Friday, May 16, 2014

Ten Books, Volume 3

 NON-FICTION
  • Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice by James Lileks
    • This book is a funny compilation and commentary of ads, pamphlets, magazines and other things that offer hilariously bad, to our modern sensilbilities, advice.
    • Apparently everyone in the early to mid-20th Century was OBSESSED by their children's bowel movements! I know my mother was, as was her father before her.
    • Mom said they would all get half a Feen-a-Mint (a laxative) once a week growing up. And apparently enemas were all the rage if your infant didn't poop super regularly. Sadly, I was one of those poor babies. I'm actually shocked that there is no photograph of Baby Kelly getting an enema but also eternally grateful.
    • Seriously, people have been pooping since forever. Why did the medical establishment so firmly establish the mentality that you had a problem if you didn't poop once a day like clockwork? I'm guessing it was a good way to sell laxatives!
    • Anyway, this book is amusing. Parenting styles continue to change with each new generation. Every parenting methodology looks crazy 50 years later!
  • Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson
    • Jenny Lawson is known on the Internet as The Bloggess (thebloggess.com) and writes a generally hilarious blog, among other things. (Lots of swear words so be aware if that sort of thing offends you.)
      • Her blog will also touch on her personal challenges in living with rheumatoid arthritis and crippling depression so it's not all laughs.
    • This is the story of her youth and early adulthood. I believe she is currently writing a follow-up book. Based solely on her anecdote about the large metal chicken sculpture she bought, CPA Boy and I call all such chickens Beyonce. It's a long story. And hilarious.
  • Over New Orleans: Aerial Photographs by David King Gleason
    • There were a bunch of these books about in the 1980s, with a whole bunch of aerial photographs of whatever city. This is one of those books.
    • The copyright date was 1984 or 1985 so even though the World's Fair was in New Orleans in 1984 (I was there!) there are no pictures of the fair though some of the pictures show where it was going to be.
    • I think that it would be interesting to see the same pictures up against what it looks like today. Since Hurricane Katrina so much looks quite different.
  • Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas by Rebecca Solnit & Rebecca Snedeker
    • Hooray, our library got this book after all! It had the one about San Francisco which makes sense as S.F. is only an hour away from here but I wasn't sure it would get the N.O. book. That said, I really liked the idea but not the execution.
    • This isn't so much an atlas as a way to present facts about the city juxtaposed with other odd facts.
      • An example map might feature seafood places AND (former) whore houses. Because why not?
    • Each map is presented with an accompanying essay, some more interesting than others.
    • It's difficult to open the book up enough to really get to the entire map.
  • The Strange History of Buckingham Palace by Patricia Wright
    • That's pretty much it, right there in the title. The book follows the people who lived there and all the strange stories took that part of London from pestilential mudflat to the palace that exists there today.
    • The property didn't belong to the royal family until 1761 (the original house was built by the Duke of Buckingham, hence the name). It was interesting to follow the history of England in conjunction with one small area of the city of London.
  • Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong
    •  To one who read and collected comic books in the 1980s and early 1990s this was a fun book!
    • As one sample, a bar graph featured how much of each superhero's costume is made up of the primary colors.
      • Think Batman, lots of blue with yellow. Wolverine has lots of yellow and some blue. Spider-Man's costume is all red and blue. Superman and Wonder Woman both have red, blue and yellow. The Fantastic Four have blue costumes.
        • Not all superheroes fit in to this color scheme but enough do to make it really obvious when you see the bar graph.
    • And then another bar graph shows how the supervillains' costumes contain lots of secondary colors: orange, green and purple.
      • The Riddler and Doctor Octopus have green. The Joker has a purple suit, green hair and yellow accents. Magneto has purple to go with his red.
    • It's a quick read and definitely recommended to comic book lovers.
FICTION
  • The Valley of Horses by Jean Auel
  • The Mammoth Hunters by Jean Auel
    • I've read these books several times before. These are my two favorites of this particular series.
    • They are about Ayla, a Cro-Magnon woman about 20,000 years ago, and her life.
    • I still haven't read the final book in this series (it got TERRIBLE reviews) and maybe I will someday but I really just like these two books.
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
    • The last book in this series. I read the first two earlier this year since I had just seen the movie version of the second book.
    • I didn't like this book much the first time I read it but I definitely liked it better this time. 
    • I still don't understand the necessity of having the heroines of so many of these dystopian novels always torn between two males. By the end of the books the heroine is still generally in her teens so she really doesn't NEED to settle down with one of the hunky males. But I guess the teen girls who read these books want it that way. (As a woman in her 50s who met the love of her life when she was 27, I have a different perspective! On the other hand, I didn't need to save the world in my teens either.)
  • The Baroque Cycle: Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
    • This is a 3 book series. They have been on my bookshelves for at least a decade. Each book is approximately 900 pages. I read this one when I bought it but then never got to the next two books. In my quest to get things read from my own bookshelves, I had to reread this one for the next two to make sense.
    • The author actually wrote 8 related novellas. The first 3 comprise this book. Two make up the second and 3 make up the third book. 
      • It's kind of like The Lord of the Rings in that way: one long tale spread over 3 volumes.
    • The story takes place from about 1660 until 1714 in England, France, and the rest of Europe. The fictional characters interact with many historical people including Isaac Newton, King Charles II of England, King James II of England, King Louis XIV of France, Gottfried Leibniz (the father of calculus, along with Newton), and many others.
    • I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I am kind of glad I waited to tackle the whole series until now because I know much more about this time period than I used to, having studies the Stuart Dynasty a little bit.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Impatience Does Not Make a Good Roux!


I am generally too impatient to make a really good roux. A roux (pronounced "roo") is flour browned in oil over medium-low heat. For the purpose of making a gumbo you want a roux that is a dark chocolate brown. Once the color is right you add in the onion, celery, garlic and green peppers. It smells so GOOD!

And really, I don't think it's so much impatience as the TIME it takes! To get a really dark roux you can spend at least 45 minutes stirring constantly. If you don't stir constantly and it burns, you need to start all over. It gets really hot standing over a roux!

Idiot that I am, I made mine during a heat wave. 'Cause, you know, that's when you want a HOT meal!

When my grandmother made gumbo her broth was dark brown and so tasty (my mom's too). I tend to add my veggies too soon so mine tends towards the color and consistency of chicken gravy. I think I need to experiment (during the winter). Generally the fat and flour need to be equal in measure, say 1 cup to 1 cup but I was reading some other recipes online and they said if you want a thinner broth you want to cut down on the flour. Hmm, that may help.

  • Gumbo-making hints
    • Don't make during a heat wave.
    • Wear comfortable shoes while stirring.
    • Call in someone else to take a picture of the roux because you can't run to your purse for your phone while you are in the middle of constant stirring.
      • Mine is pictured above thanks to The Boy.
    • Be patient!

Despite the heat we had a yummy dinner of gumbo over white rice. This was on Wednesday of last week. I was going to call Pop over for some leftovers (or bring him some). But then I was making more rice the 2nd day and when I poured the rice into the boiling water I noticed something odd.

As I watched the rice in the water, waiting for it to reach a boil, I noticed a bunch of tiny brown things floating in the pot. What are they? I looked in the rice canister and didn't see anything odd. I looked in the bowl of leftover rice from the night before and it looked fine (we had eaten some of this rice on Wednesday).

I usually make extra rice because CPA Boy likes to eat it for breakfast with milk and sugar. (I love rice but this sounds really gross to me!) I took the rice off the burner and delved deeper into the rice canister...and saw tiny things MOVING. Ugh.

So, you're welcome, Pop. No rice bugs for you!

I threw out all the white rice --- cooked, uncooked and half-cooked --- and then inspected the jasmine rice canister (ALL CLEAR!) and made that instead.

There's a family story related to this. My mom had gone to our next door neighbor's house (we called her, in the Southern way, Miss Josie) and had eaten something. It might have been a gumbo. As my mom was eating she noticed that there were (dead) weevils in it. (This was in Louisiana. Weevils got into EVERYTHING.) But my mom was too polite to say anything so she just ate. (I'm thinking she didn't ask for seconds.)

But the best part of the story, though not for Pop, is this: He came over too when he got home from work and he also had a bowl of the weevil-laden dish. AND MOM JUST LET HIM EAT IT.

Pop was of the opinion that it would be a favor to let Miss Josie know she had infested food but Mom didn't want to hurt her feelings. I'm not sure if she ever told Miss Josie (who was married to Mr. Joe by the way).

This is the second bag of rice in a row that ended up with bugs in it. I am going to need to find a different rice source (the guys don't love jasmine rice).

  • Additional gumbo-making hints
    • Check the rice CAREFULLY.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Accomplishing So Much Nothing

I am always doing SOMETHING yet I never feel like I am accomplishing ANYTHING. I think that's why housework is so unsatisfying: you do it and then you need to do it AGAIN almost immediately. Seriously, when I am on my deathbed in the far, far future I will NOT bemoan how little housework I did! Keep in mind that I have EXCELLENT housekeeping skills (thanks to my mom and some years janitoring and custodianing my way through college. I just choose to avoid using those skills as much as possible!

[Spell check does not recognize "janitoring" and "custodianing" as words. Hmph.]

Eh, Monday is laundry and housework day. We'll see.

Accounting update: My 2014 Medical Expenses spreadsheet is off by $4.00 which means I am probably missing a prescription co-pay but to solve it I need to drag in CPA Boy. NOT to solve my problem (I can solve my own spreadsheet problems, thank you very much) but to give me a list of our medical information from Quicken, which is on HIS computer.

I am making a new blanket which is either quite beautiful or quite ugly. It's too soon to tell. I wasn't too sure about the one I made for The Boy at first either and it came out beautifully. So there's hope! Summer is not necessarily a good time to have a crochet project on one's lap! Here's how it came out:


  • Pet Peeve of the Day! I have noticed lately that a lot of people mispronounce this word: voila. I took French in high school so I learned to say it like this: vwah-LAH. There's supposed to be a V sound before the W sound. I was listening to a podcast yesterday and the speaker pronounced it wah-lah. I have even seen it written out as "wala"! (I realize there should be an accent over the "a" in voila but I don't know how to add it through the Blogger app.)

One of my current projects is to try to tackle the unread books on my own bookshelves rather than constantly reading library books. I just started Volume II of The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. Each of the 3 books is about 900 pages and very detailed. The story takes place (so far) in England, France and Holland from about 1660 to 1714. I have had these 3 books on my shelf for about ten years. I am pretty sure I read the first book at that time but never got around to the other 2. 

It's a set of historical novels with many famous characters: Isaac Newton, King Charles II, Louis XIV, even a young Benjamin Franklin. Anyway, I am really enjoying the story but it could be another month before I finish the series.

  • BONUS Pet Peeve of the Day! Why are Americans starting to use the phrase "an historical" instead of "a historical"? Anybody know? This was one of the things that separated British English from American English!

I have cut myself off from playing Candy Crush (and Words with Friends too). This is a popular "match 3" game that many people play on Facebook or via the app on tablets or smartphones. The game itself is free but you can make "in-app purchases" to buy upgrades to pass levels. You can play the game without purchasing anything but some levels take dozens or hundreds of tries. You only get 5 lives at a time to play unless you want to bug people on Facebook to send you free lives. Or you can wait 3 hours for the lives to regenerate. Eh, I am over it. Buh-bye, time-waster!

Well, this has been a random assortment of tidbits! Until next time!