Tuesday, December 16, 2008


My paper is done, all 17 pages of it! Let me rejoice! The end is here!

Suddenly, inexplicably, it hits me--I'm finished with my MA coursework. The last item to complete is my thesis. And while that's a challenge in its own right, I find myself sad because I'm done with classes. No more discussions about awesome books. That's right: it's also the end of this phase of my schooling.


Friday, December 12, 2008

And Now For a "Read" Post

I obviously love good food*, but I also love good books. Yesterday, I found myself enthralled with Robin McKinley's newest, Chalice. So much, in fact, that I neglected to even look at my paper**.

I was sad when I closed the cover of Chalice last night: not because the book ended sadly but because I was finished. I did not want to finish. I wanted the story to go on forever and ever because I liked the world McKinley created, and I liked the characters, and I liked the story. She's good. She's really good--and she doesn't really write sequels, so you're left with the feeling of having finished a good story but also knowing that all the bits of story that are left unresolved will never come to anything.

McKinley's books are good because she sticks with Tolkien's style of storytelling. Tolkien knew that there's always more story to tell, and to create a rich story, full of depth and meaning, you (as the storyteller) had to hint that there are more stories to tell. You create the craving in the reader, but never fulfill it. It's like Scheherezade in The Arabian Nights' Entertainments: both delight and surprise, but stir up a desire that can never be satisfied. "More!" you want to shout, but more you'll never get. In the meantime, you are left with this splendid book, Chalice, and the hope that maybe McKinley will do what she did for Damar and make another story***.

I'm being purposely vague about the book because I think it best if the reader simply immerses herself into McKinley's beautiful world without knowing what's going on. McKinley reveals it slowly, throwing the reader into the narrative stream partway through and then reveals pieces of the tale (not the whole story, mind you) that pertain to the overall plot. There's this niggling sense all along that McKinley has several narrative threads in her hands, but merely shows you a flash of their color instead of spinning it out fully. It adds a three-dimensionality to her world without bogging it down with unnecessary explication. Like Tolkien, she assumes the reader is smart enough to get it, and the story is all the richer for it.

It's a delicate balance that many authors fail at (cough, Twilight, cough). McKinley succeeds, and I now have a new favorite book, at least until the next one comes along...

*I made the most delicious dinner last night: couscous with roasted vegetables^, seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil with a crumbling of the soft goat cheese. Oh. My. God. That (and a glass of wine) and Chalice, and I forgot about my paper entirely. I also sort of refused to share with my neighbor because I wanted it all for myself.

^Beets, turnips, butternut squash, apple, onion, garlic, cranberries, red bell pepper, and almonds. Toss lightly in olive oil and roast in a pan for a while (until vegetables are all tender). Sprinkle the almonds on toward the end or else they might burn before the veggies are cooked.

**And so much for that goal of 5 pages typed. Okay, so now the goal is to get to page 5 tonight, and finish it up tomorrow. Buckle down and work, do it now!

***The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown are longtime favorites. I read them in high school and have reread them over and over again. (Beauty is also really delightful.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Praise of a Delicious Salad

I'm fond of salads. They can be just the perfect meal (or side to a meal), if made properly. Unfortunately, too many salads use nasty iceberg lettuce as a base, and they become a vehicle for meat, cheese, and fatty dressing. That's not a salad; that's an excuse to continue eating crap while pretending to be healthy.

The most important part of a salad is the proper ratio of ingredients along with a good balance of textures and flavors. Too little green and too much topping ends up not being a good salad. My preference is a base of mixed greens (green leaf, red leaf lettuces, possibly some spinach and arugula), some other veggies (grated carrots, beets, etc), a little something sweet, something nutty/savory, something cheesy, with a modicum of vinaigrette*. A good balance of crunchy and soft ingredients is a must. If we're making it a meal, a boiled egg (more savory) is a nice addition along with a piece of toasty bread. A dash of salt and pepper, and voila! delicious salad.

If you top it with too much stuff, you get to the end of the salad and you only have toppings and no greenery. I like a bit of greenery with my other salad components, and I don't much care for gobs of dressing (just a smidge for extra flavor--sometimes none at all). When all of it is in balance, I am happy eater of salads.

For the past two days Lance has created the perfect salad. He started with a base of green leaf lettuce, shredded nicely. He then topped it with chopped Medjool dates (sweet), almonds and walnuts (savory/nutty), and some bits of soft goat cheese. He sprinkled on some black pepper, and I dressed it with a small dash of vinaigrette. Every bite is crisp and green, with the flavor of dates and goat cheese and nuts and pepper. The textures and flavors are in balance, and I didn't have toppings left at the bottom of my bowl. It is, at this moment, the perfect salad.

*Annie's makes a shiitake vinaigrette that's amazing. I also love the word "modicum".

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cheap Eats

I was browsing my RSS feed today, and came across this article in the New York Times, which talks about how people are cooking more as the economy is getting crappier. I have to say that we've been doing this all year--though, not just to save money*.

Roughly one year ago, I moved into my own apartment. We suddenly found ourselves not wanting to go out to eat as much (an expensive trip to Spain helped) because we liked the kitchen. Lance and I go back and forth playing with recipes, with flavors, with new ingredients, and we LOVE it.

This summer, we invested in the freezer and have been putting up fruits and vegetables from our local farmers' market. We spent about $40 each week we went, but we bought so many vegetables that we have plenty for the winter. And we recently found out that there is a group of farmers who have a "winter market," so we've invested in that. We rarely buy produce from the grocery store (except for what we consider staples, like onions).

All of this contributes to us having a healthier diet and being pretty happy. We love to cook. Love it. We occasionally eat out not because we don't have anything to eat but because we want to enjoy the flavors of our favorite eateries (like Petra Cafe, for example). We have people over and share our delicious meals. When we go to visit places, we bring food with us to prepare--or raid their pantries and freezers and whip something up. Many of my Christmas gifts will be homemade treats.

I think for me the reason to cook at home is not just to save money (which it certainly does), but to be able to create. When I whipped up a quick dinner the other night (pasta and vegetables with a light cheesy sauce), and I didn't consult a recipe (just my gut and what was on hand), I realized that I just created something delicious without fuss or bother. It was easy and satisfying.

*Saving money is one perk to cooking at home. I can then use the money for other things, like clothes.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Jenn's Kind of Meme

Meme time!

a) Look at the list and bold those you have read.
b) Italicize those you intend to read.
3) Reprint this list and leave a comment——————————————–

1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2. The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte
8. Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11. Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (I've started it a couple of times)
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare
15. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19. The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch - George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34. Emma - Jane Austen
35. Persuasion - Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37.The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40. Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41. Animal Farm - George Orwell
42. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (uggh, regretfully)
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46. Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47. Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50. Atonement - Ian McEwan
51. Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52. Dune - Frank Herbert
53. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55. A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz
57. A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69. Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72. Dracula - Bram Stoker
73. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74. Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses - James Joyce (has anyone really read it?)
76. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77. Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal - Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession - AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84. The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86. A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87. Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (which one?)
90. The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92. The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93. The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94. Watership Down - Richard Adams
95. A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Wow, I'm fairly impressed with my list. Of course, most of the classics I read in class, so I guess that's an unfair advantage... Also, it's cheating slightly to say "The Chronicles of Narnia" AND "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Milton, In Translation

Just in case you didn't know, Milton's Paradise Lost is a masterpiece of the English language. It's also really difficult to slog through, which is why it is infrequently taught outside of an college English classroom. What if there was a way to translate the epic from English...well, from hard English to easier English? Would that betray the project of the poem, or make the work more accessible to the everyday, non-English major reader?

Stanley Fish wrote today in the NY Times about a new "translation" of Milton: a prose interpretation alongside the original work. It makes a great work of English literature accessible to those who want it.

My initial impulse is to dislike it (why don't we just get students to use ClifNotes?), but after a bit of thought, I realized something like this could be a great teaching tool for high school teachers, or in an introductory English course in college. Milton's epic is worth experiencing, even if you need a bit of help translating/interpreting.

I think I'm going to order it and check it out. Maybe I'll even try to read the whole work--I've read parts of it, but that epic is long!--to experiment with how it will read for a student. For me, works like this have to strike a balance between getting folks to read Great Books and simplifying it for readers. I think Danielson's translation doesn't reduce it down (like ClifNotes might), but instead illuminates it. And that is a worthy project.