Stuff and Nonsense: July 2011


Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot

Every time I see you
I get a Sugar Rush
You're like candy
You give me a Sugar Rush
Don't tell me to stay on my diet
You have simply got to try it
Sugar Rush

Heather Wells used to be minor rock star, a tween sensation at sixteen. Then she lost her recording contract when she asked to record her own songs (dismissed by her label as "angry girl rocker shit"), lost her cheating rocker boyfriend to an up-and-coming sensation, and lost all her money to her mother who fled the country with it!

Thirteen years later, looking to build a life for herself that has nothing to do with her rock star past, Heather becomes one of New York College's assistant residence hall directors (free classes, natch). When her residents start dying in ways the police dismiss as mere college hijinks gone terribly wrong, Heather knows it must be murder and that it's up to her to discover the killer's identity before more girls die.

Size Twelve is Not Fat is fun, chatty, cute, and pretty darn ridiculous. I grinned the entire time I read it -- even when I was rolling my eye's at Heather's obsession with her hunky private investigator landlord (who just happens to be her ex-fiance's brother!) or the repetitive jokes.

I enjoyed it enough that I know I'll read the sequels, but not so much that I'd press this book on other readers. I guess I'm trying to say it's a fun and ridiculous read, but not an exactly memorable one. I finished Size Twelve is Not Fat two days ago and it's already fading from my memory, leaving nothing but a warm, fuzzy glow behind. And that's fine, you know.

Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot (William Morrow, 2005)



The Brazilian Kitchen

Earlier in the month, I attended a Chefs & Books talk at the Farmington Libraries on Leticia Moreinos Schwartz's The Brazilian Kitchen. I didn't know much about Brazilian cuisine, but as I expect it will become trendy soon -- what with the upcoming Olympics and World Cup and all -- I thought now would be a good time to educate myself. Besides, who am I to pass up a chance to learn about food?

Chef Leticia's talk was really educational. Being wholly ignorant, I was interested to learn that Brazilian cookery owes a debt to indigenous Indian, Portuguese, African, and even Lebanese cooking. Just like everywhere really, there are distinct regionalisms to Brazilian cookery and food you encounter in Buenos Aires may not resemble food found in the heart of the Amazon. Chef Leticia passed around samples of pão de queijo (twee cheese buns) and coconut brigadeiros (soft, fragrant bonbons) and that was it, I knew I had to try Brazilian cooking.

I put a hold on The Brazilian Kitchen as soon as I arrive at work the next day. A copy came in for me last week and I just can't stop looking at it! Admittedly, some of the recipes are for foods I am not brave enough to try cooking at home -- I would happily eat them in a restaurant (where are you hiding, Connecticut's Brazilian restaurants?), but cook them? Never. This has nothing to do with recipe complexity as Chef Leticia has written them in a very clear, approachable way. It's just that I'm afraid of frying. Anything that involves heating a dutch oven with oil is a no-go for me. But, please, someone try the acarajé (black-eyed pea fritters) and tell me how awesome they turned out!

Amusingly, two of the dishes I'm most interested in trying are eggy, comfort foods. One, "Egg Stuffed Baked Potato" (Batatas Recheadas com Ovo), is basically a twice baked-potato stuffed topped with an egg, covered in cream and Parmesan cheese, and baked until delicious. Can't you just imagine breaking the perfect yolk and seeing all that delicious golden goo ooze all over the potato? Yum! The other recipe, "Quail Eggs with Ketchup Sauce" (Ovos de Codorna com Molho Rôse), I freely admit to wanting because it seems like a souped a version of an old childhood favorite -- soft scrambled eggs with ketchup. Except, of course, these are soft-boiled quail eggs arrange in a little puddle of sauce made from mayonnaise, crème fraiche, heavy cream, lime juice, tomato paste, and ketchup. It's elegant comfort food.


Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Through the left-side windows, they can see the strange, verdant land taking shape, growing bigger as they descend. It's beautiful. They will land safely, no matter the sudden near-vertical descent. They're sure of it. After all, these are can-do girls from a nation built upon dreams. And what is the ear-splitting scream of metal against metal, the choking smoke, the sensation of falling through a surprisingly uncaring sky, against such unshakable dreams?

A plane carrying Miss Teen Dream pageant contestants crash lands on a seemingly deserted island. All the adults and many of the beauty queens are dead or missing. Those who remain must find a way to survive and, in doing so, will sample hallucinogenic berries, uncover nefarious corporate plots, and discover their true selves.

I really, really enjoyed Beauty Queens. So much so that it's hard for me to write about it without blabbing the whole story. It's clever, funny, and subversive. Also campy, overly dramatic, and ridiculous. Frankly, it reminded me of Christopher Moore's more subversively ridiculous books (and I'm a big Moore fan, so take that as the compliment it is).

Our heroines are, for the most part, are well crafted -- they're not "just" beauty queens, but "real" girls with desires, dreams, and personality that must be constantly suppressed in order to become Miss Teen Dream. It was great to see them gradually shed their beauty queen personas and become strong, capable, independent women capable of overcoming Corporation machinations trough the skillful application of eyelash curlers and straightening irons.
     Mary Lou wiped fruit juice from her mouth with the back of her hand. "Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one's watching them so they can be who they are."
     Adina gazed out at the expanse of unknowable ocean. "Maybe."
     There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.
     They were becoming.
     They were.
The commercials and snippets of television programming scattered through the novel are also a hoot -- especially "A Word from Your Sponsor" after some desert island lovin' goes on --
The Corporation would like to apologize for the proceeding pages. Of course, it's not right for girls to behave this way. Sexuality is not meant to be this way -- an honest, consensual expression in which a girl might take an active role when she feels good and ready and not one minute before. No. Sexual desire is meant to sell soap. And cars. And beer. And religion.
Taken out of context, the quote may seem kind-of preachy and over the top (well, okay, the entire novel is pretty over the top) but have you looked at girl's/women's magazines lately? It's all sexshamebuybuybuy! (If it weren't for the recipes, I wouldn't subscribe ...)

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (Scholastic, 2011)


Wordless Wednesday: "A Mose is a Mose, / A rose is a rose."

Apricot Rose

"A rose is a rose is a rose is a roses,
A rose is what Moses supposes his toes is,
It couldn't be a Lilly or a taffy-daffy- dilly,
It's got to be a rose cause it rhymes with Mose."

Lot of rain here, you know, so Singing in the Rain is always on my mind.


One Thing Leading to Another and Other Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner

A collection of short stories, many interlinked by recurring characters. The first four short stories feature Mr. Edom, the proprietor of the Abbey Antique Galleries, and his invaluable assistant Mr. Collins. Mr. Edom is always very proper -- properly dressed, properly polite, properly careful. His young colleague is less so, but there is hope for him. The two characters are well drawn, their adventures well written, and their regular customers were just a hoot. I could quite easily imagine these stories being filmed as a BBC or Masterpiece theater miniseries -- just a quiet, low-key period drama. It probably didn't help that I kept visualizing young Peter Davison (aka Tristan Farnon) as Mr. Collins.

The other stories are a mix of unhappy household dramas and fairy stories. I found the human stories to be much more compelling than the fairy stories which seemed too much like history lessons dressed up in fairy togs. The Vicar's wife sees more than she wants to, Miss Logie can't stop pushing culinary boundaries, Evie might very well be a poltergeist ... the fairy play at politics on a scale that didn't move me nearly as much as the small human dramas did.

Anyway, One Thing Leading to Another and Other Stories can be pretty dark stuff, but there's a bitter (biting?) edge of humor to a lot of it and I thought the collection made for a good read overall.

One Thing Leading to Another and Other Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner (Viking, 1984)