Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Yum. Blogs with food.

How is it that there are so many recipes in the world? It's overwhelming in good and bad ways. I've got a huge folder of recipes that I've ripped out of magazines, a huge folder of recipes I've emailed myself, and I've recently taken to reading food blogs all in an effort to find more fun things to make in the kitchen and to sharpen my cooking [as opposed to baking] skills which are none too creative. It's impossible to keep them all organized. Inevitably there are some pages that have a dessert and an entree on them. I just came across this list: Blogs with Bite from the NY Times blog Bitten so I thought I'd try to hook you as well into my web of recipe madness.

In other news, I've got a large slice of organic winter melon in my fridge that I have nothing to do with. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Shanghai Design Guide

Just posted today on Design*Sponge is a design guide for Shanghai penned and photographed by your very own Flynneous using her other alias. I'm absolutely euphoric! Nice to see your name in lights every once in a while. Go read!! Pretty please.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

So Easy That EVERYONE Can Do It

This is a clear symbol of the dumbing down of America. Cinnamon and sugar, a classic topping for buttery French toast...also delicious when baked into breakfast breads. Yes. It's delish. It is not, however, something that requires a recipe. Nor is it something that you buy in a tiny container at the grocery store for more than $2. I know tiny spice jars of cinnamon and sugar are not new to the marketplace, but this is the first opportunity I've had to rant about it online. 

I have to say that I feel ashamed that this product sells so well that the first time I went to research it at Wal-mart (I do not want to hear from people who have access to Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Wegmen's, and Trader Joe's either because we have none of those in my hometown), it was sold out. If this is on your shelf, you have to take it off right now, peel off the label, and incinerate it so no one knows that you purchased this product with two ingredients that are already in your kitchen cabinet. 

I will have an eentsy bit of mercy on those who know nothing about cooking and don't read ingredient labels, but really just put a little thought forward and things like this won't happen.

Honestly, I think this one small item is evidence of a very big problem in society---the easy fix. I commend McCormick and the other spice sellers who knew as much and decided to capitalize on this staple. Why spend 27 whole seconds mixing sugar and cinnamon in a little bowl when you can spend 2 bucks plus tax on it. Are you aware how much a pound of sugar costs? Do the numbers add up? This is not a money saver.

When Wal-mart had restocked the product, I looked at the ingredients on the jar (see below) and saw that there was indeed a third ingredient--cinnamon oil. Guess what. Cinnamon sugar with or without cinnamon oil tastes exactly the same. I promise. In fact, I'm pretty sure that cinnamon bark is the source of cinnamon oil and ground cinnamon come from bark.

Now go. Eat your cinnamon rolls and French toast with good, ole-fashioned, homemade cinnamon and sugar. Teach your children and grandchildren how to make it. You'll be doing society a favor.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Banned Books Week: September 26-October 3

Did you ever watch The Waltons? If not, it was about a family living in the mountains of Virginia who had a number of kids and live near a small town. The drama took place before and during World War II. On one episode (the details of which are a little scratchy) the law-abiding, church going townspeople get all up in arms about the German books in the library and decide to hold a book burning to get rid of all the Nazi propaganda. John Boy, the oldest Walton child, book reader and writer of the family, tries to reason with the once reasonable neighbors who have leapt wholeheartedly into this ignorant, angry mob. As often happens with an angry mob, they won't hear any of it so John Boy brings a member of the community who happens to be German to the book burning. She saves a book just as it is about to be incinerated and begins to read it to the crowd, translating it into English, "Our Father, which art in Heaven. Hallowed be thy name."

And that, my friends, is why you don't ban books. Instead, you educate people and allow them to make intelligent decisions. Included on the American Library Association's list of books that have been challenged and/or banned in 2008 and 2009 are Kite Runner, To Kill a Mockingbird [which is required reading in Mississippi!], The Catcher in the Rye, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn among others. The list they've compiled isn't really that long and a lot of them were middle school libraries, which I'd say is not so cut and dry. It's ok for an 8th grader to have no access to The Joy of Sex. It's more than ok, but the issue is that all over the world people are stopped from reading things that would actually give them a more realistic view of what the world is actually like or what it could be like. Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird might scare little black kids, but much of that amazing book is about ignorance. The perpetuation of which is a whole lot scarier.

The moral of the story is two-fold: don't burn the Bible just because you can't read the language it's written in and challenge ignorance in whatever country you live in. I know I'm preaching to the choir here.

A book about banned books: Reading Lolita in Tehran: A professor gathers a group of her former students in Tehran for a covert literature class of banned books. While not my favorite book, the issues of censorship are ripe for the picking. Jane Austen was among the blacklisted authors. Can you actually imagine a world without Mr. Darcy? I shudder at the thought.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just finished: Death and the Penguin

Today I finished Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov, one of the books recommended by Nick Hornby in The Polysyllabic Spree. It's been a while since I've read any Russian novels. As broad generalizations go, they definitely have a unique feel to them, and when they're mildly decipherable I do enjoy them. One of the best aspects of this book was that it was a fast read with extremely short chapters and unsentimental prose. I do like descriptive, sentimental prose, but this was a nice change.

The story takes place in Kiev and focuses on a kind of loser of a guy named Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov. [Thankfully this book was no War and Peace withmillions of Russian names all attributed to the same person.] Viktor is an uninspired aspiring writer who never finishes much except for short stories that are too short to publish. The only consistent being in his life is his pet penguin Misha who he took in when the zoo was giving away animals it could not feed. How in the world Kurkov created this waddling pet and made him seem real is pretty great. Viktor and Misha are both melancholy, lonely characters who lack direction. However, the monotony of their lives begins to change after Viktor submits one of his story to a local newspaper. The editor calls him in for a job: to write obituaries for people who are not dead yet. While odd, this seems straight forward enough until the people on the list start dying at which point all sorts of mysteries and complications arise. I don't want to give away the whole story so I'll stop there.

While darkly comic, unemotional, and distinctly satirical, Death and the Penguin does make for some interesting character analysis. Viktor is mostly friendless and has such pitiful ambition that it's hard to feel sorry for him at times, yet his one loyalty to Misha--a clear parallel to himself--makes the would-be writer a more compelling and sympathetic character...on one hand. On the other hand, he willing ignores almost every difficult or dangerous situation he faces up to the very end and the last line [slight spoiler] seems a final selfish act of self-preservation that may be a concrete slab of ultimate loneliness. However clever the last statement, Viktor was a little disappointing when it came down to it--his actions careless and irrational. I closed the book wondering if I might be missing something crucial. I still recommend the book wholeheartedly for its originality and the fact that its written in and about a country far away from America [unlike most of the books I read.]

By the way, it's got a great cover.

Albums on Stream

More music again. I'll move to different interests in the next post, but for now... NPR has two highly coveted (?) albums streaming this week.

First: I and Love and You, the new release from the Avett Brothers. It's coming out next week, so here is what is probably your only chance to listen to all the songs. Exciting no? I did enjoy listening to the whole album, but I like the live version(s) of Laundry Room better. Worth a few listens though and it's only up til the 29th.

Second: Volcano Choir's one and only (so far) highly experimental album Unmap. Good name. I took a listen and they weren't kidding when they said it was experimental. If the lyrics were to be written down they'd look something like this:
ehyeah ee ahmlk diggy diggy bump bump
dun dun dun snow ooohwah

I don't know what I think about this album yet. It's definitely got the wintry, snowy feel of Bon Iver. Unmap is the type of album in which purchasing one or two tracks just won't do it.Without words and with similar style, the songs flowed into one another nicely. Made for good working music because it's nearly impossible to sing along.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Roll Over

I'm such a mooch. I never find funny videos on my own. I'm not exactly sure how to do that. A friend sent me this one. Yes, it's a pet video. Yes, it's hilarious.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bon Iver's back..and Justin Time for Winter

Last winter it was all I could do not to listen to Bon Iver's (aka Justin Vernon) snowy, gray, beautiful album For Emma, Forever Ago. I mean, the title itself was enough to make me listen to it. Ranked on the tippity-top of almost every indie best of 2008 list, the album was the perfect haven for cold days. I think it's imperative that you purchase it. Next on my list of things to be gifted (I don't really have any U.S. cash anymore, so I'm hoping someone will iTunes gift it to me [open shameless birthday plea (it's only 2 months away) close shameless birthday plea])...
Today I was listening to a BBC Scotland Americana radio show I came across randomly and heard a song from Bon Iver's new project which, confusingly enough, was actually recorded before For Emma, Forever Ago. It's called Unmap and Bon Iver and a band called Collections of Colonies of Bees who are calling themselves Volcano Choir. I cover is cool but a tad creepy, very reminiscent of The Village--apparently Those-We-Don't-Speak-Of like it, so that's good enough for me. Since I've only heard one song, I thought I'd reprint the article on BBC (with their permission of course).
by Matthew Horton
Bon Iver’s beautiful, lovelorn For Emma, Forever Ago was a critics’ favourite of 2008, topping many year-end lists and bewitching the lucky few who heard it with its heartbreaking songs. It was the delicate raking-over of a relationship’s embers, the cathartic mumblings of a bereft man holed away in his Wisconsin wood cabin with a guitar and set of microphones, recovering from illness and the break-up of his band.
On its near-follow-up, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver in plainclothes) has reconvened with the Volcano Choir he and members of post-rockers Collections of Colonies of Bees formed in 2005. It’s an entirely natural combination, but a very different beast from Bon Iver. Where For Emma, Forever Ago cradled the listener, Unmap is plainly more challenging.

For starters, it’s light on words, favouring a hushed minimalism which isn’t so far from Vernon’s previous set but lacks that album’s immediacy. It’s not so easy to find a way in. Persevere, however, and rewards are plentiful, from the wind-scattered prettiness and choral interjections of Husks and Shells to And Gather’s campfire chimes, handclaps and cosy organ fills.

This is a quiet, withdrawn record, edging slowly into life with repeated, grooving sequences on Island, IS (available as a free download from the Jagjaguwar site) and the cats’ chorus of Cool Knowledge. Meanwhile, Dote’s ambient drone recalls Boards of Canada’s unsettling atmospherics and the treated vocal parps of Seeplymouth owe a debt to Laurie Anderson. These are not mainstream influences, but the parts add up to an oddly accessible whole.

It’s evident in the dreamy vocoder of the gorgeous Still, which feels like a comfort blanket after Mbira in the Morass’s creepy ghost-blues, and Youlagy’s gospel coda which happily tempers the mournful Thom Yorke-like whine that otherwise dominates the song. Difficult music offset by soulful touches.

While there’s still a whiff of the wintry woods about Unmap, it shows a more experimental side of Vernon than we’re familiar with, his occasional colleagues clearly giving him the space to express his less-charted oblique leanings. A welcome companion piece to For Emma, Forever Ago, this side-project is also a work to cherish in its own right.
Still reading? The album debuts September 22nd, but you can download the song I heard on BBC called Island, Is on the Jagjaguar label site. Experimental but still nice and wintry! Did anybody catch the pun in the title?

Friday, September 18, 2009

My Friend Is A Mail-Order Bride (Not My Friend Actually)

At this week's end, I've got for you two brief essays (one essay, one blog post actually) on the unusual experiences that come about when living in China. Both essayists are in my writing group, which, as a matter of fact, is composed of just the three of us at the moment...

First up, first-rate journalist Kellie Schmitt's article coming out in the next issue of Marie Claire called My Friend Is A Mail-Order Bride. The title gives you a good idea of the subject. The story gives an interesting perspective on how Chinese women view marriage today.

Second up, but not second-rate is a hilarious blog post by Justin Earley about an unusual encounter at Starbucks, where incidentally, he's had many an interesting encounter. The title, Remember the Time We Broke the Bed, should be enough to draw you.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's Warm, It's a Robe Turned Backwards, It's Snuggie!

When first I saw the Snuggie, I couldn't believe how low the As Seen On TV products had gotten. They were always pretty sad, but this...this was a polyester fleece robe turned backwards so that people wouldn't have to have cold forearms while turning the channel in the winter time.
Then they seemed to have caught on, not only as a joke, but people actually purchased them. Now they've appeared on the runway at New York Fashion Week. Sure, it's kind of a joke, but this may not be the last we see of high-end Snuggie. The Times has a slide show of them here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chinese News of Interest: Put the Ring in Your Pocket & a Chinese Mason-Dixon Line

Number of Hidden Marriages Increases in China. I had no idea there were any hidden marriages in China, but according to this article many couples feel the need to hide their wedded bliss from co-workers and potential bosses  in order to actually get jobs, keep them, and get promoted. As my friend Grace said today, it's definitely a slippery slope. Denying such an important thing as ones marriage must lead to even bigger lies.

In other news. China is drawing the line between North and South (which probably means that we will never get proper heating down here.) The formation of a new park to draw the line has caused some controversy. Where's the harmonious society, people?

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Pigeon Stays in the Picture

I like birds, but I'm no great fan of pigeons. Still, when one appeared propped on my bathroom window adjacent to one of my roommates' windows at 11:00 p.m. Tuesday night, I felt no personal vendetta against the creature. I cannot say the same for my two roomies who thought it needed to be removed immediately from it's 31 floor perch by whatever means necessary. With vision of The Birds swirling in their heads, they attempted nudging it off the sill with an umbrella (ella ella eh eh eh), tossing cookies at it which it later ate, scarying it with their hideous screeching, and calling it names. I, of course, was morally opposed to the whole affair. Live and let fly, that's my motto.

The pigeon remained unmoved and both my roommate's window and my own were closed for the night just in case it attempted to retaliate or come inside for more cookies. The footage is a little dark, but it's the sounds you need anyway. (Fortunately, my roommates don't read the blog, so mum's the word.)

Making weird sounds at the bird and berating it.

The weirdest sound of all.

And weird sounds plus name calling.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Experiments in Healthy Eating

What with heart disease a regular occurrence in my family and a recent blood test that said my cholesterol could be lower, I've decided to start devoting more energy to healthy eating. I've got a new-to-me bread maker and so far I've made two batches of bread.

The first (stage left) is a whole wheat flaxseed loaf. Yep. It's suspiciously only 2 inches tall. When I saw this development, I was none too thrilled; however, it was shockingly good. I'm not sure how it turned out so well, but it wasn't too moist or too dense just a bit short. Amazing. The other batch of bread was a less healthy cinnamon raisin bread which looked and tasted as good as promised. So good there are no pictures (no I didn't eat it all..I shared almost all of it.)

Next on my health crusade...I've heard about the healthy possibilities of black beans so today I looked for a recipe for black bean burgers and found a highly rated one on All Recipes. In the past I probably would have been a nasty old naysayer about this type of veggie cuisine, but I've been proven wrong by Bocca Burgers and these honestly turned out deee-licious. Seriously. I did make a few changes. I used red bell peppers instead of green because I don't really like and did not have green. I put beans and veggies (none of which I measured) into the food processor, but made sure it didn't turn into a paste. I added ground chipotle in lieu of hot sauce which I also don't have. It had a bit of a kick but not too much. I used my flaxseed bread for the bread crumbs to boot! Then I grilled it on my little grill pan, cut it in half and sandwiched it between the last two pieces of my bread. A little fresh tomato, a little ketchup--that's lycopene folks. Yum!

Meanwhile, I was also making whole wheat hamburger buns which are still in the oven and hopefully will turn out good enough for the remaining 3 black bean patties I threw in the refrigerator. Now I just have to keep up this energy. I tell you. The appliances are making this healthy cooking stuff easier.

Up soon (but maybe not too soon because a single girl can only eat the same thing so many times before she becomes uninspired): Cooking 101's Ultimate Veggie Burger

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On the Shelf

As usual for my trips home, I load up on books. While I belatedly discovered, I have embraced it's extremely low prices with reckless abandon. (I still believe in and did buy books at a physical bookstore. Don't you worry.) The bruises are almost clearing on my shoulders from carrying this weighty cargo on my back and I've placed them nicely on my to-read bookcase. I haven't had so many new reads to stare at in a long time. Now I'm having the hardest time deciding which one to read first--the covers are all so pretty! So I'm reading two at a time. Here is the list of my new paged companions.

1. How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer: Is this not the most beautiful cover? It makes the heart ache. A collection of short stories.

2. Taft by Ann Patchett: From reading the covers of a few Ann Patchett novels, it seems she has quite a range of subjects to cover. I enjoyed her writing style in Bel Canto, so I thought I'd give this one a try.

3. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky: Written some 60 years ago, the author was killed in a concentration camp and this novel was not published until a few years ago.

4. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn: I feel like I should read something by this guy and I found this book at a used bookstore and picked it up.

5. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy: Great title and the author is southern. What could be better?

6. Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community by Wendell Berry: Racy title, no? The folks at Image Journal really like this guy and I've seen his name mentioned quite a few times elsewhere as a Christian writer with a unique perspective on culture, community, etc. I also bought his novel Hannah Coulter this summer, but I couldn't lug another volume.

7. Breath for the Bones: Art Imagination and Spirit (Reflections on Creativity and Faith) by Luci Shaw: I just started this one, and I found it insightful already. The topic, the intersection of art and faith, is a subject in which I am always searching for wisdom. This was also recommended by Image Journal.

8. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton: This one is on so many reading lists. I Tivoed (that isn't spelled right is it?) the movie while I was at home, but figured I should read the book first. It's only fair.

9. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien: also on a lot of lists so I bought it. The title is also reminiscent of my book carrying so I thought it was appropriate. I think this one is going to be a pretty heavy read.

10. Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov: How could a book with this title and originally written in Russian not be interesting? (That's a rhetorical question.) I heard about this book from The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby. Now that I think about it, I sure hope I'm smart enough to read this book.

11. Housekeeping Vs. the Dirt by Nick Hornby: the next installment which follows up The Polysyllabic Spree. This is a compilation of articles that Hornby wrote for The Believer Magazine. His monthly column was basically a list of things he read and books he bought each month; however, he was given the stipulation that he was not to bash any authors as that would be left up to every other magazine and newspaper on the planet.

12. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco: One of my friend's favorite books and a classic, I'm told.

13. The Bookseller of Kabul by ├ůsne Seierstad: I saw it really cheap at the bookstore and well, the cover was beautiful. The book sounded interesting, too.

14. Nine Horses by Billy Collins: Collins is (or was?) U.S. Poet Laureate. This might be the first book of poetry I've ever bought for myself which was not required reading. I think I'm finally growing up. A friend of mine recommended Collins as very accessible and lately I've been thinking that poetry might not be all that bad. After all, Noah in The Notebook read poetry, so how bad can it be? (By the way, how funny would it be if the horses on the cover didn't add up to 9?)

Those, plus a handful of other unread books previously acquired should keep me busy for a while.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Photos: Nature and scenery

I are a few more photos from home, just not terribly sentimental ones. This is me experimenting with my new camera around town on what was an unusually cool Saturday morning for Mississippi. I was walking around some beautiful neighborhoods, and I think a few people thought I was casing the area. Oh my.

There's actually a bee in there.
Still life.
An avenue. Did you know that's what they're called? I love avenues. My favorite chateau in France has the most beautiful avenue of trees.
Live oaks on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Once I wrote about live oaks in a creative writing class and my teacher marked out live nt realizing that there is a difference. Live oaks are green year round as opposed to oaks that lose their leaves every autumn.

Hilsarious T-shirt

I spelled hilarious wrong on purpose.

This is a t-shirt titled "I Scream" from I don't really know anything about this website and am ready to go read a book so I'll let you look if you're interested, but a friend had it on her gchat and I thought it was hilsarious.

The artist is Brock Davis and the t-shirt is available in baby onesies as well as adult sizes. It's just so witty. I don't wear t-shirts very often, but if I had a baby, I sure would buy it for him/her. It's not cynical is it?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Are You Listening to...The Avett Brothers?

Well are you? You should be.

I love alt-country and alt-bluegrass music. Without the alt I can only stand a few songs, but if it's good, I can listen to the alt-c and alt-b all day. For my tastes, what makes the alts good is a healthy twinge of modernity mixed with sweet strings and storytelling lyrics. Accents are fine, but twang is only acceptable in small doses.

These alt-musicians are few so far as I can tell (I'd love to be proven wrong), but luckily I've recently found North Carolina natives The Avett Brothers. That's a long A. They're two brothers who play guitar and banjo and two other fellows one who plays the string base, the other the cello. The Avett's have been around for a while, but only recently got on a major record label. One reviewer described them as punk bluegrass which is an accurate description. I've only just scratched the surface of their music, but I'm hooked. I'm told that their albums have grown a little calmer with each release although this is not readily apparent from the recordings I've heard of their live performances at SXSW (a big indie music festival) and the Newport Folk Festival where the lead sometimes screams the lyrics (I don't particularly like that but no band is perfect). The music is beautiful, the songs are honest and sweet, and the lead singer's voice has a great edge to it.

Now on to the listening:
Laundry Room is my favorite so far. I have listened to it over and over again just as the lyrics deserve. Oh it's so good! I've heard a few live versions. The first is from SXSW (linked before), the second at their NPR Tiny Desk Concert (click here to watch) and third, a version that has a slightly softer ending which you can get here (along with two other songs).

Down with the Shine is another great song which they played live but has yet to be released on an album. Great and gritty, the words are both vague and pointed enough to allow you to fill in your own story.

I and Love and You is the free release from the EP of the same name. Not so much of the strings, but good lyrics. Don't listen if you've just had a hard breakup.

Let me know what you think of 'em.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Reminders of Home

A few last pictures from home. This is half of a water tower (guess which half is missing) in Soso, Mississippi where my mom and I used to live. Is there anything better than a town named Soso, population 72?

I took this while driving. Not supposed to do that I'm sure but I love how this one came out. By the way, do you see that sky? Thank God for blue skies and the possibility to capture them on camera for gray city days.

I was aiming for a picture like this with a nice curve of a country road. How I love country roads. They take me home. To the place I belong. John Denver's got nothing on me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Compulsive Hobby of the Week: Apron (Part II)

I'm back. Jet lagged and unpacked. It took forever to get things situated. All the little things that are handy to have like Scotch tape, dental floss, and spare nails. If it actually made any difference to the future, I would vow never to move again, especially in China. On with the project.

So here is part two of my apron project. This one is actually modeled after this Anthropologie apron. Ze resemblance is striking, no? I made my own pattern, which could use a little improvement. It pokes out on the sides a bit, but otherwise I like it. It was my first attempt at piping, too, which I was quite proud of. See right:
I also made brown ruffles at the bottom that match the piping. I'm quite happy with the finished project, and I'm already missing my sewing machine. Sigh...another reason to miss America!