for those who are in or around sane

Friday, September 5

august books

august is a very good month for reading. either you've got time to burn at the beach, time to burn at the park, time to burn at the library or, if your job takes a turn for the busy and removes your excessive summer spare time, you have boring long cross-country flights and rush hour commutes.

tolstoy lied - rachel kadish
tracy is an early 30's up-and-coming, un-tenured professor at a reputable new york city college. she's single, set in her ways and content. she rolls up her sleeves and diligently takes the reigns of her academic future without bucking the system. she's smart, feminist and intrigued by the issue of love as a cop-out happy ending and questions the idea that love is necessary for happiness. tolstoy's famous opening line for anna karinina has her contemplating a possible first published work as a secure, tenured prof: "all happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in it's own way."

is this a lie? can't happiness be obtained and considered unique in it's own right? tracy's theory is the thread that weaves the story of her own life and conquest for tenure and love. she meets a man and they fall immediately and deeply in love. i had high hopes that this novel would stay away from the sex in the city glow/misunderstanding/separation/reconciliation/glow circle that has been the rage for all chick lit of late. for one, kadish's grasp of the english language is beautiful. she chooses her words carefully and challenges the reader's vocabulary. however, i dont believe this is quite clever enough to overcome the pitfalls of almost all chick lit books. Namely, the heroine doubts herself, has a funny ironic fall (literally), enjoys the banal, sexless advice of a male friend and in the end.... i wont spoil it, but suffice to say, it's not a surprise.

this was a fun higher-lit chick book that got me through a plane ride. i enjoyed the language and the academic arguments. the main character's overwhelmingly obvious flaws were prosaic and at times, infuriating. not one i'd put on my best-of lists, but not one i'm disappointed in reading.

when you are engulfed in flames - david sedaris
sedaris' newest collection of short stories again reads like a page in a grandiose, pee-your-pants hilarious memoir. he's reached that half century mark and his writing has matured, even if his sense of humor has not. which is not a fault in any way - in fact, his immature rants about his partner hugh, his obsessive need to be special and his passion to find the unique in the mundane only grow richer. this one got me through the return flight, and as every other sedaris book, article and npr piece, i highly recommend it.

the most striking story is a collection of "diary entries" about how he quit smoking. most of this piece was printed in the new yorker earlier this year. it's in this set of stories that we find the title. it's a simple mistranslation on a sign about how to "stop, drop, and roll" in a particular foreign country. this odd twist of words captures the irony, passion and wit that fits so lovingly into sedaris' repertoire.

unaccustomed earth - jhumpa lahiri
my audiobook for the month was lahiri's newest collection of short stories. the themes surround indian families integrated in the usa. characters are rich with faults and intrigue, and the plot lines are subtle and striking. if you liked her first book, interpreter of maladies, you'll enjoy her second showing. i do like this one better than her novel, the namesake, but i think she needs to stretch her limbs a bit more for future stories. the ethereal glow surrounding each plot can get a bit overdramatic, and while each character's story is unique, it's not quite different enough to make me think twice. i enjoyed the narration immensely - it alternated between a male and female voice, but was uncomplicated. a good one for long car rides to and from work, and for cooking in the kitchen.


Tuesday, September 2

garden, pt 8 :: the fruits of labor

after "toiling" and "pruning," i finally have a "crop" to "harvest"...

:: yellow tomato plants ::
the yellow tomatoes are officially not yellow (more orange) and golfball sized. they have a tougher skin but are very juicy inside and taste absolutely wonderful! i either eat them as a snack or use them to jazz up a meal. my favorite dish so far was simple: perfectly cooked scrambled eggs, half a california avacado w/ cottage cheese and one whole "yellow" tomato. all sprinkled lightly with salt & pepper and nothing more. glorious!

:: red tomato plants ::
i have to admit, i am a bit disappointed in my hybrid reds. they are supposed to be at least baseball-sized, wonderfully fleshy and very tasty. so far, i have 1 out of those 3. next year i shall get the same type of plants but plant them by themselves in a larger pot (larger than what i have the yellows in). they apparently need space and fooood to grow big and yummy. however, they are extremely tasty. since the yellows arrived first, i didnt think my garden could produce richer flavors. but perhaps due to the golfball size, the hybrid reds are ah-maze-ing. no salt needed on these buggers. my favorite meal with reds: gorgonzola mushroom ravioli in sage butter w/ fresh shredded cheese.

:: herbies ::
to date, the herbies have not progressed any further, but they have proven quite helpful in the kitchen. i've made: a lovely simple syrup with local honey and thyme (for cocktails!); amazing hamburgers with thyme, rosemary and goat cheese; and delicate tomato, thyme and goat cheese omelets along with many other dishes that required a kick of fresh basil. i figured this would be my most useful crop, and to date, it is. my plan for the herbies is to attempt to bring them indoors for the winter. not sure if they'll keep, and at the first sign of indoor failure, i pluck, dry and store. next year i'll spread out the herbies a bit more in a good container, and solemnly swear to water at regular intervals - the basil plants have black stems, which i'm told is a result of bad drainage, hence preventing more positive growth.

this has been a fun experiment, and i'm very glad it's producing such wonderful products!