Saturday, February 14, 2009

Creative genius

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia, invites us to think of the concept as genius as the ancients did. Geniuses are not people, but rather more like a muse. We all have a genius; the trick is to learn how to capture it. Watch this TED talk when you feel that the well of creativity is running dry. (Oh, and she's funny, too.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Saying goodbye

Our local independent bookstore, Pages for All Ages, held their going out of business sale beginning today at 10 a.m. I happened to have a flexible morning, so I went over there at 10 after hitting the gym. And stood in line to get in. It was swamped; and I'd be tempted to say, "Where were all of you before when it mattered?" but I could tell that most everyone HAD been here before. It just wasn't enough, I guess.

Many of us had gift cards purchased for Christmas or Hannukah; we all wanted to cash in on those. But it was more than that; this was a local independent going down, and those of us who could wanted to be there to say goodbye.

The lines to purchase our discounted books and merchandise were long, but we had no idea how long. I got into line around 11:45. By 1:30 I had become friends with my line-mates: a school librarian, two college students, and a woman named Gail. At some point we realized the utter foolishness of standing in line for hours to get a 40% discount (50% for CDs, 70% magazines). Surely our time was worth more than that. But by that time a curious line psychology had set in: once you've been waiting in line to 1.5 hours, you're willing to stick it out because by god you don't want to say you wasted an hour and a half in line for nothing. So you stick it out for twice that time, and more.

One good Samaratin brought in a plate of cheese to share:

By 3:30 we discussed getting a bottle of wine from Friar Tuck's down the street. By 4:25 I was checked out, having spent my gift card and then some, and the day with some complete strangers that I now think of as line friends. Think about it: I didn't have to stand in line this long to see Obama in Springfield when he announced Biden as his running mate. Sigh.

Goodbye, Pages, our last major independent bookseller. We'll miss you.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A wild and curly scarf

Crocheting things for my daughters this Christmas reminded me how much I enjoy making things with a hook and yarn. I made Alison a spiral scarf using a beautiful soft white wool/silk blend; I thought it turned out pretty well (although shorter than I would have liked), so I decided to make something similar with bold, bright colors. Unlike Alison's scarf, it's not subtle:

In fact, Alison said it reminded her of a sea slug. I've decided to take that as a compliment, as sea slugs are very interesting creatures. It's made out of 100% cotton yarn, which means that it's stiffer and holds the curl better than the silk/wool blend. Of course, the stiffness also means that it's less comfy and the fact that it's cotton makes it less warm.

In writing-related news, I'm wondering what the National Academy of Sciences report on the quality of forensic science as practiced in the nation's crime labs (hint: it's not good) will have on my upcoming forensic science books. It was a front-page article in the NYT.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

More from the kitchen

I discovered TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks a week or so ago after reading Virginia Heffernan's article in the New York Times Magazine, "Confessions of a TED addict."

Karen Armstrong, Jeff Bezos, Jared Diamond, Peter Gabriel, Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, Nellie McKay, Isaac Mizrahi, and Rick Warren have all given TED talks. Sounds interesting, right?

So I ambled over to the TED site, searched for an interesting talk among the hundreds available, and found one by Peter Reinhart, baker and author of several books, including Brother Juniper's Bread Book. This is one of my favorite bread books because, as its subtitle indicates (Slow Rise as Method and Metaphor), it is more than just a collection of recipes, it is also a meditation on bread-baking.

Reinhart explains in his lecture that bread-baking involves no fewer than three transformations. The first one occurs when we harvest living seeds; the seeds become dead things, and we grind them into flour. The second occurs when you make the dough. Yeast re-animates the flour, in a way, and the dough becomes a living thing that dies once again when you put it into the oven. The third transformation occurs when we eat the bread, and it becomes once again part of a living thing.

So Jesus was spot-on in using bread as a metaphor when he said, "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger...the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

I was inspired to make Brother Juniper's signature bread, Struan. Struan is a Scottish bread made on the eve of the feast of St. Michael, the guardian of the harvest. Traditionally, it is made with all of the grains harvested during the year. Brother Juniper's is made from wheat, corn, oats, brown rice, and wheat bran; moistened with buttermilk and sweetened with brown sugar and honey. The dough is heavy and difficult to knead, but the result is delicious!

Here is a recipe for Struan, based on Brother Juniper's recipe, although the one I followed doesn't call for an initial soaking of the ingredients. And here are two loaves that are winging their way to two lucky daughters even as I write this:

kitchen makover

Just a small one, really, but a little color makes a big difference.

Before (the inside of the cabinets with a kind of faux-woodgrain look):


The color was suggested by my color-savvy sister; thanks, Susan! The shelves are actually painted a shade darker than the rest. I think it looks really pretty and brightens up the kitchen. I still need more space for my cookbooks, though.