May 30, 2009

The Chosen Cookie

"A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one's life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here. Do you understand what I am saying?"

I nodded, feeling myself cold with dread. That was the first time my father had ever talked to me of his death, and his words seemed to have filled the room with a gray mist that blurred my vision and stung as I breathed.
--The Chosen, Chaim Potok
The world is not a black and white cookie.


If you knew that your father was dying, that his life's passion was killing him, what would you do? Would you ask him to stop? Witness his brain and soul waste away in exchange for his physical health? Or would you sit by and watch him continue; witness his physiological decline as he achieved things, wonderful things that gave him even more happiness than your heart to heart conversations? His accomplishments surely won't be enough to comfort you when he is gone, but what else can you do? What choice do you have? If you love him, you don't have a choice. You have only the illusion of choice.

What a novel. The cookie was just eh.

May 29, 2009

Sizzled perfection

Weird eating day. First thing I had today was a "coffee bar" (coffee in food form at last!) that has the texture of a chocolate bar but amazingly contains no chocolate. Then I wanted something salty, which reminded me of the leftover bag of Spam in the fridge (few things are as welcome or beloved a sight on a refrigerator shelf!).

Proceeded to cook:
Spam cubes (you decide how much) + some chopped yellow onion + 5 spinach leaves + 4 slices of Portobello mushroom + egg white(s) + black pepper = Tastiness in a sizzling pan.

Combined ingredients in order mentioned (but made sure to brown the first two together in isolation before continuing). The concept of "together in isolation" is a paradox that, when applied to spam and onions, results in deliciousness.

Also just realized I should have added garlic. Am ashamed to call myself a garlic lover. Would've made it even better, no?

May 28, 2009

Crust crumbs are scrumptious


"A fat brown goose lay at one end of the table and at the other end, on a bed of creased paper strewn with sprigs of parsley, lay a great ham, stripped of its outer skin and peppered over with crust crumbs, a neat paper frill round its shin, and beside this was a round of spiced beef. Between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side dishes: two little ministers of jelly, red and yellow, a shallow dish full of blocks of blancmange and red jam, a large green leaf-shaped dish with a stalk-shaped handle on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds, a companion dish on which lay a solid rectangle of Smyrna figs, a dish of custard topped with grated nutmeg, a small bowl full of chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass vase in which stood some tall celery stalks."

-- "The Dead," James Joyce
You can see why I have the most terrible craving for pudding now. But it was a wonderful read, especially the ending.

May 25, 2009

Isn't that loverly

"I love to see the hop and skip and sudden starts of your ink...."
--A.S. Byatt, Possession

Now isn't that a nice thing to write.

I wonder what possesses people to sometimes put four dots instead of the three in a normal ellipsis.

Or write questions without question marks.

Perhaps there is no meaning behind it.

May 24, 2009

What a breakfast.

"He breakfasted in the morning with Daisy Wapshott, a comfortable, bosomy lady in a crepe-de-chine dress and a pink angora cardigan, who waited on him, despite his protestations, with a huge plate of ham and eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes, sausages and baked beans. He ate triangular toasts, and marmalade from a cut-glass dish with a swinging lid and a scallop shell spoon. He drank strong tea from a silver pot under a tea cosy embroidered to resemble a nesting hen. He abominated tea. He was a black-coffee drinker. He congratulated Mrs. Wapshott on her tea."
--Possession, A.S. Byatt
Posted this –not entirely, but partially – because it contained the word "bosomy." Not to mention the cardigan, eggs, and triangular toasts...

May 20, 2009

E-mail those epistles

An excerpt from a recent speech of Dave Eggers':
"Nothing has changed! The written word—the love of it and the power of the written word—it hasn’t changed. It’s a matter of fostering it, fertilizing it, not giving up on it, and having faith. Don’t get down. I actually have established an e-mail address, deggers@826national.org—if you want to take it down—if you are ever feeling down, if you are ever despairing, if you ever think publishing is dying or print is dying or books are dying or newspapers are dying (the next issue of McSweeney’s will be a newspaper—we’re going to prove that it can make it. It comes out in September). If you ever have any doubt, e-mail me, and I will buck you up and prove to you that you’re wrong."
--from The New Yorker's Book Bench
I wonder how many will take him up on that offer. I'm sure he has good intentions, but isn't a call to action via e-mail sort of a funny way of asserting the idea that print is not dead?

May 18, 2009

What would Charlie Brown choose?

While biting into my banana cupcake with cream cheese frosting today, my companion pointed out (with a slight air of disdain) that it had been made with vegetable oil. I think she was right, but I wonder, would it really have tasted better if it had been prepared with butter? This eventually got me thinking about the question: "Butter or oil?" I think it reveals a lot about one's personal taste and personality.

For example, I imagine that, posed with such a question, wishy-washy, Charlie-Brown types might select invisible option C (melted butter) in order to avoid hurting anyone's feelings.

But I have a confession to make. If a recipe calls for melted butter, I use oil*. Butter lovers would probably cringe at such a practice. Un-apron that girl! I imagine them saying. She doesn't deserve to be baking in any kitchen. But in my defense, I think it makes plenty of sense; after all:
1.) I'm simply much too lazy to melt a stick of butter. And I've had one too many bad experiences with melting butter in the microwave.
2.) The more quickly I get a pastry baked, the sooner it's in my stomach. And oil is undisputedly faster.
3.) If oil's good enough for my eggs, then it's good enough for my loaves, too.

Still, I have to admit that sometimes I feel guilty about this substitution. But then I think, who cares? Recipes were written to be modified, not followed blindly like fascist dictators. Right?

*Except in the case of Rice Krispies treats – never mess with perfection, I say!

May 15, 2009

Shakespeare: Thou art awesome, but...

"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes;
Being vexed, a sea nourished with loving tears,
What is it else? A madness most discreet."
--Romeo,
Romeo and Juliet

Ah, if it were possible to think and write flawlessly like Shakespeare, as long as we put in some long hours and hard work, would we do it? I'm going to answer for myself with a big fat No. There are so many books I have not read, so many current events and political issues I don't know about, yet all of that fades away when I escape into thoughtless, fun activities..."guilty pleasures" so to speak. You know, like watching Twilight or completing a word search game. Speaking of such, excuse me as I get back to reading American Wife with a plate of Trader Joe's potstickers by my side. Unexpectedly juicy...and I'm not just talking about the potstickers.

May 11, 2009

Knopf is knind of knun to knay

Err, I mean...kind of fun to say. You know what else is fun? To read about people's quirky habits. Raymond Carver describes those of Gordon Lish, his editor at Knopf:
"At least once a week he'd ask me over to his place for lunch. He wouldn't eat anything himself, he'd just cook something for me and then hover around the table watching me eat. It made me nervous, as you might imagine. I'd always wind up leaving something on my plate, and he'd always wind up eating it. Said it had to do with the way he was brought up. This is not an isolated example. He still does things like that. He'll take me to lunch now and won't order anything for himself except a drink and then he'll eat up whatever I leave in my plate! I saw him do it once in the Russian Tea Room. There were four of us for dinner, and after the food came he watched us eat. When he saw we were going to leave food on our plates, he cleaned it right up. Aside from this craziness, which is more funny than anything, he's remarkably smart and sensitive to the needs of a manuscript. He's a good editor. Maybe he's a great editor. All I know for sure is that he's my editor and my friend, and I'm glad on both counts."
-- Raymond Carver
Do you believe in a correlation between odd habits and intelligence? I do.

May 10, 2009

the modern retina

"They were moving in the light of a past or other world. The scene, too, in its humane dimensions, was experienced, discoloured, flawed, lacking the modern gloss. Or it was they who lacked the modern retina that gives precision to old scenes and makes them, like the coloured reproductions of great paintings, sharper, brighter, less resplendent than their originals."
--Shirley Hazzard, The Transit of Venus

May 9, 2009

One more for the road.

"By rights I got no business bein here atall.
I hope you live forever.
Dont wish that on me.
He'd leaned back and closed the bible shut. That rain is comin this way, he said.
Yessir. I believe it is.
Can you smell it?
Yessir.
I always loved that smell.
They sat. After a while Billy said: Can you smell it?
No.
They sat."

--The Crossing
I wouldn't have thought to ask the old man if he could smell the rain; my naive self would've assumed that he could and left it at that. But Billy knows better than to hold on to the belief that the world is a just place where old men can still relish the smell of the rain, comin this way.

And is this old man depressing or what? "Dont wish that on me." Those words are sad, yes, but they are also honest. And they make him more alive in my mind.

May 8, 2009

Leaving us unconsoled

"Whatever disappointments this city had brought, there was no doubting that my presence had been greatly appreciated--just as it had been everywhere else I had ever gone. And now here I was, my visit almost at its close, a thoroughly impressive buffet before me offering virtually everything I had ever wished to eat for breakfast. The croissants looked particularly promising."
--The Unconsoled
The most frustrating ending of the most frustrating novel ever: Kazuo Ishiguro's The Unconsoled.

This is a book that puts its readers on edge the whole time, not with fast-paced suspense, but with crushing monotony -- the narrator gets sucked into meaningless tasks that eat up his time, when he should really be doing something else with someone else. Any strict schedule is thrown out the window, he is late to everything, and he disappoints everyone...including the reader, who keeps hoping against hope that the narrator will finally snap out of it and realize that he needs to prioritize if he ever wants to accomplish anything.

There is a time for croissants, and a time not for croissants (this coming from me, no less!). And this was definitely not a time for croissants.

In spite of all this, I still liked the novel and I really enjoy the way Ishiguro spins a story. But don't expect to be satisfied or "consoled" by the ending, which isn't really an ending so much as it is a place where the words stop and the blankness begins.

May 7, 2009

Fear, oh dear

Timothy Egan's "Dear Graduate" essay from the N.Y. Times:
Fear of failure can be a motivator or an inhibitor. The latter is crippling, and ultimately leads to a life of missed opportunities. That’s why Teddy Roosevelt’s most famous dictum, sadly wasted on the French during a speech at the Sorbonne, was praise for the person “who comes up short again and again,” praise for the man “who fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
So it may be true that people have a natural "fear of failure," but does that preclude the possibility of also having a fear of success? I think not. Or is it always fear of failure that masks itself as fear of success? Hmm.

On another note, there's no joy quite like the joy of finding a box of baby Portabella mushrooms for only $1.50! Whee!

May 5, 2009

Safran-saffron connection

This from The Young and Hungry's interview with J.S. Foer:
Fruit of choice?
Is a lychee a fruit? I think I'll do that. Even though I never eat it. It just seems like a good choice.
Preferred shape of pasta?
It depends on the sauce it's being served with, obviously. But if I could only buy one box of pasta I would probably get rigatoni.
Any particular brand?
No. I'm not snobby about that or even particular. Although canned tomatoes I get a little particular about.
He's right, canned tomatoes can be really good – or really bad. But, but...why doesn't he eat lychee? Sigh. That, along with the unsettling news that his next book is nonfiction (and about vegetarianism?!), comes out to be a double disappointment. Oh, well.

*This information brought to you by Kara, the youngest and hungriest person I know.

May 4, 2009

Four the love of eggs

I guess I could eat some eggs.
How many will you eat?
I'll eat three.
There is no bread.
I'll eat four.
You must sit.
Yessir.
He took down a small enameled pail and went out through the low door. The boy pulled back a chair and sat. He folded the blanket roughly and laid it in the chair beside him and took up the nearer cup and sipped the coffee. It wasn't real coffee. He didn't know what it was.
--The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy
"I'll eat four." I love it. But if it wasn't coffee then what other dark brown liquid could it have been? I'm troubled by this...yet intrigued at the same time.

May 2, 2009

Life periods and punctuation

“When Hemingway killed himself he put a period at the end of his life. Old age is more like a semicolon.”
--Kurt Vonnegut
I just discovered that Hemingway committed suicide with a shotgun he bought from Abercrombie & Fitch (which, back then, sold arms). I can't figure out if this quotation means that Vonnegut is in favor of Hemingway's choice or not. Incidentally, his Wikipedia entry says that Vonnegut was also known to call his favorite unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes "a classy way to commit suicide." INTERESTING.

P.S. This punctuation-life-deathness reminds me of part of an ee cummings poem: "and death i think is no parenthesis."