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Monday, September 15, 2008

Degrees of separation

1. David Foster Wallace's wikipedia entry states:

In The Top Ten (2006), a compilation of "top ten novels" lists by different writers, Wallace named C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters as his favorite novel.

2. I've forgotten the source (somewhere on youtube), but when Sarah Palin was asked about books, she claimed her favorite writer was C.S. Lewis.

What are we to make of this?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Steven Johnson

I've written before about the book club. We don't all read the same book - we read whatever strikes our fancy, then meet to briefly describe what we've read to the others. As one member remarked, it's a little like fourth grade book reports. Part of the deal is that the books are often made available for borrowing by the member/reporters.

So it was that I snagged the three in the photo above.

The one on the far right, "Everything Bad is Good for You", by Steven Johnson, is the only one of the three I've read so far. His premise is that - contrary to expection -there are certain aspects of popular culture that are actually causing a marked and measurable increase in intelligence among the general population. He calls it the Sleeper Curve. To make his point he focuses primarily on video games - the elaborate kind, such as Sim City, and Grand Auto Theft - and television shows - the "multi-threaded" plot kind, such as The Sopranos and 24. He argues that the brainpower needed to understand their complexities is far greater, and of a different sort, than what was needed to play PacMan, or watch the formulaic I Love Lucy, or Leave it to Beaver. It's an easy and convincing read.

I was surprised I hadn't heard of Johnson before, but then I realized that I HAD in fact known about him. I had read rave reviews of his 2006 book about the terrifying 1854 London cholera epidemic, The Ghost Map, and had meant to read it. Now it's on my library reserve list. And there's a new book coming out in December - about JB Priestley and the discovery of oxygen.

Johnson, a champion of urbanism, wrote a provocative series of essays on this topic called Urban Planet in the NYT, also in 2006. Well worth a click.

The eight of us at this meet-up mentioned over forty books. Most of these I won't ever read (mysteries, for example, are not for me). But I'm pleased that Steven Johnson is on my radar now.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A good cookie recipe

The read-what-you-want book club convenes here tomorrow, and I'll be setting these out. Not sure if you can tell from the hasty photograph, but these cookies are extremely thin and crisp and delicate. The kind that start out as tiny little blobs and spread out like mad while getting all bubbly and caramel-y. Very, very easy. And sort of healthy, because of the oatmeal. Here's the recipe:

Oatmeal Lace Cookies

1 c Rolled oats; quick-cooking
1/4 c All-purpose flour
1/2 ts Salt
1 1/2 ts Baking powder
1 c Granulated sugar
1/2 c Unsalted Butter; softened
1 Egg
1 ts Vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees; cover baking sheets with foil (or use Silpat or equivalent sheets), then coat with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, salt and baking powder; mix well with a wire whisk and set aside.

In a large electric mixer bowl, combine the sugar and butter and beat on medium speed to form a grainy paste. Add the egg and vanilla extract; beat until smooth. Add the flour mixture and blend just until combined.

Drop the dough by teaspoonfuls 2 1/2 inches apart onto the cookie sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden brown. Let cool (this is IMPORTANT - they will be very soft at first), then peel the cookies from the foil with your fingers. Be sure to respray the cookie sheets between batches. (Note: I used Silpat, didn't respray, and nothing untoward happened. Also, I was able to easily remove the cooled cookies with a thin metal spatula - no "peeling" needed.)

I baked the sheets one at a time on the top rack. Watch carefully so they don't get too dark. Makes about 40
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Monday, September 08, 2008

Guest photos

Daughter Z , back in LA, has just iphoned some of the photos she took of the gang.

So it wasn't all synchronized sliding. There was mini-golf, with G sinking impossible putts without ever putting down her purse. L thinks he's in Hawaii. C, newly interested in cooking and modeling her trendy new Hipchic outfit, prepared several wonderful meals for us. Here she's serving a sausage popover to H. Another night G and D took turns at the grill. Later there were Cranium matches - H and L were a formidable team. And checkers. Pigging out at Ginas - twice voted best bakery in NJ, and we could walk there, as well as to the market (middle bottom, taken by L) from H's house. Not shown: brunch at Raymonds, and, best of all, the amazing "helpers" - C and L - attacking my weedy brick path with vinegar, sharp knives, stone dust and a push broom for a truly professional result. Come back any time!
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Synchronized sliding

Can two posts in rapid succession make up for a long silence? Probably not, but I will never be more than an occasional blogger. So - whatever.

Earlier today I had drafted a cranky post that rambled on about how discouraged I was about the garden. The combination of the Adirondack trip, and a long visit from the daughters and grandkids made for too much garden neglect, and neglect is not good for gardens. But then I came across this reassuring post, in which another gardener confesses to having neglected HER garden. Not only that, but a stream of commenters chimed in to confess that they TOO had neglected their gardens. So now I feel better. Isn't that a very good thing about blogs?

Anyhow, I didn't think I had taken ANY photos when the children were here, but when I downloaded the egg pictures I found just this one, which reminded me of one of the favorite activities. Both of them appear here, about to embark on one of many "synchronized slides", with Aunt H "judging" from the sidelines: EIGHT POINT THREE! she would call out. "Eight point three!" C would exclaim to L, and they would swim to their respective ladders, climb to the top, and try again. And again, and again.

I can always catch up with the weeds and the mulch, but who would want to miss a minute of synchronized sliding?

Exotic eggs and locovores

Does every Whole Foods Store have an exotic egg section? A LOCAL exotic egg section? Well, I already know that the answer is NO, because the smallish one in Montclair doesn't. But here we are in the West Orange megastore, which is much more fun when one is in a wandering, browsing mode, which is me, most of the time.
So - these are cute! Little quail eggs. I can imagine some fancy ways one might use these.

The duck eggs are recommended for baking, and for custards. "Eggier", and a little larger than chicken eggs, apparently. Now these I might actually try.

But check out the ostrich eggs! One egg feeds ten to twelve, they claim - scrambled or in a giant omelet. Hmmm. Would that justify the $40 price tag? I wonder who buys these.

No such goings on at the more pedestrian A&P. Still, it seems everyone wants to buy stuff that's LOCAL. I read not long ago that Walmart (oddly, one store that simply isn't to be found anywhere around here) is now a buyer of local produce on a very large scale. This seems to me to be a very good trend.