Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Whenever I see a headline about Alcatel-Lucent, I think of Alcasan, the severed head kept "alive" in That Hideous Strength.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sausage and Lentils with Cabbage that is not Fennel

In summer, my freezer is stuffed with ice packs so that we can keep food safe in multiple coolers, or with rapid cooler turnaround. This means food in the freezer has to be kept at a minimum, and it was time for two pounds of sweet Italian sausage to be used. Recent frustrating experiences with R. and pasta--his bedtime blood sugar is always either too high or too low after a pasta dinner, even whole grain or high-protein pasta--ruled out ziti or lasagne. "Sausage and peppers!" people brightly say, and I think, "and what else?" Also, I am not an Italian deli/caterer, last time I checked.

So I found this recipe for Sausage and Lentils with Fennel at Eggs On Sunday (a blog title guaranteed to get my attention, by the way). I headed off to the farmers' market and then got caught in a thunderstorm that reminded me of a visiting friend's remark last summer: "You told me about the 60% chance of rain today, but not the 20% chance of Armageddon." The Farmer's Market had been quickly dismantled. So I had to resort to the A&P. I went to "the big A&P," and even they did not have any fennel. Shocking, and disappointing. They did, however, have a table of local produce right at the entrance, including some dainty heads of cabbage. I love cabbage very much, and it is one of the eleven foods we should be eating and aren't (but actually are) from the New York Times. Usually cabbage comes in the "enough cole slaw for the annual church picnic" size, so I seized upon these, and substituted cabbage for fennel in the recipe. Yum.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Going to the Chapel of Narcissism

At first I wasn't going to blog this even though it made my blood boil, but then a connecting article surfaced in the Times.

First, from the New Yorker coverage of the book launch party for Galt Niederhoffer's The Romantics:

“In a way, my book party is my wedding,” Niederhoffer said. “This is a better thing to aspire to, isn’t it? To be celebrated for your intelligence and your talent, rather than for your size-two beauty.”

Um, Galt, honey? My wedding was a celebration of the joining of two lives, the creation of a new family, of love and hope and good wishes. I wanted to look nice, because I was going to have my picture taken a lot and I generally do try to look nice, especially at dress-up occasions; but I didn't think my appearance was the centerpiece of the event.

I certainly didn't expect to perfect my bridesmaids' appearances:

"For Ms. Knauer, who will be married in December, cosmetic interventions for herself and her entourage are as vital as the centerpieces or food. 'If I were 25 or 26 and getting married, a bracelet, necklace or matching earrings would be fine,' she said."
It's Botox for You, Dear Bridesmaids

All I asked was that they wear identical lavender moire dresses, and even for that I am now sorry. My mother tried to get me to consider letting them choose their own dresses, but I was only the second one of my friends to get married, and it was hard to think outside the box.

As if to show that things can always get more nightmarish, the article ends with one woman's attempts to get rid of her mother's and future mother-in-law's crows' feet. *Shudder*

Am I overreacting to this?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Brief Visit to My Unconscious

So as I was watching Ergo's embedded video, I thought to myself, "Now who was telling me that I would get better grades if I put more kettle drum into my orchestrations?" And then I thought, "Guess that was a dream."

Any guesses as to what it might mean?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wishing Well

"The Lion and the Mouse," an excellent piece by Jill Lepore from the July 21 New Yorker, mentions Stuart Little's words to the lineman along the road, "I wish you fair skies and a tight grip." These in turn reminded me of this exchange from The Hobbit:

"Farewell!" they cried, "wherever you fare, till your eyries receive you at the journey's end!" That is the polite thing to say among eagles.
"May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks," answered Gandalf, who knew the correct reply.

It's one of the many reasons I have such a crush on Gandalf. I would love to be so gracious, so thoughtful, and so learned, that I know the proper formula to wish anyone well according to his own culture and the things that are most important to him. I'll have to take another look at Stuart Little, but as I recall he does this more than once, coming up with just the right thing to say off the cuff. Off the cuff, but taking a moment to think about the person he's addressing and that person's circumstances.

I know, of course, that it's--forgive the expression--the thought that counts; but words are important to me, and I think words that have lived together in the same phrase for so long (as in the Gandalf case) take on a life of their own.

Here's one that made me feel particularly blessed at our wedding:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Or, for the fishermen among us, "Tight lines!"

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Brainwashing Complete

M: Mommy, don't you think the place where we live looks like it should be in a movie or a TV show?

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Story Box, The Story Box

Did anyone else watch The Magic Garden?

A few years ago--probably more than three but fewer than six--I bought a nice, heavy varnished pine toy chest with heart cutouts from a garage sale around the corner, with the idea of refinishing it and putting it at the end of our bed for storage and seating. Probably within a year after that, I stripped it, which experience was, I guess, so demoralizing that nothing else happened for quite a long time.

In addition to getting rid of the movies I'm not going to watch and the books I'm not going to read, I have decided that any garage sale furniture that doesn't reach its intended destination by Labor Day is going out the door as well. So this week I painted my blanket chest in palest blue, and I think that color, coupled with the hearts, gives it a nice Swedish Country look:
Especially paired with my fjord painting:
And my faux-Swedish-Country-armoire, which I managed to paint within a week of acquiring it,

because it was huge and in the living room. In fact, my Decorating Tip for today is, "Don't put your garage sale finds in the basement." NB the inside of the armoire is the same color as the chest--I used the rest of the paint, hooray!

As I told my sister-in-law, I count this as a triple achievement:

1) Chest is painted
2) Chest is in bedroom
3) Chest is not in basement

I knew there was a book I was forgetting in my roundup yesterday. One day last spring I took the magazines to the recycling center and found in the dumpster:

In Cold Blood with nearly pristine dust jacket
The House on the Strand Daphne Du Maurier
The Little Minister J.M. Barrie 1922 edition

So last week I read The Little Minister. I don't like Peter Pan very much, and I am permanently prejudiced against poor Mr. Barrie's dramatic works by the scathing reviews in The Portable Dorothy Parker; but he was a very successful writer in his time and I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

He spins a good yarn, and it's absolutely dripping with sentiment. I don't think I'll be spoiling anything for anyone with this next observation, because I suspect none of my eighteen readers has as much tolerance for broad Scots dialogue and Victorian hoo-ha as I do, but just in case,


The denouement, the big reveal, in this book is that the gypsy girl and Lord Rintoul's intended are one and the same. I spotted this twist on...I'm going to say page twelve. Were turn-of-the-century readers so unobservant, or were they, like me today, just along for the ride?

Edited to add: slightly spooky, Arts and Letters Daily today makes me aware of an article in the Telegraph about Barrie and his (previously unknown to me) connection with the Du Mauriers.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Medias Media

I am not so broody that I have abandoned my favorite pastimes of reading and viewing altogether. To wit:

While in the North Country I read all 768 pages (plus introduction and historical notes) of Owen Glendower by John Cowper Powys. It was Levi at Ivebeenreadinglately who made me aware of the book--and it's hard to trace, but I think it was my early-2008 obsession with Dorothy Sayers that led me to Levi. As he observes, the book isn't easy--although I must say, the only book I know that is that long and also easy is Gone With The Wind--but it is ultimately rewarding. One of its themes is one of my favorite themes of all time: that the great events of history necessarily happened in a much messier, more personal, more complicated way than History with a capital H would have us believe. It's particularly rewarding for anyone with a special interest in Wales and a developing interest in Celtic lore.

Right now my mission is twofold: to finish or discard all the books I've started and abandoned in the past year, and to read all the books people have lent me so I can get them out of the house. Yes, I am in extreme purging mode. Last night I finished No Vulgar Hotel, Judith Martin's (aka Miss Manners) love letter to Venice. I did love Venice when I saw it at age 17--as with Paris, the pleasure is in just being there--but I felt no urge, at that time or while reading, to do as Martin and her friends have done, visiting the city as many as four times a year to the exclusion of all other destinations. The book is a delightful read, and let me give you a piece of advice that the lender gave me too late: skip the part in the middle about the old Venetian family the author has "adopted."

I'm now reading Real Food by Nina Planck. Miss Planck is preaching to the choir in my case, but I do look forward to gaining some conversational ammunition in defense of eggs, beef, bacon and butter.

My admiration of Wendy Wasserstein's work is no secret on this blog. I first saw the Meryl Streep/Jill Eikenberry/Swoosie Kurtz/Ellen Parker production of "Uncommon Women and Others" on PBS in pre-VHS days, which means I was awfully young to be hearing dialogue about phallocentric culture and diaphragms, but my parents privileged aesthetics over age-appropriateness, and they liked Wendy too. I decided it was time for another viewing, which the miracle of Netflix made possible. I was surprised by how mannered the acting is, but moved by the continuing relevance of the characters and their concerns. "Not much has changed for women in thirty years," I observed to my mother, "...and it never will," she replied.

Then I watched "Ratatouille," and I guess my expectations were too high. Or ever since I was frightened by the scurrying plague-ridden rats in The London Experience (at roughly the same age at which I saw "Uncommon Women," so equally imprintable) I haven't been big on cinematic depictions of hordes of scurrying rats. Also, the movie is very, very visual and I am very, very verbal. Anyway, it was fine, but not something I need to own or ever see again.

Next in the Netflix stack was "Away From Her." Well, actually, it's been on the top of the stack since, Netflix informs me, March 21. And on not one evening in the past over-three months have I thought, "Hey, tonight I'd like to watch a movie about a man who has to facilitate his wife's nursing-home romance after Alzheimer's causes her to forget about him and their marriage!" So into the mail it goes. I'm sure it's a great movie, but my tolerance for Bad Stuff in my entertainment decreases yearly. When the movie of A River Runs Through It came out, my grandmother's review was, "I didn't like it. The girl dies at the end." You may remember that "the girl" dies, offscreen, after a long lifetime of wedded bliss. But I can see myself on the trajectory to reach a similar attitude at age 85.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It's My Own Invention, as the White Knight (and my grandmother) would say

Blueberry Sage Chutney
3 pints blueberries, washed, stemmed and sorted
1 red onion, chopped fine
approximately 3 dozen sage leaves, chopped fine
1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 tsp salt
sprinkling of red pepper flakes

If you're lucky, like me, dump everything in your breadmaker and run the jam cycle.

Otherwise, combine all ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil and heat about 45 minutes.

Ladle into jars still hot from the dishwasher, top with lids and rings ditto, and put in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. See my improvised canning tongs? I knew I was saving all those asparagus elastics for something. No more scratching the lid or dropping the jar and scalding myself.

I think this will be good with roasted meats, especially fowl or pork; and also dumped over a log of chevre and spread on crackers.

Purple sage from my own garden, red onion of mysterious origin, and local blueberries (not my own blueberries, because here's my yield so far):
Enough for tomorrow's cereal. It's a start, and more than we got last year.

Oh, and not to be biologically deterministic, but there may be a reason I'm so nesty lately: the MomVee family is expecting a sixth member in January of 2009. I know, I buried the lede.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Outsourcing My Reading

Dear Readers,

I don't have time to read these items that have been in my bookmarks list for ages. I certainly don't have time to read them today, as I help both Rs to pack for scout camp and continue to try to restore (establish?) order in my home. But perhaps you have a relaxing weekend ahead and need something to read*:

The 11 Best Foods You Aren't Eating
Okay, I did read this one, or at least I skimmed it, and then I sprained my shoulder patting myself on the back because we are eating 10 of them. And I'll get some sardines pronto.

Email Checklist
36 things to consider before hitting send. Via Only Once.

Six Iconoclastic Discoveries About the Brain

I'm fascinated in the brain, but there's something wrong with mine that makes my eyes glaze over when I start to read something like this. My father actually wrote his thesis on "Stereoscopic Resolution of Conflicting Affect Expressions," so I guess that's where we differ. I am all about affect, though.

Gidget on the Couch
"Surfing's secret Austro-Hungarian roots"

Lawn Pox
Children's play equipment and the decline of the American yard.

You Didn't Know Harry Potter Was Jewish?
I think the title says it all.

Are Human Brains Unique?
See above.

Ghost Town
I read this one too. It's really long, so keep it for a rainy day. Fascinating photo essay of the area around Chernobyl. Originally found in Mighty Girl comments.

*Yes, Johnny Falschgedank, I know I could share these on Google Reader, but I bookmarked them before I started using it, and it's just too cumbersome to do them one by one.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Italics mine:

Since the discrediting of Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who first defined it, Munchausen's has been relabelled as “fabricated or induced illness”. This is a perverse disorder in which an adult invents or deliberately creates a child's illness to draw attention to himself or herself. Even the experts agree that Munchausen's is rare, likely to affect no more than 50 people a year. But campaigners fear that far more people are being accused of it. For the traits of the Munchausen mother are broad enough to cast suspicion on many whose children are genuinely ill. They include a reluctance to leave the sick child's side, familiarity with medical terms and, most devastating, the denial of accusations of abuse.

Family Justice: your word against theirs, Times Online

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Hungry Yet?

"Women in that country were judged not by their bulging sweaters, but by their bulging pantries. Husbands unashamedly threw open their pantry doors and dared you to have more of anything."

The Egg and I, Betty MacDonald

That's one of my favorite books, by the way, although knowing that Betty eventually divorced Bob and fled the chicken farm makes it all a little less funny, just like knowing that Shirley Jackson struggled with depression and alcoholism and that her children are virtual recluses makes Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons a little less funny.

But I digress, and I hadn't even begun yet. Today I made four jars of raspberry jam and four jars of blackberry jam. I used to do a lot of that sort of thing--making jam, and baking bread, and sewing Christmas stockings for people, and coming up with elaborately-themed home birthday parties...and then I pretty much stopped. I don't know exactly why, but I do know that I was receiving messages, from both inside and outside myself, that I was wasting my time.

Now, in my continuing quest to convince myself that everything counts, I plan to revisit some of those activities. I'm not an artist like Anna, but I'm inspired by her handmade items--also by Angry Chicken's sewing, cooking, and paper-cutting; and I like the way Jordan and Abby work to make their surroundings beautiful. And, frankly, the way Umami Girl uses her fresh produce is making me feel a little competitive.

In Rebecca West's Cousin Rosamund, Rose is dining with her friend Mr. Morpurgo:

"'I do not waste money,' I objected.
'Nobody really does that,' he conceded. 'It is very hard to imagine an action that falls into that category except lighting one's cigarette with a five-pound note. It is almost impossible to spend money without getting something for it. Even if it gives one only a momentary satisfaction that is something for which only a miser would be unwilling to spend money.'"

I'd like to posit that it is also difficult to truly waste time, although I'm afraid some Internet surfing is akin to lighting one's cigarette with a five-pound note. I am resolved that as long as my time is spent on something that I know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful, I will not consider it wasted.

And now I should probably clean the exploded Cream of Wheat out of the microwave.

PS Local berries, local honey.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Quarterly Political Post

I don't often get political on this blog. That's partly because my blog is about parenting and culture, not politics. It's partly because I don't really believe in political action as a solution to any of the most basic things wrong with the world. And, as long as I'm being honest, it's because I have a lot of left/liberal friends who assume I agree with them and I'm a pleaser by nature, so I stay quiet. Oh, wait, that's in real life too.

I think, though, I may be doing those people a disservice, as well as showing them a lack of respect. So here are two articles on a subject dear to my heart: food. Both of them--in the course of explaining why real food is or should be a conservative issue--might begin to illuminate what I find compelling in conservatism.

So for anyone whose shorthand understanding of conservatism is something like "hating people who are different from you while grubbing for as much money as you can"--and even for those whose understanding is more nuanced and whose opinion still (gasp!) differs from mine--I give you one glimpse of my conservatism, which is about nature, tradition, and continuity:

Food For Thought

Table Talk