Saturday, February 28, 2009

Humanist fiction

I realize that humanism is viewed as passe, particularly in any sort of scholarly company. I swallowed enough of the post-structuralist, Foucauldian cool-aid in grad school to know that there are plenty of people who think that humanism is a dirty word when referring to serious literature. Maybe that's why I left grad school! And this is probably also the reason that I enjoy YA fiction which seems to hope for people to treat each other decently more often than its "adult" counterparts.

I admit that I often do enjoy fiction that isn't written from the humanist perspective; David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is one book that comes to mind. But sometimes one just needs a break from irony and anger and narratives that want to mess with your head. In short, sometimes I need to read fiction that is heartily humanist in its perspective.

I'm not sure what took me so long, but I finally got around to reading Anne Patchett's Run. I enjoyed Bel Canto which, despite the subject matter of hostages, terrorism and third world politics, is a startlingly humanist book. People who thought they had nothing in common turned out to find commonalities and connections, to respect and value each other despite their differences. Humanist doesn't mean happy-clappy--there's tragedy and pain, but the underlying sentiment is one that does not invoke despair, at least not in my cynical brain.

Run has a similar feel to it. The book has important things to say about family and love and it never makes them feel simple. If anything, love is treated as a complex and confusing force: respected, longed for, and at times scarily beautiful. I know that there were unbelievable bits: the girl, Kenya, is a bit too good to be true and the events (with the exception of one plot twist that I didn't see coming) are a little predictable. It was clear that Patchett was echoing (and at one time, directly quoting) James Joyce's "The Dead", (which I confess is his one work that has really moved me and made me understand the fuss) and maybe there were a few too many similarities for my taste. But these were really minor issues that didn't hamper my enjoyment.

Technically, the book fascinated me by the author's ability to shift the point of view without any apparent awkwardness or confusion. On one page I counted 8 shifts in point of view! It was lovely to get to hear all these voices, to have a scene rendered kaleidoscopically. I also appreciated the author's judicious use of lyrical language--she doesn't douse the whole book in it, but reserves it for emphasis so that when it is used to describe the beauty of a dead fish floating in a jar, or to describe a girl running, or to render the hallucinations of critical illness, the significance of these moments reaches the readers.

What do you cook when you come home?

For once, I did a smart thing and cleaned out the fridge before we went on vacation so we didn't come back to liquefied vegetables in the crisper drawers and containers of mystery foods that had sprouted hair.

But more significant than what wasn't in the fridge was what I wanted to be there. I don't know about you, but after a vacation where I accommodate lots of factors (picky kids, restaurant ignorance, lack of kitchen) and only occasionally get the food I want to eat, I have massive cravings for my kinda food. The In-n-Out Burgers were good, as were the fish tacos, but I rarely get enough vegetables when traveling. There was a reasonable quantity of salad, but I also want cooked vegetables and not just as a wee side dish next to a hunk of protein.

The first thing I made was Sarah's Hummus (recipe below). I thought I had blogged about it before, but can't find any record of it.
This is my favorite hearty hummus. It isn't the stuff we get at the Lebanese restaurant and have dubbed "white velvet" for its smoothness--this stuff is chunky and substantial. It has an extra dose of texture from the roasted sesame seeds and lots parsley that get whirred in at the end (I'm not sure why the green of the parsley isn't showing up in the photo above. I guess I over whirred...). And it makes a lot--enough for sharing, or in my case, enough for the lunch pictured above and plenty left over for dinner.

To go with the rest of the hummus for dinner tonight, I bought a jumbo quantity of spinach to make a recipe for spicy greens and bulgur featured on Warda's blog 64 sq ft Kitchen. (You should go see her beautiful photos, then you'll want to make it too.)

Since I'm overcompensating for a perceived vegetal lack, I also roasted some eggplant and some beets (separately) today to be made into (separate) salads. The eggplant will get a simple feta/lemon/olive oil/mint dressing. The beets will get an even simpler olive oil/red wine vinegar/orange zest/parsley dressing.

And after consuming all of the above this evening, I expect I'll feel a little more open to non-vegetable dishes. But, just in case of continuing cravings, I picked up some asparagus and Brussels sprouts that will get roasted on another day.

Sarah's Hummus
2 cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained (about 4 cups)
1/2 C tahini sauce
1/3 C warm water
1/3 C olive oil
juice from 3 lemons
4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 t salt
2 t cumin
black pepper
3 T roasted sesame seeds
1/2 C packed Italian parsley leaves

Blend everything but the sesame seeds and parsley leaves in the food processor until smooth-ish. Then at the sesame seeds and parsley and pulse a few times just to mix and chop up a little.

Friday, February 27, 2009


We're back, but I have to say, I could have got used to the place.

Finding wild hermit crabs

Rosemary hedges

Time for contemplation

Newborn seal pups (umbilical cord still visible!)

Fresh picked tangerines for breakfast

Lorikeets licking nectar

Finally understanding the following exchange:
Donny: Those are good burgers, Walter.
Walter Sobchak: Shut the fuck up, Donny.

Turning 6 with friends