the critters needed to be packed up and sent off to sleepy-land. This morning when I pulled the sweater out I unraveled half of the crochet I put in last night. So is there some trick I don't know to keep the crochet on the hook and prevent unintentional unraveling?

I really like the green kid-mohair that I'm using for the edging. I bought it at Spinner's Flock a few years ago. The small quantity made it a challenge to find a worthy use for it.

The will-power question of the day is: will I be able to stay away from the Flying Sheep yarn store today where they have sale of 35% off of all Rowan yarn? With the husband out of town for the week, I could really use a little yarn-therapy...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

So many books, so little time...

I finished Blindness yesterday while riding the exercise bike at the Y (thanks to Child Watch, the only way I could get some reading time this week!) There's a reason they give out the Nobel Prize for Literature. Blindness is not a book that I'll ever forget--some books can be perfectly pleasant reads and yet disappear from your memory almost instantly. This is one that is going to stick. Do you have a "stuck" book in your head? Let me know what it was (or they were).

Of course, there are also books that stick in your head that you wish you could get out. For me that book would be Jane Hamilton's The Book of Ruth which left me in such an intense depression I couldn't shake it for days. I don't care if the book was extremely well written, dwelling on perpetual misery is not my idea of a good book. House of Sand and Fog also falls into this category. It strikes me as a misuse of talent for the authors to have such a mastery of their craft and only able to communicate pain and suffering without hope. What do you other voracious readers out there think about misery and writing? I'm not a fan of the happy clappy read, mind you, but pure misery is something I'm not psychologically strong enough to take. I'd particularly be interested to see if anyone can help me reclaim the experience of reading the two books listed above so that whenever the title is mentioned I don't feel the need to groan.

I looked over the list of Nobel Laureates for literature (it's a pretty long list since the prize has been given out since 1901) and these are the authors I've read:

J.M. Coetzee
V.S. Naipaul
José Saramago
Dario Fo
Seamus Heaney
Toni Morrison
Derek Walcott
Nadine Gordimer
Octavio Paz
Wole Soyinka
Gabriel García Márquez
Isaac Bashevis Singer
Saul Bellow
Pablo Neruda
Samuel Beckett
Jean-Paul Sartre

John Steinbeck
Boris Pasternak
Albert Camus
Ernest Hemingway
William Faulkner
T.S. Eliot
André Gide
Hermann Hesse
Eugene O'Neill
Luigi Pirandello
George Bernard Shaw
William Butler Yeats
Rudyard Kipling

One thing that struck me in reading the complete list of Laureates was how many playwrights there were. I’m sure my MA in Theater from Northwestern helped me to identify some of them (it's nice to be able to put that degree to some use…). Also, among the “biggies” of 20th C lit (Hemingway, Faulkner) I saw many who I’d never heard of but who are probably immensely important in their own countries. Had I heard of Imre Kertész before looking at the list? Nope.

The Laureate that I really think I should have read by now and haven’t is Günter Grass. So I’m going to try to fit him into my reading schedule soon. However, as the Ann Arbor District Library is currently holding Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead and Peter Ho Davies Equal Love, Günter will have to wait his turn.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Composition therapy

So I have 197 more compositions to grade before tomorrow. What's a spaced-out tired mom to do? Turn to chocolate. Pictured above is what I dub "composition therapy"--two squares of good Swiss milk chocolate topped with a glob of natural (salted) peanut butter. I'm going to go fire up the espresso machine to have a shot before attacking the teetering pile.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Introducing my book group

Members of the Reading-and-Eating Book Group
front floor row: Marilyn, Lea
Couch/chair row: Diane, Me, Juliet, Halla (holding Lea's baby, Zane), Sarah
Members missing from photo: Meg, Jen, Tiphany

My book group decided to do Reading Lolita in Tehran for our next book which means we'’ll have a good Persian meal when we meet in May. Suggestions for favorite Persian side dishes, anyone? I need to hustle and finish Blindness so I can divert some brain-power to Reading Lolita.

I realize that I haven’t mentioned my book group yet. Here'’s a little background: we call ourselves “"The Reading-and-Eating Book Group" because shortly after we started meeting (about 5 years ago) we realized that

1. Our group contained some great cooks
2. It was fun to theme a potluck around the book we read
3. A good meal is an incentive to show up, especially if you hated the book that month

Whoever is hosting the group for the month is responsible for the entrée; the rest of the group brings appetizers, side dishes, wine (or other appropriate alcohol) and desert. We usually read contemporary fiction, but have been known to make occasional dips into non-fiction. Unlike some groups that decide their reading list once at the beginning of the year, we are much more flexible: —at each meeting (or shortly after via email) we talk about what we are in the mood for next. I usually keep a running list of books that everyone has mentioned (they do have to be in paperback) and we sift through them and try to find something that fits the literary mood, season, or culinary craving of the group. While some of the books have been lousy or forgettable, the meals have been spectacular! —I can’t think of one that was disappointing. I've also learned that sometimes a lousy book leads to a great discussion and a great book leads to all of us sitting around grinning and saying inane stuff like, "“I really liked it,"” and "“Me too.”" Of course, sometimes a lousy book is just a lousy book.

For a link to what we have read, look here. Of course, I couldn't resist noting which books I loved and which I hated. I know that some of the books that I hate are ones that regularly appear on other people’'s favorite books lists, so I'’ll attempt to justify my dislike of them at some point in the future.

I happen to know that the reading-and-eating concept has been picked up by at least one of my friends; Lynne was instrumental in starting her own reading-and-eating book group.

I am guessing that this week will be a bit of a culinary void; with Brian out of town, I revert to my single eating habits which include copious quantities of tofu. The Asian food store sells 2.5 lb tubs of organic tofu for $1.75 and I bought one so that is my challenge: —to eat it all before it goes bad. I plan to turn it into:

  • scrambled tofu
  • udon with tofu and greens
  • pasta with pesto and tofu
  • brown rice with garlic tofu and marinated cucumbers (this is one of my favorite fast meals, so I'’ll try to include a recipe for it this week)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Victim report

All that's missing from this spread is...a hotdog?

I thought the Amanda Hesser asparagus recipe was like a deconstructed hollandaise: olive oil, egg, lemon, salt and pepper. It was good--the grated warm egg gave it a bit of richness, but I think I'd rather go with Ami's suggestion and just shave some good Parmesan over asparagus to give it richness and flavor. My husband decided that an all vegetable meal wasn't going to cut it for him so he supplemented his portion with two hotdogs...granted they were good hotdogs (Koegels Viennas), but still...

The River's Edge Pinot Noir was terrific, as was Sideways. The wine tasted even better because we got to drink it with the most delicious accompaniments: Ami and John brought over 3 cheeses (an aged Gouda, Stilton and an almost liquid St. Felicite) and 3 salamis (from mild, to peppery, to smoked and intense). All were bought at Big 10, which is known in our house as "Cheese, Cheese, Cheese" (that's what their sign out front says).

I know it seems like I mention Big 10 in every other post, but I love the store. Part of what I love is the quality of their products but a big part is also their modesty--unlike Zingerman's hyper-manic serving style, Big 10 is quiet, calm and serious. I've never been rushed there, have had terrific conversations with the staff about the best way to serve Brasola (Italian air-dried beef--ultimate decision was to drizzle with good olive oil, crack some pepper and shave some big curls of Parmesan on it), and loved the fact that when a customer asked about an obscure sauce and how to make it, when they didn't know the answer they asked everyone in the store (even other customers) about it, ran to their computer to research it and in general just were so interested to find out the answer. Besides, you can buy terrific wine there too.

I stayed up late after everyone left and continued reading Blindness. I don't think I've ever read anything that so touches upon fear and horror and simultaneously is able to inspire hope and affirm human decency. I feel like every page makes me question whether humans are good or evil at heart; I keep changing my mind, but I think the book will end up affirming the good stuff, while not pretending all the bad stuff doesn't exist. I wish I had a day or two to just sink into the book and finish it, but as Brian is going out of town tonight for a week, and since it is composition grading season around here, I have to settle for a chapter or two a day.

I added a few photos to my knitting gallery link to the right. I still haven't finished seaming the mustard sweater. Maybe I'll get a chance to wear it once before it gets too warm for wool...