Monthly Archives: February 2010

Paperback Reader

Barring snowstorm #278 of the year, I am flying to Ireland in less than twelve hours! I am going with my old friend Erin (the girl who taught me how to tie my shoes, as a matter of fact), who came up from a very snowy DC last night.

As usual, it took me about 15 minutes to pack for the trip, and several hours to mull over and finally decide which books to bring. Here are the ones that are coming along:

The Secrets of a Fire King: Stories, by Kim Edwards (author of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter)

Winter in Madrid, by C.J. Sansom – a Hanukkah present from Dad

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman – borrowed from my roommate, on the emphatic recommendation of Caitlin at NeverwhereCalling.

Persuasion, by Jane Austen – more than one friend has said that as much as she loved Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion is her favorite. Erin is bringing this, and I plan to purloin it temporarily.

And, so we’re not relying entirely on printouts from Google and the kindness of strangers, Lonely Planet’s Ireland. It’s just now occurring to me that a travel guide to Ireland ought to have lush green hillsides on the cover and not what looks like tidepools, but it seems pretty useful, so here’s hoping! It’s a small country, we can’t get too lost…

What I’ve been reading: The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross; The Secrets of a Fire King, Kim Edwards
What I’ve been listening to: songs from Hair, Once On This Island, Wicked, A Man of No Importance

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Snickerdoodles

Ready for a cookie with no redeeming health value whatsoever? Meet the snickerdoodle! It’s so much fun to say, you can forget you’re eating a concoction that is basically pure butter, sugar, and flour. At least eggs and cinnamon are healthy…and who knows what cream of tartar actually is? Maybe it’s good for you too. (All right, I caved and looked it up. So much for preserving the mystery: cream of tartar is potassium bitartrate, also known as potassium hydrogen tartrate, or KC4H5O6. Well, maybe the mystery is preserved after all! Interesting trivia fact: it is a “vital ingredient” in both Play-Doh and gingerbread house icing. Who knew? Thanks, Wikipedia!)

Anyway, let’s not lose sight of the main point here, which is: delicious cookies.

Ingredients
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
2 eggs
2 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 Tbsp cinnamon

Assemble your ingredients and preheat the oven to 350 F. Beat the butter and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar together. Beat in eggs. Slowly add in the flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar. Separately, in a small bowl, combine the cinnamon with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Form the dough into balls about one inch in diameter; if the dough is sticky, try wetting your hands with cold water. Roll each ball of dough in the cinnamon-sugar mixture and place it on a greased baking sheet, or a baking sheet with parchment paper over it. Bake 10-15 minutes, until they flatten out a bit.

This recipe – from the Winter 2005 issue of Fine Cooking magazine – makes exactly three dozen cookies. (I tested it last night! Didn’t take pictures though, so you’ll just have to imagine…or make them yourself.)

What I’m reading: The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross; Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke
What I’m listening to: The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Barenaked Ladies, Jimmy Eat World, Andrew Norsworthy, Third Eye Blind, the Beatles, Philip Glass

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Sunapee, New Hampshire

For someone who spent many formative years in Southern California, saying that it’s counter-intuitive to walk out on a frozen lake is an understatement.

Tentatively at first…

Then a little more confidently.

Saturday night the skiers were hungry, so we made a feast.

Fun with wine glass and focus.

The house we were staying in had a few beautiful quilts on the walls.

Pretty blues…

Blue and yellow.

When it came time to make cinnamon rolls on Sunday morning, we realized we were short on butter, so I made a run to the cute little General Store, where they keep all their eggs in one basket.

The Swede made (what else) Swedish pancakes, which were suspiciously similar to crepes in appearance and deliciousness.

Cinnamon rolls!

Grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.

And French toast for breakfast on Monday. Happy Presidents’ Day, everyone!

Tomorrow is my birthday, and on Friday, weather permitting, I leave for Ireland for a week. I shall return with many pictures of wet green countryside…and, hopefully, the Cliffs of Insanity (pictures of the Cliffs, that is, not the Cliffs themselves. They wouldn’t fit in the overhead bin.)

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How the World Works

As most everyone is aware, here in New York we had some snow recently. (Yeah, DC, we know – not as much as you had.) For some reason, this particular storm was talked up to a wild extent: school closings for Wednesday were announced on Tuesday, and the Powers That Be also warned of closing the Lincoln Tunnel and the LIRR. In the past, it has seemed that preemptive school closings have jinxed the expected amount of snow, and everyone ends up trying to go sledding when there are only two inches out there, but in this case, the snow – about 10 inches – arrived on time and fell as promised. (Hey, the weathermen – excuse me, weatherpeople – have to be right SOMETIMES.) And most miraculous of all, our office was closed, and we had a snow day!

Let me repeat that: WE HAD. A SNOW DAY. Our office has never been closed for weather-related reasons, and I know there have been bigger storms than this since I’ve worked here. Not that I am complaining AT ALL, because snow days are, if not the best thing in the world, then definitely somewhere on the top ten list.

I celebrated by staying in bed a couple hours later than usual, eating birthday cake for breakfast, and watching the movie Snatch for the 182nd time. It was a good day.

The real world intruded on my happy little snow paradise yesterday, in that I had to go to work as usual, then race home in order to do laundry before the laundromat closed, and, while I was waiting for the laundry, dig out the car. So I trundled my bag of laundry to the laundromat three blocks away, and asked the man there if it would be all right if I borrowed one of their snow shovels (most businesses here keep a shovel handy for clearing their patch of sidewalk). He said that was fine, so I took a big plastic shovel and went to work.

I should have taken before-and-after pictures, but I didn’t have my camera with me. It really wouldn’t have been that bad – the snow was deep, but light and fluffy – if I hadn’t been plowed in, but of course that’s what happens with street parking. There’s a wall of snow up to your thigh and two or three feet wide, and the  bottom six inches (at least) are pretty much solid ice. At least after last time I knew which spots I had to concentrate on clearing; I dug for forty minutes, returned to the laundromat to move clothes from the washer to the dryer, then went back to digging.

About half an hour into Round Two, a man who had been clearing his steps across the street came over with a metal shovel and a small sharp blade attached to a stick. (I’m sure this has a name too, and I’d know it if I grew up somewhere where chopping ice was required on a regular basis, but as it is I’m going to go with “blade on a stick.”) He started in chopping up that base layer of ice, while I cleared away the chunks with my shovel, thanking him profusely all the while. Soon enough there was enough space to get out, but we stood and talked for a moment. I asked him his name and introduced myself, and thanked him again, and then he gave this little monologue in accented English about how helping each other is what makes America – “or any country” – great, and how he had a daughter my age and maybe somewhere out there someone would help her. “That’s how it works,” he said.

I was blown away. Is there someone like this on every street in Brooklyn, or am I just lucky? I don’t know. I do know that “Random Acts of Kindness” is in Chicken Soup for the Soul stories and on bumper stickers and is considered cliche – but sometimes cliches exist for a reason, no? This man was so sincere, and I was, again, so grateful. It made me think of the movie Pay It Forward (2000), and how seemingly small acts can have such a large effect on one’s mood, one’s day, how one goes forth into the world to interact with others.

What I’m reading: Karma and Other Stories, Rishi Reddi; The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross; Parliament of Whores, P.J. O’Rourke
What I’m listening to: Stateside, Andrew Norsworthy; Reconstruction Site, the Weakerthans

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Top Secret and Classified Chocolate Cake

This recipe is, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, secret.

So basically these pictures are just to taunt you.

Unless you are going to the same Super Bowl/birthday party I am…

…in which case, this is just a preview.

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Banana Bread

What do you do when bananas go brown faster than you can eat them? There are a few solutions. One is to get a monkey, but as everyone knows, monkeys are trouble. The second, more low-maintenance solution is to make banana bread.

Ingredients
4 Tbsp sour cream
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
2-3 brown or black bananas
1/4-1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/4 cup chocolate chips (optional)
cinnamon

First, combine the sour cream and baking soda in a small bowl. Stir together and let sit off to the side while you…

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl, and add in eggs and vanilla. Then add the sour cream gradually, alternating with the flour and salt. Add the bananas and mix in thoroughly.

Grease a single loaf bread pan and pour half of the bread mixture in. Then sprinkle half the chopped nuts and chocolate chips evenly over the surface and dust with cinnamon. Pour the rest of the mixture into the pan, then draw squiggles with a knife (to mix the nuts and chocolate chips in). Add the rest of the nuts and chocolate chips for the topping.

Bake at 350 F for 75 minutes – top should be springy.

I completely forgot the cinnamon this time around, and I also forgot to reserve any nuts/chips for the topping – it’s all the in the middle – but it was yummy anyway.

What I’m reading: The Rest is Noise, Alex Ross
What I’m listening to: Bach (Cello Suites), Chopin (Etudes), The Specials, The Wallflowers, Andrew Norsworthy

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When Words Are Not Enough

Recently, my friend Caitlin over at Neverwhere Calling (There Are Alligators in the Sewers) told me about the Alaskan artist Andrew Norsworthy. I listened to a few of the songs on his MySpace page, a couple times each, and suddenly they were living in my head twenty-four hours a day; I’d wake up in the morning with “Stardust Motel” or “Sweetness” already playing. After a few days of that, I surrendered and bought the 2005 album Stateside, and I’ve been listening to pretty much since then. The music is great; it’s sticky without being poppy or repetitive or too simple, it’s dreamy without being spineless or sappy. But the lyrics are what keep leaping out at me. For example:

From “Stardust Motel”: “Stop the arguing, please / I was working on the memory of the rhythm of her breathing / when she’s fast asleep / so much sweeter than the sound of people disagreeing…”

From “Centralia”: “You had a dream you were dreaming, what a scare / I had a dream about leaving, you were there”

From “Falling is Faster”: “Now I’m pressing petals down, one flower at a time / in the phone book of the town I just left behind / I could try my hand at paint, when words are not enough /  for the uncertainty of waiting for the urgency of love…”

From “Promise”: “You came awake and you were shaking lying safe inside my arms / in the cradle of a dream just before my sleep was gone”

From “She Was A Bruise”: “She was a bruise, blue and fading / I was news for which no one was waiting”

Not too shabby on their own; but with music underneath the words come alive. I highly recommend him, especially if you like Joshua Radin, The Poem Adept, or Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band (that last one’s a bit of a stretch, but a note or a word now and then on Stateside brought them to mind).

What I’m reading: A Gate At the Stairs, Lorrie Moore
What I’m listening to: Stateside and singles, Andrew Norsworthy

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