Friday, September 29, 2006

Missed Queues 

One of my favorite pages on Amazon.com is the recommendation page. It's like Book Tivo--since you bought xyz, we think you'll like abc; since you rated this, you'll probably like that. Of course it's just algorithms based on the title and keywords of similar books, but sometimes it produces useful and interesting choices. Every once in a while I peek to update it with the "I own it"s and "I'm not interested"s, just to see what it will come up with for me.

Sometimes it gets to be a little aggravating though. You'd think after a while it would pick up patterns. Just because I buy all of Peter David's Star Trek books doesn't mean I'm interested in all Star Trek books...just his. Hence the "I'm not interested"s next to every Michael Jan Friedman book. How many does he have anyway?! Or, if I buy Next Generation books only, I don't want Voyager. I realize that Connie Willis has 25 novels, but I bought only the 3 I thought were interesting.

An additional danger comes in admitting you have certain things: classics, for example. Yes, I have Death of a Salesman, but that only means I attended public school in the last 30 years, not that I like Arthur Miller. Here's another one: kids movies. I own "First Kid" because I like Sinbad, not because I have a 10 year old. And yet, AmazonTivo has now placed every last Tim Allen movie in my queue. Um, no.

Gifts can also backfire. Over a year ago I bought some baby books and post-natal yoga books for a baby shower. Amazon thinks I'm teaching my now-toddler-age child to do down dog.

The last pattern Amazon failed to pick up: I'm cheap. I love me some 24 and I bought the first season...when it was $10. Ditto for Futurama. Fifty-nine bucks for Season 3, even when it's the best season ever? Call me when it goes on clearance.

I'm getting to the point where I'm about to start lying to Amazon. Muppets in Space? Who, me? The Velveteen what? Kiefer who? I don't even know anyone with children. Are you sure I bought that? I don't recall. I. did not. read. that. book.

I refuse to give in on the Star Trek ones though. Maybe one day it will catch on....

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Book Club Food: The Year of Magical Thinking 

A quick summary:

The Year of Magical Thinking begins moments before the sudden death of John Dunne, Joan Didion's husband, and she takes the readers through her year of grief, self-analysis, and adjustment, all the while following her adult daughter Quintana in and out of hospitals as she fights a series of serious illnesses. Ever analytical, Didion delves into medical studies, psychology theories, and literary accounts, all on the topic of grief, in an effort to understand her inner and outer state.

Yet even at her most philosophical, she veers into memory "vortexes" to a time when John and Joan were young, when Quintana was little, when things were better and there was time left to live. In her belief that she could have saved him, that he will walk in the door at any moment, she counts back time, at first from the death pronouncement, then a few days, then weeks, then years, finally realizing that not only was he gone the second she found him, but that he had expected it for years, anticipating it even days before.

The book leaves her stepping into the second stage of grief, and in that way seems unresolved, a feeling that does not always sit well with readers but is an obvious conclusion to those who have dealt with such an intimate loss. So much of the book focuses on their past, their vacations and houses, it seems more revealing of their marriage and friendship, rather than her grief itself. She dreamily relates their times together, leaving you with quite an admiration of John and the successful relationship between two writers.

The options:

Food is mentioned quite prevalently throughout the book. Between their restaurants, family meals, parties, holidays, and weddings, I amassed quite a list. I might have missed a few things, but here is every item I found....

Food in The Year of Magical Thinking
(I also include drinks.)

Scotch
Tossed salad
Shrimp Quesadillas
Chicken with Black Beans
Endive salad
Ham
Scallion and Ginger Congee
Watercress Sandwiches
Lemonade
Champagne
Wedding Cake
Souffles
Creme Caramel
Huevos Ranceros
Mahimahi
Lettuce vinagrette

The menu:

Penne with Vodka Sauce
Scallion and Ginger Congee*
Tossed salad*
Italian bread
Tiramisu
Creme Caramel*

The recipes:

Scallion & Ginger Congee
1 cup rice
8 cups water
2 scallions, diced
2 tablespoons diced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon concentrated chicken stock
3 tablespoons mirin

In a large pot, bring the water and rice to a boil, reduce to medium. Keep boiling for 30 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock to add flavor, reduce to simmer and cover. Continue simmering for another 30 minutes.

In a small pan, sautee the scallions and ginger in 2 tablespoons of the mirin until the scallions are clear and ginger softens a bit (a few minutes). Add the mixture into the rice along with the final tablespoon of mirin. If the porridge is too thick for you, you can add water to suit.

Note: I couldn't find an exact recipe for this, so I created one based on reading several congee recipes. Congee is simply this: rice porridge. Whatever you add to it is your own flair. It is recommended for those who are sick or have weak constitutions in its blandest state, but it can also be a base for stir fry.

Creme Caramel
3 cups heavy cream
1.5 tablespoons vanilla (or 1 bean)
1/2 cups sugar
1 envelope Knox gelatin
honey

Mixing the cream, vanilla, and sugar in a pan, bring slowly to a simmer on medium. Stir constantly as cream easily burns. Remove from heat and stir in gelatin. In six individual small bowls or ramekins, drizzle enough honey to cover the bottom. Spoon in mixture, cover, and refrigerate for several hours. To serve, dip the bottom of the bowl in hot water and run a knife around the top edges to loosen from sides. Flip quickly onto a plate and tap until it releases. Drizzle with more honey if desired and garnish with fresh fruit.

Note: It might sound fancy and unfamiliar, but it's better known to us in its Spanish incarnation as flan. She mentions torching the top, which would make it creme brulee rather than caramel. Brulee is typically not presented standing on its own, while caramel is, and has slightly different consistency. Also, I found that what people hate most about flan is not its creamy, gelatinous texture as you might assume, but the egginess. Knowing that, I chose a purely whole cream recipe. I can't imagine the calorie count is worse than a recipe with 4 eggs, and these are served individually. Even with my explaining the recipe, the group couldn't get over it not tasting like eggs! Finally, I put about 5/8ths an envelope of gelatin in the mix, based on a related recipe, but it did not quite hold together well enough, so I would recommend using the entire envelope.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Book Club Food: Introduction 

One of the toughest parts of a book club is figuring out what food to make. Since January, a few friends and I have been getting together every month-or-so (flexibility has helped it keep going) and we will readily admit that eating is our favorite part. After all, you can't guarantee you'll like the book (we usually don't), but at least with good cooks in the group, you know the food will be good.

Sometimes food is an integral part of a book, and sometimes it's barely mentioned. We try to fix at least one dish from the book. Barring that, we either try to match the ethnic theme, use a featured ingredient, or figure out a clever drink name.

One thing is for sure, none of us have a lot of time to spend figuring the menu out, as I know is true for a lot of book clubs. If you had time to do that, you wouldn't need a book club to encourage you to read more, right?

And even though there are plenty of sites out there talking about their books, providing group questions, etc. (we've tried to stay off the beaten path but don't seem to be succeeding), there aren't a lot of people talking about what they served. So, for each book, I will try to post the foods mentioned in each book, followed by what we served and some good recipes. Maybe it will save you some time. Also, recipes are welcome!

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Football Time Out 

Monday Night Football, courtesy of my camera phone...


Half time show

Thank heavens the wind was blowing the other way...

Vonzelle from American Idol, who sang the National Anthem, came up to watch from our section. Or something. Get dragged around by her handlers.

A terrible picture of Dad and Me, but, hey, humidity was 80%. There is no pretty at 80%.

Best. Game. Ever.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lost, We Need to Talk 

Dear Lost,

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm starting to wonder about our relationship. At first, I was so taken by your grand gestures and air of mystery. It seemed like you were so complex and literary, layers of subtext and symbolism. I was sure one day I would put the pieces together and see the big picture, the answer to what was behind your gorgeous, unwashed facade.

I have to say that in the beginning, I was a little obsessed with you. I spent hours talking about you with my friends, wondering what you really meant when you said what you did. I researched your favorite phrases and was beguiled by your religious overtones. Sometimes, I would go to bed and think about you far into the night.

All the while, though, I was growing suspicious of the path you might take. I had to wonder, did we want the same things? Sometimes it seemed like we did, but then you'd pull the rug out from under me. I thought, did I really know you as well as I thought I did? Then you'd confirm my fears by dismissing whatever meaning I thought our time together had. I'd be sure you were going one place and wait there for you, but you'd end up in the opposite direction. Some people might think that's exciting, but I think you might be jerking me around.

And what about our dates? We'd have a wonderful time for a couple of weeks, and then I'd find you repeating yourself endlessly. We'd be together week after week, when suddenly you'd disappear for months on end. When you finally came back, I found myself wondering, do I really care? Sure, you'd put the effort in when you made an appearance, but soon it would be back to the same old blah blah blah. Once there was even this big story about you on the Internet, but I bet you made all that up yourself, didn't you, Lost?

Then there's your friends. You spend all this time with people that don't really matter, talking about their past, and then it turns out to mean nothing. You just leave them for dead. Literally. Do you really think I care about people I don't even know? First the Tailies, now the Others? When will it stop? What's next? A couple of guys in some frozen outpost?! Let's not even talk about how you treat people you used to be so close to, like Charlie. Poor thing. What am I supposed to think when you hurt the people you love?

I thought about complaining to your dad Damon about you, but he thinks you're perfect and that I'm the one with the problem. After hearing some of the things he's said, it's pretty clear how you got to be like you are, Lost.

Still, you are so thrilling when you want to be. I must admit, you still give me chills. You have such great potential, Lost, and I'm not the kind of woman who walks away from that. But if you keep this nonsense up... talking about yourself all the time, making big promises and never following through, not answering my questions, hanging out with the wrong crowd... we're going to have to call it quits. I don't mean for you to feel threatened, but I've been spending my Wednesday nights with Justice, lately, and we've had some good times. I hate to say it, but I've been getting a lot more sleep, too.

So, come October 4, I'd really like you to put some effort into our relationship. Show me you still care. Don't disappoint me, Lost. This is your final warning.

Love,
Sarah

Inspired by EW's "What Series are you breaking up with this Fall?"

Sarahphrase:

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Adventures in Chocolate
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Book Club Success?
Missed Queues
Book Club Food: The Year of Magical Thinking
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