Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review / The Faith Of A Writer: Life, Craft, Art by Joyce Carol Oates

Ms Oates' collection of thirteen essays on writing commingles heart and head to the extent these two often warring factions make an accord. Though a slim volume, it achieves much because of this harmony. If sentences are to be polished with costly adjectives, then let those embellishments be words like tessellated, hieratic, and  hypnagogic. The preciousness of her repetitive command write your heart out (in To a Young Writer) is easy to accept at face value because it stands out, like a Tiffany setting, supported by the shining evidence of her skills.

In Notes on Failure, one of the longer essays, she tackles the topic from several angles. One is that disappointment and frustration can beget favourable results. James Joyce's lack of success encouraged him to keep going since his work was so unpopular, he had nothing to lose. An odd safe haven was created from criticism. He profited from as his brother Stanislaus remarked, that inflexibility firmly rooted in failure. 

The obscure wellsprings which flush out creativity are discussed in Inspiration! A sight there, a sound here, a smell over there, an event over here can compel a writer to drink from the well. But what makes them go back again and again to quench that thirst, to get to know their obsession better, to bring the private into the public sphere? To answer her question, Why the need, rising in some very nearly to the level of compulsion, to verify experience by way of language?to scrupulously record and preserve the very passing of Time? she quotes Nabokov: All poetry is positional, to try to express one's position in regard to the universe embraced by consciousness is an immemorial urge. The arms of consciousness reach out and grope, and the longer they are the better. Tentacles, not wings, are Apollo's natural members.

A two-part essay, the longest in the collection, is titled, Reading as a Writer. Reading benefits writers in various ways. One such means is analysis. How does that author pull off what she does? What rhythm of sentence length? What vocabulary? What is the meaning of the finished piece? She elaborates on the latter by focusing on Anton Chekhov's short story, The Lady with the Dog. Its theme is stated right in the story itself: . . . Every man had his real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy and under the cover of night. She concludes:

The story's theme is like a bobbin upon which the thread of the narrative, or plot, is skillfully wound. Without the bobbin, the thread would fly loose. Lacking this thematic center of gravity, the story of "fated" lovers would be merely sentimental and unoriginal.
In general, fiction of a high quality possesses depth because it involves absorbing narratives and meritorious characters and is at the same time a kind of commentary upon itself. In Chekhov, among other writers of distinction, "fiction" is counterpointed by "commentary" in a delicate equilibrium. The commentary can be extricated from the fiction, as Ray Carver chose a succinct epiphany from Chekhov to affix to his wall: . . . and suddenly everything became clear to him. But the fiction can't be extricated from the commentary, except at the risk of reducing it to a mere concatenation of events lacking a spiritual core.

The Faith of a Writer is a gracious, pragmatic, and knowledgeable companion to writers. It will be kept on a shelf near my desk. I recommend it highly.

À la prochaine!


Book Review / Florike Egmond's An Eye For Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500-1630

Book Review / Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal

Baking From Around The World by Jessamyn Waldman

Rodriguez with Julia Turshen

Book Review/The Confidence Game: The Psychology Of The Con And Why We Fall For It Every Time By Maria Konnikova


The Faith of a Writer at Amazon

Joyce Carol Oates' Twitter account

Thursday, February 15, 2018

French Cheese: Pont-l'Évêque

From the Normandy town, Pont-l'Évêque (Bishop's Bridge), comes an eponymous AOC cheese tasting of butter and hazelnut. Since it is marketed in a wooden square container, not only is it carelessly referred to as Brie in a box, it is also a cinch to make fondue right in its packaging.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degree F). Remove lid and discard.

Remove cheese and unwrap.

Remove any labels from the lower box half.

Flatbread for dipping!

Line the bottom of the box with parchment paper and fit in the cheese. Slash its rind several times. If desired, herbs and/or garlic could be tucked in. If slashed more deeply, then white wine or Calvados could be added. Place on lined baking sheet.

Bake for around twenty minutes. The rind will puff up and there will be some lava flows.

Slice the flatbread like you would a pizza. If presenting as a dessert, then apple or/and pear slices could be substituted. In that case accompany with a white wine on the sweeter side.

The wedge shape is so functional, the pointy end pierces through the croute while the wide edge acts like a handle, keeping your fingers away from the cheese. 

Molten cheese draped over flatbread triangles is a pleasure that embellishes daily life without much ado.

À la prochaine!

Other French Cheese Posts:

Bleu d'Auvergne
Bresse Bleu

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Roasted Chicken Legs & Braised Leeks

How to enjoy roast chicken without the bother of roasting one? Yes, there is always the local rotisseriein France, they are as common as bakeries and beauty centres. But the real answer is chicken legs! They are inexpensive, succulent, and because of their being the dark meat, contains more iron than breasts. They are also a simple way of ensuring of having evenly cooked meat, that is, no overdone breasts because there aren't any. When a large quantity of chicken legs are roasted, the chef gets many of the same benefits of roasting a whole chicken: crispy skin, lots of leftovers, a good amount of drippings for gravy, and meaty bones from which to make flavoursome broth.

Preheat oven to 218 degrees C/425 degrees F. Though any oven pan can be used, a rimmed baking sheet does the trick because it's capacious so as to contain numerous legs, shallow enough to encourage crisping, and has sufficient depth to contain the drippings. The pan can be lined with foil or in my case covered with a thin, flexible, usable pan protector. Keeping the seasoning simple, using just butter . . .

. . .  and coarse salt . . . 

. . . goes a long way in tastiness.

While the chicken is roasting, prepare the braised leeks. Trim off the tough green tops and roots. Slice down the length without cutting through the side or the bottom. Splay out the leek layers under running water and rinse well, targeting any trapped grit or soil. Slice thinly. Melt a knob of butter in a skillet, add the leeks, stir for a minute or two until mostly wilted, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until tender which takes around fifteen minutes. They will braise in their own juices. Keep warm until the chicken is done.

Depending on the size and number of chicken legs, it could take from thirty to sixty minutes before they become crackly crisp.  Our six medium ones took around thirty minutes. No need to turn them. Pierce one in the thickest part to see if the juices run clear.

Place them on the bed of leeks. The butter theme is strong in this one, with textural side notes both crisp and soft.

Left-over chicken can be shredded off the bones, portioned, and frozen. Once defrosted, it can be added to pasta and grains, stuffed inside tacos, enchiladas, and pita bread, tossed with avocado. It's delicious served hot, warm, or chilled.

There was a nice amount of jellied drippings which I put on left-over pasta shells and peas. The next day I added shredded chicken and gently reheated. Most excellent.

Knowledgeable, talented, and thrifty cooks always have made various stocks from meat bones and vegetables. So the exceedingly fashionable 'bone broth' which is being presented as something fabulously unique, has been around a long time. Regardless your perspective, it is gorgeous stuff. Using a suitably sized pot, throw in the meaty bones along with savoury veggies like carrots, onions, celery, herbs too, like bay leaf, parsley, thyme, sage, don't forget spices also, like peppercorns, cloves, ginger, cayenne, garlic. Cover with water. Simmer, partially liddedso broth can become concentratedfor three to five hours. A steamy kitchen and a gurgle here, a warble there, coming from a stock pot relaxes me like few things can. However, if you are more out than in your home, do the simmering in a crock pot overnight. Instant pot and pressure cookers are also alternatives.

À la prochaine!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Review/The Confidence Game: The Psychology Of The Con And Why We Fall For It Every Time By Maria Konnikova

There's a con tailor made for each and every one of us potentially waiting around any corner because the confidence gamer is looking for the perfect mark, and that description could fit you.

Ms Konnikova writes a fascinating account showing how a con is done and the victim is reeled in through various stages as their psychological penchants including face-saving, hoping for the best, and not cutting losses are highjacked. Meticulous research presented via her riveting authorship is similar to an action film replete with flashbacks, voice-overs, multiple plot lines, and a legion of characters, both A-listers and supporting cast.

Since nobody thinks they can be conned, because of the wonky perception that being tricked obviously only happens to others and not you, the confidence huckster will use this misguided confidence to their advantage. If you are an expert, consider that expertise your probable entry point to being conned. Unwavering belief in your own skepticism, logic, rationality, and the emotional investment in your self-identity are all keys rattling on a con's key chain. Michael Crichton, a trained medical doctor who became a well-known and highly successful author, screenwriter, director, and producer got repeatedly conned by The Great Imposter, Ferdinand Waldo Demara while Crichton was penning his first two books which were about Mr. Demara.

Though using the Internet as a means to con is mentioned, I would have loved if that approach could have been elaborated upon further, especially in the glorious dinger of a wrap-up chapter regarding cult indoctrination. Self-help gurus, financial sharks, spirituality fleecers, and knowledge pushers peddling shallow, confusing perspectives and advice that if followed will have the duped crashing through the thin ice of gullibility into the freezing water of time and/or money loss only to wonder where did that lovely skating towards whatever reward was alluded went to all flourish on the web. These gurus could have bona fide credentials such as academic degrees, and while not specifically breaking the law, still not exactly delivering what they are espousing. I find this type alarming because they can just keep spouting their baloney, harming others in various ways, without ever worrying about being closed down by the law. 

Though the dark triad traits of Psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and Narcissism can work to your advantage when conning, a person who cons doesn't have to have these traits. The one aspect that all fraudsters share is that they choose to con others because not only do they identify the opportunity but they also give themselves a rationale to do so. Keep in mind that despite the fact that not all dark triad trait individuals swindle in a clearly illegal manner, psychologists have established that they wreak serious havoc with their self-absorbed, non-reciprocal, and concealed interface in both their public and private lives.

A deeper understanding of myself and others kept bubbling to the surface as I read. The best foil against becoming entangled in a confidence game regardless its level is self-knowledge. Identify your vulnerability when you are vulnerable: Is a pity play softening further your already exceedingly soft heart? Are you lonely? Do you have money troubles? Are you experiencing health problems? Do societal changes stress you?

The possibility of being conned can't be completely eliminated as our self-knowledge is in a state of flux. However there's a greater chance to cut losses if you realise that you can do exactly that, the very defence a con artist tries her best to prevent your wielding because without someone to play to the planned end, the payout will be none or much less, and even worse, the law could be brought in before the blowoff and fix can be completed. Those two confidence game jargon words involve the techniques to convince the victim to keep quiet so the trickster can remain free to continue the game with others.

Completing this book borders both on a therapeutic session, a very affordable one, with a gifted psychologist and a brainstorming session with an inspirational teacher. 

À la prochaine!


Book Review / Florike Egmond's An Eye For Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500-1630

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Not Quite Somnolent January Garden

Stroll around a garden. Yes, during January. Just dress warmly. Keep those eyes sharp and many wondrous sights will await such as the belated holiday gift of festive red and green leaves unfurling on a rugosa rose.

Pink tubular bells cover Erica darleyensis which tolerates neutral to slightly alkaline soil unlike most acid-loving heathers.

Dainty English daisies are starting to dot the lawn.

A cluster of tiny, downy flower buds on the bay laurel is turning rosy.

Lime and rust coloured lichens (a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi in a symbiotic relationship) are at home on the slowly decaying cherry plum tree.

Plump berries adorn a gold dust plant (Japanese aucuba).

The yucca fans out in shades of green, from light to dark.

Moss. Dots of it here. Larger patches there. And some the size of a throw rug making a well-weathered, low cement wall cosy in the frigid air.

Besides these encouraging signs of life, it is also inspirational to see plant parts usually hidden from view during spring and summer like a silver-spotted-with-gold rugosa thorn brightening up an otherwise gloomy corner . . .

. . . or spotting the remnants of summery largesse as in a rose of Sharon's overwintered, burst seed pod resembling a golden crown filled with ebony treasure.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Winter Break!

Winter Solstice is coming around the bend which means it is that time of the year when Souped-up Garden takes a break. Our seasonal book ordering is going at a great clip with a book arriving almost every day. 

A well-cushioned stack with the kitchen timer close by so there will be no meal burning while I am immersed in reading a book

Those comfy cushions are waiting for Dirac The Cat to vacate my reading chair.

The Calm One and I wish you and yours wonderful holidays. See you next year!