Counter Action: Plum cobbler with browned butter

plum cobbler i

It’s done!

I’m all moved in to my new place!

Holy moly, this is a good day. My old place is finally sparkling clean, my books and kitchen gear are finally upstairs in my new place, and I am a happy muskrat.

All together now! "When life is naught but boxes / And heavy packing tape, / When moving seems to swallow you, / Sit down and eat some grapes."

All together now! “When life is naught but boxes / And heavy packing tape, / When moving seems to swallow you, / Sit down and eat some grapes.” CHORUS! “Sit down and eat some grapes, / Sit down and eat some grapes. / A durian might do the trick, / lychee will give you quite a kick, / But really to get out of scrapes, / sit down — and — eat — [cymbal] some grapes!”

In celebration of this frabjous day (callooh, callay), I give you this plum cobbler made with browned butter. If you feel guilty about eating it for breakfast, skip the sugar on top and add a couple of spoonfuls of cornmeal to the batter to give it a nice healthy-feeling crunch. Otherwise, put a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on that bad boy and dive in. In either case, I won’t judge you a bit.

plum cobbler ii

Plum cobbler with browned butter

(from Joy the Baker, who adapted it from the Pioneer Woman)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter
  • 3/4 c. + 1 T. white sugar (divided)
  • 1 c. flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. plain yogurt
  • 3 medium plums (black or red — your choice), sliced into 8 pieces each

Directions:

  1. If you already know how to brown butter, do it and move on to step 2. If not, read on. Cut the butter into small chunks and place in a small saucepan over medium heat. The butter will melt and start to crackle; this is a good sign, as it means the water is being cooked out of the butter. When the butter starts to turn light brown, remove it from the burner and pour it into another bowl. (If you let it stay in the hot saucepan, it will keep cooking and might burn.)
  2. In another bowl, combine sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Add browned butter and milk to dry ingredients. Mix well.
  4. Pour batter into greased pie pan and arrange plum slices on top. Sprinkle with 1 T. of sugar.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until golden-brown. Keep refrigerated for 2–3 days.

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Photo credits: Accordion player from music4life on Pixabay.

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Book Chatter: Comfort reading

As I have mentioned previously, I’m currently in the throes of moving.

This image is only the faintest of exaggerations.

How many books do I have? Well …

Now, there are are good ways to move, and there are bad ways.

A Good Moving Experience (a true story)

  1. You have enough boxes.
  2. The weather is clear and mild.
  3. You have had time to purge your possessions of nonessentials.
  4. You have several helpful friends with cars.
  5. You aren’t moving far.
  6. You have neither small children nor pets.

A Bad Moving Experience (also a true story)

  1. You have recently graduated from college and are currently jobless.
  2. You have never met your future roommate or seen your future lodgings.
  3. You are moving alone.
  4. It is 90°F in the shade.
  5. You have a tiny car and a box spring that patently refuses to fit in your back seat.
  6. You are plagued by the memories of last year’s move, when you had a boyfriend with a truck.

Fortunately, my current story is the first scenario, but all moving situations are still stressful by definition. There are tough decisions and hard physical labour and — ew — change involved. And that last night in your old place, when you’ve essentially been stripped of your familiar surroundings and are down to the impersonal, uncaring four walls … that’s always a character test, huh?

You just know I would have been the pioneer wife who was always campaigning for a permanently settled life.

You just know I would have been the pioneer wife who was always campaigning for a permanently settled life. The beckoning west be darned — I am not packing up this house again, Henry.

But something that always helps, I’ve found, is to keep a small pile of your favourite books next to your clothing and toiletry essentials, a stack of talismans against the horrors of change. For me, this means engaging narratives, preferably with an element of humor, that will draw me out of my present situation and relieve some of my anxiety, even if it’s just for a few minutes in the evenings before I collapse into bed.

So what’s in my current stack?

hpatpoa

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, because as we have already established, I am a huge fan of the series, and rereading it — especially the early books — makes me feel young and safe.

Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island

Bill Bryson’s Notes From a Small Island, because as previously discussed, it’s all about finding the comfort in whatever situations life throws at you — or, if that fails, complaining as wittily as possible.

tpwc

Ree Drummond’s first cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, because Ree has had some tricky transitions in life too, and knowing that she’s come through them with grace and humour has been a fantastic inspiration. Also, nothing says “comfort” like pictures of chicken-fried steak.

tjmt

Terry Pratchett’s The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy (comprised of Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny and the Dead, and Johnny and the Bomb). Three great stories about a boy facing huge changes in his life and taking them in stride.

By the time I post next, I should be completely moved into my new place, so stay tuned for a celebratory Seasonal Sunday!

What books do you turn to for solace? 

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Photo credits: Book covers from Better World Books (pages linked in images); wagons from amychyde and mountains from tpsdave on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Zucchini–basil–feta muffins

zucchini muffin

I know it might be hard to believe after last Thursday’s post, but I really try not to complain much. Too hot in the office? I’ll drink more water. Too cold in the office? I’ve got a blanket. Man yelling obscenities outside my bedroom window for half an hour? LOL, #citylife, what can you do.

But there is one thing that I will happily complain about for hours. I’ll gripe and grouse and whinge like there’s no tomorrow, given the chance.

What is that topic?

Is it malnutrition? Malaria? Corrupt regimes? Orphan drugs? The political situation in Burma?

Nope.

It’s moving.

runner-405773_1280

No, not that kind of moving. I like that kind.

uss-kitty-hawk-80652_640

Yeah, this kind. The boxes/tape/strained back/jammed thumb/lost keys/lost tempers/horrible weather kind of moving. Always a fun time all around.

What’s that you’re saying? “Sonya, what do you think is the very worst thing about moving?”

I am so glad you asked.

The very worst thing about moving is that when you start packing your things, you look around and say to yourself, “I don’t have that much stuff. This should go pretty fast.”

This is where you’re wrong, my friend. Beef-in-the-trifle, the-sun-orbits-the-Earth, Iraq-has-WMDs wrong. Your cupboards and drawers are actually a Pandora’s box of files and socks and the tiny hotel soaps you always thought you’d use. You’ll put tape on what you think is the last box, do “one last check” of the kitchen cabinets, and oh, just kidding, you’ve got another cubic meter of Tupperware to squeeze in between Box o’ Books #27 and Why Are We Bringing This Chair, It’s Super Uncomfortable.

Hint: It might not really be  a chair.

Hint: It might not be a chair.

Every time I move, I swear I’m going to downsize my possessions until I can fit everything into two steamer trunks. I will then move into a Tumbleweed Tiny House and live a frugal, minimalist life, surrounded only by things I truly care about.

Then another friend posts an offer of free books on Facebook, and all bets are off. (Incidentally, welcome to the family, Lord of the FliesGood Omens, and The Magicians.)

During the Time of Moving, I find that it helps to have quick, tasty, easy-clean-up meals and snacks all prepared and ready to go (preferably with no heating required, since the microwave will inevitably be the first thing to go in the van). These muffins qualify as a good moving snack: they’re hearty and filling, with rich flavours to keep you and your crew happy … or less snarky, anyhow.

What’s your favourite moving meal or snack?

Zucchini–basil–feta muffins

(Adapted from Running to the Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 T. chopped fresh (or 1 T. dried) basil
  • 1-1/2 c. grated zucchini
  • 1/2 c. feta

Directions:

  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper.
  2. In separate bowl, combine milk, oil, eggs, and basil. Mix well.
  3. Mix wet and dry ingredients until barely combined.
  4. Stir in zucchini and feta.
  5. Spoon batter into greased or paper-lined muffin cups. Bake at 350°F for 18–20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins. Store in sealed container at room temperature for 3–4 days.

Ideas for variations:

  • When you’re mixing in the zucchini, add half a chopped fresh jalapeño, half a cup of fresh corn, and/or a third of a cup of diced sundried tomatoes.
  • Add three tablespoons of cornmeal to the dry ingredients for some extra crunch.
  • For added heartiness, leave out up to half a cup of the all-purpose flour and use whole-wheat flour to make up the difference.
  • Substitute Parmesan, mizithra, or cotija for the feta. Alternatively, use a blend of cheeses.

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Photo credits: Runner from Picography, Navy men from tpsdave, and cacti from charlemagne49 on Pixabay.

Book Chatter: If I Stay

Okay. This is going to be a first in the history of IWtSLtY: a book review that isn’t overwhelmingly positive.

It’s true. Stay with me.

"Clear blue ocean ... clear blue ocean ..."

“Clear blue ocean … clear blue ocean …”

I picked up Gayle Forman’s If I Stay with great excitement, given that it’s cornered a high number of glowing reviews from eminent sources. When I read that the protagonist, Mia, was a cellist, I was even more excited. I’m a cellist myself, and I don’t see a lot of my fellow players in mainstream media. There’s The Soloist, and A Song From the Heart, and … yeah, that’s about it.

Here’s what I liked about the book:

  • The plot is engaging. Mia and her family are in a car accident; she is left in an intermediate state to choose whether she wants to live or die. As she reflects on her life and tries to decide, she touches on a lot of good discussion points about the power of choice, the purpose of living, the importance of identity, true selflessness, and what it means to live well.
  • Mia’s family is so lovable and relatable — I fell in love with them more and more as the story went on. (If you’ve read the book, you’ll understand why this was a frustrating development.)
  • It was a nice touch for Mia to be a classical musician in the context of her family and boyfriend being hard-core rock enthusiasts. It could easily have been a cheesy Romeo-and-Juliet story, where their differences threaten to come between them, but Forman spun the story in a lovely, organic way that made those differences funny and down-to-earth.
  • Forman describes the family and boyfriend’s rock knowledge in a way that makes it clear that she shares this interest. She knows a lot about the rock scene, and her knowledge and enthusiasm shine through and make her writing vivid and engaging.

To summarize: There was a lot I liked about If I Stay, and I can see why so many people love it. Go, Gayle!

Here’s where I put on my Hat of Pretension and get nitpicky.

Available by searching "Kermit Tyrolean headgear".

Available by searching “Kermit Tyrolean headgear”.

As I mentioned, I’m a cellist. I started when I was 8; I went to cello camp during the summer; I played in orchestras from age 10 to 22. I will even admit that for a brief time, I played with a string quartet called Bach ‘n’ Rock.

(We played considerably more Bach than rock. Shocking, I know.)

So when I read this sentence on page 6 of If I Stay, spoken by the serious cellist Mia, my eyebrows went up:

“I’m also supposed to rehearse with some pianist from the college that Professor Christie dug up.”

This remark was a bit jarring. It’s the voice of a teenager who is bored with this whole classical music thing, not the expression of someone who has just auditioned for a place at Juilliard. Rule #1 in the world of cello recitals (and, I suspect, throughout the soloing world at large) is this: Your accompanist can break you so easily. You do not dismiss him or her as just another body onstage. You take each prospective accompanist seriously as you try to find a good fit, and when you do find the right one, you respect him or her as an artist in his or her own right and work tirelessly until both of you can bring the music to life as a seamless team.

But OK, maybe Mia was just tired when she said that. Or maybe she was being flippant as a joke. It’s just one remark. Let’s move on with the story.

Car accident … ambulance … ack, things are getting tense. What’s going to happen next?

Flashback to when Mia first saw a cello at school, at age 8:

“It was a fluke that they even had a cello; they’re very expensive and fragile. But some old literature professor from the university had died and bequeathed his Hamburg to our school. It mostly sat in the corner. Most kids wanted to learn to play guitar or saxophone.”

Hold on — I’m being jerked out of the story again. Fragile? I wouldn’t say that cellos are more fragile than any other instrument. And if the cello was a professor’s, I’m not really surprised that the kids weren’t attracted to it. I’m more surprised that it was in an elementary school at all — eight-year-olds are going to need half-size cellos, not the full-size kind that adults play.

(P.S.: Google “1/32 cello”. It’s freaking adorable.)

But OK, maybe a cello seems fragile to a sensitive sixteen-year-old. Maybe the Hamburg was there for the biggest students, or it was the professor’s half-size from way back in the day. It’s just a couple of small details. Let’s keep reading.

Three paragraphs later, more questions emerge:

“Rusty scales and triads led to first attempts at ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ that eventually gave way to basic etudes until I was playing Bach suites.”

Scales, then triads, then the Twinkles, then etudes? Here’s the Hat of Pretension in full form, but that’s an interesting skill progression. In my experience (Suzuki method all the way, man), the Twinkles would be first in that line-up. They’re a tune everyone knows, so students can hear their own mistakes; and the tune uses only three fingers, two strings, and one hand position, so students can get used to the basic mechanics of the bow and fingers. Scales and triads are a bit trickier — you can only play in so many keys before you have to learn half-position and extended first, which (again, at least in Suzuki) doesn’t happen until … hmm … the beginning of book 2? Help me out here, fellow Suzukis. It’s been a while.

But OK, the Suzuki method doesn’t rule the world. I get that. Different strokes for different teachers. Also, Mia is super talented. It’s plausible that she not only tackled scales right off the bat but was also learning thumb position by age nine (though, gosh, if she was, isn’t that medically unwise? Couldn’t it permanently disfigure your thumb at that age?).

"This is your brain. This is your brain on thumb position."

“This is your brain. This is your brain on thumb position.”

Moving on … how cool is it that Mia’s school has an entire music wing? Way to go, school. … Yo-Yo Ma concert? So jealous. …

Then, in another flashback, Mia brings her boyfriend over for dinner. Afterwards, they go up to her room:

“‘Play me,’ he said.

‘What?’

‘I want you to play me like a cello.’

I started to protest that this made no sense, but then I realized it made perfect sense. […] I ran my hands up and down the length of his torso, focusing on the sinews in his muscles, assigning each one a string — A, G, C, D. […] I reached for the bow and brushed it across his hips, where I imagined the bridge of the cello would be. I played lightly at first and then with more force and speed as the song now playing in my head increased in intensity.”

Okay.

A couple of things.

  1. The strings on a cello, in order, are A, D, G, and C. (Perhaps she’s playing his sinews out of order as a metaphor for how their personal priorities and fates are also misaligned? It’s possible.)
  2. My very first cello lesson had four components:
    1. “This is the cello.”
    2. “This is the bow.”
    3. “Never, EVER let the bow’s hair touch anything except the strings and the rosin. Not your fingers, not your clothing, not the floor, not a tabletop, not your face. NOTHING.”
    4. “This is how you hold the cello and the bow.”

Note the priorities there: Proper bow care came before proper posture. So when I read about a cellist running her bow all over her boyfriend like the local luthier is having a “$50 off” special on bow rehairing, please excuse me if I go the tiniest bit ballistic.

(I have considered the possibility that Mia knew exactly what she was doing to her bow but decided that her boyfriend was worth it, or decided to play him with the back of the bow instead. However, you’d think that this thought process would be represented in the mind of a serious cellist, instead of the immediate conclusion that the proposed activity “made perfect sense.”)

See that bald spot? That's your bowhair if you get frisky with it.

See that bald spot? That is the future of your bowhair if you get musically frisky.

At this point, I gave up the idea that the author might play the cello. The small jarring points continued throughout the book until the fourth-to-last page, when I read this passage and emitted a short sob of frustration:

“He turns up the volume so I can hear the music floating across the morning air. Then he takes my hand. It is Yo-Yo Ma. Playing Andante con moto e poco rubato.”

(Just a warning: The Hat of Pretension is about to be joined by the Gloves of Utter Snobbishness.)

Technically speaking, this is a reference to a real piece. George Gershwin wrote it; Yo-Yo Ma has recorded it. You can listen to it here.

But that’s also a pretty vague way of referring to a piece. “Andante con moto e poco rubato” might appear across the top of that piece, but it could also appear across the top of any piece, or indeed at any point throughout any piece. That’s because it’s not necessarily the name of the piece; it’s just instructions on how to play it — in this case, “At a walking pace, with motion and a little bit of stretch in the rhythm.” So, saying “He’s playing ‘Adagio calando'” or “She’s playing ‘Allegro con brio,'” without any context about the composer or larger work, is not necessarily like saying “They performed ‘Who’s On First’.” It’s more like saying “His homework is ‘Use a #2 pencil’ through ‘Write full sentences.'”

This isn’t to say that these terms can’t be used as titles. They definitely can, as seen in pieces like Saint-Saëns’ “Allegro Appassionato” (another great cello piece, BTW). In general, though, the rule seems to be that if the piece has another title designator, then the Italian (or German, or French) text that appears afterwards is technically just instructions, to be used as a faux title in programs and during rehearsals. In this case, “Andante con moto e poco rubato” appears after the designator “II”, so I would argue that an accurate title for this piece would be “II. Andante con moto e poco rubato” for a formal concert program, “Three Preludes, No. 2″ for a more informal program, or, in casual conversation, “Gershwin’s Second Prelude” — but certainly not Andante con moto e poco rubato as a standalone entity.

I'm nearly done complaining, I promise. Enjoy this picture of a topiary peacock as a brief respite.

I’m nearly done complaining, I promise. Enjoy this topiary peacock as a brief respite.

Then I reached the afterword and this comment from the author, reflecting on the story’s early stages:

“I knew nothing whatsoever about the cello and not so much about classical music.”

Her honesty is refreshing, but it’s also kind of frustrating. If your protagonist’s life is going to be shaped by and centered on a particular discipline, and you readily admit that you’re not familiar with that discipline, wouldn’t it be wise to have your story’s details thoroughly vetted by experts in that discipline? I’m definitely no expert; as I’ve mentioned, some of the “jarring details” I named could be rationalized away by a cellist from a different background (or shrugged off as irrelevant by anyone with lower blood pressure). Still, it seems like a knowledgeable hand could have smoothed out some of the rough edges in Mia’s character and made her voice more trustworthy.

Beyond my interactions with the story, the frustration I experienced while reading If I Stay was a cautionary tale for my own writing. Like Forman’s people, my characters are diverse in their backgrounds and interests. As I strive to color my stories more richly, I’ve loved learning little bits and pieces about crab fishing and stained glass and convent life and cystic fibrosis. But as I do this, I have to remember that my “little details” are the crucial details of many people’s lives. They know these details far better than I do, and if I misrepresent their collective experiences, I’m alienating them as readers. It won’t matter if my description is technically true for some reader somewhere; I need to strive to be as accurate as possible for as many people as possible. It doesn’t mean I should write with my audience peering over my shoulder and arguing about my story’s details. It does mean I should try to never stop admitting my own deficiencies and striving to remedy them.

What book or movie has disappointed or distracted you with its inaccuracies? Do you think it matters how much research goes into a story?

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You made it through my rant! You deserve a picture of a llama feeling fabulous.

You made it through my rant! You deserve a picture of a llama feeling fabulous.

—————

Photo credits: Book cover from Better World Books; Kermit from LoggaWiggler, faces from RyanMcGuire, dog from DrSJS, peacock from skeeze, and llama from sebadelval on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Lemon–raspberry rolls

On Saturday, I decided to make mayonnaise.

Stay with me. We’ll get to the rolls soon.

rolls iii

I made mayonnaise for four reasons:

  1. I wanted some for sandwiches.
  2. I’m cheap.
  3. I wanted to see if it was as easy as Martha Stewart says. (I’m beginning to think that nothing ever is.)
  4. I was unsatisfied with the colour of my kitchen walls. I wanted some nice egg yolk flecks on there, courtesy of the food processor, which thinks it’s Jackson Pollock.

Sixty minutes, three appliances, several recipes, and one chemistry lesson on emulsions later, Houston … we have mayonnaise. It even tastes pretty good, although next time I think I’ll follow the blogosphere’s advice and not use EVOO.

rolls ii

Much like that mayonnaise, these rolls might appear to be too much work for the payoff. Two dough-risings and lemon-juicing and berry-mashing and glaze-mixing? It is a bit of work, my friends, but I promise the end results are totally worth it. The dough is soft and mildly sweet with flecks of lemon zest. The lemon juice and raspberries in the filling are a graceful and memorable pas de deux. The lemon glaze turns the whole thing into a celebration. And hey, if you wanted to sub blueberries for raspberries, or orange for lemon, or brown the butter before you put it into the filling, be my guest. We’re all about options here.

rolls v

Lemon–raspberry rolls

(Recipe from Joy the Baker)

Ingredients:

Dough:

  • 1 c. milk
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 1½ T. dry active yeast
  • ½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp. lemon zest
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 4¼–5 c. flour

Filling:

  • 1 c. raspberries (fresh, thawed, your choice)
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch
  • ¼ c. (½ stick) butter

Glaze:

  • 1½ c. powdered sugar
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 T. water

Directions:

  1. Mix milk and sugar and scald (heat until just before boiling). Let cool until pleasantly warm and yeast-friendly. Add yeast and let sit 5 minutes.
  2. Add butter, eggs, salt, zest, and as much flour as you need to make a kneadable dough.
  3. Knead dough until smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and tea towel, and let rise in a warm place for 60–90 minutes or until doubled in size.
  4. In separate bowl, mix raspberries, zest, sugar, and cornstarch, mashing raspberries slightly as you stir. Set aside. Brown butter and cool slightly. Set aside.
  5. Punch down dough and knead for 2–3 minutes. Roll into large, thin quadrangle. Pour browned butter onto dough. Add raspberry filling and spread to cover dough evenly.
  6. Roll dough into log and cut into 1½” rolls. Place in greased dish, cover, and let rise 1 hour.
  7. Bake at 350°F for 20–25 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  8. Mix glaze ingredients and pour over warm rolls.

Book Chatter: The Year of Learning Dangerously

tyold

There are three reasons why this book has been on my mind recently.

  1. A decade or so ago, this would have been the time of year that I was shopping for new pencils and Pee Chee folders.
  2. My teacher friends are posting pictures of their squeaky-clean, freshly decorated classrooms.
  3. I got a haircut that makes me look like a sixth-grader in the 1980s.
Roughly how I look.

This is roughly my head’s appearance at the moment.

In The Year of Learning Dangerously, author Quinn Cummings is less than satisfied with her daughter’s school and decides to explore the unplumbed depths of homeschooling. As she tries to figure out what would be best for her daughter (and for the whole family’s sanity), from coops to online classes to course kits, she discusses the history of the homeschooling movement and its current place in America, as well as the more recent trend of unschooling.

As you might expect from such a broad scope, there’s a lot to take in, and Cummings is frank about the bafflement and frustration she experiences during the journey. Her honesty and discomfort are encouraging, and she brings up some great questions about freedom and independence — not just in the sphere of education, but also in the realm of parenting in general. For example, is it better to have set cultural standards for parenting, or to let parents figure it out on their own?

As a non-parent, I don’t have many wise words to offer, but it’s been interesting to track the threads of the discussion. As well as Cummings’ book, which spurred my interest, I’ve especially enjoyed this TED essay on global parenting, this NPR article on the same topic, Mei-Ling Hopgood’s similarly themed book How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, and Joanna Goddard’s gorgeous eleven-part series on expats’ parenting experiences.

Parents, I’m curious: If you could leap into the past and change one thing about your children’s educational experience, what would it be?

—————

Photo credits: Book cover from Better World Books; willow from ADD on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Bruschetta

tomatoes iii

The Internet has informed me that it now has its own calendar.

Monday is now Man Crush Monday, followed by Transformation Tuesday (which sounds like something on the liturgical calendar), Way Back Wednesday, Throwback Thursday, and Flashback Friday.

(As far as I can tell, the last three are identical.)

Nobody seems to know what to do with Saturday, and Sunday is split between the Selfie Sunday camp, the Sunday Funday adherents, and the Sinday people.

Alternately, you can combine all three by taking a selfie at the beach while wearing red.

Alternately, you can combine all three by taking a selfie at the beach without a chaperone.

This bruschetta belongs to none of those camps. It lacks both sentience and opposable thumbs, so it can’t take selfies. It’s pretty fun, but on a small scale. And if you buy the ingredients from local businesses and don’t go overboard on the olive oil, there’s nothing terribly sinful about it.

I propose that we make up a new designation: Seasonal Sunday. It’ll be dedicated to supporting local farmers and restauranteurs in their mission to supply fruits and vegetables with a short transportation chain. I have a nice long rant about this, but I already said most of it in this post, and Barbara Kingsolver said it better in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, so I’ll get out of the way and let this bruschetta speak for itself.

tomatoes i

I first made this in the summer of 2011. I had just returned from ten months in Poland, and I was working at my university while I waited for classes to begin again. I lived in a cavernous cinder-block house that was nice and cool in summer (and turned out to stay that way in winter).

If you remember my story about 2011 being the Summer of Harry Potter, you’ll already know that this same summer featured quite a lot of cooking, so when my boss gave me a bowl of various tiny tomatoes from her garden, I knew exactly what I was going to do with them: make bruschetta. There were cherry tomatoes, and grape tomatoes, and pear-shaped yellow tomatoes, and some beautiful orange globes that I called Golden Snitches. They were tasty enough on their own, but once chopped roughly and tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, pressed garlic, and fresh basil, they were even more delicious on buttered toast.

Incidentally, how do you say “bruschetta”? Is the “ch” a “k” sound or a “sh” sound for you? I’ve heard it both ways. I’ve said it both ways. When I’ve said it one way, I’ve been informed firmly that the other way is right. I’m beginning to think it’s either a regional variation or a method of distinguishing between civilians and the members of a secret society.

tomatoes iv

Bruschetta

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. small tomatoes
  • 3–4 cloves garlic
  • 3–4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 c. fresh basil leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 T. balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • 1 sourdough baguette
  • 5–6 T. butter

Directions:

  1. Halve tomatoes to release juices.
  2. Mince garlic and chiffonade basil.
  3. Combine all ingredients except baguette and butter in large bowl. Stir well. Let sit 5 minutes to combine flavours.
  4. Slice baguette into one-inch pieces. Leave raw or toast under golden brown. Spread with butter.
  5. Spoon tomato mixture onto bread. Enjoy as appetizer or snack.

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Photo credits: Beach selfie from laura6 on Pixabay.

Book Chatter: Do They Hear You When You Cry

If there was ever a time when I wanted to be a lawyer, it was this:

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I was 19.  It was the finals week of my freshman year of college. I had just sold my textbooks back to the bookstore and, emboldened with the wad of cash, decided to check out their non-textbook section. A bright yellow cover caught my attention, and its attached blurb sounded interesting, so I took it home.

As it turns out, it was a good thing that classes were done for the quarter, because Fauziya Kassindja’s Do They Hear You When You Cry turned out to be a pageturner, the kind of book you’re loath to put down even for food. It’s the true story of a seventeen-year-old girl, born to a wealthy family in Togo, whose progressive father kept his daughters from being subjected to kakia, the local term for female genital mutilation (FGM). When Fauziya’s father dies, however, her more traditional aunt moves in and decides that Fauziya will become the fourth wife of a 45-year-old man — and undergo kakia beforehand.

Ultimately, Fauziya escapes and goes to Germany under a false passport, where a stranger takes her in and tells her that if she’s willing to reveal herself to the authorities, she can ask for asylum and stay in the country legally. Wanting to continue her studies in an English-speaking country, Fauziya goes to the United States, asks the immigration officer for asylum … and ends up in prison for sixteen months while her case is considered.

The account of Fauziya’s time in prison is harrowing, to say the least — she endures strip searches, abusive guards, a riot, and 18 consecutive days in isolation. When she finally gets a hearing in front of an immigration judge, he makes it clear that he doesn’t believe a word of her story, and orders her deportation. It takes another eight months, a team of four lawyers, and major media attention to get Fauziya’s case the careful consideration it deserves.

Fauziya’s story had a happy ending — not only was she granted asylum and welcomed into a loving American community, but her case confirmed that FGM could be considered grounds for asylum. Many other asylum seekers haven’t been so lucky. Even if their cases for asylum are strong, they might very well be caught up in intense political and civilian battlesDo They Hear You When You Cry can serve as a good reminder that at the end of the day, each asylum seeker is a human being with the same rights as anybody else, and we would do well to actively work towards protecting those rights.

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Photo credits: Cover photo from Better World Books; 

Eight ways to make apartment showings more fun

We all have our pockets of high-maintenance needs.  Maybe you’re chill with anything a waiter brings you, but it drives you nuts when other drivers don’t use their turn signals. Maybe you brush it off when your roommate leaves dishes in the sink for a week, but the vending machine at work absolutely must have diet cream soda or your entire day goes down the drain.

These triggers are a weird little part of life. I call them the Red Buttons of Existence. I have several — people spitting mouthwash on bus seats, for example — and this weekend, I gained one more: apartment showings. As I’m moving out at the end of the month, my landlord has been in the throes of finding new tenants, which apparently involves turning my home into a public area multiple times a week.

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“All right, everyone, are we ready to move on to the kitchen now?”

When the first showing rolled around, I didn’t think it would be that bad. I’d made plans to be away anyway. Then the landlord’s representative showed up half an hour early, walked in without knocking, announced that he was there to see if the place was clean enough, looked around critically, and said, “Well … I guess it’s good enough.”

Gentlemen, I know you might have questions about how women’s minds work. We’re all different, but here’s a good rule of thumb: Never walk into a woman’s house uninvited, inspect her housekeeping, and say, “Well … I guess it’s good enough.” No. Never. It took a good two hours, three cups of tea, and a piece of lemon shortbread before I stopped contemplating a particular use of my right knee — an action that would not be ideal for the task at hand, but would, in a pinch, be “good enough.”

"Clear blue ocean ... clear blue ocean ..."

“Clear blue ocean … clear blue ocean …”

Since then, I’ve grown to have a bit of sympathy for the people making the rounds of various apartments. All of those white walls and balconies and parking garages must blur together after a while, and I wouldn’t be doing my duty as a fellow renter if I didn’t try to help out these poor people a bit and make my apartment a bit more memorable. Here are eight ideas I’ve had to snag visitors’ interest. That’s what landlords want, right?

  1. Place all living and dining room furniture in the bedrooms. Transform the dining and living rooms into bedrooms.
  2. Chop a lot of Bing cherries in the kitchen. Put the cherries in the fridge, but don’t clean up the juice or put away the knife. (Bonus points if you let the juice splash down over the cabinets and onto the floor.)
  3. Invite a local bagpiper to practice in your living room during showings. Offer visitors homemade haggis.
  4. When visitors arrive, open the door only partway and eye them suspiciously. Ask the following questions: “Have you come to see the apartment?”, “Is there to be a full moon tonight?”, and “Does the emperor sleep in an iron bed?” When visitors have finished answering, nod somberly, hand them a briefcase, and shut the door.
  5. Turn all clocks to face the wall (or, if budget allows, smash in the clock faces). Remove all light bulbs and doorknobs. Write “THEY COME” on the mirrors in lipstick.
  6. Hang black curtains over the windows and throw black sheets over the furniture. Dress in black and greet visitors at the door by saying “Thank you for meeting me here today” in sepulchral tones. Guide them into the living room, where you have arranged thirteen lit candles in a circle. Address visitors as Benjamin Franklin, Marie Curie, and Tsar Nicholas II. Grill them thoroughly about their respective histories.
  7. Rebrand your apartment as Professor Heschl von Lipwig’s Traveling Flea Circus. Set up exhibits throughout the apartment, sell popcorn and cotton candy from the kitchen, and charge admission. Explain in a heavy German accent that the circus is a permanent fixture of the apartment. Frame your explanation as though the landlord offers in-house circuses as a perk, like free parking or on-site composting.
  8. Arrange a half-eaten meal on the table. Crumple some clothes in the chair as though they’ve just been taken off. Add an open Bible with Matthew 24:36–44 highlighted.

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Any other ideas out there? Conversely, what’s your most memorable apartment-visiting experience?

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Photo credits: Tourists by Hans; ocean by PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay. Also, shout-out to the fantastic web series The Guild for the “clear blue ocean” line. If you haven’t watched it yet, series 1 starts here.