Saturday, April 23, 2005

Restaurant Rave

We were in Dearborn yesterday taking the critters to ride Thomas the Tank Engine at Greenfield Village. The grandparents got together and gave us a membership for the year so it wasn't the huge expense it could have been sans membership. Brian and I are happy to take the kids to Greenfield Village and/or the Henry Ford Museum pretty much any time because it means we have an excuse to eat at one of our favorite restaurants located near the museum: Cedarland. I haven't tried all the Middle Eastern Restaurants in Dearborn, but this one is by far my favorite. They have the best baba ganoush I've ever tasted--smoky with ample lemon and salt. And they have a humble-looking, fantastic-tasting dish that I always order called Sheik Mashi: a bowl full of stewed eggplant and lamb and spices served with a huge plate of their toasted-almond rice pilaf. It is tucked away on the back page of the menu where my guess is only those-in-the-know find it.

Cedarland is the most kid-friendly restaurant I've ever eaten in. Yesterday we had two two-year olds (Fiona and her friend Nicholaus) and the owner beamed at them as they dismantled everything in sight, spilled soup and sang the ABCs at the top of their lungs. She brought us free lentil soup almost as soon as we sat down to satisfy the kids while we contemplated the huge menu.

Nicholaus is a much more adventurous eater than either of my two kids--his favorite foods are broccoli and cherry tomatoes and here he is at the restaurant with a pepperoncini and a pickled turnip in each hand. Yes, he tried both and seemed to like them well enough.

Nicholaus has a very sophisticated palate.

I figure if I invite him over for dinner often enough some of his good eating will rub off on Fiona. She started eating broccoli after seeing Nicholaus tuck into a big plateful (though she demands hers doused in cheese). I don't have much hope for Nicholaus influencing Ian; despite the fact that Ian adores Nicholaus, Ian is by far the most stubborn kid I've ever encountered and that stubbornness is manifested most clearly when it comes to food. I know everyone has a picky-eater-kid-story, but Ian will give anyone a run for their money for the title of pickiest on the planet.

We were stuffed after Cedarland and the kids clearly needed naps, so we skipped our usual second stop, the Shatila bakery, where we usually stock up on baklawa and mamoul and often are tempted by the mango ice cream too...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Kate, the literary curmudgeon

For the second time in a week, I have realized that a part of a novel I'm reading has been previously published as a short story in The New Yorker. I have already groused about a chunk of Marilynne Robinson's new novel Gilead coming out in The New Yorker last year and now I find out that Ian McEwan's new novel Saturday was also excerpted in The New Yorker last year. Normally this wouldn't bother me, but in both cases the excerpts read like a complete short story--not just a chunk of a larger work. In fact the McEwan "story" was one of my favorites that I've read in the last year.

Is this just a matter of classification? Is there really no discernible difference between a well-structured chapter and a good short-story? Friends (or strangers) with MFA's or strong opinions please weigh in and tell me how you define the difference or if there is no difference at all. For all you writers--do you approach a short story differently than a novel you are writing? Would you be ok with publishing a chunk of your novel as a short story without any reference to it being a part of a larger work?

In some cases, I know authors write a short story, publish it and then find that the story isn't finished and go back and turn it into a novel (I think this is what Jonathan Safran Foer did with Everything is Illuminated which initially was published, again, in The New Yorker, as a short story.) Should a magazine acknowledge that what they are publishing is a part of a larger whole?

I can't dispute the effectiveness on a marketing level--reading the McEwan "story" makes me want to read the whole novel. And what author in their right mind turns down the publicity of a publication like The New Yorker? Again, I forgive Foer for doing this because Everything is Illuminated was his first novel and the marketing of a first novel is a very different process than one by such established authors as Robinson and McEwan. (Can you tell that I have a literary crush on Foer? I'd probably forgive him if he accidently burned down my house.)

Here is where the curmudgeon part of me comes out--despite the fact that Robinson's and McEwan's new novels are very likely to make it onto my Recommended Books List, I am quite grumpy about the excerpts. My primary reason is that in both cases, while reading the whole novel, when I get to the part that was excerpted, I am pulled out of the story. My wee brain no longer is focusing on the plot, the characters, the beautiful language, in short, the world that the author has crafted. Instead, it feels like an interruption in which I start to dwell on the memory of having read this section before. Where was I when I read it? Was I settled on the couch with a cup of tea? Was I waiting in the car for my son's preschool to get out? Was I staying up late to indulge in a little literary-therapy after a long day?

All these questions that are running through my brain mean that I am thinking of ME and not about the story. Guess what folks? I think about ME and my needs on a regular basis, probably far too often for good mental health. Everyone needs a break from their own identity, and I count on my time with a good book to provide that escape. When the excerpted section yanks me back inside my own life, it pisses me off.

Barbecue season

It is getting warmer in Michigan after one of the worst winters in recent memory (apparently we broke the snow accumulation record for our city--whoo hoo...) Good weather in our house means we get to open up the grill again and cook outdoors. We are big on barbecue for a few reasons:
  1. My husband loves the stuff and is ridiculously grateful when I make any form of barbecued meat.
  2. You really must drink beer while cooking barbecue.
  3. barbecue demands good cole slaw and I love cole slaw (I'll post my two favorite recipes soon--one for cilantro/lime slaw and one for blue-cheese slaw).
  4. We have a pretty small house but a big deck and fenced-in yard, so when the weather is bad, we can only invite about 8 people over before the house feels crammed, but in good weather we can be super social and invite loads of people and their kids over.
  5. I discovered the best sauce recipe last summer when we embarked on our whole-pig barbecue project with four of our meat-loving friends (Sarah, Brian, Juliet, and Ken). It doesn't look like anything particularly special when you read the recipe, but the 100 or so people who came to the pig roast agreed it was terrific.
Best Barbecue Sauce

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion -- chopped
2 cloves garlic -- minced
1 1/4 cups catsup
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and cook the onion and garlic, gently for 10 minutes. Add the catsup, vinegar, Worcestershire, brown sugar, chili powder, and cayenne, and mix well. Let simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened. Makes about 2.5 cups.

And for those of you who want to know more about barbecuing a whole pig, I tease you with this photo of me with our piggy. Sometimes you have to threaten to bite them to keep them in line...

Me and our piggy, Joan-of-Ann-Arbor

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Fiscal responsibility vs. Local support

Let's start this off with the thing that knitters know and non-knitters (usually) don't know: yarn is darn expensive. There aren't many knitters out there who are making garments because they are thrifty and a good deal (if I got into recycling old sweaters I could be superthrifty but I don't think I have the patience for all that un-ravelling). Even with yarn that is bought on sale a sweater for an adult rarely costs under $50 and many cost a hell of a lot more than that. Most of the time I can justify this to myself via the rather pompous declaration that I'm creating "wearable art" and we all know that art isn't cheap...right?

My current dilemma revolves around the split I'm feeling between exercising fiscal restraint and responsibility by purchasing yarn at deeply lowered prices via the internet and the need to buy locally and thus keep my local yarn stores in business. There are some yarns at both Elann and at Knitpics that are such a darn good deal. But it was not long ago that Ann Arbor was a total VOID when it came to yarn stores. I used to buy my yarn on an annual basis when I went to Canada where even smallish towns seem to have yarn stores. In the past few years Ann Arbor acquired a number of good yarn stores; my favorite is Flying Sheep, partly because the owner is so darn nice, but I also like what they stock. But buying retail (for just about anything, not just yarn) kills me.

The sweater I am contemplating knitting is this Ribbi Cardigan pattern from ChicKnits. In the Peruvian Highland Wool from Elann it would cost me $29.95 (plus shipping)! If I made it with cotton blend Java (or another normal priced yarn) it would cost me $97.50--Oy!

Can anyone help me strike a balance? How about if I buy all my needles and the odd ball of special yarn at the local yarn store and the other stuff on-line? What would you do?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Tasting Results

This morning I decided to taste test the 5 honeys on toast--Ed's Bread Multigrain, with, as you can see, scads of unsalted butter. I used black coffee as a palate cleanser (thanks to Myra for the suggestion).

My reactions:
Orange Blossom: zippy, acidic bite particularly in the aftertaste
Wildflower: not much character--just sweet with no hints of anything else
Catclaw: tangy at first taste but mild aftertaste
Mesquite: strong flavor--not exactly tangy like the catclaw, but like SuperHoney, however not much aftertaste
Sourwood: zingiest of the lot, sort of like Orange Blossom on steroids

The Ed's Bread was NOT an ideal tasting medium since its flavor got in the way of the honey. I think they use molasses in the bread. I need to get something super plain (probably tasteless white bread) and do another test. The black coffee worked great in between tastes. If anyone local wants to come over and join me for a tasting, I'd love to hear what another set of taste buds can pick up.

On the reading front: I have a new love of the recumbent bike at the gym--I can get half an hour of reading in while riding it which makes exercise feel like a super-treat rather than a chore. Unfortunately I get queasy when trying to read on any other piece of exercise equipment. Yesterday I read a big chunk of Marilynne Robinson's second novel Gilead which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It has been a long time coming for Robinson fans--she published Housekeeping and won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1982. She hasn't been idle since then, but she hasn't been publishing fiction. Does anyone remember where she published an excerpt of Gilead maybe about a year ago? I recognized the part where the narrator and his father go to look for and tend his grandfather's grave.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Honey Theme

We've got ourselves a honey theme here today. Brian came back from Arizona last night with the four jars pictured below nestled into his shoes in his luggage.

It seems that he is of the opinion that we do have enough pantry space to start our honey collection. Pictured above are Orange Blossom, Mesquite, Wildflower and Catclaw which will be added to the Sourwood and Raspberry honey that we already have in the house. So I have a question for you--what is the best medium for a side-by-side honey tasting? Normally I'd nominate one of my top 10 foods, whole-wheat toast, but for some reason, I don't think it will highlight the subtle differences of each honey. My blood-sugar can't handle straight from the jar via spoon tasting. What would you use--squares of plain white bread? apple slices? small bowls of plain oatmeal?

Going along with the honey theme, I finished my cardigan this weekend. I've decided that it is honey-colored rather than mustard-colored. You can see the slightly stumpy 3/4 sleeves I had to go with in the picture below.

Thankfully, it doesn't bother me much when I put it on since I always shove my sleeves up anyway. I made the buttons out of shrinky-dinks and am currently polling to see if I should keep them or go with something a little classier that I'd buy at the store (mother of pearl? wood?). Here is a close-up of the buttons (and the gorgeous handspun kid-mohair) so you can tell me what you think.

The cardigan strikes me as not quite funky enough for the buttons which are plastic and, when seen in person, do look kind of shiny. Brian voted for keeping the shrinky-dink buttons and I am on the fence, so weigh in with your opinion.

Next up on the knitting front: I vow here that I will finish the yellow baby sweater that I started ages ago before starting on something new. All that remains are the sleeves and I should be able to knock them out this week. What I'm looking forward to starting are 1) my first pair of socks and 2) some sort of scarf made with some beautiful mohair I bought on a whim--I plan to play around with all the tempting ideas in the Knitting on the Edge book that my friend Lynne so generously gave me. 3) more tampon holders made from stash yarn.

Sunday, April 17, 2005


The treat-of-the-day was a small quantity of fiddlehead ferns. They were, not surprisingly, $10/lb at Whole Foods, but I knew I'd need a little something to look forward to on day 8 of the single-parenting adventure. I had heard that fiddleheads taste a bit like asparagus, so I prepared them my standard asparagus way, with olive oil, garlic, salt and lemon. And I can report that they do taste a bit like asparagus--a little more bitter, a little less grassy,and a tiny bit of the okra-slimy factor. The shape looks very neat on a plate and I'll keep my eye peeled for them on my next hike in the woods/foraging expedition, but I won't be paying $10 a lb for them in a store again. They'd probably be pretty good with foraged wild leeks (ramps) that I've found on occasion.