Friday, June 25, 2010

Eating Cashews and Balancing Politics

It's been an excruciatingly boring food week. Sunday was a day of intrigue and upset affairs and I just couldn't pull things together enough to fix what was on the menu. Then my husband went off to Atlanta and there was little reason to cook anything at all.

Then one day, I don't remember when, I bought the ingredients I forgot to buy earlier and threw together:

Cashew Turkey Pasta Salad

I made half the recipe and sent some off with Natalie. I hope you ate it, Natalie, because if you didn't, I want it back. That was good stuff.

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Surrender Is Not an Option by John Bolton.

Bolton was a conservative ambassador to the UN. He also had a lot of jobs at the Department of State. Something about working for the government turns you into a person that writes in endless acronymns. Readers had better pay attention. If they don't, they will soon be deep into paragraphs about the EAP's position papers on the DPRK and they will have to read back a page or two to figure out that the EAP is the East Asia Pacific group and the DPRK is North Korea. And more of the same throughout the book. Bolton's world is one long game of Boggle.

The best parts of Surrender are the private asides that the government types say to each other, like "Maybe I should act more like Jesse Helms" or "This [committee] isn't worth a bucket of warm spit."

There's just an awful lot wade through, with a wide cast of characters. If Girls' State was the most meaningful experience of your young life, then you might find something interesting in here, but Surrender is nothing I'd risk an overdue fine for.

Plus, it's a little heavy for bathtub reading.

Next up, Independent People by Halldor Laxness. Once you open the pages, you will be thrust into the bleak moors of Iceland at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, things are so bleak, it seems like the middle ages. When the farmers gather, they never fail to discuss the worm problems in their sheep. The patroness of the town, who lives in a house with a tower and servants, stuffs up every public occasion with windy speeches about the nobility of rural life, though she hasn't the faintest idea how freaking hard it is. Our main character, Bjartur, reminds me of a certain crusty farmer I have known.

Back in the fifties, Laxness won either the Nobel or the Pulitzer prize for this book. His conclusion about humanity: most of them really can't afford to live. Like all good book prize winners, he was a socialist.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Calling all chemists, philosophers and other brainy types

How long 'til dinner? And I don't think there's enough of last night's leftovers. Jim and Mercy are on their way here, so that means extra mouths to feed (love it!). Maybe if I placate them with chicken nuggets, they will let me clean up the rest of the --

Bow Tie Chicken Supper

Over on the Finished Book Pile, we have Cute, Quaint, Hungry and Romantic by Daniel Harris. Harris reveals the choices advertisers make to appeal to our longings for cuteness, quaintness, coolness, cleanliness and so forth.

Harris also skewers us all for having such longings in the first place.

Are you into natural foods? Eating for the sake of your health? Then he will call you out for taking a vitamin, "one unobtrusive tablet, a deceptively small commodity that houses the entire farm within its fragile sucrose shell."

Do you love to be zany? "Zaniness," he says, "allows us to misbehave and yet minimizes our risk of being ostracized as eccentric." In other words, you're a chicken-hearted rebel.

Is glamour your thing? Well, the industry that sells it to us "turns women into malcontents always scheming against their wardrobes and thus keeps them returning to department stores." Translation: as soon as you buy that must-have pencil skirt, it will go out of style and they'll make you think you need an A-line instead.

While Harris reveals some interesting tidbits about the images thrust before us, he will surely burst the bubble on one or two of your favorite notions about yourself.

Contains a couple cow patties.

Next up, we have Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein. I really doubt anybody I know would like this novel. The heroine is struggling through a graduate degree in philosophy and she eventually marries a math genius. Their conversations are so dry and high-minded, it's kind of unreal. That's not to say that Goldstein forgot to put any humor in her book, but I'm gonna say the dryness is Strike One against the book.

She's quite candid about her sex life. That's Strike Two. (And this tale feels very autobiographical.)

She's preoccupied with the question of what our true essence is. Our mind? Our body? Some variation of the two? To me, that's a resolved question. Strike Three.

But it was set in Princeton. That's why I stuck with it. Goldstein explains the place. I ate that part up.

Next up, Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger. Ettlinger took his kids to the shore. Ettlinger bought them ice cream bars. Ettlinger's daughter read the label and said, "Daddy, what's polysorbate 60?"

So journalist Ettlinger embarked on a study of the ingredients in our foods, how they are formulated, and where they come from. Utterly fascinating. That fact that there is ground up bits of iron in the flour I eat didn't gross me out at all. Nor did the fact that shortening gets washed in hydrochloric acid (which is later washed out). An army of chemists out there have been experimenting with every conceivable element, peering under microscopes, perfecting one thing and another until they know just how to make a cake taste like its full of eggs and butter when it's not.

I wore out a little at the end when he got into the chapters on stuff like calcium caseinate and diglycerides (someone who has taken chemistry might follow it better) but I perked up again when he launched into food colors and flavors.

Let's just say that I now understand why I'm creaming the butter and sugar when I whip up a batch of cookies.