Sunday, January 27, 2013

Long Time 'Til You Kiss a Girl

At Benjamin Nugent's 13th birthday party, he invited all the friends with whom he had bonded over sci-fi, Dungeons & Dragons, and computers. They sang the 2001: A Space Odyssey theme as the cake appeared, and told each other nerdy jokes.

What must his parents have thought? Perhaps they were simply glad that he had friends. But still . . .

"Do you tell him to ditch his friends because as long as he's one of them, he may not kiss a girl for a very long time? Or do you tell him to stick with them? Do you let him figure it out on his own even though you feel pretty certain he understands neither the nature of the dilemma nor what is at stake?"

Nugent, now a recovering nerd (if such a thing is possible), combs through literature and looks up a few of his old buddies to form a once-and-for-all definition of what a nerd is. In American Nerd: A Story of My People, he finds them in books as disparate as Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice. He hangs out at their weekend events, where they gather to discuss frames-per-second in their favorite sci-fi flick, or where they dress up in tights and chain mail and play out the heroic fantasies in their heads.

Even the Mormons show up when one of his skinny grade-school friend's mother finds the missionaries. Thank you, former-hippie mom, for making us all look like nutters.

After reading Nugent, you will definitely be able to spot a nerd. But then, you probably already can.

Frequent cow patties.

As for your recipe, maybe we should pay tribute to what nerds eat. But here at Bye-Bye Nesquik, it is beneath our standards to instruct you to order pizza, or to stuff yourself with Coke and Doritos. If you're going to eat the junky stuff, at least put some effort into it. The recipe below shouldn't overtax you:

Cocoa Munch Mix

Friday, January 18, 2013

Oh, la la! Your pipes are broken!

I bought a bottle of sparkling grape juice just before the election, just in case there was something to celebrate. Since there was not, it lay chilling the fridge until New Year's Eve, when it went well with (as they say in the world of slightly harder drinks) a bit of stromboli and a stout bowl of chocolate Chex mix.

I would be no good in the world of slightly harder drinks, where one is expected to know that wine in a box is a social faux pas. If you wish to keep your dignity, you must be willing to pay as much as a week's groceries for one bottle.

But how about a bottle that costs as much as a college education? No, seriously. We're talking an Ivy-league law school education. That's what a member of the Forbes family bid on a bottle that supposedly belonged to Thomas Jefferson. As told in The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace, rare wines whet the competitive pride of the set that own multiple homes, small jets, banking empires, etc.

That is, until they suspect that the wine on the auction block might not be so rare after all. For those of you interested in crossing over to the dark side, the chapter on wine counterfeiting proves interesting. Where do they come up with these tricks? Spraying bottles with aerosolized dust? Staining labels with orange juice and tea? Filing off corks and branding them the year of prized vintages? One fellow sprayed bottles with a shotgun to give them that weathered-by-the-centuries look.

Otherwise, Vinegar was a lot like reading baseball stats, with a good many unpronounceable names thrown in.

Far more delightful to read A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. Mayle, a British journalist, and his wife visited the south of France often. They loved it so much they decided to buy a house there. It was a charming house, not like those boxy things springing up in suburbs everywhere.

Their first winter taught them the price of charm. The house had no central heating and yes, the south of France is warm, but not in January when the "mistral," a wind that starts in Siberia, howls across the continent. By the time the mistral reaches Provence, it can "blow the ears off a goat." It tends to foul the mood of Provencale folk.

It also tends to cause a lot of October babies.

But anyway, when Mayle engaged the local craftsmen and bumped up against their cultural quirks, their delays, their opinions of the British, he made it into a most amusing read. Somehow, having a Frenchman standing in one's kitchen exclaiming, "Oh, la la! Your pipes are broken" sounds more romantic than any household emergency I've actually lived through.

And the French are drop-the-tools serious about their lunch breaks. Actually, they're serious about any kind of eating at all. In honor of their love of food, I share with you:

Cider Beef Stew  (OK, it's not French, but wow does it smell good!)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Nobleman's Hobby

The picture on the cover has all the dark tones of a portrait of royalty, the kind hanging along the main hallway of the palace. The man on the cover wears a coat that drapes to the floor. And a bonnet with a ruffled edge. And he's pregnant.

Oh, oh, wait, that's not a man? It's a woman, the mistress of a Russian nobleman? Well, clearly beauty standards have changed since the 1780s.

The Pearl by Douglas Smith attempts a biography of Praskovia, the daughter of a blacksmith, given away to serfdom at the estate of the rich playboy Nicholas Sheremetev. Sheremetev just couldn't seem to fall in love with anybody of his own class, because that pretty little servant girl in his house captivated him so.

She became the nobleman's hobby.

Not only was she considered a great beauty in her day. She also sang like an angel. Nicholas built theaters for her to perform in. He had his friends order the latest plays from Paris, complete with costumes and intricate stage drawings.

Which became the nobleman's other hobby. I can't tell which he loved better. But he managed to fit them together nicely.

The love story failed to draw me in. But I really liked the chapter on serf theater. Theater as I know it always suffers from high competition (in the professional ranks) and absenteeism from rehearsals (in the amateur ranks). Pharmacists and school teachers can't seem to find the time to be dancing dandies. And this is not to mention funding, in both ranks. Wouldn't it be nice if a nobleman took it on himself to build the house, underwrite the costumes, invite his friends (the tsar, the empress, etc) to watch the show? Wouldn't it be wonderful if he pulled you out of your parlor duties and sent you to the singing and dancing lessons that readied you for the stage?

Well, maybe not. The serfs still had to serve dinner to The tsar, the empress and the rest of the company, before donning their costumes and make-up. And sometimes the master sat out in the audience, heckling you. Can't you hit the high notes? Look at the clumsy way you dance! And you couldn't slap him, couldn't walk off to the next town, couldn't do anything but throw in a couple ad-lib lines with veiled but pointed meaning, for which you would probably be punished later.

It was a pretty good chapter. It just didn't redeem the whole biography. And Smith had pretty vague information to go on anyway.

I tried hard, but never finished his opus.

But here is something we did finish around here:


1 pkg (19.8 oz.) brownie mix plus ingredients to prepare cake-like verson of mix
1 can (21 oz.) cherry pie filling, divided
2 1/2 c. Cool Whip, thawed, divided
1/4 c. sliced almonds, toasted @ 325' for 6-8 min.

-- Heat oven to 350'. Grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Prepare brownie mix, cake-like version.
-- Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake 18-20 min. Do not overbake. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire rack to cool completely.
-- Place one brownie layer on serving plate. Top with 1 1/2 c. Cool Whip to within 1/2 inch of edge. Spread 1 cup pie filling over Cool Whip.
-- Top with second brownie layer. Spread remaining pie filling to within 1/2 inch of edge. Dollop or pipe remaining 1 cup Cool Whip around edge of torte. Sprinkle toasted almonds over top. Serve by cutting into wedges with large serrated knife. 12 servings @ 385 cals. each.

My family wouldn't have had a chance to eat this had not fate intervened.
I made this beauty for the ward Christmas party. Not even the fact that one of the brownie layers fell slightly apart defeated me. That was an easy repair.

But those finishing touches, oh my! I had nothing to pipe with, so we went with the dollops. And they simply could not wait to droop over the sides of the cake. They did not care that they had to appear in public, passing under the noses of a couple dessert snobs, whose own tortes always look like poufy party dresses.

I snuck it in to the church and opened the cake carrier to have a look (things sounded kind of slide-y on the car ride). Oh dear. I snuck it back out again.

Emma says I shouldn't have had such pride. "It's probably perfectly good eating."

Uh-huh. And what was she complaining about? Now we had this wounded but tasty confection all to ourselves. So sad, heh-heh.