Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I should not be awake...


Sleep seems to be a popular subject in recent library conversations, especially the lack of sleep, for both patrons and staff. Why is this? One theory: barometric oddness. One day the weather may be glorious - warm, sunny, springlike - followed by a day of fog and gloom. Perhaps our bodies and minds are having a hard time adjusting to this. We're more used to the comfortable boredom of rain, rain, rain. All this unpredictability is wearing us out.

There are also germy things getting passed around. It's hard to sleep when your body is waging war with unfriendly bacteria. I went to the doctor yesterday after dueling with a head cold for the last two months. It would recede just enough to make a doctor visit sort of pointless, then come roaring back for a couple of days only to recede once again. It was starting to feel like the cold was giving me a snarky nyah nyah nyah; I finally gave in and asked a doctor to take a look. Yes, indeedy, a mild bacterial infection. Antibiotics are my friends.

Except when they make me queasy, just unsettling enough to interfere with sleep, waking me up every hour or so. I was once again drifting along on sleep's surface (just after 3:00 a.m.) when Ken suddenly said "Everybody out of the cabins!", spoken like a lively activities director (as opposed to Swat Team member.) Since my brain would not let go of it, here I am at 4:30. Just me, a cup of tea, and the blog.

I did something adventurous the other day. I surfed the library catalog in the same way I surf Youtube. I had never just browsed around like that before. Usually I'm on the hunt for something specific, looking for a recommended title or searching for an author, but this time I typed in 'humor' and hit the Subject button. 1,466 hits. Whoa nelly. I decided to do this same hunt in the staff side of the catalog, a nice project for lunchtime, and had a better result. Rather than individual titles, the list was truly subject-based: Humor-American, Humor-astrology, etc. Scrolling down, I came to Humor-books (aha) and went on a mild Holds frenzy.

The first one came yesterday afternoon, The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes. McSweeney's is a publisher of up-and-coming literature, a mixed-bag of modern essayists, poets, and short-story writers (very mixed, sometimes. Why are so many youthful writers enamored with the F-word? Get a grip, folks.)

Anyway, the book came and it is wonderful, a genre that is self-described as "extremely bookish, verging on terminally nerdy, literary humor." The writing is...funny. I'm having a hard time describing it, so I'll resort to samples:

"The Recruitment of Harry Potter"- a memo from a college coach to his scouting team, planning ways to convince Harry to accept a sports scholarship (for Quidditch.)

"The Earlier Epic Battles of Grendel's Mother" including Grendel's Mother vs. the Manager at ShopRite.

"Ikea Product or Lord of the Rings Character?" - a list of fourteen names. Pick which ones are which.

"Submission Guidelines For Our Refrigerator Door" - this is especially funny if your refrigerator was ever, or is currently, a place to display your child's work (doubly so if you've ever submitted something of your own to a publisher.)

"Possible Titles for Future Sue Grafton Novels After She Runs Out of Letters" - another list. One of my favorites on that list: "/" Is For Slash.

I'd better stop. But...but...there's a letter to Gregor Samsa stating the reasons for the denial of his SSI disability application. There's a transcript from a documentary about Goofus and Gallant, and there's feedback from James Joyce's submission of Ulysses to his creative-writing workshop.

It's a great book.

Overheard on Twitter: Today we paint. Tomorrow, the world!

Next time: something written at a more reasonable time of day. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Hostile recipes


We're a garlic-loving household. Around here, a dinner without garlic is nearly unthinkable. There was a time, however, when neither of us could stand the stuff. It was 1985. We had purchased the original Moosewood cookbook and were cooking our way through it when we came upon the recipe for calzone: homemade dough, ricotta cheese, egg, and garlic. Twelve cloves of garlic. We pondered that garlic. Really? Twelve cloves? Well, why not? This was a respected cookbook written by knowledgeable cooks and therefore trustworthy.

Or not. Our apartment smelled like garlic for almost two weeks. The curtains, the carpet, even our bathroom towels reeked (despite several runs through the washer.) We were in a small apartment with little room to spare for strong odors. Add the fact that I was substantially pregnant and susceptible to scent...well, garlic was banished from our diet. I couldn't cook with it again until 1986, after our child arrived.

Cookbook writers usually make an effort to publish recipes that are accurate in their measurements, ingredients, and processes, but sometimes something goes awry. Perhaps the proofreader was having an off day when that calzone recipe was vetted and it should have called for two garlic cloves. I had a hard time trusting the remaining Moosewood recipes, and the garlic incident inspired us to coin the phrase "hostile recipe."

I grew up in a family of cooks. My grandmother was a terrific seat-of-your-pants cook. She could make a tasty meal out of anything. I have to say, though, that in Grandma's later years she was sometimes a little too creative, especially with Jell-O. (One never-to-be-forgotten Jell-O dish included ketchup, mayonnaise, onion, and salad shrimp.) Mom was a more traditional cook and kept a book full of her favorite recipes, but she was adventurous, too. She made things that were rarely made from scratch in my friends' homes, things like deep-fried onion rings and doughnuts.

With all of that cooking going on around me, it was no surprise that I ended up having fun in the kitchen. I like to cook but baking is my favorite. I love playing with bread dough, trying out things like croissants and puff pastry, and baking cookies of all kinds. Ah, cookies. My very first cookie-baking experience was with the Tollhouse Cookie recipe on the chocolate chip package. My cookies came out looking like cowpies. I tried Mom's Better Homes and Gardens recipe. Cowpies again. For years, I could not bake a chocolate chip cookie. They always looked like cowpies, in varying degrees of cowpie freshness depending on the recipe. I finally found a friendly recipe online, ten years ago. Now my chocolate chip cookies are photogenic. Some would suggest that the problem was with me rather than the recipes. I don't think so.

I once owned The Joy Of Cooking. It was a fine cookbook except for one thing which drove me mad - the recipes weren't always complete on the page. I don't remember which recipe finally sent me over the edge but I do remember that I had to go to five different sections of the cookbook to accomplish one supposedly-simple dish. Hahahaha. Hostile Cookbook.

Overheard on Twitter: For the past 20 mins the sweet hummed notes of the Inspector Gadget theme have been drifting down the stairs.

Next time: unhappy hipsters. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Crash Blossoms


What, you may well ask, are crash blossoms? I had never heard the term until today via Twitter, but it turns out I've been a great fan of them for years. I'm putting up this brief post today or I'll forget where I saw this article about the unintended weirdnesses that show up in newspaper headlines.

Overheard on Twitter: argh argh argh get off the mosaics! (I wish I had the story behind that one.)

Next time: those hostile holiday recipes I mentioned awhile ago. Stay tuned.