April 26, 2009

fried bologna

"Quoyle ordered the fried bologna dinner. It was the only thing on the menu he hadn't tried, but night after night he'd watched diners at neighboring tables wolfing and gnashing, guessed it was a house specialty. The plate came heaped with thick bologna circles, fried potatoes and gravy, canned turnip, and a wad of canned string beans, all heated in a microwave. The overwhelming sensations were of sizzling heat and salt content off the scale."
--The Shipping News, Annie Proulx

Quoyle is the protagonist; his name also means "a coil of rope." I cannot believe Kevin Spacey plays this character in the movie, Quoyle, who's described like this: "A great damp loaf of a body. ... At sixteen he was buried under a casement of flesh. Head shaped like a crenshaw, no neck, reddish hair ruched back. Features as bunched as kissed fingertips. Eyes the color of plastic. The monstrous chin, a freakish shelf jutting from the lower face."

Buried under a casement of flesh? Features as bunched as kissed fingertips? Boy, that is one unflattering description. On top of that, no neck and a monstrous chin...sounds kind of like Mr. Dursley from the Harry Potter series. Poor Quoyle. Alas, the way his wimpy personality is described makes him even more unattractive. But halfway through this book, I guess ol' Quoyle is growing on me. Especially since he knows how to order when he eats out.

p.s. I did not even know that turnips came in cans. That is amazing.

April 25, 2009

Dahl's scrawls, Dickens' chickens

Chuckle-inducing bit from The BFG:
"And that's how you taught yourself to write?" Sophie asked.
"I is reading it hundreds of times," the BFG said, "and I is still reading it and teaching new words to meself and how to write them. It is the most scrumdiddlyumptious story."
Sophie took the book out of his hand. "Nicholas Nickleby," she read out loud.
"By Dahl's Chickens," the BFG said.

-- The BFG, Roald Dahl

April 23, 2009

Pies, cakes and homeland security

"Note: You can bring pies and cakes through the security checkpoint, but please be advised that they are subject to additional screening."
--from the Transportation Security Administration's rules on Traveling with Food or Gifts
Additional screening...like a taste test? Sneaky, sneaky.

April 18, 2009

P-A-D-D-I-N-G-T-O-N

Good God, this Wikipedia entry is helpful. So it turns out that it's not just the French who are to blame for the difficulty of correctly spelling the English language. British spelling is the silent killer that makes American spelling an even more confusing beast than it already is. But it's hard to blame the British when they have such lovely accents, isn't it?

U.K. vs. U.S. spelling
snigger vs. snicker
aluminium vs. aluminum
moustache vs. mustache
titbit vs. tidbit
bogeyman vs. boogeyman (But "boogeyman" looks so much scarier!)
grey vs. gray

And those are just a few examples, but in my view, all of that doesn't matter when you consider that we wouldn't have a certain lovable bear from Darkest Peru without that gifted British author, Michael Bond.

On the official Paddington Bear website, Bond relates the advantages of working with a bear protagonist and his surprise that this "essentially English character" has gained a permanent place in this particular Chinese-American heart (and, no doubt, countless other non-British hearts, too).
"The great advantage of having a bear as a central character is that he can combine the innocence of a child with the sophistication of an adult. Paddington is not the sort of bear that would ever go to the moon - he has his paws too firmly on the ground for that. He gets involved in everyday situations. He has a strong sense of right and wrong and doesn't take kindly to the red tape bureaucracy of the sillier rules and regulations with which we humans surround ourselves. As a bear he gets away with things. Paddington is humanised, but he couldn't possibly be 'human'. It just wouldn't work. ... I am constantly surprised by all the translations because I thought that Paddington was essentially an English character. Obviously Paddington-type situations happen all over the world."

April 16, 2009

Cows say moo-se, we say moose

I never heard the name Wells Tower until the other day, when I happened to skim the blog of The New Yorker. Since then, I haven't been able to stop thinking about him, 1. because of his cool name, and 2. because of what he said in the interview – highly quotable stuff...this fellow sure knows how to speak about his craft.

Wells Tower on longhand vs. typing:

"If I’m really stuck, I go back to longhand. There’s something about the privacy and the immediacy of it that seems to help. When you’re writing longhand, your attention is on the sentence—you’re not looking at the full page. The remove between the keyboard and the screen can hamper me and mess me up. The trick is to will yourself into the hypnotic state where you believe your own language and your own story. You have to pare out distractions, especially the vast banality of the Internet, which I find lethal to fiction writing. Fiction is so much harder and scarier to write than nonfiction. It requires an enormous amount of concentration and faith to carve out that little bit of space into which you can insert a world that feels real."


How revisions can be like dying male moose:

"There’s this metaphor I settled on for revisions. I was in Alaska on a kayaking trip, and I was warned by this park ranger to be really careful in the arctic lakes when the moose are around. A male moose will jump into the lake with the idea that a female moose is on the other side, and then he’ll get to the other side and think that the female is on the other side, and often the moose will continue to go back and forth until he drowns from his own indecision. To me, it’s a sitting metaphor for revision. You can’t keep mindlessly pacing from one impulse to another or you’ll drive yourself insane."
Ah, I always enjoy a good moose quotation.

April 14, 2009

Road trips: just another excuse to eat

I've heard that Jack Kerouac's On the Road has some pretty juicy accounts of good meals eaten, well, on the road. But before Jack, there was John. Steinbeck documents Doc's road trip down the coast of California, during which Doc consumes hamburgers, ham sandwiches, string bean salads, pot roast, coffee....your usual diner fare. But twice during the trip he orders pineapple pie with blue cheese. Though I'm not exactly a fan of blue cheese, it sounds like an intriguing combination.

Some samples of what Doc eats during the course of his trip:
"He drove on through and stopped at a big Chicken-in-the-Rough place he knew about. And there he had fried chicken, julienne potatoes, hot biscuits and honey, and a piece of pineapple pie and blue cheese. And here he filled his thermos bottle with hot coffee, had them make up six ham sandwiches and bought two quarts of beer for breakfast."
"In Santa Barbara he had soup, lettuce and string bean salad, pot roast and mashed potatoes, pineapple pie and blue cheese and coffee, and after that he filled the gas tank and went to the toilet."
And throughout the whole trip, he contemplates the concept of a beer milkshake, which simultaneously fascinates and repulses him to the point where he can't bear to wonder anymore:
The waitress, a blonde beauty with just the hint of a goiter, smiled at him. "What'll it be?"
"Beer milkshake," said Doc.
"What?"
Well here it was and what the hell. Might just as well get it over with now as some time later.
The blonde asked, "Are you kidding?"
Doc knew wearily that he couldn't explain, couldn't tell the truth. "I've got a bladder complaint," he said. "Bipalychaetorsonectomy the doctors call it. I'm supposed to drink a beer milkshake. Doctor's orders."
The blonde smiled reassuringly. "Oh! I thought you was kidding," she said archly. "you tell me how to make it. I didn't know you was sick."
"Very sick," said Doc," and due to be sicker. Put in some milk, and add half a bottle of beer. Give me the other half in a glass--no sugar in the milkshake." When she served it, he tasted it wryly. And it wasn't so bad--it just tasted like stale beer and milk.
"It sounds awful," said the blonde.
"It's not so bad when you get used to it," said Doc. "I've been drinking it for seventeen years."
--Cannery Row
I guess it must be easier to lie than to admit that you're ordering a beer milkshake just to satisfy your curiosity.

April 13, 2009

Men eat meat daintily


"They ate long and daintily, spearing out pieces of chicken, holding the dripping pieces until they cooled and then gnawing the muscled meat from the bone. They speared the carrots on pointed willow switches and finally they passed the can and drank the juice. "

--Cannery Row

If you're like me, a lazy reader with an embarrassing vocabulary, the passage above is slightly off-putting. Why the choice of the adverb "daintily" here? Dictionary knows best.

Dainty is defined as "fine, neat, elegant." A second meaning of the word is used to describe good food, i.e., a dainty morsel of food is delectable. Lastly and most importantly, a dainty eater is fastidious, fussy and/or finicky. Who knew there were so many dimensions to dainty?

You think you're fluent in a language, and then you find out that you've been relying too much on mainstream culture to define the few words you thought you knew. D'oh! And thus, the reasoning behind the doughnut photo is finally exposed. In my world, everything can be traced back to doughnuts.

April 10, 2009

Observations

"How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise–the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream–be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book–to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves. "
--John Steinbeck's Cannery Row
Can we get close, really close, to something and manage not to destroy it if we earnestly wish to find out everything there is to know about it? In the process, it seems we often must sacrifice either our curiosity, or whatever it is we are curious about; the two have a tough time coexisting. Consider this: Has man found a way to view something at the highest magnification power (i.e. with an electron microscope) without killing it in the process? No, at least not yet, and maybe not ever.

But all science aside, with fiction, perhaps Steinbeck can have it both ways – in effect "let the stories crawl in by themselves," and then fully equip them to survive the relentless penetration of sharp, prying readers' eyes.

It might help that by definition, fictitious events and characters never really took place or existed, so as much as we poke, prod, or tear them apart to put their guts on display, we can't really have killed them if they never existed in the first place. (Right?) With fiction, we can satisfy our curiosity about sometimes-realistic fabrications without having to sacrifice anything. We are seeing all there is–and all there can be–of a world, without having to penetrate it to death with laser beams. With fiction, we can get the best of both worlds, like Miley Cyrus, whose movie, incidentally, premiered today. Kind of creepy I knew that.

For some reason, all this gets me thinking about a certain part of Middlemarch:
"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."
So, moderation = good. In fact, in order to survive, George Eliot's words suggest that we must moderate what passes through our radars, or else we'd die from all that stimulation. As long as we may live, it is impossible to always, if ever, hear the sound the grass makes as it grows.

Ah, the things that authors actually say.

On Beauty, Cover Letters and Zadie Smith:
"Just occasionally, everything comes together with giddy ease. Take Zadie Smith, the pre-eminent literary novelist of her generation and ludicrously good looking. From the start, she understood modern publishing’s unsavoury realpolitik and in the covering letter that helped secure her representation by the prestigious Wylie Agency wrote: 'I’m six foot tall, I’m 19 years old and I don’t exactly look like the back end of a bus.'" -- from The National Newspaper
Best cover letter ever.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez compares paperbacks to pastries:
"My job is to write, not to publish," said Garcia Marquez, 82, a native of Aracataca on Colombia's Caribbean coast. "I'll know when the pastries that I have in the oven are ready for the eating."
-- from a Reuters article
I have new respect for Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I never knew he even thought about pastries. Now we have something in common! Maybe I gave up on A Hundred Years of Solitude too soon?

April 3, 2009

The elusive Snap, Crackle and Pop


I'm still full from dinner, but I find myself suffering a craving for cereal bars that has nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with my insatiable appetite a.k.a. my gluttony. The problem is that I hardly, if ever, have marshmallows lying around. Can't really substitute anything for those, either, unless I were to suddenly morph into Ina Garten and turn a jar of corn syrup into a batch of homemade marshmallows. Even if I were that ambitious, it would take far too long to be worth it anyhow. Note to self: Stock up on marshmallows.

April 1, 2009

BanAnna Karenina

Oh, it's just a coincidence that I'm reading Anna K. at the same time I had a craving for banana bread, or should I say, banAnna bread? I spotted a bowl of chocolate chunk banana bread slices at Literati and could not resist the look of those dark chocolate chunks. Even at $2.70 for one measly slice, it was worth it. After wolfing one down, I quickly craved more, so a few days later, I made a whole loaf using three ripe bananas.

The recipe was for regular banana bread (Simply Recipes) but I added a teaspoon of cinnamon, cut the sugar in half, and added about half a cup of dark chocolate chunks. Those chocolate chunks were definitely key to this "bread", though I must give the original recipe credit for its moist texture. Adapted recipe follows.

Dark Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread
adapted from Simply Recipes
*3 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
*1/3 cup oil
*1/2 cup brown sugar
*1 egg, beaten
*1 teaspoon vanilla
*1 teaspoon baking soda
*1 teaspoon cinnamon
*Pinch of salt
*1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
*1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks


Combine all ingredients in order and bake in loaf pan at 350° F for 1 hour. Post-stuffing your face, consider moonlighting by selling slices at $2 a pop. I'd do it myself, only I can't seem to stop stuffing my face.