Monday, August 28, 2006
Only one “sensitive male soul” took up his offer, while every woman he approached was “eager and grateful” to do the same."
Click the title above to read the whole article. The take-home message: women read to "experience other ‘minds in action’—which is another way of defining ‘empathy’." Or maybe the take-home message is, the novel is already dead, since men don't care about it. (Shades of the nineteenth century, when novel-reading was derided as an effeminate pastime, as Chaudhry points out.) Men, by the way, do read: they just read non-fiction, according to the article.
I want to think about this more, especially since when I teach children's literature women are (slightly) less likely than men to have an interest in fantasy, which most people think of as the polar opposite of non-fiction. Hmm.
Friday, August 25, 2006
This is a fabulous recipe stolen from a blog I keep forgetting to link to, but love: Now Norma Knits. I think I saw it when she first posted it, but didn't make it for a while. Frankly, I was skeptical: microwave cake? It just didn't sound...right.
1/4 cup good quality cocoa powder (I still have some Valrhona left...mmm!)
2/3 cup hot water, divided in two 1/3-cup portions
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Norma swears this makes the cake, but I've left it out both times I made it and everyone was still very happy. I just get a little nervous putting cayenne in things for the kids, who seem to have an unerring instinct for all "weird" ingredients.)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Grease or spray a round microwave-proof baking dish. My 1-1/2 quart Corningware casserole is perfect for this. A glass pie plate would do, but it will spill over the edges a little.
Line the dish with plastic wrap.
In small microwaveable bowl, mix 1/3 cup hot water with the cocoa powder; microwave on high 45-50 seconds or until slightly thickened.
In medium bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add oil, remaining 1/3 cup water, egg, vanilla and chocolate mixture. Beat by hand until batter is smooth and well blended. Pour into prepared dish.Microwave on high 5-6 minutes, until cake begins to pull away from side of dish. Some moist spots might remain but will finish cooking on standing. Let stand 5 minutes; invert onto serving plate. Peel off plastic wrap and devour.
You can get eight decent-sized portions out of this: we ate it two nights in a row. It's good hot, room temperature, or cold. The other night we had it with raspberries--perfection! (Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream would have been good, too, but that would have required going to the store, and the whole point of the cake was how quick and easy it was...so, no ice cream.)
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
If you don't feel like starting the grill, you do this instead. You toast a couple of flour tortillas (those are a staple in our house, handy for so many meals), and you spread the ricotta and the peaches on them instead of on pizza dough. And then you bask in the compliments. Amazing.
(Yes, I did put the toasted pumpkin seeds on, and yes, Nick did pick them off.)
Monday, August 21, 2006
She has a permit, not a license yet, and is driving around town pretty easily now. It took a while for her to get comfortable behind the wheel because our cars are both stick shifts, but she's now got the hang of shifting and not looking down at the gearshift while she does it. (That does tend to cause a little lane drift, we've discovered...)
So today she drove on the highway for the first time. This is from her e-mail to me after she came home (no, I wasn't there for this momentous occasion. I have an irrational aversion to witnessing members of my family endangering themselves, so I decided to come to work instead):
"My first merge was the hardest, but the guy in the lane I needed to be in changed lanes for me."
Friday, August 18, 2006
2 tablespoons Italian-style dry breadcrumbs (plain ones are also fine)
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices (lengthwise slices are, of course, bigger than widthwise and so you make fewer "pizzas" this way, but you can of course slice it any way you like and it will work)
8 ounces plum tomatoes, thinly sliced (3 or 4 tomatoes, I think, depending on how big they are)
1/4 cup garlic-flavored olive oil (plain olive oil works just fine)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Total Cookbooks I Own: 42. Clearly I'm a slacker. (115, Caroline? And without unpacking them all?) I do also have half a shelf full of old Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, and Food & Wine magazines that I haven't thrown away, and an overstuffed binder of epicurious printouts and various recipes ripped from magazines or the backs of boxes and bags.
Last cookbook I bought: I try not to buy them much, though I welcome them as gifts. So I have to confess that the last one I bought was at least two years ago, and it was the South Beach Diet Cookbook. I actually made things out of it, too. The last one I received was either Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone or Nigella Lawson's Feast; I'm not quite sure which was first.
The last food book I read: I've read it before, but I just re-read Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, which I love. I don't know if I'll ever make one of the recipes, but she just says such sensible things, like this: "When people enter the kitchen, they often drag their childhood in with them. I was brought up on English children's books, in which teatime and cottage life play an important role. These formed my earliest idea of comfort: a tea table in a cozy cottage." While I can't myself recall a tea table in a cozy cottage in any of the books I love from childhood--Alice's mad tea party is more like it--I do know what she means about childhood, food, and literature being intertwined. One of my favorite food books, after all, is Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy.
Five cookbooks that mean a lot to me:
Peg Bracken, The I Hate to Cook Book. This was the first cookbook I ever cooked something from. It was crazy cake, and it went rather badly (I used Nestle's Quik instead of unsweetened cocoa, and may have subsituted salt for the sugar as well), but I went back and did it again and it came out fine. Peg Bracken makes me laugh while I cook, which is always a good thing.
Suzanne Dunaway, No Need to Knead. This one taught me that I could bake bread. And there is nothing so satisfying as being able to serve home-baked bread at a dinner party or potluck.
The Art of Cooking for Two. This is a tattered old paperback that my father gave me the first Christmas or birthday after I graduated from college (along with another cookbook, Sweets for Saints and Sinners, by Janice Feuer--both are now out of print). I suspect both came in some kind of QPB special. The Art of Cooking for Two was great for me starting out, as the recipes really did work, they tasted good, and you didn't have to keep eating them for days on end. I love leftovers now, but when you're living on your own they do get old fast. I still make banana bread out of this cookbook, though not much else.
New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant. I didn't have the classic first Moosewood cookbook until it was out in a 10th anniversary edition, but I had this white one years ago. My copy has tape along the spine, stains on many of the pages, and is the source for more than one of my Friday food contributions. (For example, something like this, something like this, and I think also this one, which in their version has cauliflower and tomatoes, not tuna and peas.) I alter the recipes recklessly because they are the kind of basic rule-of-thumb recipes that one can alter and still succeed with. Everyone needs a cookbook like this.
The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and The Joy of Cooking. Peg Bracken refers to "your big encyclopedic cookbook" throughout The I Hate to Cook Book, and she usually means one of these two. Most families seem to prefer one or the other; as far as I know, we were a Joy of Cooking family--that's the cookbook Mom kept the lists of Christmas cookies in, that's the one Caroline has in three editions, etc. But someone gave me a Fannie Farmer paperback soon after I got my first apartment, and I cooked from it until it fell apart. I think it's still on the shelf in all its tattered glory, but I now have a hardcover as well. I use them both, usually consulting both on various basics (pie crust, buttermilk biscuits, crisps and crumbles, how to boil an egg) until I have a sense of the parameters, then I improvise.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Friday, August 11, 2006
You'll notice that I don't roll and cut out the biscuits. That would be hard to do with the little peachy chunks anyway, but I never do. They are lighter if they're handled less, after all, so if you don't mind the lumpy tops of drop biscuits, go ahead and make all your biscuits this way. (If you leave the peaches out this is really a perfectly fine biscuit recipe.)
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tbl. sugar
1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
1 cup buttermilk (or, 1 cup milk left to stand 10 minutes with 1 tbl. vinegar or lemon juice)
1 cup chopped fresh peaches (chop into bite-sized pieces)
Optional: sugar & cinnamon
Preheat oven to 425. Grease or spray a large cookie sheet.
Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar in a large bowl. Quickly stir in the butter and buttermilk to make a wet batter (sort of like muffins, though you want to get the lumps out). Fold in the peaches.
Drop by quarter-cupfuls onto the prepared baking sheet. If you like, sprinkle the tops with sugar & cinnamon. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and crusty.
These are best consumed as soon as they've cooled enough to eat them. They're ok reheated, but much much better right out of the oven.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
One book that changed your life: Might as well get the embarrassing answer out of the way right at the beginning. Honestly, I have to answer Gone with the Wind for this one. It was the first book that ever made me cry (make of that what you will--I was in the eighth grade), I read it in a two-day reading binge that I can still remember, and it somehow formed a lot of my ideas about success and failure for many years. It is no doubt deeply ironic, then, that I ended up living in the capital of the Confederacy.
One book you have read more than once: This is hardly fair, as I have such a terrible memory that I have to re-read everything I teach, and I teach a lot of literature. I'm going to say Charlotte's Web, though, as I've recently decided it is the perfect novel (and I tell my classes so, every year).
One book you would want on a desert island: Well, I've never read the bible cover to cover, and it would certainly occupy me for a while. But see below.
(Sam's addition to the list) One book you wish had been written and would want on a desert island: Hmm, how about: How to Get Off a Desert Island ?
One book that made you laugh: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird has me shaking with laughter every time I read the bit about the school lunch. I can't even read it aloud to a class, though I've tried. I'm not quite sure what this says about me. Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books have also made me laugh out loud, because I'm a nerd.
One book you wish you had written: This one's just too hard. Diana Wynne Jones's books often fill me with envy because they seem fun to write and almost, but not quite, within my reach; the Fforde books combine all my favorite genres and make use of the kind of useless knowledge that seems to rattle around my head; Marilynne Robinson's Gilead just had me lingering over every page wishing I knew how to do what she was doing.
One book you wish had never been written: Mein Kampf and The Da Vinci Code are both good answers to this. But, you know, it's not the writing that really matters, is it? It's the publishing...
One book that made you cry: See above (sigh). I'm not sure it would now, though. Charlotte's Web. Bridge to Terabithia. Love that Dog. I'm pretty easy, really. Name a tear-jerking sentimental Victorian novel and I've probably cried over it, too. East Lynne? check. Jane Eyre? check. The Mill on the Floss just makes me mad, though, and I'm pretty sure Little Nell's death left me cold.
One book you are currently reading: G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.
One book you have been meaning to read: There are stacks of them, all over the house, in the library, on the wishlist... Right now, though, I have to say The Hauerwas Reader. And, um, Proust's In Search of Lost Time, though that may have to wait for the desert island.
I'm not tagging anyone else, since that never seems to work, but do take it on if you're so moved. It was kind of fun--and kind of humiliating, to tell the truth.
Monday, August 07, 2006
You should also take this quiz. If everyone lived like me, we'd need 3.4 planets. Time to go unplug that cellphone charger, and find someone to carpool a little more often.
But not, apparently, for them. And then we came home and had cake (see above) and presents, and they all went home without killing each other or fighting over the Legos, so all was well.
As for the cake, it was not really the Nigella chocolate malteser cake, as you can probably tell from the picture. (Here's what it's supposed to look like.) But, as I mentioned the other day, I couldn't find Horlick's (OK, I didn't look very hard) and I wasn't sure I really had any malt fans in the house anyway. So I substituted chocolate ovaltine for the small amount of Horlick's in the cake (and scanted the sugar, as Ovaltine is a lot sweeter than Horlick's), and I substituted unsweetened cocoa for the Horlick's in the frosting. So instead of a chocolate malt buttercream I had a plain chocolate one.
The kids seemed to like it fine. It's certainly not the best cake I've ever baked--the cake part was a bit dry and since it was neither malt-y nor particularly chocolate-y it didn't really thrill me--but it's gone now. So the whole thing still counts as a success. And it's a year before Nick has another birthday party.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Friday, August 04, 2006
And I had gotten the ice cream maker out a few days earlier to make Nigella's baci ice cream from Forever Summer. As soon as I made it I remembered that I'd made it once before and it was, amazingly, too rich. It was like frozen mousse, not ice cream. A fine thing, I guess, but not what I expected. And this is the experience I keep having with the ice cream maker: I make something that's fine, good even, but not exactly what I expected. (Umm, not only did I make it before, I blogged it--and I liked it better the first time!)
So anyway, where was I? Back to the ice cream recipe. Sorry.
Nigella also has a recipe for raspberry ripple ice cream in Forever Summer, but I decided to simplify my life a little bit and use the custard technique I found in the latest Gourmet (which I bought after Becca recommended it) instead of following Nigella precisely. Which actually struck me as a very Nigella thing to do, you know?
So. On with it.
Here's what you need:
4 large egg yolks
1 cup whole milk
1 cup cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups frozen raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
Here's what you do:
Whisk the egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar together until the mixture is light yellow and comes off the whisk in ribbons. Heat the milk to boiling. Pour the hot milk slowly into the egg yolk mixture, then return the mixture to the pan (Nigella wants you to clean it first, so I do, but no one else seems to care) and heat it slowly until a thick custard forms. Stir constantly as it heats. As soon as it seems custardy (like hot pudding), take it off the heat and whisk in the cream. Add the vanilla and cool the mixture to room temperature, then chill it in the fridge.
While it's chilling, puree the frozen berries with the sugar in the blender. Push the pureed mix through a sieve into a container that can go in the freezer. (Nigella adds some syrupy balsamic vinegar, but I didn't have any and didn't know how that would go over with the kids.) Put the raspberry mixture in the fridge for now, but remember to stick it in the freezer while the ice cream's working in the machine. You want it to get thick but not frozen solid, in other words.
OK. When the custard is cold, pour it into your ice cream maker and let it do its thing. Mine takes a good forty minutes to get something even remotely resembling soft-serve ice cream; yours may go faster. In any event, when it starts to look like ice cream, get the raspberry puree out of the freezer. Layer it with the vanilla ice cream in an airtight container--three layers of each, starting with ice cream. Use a wooden skewer to swirl the puree through the ice cream to make it look pretty, then set it in the freezer to harden up. Mine takes three or four hours, but it's actually better the next day. (After that, eat it fast before the ice crystals form.)
I would try more ice creams, but I already have eight egg whites in the fridge and no one here is a big meringue fan. (Not to mention that in this weather they'd be tricky...) So I'm looking for whole egg recipes only now. But this is really tasty.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
The Daily Mail article is, of course, annoying because the author can send her nanny to do the "boring bits" instead of simply sucking it up the way most of us do. So there's a class problem here: is it ok for poorer women to be bored so we can be fulfilled? I don't really think so. But the boredom, she is real.
Andi's take on this is not quite the same as mine, perhaps because we define the word "boring" a bit differently. For her, as she says, "life with small children, or even big children, can be tedious, repetitive, and exhausting... but I only WISH I had the time to be bored. Being bored means there's nothing to engage you, nothing to do, nothing to consume your time or occupy your mind." That's a great way to think about it...but to me, "tedious, repetitive, and exhausting" often does equal boring. But that doesn't mean it's not a necessary part of life.
Here's the definition of boring for me: being commanded to watch your kid play, but not really participate. This used to happen to me all the time: "play blocks with me, Mommy," Nick would command. So I'd get down on the floor, ready to engage, pulling out blocks to build some fabulous creation, and Nick would say "No, you can't have that block! No, do it this way! " And I would be reduced to watching, frustrated because there were things I could be doing (reading, writing, preparing for class, building a fabulous creation), but his need for a witness stymied those while not, somehow, allowing me to participate fully, to engage, to occupy my mind (to go back to Andi's words). There wasn't fear in there, there was simply, mind-numbingly, boredom, tedium, exhaustion. And no nanny to send in to do my shift, either.
Watching soccer games was another intensely boring part of parenting, one that is thankfully over for us. Talking to other parents on the sidelines was not so boring, so there were compensations there, but I will not lie and say I enjoyed it or found it engaging. And that's ok. I did it, as I've done other boring things in my life (practice scales on the piano, read certain academic books, pay bills, clean house), because they were (and are) necessary. On occasion I can surrender to those necessities and do them with a certain amount of grace, but most often I grit my teeth and just get through it. Attitude does matter, of course, but sometimes just showing up is good enough.
Andi is, of course, absolutely right when she says, "When she says she's bored with her life as a mother, I think what she really means is that she is scared of what it means to surrender to it. This "boring" is a provocative-sounding label to give a problem that is too scary to name when you're in the middle of it -- the huge identity shift that happens when you become a mom, and the crazy-making emotional, psychological, cultural, and political contortions women -- and only women -- are still expected to make when they enter the world of motherhood." There's certainly a great deal of truth to this analysis--which is, again, much like what Andi's already said in MotherShock and what Maushart says in The Mask of Motherhood (hey! Amazon.com is packaging those two together!) and what Anne Lamott says in Operating Instructions. Which is also to say, again, this is not a new issue by any means. Why is it that we have to keep hashing it out instead of trying to do something to, oh, I don't know, alleviate the boredom? And why do we have to keep publishing provocative articles to stir up yet another storm of mom-bashing? (Tell me dads don't find fatherhood boring on occasion. Frankly, I think we expect them to.)
So what's my point? We're in the boring days of summer right now. It's beastly hot (but you know that), and there are hours to fill that shouldn't be filled with TV or videos, but can't be filled with scooter-riding or other outdoor play. Thankfully, Nick has reached the stage where he can (mostly) entertain himself. He may claim he's bored, but a book or a piece of paper and some colored pencils can usually alleviate that, which means I can get on with the things I need to do. Sometimes I'm with him, sometimes I'm not--and, since he's now nine, that's OK. I may miss the cuddly days of earlier childhood, but I really don't miss the boredom. And I'm willing to call it that.
[edited to add: why do British writers get to say their kids are boring? I think it's actually some kind of strange self-deprecating humor.]
[and edited again to add, Miriam already said this more concisely.]
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
I don't remember much about the night and early morning he was born (not even the time!), but I do remember the sandwich I ate before I went into labor. A cheese columbo from Copolla's Italian deli. Mmm. It was a great sandwich and we went for a walk afterwards--Mariah was with her grandmother, on her way to a wedding--and then to the hospital. They told me things didn't look too promising but it was my due date and it was hot and I'd already had two false alarms and I was tired of being pregnant so they agreed to let me come in. Less than twelve hours later I had Nick in my arms.
Today he'll have presents and then go to his camp. As on the day he was born, Mariah has a previous engagement tonight, but we'll celebrate this evening anyway--with a National Night Out party on the block, moonbounce and all. Happy Birthday, Nick!