30 June 2006

Reads & Listens, June 2006

Lost & Found by Carolyn Parkhurst
At first I thought "a novel about reality television? oh, ick" but I was so very, very wrong. This was a surprisingly poignant and funny novel with characters (especially Abby and Cassie) I cared for quite deeply.

Dixieland Sushi by Cara Lockwood
I don't necessarily mind predictability in my chicklit -- it's okay to know from the first page that The Girl Will Get The Guy -- if the story is also fun and creative. This wasn't. No, it was unimaginative and annoying. Grr.

V For Vendetta by Alan Moore (illus. by David Lloyd)
What the fuck?

Johnny and The Dead by Terry Pratchett
In this "sequel" to Only You Can Save Mankind, Johnny Maxwell discovers he can see and talk to the dead. And, boy, are the dead pissed off. Seems the local council sold the cemetery off to some giant corporation who wants to build an office block ... Funny and smart little book.

Dr. Franklin's Island by Ann Halam
One of the high school's summer reading books. On the surface, this book seems like a simple retooling of The Island of Doctor Moreau, but it's much better than that. Beautiful and scary with well written female characters. A good hammock read.

Rash by Pete Hautman
In the United Safer States of America pretty much any antisocial or "dangerous" behavior will put you in jail, but that's okay, because the economy depends on slave penal labor. Pretty good black comedy.

Warrior's Apprentice by Louis McMaster Bujold
I preferred the comic strip.

Cats in the Sun photos and text by Hans Silvester
Wonderful photograph collection the cats of the Greek Cycladic Islands. Nearly always beautiful and frequently funny, but never mawkish or cutesy-poo.

21 June 2006

Is "Closeted" too Vague a Term?

Woman approached the desk with Danielle Steel's new book Coming Out in her hands and said "It just occurred to me ... coming out ... you don't think this is about The Gays, do you?" (Yes, my dahlings, The Gays. I could hear the capitals quite clearly). I gaped at her for a minute while my brain tried to claw its way out of my head, then I pulled myself together, smiled, and said something like, "well, from what I remember from the reviews, it's a story about a mixed family with two teenage daughters who are invited to a coming out ball ... there is a closeted brother ... but why don't you take a look at the book flap and see if you want to read this before I check it out to you?" and she said "oh, no, as long as it isn't all about those Gays."

I admit my summary of the story wasn't all that precise, but I do think "closeted brother" should have been a tip-off.

I can't imagine Danielle Steel writing a gay character with any particular breadth or depth and suspect the brother is just so much window dressing. I don't know. Maybe I should be pleased "The Gays" are now mainstream enough Danielle Steel writes about them? Instead, I feel ... annoyed ... as if she's appropriated and commodified something of mine.

That's right! Because bisexual girlies living in the burbs with their heterosexual husbands have so much worth appropriating or commodifying!

13 June 2006

A Year of Cake (It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time)

Yesterday, we celebrated my father's fifty-fifth birthday. My parents came over in the afternoon and we played several rounds of croquet (he won one) and then we went off to our favorite Mexican place for much yumminess and fun, and then back to our house for more croquet, and then the opening of presents, and the eating of cake, and the playing of too many hands of Uno.

Good fun all round.

I was at a complete loss as to what to give my father for his birthday. At first, when my mother said she was buying him a hammock, I said I would buy him a nice assortment of beer, because beer and hammock are a necessary pairing. However, my mother (tricksy as she is) went and bought both the hammock and the beer. So no beer. And, of course, when I asked my father what he wanted, he was all "oh, I don't really need anything." Yes, fine. Except I couldn't give my father nothing for his birthday. So I turned to my mother who (very offhandedly) suggested a year of cake.

And so that is what I have gave him. Twelve months of cake. The birthday cake I made yesterday counts as the first cake, so he gets eleven more. He wants his next one to be a vanilla layer cake with chocolate frosting. Not very adventurous, but it is his present, after all. Vanilla cake it is.

I will probably use the "White Cake" and "Chocolate-Sour Cream Frosting" recipes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (Meredith Corporation, 1996). I used that same cookbook to make the "Chocolate Cake" with "Truffle Frosting" (no double boiler!) for my dad's birthday cake and it yielded splendid results. I don't like chocolate cake all that much, but I thought this one was pretty damned good. Rich, but not leaden. Sweet, but not achingly. Chocolatey, but not disgustingly so.

Anyway, my dad seemed to like it (and the idea of eleven more) a heck of a lot and that's what really matters.

Alas, The Husband is now full of whininess and unrest over the giving away of cakes. Mutters about how everyone else gets cake made for them, but he doesn't get cake, and life is just teh sux0r. As if I had not made him a very nice chocolate bundt last week. As if I will not make him other cakes in the future. Poor husband. So benighted and put upon.

O, woe. O, waly, waly.

09 June 2006

Every Day is a Good Day for Cake

Yesterday, amidst lawn mowing and whatnot, I made a chocolate bundt cake. Not just any old chocolate bundt, but "The Darkest Chocolate Cake Ever" (Bundt Classics, Nordic Ware, 2003). Why a cake? I was in the mood to bake something bundt-esque and it seemed an easy recipe which needed no extra additional shopping.

I don't have a lot of experience with baking chocolate cakes. Whenever I've made a chocolate cake in the past, it was almost always from a box. I have made BHG's "One-Bowl Chocolate Cake" (Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, Meredith Corporation, 1996), too, but it calls for shortening and I didn't have any on hand yesterday (when was the last time I owned shortening??). Most recipes for scratch chocolate cakes tend to intimidate me, because they call for the melting of chocolate in double boilers and that is just too complicated for me. Happily, this cake required no double boilers. Instead, I made a paste of cocoa and boiling water which was allowed to cool and then added to the batter just before divvying between the cake pans. Easy-peasy. Even used powdered buttermilk and that was fine -- just followed the instructions on the tin.

I did have some concerns when I was divvying the batter up. The almond extract smell was very strong and the batter of this so-called "darkest chocolate cake ever" was more tan than not. Ahh, but no fear. Thanks to the wonders of kitchen chemistry, the cake that came out of the oven was a brown so dark it was nearly black and the chocolate smell was just amazing. Yes, a faint undertone of almond remained, but there was no doubting this was a chocolate cake.