Sunday, May 31, 2009


by Roberto Bolano

After completing Summer Reading Project #1, I'm left reeling, pooped, exhausted, confused, relieved, sad, happy, content, full. Over the past few weeks, this almost 900-page novel had become my part-time moonlighting job.

This book, this mammoth, was the homecoming queen of 2008. I remember reading tons of blogs and articles about it at the end of last year. Time magazine named it Book of the Year. It was everywhere. First published posthumously in 2004 in Spanish, it was translated and published in English last year. Bolano had mostly completed the novel when he died in 2003, at the age of 50, of liver disease. He had wanted each of the five parts of the book to be published separately, but I guess the publishers liked it better as a whole.

1. "The Part About the Critics"

The first part follows four European literary critics who are obsessed with a reclusive German writer named Benno von Archimboldi (definitely a non-German name). They are scholars of his work but they've never met the writer and they know very little about him or his personal life. They come to learn that his last known whereabouts are in a Mexican town on the U.S.-Mexican border, Santa Teresa. In a desperate attempt to locate the old man, they go to Mexico but have no luck finding even a trace of Archimboldi.

2. "The Part About Amalfitano"

In this part we get to know a philosophy professor who teaches in Santa Teresa. We first meet him in Part I, where he is a minor character -- a guide for the literary critics. Now we learn more about his life, his daughter. Perhaps he is slowly going insane. He hangs a geometry book on a clothes line outside, a la Marcel Duchamp, to see how the pages? the ideas? survive the elements. I could have done without this section of the novel.

3. "The Part About Fate"

This part follows an African-American journalist sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match between an American fighter and a Mexican opponent. He meets Lola, Amalfitano's daughter. He also learns about the deaths of many women in Santa Teresa and wishes to stay in town to write an article about these serial crimes.

4. "The Part About the Crimes"

The longest and most difficult part. Bolano catalogues the hundreds of women who have been killed in Santa Teresa. They were wearing such and such clothes, they had such and such wounds, their such and such bones were broken, they were such and such raped. The police have a suspect in custody, a German named Klaus Haas, but the murders keep happening. Are the police detectives incompetent? Are they part of a conspiracy, a drug cartel?

5. "The Part About Archimboldi"

We meet Archimboldi at last, learn about his small-town childhood, follow him to World War II, meet his family, his friends, his lovers, trace his steps as a writer. Is every single question answered? No. And while that's certainly maddening, it almost makes the novel stronger.

This novel is bizarre and superb, and all of those critics and bloggers and commentators did not lead me astray. On a final note, New York Magazine picked its "Five Most Unskippable Passages in 2666" which I very well plan to go back and re-read. My personal favorite sentence in the book comes from Part V, when Archimboldi is renting his first typewriter from an old man and the old man says: "Reading is pleasure and happiness to be alive or sadness to be alive and above all it's knowledge and questions." Right on.

5 out of 5

Saturday, May 30, 2009

One of my favorite things about summer POD

Saturday morning breakfast and Saturday lunch made with ingredients from the farmer's market. Saturday meals in general.

Pictured here: Tomato-Cucumber-Spring Onion-Mozarella Salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Adventures with kasha

This was either going to be a post about a kasha disaster or a kasha miracle and instead it's going to be something of an in between. Last night at Whole Foods, I was browsing the grains isle, looking for polenta/corn meal, when a box of kasha jumped off the shelf straight into my hands. By kasha, I of course am talking about whole grain buckwheat. Kasha makes me think of two things: a Seinfeld episode and growing up with Mama T forcing it down my throat as a cereal with milk or as an impromptu side dish, Russian classics both, yuck, i.e. there's no way I would have willingly picked up that box of kasha of my own accord. So all of a sudden I am standing at the Whole Foods with a box of kasha in my hands. I flip the box over and find a recipe that actually MAKES ME BUY said box of kasha, and then today actually MAKES ME PREPARE THAT RECIPE FOR DINNER. Beware readers, there's a good chance that I'm losing my grip on reality.

Here's the recipe, it's called Kasha Pilaf:

2 cups broth, bouillon, consomme or water
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/4 to 1/2 tablespoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 cup kasha
1 egg or egg white
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (or other chopped vegetables)

Heat liquid, 2 tablespoons butter and seasoning to boiling. I was using water so I put in tons of salt and pepper, didn't use measuring spoons, and was very liberal with the seasoning. Maybe broth would work better.

Lightly beat egg in bowl with fork. Add kasha. Stir to coat kernels.

In separate medium-sized skillet or saucepan, add egg-coated kasha. Cook over high heat 2 to 3 min., stirring constantly until egg has dried on kasha and kernels are separate. Reduce heat to low.

Saute onions and mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter.
I used mushrooms but the picture on the box looks like it also has celery and carrots and peppers. I definitely used more than 1/2 a cup of mushrooms -- I am a mushroom fiend. Also, don't tell roommate Mike what happened to half of his onion. SORRY.

Quickly stir in boiling liquid and vegetables into kasha. Cover tightly; simmer 8 to 11 minutes until kasha kernels are tender and liquid is absorbed. Makes about 4 cups. [Then figure out what to do with a skillet-full of kasha!]

So that's my kasha story. It wasn't a complete disaster as it was edible and the bites with the extra mushroom and onions were especially tasty. But it wasn't a great success as I couldn't finish an entire bowl. Juuuust a little too much buckwheat for my tastes.

Oh, and now the entire apartment smells like kasha.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Amish POD

So...I was going to write a whole elaborate, detailed post about how the fam went to Amish Country in Pennsylvania today and practically everything was closed (um, where are you Amish market??) because it's um, Sunday, so then we did some outlet shopping but it wasn't as good as Leesburg outlet shopping -- for the first time in my life I walked into a Coach outlet store and came out empty-handed -- after which we went to a nasty Chinese restaurant (that's right, "New York Style" Chinese food in Amish Country), but...I am exhausted and have probably had too much sun exposure over the last two days and my throat hurts. To leave on a high note, thank goodness there's no work tomorrow.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Infinite Summer

Summer Reading Project #2: Infinite Summer. Don't worry, I fully recognize that I'm ridiculous for being really excited about this venture.

And in case you were curious, Summer Reading Project #1 is well under way -- Roberto Bolano's 890-page 2666. I am half way through, and it's been super fantastic.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Having a quarter-life crisis, so I dyed my hair jet black, just kidding POD

It actually looks like this. I call it: Golden-Rainbow-Strand-Self.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It's like a cave in here POD

This morning I went on a road trip with the fam to see Luray Caverns. Out of 90 photos taken, I could only salvage a few. Because it's not like there's a whole lot of natural light in there, if you know what I'm saying. Mama T kept reminding me to breathe the air in deeply, because according to her, this magical cave air would heal my allergies and sinuses instantly. I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure that Papa T was in a photography competition with me.

The rest of the photos are here. Please pay special attention to the super artsy black and white ones, as well as the fact that all of the pictures look the same, as if I had taken one photo, got lazy, and made 20 copies of it.

Next, we are planning a road trip to Amish Country, where perhaps Mama T will try to set me up with a nice Amish boy and Papa T will inevitably try to out-photographer me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Easter Parade

The Easter Parade
by Richard Yates

I am going to be honest with you, I am getting tired of summarizing the books I read


Number 1, I have been reading too fast to keep up with the blog


Number 2, I don't always have a lot to say because it's like having a conversation with myself and it's NOT LIKE I am going to disagree with myself!

Anyway, I first learned about this novel when I went to hear David Sedaris read his essays at GWU a year or two ago, and at the end of his performance, he picked up this book and read the first page to us, or maybe it was the first paragraph. I don't specifically remember why he did that. Probably as a recommendation. So it has been on my list. A month ago I bought a copy at a used book sale and finally realized that it was written by the same author as Revolutionary Road.

The book follows the lives of two sisters -- one marries and has a family early, while the other doesn't quite settle down as easily. It's a melancholy book. Bleak is definitely a good word to describe it. Do you agree? Yes, I agree.

Here is the opening paragraph:

Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents' divorce. That happened in 1930, when Sarah was nine years old and Emily five. Their mother, who encouraged both girls to call her "Pookie," took them out of New York to a rented house in Tenafly, New Jersey, where she thought the schools would be better and where she hoped to launch a career in suburban real estate. It didn't work out -- very few of her plans for independence ever did -- and they left Tenafly after two years, but it was a memorable time for the girls.

4 out of 5

In which I host a wine tasting

This weekend I hosted a wine tasting for some Finer Things Club members. We attempted a horizontal wine tasting, trying six Zinfandels with a 2006 vintage. Towards the end, they all seemed the same, because shockingly, my sense of smell and taste buds are not sophisticated enough to decipher the "coconut after-taste on the long finish" or the vanilla oak aromas. Also because I was fairly generous with the pouring. It was fun though, and in my preparation I learned some good facts about wine tasting and Zinfandel.
  • A horizontal wine tasting means to taste one wine varietal from a single year but from multiple producers.
  • Zinfandel is a clone of the Croatian variety Crljenak and a genetic twin of the Italian Primitivo grape. Zinfandel is now considered indigenous to California.
  • Don't be foolish, there isn't a grape called "white Zinfandel".
  • Zinfandel is a component of most California "jug" wines since it is one of the most widely planted red wine grapes. Case in point -- the Menage.
  • Zinfandel is probably best enjoyed in its youth, within 3-5 years of the vintage. With age, the fruit taste drops and the wine can show the "hot" taste of higher alcohol levels.
  • Other than bold flavored cheeses, popular pairings include grilled steak and hamburgers. We made do with pastrami.
  • We may need to work on sophisticating our senses of smell and taste.
Although I was told that the best Zinfandels don't make it to Virginia from California, the nice man at Total Wine gave me some suggestions of decent wineries that would probably have grown/produced/bottled decent Zinfandels. Here is a virtual taste card for each:

1. Macchia Zinfandel Lodi Old Vine Mischievous 2006
Macchia is Italian for "the spot". This deep-hued wine is a blend from five different old vine Zinfandel vineyards. The rich, ripe berry flavors are highlighted with a subtle hint of soft-vanilla oak. This one was my favorite and a general crowd pleaser.

2. Titus Zinfandel Napa Valley 2006
Aromas of blackberry jam and spicy oak leading to superbly concentrated flavors of bing cherries, raspberry and peppered spice, with just a hint of coconut on the finish. Sounds delicious and I had high hopes for this one, but it was the most expensive in the group and not worth the money.

3. Sobon Estate Rezerve Amador County Primitivo 2006
Big, rich and full bodied; with toasty, jammy aromas and forward fruity flavors. Genetically related to Zinfandel, but strikingly different in balance and intensity. My notes say: not liking it!

4. Sobon Estate Zinfandel Rocky Top Amador County 2006
Bouquet of crushed raspberries leads to tiers of wild berry, raspberry, plum and smoky vanilla flavors that are rich, ripe and jammy. Supple texture with notes of spice on the long finish. This wine had less alcohol than all the others, was less "hot", and probably an OK choice for a hot summer.

5. Napa Wine Co. Zinfandel 2006
No information on this one, and the girls said that label and name seemed fake. Not a crowd pleaser. Do not buy in the future.

6. Pacific Edge Hell n Back Zinfandel 2006
Bold blackberry, cherry, crushed pepper aromas and flavors. Brazen finish is softened by the fruit and is round, satisfying and spicy. For only nine bucks this wine was pretty awesome, went down smooth, and had just the right amount of sweet.

Great success! In some spare moments I took photos, look here.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Diaz

Maybe it was the footnotes describing the Dominican Republic's tumultuous history. Maybe it was the ghetto English/Spanish slang of the narration. Maybe it was the pop culture references. Maybe it was just a certain je ne c'est quoi. I really enjoyed this novel.

The center of the story is Oscar, an overweight, terrifically nerdy, entirely desperate, Dominican living in New Jersey. The story however spans several generations and traces the evolution of the fuku, the family curse. Diaz intertwines Dominican history with the part tragic part triumphant stories of various family members and accentuates it all with Spanish slang (I soldiered on without the aid of a dictionary and thought I gathered most of the gist). Homeboy deserved his Pulitzer for realz.

4 out of 5

Friday, May 8, 2009

It Sucked and then I Cried

It Sucked and then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita
by Heather B. Armstrong

I have been a fairly diligent reader the past couple of weeks but not a diligent blogger. Ironically, the second to last book I've finished was written by my blogging idol -- dooce. You would have thought that I'd hop right on over to the computer after turning the last page. And yet, you would have been wrong. Perhaps I have been using too much of my blogging energy to update Twitter.

In this memoir, dooce recounts her first pregnancy and battle with postpartum depression, for which she ends ups seeking help at a mental institution. Would it be wrong for me to say that this book was highly entertaining? I mean her writing style is why I come back to her blog every day -- hyperbole meets wacky associations meets CAPITAL LETTERS FOR EMPHASIS. She may be talking about feeling intensely uncomfortable during the breastfeeding months or the strains in her marriage, serious topics for sure, but she describes these things as boob-shaped maxi pads that give her crinkly boobs and throwing gallons of milk at her husband's head. OK, yes, when I summarize it like that, she definitely sounds like a crazy lady. But dammit, crazy lady has a good blog.

4 out of 5

P.S. Shouldn't my Blogger spell checker, of all the spell checkers out there in the world, recognize the correct spelling of dooce?? Deep thoughts.