Thursday, October 27, 2005 ______________________________________________________________________________

Confessions 

I'm not a Catholic. In fact, religion-wise, I'm not sure I'm really anything right now. Still though, there are a number of things I have to get of my chest.

I really enjoyed reading Anne of Green Gables
Ehm. Yeah. *shifty look* I thought I might as well start with the worst one.

Anne of Green Gables, written by Lucy Maud Montgomery, is about an 11 year-old orphan who was mistakenly adopted out to the Cuthberts, a pair of eccentric siblings who lived in a house with green gables (who would've guessed) in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. In fact, if you were to visit PEI today, you could go for the Ultimate Anne Experience: a tour through the places where L. M. Montgomery imagined Anne to have traversed.

To my credit, I did not begin reading the book through my own volition. It is one of the books assigned for Children's Lit. No, really. Stop looking at me that way. I will admit though, that I was scarely through the first paragraph when I knew I was in love with the book. Putting aside more pressing assignments (I had other things due before I was required to finish reading Anne) I read the book in as close to a single sitting as I could, looking up from the page only to cross major intersections.

Phew. That was easier than I thought. Next confession.

I am incredibly materialistic
I love buying new things. No. I love buying things. Period. Garage sales, second hand bookstores, traditional department stores, quaint hole-in-the-walls whose owners take trips to East Asia to stock their shops: everything and anything. Buying something gives me a high - even if it's something I might not even need/want come next sunrise. There are two reasons why this is unacceptable:

1. Money. If I made as much as Jim did (i.e. contributing equally to the household) I wouldn't feel as guilty making small stupid purchases. As it stands, I make less than a third of what he brings home every month. It thus makes no sense (although Jim doesn't mind me buying stuff) that I'm the one that gets to spend on myself more. It's not like I splash money on myself, but even a small $5 something every other day adds up.

2. Buddha was on to something when he preached about freedom from desire. I really wish I didn't want quite so much. There are days where I need a lift so bad that I lurk in stores looking for something that I might want. There are other times where (knowing specifically what I want) I haunt stores repeatedly looking plantively at what I want, reluctant to spend on it. It's time consuming and I'd sooner be rid of it.

This section segues well into the next one.

I already have my Christmas wishlist and it's growing
On the list are the two CDs by the Be Good Tanyas (whose song The Littlest Birds I was plugging on my site not too long ago) - Chinatown and Blue Horse. Other CDs I would appreciate are Anne-Sophie Mutter's latest release - Mozart, U2's upcoming release Rarities 1971-2003, something by Norah Jones and (this is not strictly a CD, but it's still in the music category) Barenaked on a Stick.

Also on the list are books by Gregory Maguire. I have just finished reading Wicked, which Jimmy bought for me as a random just-because present, and it was exquisite (incidently, there's a musical based on the book). The sequel to that book, Son of a Witch has recently hit bookstores. I'm probably going to go buy that book in late November, but all of his other books are firmly planted on my wishlist.

Speaking of books, Neil Gaiman has just come out with Anasazi Boys. I love Gaiman's writing. It's more visceral than things I usually opt to read, but I adore the tracks along which his mind runs. So this is another obvious entry on my wishlist. Thanks to David's 2004 Christmas gift (1602) I would also like the Sandman series.

The list continues, but I think it obscene to have already posted as much as I have 58 days from Christmas.

I also have more confessions (like "I am no longer a virgin and my mother only just found out") but the Apprentice is coming on.


posted by Joie! at 7:37 PM

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Sunday, October 23, 2005 ______________________________________________________________________________

By Any Other Name (Children's Lit Mid-term paper) 

Mr. Gau was late. He fidgeted anxiously as he waited for the headwaiter to find him on the reservation list. He glanced around at the glass cases lining the reception area, filled with large, branching specimens of ginseng and decided that he should purchase one for Mr. Wang if all went well at dinner.

Mr. Wang was waiting impatiently at an ornate rosewood table in a private dining room. Mr. Gau entered, stooping slightly and apologizing profusely for his tardiness. He introduced himself, noting that Mr. Wang did not stand up to greet him. Quickly he took his place at the table.

“Sorry Mr. Wang. Car accident on the expressway. Tied everything up. I even left early because I thought something like that might happen what with the monsoon raging and all. Anyways, I’m starving. I already told the restaurant what to prepare when I made the reservation, so the first course should be here anytime now. I’m going to order some XO, they have some of that premium stuff here, want to join me?” Mr. Gau’s words tumbled out, and he flushed slightly as he realised that he was coming across too eager. Mr. Wang, slightly bemused, took him up on his offer of cognac.

Instantly, Mr. Gau summoned a waiter and ordered the largest bottle of Hennessy they had on hand. It would cost him more than the seven-course meal, but he was not about to spare any expense at this dinner. When the bottle arrived, he could tell that Mr. Wang was impressed. By the third course, both men were ruddy faced. Ties were loosened and conversation started flowing more freely.

“So, Mr. Gau, do you have kids?”

“Just one daughter. Just got her PhD from the University of Chicago in Classical studies. She can read and write Greek! She is planning on spending a year in Corfu before finding a position at a university. For her thesis she…”

“Wait, wait, wait. You mean like Hercules and Xena?”

“I beg your pardon? Oh you mean, well, yes, she dealt with Greek and Roman literature, if that’s what you’re asking. I’m not sure she studied about Xena though.”

“What on earth is the use of that? Mr. Gau, I have three sons and they all went to school for useful things - one in Commerce, another in Accounting. I have a third who’s still in medical school, but things like that take time. But, I mean. What is the use of going to school to learn about stories?”
Mr. Gau was starting to feel uncomfortable. He had received this same lecture from countless friends and family when they had heard that he was financing Jeanette’s PhD.

“Well, it’s not just stories you see,” stammered Mr. Gau, “She’s a really bright kid. Jinny can do anything she puts her mind to. Her degree requires a lot of critical thinking.” Mr. Gau was starting to wish that he had not had quite so much cognac, as he struggled to come up with another reason why a degree in Classical Studies was not a soft option, “I’ll bet she could do anything as well as the top guys in your company with that mind of hers.”

An unreadable expression flickered across Mr. Wang’s face. “Well, Mr. Gau,” he said, gesturing expansively, sloshing cognac as he did so, “It just so happens, as you probably know, that one of my company’s main projects right now is programming a sentient computer. Lots of trouble, even top guys can’t quite get it right. Send your daughter over for a week, and if she gets this stuff going, I’ll sign a contract with you.”

At this, Mr. Gau’s chopsticks paused in mid-air holding a piece of candied yam, causing its sugary threads to drift dramatically downward. He was an intelligent man and something deep inside told him that agreeing to this would be a bad idea. By this point, however, he was also a rather tipsy man and seeing no way out of the situation, accepted Mr. Wang’s proposal. Mr. Gau decided that he would not buy the ginseng after all.

Later that night, his face red from more than just the alcohol, he called Jeanette to tell her that she would start work at 9am on Monday. Jeanette, unable to react to this piece of news, mumbled inaudibly and hung up. On the one hand, she wanted to help her father. She knew that part of the reason his software company needed to merge was that financing her 10-year post secondary degree depleted much of his resources. On the other, she was quite sure that she would be no help at all seeing as how she viewed computers more as word processors than anything else. She quickly sent out a mass email begging for help. Before signing off, she promised potential benefactors “anything and everything” they wanted from her.

She woke late Sunday morning, struggling to remember why she felt such a strong urge to check her inbox. After sifting through a slew of mail beseeching her to enlarge various body parts she found Rafe’s email. It read: “Jean, love to help. On my two week’s vacation anyway. Let’s talk over dinner, tonight, 6pm at Punggol. Love, Rafe.” Jeanette cringed and scanned her inbox desperately for other emails proffering help. No one else had sent her a reply. She briefly considered turning down his help, pretending instead to accept another offer but decided against it.

Rafe, whose real name was Lee Kok Seng, arrived at 5:30 in a bright, striped shirt and orange corduroy pants. A short, oily haired man, his faced pitted and scarred from acne, he was barely able to conceal his obvious delight at his current situation. He had not seen or indeed heard from Jeanette since they both graduated from junior college, although he had seen her in his head countless times over the last ten years. When Jeanette arrived at 6:15 he leapt out of his seat to greet her. At this point, Jeanette was sorely regretting her “anything and everything” promise.

Over an obscenely messy meal of chilli crab and black pepper clams Rafe enumerated his many accomplishments since his graduation with a degree in Cognitive Systems. Jeanette, meanwhile, reflected on how fluorescent lighting was very unflattering, especially on Rafe who had both chilli and black pepper sauce smeared over the lower half of his face. Her appetite understandingly suppressed, she was not partaking in the meal. Jeanette’s mind suddenly snapped back to the conversation once he started talking about his work at both MIT and IBM.

“You helped to debug Deep Blue? For real?” Jeanette was visibly impressed. Rafe nodded proudly, a clamshell still dangling from his lips. Rafe, never one to miss an opportunity, seized this opening to talk about his compensation, “So Jean, are you still a virgin?” Jeanette blanched. Rafe grinned, pepper specking his teeth, “‘Anything and everything’ Jean baby. I’ve had the chance with many girls, but I’m still a virgin. I’d help you out if I could pop your cherry while you popped mine.” Jeanette was speechless. First off, she was a Catholic, so sex before marriage was out. Secondly, she could not believe that Rafe had used the phrase “pop your cherry”.

Jeanette hummed and hawed before finally blurting, “Well, Rafe, you know I really need your help. But you probably also know that I’m strictly against pre-marital sex. So, let’s start with a dinner and a movie and we’ll see how it goes.” Rafe grinned even broader and said, “We’ll see, Jean, we’ll see.”

At 9am the next morning, without so much as an office tour, Jeanette was hustled into a programming meeting. Unable to understand anything, but writing down everything she could catch, she prayed silently that she was recording all the information Rafe needed. At the end of the meeting, Mr. Wang delivered a bombshell.

“So Jeanette, now that you’re up to speed, you’re the only one who’s going to be working on this project. I thought I’d give my guys a break you know. You’ve got till Sunday to get this thing working. I’m looking forward to seeing what you get done.” Jeanette suppressed a sob. Back in her work area, she placed a whispered call to Rafe, notifying him about the new development.

Nightly, after the last programmer left, Jeanette would usher Rafe in into her cramped office. As she slept in the corner, Rafe plugged at the terminal, leaving shortly before the first programmer arrived. At 2am on Saturday, Rafe was poking Jeanette in the side. “Jean, Jean, wake up, talk to it. About anything. Seriously.” Bleary eyed, Jeanette pulled herself level with the terminal and typed: “What is Rafe talking about?” After a brief pause, the computer replied, “I’m not sure who Rafe is, but it looks like you do. Why don’t you ask him yourself?” Jeanette blinked. Rafe looked incredibly smug.

“It’s working Jean. Go home, take a shower. I’ll see you for that dinner and a movie tomorrow night. Look, I’ll even give you a ride home.” In her sleep-induced haze, Jeanette could not tell if Rafe was smiling or leering at her. Still groggy, she stumbled several times on her way to Rafe’s car and promptly feel asleep again as she collapsed into the passenger seat.

Jeanette was starting to feel uncomfortable. Something was pressing against her, waking her up. She opened her eyes slowly and shut them again, once the image before her registered in her sleep-addled brain. Rafe had his pants off. Rafe was in the process of undressing her. She could taste bile in the back of her throat. Instinctively she pushed hard against Rafe’s face and screamed, “Rafe Lee Kok Seng! Just what on earth do you think you’re doing? Stop it!” Almost magically, Rafe froze.

“Don’t call me that. My name is Rafe. Don’t call me Kok Seng. Rafe! Rafe! Rafe!” Rafe seemed to deflate before her eyes. Jeanette saw what she needed to do. “Lee Kok Seng, listen to me. Stop now. Kok Seng, I will call the police. Lee Kok Seng, put your pants back on.” Rafe stayed motionless, seemingly unable to decide what to do next. Jeanette took this opportunity to push herself free and tumbled out the door. As she ran from the car, she dialled the police on her cellphone, constantly looking back to see if Rafe was pursuing her. She need not have worried. When the police arrived, they found Rafe still in his car, insisting that he be called Rafe, and not that shameful, common moniker his uneducated parents had bestowed on him so long ago.


posted by Joie! at 1:46 AM

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005 ______________________________________________________________________________

Thanksgiving Dinner 

Vegetable Dishes

Butternut Squash with Honey and Almonds
1-1½lb butternut squash (skinned and cubed)
1 cup chicken stock (reduced sodium, if you can get it)
½ tsp each of salt, pepper and nutmeg (freshly grated, if you can get it)
3 tbsp honey
50-100g sliced almonds

1. Bring chicken stock, seasonings, squash and 2tbsp honey to a boil. Let simmer on med-low heat for ~20min.
2. Uncover and boil on high until liquid evaporates.
3. Stir in remaining tbsp of honey and sliced almonds.

Brussel Sprouts with Shallots
150g shallots (sliced)
350g brussel sprouts (halved)
2 tbsp butter

1. Melt butter in pan. Boil 1½ cups of water in a separate pot.
2. Add shallots to butter, fry until brown (~20min)
3. Boil brussel sprouts for 2 min
4. Add brussel sprouts to the browned shallots. Cook until tender (~4min).

Joie's Special Dill Potatoes
Seriously now, you didn't quite expect me to post the recipe for this dish, did you?

Peas and Carrots from the Microwave
3 cups frozen peas
½lb baby carrots (cleaned, peeled and halved on a diagonal)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
2 tbsp butter

1. Wrap the carrots in a moist kitchen towel (paper) and then in plastic wrap.
2. Microwave for 2-2½min.
3. Put peas in microwave safe bowl for ~5min.
4. While peas are in microwave, open carrot pouch CAREFULLY to let steam escape.
5. Stir carrots, garlic and butter into peas.
6. Don't let on that it was that easy to make.

The Bird

Alton Brown's Turkey Brine
4L vegetable stock (NO reduced sodium)
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
½ tbsp each allspice berries and candied ginger
1 cup kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar (light if you can get it)
4L iced water (or ice)

1. Bring all ingredients to a boil (except iced water, of course).
2. Cool thoroughly (best if in fridge).
3. Add iced water just before adding the bird.
4. Put bird (max 16lb or increase brine) breast side down in brine either late the night before or early the morning of. Make sure to take everything out of its cavity.
5. Turn bird over once, halfway.

This brine is also good for chickens.

Turkey
13lb turkey (free range, all vegetable grain feed no less)
2-3 tbsp canola oil
1 apple
¼ medium yellow onion
2 tsp sage
3 cloves garlic

1. Remove turkey from brine, pat dry.
2. Preheat oven to 500°F.
3. Microwave the apple and the onion for ~30sec with a little bit of water. (Tip from AB to release more flavour)
4. Put everything but the oil into the bird's cavity.
5. Rub oil all over the bird. Feel like a pervert the whole time because you enjoy it. Yes you do. Freak.
6. Put the bird in the oven.
7. After half an hour, place heavy duty aluminium foil (or double layer regular foil) over turkey breast. (Tip from AB to prevent breast from overcooking before dark meat cooks)
8. Reduce heat to 350°F. Continue cooking for ~2-2½hrs.

Alton Brown also gives great instruction on how to carve the turkey.

NEVER, EVER, EVER cook stuffing inside the turkey. EVER. It increases cooking time (which leads to sawdust-like meat) and it hardly ever reaches a safe cooking temperature (which means that disease causing bacteria - Salmonella anyone? - might still be lurking).

That being said...

Stuffing
4 cups day-old sourdough bread (cubed)
1½lbs shittake, oyster and white mushrooms (sliced)
8oz bacon (smoky and thickly sliced)
2 large onions (sliced)
4 cloves garlic (sliced)
½ cup each sundried tomatoes (packed in oil, chopped) and parsely (chopped)
1 cup chicken stock
2 tbsp butter
turkey drippings (~¼ cup)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Chop bacon crosswise into smaller pieces.
3. In a large, non-stick skillet, fry bacon until crispy.
4. Transfer bacon to kitchen towels (paper) to drain before adding to large mixing bowl. Like really large. Trust me on this one.
5. Pour out all but 2tbsp bacon fat. Add butter to skillet and melt over medium heat.
6. Add garlic, mushrooms and onions to the pan. Fry until golden. Yes. Golden. Then put it in the same bowl as the bacon.
7. Add parsely, sundried tomatoes, bread and chicken stock to the large bowl. Stir until mixed through.
8. Pack mixture into 2, greased 4x8in loaf pans (or 2, greased 6in round cake pans).
9. Bake, covered with aluminium foil, for 1 hour.
10. Remove foil, baste with turkey juices and return to over for 20min.

Cranberry Sauce
340g fresh cranberries
1 cup brown sugar (dark, if you can get it)
1 cup water

1. Bring all ingredients to a boil over high heat.
2. Bring heat down to low and simmer for ~1hhr until consistency is jam-like.

Gravy
2 packets Pacific Natural Foods Organic Turkey Gravy

1. Cut open packets, pour into saucepan.
2. Heat to desired temperature.

OH C'MON. I've already done so much damn cooking. You didn't expect me to make gravy from scratch did you? I did add turkey drippings to the packet gravy though. That should count for something...


Desert

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Spiced Rum Buttercream
Cake:
2 cups flour
1¾ cups brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg
1 cup canola oil
2 cups pumpkin (crushed - I used canned)
4 eggs
½ cup chopped pecans

Buttercream:
4 egg whites
2/3 cup granulated sugar
13/4 cup butter softened (but not melted - step away from the microwave)
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp dark rum
Orange food colouring (red+yellow, if desired)
pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Mix all dry ingredients for the cake. No need to sift anything.
3. Add pumpkin, oil and eggs. Stir with spatula until combined.
4. Blend in nuts.
5. Put batter into 2 greased and floured 9in round cake pans.
6. Bake for ½hr. Enjoy the way the kitchen smells. You know, just for the smell I think I'm going to bake this really, really often.
7. Allow to cool in pan for 10min before turning out on rack. Make sure that the cake rests right-side up on rack (i.e. turn it out of the pan onto a plate, then turn it out from the plate onto the rack)
8. Wait for cake to be cool to the touch before starting to make buttercream.
9. In a heatproof bowl, beat together egg whites and sugar.
10. Holding bowl over boiling water (ala double boiler), continue to beat mixture for 1 min (mixture should be hot such that a finger cannot remain in mixture for more than 10 seconds).
11. Remove from steam and beat until cool (minimum 10min).
12. Beat in butter ¼cup at a time. Mixture will curdle, don't panic.
13. Beat in nutmeg, rum and colouring.
14. Place one of the cakes right side up on serving platter. Put a generous dollop of buttercream on top of it.
15. Invert the other cake so that it rests on the buttercream. Proceed to decorate the cake.
16. Sprinkle pecans over the top of the cake.

It would of course be best if you actually had some sort of beater to make the buttercream with, but I didn't. My arm nearly fell off trying to beat it hard and consistently all that time, but I made TWO of these cakes in two days and I'm still here. So there. Ha.

I enjoyed myself but at the same time I'm rather glad that Jim's grand aunt is going to be cooking Christmas dinner.


posted by Joie! at 12:26 PM

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Saturday, October 08, 2005 ______________________________________________________________________________

Long Weekend Reading 

This is the first long weekend since school began. Eternally frazzled of late, you cannot possibly begin to understand how nice it is to have a breather. Now technically, there's plenty of UBC-related work for me to do (homework, TA work, fixing the online course work and grant application work) but I'm not going to do it.

In fact, to make sure that I only do this weekend what is due on Tuesday I've invited Brian (Jim's Dad) and Ronny (big Norwegian guy who taught me about safe sex) to a no-holds-barred Thanksgiving dinner. This entry is not about the dinner, which I'm sure I'll end up blogging about (13lb(~6kg) turkey, my potato speciality, three veggie dishes and a 2 tiered cake for desert)it's about what I think you should read should you also find yourself in the enviable position of having a 3-day weekend.

A good three-day read is His Dark Materials trilogy (by Philp Pullman). I wish I had these books in my youth when I read slower because they were over far too quickly for my liking (first two books completed in a day each, third book in two days - around my schedule...ahh ok I admit I skipped one class to read book two). The pacing of the stories are unparalleled, the concepts introduced are complex but presented simply and the plot - it's been a month since I've finished reading these books and thinking about the plot still leaves me breathless.

The first book in the series is called The Golden Compass. It begins by thrusting you abruptly into the world Pullman has created. Most novels set in a different world have some sort of preamble acquainting you with the world, introducing and defining the various terms (e.g. "muggle"). Granted, the way authors do this is either by introducing a character from another world into their world (Ray Bradbury does this alot, Luke Skywalker helped introduce us to the Jedi, etc.) or by having a character reminisce about a world more akin to ours and make comparisons (ala Larry Niven's Ringworld). Pullman begins in the middle of an event in the heart of his world. Admittedly, it's a little frustrating to not exactly know what he's talking about, but one gets initiated quickly enough.

It starts with 11 year old Lyra in a place she's forbidden to enter, witnessing something no one was supposed to see. The story snowballs from there. Being that the protagonist is so young, it really is a children's book. The action, no matter how sinister it is, is not as fully realized as it could possibly be. Still, you can't skip this book if you want to fully appreciate the next two.

The penultimate novel, The Subtle Knife, starts not in Lyra's now familiar world, but ours. With starkly different writing style to match the dramatically different setting, I almost thought that the trilogy was a collection of unrelated stories. Seeing as how I was dying to read the continuation of Lyra's story, the thought that crossed my mind was that Will (the charater from our world) had better be riveting enough to excuse the distraction from Lyra. Thankfully, he is and Pullman also sagely pulls out of our world just before we tire of its familiarity.

Lyra and Will are at the heart of extraordinary events. The action is now squarely in the PG-13 category as the two are thrust into very real and very threatening danger. The well-loved friends Lyra accumulated in the first book are also active in this one, ensuring that Will and Lyra are not abandoned in their unique quest.

With literally everything hanging in the balance at the end of the second book, I ran to a bookstore to buy the The Amber Spyglass. Being that us readers are now fully acquainted with all the characters and worlds, this book (quite a bit longer than the first two) starts immediately where the last book left off. Pullman does this very skillfully, revealing small bits of information such that the cliffhangers from The Subtle Knife are not resolved until the novel is well underway. Even though the pressing questions that were left by the second book are answered in the middle of the third, one almost doesn't even notice because there are so many other pressing things to uncover. Just a note of caution, this book is probably on the far end of PG-13.

It would have been so easy to seamlessly tack on a happy ending that would leave readers with a warm fuzzy feeling. Instead, Pullman puts far more thought into how he ends his epic series. His ending, while not wholly happy, is satisfying in its realism and is anything but contrived. I dislike the ending only because it signalled the end of my three-day sojourn into fantastic worlds. I feel like I grew with Lyra and Will. Indeed the books cover several years in their span and the two protagonists' journey into puberty is written so gracefully that one has to look back to realise how far they have come. I still miss Will and Lyra.

So there you go. The books I would read on my three-day weekend. I hope you do too because I'm dying to discuss the books with someone. I would also very much like to receive the book "Lyra's Oxford" for Christmas, or even a belated birthday gift. :)


posted by Joie! at 2:14 PM

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