30 January 2013

This is my message to you-oo-oo...

"Don't worry about a thing,
'cause every little thing gonna be all right..."

You know that song, right? You're probably bopping your head around, singing it to yourself right this very minute. And if you're prone to such things, you may have just acquired an ear worm. I'm sorry, but...

"Don't worry about a thing,
'cause every little thing gonna be all right..."

Here's a question, though: do you know the name of the song? The actual name of the song?

Three Little Birds.

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A while ago, a publicist asked if I wanted a review copy of a book, by Bob Marley's daughter Cedella, who turned Three Little Birds into a children's book called "Every Little Thing".

It's cute, but here's its problem. While some song lyrics work as poetry if you dissociate them from their music, that's not the case here. The book wants to be a read-aloud, for a pre-schooler or early elementary-aged child. And for reading aloud, the poetry sucks. It would have been << putting on editor's hat and raising red pencil >> far better to have turned the song into prose. Like I said, it's cute, and the illustrations are exuberantly fun, but it's far too awkward to read aloud.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Everything will be alright, as long as you worry about prose, prosody, and poetry. Not to mention grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Delivery matters, even in a book meant for kids.

27 January 2013

Guilt / Regret / Delight

I have to get over feeling guilty about:

  • cucumbers that have gone bad in the fridge
  • review copies of books that are so bad I can't finish them, much less write about them
  • that face-up penny I didn't pick up on Thursday because both hands were full and my bag was hanging off of my elbow

I have to get over my regret at:

  • having forgotten to write my name in Sharpie inside the closet of my room at my mother's house
  • failing to take the "baby girl" bassinet card when we went home from the hospital more than nine years ago
  • not seeing Peter and The Starcatcher on Broadway

I am, however, delighted about:

You? Name something that delights you.

21 January 2013

As Seen On TV

Let's not bury the lede, shall we? If it says "As Seen On TV" on the box, run screaming in the other direction.

Case in point: a cake pop pan. The box says "fun & easy!" and shows a tidy person's disembodied hand pouring cake batter into all the little holes. Pouring, with a measuring cup, meaning that the batter is thin and pourable.

Um, not as such.

I need to digress here. The instructions called for "one standard box of cake mix according to directions". Sorry, I don't do cake mix. Come on, cake isn't hard. It's just mixing. Back to the instructions; they included this note:

For best baking results: Use an extra egg, substitute milk for water and use half as much as the recipe calls for. Also add a pudding mix that matches your cake choice.

That little note kind of subverts the "one standard box of cake mix according to directions". And shall we mention the lack of clarity in the "use half as much" of what? Water, milk, cake mix?

After sputtering around the kitchen fuming about cake mix and the decline of Western civilization as we know it, I settled on a staggeringly easy cake recipe from the 1953 edition of The Joy of Cooking. It's the kind of recipe that gives cake mix a bad name, because all you do is dump flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk, salt, baking powder, cocoa powder and vanilla in the mixer and beat it up for a while. It already called for two eggs, so I didn't add any, and I didn't add any pudding mix either, thank you very much. The batter was, um, not thin enough to pour neatly into all those little divots. No, I resorted to spatula smearing it into the holes.

We clamped the top on the pan and stuck it in the oven. Shortly thereafter, the girl peered through the oven window and discovered that we had many little cake volcanos - cake oozing out of all the top holes. I grumbled some more.

When the pan was out and cool enough to handle, removing the top revealed lacy thin cookies veneering the entire surface of the pan.

Happily, the little balls of cake popped right out of their divots, though many were belted at their equators. Miracles of non-stick technology, with a judicious application of Baker's Joy.

The next step was to coat them in "candy coating". Is this a thing? Oh, there was another note:

To make a simple candy coating, follow melting instructions on the back of semi sweet chocolate chip bag. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil if coating is too thick after microwaving.

Right. I'm going to adulterate some perfectly good chocolate with vegetable oil? I don't think so. (And that tablespoon of oil? What volume of chips was it supposed to adulterate? Oh for comprehensive articulate instructions.) We forged on, dipping the cake balls into our melted chocolate. The chocolate was indeed too thick, and the sticks were too flimsy, and so we did not achieve anything like enrobement. No, our balls were dipped on the bottom and perhaps one side, and sprinkles were applied haphazardly at best.

Here's what I have to say: run very very far from the cake pop pan. And please, don't even consider buying one of the single purpose electric appliances that makes cake balls. Just make a cake. A nice plain cake, like the Hurry Up cake from the 1953 Joy of Cooking. It's easy. Your kitchen won't look like an army of sticky chocolate covered toddlers has marched through, and your blood pressure will remain within normal limits.

The worst of it? The nine year old doesn't even want to eat them.

17 January 2013


I have kind of lost my blogging mojo. Oh, there are lots of posts in draft, and lots of ideas rattling around in my skull, but the actual sitting down and applying quill pen to parchment? That's just not happening.

Whatev. I'll be here when I'm here.

But lest you think I'm not still paying attention to charitable giving, guess what I got in yesterday's mail? You got it! A direct mail piece from the NRDC! Yes, the second one this year! And we're only halfway through January!

Why yes, I do like poking things with sticks.

14 January 2013

2012: A Year In Books

Because I'm a tiny bit OCD about books, I like using Goodreads to keep track of what I read. (I know. Shut up. It isn't like anyone's expecting me to hand in my book log or anything.)

In 2011, I read 60 books; in 2012, only 58. But! I read fewer books aloud to the girl in 2012 - a consequence of her getting older, and more inclined to read herself to bed - which means that I read more books on my own account. I also read more ebooks, a sign of the times that I'm not sure I love. For lots of reasons, I prefer paper.

2011 2012
Total Books Read 60 58
Fiction 27 34
Non-Fiction 33 24
Read Aloud to the Child 15 6
Total Grown-Up Books 45 52
ebooks 4 7
library books 5 5
unfinished 1 2

I love looking over the list, and making little connections. Two books were about unrelated Pettigrews: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Two were memoirs by bloggers: Emily Rosenbaum and Jenny Lawson. Three were by Suzanne Collins (yes, I devoured the Hunger Games trilogy while out sick last spring), two were by Roald Dahl (since we love reading aloud his darkly comic tales) and two were by Curtis Sittenfeld (because I scored hardcovers of Prep and American Wife at the book swap at the farmer's market - though not on the same day).

I added three terrific cookbooks to the kitchen library - Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal, Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen, and Diana Henry's Salt Sugar Smoke - what, you don't read cookbooks from cover to cover, under the covers? A few older books were transfixing: Edna Ferber's So Big (which I read because of a book club at the library), Mary Dutton's Thorpe (a book I found on a blog post a long time ago), and Wilkie Collins' No Name (a big complicated Victorian thriller/novel which you can get as a free ebook). And the one hair-raising book I might want to read all over again is Gone Girl -just because it's so richly packed with tiny important details. I'm also anxiously awaiting volume three of Hilary Mantel's Henry VIII tales, after reading Bring Up The Bodies this year, and Wolf Hall in 2011.

What did you read in 2012? What are you looking forward to? And what's on your nightstand right now?

10 January 2013

One Out Of Four

You know how in The Polar Express Santa picks a kid off the train to receive the first gift of Christmas?

Today, I got the first solicitation of 2013! And guess who it was from? Give me an N, give me an R...that's right - my number one bad charity of 2012, the Natural Resources Defense Council. Alas, there was no live stamp on the return envelope - though I guess that's progress of a sort.

* * * * * * * *

After my Cranky Philanthropist post last week, I made sure to "amplify" it by posting it on Twitter, four separate times, calling out each of the bad charities and using their Twitter handles so that they'd see the tweets. Did anyone respond? One charity did - Riverkeeper.

Riverkeeper's Director of Development followed up with an email, and after a back and forth, we made up. She sent me a copy of last year's thank you note - which I assume had been lost by the post office - and I told her they could keep us on the list if they promised only one solicitation a year (and no newsletters).

So, Riverkeeper's back on the good charity list.

* * * * * * * *

Believe me, I'm not saving all of the charitable mail this year. But I am still paying attention.

07 January 2013

A Near Perfect Side Dish

A close reading of the New York Times magazine a couple of weeks ago resulted in the perfect side dish for our Christmas dinner. In fact, it might be the perfect side dish for nearly any roast meat meal, in that it seems like a starch, but it's really mostly vegetables. I'd heard of soubise, but because I'm not Julie Powell and I haven't cooked absolutely everything in Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, I had never tried it. Big mistake. We will have to make up for lost time by putting on the menu several times a year.

Essentially, it's cooked onions thickened with a bit of rice. Or, a reverse risotto - a little rice with a lot of seasoning. And it's really really good, not to mention easy, and forgiving. You could probably even leave the cheese out if you felt that was necessary. What's not to like?

Adapted from Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking"

1/2 cup rice, (arborio or carnaroli)
4 quarts water
1 1/2 T. salt (to salt the water)
4 T. butter (one-half stick)
2 pounds yellow onions
1/8 t. pepper (a few good grinds)
1/2 t. salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese (or swiss)
2 T. softened butter
1 T. minced parsley.

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and put 4 quarts of water on to boil.

2. Meanwhile peel your onions, cut them in half the long way, and slice thinly (into half rings).

3. Heat the 4 T. of butter in a three or four quart flameproof lidded casserole. When the butter is melted and foaming, stir in the onions.

4. Add the 1 1/2 T. salt to your vigorously boiling water, pour in the rice and boil for exactly five minutes. Drain immediately.

5. Stir the drained rice into the butter-coated onions, add the 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Cover and cook in the oven for one hour, stirring occasionally if you must. The rice and onions should become very tender and will smell heavenly. Taste and re-season if necessary. (Pause here if you're making a big meal and have lots of other things to cook - the onions will hold nicely. Reheat before the finishing additions.)

6. Just before serving, stir in the cream and cheese and then the softened butter. Taste again for seasonings and turn into a (hot covered vegetable) dish. Serve with sprinkled parsley.

04 January 2013

Portrait of the artist ...

Yes, I got a new camera for Christmas. Yes, I got a new lens for my birthday. Yes, the tree is coming down this weekend, but I did have rather a lot of fun taking pictures of my enormous - and not so - balls.