Archive for August 2007

New Fiction at Literary Mama

My Mama, PhD co-editor, Elrena Evans, has a beautiful short story up on Literary Mama this month. Here’s an excerpt:

It was day two of the journey home, and I missed Miriam. On the way to Yerushalayim for the Feast of the Passover our families had walked together, her friendship a welcome comfort on the dry, dusty road. But Yosef, her husband, had been eager to get back home to Nazerat, and my little ones were moving more slowly each day. “Go on ahead,” I’d finally told Miriam, midmorning on the first day after the Feast. “I’ll bring Yeshua back when we get to Nazarat. Or whenever I run out of food.”

Miriam had laughed. Her eldest son, Yeshua, was my eldest son David’s constant companion. The boys were inseparable, so much so that when I looked at my family I either saw three children, or five. If Yeshua wasn’t around, neither was David.

One, two, three, four, five, I counted in silent rhythm as we walked, one, two, three, four, five. Five children. All present, all accounted for.

I paused for a moment on the dusty trail. Thoughts of Miriam slipped from my mind as I realized my feet were tired, my arms sore, and my overnursed breasts like smoldering coals beneath my dusty robe. One, two, three, four, five, I counted again. One, two, three, four, five.

I arched my back, shifted my daughter’s weight from one hip to the other. But as I moved her she awoke, instantly hungry, and began frantically searching for my breast. I sighed and called to my husband.

“Ba’al, we need to stop. Zahara needs to feed again.”

He looked at me. “Why can’t you just feed her as we walk?”

I closed my eyes and counted four breaths before I answered. It was useless getting angry with him, he’d never nursed a baby. He couldn’t understand. Once again, I missed Miriam.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest!

Pasta with Fresh Corn and Shitake Mushrooms

We have Tony to thank for this recipe; he was inspired by the fabulous corn and shitake side dish served at the Slanted Door, and turned it into a dinner (with some carmelized tofu) that the whole family loved.

Pasta with Fresh Corn and Shitake Mushrooms

4 ears corn, removed from the cob
12 oz. shitake mushrooms
1 lb short pasta (campanelle or something ideally with a little “scoop” to it… orecchiette would also be good)
2-3 stalks lemongrass (optional, but good)
1 “thumb” of fresh ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
soy sauce
peanut or canola oil
ground black pepper to taste

1 ounce soy sauce
2 ounces sherry
2 tsp sesame oil
6 ounces veggie stock
1 1/2 tbsp. corn starch, dissolved in a little water

Put up a big pot of water to boil for the pasta.

Combine all the sauce ingredients in a Pyrex measuring cup — total liquid should be just a little more than a cup.

Trim the stems off the mushrooms and wipe off any excess dirt with a paper towel. Slice the mushrooms into 1/4 inch strips.

Take the lemongrass stalks and cut them into 1 inch pieces. Crush the pieces with the handle of your knife.

Add the pasta to the water and cook as directed by the box, testing frequently.

Heat about a tbsp of oil over medium high heat in a large skillet and add the mushrooms. Stir them often. After a few minutes they’ll start to give off some liquid and reduce in size. Add the lemongrass, if using. After another few minutes, add all the garlic and half of the ginger and stir constantly for another minute or two. Add a generous dash of soy sauce, stir vigorously for about 10 seconds and remove to a bowl.

Add another tbsp of oil to the pan, and when it’s hot, add the corn, stirring frequently. Cook for just a minute or two.

While the corn cooks, pick out the lemongrass stalks from the mushrooms and discard.

Add the remaining ginger and black pepper to the corn if desired. Cook for about another minute, and as with the mushrooms, add a dash of soy sauce and stir vigorously for 10 seconds. Return the mushrooms to the pan just to get them hot again.

Pour in the sauce and cook for just another 30 seconds until it begins to thicken. Remove from heat.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it well and return it to the pot. Add the corn and mushroom mixture and the cilantro to the pasta and combine thoroughly.


We Have a Winner!

The first Pay it Forward Book Exchange winner, as determined by a special drawing out of a shopping bag, is Are You For Real, who’s going to get lots more answers and even more questions reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Congratulations!

Thanks to everyone else who entered; look for another Pay It Forward Book Exchange in a few weeks!

Movie Minutes

It’s been a while since I did a movie round-up, and I’ve seen a bunch lately. Here are my picks and pans:

No Reservations: Catherine Zeta Jones hadn’t finished speaking her first line before my friend and I exchanged eye-rolling looks. It didn’t improve, though of course Aaron Eckhart is always nice to look at, and I’m a sucker for a beautiful kitchen. Still, skip this and watch the original, Mostly Martha.

P.S. : I can’t figure out why this movie is called P.S. Again, a great cast (Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Topher Grace and Paul Rudd) in an inane story about a woman (Linney) who thinks her dead high school boyfriend has been reincarnated in an applicant (Grace) to the MFA program she directs. Her ex-husband (Byrne) is a skirt-chasing professor and her brother (Rudd) is a recovering addict; her best friend (Harden) wants the reincarnated dead boyfriend for herself. What are these smart actors doing in this ridiculous story?!

Once: This is the perfect date movie. It’s quiet, talky, lovely. The relationships are realistic and complicated, the songs are great, and the story doesn’t get all neatly wrapped up at the end.

Hairspray: Read my column on this one; it’s a totally fun way to spend a couple hours.

Ratatouille: I’m not sure who the audience for this movie is, exactly, but I’m afraid I was a little bored. The animation is amazing, and the kitchen scenes are kind of fun to watch but (heresy, I know) I kept finding myself checking my watch.

Ocean’s Thirteen: I love a good caper, and in this installment the filmmakers made the wise decision to replace the Julia Roberts love interest with Ellen Barkin. This is completely entertaining.

Paris, Je T’aime: I didn‘t, much.

Knocked Up: Made me glad I’m not in my twenties anymore. I didn’t really entirely buy the relationship between the one-night-stand couple, but the married couple (the wonderful Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) have some real moments between them.

Away From Her: This is gorgeous, and real, and sad. Though if I look as good when I’m 70 as Julie Christie does now, then I’ll be very happy.

And this brings me up to Waitress, which was also the subject of a column.

Next on my list: Becoming Jane, Manufactured Landscapes, No End In Sight, The Simpsons Movie, and This Is England.

Pay It Forward Book Exchange

I read about Overwhelmed with Joy‘s book exchange idea on A Wrung Sponge and I think it’s so perfect and simple I have to do it, too:

Most all of us love to read and get “new-to-us” books, right? And if you’re anything like me, you love winning things (what a rush), not to mention getting fun stuff in the mail! So here’s what this book exchange is all about:

1) Once a month I’ll pick a book to give away to one lucky reader (you don’t have to have a blog to enter). It may be a book that I’ve purchased new or used, or it may be a book that someone has shared with me that I really like. It’ll probably be a paperback, just to make things easier, but no guarantees.

2) Details on how you can enter to win will be listed below.

3) If you’re the lucky winner of the book giveaway I ask that you, in turn, host a drawing to give that book away for free to one of your readers, after you’ve had a chance to read it (let’s say, within a month after you’ve received the book). If you mail the book out using the media/book rate that the post office offers it’s pretty inexpensive.

4) If you’re really motivated and want to host your own “Pay It Forward” giveaway at any time, feel free to grab the button above to use on your own blog. Just let her know so she can publish a post plugging your giveaway and directing readers your way!

So there you have it, the Pay It Forward Book Exchange, designed to encourage people to read, to share good books, to possibly get you out of your reading comfort zone, and to get fun stuff in the mail instead of just bills!”

So here’s how to enter: leave a comment saying, “I want to enter.” That’s it. No muss, no fuss. I’ll randomly choose one lucky commenter on August 12th and mail the book out; you agree to give the book away when you’re done with it, via your own Pay It Forward Book Exchange or, if you don’t blog, by donating it to a local library or shelter.

Oh, and this month’s book: Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a campy, complicated, self-referential murder mystery and love story. And now you could read it for free!

Mama at the Movies: Hairspray

Christopher Walken is my new favorite movie dad.

The creepy actor best-known for playing villains and psychopaths nearly steals Hairspray (Adam Shankman, 2007) away from the radiant Nikki Blonski (playing his daughter Tracy) and John Travolta, sadly underutilized in a gender-bending role as his wife, Edna. It’s Walken’s Wilbur, the only character not swathed in a cotton candy haze of makeup, sequins, and hairspray, whose strong presence gives Tracy and Edna the foundation for their helium-balloon performances.

Hairspray opens up in the clouds, and with a long, swooping pan the camera sails down into Baltimore and through the window of Tracy Turnblad’s bedroom. As the soundtrack thumps a steady beat, we see a shape wiggling in the bed, two bright eyes pop open, then two tapping feet emerge and slide into bunny slippers. This is the only time the camera looks at Tracy so closely, feature by feature; then it pulls back, and for the rest of the film, stays back so we can really appreciate the whole fabulous singing and dancing shape of her. She’s an Energizer bunny of a girl who belts out her first song before breakfast. I wondered if the film could maintain its high-octane opening; its energy flags only when it pauses for dialogue, but happily Hairspray is an unapologetic musical, taking few breaks for conversation.

Click on over to Literary Mama to read the rest of this month’s column, and let me know what you think!

Literary Reflections: Under The Skin

This month in Literary Reflections, Kim Todd’s gorgeous essay, “Under the Skin: Lessons in Transformation. ” Here’s a taste:

When I discovered I was pregnant, I was knee-deep in research for a book on an adventure-loving woman who, 300 years ago, at the age of 52, sailed to South America from Amsterdam to study insects. My desk lay buried under notes on Maria Sibylla Merian and her pioneering investigations of metamorphosis, the change of caterpillar to butterfly. Stacks of books detailed how she and her peers, at the dawn of science, explored questions of development and transformation. How does a creature gain new parts, either a human embryo growing lungs or a caterpillar sprouting wings? They wrangled with the enigma of self divided. Larva and moth. Mother and child: Were they one, or two?

Suddenly, the mysteries probed in these seventeenth-century treatises were unfolding under my skin. Within weeks, my hair developed a luster beyond the magic of the most expensive conditioners. Insomnia, a clean, hard light bulb of wakefulness, switched on reliably at 3 a.m. A three-mile run had been part of my routine for years, but now I was limping back, gasping, after a few blocks. A trip to the ob/gyn not long after revealed that I was breathing not just for two, but for three. Twins.

Head on over to Literary Mama to read the rest!

Image from Maria Merian’s Dissertatio de Generatione et Metamorphosibus Insectorum Surinamensium, The Hague, 1726 edition.

Ten or Fewer

Last month’s Gourmet magazine reports that “one in five Americans live on a diet of ten foods or fewer. Among the most common choices? French fries, fried chicken, chocolate chip cookies, and Kraft macaroni and cheese.”

Hmm. I was a little surprised at first — ten foods or fewer! — but when it comes down to it, I don’t really have that many more in my weekly repertoire: pasta, almonds, broccoli, yogurt, milk, homemade granola, spinach/kale/chard (I’ll count that as one), fresh fruit, bread, chocolate. I definitely eat other things in a week — burritos, stir fried vegetables with tofu, cheese, tomatoes, white beans — but if I had to narrow it down to ten foods to subsist on, well, I think that’s my ten.

What’s your ten?