So, I started a new shawl, but I don’t have any photos of it yet, so sadly, this post will be photo-less. Unless you want some food photos. FOOD PHOTOS. Oh so boring:

Chickpea Couscous

Mark Bittman’s Chickpea Tagine with Chicken and Apricots, from the New York Times dining section a couple of weeks ago. This was okay. For a quick recipe, it was pretty good. It was no couscous royale that you can get in Paris (yes, I know, I am one of these annoying people who finds Paris ab-fab), but it was decent. I would say B+. But the chicken thighs (I bought Murray’s) were tasty.

Kale Chips

Kale chips. These took over the knitting and food internets recently. I enjoyed them. I was actually lured by Crazy Aunt Purl’s negative review of them, claiming they tasted like nori. I like nori, so I made them. This is the recipe from the kitchn. I cut down the salt to 1/4 teaspoon (and two shakes of the salt shaker) and it was still way too much. Go lightly on the salt. Also. Very very easy to make. I would say A-.

Also, here are some book reviews. I know, this blog is filled with excitement. But what can I say? I read, I eat, I knit. Or as Laura Bush supposedly said, upon meeting her future in-laws, Bush 41 and Barbara Bush, “I read, I smoke and I admire.” Maybe I should read Eat, Pray, Love.

Anyway.

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. I was making a bunch of Miss Havisham references recently and figured I might as well read the damn book. Parts of it were much funnier than I expected, which was a plus. However, I am torn about Dickens’ emphasis on plot. Though I often prefer plot to character development, Dickens is pretty crappy at developing characters, to the point where even I, a plot-whore, noticed. But he is a master of family revelations, which I also enjoy, but it makes the book somewhat ridiculous at times. You know everything is going to be wrapped up in the end, however implausible the connections may be. Could the con man truly be related to Estella? YES!! Well, I guess since this was written as a serial, it requires ridiculous family revelations. Much like the ongoing soap Brothers and Sisters on ABC, which I am also fond of. Dickens=Sally Field ranting. Very similar.

The Uncommon Reader, by Allan Bennett. I thought this one was pretty funny. I like royal gossip quite a bit, so this novella about Queen Elizabeth II was totes entertaining to me. Your appreciation probably depends on whether you enjoy thinking about the British Royal Family in your spare time or not.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. This one was okay. It was somewhat predictable, I think, in its depiction of two totally smug, self-righteous characters, but it was set in Paris, so that’s a plus. (For me.) It kind of was like this Louise Fitzhugh kid’s book I read Nobody’s Family is Going to Change. Or Bridge to Terabithia. There’s something about this book that seems sort of ’70s-ish. Maybe the French are stuck in the ’70s? I don’t know.

Here’s to some knitting photos tomorrow!

Posted in book reviews, cooking at April 19th, 2010.

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In driving news, this is a photo of one of Adam’s favorite cars, a BMW 2002. It is very cute and mod. Anyway, I show this picture because we rented a car a couple of weekends ago, and the only car Zipcar had in the lot was a BMW (though of newer vintage) and I drove it back from the far reaches of Queens back, and Adam thought he was going to die. As he is not a driving instructor, he would be like, “Now do that, you know what I mean!!” And I would be screaming back, “No! I have no idea what you mean! We’re exiting!! I can’t switch back! Argh!!” Anyway, after one treacherous highway lane change, I saw the guy who kindly let me squeeze into his exit lane laughing in my rear view mirror. I was grouchy, because, yes, I am a bad/beginning driver and yes, I am driving a BMW. Shush.

In knitting news, I am still knitting my socks. I find knitting the two-socks-on-one-needle method a little boring because even though your socks are more even, your progress is SO slow, due to one row on one sock and then the other. <–This is potentially the most boring and obvious sentence I have ever written. Only thing that would make it more boring would be a Facebook quiz: What type of sock knitter are you?

In reading news, I have finished Middlemarch. It was not unlike Harry Potter 7, in that after MANY hundreds of pages of suffering, all of the characters basically live happily ever after. I was like WTF George Eliot?!? I have been slogging through hundreds of pages of Dorothea’s self-righteous suffering for it to all be solved in the matter of three pages? Couldn’t this have happened on page 20?! In the middle of reading Middlemarch, I went to see Bruno with my English-major friend (now turned corporate lawyer, of course), and I mentioned that I was reading Middlemarch. He said, “I never could decide whether I liked Dorothea or not,” which I think is an apt summation of the entire book. Before Harry Potter 7 was published, I promoted my own theory to everyone who would listen: namely that Harry Potter had to give up his magical powers (or “die as a wizard”) in order for him to save the world. I think this would have been a significant sacrifice, as well as following the plot structure of every one of these monomyth books. However, J.K. Rowling decided not to listen to my awesome advice and instead go for the most bourgeois happy ending ever.

This is essentially the same flaw of Middlemarch. If you have made certain characters suffer for many hundreds of pages, I think readers do not expect a rapid and easily wrapped up ending. Readers want sacrifice! Or at least I do. In my opinion, Dorothea, the main character, basically sacrificed nothing. Yes, she was married to a horrible ugly old man for a year or so, and then had to spend another year as a rich widow, but by the time she got married again she was (a) young–a widow at 21, so she was, omg, 22 at the time of her second marriage, (b) had an independent income (as part of the plot she had to give up her rich dead husband’s income, but she still had 700 pounds a year to live on–I have no idea what that means, but it seems, in the context of the book, to be fairly middle-class), (c) still fertile and gives birth to two sons after her second marriage, (d) continues to be the heir to her uncle’s vast estate, and (e) gets to marry her true love, another self-righteous character, who also happens to be young and handsome. I believe this is a plot that my college roommate would have described with the phrase “Hear me playing the world’s smallest violin.”

Anyway. I am now reading Moneyball, Michael Lewis’s book about the Oakland A’s. This better be an improvement over Middlemarch.

Posted in book reviews at August 18th, 2009.

Traveling sock

Adam looked down at my sock the other day and said. “Those colors are HIDEOUS.” Whatever–as my friend pointed out yesterday, I bought these truly hideous white T-strap Birkenstocks ten years ago, and they have since become the height of fashion. (She was like “God, people are still wearing those horrible shoes you bought in 2000.”) I have an eye for hideousness that crosses the line into cool. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

I’ve been reading, and  though I actually (and occasionally) review books for money in real life, I am not a great book reviewer on my blog. Generally, I just read books and absorb them and that’s it. Though my friend recommended reading The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, which I’ve owned for a couple of years (it was a gift) and I never read it. I was like, “Oh, I was worried it would be one of those ethnic identity books that I am not very into,” and she said, “No, it’s written in the culture of nerds, in NERDESE.” Apparently, the whole book is all about Lord of the Rings, so I will retrieve that book and read it this week, while the Hobbits are fresh in my mind. Same friend firmly vetoed Twilight, claiming it ruins your brain, even though she read all three. As I am not particularly into vampires (though I do enjoy a high school romance), I think I am safe.

Anyway, this week, I read America America, by Ethan Canin, which was kind of a crappier version of All the King’s Men. I understand that novelists–particularly male novelists–are fond of these epic, sweeping “And lo, this is America!”-kind of books, but they don’t always work out. I should write not-so-enthusiastic flap copy for books. America America could be described as:

*crappy All the King’s Men

* Primary Colors, but in the ’70s

* The Emperor of Ocean Park, but with white people!

I guess I secretly do read a lot of these political campaign books. I actually have read another Ethan Canin book–For Kings and Planets, and there were definite similarities between the two books. Both books are very into class and moving from the lower-middle class into the upper-middle class, a topic I do find interesting, but Canin is always so obvious about these issues I find his writing a little frustrating. Plus, I think in his efforts to ennoble the working class, he ends up being condescending. Whenever novelists start singing the praises of the working man, I groan, because I know that it’s all downhill prep-school  envy from there on out. Personally, I prefer my class warfare hidden within romantic machinations, hence my deep allegiance to Gossip Girl.

Posted in book reviews, Socks at June 15th, 2009.

I finished The Return of the King yesterday.  Anyhow, I did not become a Lord of the Rings mega-nerd, though I do now like to refer to people as X, son of Y, which is how everyone is ever introduced in LOTR. Anyway, this book was less like King Arthur stuff, as I had assumed it would be, and more like the Iliad/Odyssey, though somewhat reversed–the first two books are the odyssey part, and the third is the Iliad part.  It was really just one big war/journey book(s), with lots and lots of lineage-talk. By the time I got to book three, which is all lamentations of lands lost and children slain, I was like, okaaay, I know, I read the Iliad. (I’m actually much more familiar with the Iliad than the Odyssey, though I had to read both in college, because in fifth grade, we read some kind of abbreviated version of the Iliad and then had to draw our own illustrated version of the story, which kind of helps stick it in your brain.)

I have no knitting news. Sorry.

Posted in book reviews at June 9th, 2009.

Some random thoughts: I happened to catch Steel Magnolias on television the other day, and I realized why so many commenters pointed out that Julia Roberts’s character had died of diabetes, not cancer, when I brought it up. The whole movie was about diabetes! As a closet Brothers and Sisters fan, I was amused to see that Sally Field’s movie husband was Tom Skerritt, who is also her television husband. Also, as commenter Michelle mentioned yesterday, there is a Sex and the City episode set on Staten Island, where Carrie misses the boat to go back to Manhattan, but as Adam pointed out, the ferry runs (for free) all night, so it wasn’t a super realistic episode, except that she would have had to wait an hour for the next one, I guess.

Flowers

I like taking photos of flowers, though the photos are not as beautiful as in real life. This is the border of a lawn in my parents’ neighborhood in San Francisco–there’s some freesia on the bottom, and poppies, tulips, and ranunculus (ii?). 

square

I’m still knitting squares. I’m really loving garter stitch these days. Simple and easy and SQUISHY. 

Strand Bookstore outside Central Park

(This picture is from this site.)

Over the weekend, we walked by the Strand’s outdoor book stalls and Adam bought me The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, not believing I would really read it. Well, I read the whole thing, and now I need books 2 and 3. I have to say I wasn’t particularly addicted, because at least book 1 was a little, um, [cowering from LOTR-fan hate] boring. I like King Arthur-y stuff, but the Fellowship of the Ring story, in my opinion, was lacking in psychological motivations for any of the characters. I mentioned this to Adam, and he was all, “IS DESTROYING THE RING TO SAVE THE ENTIRE WORLD NOT ENOUGH MOTIVATION?!” I’m like, well, okay, but so? I mean cute little Frodo (I am refusing to imagine him as Elijah Wood, rather picturing him kind of like an Ewok) is going through all this stuff, but why? I think this book is in dire need of some of my favorite plot elements: 1.) family revelations; 2.) psychological motivation (preferably with a shocking secret); 3.) romance.

1.) Family revelations are when people turn out to have long lost relatives who have been key characters. The ultimate family revelation movies are Jean de Florette and its sequel, Manon de la Source. Also, I must begrudgingly point to, of course, “Luke, I am your father,” in Star Wars. But you know, Oliver Twist, Portrait of a Lady, hell, the BIBLE, are filled with family revelations. Somehow I doubt Gandalf is going to be related to Frodo.

2.) Well, the new Star Trek movie I recently saw tried to give some origin/backstory to Spock, and I feel it was sufficient. Batman, etc. But Frodo has a cute happy life in the Shire–there is no real reason why he has been chosen to carry The Ring. (Except that he is so cute and happy that he can’t be destroyed by it, I guess.)

3.) Duh. From the relentless publicity of the LOTR movies, I am guessing that Aragon and Arwen are in love, but I think this book could benefit from more female characters in general. I mean, these faerie folk things normally throw a sop to lady readers with a major heroine (Jane, in The Dark is Rising; Princess Eilonwy, in The Black Cauldron; Hermione, in Harry Potter), and I think this book could really use a  major lady character.

Okay. I am going to try to get book 2 and will report on that when I am done, though I assume most of my readers are already familiar with LOTR, and not in need of my commentary.

Posted in afghans/blankets, book reviews, travelingproject at June 3rd, 2009.

Once, when I lived in Paris and saw movies by myself all the time, I went to a movie I thought was called Lola Stella, but turns out to have been called Lola Turns Stella Does Tricks,  and it was a film of unspeakable filth. (I was deceived by the movie guide listing and apparent lack of ability to read movie summaries in French. I had only understood one sentence of the summary. All I knew was that it starred the girl from Trainspotting and that it was in English) After ten minutes, I was like, OMG, I cannot take anymore of this movie–I felt like I needed to bleach out my retinas from what was going on on screen–and I went outside and explained my predicament to the usher and she nodded. She said, “I understand completely. Just wait here for five minutes, and you can go see the next showing of Stepmom, it’s really good.” I have never been so grateful to see Hollywood schlock. I was like thank the lord for Julia Roberts and her dippy movie, because it has saved me from seeing these terrible images of Lola Turns Tricks Stella Does Tricks.

To a lesser extent, this happened to me reading-wise last week. As I mentioned, a friend had given me Out and Grotesque, two Natsuo Kirino mystery novels, and since he and I normally have the same taste (we almost always give each other stuff the other person already has–past gifts have included Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled) I was excited to read them. They were compelling and parts of them were quite interesting, but there was also a level of violence that I was not expecting and I was a little taken aback. (Out was about lonely factory-working housewives who turned to murder and Grotesque was about prep-school girls who turn to prostitution and more.) So when Adam’s mom sent me Kate Jacobs’s The Friday Night Knitting Club as a gift in the mail, it was a very nice unexpected surprise–much like when I saw Stepmom.

The Friday Night Knitting Club is blurbed on the front as “Like Steel Magnolias set in Manhattan.” I have not seen Steel Magnolias, but I am pretty sure this is a fairly accurate description. In fact, I am kind of surprised no one has come up with the gimmick of the book before. Much like Like Water for Chocolate or Heartburn or whatever book that used food as a metaphor for life,  the novel uses knitting as a metaphor for life–you know, each chapter starts out with a description of a stitch, and then it says something like, “Purls, you keep the bumpy side hidden, and the smooth side you show to the world.” (<–paraphrasing here, but you know where this book is heading. It’s like all the Carrie Bradshaw pun-filled voiceovers in Sex and the City–“When it comes to life and love, why do we believe our worst reviews?”) I think Julia Roberts is actually starring in the movie version of this book, which is amusing, because she is also in Steel Magnolias and Stepmom, all three of which (spoiler alert) involve a woman–with so much life left to live!–dying of cancer.** Not that cancer is funny, but it’s like the modern consumption. Once someone in an old-timey movie or book starts coughing, you know it’s all over. Though characters with consumption always seem to have a lot of male suitors.

Anyway, personally, I enjoyed The Friday Night Knitting Club, and might even read the sequel, though I have to say that it’s kind of the literary equivalent of Stepmom. I went through a phase of reading a bunch of Laurie Colwin novels (I get the urge again every summer at the beach), and this book definitely fell into the Laurie Colwin category, where everyone lives in a mythical Upper West Side: People are quirky, but not to the point where it would be weird; people work in publishing, and love to read; men sometimes cheat, but only because they cannot express their true love; old people live in the San Remo; and everyone loves Zabar’s. Laurie Colwin novels are like porn for a certain kind of girl*–it’s this fantasy of the Upper West Side and all of its bourgeois WACKINESS in one light joyous romance. 

*If you majored in English and work in publishing, this is probably you.

I will also say that though I do not feel this book actually had very much to do with knitting at all, though if you like knitting, you might enjoy this notion of a knitting circle as the new book club. It’s not like they knit entrelac in it or anything. Haha. There is, though, like Heartburn, a knitting pattern and a recipe in the back, (written by the characters, of course) for verisimilitude.

** EDITED TO ADD: As several commenters have pointed out, Julia Roberts actually dies of diabetes, not cancer, in Steel Magnolias. Also, after reading Grace’s comment, I checked and realized this movie was called Stella Does Tricks. This blog, clearly not fact-checked. Will try to improve.

Posted in book reviews at March 5th, 2009.