Monday, November 3, 2008

Fingers Crossed

So just what kind of a paragraph is THIS?!?

“And there must be something about San Francisco and he,” she continued, drawing laughter and cheers from the crowd. “Because it’s like I heard on Fox News today, it’s like a truth serum, where when he’s there he seems to be more candid. Remember it was there that he talking about, there you go, the bitter clingers. The cling-ons, all of us, I guess, hanging on to religion and guns.”

That's Sarah Palin, quoted on

I would just like to say that in addition to any number of other things I'm voting for or against, I am most certainly voting against terrible grammar, usage, and composition in statements like this. In part because it is insidious, and affects my own writing, as this post demonstrates!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Great Composers All Around Us

...and we didn't even know it! I just ran across this in the Grove Dictionary of Music:
It takes a great composer to create a fine set of variations, because this does not demand pure invention so much as the ability to see the underlying possibilities of a single idea. Lesser composers can construct their music by the use of more material, which provides the opportunity for contrast. Nevertheless, a continuous succession of new ideas will not prove satisfying, so repetition of some sort is necessary.

By that definition, that means that any number of us who play Irish trad are great composers. Go us!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Saturday Afternoon Procrastination Roundup

So, does anyone else out there wonder why Hillary Clinton is "Hillary," but Sarah Palin is "Palin"? It's starting to sound like Goldilocks' dilemma: one is too "intimidating" (read: competent, per Judith Warner's "The Mirrored Ceiling" in the NYT the other day) and the other one needs not to sound quite as hockey mom-ish....

But back to food....

I just ate a simple but wonderful concoction that I'm a little embarrassed to post about, because it's such a no-brainer. But it was good. Quinoa, a handful of arugula chopped, some basil leaves chopped, half a tomato, and a glug of Newman's Italian dressing (yeah, I'm lazy. But it's humid and I'm technically hard at work under a couple of looming deadlines).

And last night, I made a frittata. It was good, but what made it noteworthy was that except for the eggs, the main ingredients all came from leftovers I brought home from the department party the other night. Spot the grad student!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Food on its Way to Becoming Food

The Livestock Marketing Association now has sound files of the winners of its annual World Livestock Auctioneer Championship online here. Hot damn!

(Thanks to Ben for sending me the link!)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

It's the end of the summer, and the grad school stipend checks don't start again until September 15th, so I'm playing that game well known to grad students the world over: creative food combinations. It worked brilliantly the other night in the Dracula Pasta, and again tonight in the Cup of Leftover Rice Stakes.

I didn't want flied lice tonight, even though I've got ingredients for a killer one, so was thinking about beans and rice. Easy and cheap, but then I started digging around in the flotsam and jetsam of the fridge, and discovered some capers, a few olives, and a few thoroughly wilted basil leaves. And a Peroni beer! Score!

So I sauteed half an onion and a lot of garlic, added a zucchini, seasoned with oregano. Then fecked in some capers, a can of chickpeas, and after that had heated through, I added the leftover rice and the basil. Delicious. The capers make it. A few olives would have been nice, but I was too hungry to think of dealing with pits en route to the rest of the dish. The Peroni is a nice accompaniment, and I think the leftovers of Rice Capers, Mediterranean Style, will be just as good cold for some meal tomorrow.

And now back to work. I am saying that I'm not busy--I just have a lot of stuff to do.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Eventually is Now, or, Making Friends with Beetroot

So J left tonight for a month away, so as is becoming customary, I spent part of my first evening batching it cooking something improbable, something I wasn't sure would be even remotely edible by me (I based it on a recipe I found, so clearly someone likes it!).

I was curious about all the buzz about beet greens, so I bought a bunch of beets today in order to get the greens, which are related to chard, which is my good buddy. So what to do with the beets themselves? Initially, I planned to make a variation on my "deconstructed pesto with greens" pasta dish, but then I started wondering--can I actually use the beets in a pasta dish too?

Mind ye, I am a very hard sell on the tastiness of beetroot. After being force-fed pickled beets as a kid, I was decidedly NOT a fan. But in Paris last summer, I was served a very palatable beet salad, and have been tentatively trying to reconsider my hatred ever since. So I can deal with beets in a juice blend now, but this was the first time I have actually enjoyed eating the things.

Here's what I did for one serving of what I'm going to call "Dracula Was There" Pasta (S, you'll appreciate that!). The original recipe is here:

1. I sauteed 1 small beet with 2 shallots, and added 3 cloves of garlic a few minutes after I'd started sauteeing.

2. I fecked in about a cup of vegetable stock and about a teaspoon of rice wine vinegar (the original recipe has lemon juice, but the sad little lemon I found in the basket had no business being in anything but the bin),

3. While all that (and my pasta) was going, I chopped about 2 handfuls of beet greens and some parsley and basil. I added that in after the stock had reduced to almost nothing, and let the greens wilt.

4. I stirred in the pasta--penne was not ideal (something non-tubular would have been much better)--and served it with parmesan cheese on top.

It was gorgeous, and didn't even really taste like the beets I knew and hated. Strangely, it was saltier than I'd expected (I didn't add any salt at all), and I'm wondering if my iron skillet is so saturated with soy sauce that I got a little residual flavor from that. Whatever it was, it worked.

Fun New Blog

Eventually I'll get around to writing some kind of update, or reporting on some cooking adventure, but for the moment, the school year is about to begin, and in the lip-bitingly overquoted words of Emeril, I'm having to kick my life up a notch (luckily, without needing the help of a mundane collection of spices that relies heavily on garlic salt, if memory serves).

Anyway--for now, I give y'all friend and fellow ethnomusicologist Elizabeth Keenan's new blog, Flotsam on the Stream of Pop Consciousness. And to make it even better, Elizabeth actually is from New Orleans, unlike His Essenceness.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

If it's Tuesday....

The last couple of weeks have been many and variegated.

Ok, that doesn't make much sense, but then again, it does: I left London on July 5, stayed in Ennis one night, went out to Doolin, commuted to Miltown for the Willie Clancy from Doolin, came back to Ennis for a few days, and then came to Dublin yesterday. In all likelihood, I will only add to this kind of disjointed narrative in the coming weeks, but at the moment, I have access to wireless internet, so I'm taking advantage of it, if only to say that internet is a rare occurrence for me here at the moment!

Which means that cooking successes don't get blogged about until much later, like the stew Lauren & I made at the hostel in Doolin. It was a little random--partly designed to use up ingredients--but it was fabulous:

4 or 5 smallish regular potatoes
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 leeks (?) and some garlic, sauteed in butter
3 small red peppers, roasted
vegetable stock
a little ground coriander
salt & pepper

Definitely more than the sum of its parts. It needed some oregano, but did fine without, and we crumbled feta cheese on top.

I'm proud to say that I did not have to resort to chips at all during the week.

Eating in Dublin has been fabulous as well, but I'll leave those descriptions for another time. Suffice to say that Lauren & Dan have been feeding me well!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Thinking About Food

I have not been eating well here in London, and it's caught up with me. There, I've said it. Because this place comes with a functioning kitchen (albeit no pots, pans, or dishes), I feel like a bit of a moron having come to this, my second-to-last evening, having eaten only one meal cooked by me, and not some restaurant (in the best case) or, in the worst, by Sainsbury's, Marks & Spencer, or Waitrose.

Call it an experiment in modern life, or call it just plain foolish: whatever its name, these two weeks have got me thinking even more about what I'm eating, and how.

By comparison with most other Americans & Brits, my diet has been fairly virtuous: yoghurt and oat crackers for breakfast, some sort of vegetarian (but not vegan) packaged sandwich for lunch, and for dinner, the prepared food du jour, which on various nights has been pizza, roast chicken & mashed potatoes, various curries (see previous post), or, occasionally, a meal out (a "regular" Indian vegetarian thali, a South Indian vegetarian thali, and pasta with smoked salmon). These meals I have supplemented lightly with apples and more oat cakes, the occasional stroopwafel, and lattes. So I'm not eating at the chipper every day, or drowning in spaghetti bolognaise, or getting all my calories from beer. Nor am I stuffing myself with cakes and sweets.

But all the packaged, not-cooked-by-me food is taking its toll. I'm not sure whether the damage is more psychic or physical: surely having most of my meals come from plastic is not a good plan, and I notice some hormonal weirdnesses I attribute to environmental factors, of which the plastic is certainly one. And of course, I've had the first migraines I've had since I left Cambridge in March. But for someone who cooks at home (or eats home-cooked food) most of the time, there's something very odd and disconcerting about not doing so, about feeling unusually alienated from the kitchen.

Anyway, all this is by way of introducing tonight's meal, which was a little random, but delicious and, I think, a much better plan than anything from a plastic tray.

Tonight, as I left the British Library, I was extremely nauseated and felt weak. Hmmm, what to eat? I suspected I needed some protein, and have also realized that my diet over here has included virtually no soy and no sweet potatoes, and I was craving the latter. So I got a couple of sweet potatoes, some cashews (couldn't find raw, so had to get roasted and salted), and some firm goats' cheese. I baked the potatoes, and inserted slices of the cheese into one of the potatoes (the other I put in the fridge for breakfast tomorrow), and ate some of the cashews while the potatoes were baking. I think it's the best meal I've had since I got to England!

I can't say my dinner will have cured everything, but it certainly didn't hurt.

In other news, I've missed a couple of days in the library, but I'm otherwise well satisfied with the work I've gotten done here.

And I'm still Not Reading the Kee book--but I am reading an entertaining novel about Rome by Stephen Saylor, whose historical novels I highly recommend for anyone with that sort of bent (thanks to Sophie for turning me on to his work).

Monday, June 30, 2008

Paddy Canny, RIP

I just got the news in this morning's email--no details yet, but he had been ill recently, and in hospital around the time Kitty Hayes died a couple of months ago.

(For those of you reading who aren't in the Irish trad scene, Paddy was a fiddler, and Kitty a concertina player. Both were of, as they say, an advanced age, and both were great musicians.)

I would not be at all surprised if Claire Keville does a tribute to Paddy on her radio show either on Clare FM this Tuesday or next. The show begins at 7pm Irish time, and I think it's archived online for a week afterward.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Night Roundup

...although I suppose I need a fairly large corral if I'm truly going to do a roundup: far too many days have passed since I waxed rhapsodical about Alison Krauss and Robert Plant! So this will be the short-attention-span-roundup.

I'm now in London, after spending last weekend in Clare, getting over jetlag and partying a bit (I had a nice session Saturday night back at the old scene at the Crosses of Annagh, after watching Holland get beaten by Russia in the Euro Cup). I arrived in London Monday afternoon and started settling into my fairly grotty dorm room near King's Cross. So far, it's fine (fine in the American sense: just about on the positive side of acceptable), and it suits my purposes--and the location's perfect for me, since I'm dividing my time between the St. Pancras and Colindale branches of the British Library.

I won't go into the various (non-dealbreaker) problems with the accommodation, except to say that it costs about $12 more per night to be furnished with cooking equipment for the fairly decent kitchen down the hall. So my cooking, if it can be called that, has been fairly minimal. I have been meaning to buy some cooking vessel (saucepan? wok?) since I got here, but have been too fried in the evenings to even think of cooking, so I've slipped back down the ready meals slope (though I'm microwaving them in a bowl I bought). So far, this is a dismal idea altogether, with one remarkable exception: Sainsbury's pizza with ricotta, spinach pesto, and sundried tomatoes. Foodie friends, I *promise* I am going to get out of this rut! I have decided that I Do Not Need to Know which supermarket curries are the best--though I hesitate to use the word "best," because it implies some suggestion of "good," and these most definitely have not been. (I have had better food on airplanes.)

On a more pleasant topic, tonight I went to hear Emma Kirkby and company, with Cambridge's Trinity College choir, at St. John's Church in Smith Square. It was a lovely concert, and the setting was absolutely perfect--the church is fairly closely contemporary with the repertoire they performed (Handel's Chandos Anthems 7, 9, and 11). Handel's not my favorite ever--although I think his orchestration was cool, and I like some amount of the instrumental stuff (including the 'backing' for these pieces), I tend to prefer vocal music from earlier, and I found the sometimes banal lyrics a little distracting at times. Those are all small criticisms, though, and based on my own taste--for me, it wasn't a transcendental experience, just an evening delightfully spent. I wouldn't have minded hearing more of Emma Kirkby herself, although I did thoroughly enjoy the other soloists, particularly countertenor Iestyn Davies. And it didn't hurt that I got my ticket for 9 pounds through a deal they have to fill some seats on the side of the hall that don't have a great line of sight to the stage. I could actually see all the performers--the only drawback was that, in a hall without amplification, my position created something of an imbalance of sound, and I'm sure parts of it rung out better for those seated in more ideal locations. I was worried about that in the beginning, but it didn't wind up bothering me too much.

But London hasn't been all good concerts and bad curry. I've been working me arse off in the British Library, which is exhausting but exciting work that brings up as many--or more--questions than it answers.

So that's the news!

The Book I'm Not Reading: Robert Kee's The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One Damn Good Show

Last night, J & I went to see Alison Krauss and Robert Plant at Madison Square Garden--their second of two shows here. Fortuitous chance reminded us that the show was happening, and even more fortuitous chance pointed us toward StubHub, which still had some tickets for sale at a reasonable price. Yes, they were nosebleed, but it didn't matter. Damn, what a show.

I could wax rhapsodic all evening about it, but instead will paste in the review from the New York Times (the whole thing, with photo, is here). Lots of standout moments from the show--the old Zep stuff was fabulous, but the thought that struck me again and again was how *well* it all fits together--not at all merely a lamination of one style on top of another, but a melding of the copacetic parts of each style and repertoire that makes the material fit together like it's always been that way, just not ever as good as this. For example, I'm a longtime fan of Fairport Convention's take on "Matty Groves," but these guys did just as amazing a version as that (though it was somewhat truncated).

Anyway, here's what the Times said:

Harmonious Tension and Dueling Flaxen Locks

On “Raising Sand” (Rounder), the spooky, beautiful album they released last year, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss tilt toward each other from starkly different vantage points: heat-blistered arena rock (his) and coolly plaintive bluegrass (hers). Their material, scouted out by the producer T Bone Burnett, mines a deep, dark region of Americana somewhat familiar to them both. But their chemistry springs partly from contrast; even the most harmonious moments convey a subtle, fruitful tension.

Mr. Plant and Ms. Krauss approached common ground more literally at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, the first of two concerts there. Taking the stage from opposite wings, each assumed a stalking gait, like cartoon predators. Their pace had a parallel in “Rich Woman,” the R&B throwback that also opens the album. There was casual symmetry in their height and black attire, and in their flaxen manes.

Things loosened, and quickened. The next song up was “Leave My Woman Alone,” a spunky admonition by Ray Charles; Ms. Krauss grabbed her fiddle, and Mr. Plant sang bracingly over a two-step groove. Then came “Black Dog,” a classic by Led Zeppelin, Mr. Plant’s old band. Arranged in a minor key for banjo, acoustic bass and guitar, it felt muted but menacing, especially as both singers arced their voices upward with a harmonized “ah,” just before an instrumental squall.

“Welcome to the Raising Sand Revue,” Mr. Plant said after that song, summing up a basic truth about this tour. While plainly inspired by the album, it takes welcome liberties with repertory and tone. Mr. Burnett, leading a band of aces, including the drummer Jay Bellerose and the guitarist Buddy Miller, keeps the momentum crisp. The set list doesn’t appear to change much from night to night, which doesn’t suggest a lack of imagination so much as a sturdy formula. It’s working mightily, judging by Tuesday’s results.

As a revue the tour also favors the strengths of its headliners, in a way that “Raising Sand” doesn’t. So there were two more Led Zeppelin tunes, each a powerhouse. “Black Country Woman” had the band exploding at each emotional spur in the lyrics, and then subsiding until the next furious wave.

“The Battle of Evermore” was quieter but stronger, owing to its Celtic drone (a sound not far removed from Appalachia) and its female vocal part (which Ms. Krauss sang grippingly). And even on some songs from the “Raising Sand” album, Mr. Plant was rewardingly forceful: “Nothin,’ ” a Townes Van Zandt lament, found him caterwauling like his younger self.

Ms. Krauss had her own showcase, beginning with the traditional hymn “Green Pastures,” on which she received sparse support from Dennis Crouch on bass and Stuart Duncan on guitar. Then she pared down further, singing a serenely penetrating version of “Down to the River to Pray,” initially with no accompaniment at all. (Halfway through, Mr. Plant mock-tiptoed onstage to contribute to an a cappella gospel harmony.)

If this collaboration encourages Mr. Plant to be a bit more ethereal, it has certainly made Ms. Krauss seem earthier. Her characteristically sweet, high singing was balanced against more strident and cathartic belting. On “It’s Goodbye and So Long to You,” which doesn’t appear on “Raising Sand,” and “Trampled Rose,” which does, she proved she can wail as hard as anybody, even you know who.

Elsewhere there was better proof of a cohesive blend, as in the back-to-back closers: “Please Read the Letter,” a ballad by Mr. Plant, and “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On),” a classic by the Everly Brothers. Then there was the final encore: “Your Long Journey,” by Doc and Rosa Lee Watson. Ms. Krauss and Mr. Plant sang it exquisitely, with a somber intensity that they couldn’t possibly have summoned before they hit the road.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Some Food, and Kitty Hilarity (sort of)

Once again, from my postings (or lack thereof), you'd think we haven't been eating, haven't been cooking, or both. Not quite true, although the last few weeks have passed in a blur that meant "catch as catch can" for most meals.

Having said that, though, the new hit around here is a sort of deconstructed pesto & greens pasta dish I put together a couple of weeks ago and replicated yesterday. After all, we have to use up all that farfalle somehow!

In a big iron skillet: lots of garlic, some olive oil, a bunch of chopped chard (or arugula, which I used yesterday), a few leaves of fresh marjoram, a little salt, sauteed until the greens are done to taste. Then finely chopped basil stirred in in the last couple of minutes. Toss that with hot cooked farfalle, a handful of pine nuts, and possibly a bit of tomato and a few olives. Rennet-free parmesan for me, soy gouda for J, and it's a fabulous and fast lunch.

J has also been making hummus a lot lately, and that's been a treat.

As for the kitty: a simple annual checkup turned out to be a day-long ordeal yesterday when she went ballistic in the examining room and had to be sedated. If that weren't bad enough (both that she & all the people involved had to go through it, and that it was expensive!), it's taken her a long time to come down from the sedative and the drug they give to reverse its effects. I do confess that I found her stumbling around a bit funny, and what seemed to be some kitty hallucinations hilarious: she was convinced last night that my cd binder was her mortal enemy, and this morning she was growling at J's bag of clothes to be drycleaned.

Luckily, she's fine now, and the checkup didn't turn up anything wrong, although we haven't gotten blood test results back yet.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Go, California!!!!

Need I say more?

Except that Miss J just happened to fly to San Francisco today for a conference at Stanford this weekend, and has been celebrating in the streets since noon! I sure wish I could be there with her, but who knew that today would be the day? Now let's just hope the conservative dumbasses don't go all out to reverse the ruling.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"The Extraterrestrial Is My Brother"

This from Yahoo news today...and I have a lot of questions for this Rev. Funes. For example, why is the extraterrestrial necessarily male? Is the little green gal his sister? What if she happens to be a big ol' dyke who wants to be a cardinal? What if Brother ET is already among us in the form of, say, a parasitic worm? Does brotherhood really extend that far? Uhhhh....

Vatican: It's OK to believe in aliens

By ARIEL DAVID, Associated Press WriterTue May 13, 4:07 PM ET

Believing that the universe may contain alien life does not contradict a faith in God,the Vatican's chief astronomer said in an interview published Tuesday.

The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, was quoted as saying the vastness of the universe means it is possible there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones.

"How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?" Funes said. "Just as we consider earthly creatures as 'a brother,' and 'sister,' why should we not talk about an 'extraterrestrial brother'? It would still be part of creation."

In the interview by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Funes said that such a notion "doesn't contradict our faith" because aliens would still be God's creatures. Ruling out the existence of aliens would be like "putting limits" on God's creative freedom, he said.

The interview, headlined "The extraterrestrial is my brother," covered a variety of topics including the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and science, and the theological implications of the existence of alien life.

Funes said science, especially astronomy, does not contradict religion, touching on a theme of Pope Benedict XVI, who has made exploring the relationship between faith and reason a key aspect of his papacy.

The Bible "is not a science book," Funes said, adding that he believes the Big Bang theory is the most "reasonable" explanation for the creation of the universe. The theory says the universe began billions of years ago in the explosion of a single, super-dense point that contained all matter.

But he said he continues to believe that "God is the creator of the universe and that we are not the result of chance."

Funes urged the church and the scientific community to leave behind divisions caused by Galileo's persecution 400 years ago, saying the incident has "caused wounds."

In 1633 the astronomer was tried as a heretic and forced to recant his theory that the Earth revolved around the sun. Church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.

"The church has somehow recognized its mistakes," he said. "Maybe it could have done it better, but now it's time to heal those wounds and this can be done through calm dialogue and collaboration."

Pope John Paul declared in 1992 that the ruling against Galileo was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension."

The Vatican Observatory has been at the forefront of efforts to bridge the gap between religion and science. Its scientist-clerics have generated top-notch research and its meteorite collection is considered one of the world's best.

The observatory, founded by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, is based in Castel Gandolfo, a lakeside town in the hills outside Rome where the pope has a summer residence. It also conducts research at an observatory at the University of Arizona, in Tucson.

But really. It's great that the Vatican is echoing Jodie Foster's line from Contact that if we're the only ones in the universe, it's an awful waste of space.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Pasta Salad, Anyone?

Occasionally, J & I order from Fresh Direct, which allows us to lay in heavy dry goods like flour and cat litter without having to carry them home. But Fresh Direct giveth and Fresh Direct taketh away: sometimes they mess up the order a little. So far, none of the mistakes (except for giving us a box of Uncle Ben's Perverted Rice) have been bad enough to complain about--in fact, we once got a free 6-pack of beer!--and it's kind of fun to wonder if, or how, FD will make a mistake this time.

I think this week's substitution is a little funny. Among other things, I ordered a box of linguine, a box of farfalle, and a jar of white vinegar (the cheap stuff, to clean with). The linguine arrived, but no vinegar, and instead of one box of farfalle:

Some poor soul out there was going to make a big huge pasta salad, and got my vinegar instead!

The kitty, of course, has been hard at work lately:

This is just begging for a LOLCATS caption. Any ideas, y'all?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cabbage and Leek Gratin: SO Not Vegan

...and it's not much of a looker, but it's delicious.

I pulled this (almost) entire from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Suppers cookbook, which J's parents gave me for my birthday last year. Here it is with Deborah Madison's proportions, but mostly my prose:

1 1/2 pounds green cabbage, Savoy if possible, chopped into 2" squares
3 fat leeks, white parts only, quartered & chopped
1/3 cup flour
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sour cream
3 eggs
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or dill

1. Preheat oven to 350 and butter or oil a 6-cup gratin dish (I used a glass pie plate)

2. Put water on to boil for the cabbage, and when it boils, add some salt and the cabbage and leeks & boil for 5 minutes. After that, press as much water out of the vegetables as possible so it doesn't dilute the custard (I squeezed the water out using a lint-free tea towel).

3. Whisk the flour, milk, sour cream, eggs, and herbs together, then add the veg. Season with salt. Pour into the dish and bake until firm and lightly browned, about 45 minutes.

Now, what I did differently: the major difference is that I used marjoram instead of the the parsley or dill--mainly because I was in the mood for marjoram, and also because I think it goes nicely with egg. I also added about 3/4 cup white cheddar to the mix, in part because I was not planning to make the mustard cream sauce that DM suggests to go alongside it (though that would be good, too--I just didn't have any shallots or white wine vinegar in the house).

I also just realized that I think I only put in 1/3 cup of milk, too, but it worked out beautifully anyway. I can't think how the extra milk would have changed much about it, though maybe it'd have been creamier. Anyway, no loss!

Making it again, I would continue to use the marjoram, but I would also consider making a breadcrumb crust for a little textural contrast. This one doesn't want a full-blown crust, I think. But DM is right about Savoy cabbage being a better choice than quotidian green cabbage. The cheddar was a nice choice, but for those of you out there who don't have to avoid rennet I can see various delightful variations on the theme. I think Cheshire would have been perfect in this, but I couldn't find any. And if I weren't allergic to pork, I think a bit of bacon would add a lot.

Now, because this recipe is SO not vegan, I expect I may be attempting a lactose-free version for J sometime soon! So I wonder if substituting silken tofu for the sour cream and soy milk for the milk would work. In that case, I think I would use dill instead of marjoram to compensate for the tofu's blandness.

The whole thing was very quick & easy to assemble, and the baking required no attention at all.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Goth Chicken

According to its package, that chicken enjoyed her life. I made sure she--or, at least, I--enjoyed her afterlife. If I had known that carcass was going to contribute to as much and as various deliciousness, I'd have documented it along the way, but I had other things on the mind, like passing my dissertation proposal defense and keeping Kleenex in business with spring tree pollen allergies.

First I roasted her with some potatoes, and had steamed asparagus on the side. Divine. And much to my delight, the package also contained two livers, which I fried up as an appetizer. Glory days.

A few sandwiches later, I pulled apart a thigh and a leg and made green curry with the rest of the asparagus and some bamboo shoots I found in the cupboard.

Then, Saturday, I sent her off in style as enchiladas. I had in mind to try to replicate the enchilada half of Charlottesville Guadalajara's "#F" (would half of #F be # C?), which I did, except that my cheese wasn't right and I didn't also try to replicate their salsa--so really, I just had chicken enchiladas, which were gorgeous. If I had known they were that easy, I'd have been making them all along!

The rest of the carcass is in the freezer, awaiting inclusion in stock.

Saturday was a day of recreational cooking all around: I also made my first cake from scratch. Devil's food. Much better than Duncan Hines. That recipe, like the enchilada sauce recipe, came from Joy of Cooking. I didn't take a picture, though, because I decided not to ice it, so it's not all that pretty--but it sure does taste good.

And a couple of weeks ago, I made latkes, but forgot to write about that. Not kosher, but totally fun to make in that way that frying things can be. I et them with garlic mayonnaise alongside pinto beans and asparagus.

In gardening news, my parsley sprouted but hasn't achieved its real leaves yet. And I found the perfect use for the cable box:

That's chard in the tupperware, waiting to sprout. Chard seeds look like they're from outer space. I have some lettuce seeds started elsewhere, but there wasn't room on the cable box for them, too!

The Book I'm Not Reading: I'll know as soon as I come up with a revised research plan!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Celebration of a Rite of Passage

Thanks to all-y'all who have sent along good-luck wishes about my proposal defense--I passed, and assuming I also passed my Irish translation exam last week, I'm now ABD! Woo hoo!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

One Hell of a Horoscope

I often forget to check Free Will Astrology, but I'm always glad when I do. In addition to my own fabulous horoscope--

"The great theme is not Romeo and Juliet," said poet Anne Sexton. "The great theme we all share is that of becoming ourselves, of overcoming our father and mother, of assuming our identities somehow." This is certainly your great theme, Capricorn. And it's especially important for you to devote yourself to it now. You're at a turning point in your life-long transformation. You're being presented with a clear-cut choice between sinking back into the ill-fitting yet comfortable mold that others have shaped for you, or else striding out into the frontier in a brave push to become a higher, deeper, more complete version of yourself.

--fellow Charlottesville-o-holic Danny Schmidt got a shout-out on the Leo horoscope:

This would be a perfect time for you to write your ultimate personal manifesto. I'm talking about composing a sweeping statement of the core ideas that fuel your lust for life. To get you in the mood, take a look at the following lyrics from Danny Schmidt's song "Company of Friends." "I believe in restless hunger . . . I believe in private thunder . . . I believe in inspiration . . . I believe in slow creation . . . I believe in lips on ears . . . I believe in being wrong . . . I believe in contradiction . . . I believe in living smitten . . . I believe our book is written by our company of friends."

Too cool, man, too cool.

In other news, I finally made it to that East Village bodega and got me a nice big box of Barry's Tea.

P. S. Nice of you to stop by and leave a comment, Justin from Harney's. I'll definitely check out that loose Assam.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Story of My Life

(except that I can't speak in a London accent.)

Final Verdict

...on the Harney's tea: the other day, I tried a single-bag cup in the afternoon, and I stand by my initial reaction. Not much flavor, and for an Irish breakfast tea, it's missing whatever tea leaf it is that gives Barry's its reddish color and, I think, some of that particular flavor. So basically, that puts it on a level with Twinings, except that Harney's is more expensive.

This morning, having no other choice (except to drink coffee, which I decided against), I tried two Harney's tea bags. That made an acceptable (if not exciting) cup of tea, but one I can deal with until I can get to the bodega in the East Village. And in the meantime, I unearthed some aging loose Assam from the cupboard for afternoon cups of tea.

It's possible that other Harney's blends are worth buying--just not the Irish Breakfast.

In other news: great fun at the Ceol session last night!

The Book I'm Not (Re)Reading: Nancy Fraser's Unruly Practices.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Promissory Note

Looking at my blog hits from the last day or so, I notice that someone with an IP address from Harney & Sons tea company visited my blog, presumably after Googling "Harney's Irish Breakfast" from two posts ago. I wonder--was that visitor looking for online public opinion about the tea? If so, fair play to you!

If so, and if you, my unnamed Harney's employee, happen to visit again, this post is a promise to try the tea later in the day, when I am awake enough to think about it beyond "I can't taste this!" There are several reasons I prefer Irish tea for breakfast: first, it's more bracing than other blends, and I stew it so that I get that extra hit of tannin to help wake me up (I think this is one reason I often buy Lyons instead of Barry's, because Lyons is a little sharper than Barry's Red Label). Second, I often wake up slightly congested, so that the characteristics of finer teas can be lost on me that time of day. Finally, the volume of tea in a bag of Barry's or Lyons is probably about 2 or 2.5 times that in a Twinings bag or in a Harney's bag, and I think that makes a huge difference. So, for flavor, I intend to try fecking in *two* tea bags of the Harney's for a fair comparison. That's not cost-effective for me in the long run, since I paid about $5 for 20 tea bags at Citarella, and I can get--hmmm, 40 Barry's or Lyons bags for $8 at the bodega.

I appreciate that Harney's is a (fairly) local company (they're in Millerton, NY), and if they could replicate a real Irish teabag, I'd happily switch over. But I suspect that my preferences put me in the minority of American tea-drinkers, so that's not likely to happen.

Another Mystery

Here's another consumer conundrum: neither CVS I've been to recently has had Aim toothpaste. I know it's not a major brand, but it's been a stalwart--but it's AWOL, at least at CVS (I haven't checked Duane Reade yet).

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Mystery

Yesterday the stash of tea I brought over from Ireland ran out. I've been watching it dwindle over the past week or so, and haven't had time to get to the bodega in the East Village that, strangely, carries Barry's and Lyons. Usually, when this happens, I happily settle for the Yorkshire Gold that I found in various places along the paths I tread most often: Citarella, Whole Foods, etc. But as of last night, I have been to two Whole Foods locations and one Citarella outpost, as well as our local yuppie Union Market, and not a box of Yorkshire Gold to be found!

It's weird.

So I did what I could to avoid Twinings, and wound up with a box of Harney's Irish Breakfast. Except for the caffeine content, I may as well be drinking hot water. Twinings may even have more taste.

I guess I need to make time to go to that bodega. It's a shame I don't have the coordination or force of will first thing in the morning to deal with loose tea, but so it goes.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Oh! Four Tuna!

This redefines the state of ROFLMAO. I laughed so hard I cried. And, if you have headphones, it's safe for work.

(Thanks to Nicol for putting this on her blog, and apologies for "stealing" it. But it's too good not to.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

R.I.P. Cheeky Monkey

After several years of faithful (and often unremitting) service and comfort, my Cheeky Monkey hot water bottle from Sophie bit the dust this afternoon. He will be missed.

A memorial service was held this evening at curbside.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Coco Bud

Well, ok, more like "Coco Negra Modelo"--it's what was in the fridge.

I'm batching it for the next several weeks while J's in Florida, so today--knowing that my overwhelming work would get the better of me by evening, and that I'd be kind of lonesome too--I picked up a couple of chicken thighs. I wanted to get breasts, but I figured organic chicken was worth the price (it was), but the life of a grad student being what it is, thighs are about all I can afford right now. But never mind that--they were divine.

By the time I started swearing and flinging books around (gently--wouldn't want to startle the kitty!) I'd just about decided to do a coq au vin, but couldn't be arsed to go down to the wine shop. So I figured I'd just stew the chicken with celery, carrots, onion, and a bit of garlic--and then spotted some leftover beers from the other night. In I fecked one, and the result was gorgeous--well, to eat, not to take pictures of, or at least, that's my excuse for not breaking out the camera before I scarfed down most of it.

I made it pretty much the way I made coq au vin a few months ago in Cambridge, except for the beer, and I also didn't thicken it at the end. Again, couldn't be arsed.

The Book I'm Not Reading: don't even ask.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Recent Cooking Endeavors, Etc.

It's been a hectic week, and the next two are likely to be just as bad, if not worse, as I get ready to take my Irish translation exam and revise and defend my dissertation proposal. But once I leap these two hurdles, I'll officially be ABD.

Anyway, despite the busy-ness, we've eaten well:

Last weekend, J made pizza crust, and so we had pizza several times this week. This one is vegan:

Then, Friday, I made another batch of granola. I've been doing this off and on since I lived at Twin Poplars, where Rowena showed me how. This batch is particularly tasty: in addition to the oats, oil, and honey, I put in raw sunflower seeds and dried cranberries. The trick with making granola, I've discovered, is to make sure to soak the fruit for a little while before toasting the whole thing--otherwise, the fruit gets hard and dry.

Lately, we've gotten some nice wines from the local wine shop, whose name--I'm a little embarrassed to say--I don't think I've ever noticed. It's on 7th Ave between 14th and 15th, and the folks who work there are nice, helpful, and have good senses of humor. But my not remembering the name of the shop is only indicative of the problem I have remembering the names of wines I like, so I'm going to try to begin taking pictures of the labels and posting the pictures here with a little commentary, however minimal.

The one on the left is, I think, my favorite since I've been back in NYC, and it was perfect with the pizza. The one on the right wasn't particularly memorable--nice enough, but nothing stuck in my mind about it. We also had a nice French one, but that bottle got recycled before I thought to take a picture of it.

In other news, I started some parsley and marigold seeds indoors yesterday. Not much to see right now--just wet brown dirt in a container. I haven't ever had much luck starting plants from seeds, probably because I tend not to pay attention to when and how they're to be sown, but I have some hopes for these. I'll be curious to see how the marigolds do--I saved the seeds from last year's, but have no idea whether the seedlings I bought last year were hybrids or what. Possibly they'll do nothing, but we'll see. Next on the list are basil, arugula, and whatever else strikes my fancy. I'll buy rosemary and lavender already started, I think.

And finally, the kitty doesn't want J to go on her next residency:

Bye, J--we'll miss you!

Monday, April 7, 2008

GI Joe PSA Parodies

J discovered these the other day, and we've been getting a huge kick out of them. Definitely bizarro, and some are definitely not safe for work....

There are lots more on YouTube, as well as the original PSAs.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Cabbage Rolls of Bliss

Yesterday afternoon, I randomly started thinking about the cabbage rolls my mother used to make very, very occasionally--perhaps because they involved multiple steps, and multi-step recipes weren't generally the Done Thing in our house. They involved ground beef, cabbage, rice, and tomato sauce, and they were much better than the sum of their parts. Then I thought about the vegetarian ones Veselka makes...but then a bag of potatoes started grabbing my attention, and I decided a baked potato would hit the spot and be much less work.

But then, alas, I wasn't pleased with the vegetable accompaniments available at the store, except for the cabbage, which winked at me, and I thought, "What the hell." Good thought.

I think I managed to come pretty close to Velselka's version, though mine would have been even closer if I'd had regular stock cubes on hand. What I had were tomato-herb cubes (Kallo brand--in general, their stock cubes are my favorites, but I have never seen them for sale in the US; for an all-purpose vegetable stock cube bought here, my favorite is the Rapunzel brand), which accounts for the reddish color.

First, I cooked a cup of brown rice with the stock from one cube. After that was done, I sauteed a bunch of "baby portabello" mushrooms, a shallot, and a couple of cloves of garlic, and added that to the rice with some extra salt and some fresh dill. While that was going on, I had a large pot on the boil to soften the cabbage leaves. I stuffed 'em, smothered them with a simple thinnish gravy (butter, flour, stock), and baked them for a little over half an hour, spooning the gravy over the tops occasionally.

We et them with baked tofu in front of Firefly. Divine. And I still have a good deal of cabbage left for something else. Braising, maybe? If it were a bit warmer, I'd consider making my first slaw of the season, but we'll see.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Finally, A New Post: Bean Thing and Pepper Distress

No, folks, I haven't sworn off blogging like An Briosca Mór--I've just been in transit since the day after my last post! But I'm home now with a vengeance, grounded by the nasty cold that seems to have made the rounds: J seems to have had it in Banff, and most of my DC circle was in various stages of it when I was down there last week.

Of course, head colds are a great excuse for using hot peppers in everything: the other night, I made a chipotle black bean soup and jalapeño cornbread, and last night, I made a bean casserole using the leftovers of the soup, plus more jalapeño peppers, onions, garlic, a can of red beans, and some leftover tomato sauce from J's brilliant Sunday night pasta. It was fabulous, and reminded me of Twin Poplars days, when Rowena made some version of bean casserole frequently.

Unfortunately, mixing hot peppers and a head cold tends to intensify one of the occupational hazards of capsaicin, and I wasn't careful enough getting the jalapeño juice off my hands, and these were more potent than I'm used to jalapeños being. Luckily, I didn't rub my eyes, but I did blow my nose, and somehow my fingers came into contact with the inside of my nose rather than the tissue. YIPE! Damn, did that hurt. I raced to the bathroom to try to wash off the burning juice, but the soap only compounded the irritation, and spread the pain to the previously unaffected nostril.

(By now, you're wondering why I'm writing in public about the inside of my nose, but bear with me--this is a public service announcement!)

So I came back into the kitchen, swearing and saying OW, and knowing that I wasn't going to enjoy my dinner with my nose burning off from the inside. But the Internet is a wonderful thing, and so for all-y'all out there who might someday suffer such a thing, I'm here to say that rinsing off the juice with vegetable oil does do the trick. Some Q-tips, some olive oil, and voila, no pain!

And the kitty looked on....

Friday, March 14, 2008

My Last Week in Cambridge, Part 2

The packing's done, and nearly everything fit into my suitcase! In amongst running errands and packing and other last things, I managed to take a few pictures around Jesus this afternoon. The weather cooperated nicely, although the college cat didn't make an appearance for the camera (though I did find out that there were once two, but that the mean one hasn't been seen for about a year; the nice one is a girl kitty named Raggy, if sieve-memory serves, who indeed does spend a good deal in one of the staircases in Chapel Court--the same doorway where Lauren and I saw her a week ago). I did have to work around a bevy of groundskeepers, though, as I took these photos.

The Chimney:

There's lots of modern sculpture around Jesus College:

The chapel:

Walking into Cloister Court:

And finally, I got around to trying one of Fitzbillies' famous Chelsea buns. I understand why they're famous now, and would certainly not turn one down again, although (as Celia from purple podded peas feared) the currants weren't exactly welcome. But even despite the currants, I could see getting a craving for the tasty contrast between the slightly crunchy bun and the syrup it's drenched in.

Now I'm off to get a few hours' sleep before I head off on the 5:10am bus to Heathrow tomorrow. A few days in Clare, and then I'm NYC-bound! It's time to see my own kitty, and of course, J.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

My Last Week in Cambridge, Part 1

In the middle of term, time seemed to pass like molasses dripping off a spoon in the dead of winter; now--well, I won't even try to speak in similes. Will I do everything I'd like to in this last week? Probably not, but so far I've had fun!

Monday, before Lauren left to go back to Dublin, we had a fun (if chilly) time walking around St. Johns and Trinity, feeling a little brash for avoiding the admission charges. Of course, I am a student and am technically allowed to go into any college, but even so, I can't help feeling "interpellated," to invoke Althusser, by the boards that ask visitors for entry fees: "This means YOU." This feeling comes from the same place, I think, as my ambivalence about the colleges: students, particularly undergrads, seem to put a great deal of effort into "belonging," and "belonging" seems to be an automatic privilege of attending the university, of being part of a college--and, ultimately, of being a graduate of the University of Cambridge. I say "seems," because I am very sure some students do not "belong"--but I haven't met anyone yet who does not "belong" on some very basic level. As a visiting student, I don't "belong" to my college or the university, despite the good time I've had and, I hope, the lasting connections I've made here.

Anyway, interpellation and belonging aside, I was excited to show Lauren St. John's, which, in my limited experience with Cambridge's colleges, has become my favorite. Partly because I've spent some happy and productive hours there at seminars with a group of (mostly) history grad students doing work on gender, but also because of the look of it. The colors and shapes of its architecture, the amazing library door, the way the old and new fit together (mostly!), and especially the Bridge of Sighs. Yeah, I'm not particularly original there--I'm sure every tourist gushes over it--but that doesn't make it any less magical.

I was proud of this photo of Lauren on the bridge: I managed to get the look of the light in it, and the doorway at the end.

Here's one of me, windswept and cold, with the Bridge of Sighs in the background:

--and another of a wonderful large door in St. John's:

All in all, a nice morning's walk, and we managed to do all this before the storm hit in earnest.

Yesterday, I woke with a migraine, but had too full a day to succumb completely, so I clobbered it with caffeine, in both coffee and Excedrin form. Talk about being high, though this time was different--I didn't get the rave experience, which was probably good, since I had a couple of meetings and a lecture to go to! Sarah, the other NYU student here on the gender studies scholarship, left in the wee hours of this morning, so I said goodbye to her last night. The house today has seemed rather quiet with her gone, but the last gender & history seminar was excellent, as was my meeting afterward.

But with one thing and another, I didn't have time to try to get a Chelsea bun again today! Oh, but Lauren and I did learn that Jesus College actually has two tuxedo cats, and apparently one is friendly and the other isn't. We must have encountered the friendly one on Friday, because he let me pet him.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Weekend Report

This afternoon, despite threatening rain and fairly chilly temperatures, Lauren (who is visiting for the weekend) and I went for a walk, first to look at the river from Magdalene College, then to Kettle's Yard to see the animation exhibit. Nice daffodils at Magdalene:

From Kettle's Yard, we paused briefly to look at St. Peter's Church next door--

--and then headed to Fitzbillies, where we intended to sample their famous Chelsea buns. But alas, they were out of them. I wasn't really surprised to hear that, but I was surprised and dismayed that they had also run out of scones (so no cream tea for us) AND that our waiter was unnecessarily snarky about it. At one point, thinking we were entering a Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch zone, I asked him what they did still have. Anyway, my chocolate cake was passable, but nothing spectacular. The snarky waiter was infuriating enough that it's possible I won't go out of my way to try the Chelsea buns--and in any case, I certainly won't bother sitting in the cafe to do so.

This negative food experience contrasts greatly with our wonderful luck yesterday in London. Upon arrival, we hit the markets at Camden Lock, and immediately found the outdoor food stalls. There, we were spoiled for choice, but both went for Venezuelan cornbread arepas, mine with roasted vegetables and Lauren's with chicken and avocado. Glorious street food! Then some warm caffeine was in order to make the drizzle more bearable. We stumbled upon a little tea house called Yumchaa. Delicious tea, and we split a to-die-for brownie. If I'd known it would be that good, I'd have gotten an extra to bring home!

After a great deal of wandering around the market, we headed across town for a completely different retail experience: Harrod's. Mainly, I just wanted to ogle the food and design in the food halls, but I also needed to pick up a few things to bring to my mother. By the time we'd dodged the crowds and done a fair amount of walking we were glad to hit Masala Zone, which Sarah (the other NYU student here) had recommended. A huge Indian vegetarian thali feed--not the absolute best Indian I've ever had, but still very good, with a few standout dishes: the paneer in tomato sauce was tasty and balanced, and the rice cake had extra flavor those don't usually have. The potato side dish was also delicious, though in general everything was a lot milder than I'd have liked. The restaurant obviously appeals to a cosmopolitan (if not desperately wealthy) set, and probably caters to somewhat less adventurous English and tourist palates, or perhaps we both just ordered milder dishes. In any case, it was good and I'll be attempting to go back for lunch before I leave.

Standout edible of the weekend: the brownie at Yumchaa

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Gerhard Richter

The other day, I took some time out from my research at the British Library and went down to the Tate Modern. I'd never been, but had been goaded by Jeanette Winterson's nonfiction to go check it out, although to my chagrin, I didn't take the time to really sit with any one work. The museum was surprisingly crowded for a Tuesday afternoon, and I knew I needed to get back up to the BL in time to put in a few hours there before getting the train back to Cambridge.

But even though I didn't hang out long, it was a great visit. I saw all kinds of stuff: a few paintings that made me extremely uncomfortable, but in a productive way (works by African painters--I can't remember their names, alas, which is uncomfortable in an unproductive way!); a set that made me laugh wryly (Ellen Gallagher's DeLuxe); some by-now strangely comforting works (Giacometti); one little painting that I found extraordinarily mysterious and quietly provoking (Vanessa Bell's abstract); and some stuff I just loved. Gerhard Richter fits into that final category.

(from the Tate Modern's website)

I had been very bummed out by the building, though: it seemed like a warehouse, artificial from top to bottom, and sort of dingy, though to be sure, it was a sort of dingy day outside as well. I was surprised, because although I do love various forms of old architecture, I also love more modern buildings. But just now, I read the blurb about the building, and although I still thought the interior space could have been better arranged to discourage 'seeing the art at a trot' (to paraphrase Winterson), I'm impressed that the museum building was once a power station. That they used an existing building makes up for a lot, even though at first visit I wasn't so impressed with how the redesign was done. Maybe future visits will change my mind--and at any rate, my lasting impression was the art, not its container.

Even Funnier than Garfield Minus Garfield

The other day, Rob posted what I thought would be the funniest thing of the week: the Garfield comic strip with the cat himself erased. It's brilliant--go have a look.

But then today, Qwags sent me this link to the Acephalous blog. I am still chortling. So, so true....

In other news, I've been cutting my work with rereading those volumes of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series that the Jesus College light reading room offers...or perhaps I should say I have been cutting my novel-reading with a little work! I first discovered these books 22 years ago: at the time, they gave me a different and much-needed world to escape to in the overwhelming family-wide vortex of confusion, grief, and guilt that surrounded the death of my grandmother. Reading them now, I still adore the world of the dragonriders, but am struck at how conventional and limiting it could be for women. I guess the idea that a woman could be a harper or a gold dragon's rider was exciting to me at 12, but now I wonder why no women are Masterharpers or riders of bronzes.... (The easy answer is "Because Anne McCaffrey said so," and that is, of course, the answer I'll have to accept. But still. I do appreciate the way that she--even in the 60s when the first novels were published--wrote in gay men as a very normal part of Pernese life, though there's not a lesbian to be found in the novels so far as I can tell.)

The [academic] Book I'm Not Reading: Ernest Gellner's Nations and Nationalism.

Monday, March 3, 2008

More Asteroids

So the divine Ms. Foster has lots of company in the asteroid belt: the entire Monty Python crew, Enya, Freud, Pele, Gene Roddenberry, Xerxes, and a bunch of others all have big space rocks named after them, too. Too cool.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Something to Aspire To.

According to IMDb, Jodie Foster had an asteroid named after her in 1998.

I wouldn't mind if someone put my name on an asteroid.

But in the meantime, I guess I'll just have to get my kicks in other ways, including watching her free-associate about Iceland on Letterman. And that's nothing to sniff at!

Thursday, February 28, 2008


I don't know if this has made news past the UK, but we had an earthquake the other night! It did wake me up, and the thought ran through my head that it sure seemed like an earthquake--but then I thought, in my half-asleep state, that of course it wasn't an earthquake--this is England, after all! I did wonder what the boys were doing to make the house seem to shake, though....

The Guardian article is here.

This earthquake is only the second I've experienced, and the second to occur in an area not particularly known for earthquakes (the first one I experienced was in Virginia in 2003). And even though the Virginia one occurred in the middle of the afternoon, I was asleep for that one, too!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Making Peace

For a blog whose purpose was (occasionally) to talk about books, I do a surprisingly paltry amount of that. But tonight I'm proud to report that among the reams of reading I do (nearly) every day, today is a milestone of sorts: I have finally gotten past the first couple of chapters of Jürgen Habermas's The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. I still have a good chunk left to go, but the block I'd let myself have about it seems to be gone (the block had to do with the circumstances in which I begun reading it rather than the book itself, although it's pretty dense and dry at times).

Sunday Morning Rave Moment

(It's not what you think.)

Many of you reading this know that I've been dealing with migraines a lot in the last year or so, and that in general, they mean a day of lying in bed in excruciating pain, trying not to throw up, because I have started refusing to take Imitrex, and Excedrin only partly takes care of them, especially if the headache really gets going before I take it.

Well, this morning I didn't spend the hours in denial, and went ahead and took two Excedrin soon after I woke up. Which put me in, as we say, a Cornholio mood for sure! The pain has mostly disappeared, but once the tablets kicked in, I was way too wired to sit down or even stay in the house. So I figured, ok, I can get some errands run. Mainly I needed to go to Sainsbury's, but I also stopped in to the stationer's to get a steno pad for my planned trip to the British Library tomorrow, and went to the local record shop. *That* was the best part. Some kind of techno playing, and me jacked up on over-the-counter speed! The Excedrin takes away the pain but not the sensitivity to sound, and so I feel like I got a rave experience, except that nobody was dancing (not that, if I were at a rave, I'd dance either, but that's another story). I hung out looking at stuff until I started feeling faint.

But the whole thing makes me wonder: how many of us are wandering around our everyday lives, totally stoned on something and having these sorts of experiences? The supermarket by itself spaces me out, for sure, though not as entertainingly as Excedrin (which doesn't space me out exactly...). Ok, don't answer that. But I've never had as recreational a migraine as this, so I'm enjoying it--although I dread what happens when the Excedrin starts wearing off....

Now, let's see if I can coax my cd player into playing the Rage Against the Machine album I just bought for a fiver....

Friday, February 15, 2008

Friday Night Risotto

I seem to be making the Friday risotto something of a habit here in Cambridge. Today, rather than wanting risotto specifically, I wanted something that would involve sweet potatoes and spinach, two things I've been craving. I first thought I'd bake some sweet potatoes, steam some spinach, and maybe eat them together with some feta cheese, but then that seemed like too many components to assemble. That sounds more pathetic than it is, but I've discovered that in this kitchen of chaos, even one cooking receptacle is sometimes difficult to manage, and the most fail-safe dishes are those that involve one pot and me standing over the stove with it at all times. So in this context, risotto is the perfect solution, especially since I have (drum roll, please) given up all microwaveable ready meals that come in plastic trays (I just did some reading on xenoestrogens, and I don't need to be adding any more of those to my life!).

Anyway, the risotto:

First, I sauteed a small onion, some crushed garlic, some lemon zest, and diced sweet potatoes in a little olive oil. Then I did the usual risotto thing with the usual vegetable stock cubes, and at the end, added several large handfuls of chopped spinach and a squeeze of lemon. No cheese--I didn't think it needed it, and all I had on hand was brie, which would have been very, very wrong. I thought it needed more lemon zest and juice, but the housemates who tried it really liked it (tonight's kitchen was, as usual, chock-a-block).

In other news, I'm the proud new owner of a gently used one of these:

The photo is blurry, but what I'm talking about is not the picture of nuns smoking, cool though that is, but the screw-and-eyelet yoke that holds a fiddle bow together. More important, it's the yoke that should render my good bow playable again! The old screw's threads got stripped, so I've been suffering with the bad old bow for months--but there happens to be a music shop around the corner, and the fella gave this one to me for free! (Ok, I'm fully expecting to be hit from all sides with "free screw" jokes....)

Well, I'm excited!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Cousin-In-Law, the Politician

...and someone started a Facebook group in her honor--something like, "Holler for Waller: Jettie Marie for Lynchburg City Council." With a cult following of about a zillion former students, how can she lose? I'm glad to see she's interested in the environment--all the development down there is scary--but alas, I don't suppose she can do anything about Jerry Falwell's big ugly LU brand on the mountainside....

Marie Waller plans to seek City Council seat
By Alicia Petska
Monday, February 11, 2008

Long-time educator Marie Waller announced Monday she plans to seek the Ward IV seat on Lynchburg City Council.

“I have taught the theory of the governmental process for 45 years,” Waller said from the front steps of E.C. Glass High School, where she made her announcement flanked by a group of supporters. “Today, I am ready to be involved in how our government operates day to day and to have a voice in how it is accomplished.”

Waller, 68, said she’d run as an Independent. She’s the only candidate to emerge so far in the Ward IV race. Current Councilman Joe Seiffert announced last week he plans to retire.

If elected in May, Waller would be the fourth woman to sit on City Council. She said she would support the continued revitalization of Lynchburg’s downtown and take a hard look at how development is impacting the city’s environment.

Among her supporters Monday was former mayor Pete Warren, who called her an “outstanding person.” Warren does not live in Ward IV, but said he still would work for and support Waller’s campaign.

“For 45 years she has been a stellar teacher in the city schools and taught many, many students about the importance of being involved in civics and the community,” he said. “Now that’s she retired, she has the opportunity to put those theories into practice.”

Waller, a former government teacher and one-time head of the social studies department at E.C. Glass, retired last year.

Throughout her career, she often said she might have gone into politics instead of education had women had such opportunities when she was young.

“I miss teaching,” she said. “But I’m excited about this opportunity to do something and stay involved with the city.”

Of Lynchburg’s seven City Council seats, four will be up for election this May.

Only one race is contested so far. In Ward III, Babcock & Wilcox Company employee Nathanial “Nat” Marshall is challenging incumbent Jeff Helgeson.

In Ward I and Ward II only incumbents Mike Gillette and Ceasor Johnson, respectively, have announced plans to run.

The deadline to enter the Lynchburg City Council race is March 4.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Another Bill Bailey

Again, thanks to Sophie for sending this along--

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A Winning Combination

One casualty of my current living situation is that some nights, it's tricky to find a suitable time to cook--not because I have such a busy schedule, but because my housemates--four boys and a girl, all undergrads--are avid cooks. I am consistently impressed by their efforts, even if some of them tend to rely on spice packets a bit--but in general, I think they get up to more extensive cooking than I do. For example, Richard made his own mayonnaise a few weeks ago! So kitchen traffic tends to be fairly heavy, and only two burners on the stove work. Because I have plenty of days where I just want to avoid people and get on with my work, I have been alternating my own cooking with meals that either don't need cooking, or--and here's where I hear the gasps of horror--eating Sainsbury's ready meals.

Those of you who know me know that I don't make a habit of eating ready meals at home in Brooklyn. For one thing, J & I consciously decided not to have a microwave in the house, which takes away the quick convenience of meals-in-a-box; when we need that sort of convenience, I often stop at the Whole Foods hot food bar on my way home.

The Sainsbury's meals are very uneven in palatability, and range from inedibly bland to quite decent, and to their credit, I almost always recognize all the ingredients. Tonight I had the chicken jalfrezi, which isn't my favorite Indian dish under the best of circumstances, but I definitely wanted Indian, and knew that the kitchen was going to be overrun. So I got it, and was pleasantly surprised--I'd compare it with a slightly better than average restaurant...certainly a great deal better than bad Indian!

But what really made the meal worth blogging about was the slightly weird way I augmented the jalfrezi. Thinking, "I really should eat something green with this," but not in the mood for a salad, I fecked a big handful of watercress into the jalfrezi while it was still steaming from the microwave. It wilted into submission, and the flavor complemented the chicken nicely. Who knew?

Friday, February 8, 2008


I meant to blog about this in a more timely fashion, but better late than never. In the continuing saga of Cooking In One Vessel on an Electric Stove Whilst Dodging Undergrad Boys, I made lemon-arugula risotto the other night, and it was wonderful.

I adapted it from the back of the Sainsbury's arborio rice box, and was glad I didn't take that recipe as gospel, because if I had, it would have been altogether too lemony.

First, I sauteed an onion, several cloves of coarsely chopped garlic, and the zest of one lemon in a mixture of olive oil and butter. Then I did the usual risotto thing with vegetable stock, and at the end added the juice of the lemon and about 100g (several generous handfuls) of arugula, or rocket, as they call it here.

Good eatin'. Sarah, my housemate and the other NYU gender studies grad, made the salad and got the wine.

The next night, I got these very silly bedroom slippers at TK Maxx (another difference--it's TK, not TJ, here). Needless to say, the selection was limited, but these were so bad they're good. And of course I know how to dress them up!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hillary and the Haters

Last night, I got into a bit of a rant on Rob's blog about the way the press have been portraying Hillary Clinton. Turns out I'm in the good company of Stanley Fish:

February 3, 2008, 8:02 pm
All You Need Is Hate

Stanley Fish

I have been thinking about writing this column for some time, but I have hesitated because of a fear that it would advance the agenda that is its target. That is the agenda of Hillary Clinton-hating.

Its existence is hardly news — it is routinely referred to by commentators on the present campaign and it has been documented in essays and books — but the details of it can still startle when you encounter them up close. In the January issue of GQ, Jason Horowitz described the world of Hillary haters, many of whom he has interviewed. Horowitz finds that the hostile characterizations of Clinton do not add up to a coherent account of her hatefulness. She is vilified for being a feminist and for not being one, for being an extreme leftist and for being a “warmongering hawk,” for being godless and for being “frighteningly fundamentalist,” for being the victim of her husband’s peccadilloes and for enabling them. “She is,” Horowitz concludes, “an empty vessel into which [her detractors] can pour everything they detest.” (In this she is the counterpart of George W. Bush, who serves much the same function for many liberals.)

This is not to say that there are no rational, well-considered reasons for opposing Clinton’s candidacy. You may dislike her policies (which she has not been reluctant to explain in great detail). You may not be able to get past her vote to authorize the Iraq war. You may think her personality unsuited to the tasks of inspiring and uniting the American people. You may believe that if this is truly a change election, she is not the one to bring about real change.

But the people and groups Horowitz surveys have brought criticism of Clinton to what sportswriters call “the next level,” in this case to the level of personal vituperation unconnected to, and often unconcerned with, the facts. These people are obsessed with things like her hair styles, the “strangeness” of her eyes — “Analysis of Clinton’s eyes is a favorite motif among her most rabid adversaries” — and they retail and recycle items from what Horowitz calls “The Crazy Files”: she’s Osama bin Laden’s candidate; she kills cats; she’s a witch (this is not meant metaphorically).

But this list, however loony-tunes it may be, does not begin to touch the craziness of the hardcore members of this cult. Back in November, I wrote a column on Clinton’s response to a question about giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. My reward was to pick up an e-mail pal who has to date sent me 24 lengthy documents culled from what he calls his “Hillary File.” If you take that file on faith, Hillary Clinton is a murderer, a burglar, a destroyer of property, a blackmailer, a psychological rapist, a white-collar criminal, an adulteress, a blasphemer, a liar, the proprietor of a secret police, a predatory lender, a misogynist, a witness tamperer, a street criminal, a criminal intimidator, a harasser and a sociopath. These accusations are “supported” by innuendo, tortured logic, strained conclusions and photographs that are declared to tell their own story, but don’t.

Compared to this, the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry was a model of objectivity. When the heading of a section of the “Hillary File” reads “Have the Clintons ever murdered anyone?” — and it turns out to be a rhetorical question like “Is the Pope Catholic?” — you know that you’ve entered cuckooland.

Horowitz warns that as the campaign heats up, this “type of discourse will likely not stay on the fringes for long,” and he predicts that some of it will be made use of by Republican operatives. But he is behind the curve, for the spirit informing it has already made its way into mainstream media. Respected political commentators devote precious network time to deep analyses of her laugh. Everyone blames her for what her husband does or for what he doesn’t do. (This is what the compound “Billary” is all about.) If she answers questions aggressively, she is shrill. If she moderates her tone, she’s just play-acting. If she cries, she’s faking. If she doesn’t, she’s too masculine. If she dresses conservatively, she’s dowdy. If she doesn’t, she’s inappropriately provocative.

None of those who say and write these things is an official Hillary Clinton-hater (some profess to like and admire her), but they are surely doing the group’s work.

One almost prefers an up-front hater (although he tells Horowitz that he doesn’t like the word) like Dick Morris, who writes in a recent New York Post op-ed of the Clintons’ “reprehensible politics of personal destruction” (does he think he’s throwing bouquets?), and accuses them of invading the privacy of opponents, of blackmailing and threatening women, and of “whatever slimy tactics they felt they needed.” Morris calls Harold Ickes, a Clinton aide, a “hit man” for the president, and he calls the president “Hillary’s hit man.”

This is exactly the language of the most vicious anti-Hillary Web sites, and here it is baptized by its appearance in a major newspaper.

Horowitz observes that there is an “inexhaustible fertile market of Clinton hostility,” but that “the search for a unifying theory of what drives Hillary’s most fanatical opponents is a futile one.” The reason is that nothing drives it; it is that most sought-after thing, a self-replenishing, perpetual-energy machine.

The closest analogy is to anti-Semitism. But before you hit the comment button, I don’t mean that the two are alike either in their significance or in the damage they do. It’s just that they both feed on air and flourish independently of anything external to their obsessions. Anti-Semitism doesn’t need Jews and anti-Hillaryism doesn’t need Hillary, except as a figment of its collective imagination. However this campaign turns out, Hillary-hating, like rock ‘n’ roll, is here to stay.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Right up there with the Chevy No-va....

This from my friend Logan, who posted it on Facebook:

Shop pulls "Lolita" bed for young girls
Fri Feb 1, 2008 2:01pm EST

LONDON (Reuters) - A chain of retail stores in Britain has withdrawn the sale of beds named Lolita and designed for six-year-old girls after furious parents pointed out that the name was synonymous with sexually active pre-teens.

Woolworths said staff who administer the web site selling the beds were not aware of the connection.

In "Lolita," a 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov, the narrator becomes sexually involved with his 12-year-old stepdaughter -- but Woolworths staff had not heard of the classic novel or two subsequent films based on it.

Hence they saw nothing wrong with advertising the Lolita Midsleeper Combi, a whitewashed wooden bed with pull-out desk and cupboard intended for girls aged about six until a concerned mother raised the alarm on a parenting website.

"What seems to have happened is the staff who run the website had never heard of Lolita, and to be honest no one else here had either," a spokesman told British newspapers.

"We had to look it up on (online encyclopedia) Wikipedia. But we certainly know who she is now."

Woolworths said the product had now been dropped.

"Now this has been brought to our attention, the product has been removed from sale with immediate effect," the chain said.

"We will be talking to the supplier with regard to how the branding came about."

(Reporting by Peter Apps, editing by Paul Casciato)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Coco Van

...or so Jenny & I were calling it on instant messenger, in a fit of pun (a pit of fun?) around Continental philosophers/philosophies--Mr. Herman Nutix, Esq.; Sick Sue? I hope she feels better soon!; a good kick in the Derrida; etc. Well, we had fun with it. (You know you're a humanities Ph.D. student when....)

Anyway, tonight as the evening's recreation I made coq au vin, and it was fabulous, if I may say so myself. I'd show pictures, but as ye know, it's not really that photogenic a food, and besides, my housemate Sarah and I devoured it before it could pose for the camera.

I made it with an eye to Delia's recipe, but as usual I only used it for the structure of the thing. So I fecked in some carrots and diced new potatoes after it had been cooking awhile. My only complaint with her recipe is that her notion about thickening the sauce didn't work so well (she said to make a paste of butter and flour and add that to the reduced liquid, but I think I'd have done as well the flour-water way, since I wound up with some lumps in it using the paste, and I had certainly put in enough butter already).

I used the Sainsbury's version of beaujolais, which does actually come from France (unlike some of their other wines, which come from Bulgaria and Mars and places like that). More than adequate for cooking, decent to drink while cooking, but I found that it wasn't really worth drinking with the meal. It needed something to take attention away from it as a drinking wine--either a bunch of merriment & shite talk like a departmental w(h)ine and cheese, or a task at hand, like putting together the Coco Van. But at about 3.50 sterling (about $7) I have no complaints.

In other news, I realize I have been very remiss about indicating which Books I'm Not Reading lately. So....

The Book I'm Not Reading: Adriana Cavarero's For More Than One Voice

...and I think I may also start posting poems. If it's good enough for Jeanette Winterson, it's good enough for me!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Meanwhile, Back at Jesus....

I'm not sure I've mentioned that the college here at Cambridge with which I'm affiliated is Jesus College--a name that creates all sorts of opportunities for unintentional hilarity, as in, "Are you going back to Jesus soon?"

Name aside, I get a good giggle every once in a while at printed materials, like these:

From the Jesus College library rules:

"Please do not let the college cat into the library."

Yes, there is a college cat, and it's black and white--very attractive, and he (?) nearly came up to me one day, only to pass by nonchalantly as though I weren't sitting there clicking to him. It seems a fairly common thing, having a college cat, and I wish we had an NYU cat--except that it would certainly come to some terrible end.

And best of all:

This morning, as I was walking to the library, I saw the notices out for Chapel events this evening. Thinking I would see something about music, I looked more closely, but what I saw was a sign that said

"TONIGHT! Film of a potentially morally improving nature!"

The film is A Room With a View, and I would almost go, except that I'd be afraid of the sorts of people wanting moral improvement on a Friday night--they might potentially want to morally improve me! So I have decided that unless I meet a crowd at the LGBT drinks earlier who want to go and crash it in order to leer salaciously at Helena Bonham Carter, I'll sit this one out. HBC isn't my type, anyway.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

More Bill Bailey

Oh, the lapsed English major in me loves this one!

Cambridge Roundup

I'm well beyond the stage now of presenting any kind of coherent narrative of What Has Happened in Cambridge So Far, but it's about time I actually wrote something on the blog, however fun video clips are!

Now, what to write? Since I started this blog to talk around school, rather than to talk about it, I'll leave major commentary on the university for another time. I have met some cool people and am getting a lot of important research done, and that's enough about work for the moment. Most of y'all just want to hear what I'm cooking, anyway, or whether I've had any good tunes :-)

I reckon I'm nothing if not ornery, so what did I do within days of arriving in Cambridge, one of the most white-bread towns I've been in lately? I trekked out to the TK Maxx (yes, it's "TK," not "TJ" here) to get a towel, and happened upon a small non-stick wok for a fiver. I snapped it up, and it has been the inspiration for many a stir-fry since. I probably wouldn't have gotten the non-stick if I'd had a choice, but then again, it's nice not to have to fuss about the seasoning. I like the little thing (I think it's a 10-inch) so well I think I'm going to go to some trouble to get it back to Brooklyn.

As for what I'm cooking in it--I really have been living off stir-fry, especially since I came up with a sauce that masquerades as oyster sauce. The magic ingredient? Brown sugar! It's not rocket science, but I hadn't worked that one out before. So I've been making various versions of turkey (cheaper than chicken here, and sold in small breast portions) stir-fry, often with the big bean sprouts, which are cheap and plentiful here.

Last weekend, I also made a good mushroom/asparagus risotto; tonight I might make an arugula/lemon one, but we'll see.

Otherwise, I sheepishly admit, I have been eating a lot of Sainsbury's pre-prepared foods, some of which are quite good (although others are tasteless or downright vile). Still, even those are cheaper than eating out, and with the pound sterling clocking in at almost double the US dollar, eating out is not an option!

Sometime soon I'll blog about my ongoing art project, which involves the infamous Sainsbury's 'wheel of death'....

What else? As far as music goes, I've been listening obsessively to some old and new favorites:

1. Vivaldi's Concerto in B for Strings, RV 580, Op. 3, No.10, which I bought on iTunes the other night;

2. the as-yet unreleased Renminbi cd (they are Jenny's old band, and this album is going to be fantastic!);

3. Cat Power, various albums; and

4. Annie Lennox's new one.

And tunes: I haven't gone out to any sessions yet, as I hear the weekly one is crap, but I am now known to the crowd that organizes sessions somewhat surreptitiously, so I think I'll be fine....

Lots more to talk about, of course...including pithvier cake, recent episodes of the L Word, my run-in with the college cat, etc.--but I'll save that for another time.