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dangerous, bad, byron

We rejoin our hero . . .

Posted on 2009.09.10 at 09:49
Current Mood: tiredtired
Sam, working as a reference librarian at the public library, gets off at 5:00. On a certain Thursday last May, she would have been gone a few minutes earlier if not for a certain woman with a persistent and time-consuming question. Both she and I are very grateful for this woman now.

When I got to the library, I mentioned to her that I would be in Houston that summer, and so not able to work at the library as I had thought I might. Sam mentioned that she was getting off in just a couple of minutes. On impulse, and without any particular plans in mind, I asked if she was busy that night. As it turns out, she was not, and I suggested we watch a movie together. She gave me directions to her house, and we agreed that I would come over a little later that night.

I went home and continued getting ready for my trip to Houston and Sam went home, cleaned up her house a bit, and washed a couple of weeks' worth of dishes that had accumulated in the sink. I brought with me the movie Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. On the way, I was trying to figure out if this was a date or if we were just friends watching a movie . . . or what.

I got to her door at about 7:00.

dangerous, bad, byron

The story of us: Incidents while job hunting.

Posted on 2009.08.21 at 22:03
Last summer (2008), I had just finished the semester and I needed a summer job. I stopped by the public library one afternoon, as I frequently did, and mentioned this to the red-headed girl working at the reference desk. She mentioned that the library would be hiring a few people and thought I should apply. She also said that it would be great to have someone else close to her own age working there. I thought this didn't sound bad and picked up an application.

Shortly after I headed off to Houston for a couple of days to visit my sister's family. Since I have two nephews and two nieces just 150 miles away, I like to head west every once in a while to say hello. While I was there, Sue and Jack suggested that, as my summer job, I could stay out there and help watch the kids and the house, since both of them worked. Since I the two of them have done a great deal for me, I thought I should help them this way. However, I hadn't come out prepared to stay for the summer, so I headed back a few days later to pick up some more clothes, etc.

When I got back to Lake Charles, I realized that I wouldn't see this girl at the library for the rest of the summer. I didn't want her to think I just disappeared, so I thought I should stop by the library, say hello, and tell her what I was up to this summer.

I got to the library at about 5:00 that afternoon.

mad, Alice

Sweet, tart, and creamy

Posted on 2009.08.15 at 17:16
I finally made the lemon creme bruleé. The cooking is nearly identical to a standard, vanilla creme brulee, which I've done a couple of times before, and so I wasn't terribly worried about it.

Lemon Creme Bruleé

Lemon Creme Brulee

2 lemons
1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cinnamon stick (broken in half)
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar, plus
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 325°. From lemons, remove 6 strips peel (3" by 1" each)and squeeze 3 tablespoons juice.

2. In 1-quart saucepan, heat cream, cinnamon stick, and lemon peel over med.-high heat just until simmering. Remove saucepan from heat; cover and let stand 15 minutes. (Cream will develop a thin skin on top; whisk in when mixing into egg yolks.) Remove cinnamon stick and lemon peel; discard.

3. In large bowl, with whisk or fork, beat egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar, and salt until blended. Whisk for one minute (you don't want it to be grainy from the sugar, it should be smooth.) Beat in warm cream mixture and lemon juice. Pour custard in six 3-oz. broiler safe ramekins or custard cups.

4. Place ramekins in 13" by 9" baking pan, carefully pour boiling water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or just until set (mixture will still be slightly soft in center). Remove ramekins from baking pan; cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or until well chilled.

5. Up to 4 hours before serving, preheat broiler. In small bowl, combine cinnamon and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Sprinkle tops of chilled custards with sugar mixture.

6. Place ramekins on cookie sheet. Place cookie sheet with ramekins in broiler at closest position to source of heat and broil 1 to 2 minutes until sugar melts and browns slightly. Serve immediately or refrigerate up to 4 hours. If not served within 4 hours, sugar topping will lose its crispness.

I'm pleased with the result overall. They taste great. On the other hand, these cremes don't have the texture I've gotten with previous batches, which were generally thicker, and more like custard. This recipe simply says "sugar" for the topping, but I used turbinado sugar (which most of us see as "sugar in the raw" at Starbucks.) And, of course, instead of a broiler I used a blowtorch, which is the proper way to finish the crust. Other recipes I've seen have suggested that brown sugar can be used interchangeably with turbinado, but I disagree; brown sugar just scorches, turbinado (raw sugar) will melt and form a crisp, breakable crust.

As I said, the texture was noticeably different this time. There are two possible reasons for this, and I don't know yet which is the case. First, it's possible that this is because of the recipe. The addition of lemon juice might significantly change the texture. Second, it's also possible that it's because I used egg yolks that had been frozen. I added sugar before I froze them, which several sources said should keep from gelling wrong, but since I've never done this before myself, I don't know if that fixed it.

In any case, it still tasted good and I'll probably make it again sometime. On the other hand, there are other creme recipes out there yet for me to try. Tonight I'm making chocolate mint cookies for a friend's barbeque tomorrow. I've made these before, and they are excellent: tasty, thick, and chewy.

Zaklog the Kitchen-Master signing off. Enjoy the food.

bible, God

The ignorance of religion

Posted on 2009.08.11 at 07:35
Current Location: the Coffee Beanery
So as I've mentioned once or twice, I'm currently reading Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America as an audiobook. For anyone interested in what America is really about and how we got here, this is required reading. Tocqueville is an amazingly insightful (I'm )tempted to use the word prescient) writer who meticulously prepared his account of our young nation.

One thing I found it very interesting to learn in this book is that public education (and thus, the very concept of true public education) in America was founded with religious intent. The very idea that everyone, regardless of social status or wealth, should receive a certain basic level of education sprang from Christianity, and one of the strictest sects of Christianity at that. I'm not as confident of this, but I believe the European university system (thus extending to all Western higher education) began in the middle ages with the Catholic church. I know that the preservation of many classical Greek and Latin texts depended on Christian monasteries through the middle ages. In fact, when most of Europe was buried in ignorance in superstition, the church was one of the few areas where intellectual inquiry continued, however misguided we find many of their ideas today. Gregor Mendel, the founder of the science of genetics, was an Augustinian monk. The entire field of modern biology is in his debt. And he is hardly the only instance: Joseph Priestley, chemist and dissenting minister; John Bartram, father of American botany and Quaker; Blaise Pascal, mathematician and Christian apologist; René Descartes, philosopher and Christian apologist.

So, to those who equate religion with ignorance, I simply have to say, you don't know your history very well, do you?

My most recent cooking adventure is chicken tortilla soup, which Sam and I shared with her friends Jeff and Elaina. The actual cooking wasn't tough, but the prep time was a bit long. I was surprised just how filling this soup was. I don't think anyone needed more than the serving size suggested in the book, which was very good, because the recipe is for four servings. And for those of you who are counting calories, this recipe is about 100 calories per serving. It's spicy and chunky and . . . yum.

This recipe is taken from the Hungry Girl cookbook.

3 cups fat free chicken broth
4 ounces cooked lean skinless, boneless chicken breast, shredded
1 cup canned diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup canned sweet corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeño peppers
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon fajita seasoning mix
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
6 baked tortilla chips, crushed
optional toppings: cilantro, fat-free sour cream, low-fat shredded cheese

* In a medium pot sprayed with non-stick spray, onion, garlic, seasoning, and spices over medium heat until onions soften, 3 to 5 minutes.

* Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.

* Add the corn and diced tomatoes, and continue to cook for 5 minutes.

* Add chicken, jalapeño, and lime juice. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes to thoroughly blend flavors.

* Once ready to serve, top each serving with crushed chips and, if desired, cilantro, sour cream and/or cheese.

Good food.

Tomorrow I'm doing something just slightly less healthy than this, lemon creme brulée. This is at least partly because I need something to do with the egg yolks left after I made angel food cake a couple of weeks ago.

I've done creme brulée before, but I haven't done this flavoring. I've tried, actually, but I kind of forgot to add the lemon juice. Fortunately, against the written recipe, I had included a vanilla bean, so it still had a delicious flavor.

Zaklog the Kitchen-Master signing off. Enjoy the food.

funny, emu

My new hobby

Posted on 2009.08.03 at 21:49
For any of you who have seen Stranger Than Fiction, I feel quite a bit like Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal's character). For those who haven't seen the movie, Pascal owns and runs a bakery. She originally went to law school, but ended up dropping out and becoming a baker instead. She said that whenever they were having study nights (which I'm sure are frequent in law school), she would make cookies and snacks. Everybody loved the food she made, so she started looking up more recipes and kept making food, and more people came to the study nights and more people loved her food and she kept on putting more effort into it . . . until she dropped out of law school because she was nearly failing. Now, I didn't drop out because I was nearly failing, but I did go to graduate school and find a unexpected interest in cooking, and more specifically making cookies.

This is how it goes, as part of the McNeese MFA program, we would frequently have visiting writers come in to read their work. Whenever they did, we would have a party for them, and all the grad students were supposed to bring food. For the first one I brought some cookies and everyone kept telling me how great they were. So the next time, I looked up a recipe for snickerdoodles and made them. Again, everyone said they were great, and W.D. Snodgrass took some of them with him.

So I started finding more recipes, and bought a cookie recipe book. (By the way, when people know you like to bake, you can pretty rapidly stop buying yourself cookbooks, because other people will buy them for you until you have more than you could possibly use.) I developed the odd problem that I simply loved to make cookies, the process, not merely the end product, and I would make cookies and then I would need to find people to eat them.

So now I'm finished with my MA, and I'm still baking. My most recent project was angel food cake. I was telling my sister about wanting to make that, and she said there were great mixes out there that aren't a lot of work. I didn't know how to adequately explain to her that I didn't want a cake; I wanted to make a cake. (I did, by the way, complete an angel food cake from scratch; it turned out great.)

A few of the interesting recipes I've tried so far, in no particular order: shoofly pie, triple berry pudding cake, citrus creme cookies, chocolate mint cookies, lemon meringue pie (which I tried twice: the first time it tasted great but didn't gel, the second time the consistency was fine, but it didn't taste nearly as good (although everyone else thought it was good)), spicy pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, lemon surprise pudding . . . I could go on.

I'm thinking about posting some of these recipes and describing the end product, if you're interested, definitely let me know. I don't intend to turn this into a cooking blog, but it might be fun to write about sometimes.

hemingway, dark

We rejoin our hero

Posted on 2009.08.03 at 19:33
As a graduate student in English, I have two characteristics which were important to my getting to know Sam: I had little money and I loved to read. This meant I was an ideal candidate to visit the public library frequently. I didn't think much about it, but I did say hello to Sam whenever she was there, and we would sometimes talk a little bit, about her job or whatever.

As I said, I didn't think too much about it, but apparently a few other people did . . . once, after I left, one of Sam's co-workers asked Sam when I was going to ask her out. On another occasion, I ran into Sam and her mother while riding my bike around the local park. I said hello and we talked for a little bit. Theresa (Sam's mom) commented, "He's cute."

So I wasn't thinking anything about it, and I'm not sure what Sam's opinion was, but a few other people were thinking about it.

And the story will continue later.

mad, Alice

Of Goblins and rats

Posted on 2009.07.21 at 13:28
7. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald - I actually "read" this as an audiobook. I downloaded the audiobook from LibriVox, which I will describe further at the end of this post.

But to describe/review this book . . . George MacDonald wrote fairy stories, seasoned but not coated with Christianity. Considered by genre definitions, they are not, strictly speaking, allegories, but they contain much which can easily be read allegorically. They can also be read simply as entertaining adventures/fairy tales. In this one (and I find it interesting that this sort of thing most frequently pops up in fantasy written by Christians (at least, if you look back that far)) although there is a princess and she is in danger from the goblins, and there is a plucky young hero who opposes them, she does not wait passively for him to save her behind. In fact, at least once (and possibly twice, I don't recall right now) she saves his behind.

A fun story, if you enjoy fairy tales at all. For those who don't know, by the way, George MacDonald was a favorite author and major influence on both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (and is partially responsible for Lewis's return to Christianity.

8. The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett - Although it doesn't involve any of the recurring characters (except of course, Death) this book takes place on the Discworld. If you're not familiar with Terry Pratchett's writing, the Discworld is a British humor parody of the fantasy genre as a whole . . . well, it started out just as that; I don't think that summary does it justice any longer . . . anywho.

This is the story of a cat and a group of rats who through a magical accident became intelligent. Along with the help of a young boy who likes to play music, they work together to run a "rat piper" scam in various towns they travel through. At least, that's how things stand until they reach Bad Blintz. Here they find something truly terrible that transforms all of them. (They also meet a girl named Malicia Grim, a grand-daughter of the Grim sisters, writers of some disturbingly gory fairy tales (much like most fairy tales were before Disney got ahold of them) but I don't know if I want to describe characters in depth right now.)

If read attentively, this is a surprisingly deep book. It's an adventure story with talking animals, yes; but it's also a story about how community and morality are formed, what it means to be a leader, and why widdling on someone's grave isn't necessarily a bad thing. While I certainly think this book is worthy of awards, I'm amazed that it got a Carnegie Medal for children's books. Pratchett is almost always funny, but this is also a dark and occasionally disturbing book. . . . All that to say, highly recommended.

Books I didn't finish:
The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway - As I said, recommended by Sam solely on the basis of a recommendation by a famous librarian lady whose name I'm not sure of right now (but I know she has an action figure. (No, I'm not kidding.)) All I can really say is that I just never got into it. I read about 20 pages, and that was enough. I can't say it's bad as in poorly done, but just not to my taste.

The Book of Snobs by William Makepeace Thackeray - An odd book of social satire on the various snobs of 19th century British society, including snobs clerical, academic, literary, Irish snobs, club snobs, country snobs. It's kind of an odd experience, because I found this really funny sometimes, but it's a very intellectual humor, because I obviously don't have real experience with the society he's satirizing.

Unfortunately, I lost this book one afternoon while shopping at Wal-Mart when I was nearly done. . . . Ah well.

Books I'm currently reading:
Poisons: From Hemlock to Botox and the Killer Bean of Calabar by Peter Maginnis - I'm reading this as research for a writing project I'm working on. It's both a history and popular science work about poisons of all kinds and various uses people have put them to over the centuries, including medical, cosmetic, and as a food additive. (No, that last part wasn't a mistake: A form of lead was frequently added to various foods as a sweetener.)

This book has a lot of interesting information, but it occasionally seems over-written. The author is sometimes intrusively clever, or goes off on unrelated tangents. One thing I will say, I'm aware the agency is not perfect, but reading this has made me immensely grateful for the Food and Drug Administration.

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville - Another LibriVox audiobook. Tocqueville was an amazingly insightful historian/social scientist of the nineteenth century. Most of what I knew about him before starting this book is that Tocqueville, writing in 1840, predicted that the world would before long be dominated by two major powers: America and Russia. To those lacking a sense of history, this prediction may not seem remarkable, but at the time, people must have looked thought him insane. Both countries were considered insignificant backwaters.

The writing (and translation, to give due credit) is wonderful. Tocqueville takes a very sweeping view of history, almost Marxist in seeing a natural and inevitable progression of all cultures towards equality (not in his economic views as far as I know.) Anywho, very interesting.

And now to clarify something I mentioned some time ago: LibriVox is a group of people creating free audiobooks of various works in the public domain. Any or all of the LibriVox catalog can be downloaded entirely for free. The really interesting part is this: This work is done entirely by volunteers, and anyone with a microphone and some basic sound editing software is free to join in and record. Being the kind of person who loves to be in the spotlight whenever possible, I immediately jumped in and started recording. For those of you who are interested, my own contributions can be heard here. If you decide to record something yourself, let me know. I'd like to hear it.

bible, God

The tale begins . . .

Posted on 2009.07.06 at 17:12
Current Mood: touchedwhimsical
Once there was a lonely grad student living in a city over a thousand miles from home. Since this grad student did not have wireless internet at home (and his laptop kind of sucked anyways), he would frequent the local public library.

At this library worked a wise and beautiful red-haired reference librarian. One day, upon finding an amusing quotation concerning librarians, the lonely grad student shared this bit of wit with the red-haired librarian. She found it tremendously amusing also, and remembered the grad student after he had left.

And now children, I have to say goodnight. We will continue this story another time.

dangerous, bad, byron

A few more books

Posted on 2009.07.02 at 20:37
Current Location: Lake Charles
Current Music: MC Lars - "Mr. Raven"
4. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman- This book is by a Christian marriage counsellor about how each of us expresses and understands love. Chapman says there are five basic ways we do this, and if people don't "speak love" to us in our own language, we're not going to feel loved. This, he believes, is at the center of many problems in marriages today. If we can come to understand and speak our spouse's love language, we'll find it much easier to get along.

(If my language sounds a bit skeptical, it's because when it comes to things like informal psychology, I'm reluctant to jump on board unconditionally. I don't necessarily disbelieve it, but we'll see.)

The 5 languages are 1. Words of affirmation 2. Acts of service 3. Quality time 4. Gifts 5. Physical touch. I won't go into detail about each of these, but I will say to his credit, Dr. Chapman provides examples of how each of these works from his own counselling experience.

(Oh, I read this because Sam asked me to. Interestingly, she has not finished it herself. I'm not going to hold this over her too much though; she's taking summer classes whereas I'm done with school (for the moment.))

5. Introducing Semiotics by Paul Cobley and Litza Jansz - One of the "Introducing . . ." series, a set of illustration-heavy books intended to give an intelligent layman a grasp of the basic concepts of various fields.

In this case, the book is a study of semiotics, the theory of how various signs mean, how meaning is constructed and what these signs ultimately refer to. Depending on which theorist you are listening to, a sign could be anything from a literal traffic sign to a word to a popular song to a cultural ritual to a symptom of an illness. The book describes the theories of various important figures such as Saussure, Lacan, Derrida, Pierce. I found this book surprisingly involving. I actually stopped reading the fantasy novel I had been in the middle of the finish this one.

6. Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko - The second in a series of Russian novels about magic-wielding Others who live among us. The Others are divided up into Light and Dark ones, valuing morality and personal freedom respectively. In this world, the two sides are in constant conflict, but basically restrained by an age-old treaty between them. The Light has the Night Watch to make sure that the Dark Ones abide by the treaty; similarly, the Dark has the Day Watch to monitor the actions of the Light.

Perhaps because of their origin in Russia, these novels feel very different than most other fantasy fiction I've read. They spend much more time on the thought and feelings of the small players. There's the constant sense that all of these people are pieces in a much larger game that they don't entirely comprehend. Also, nothing turns out as expected. The novels seem to be building to a grand conclusion and then, just at the end, swerve off of that. It doesn't feel like a Shyamalan "twist" or a cheap trick; it's genuinely earned. If you are even slightly interested in fantasy writing, these are worth looking into.

The movies made from these, by the way, are pretty good too. A disclaimer there, though: The Night Watch and Day Watch movie actually represent the first two sections of the first novel. The first movie is pretty faithful to the plot of the book, but the second one seriously diverges.

Current reading:
The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway - This was suggested by Sam, who in heard about Nancy Pearl. I honestly can't say much about it at all because I'm only ten pages in and I deliberately have not read any of the jacket copy, etc. It's interesting so far . . . deliberately creating a slang somewhat like Firefly to give a sense of very different world. . . . We'll see.

I'm also listening to The Princess and the Goblin by George Macdonald on audiobook. I got that from Librivox by the way, an interesting project about which I'll say more later. And I'm reading Ender's Game aloud for Sam because she likes listening to me read. (This, I have to admit, is among the more flattering requests I've had in my life.)

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