Friday, April 07, 2006

Catching up

Since you are probably not all that interested in the details of my blogging identity crisis, I will be brief about it. After going to a conference in Vancouver I became energized to pursue scholarly pursuits, even during the times of day (early evening) when I had previously been most eager to blog. Then a couple of weeks later I got the flu and was out of commission for four or five days. Around the same time my camera went on the blink. The broken part is the LCD display. It still takes pictures but it's essentially impossible to adjust the settings or to frame shots using the display, which is one of the best things about a digital camera. After getting over the flu my blogging time got swallowed up by television. I seem to be watching more now than I did a few months ago: The Sopranos, Big Love, Thief, Grey's Anatomy, Everwood (hey, Gregory Smith/Efram is interviewed in this week's TV Guide podcast), New Adventures of Old Christine, Sons and Daughters, Idol, The Muppet Show season one on DVD. In general, my enthusiasms wax and wane and cooking has been a waning enthusiasm. Various other things have been filling its place, temporarily I'm pretty sure. I still cook all the time but I've been finding excuses to make easy, quick things from the repertoire rather than explore and experiment as I sometimes do.

I have always been a bit unsure about what kind of blog this should be, whether it should be only food or a mishmash of whatever I feel like writing about. For a while there it was only food, but right now I'm leaning toward mishmash. Not being completely clear about my vision for Haverchuk brought on a kind of paralysis, I suppose. As well, there was a time a few months ago when blogging consumed more of my moment-by-moment thinking than it should have and it was a bit of a relief to be free of that feeling. But I also have missed the experience of sharing with all of you and have been eager to resume it. I also miss the kind of writing I do here, which takes a different voice from other writing that I do.

What follows are some blips on my radar screen. More, I hope, to come soon.

-I've been reading The Da Vinci Code. I almost never read books like it so I can't say if what I find annoying and fascinating is typical of popular pageturners or specific to it. Annoying: flat characters (esp. the hero, Robert Langdon); overly obvious italicized passages in which characters' thoughts are verbalized (e.g., There must be something here!); didactic passages explaining arcane tidbits about Church history, goddess worship, the Knights Templar, etc., written in a dull encyclopedia style. Fascinating: a clever plot structure of constant twists, surprises, and reversals; a far-fetched but intriguing premise about Jesus and Mary Magdalene having been married; the use of settings like the Louvre and well-known artworks like The Last Supper (the cliche is to say that these things are like characters). The book ostensibly has a feminist message (to explain it would spoil much of the fun of reading) but at the same time it has only one female character and she is always figured as receiving men's knowledge, most often depending on their skill and action for her survival. I fault it for this but it hasn't gotten too much in the way of my pleasure. Things that some might find corny, like basing a plot around a quest for the holy grail, seem to me to be just the way you tell this kind of story. The book seems to deserve its success and I'm looking forward to the movie, though I don't know if Audrey Tautou is right for Sophie. I don't have anyone better in mind, though. Would she have to be French?

-American Idol is compelling in spite of its horrible music. Every week someone insists, "This is a singing competition." Perhaps, but it's also a personality competition. What seems most engaging about the show is the way it encourages us to judge not just the contestants, but also the audience's judgment of them. I cannot stand Kellie Pickler, the vapid southern girl who thought Simon said "mink" when he called her a "saucy minx" and who didn't know that the L is silent in "salmon." But I keep thinking about how appealing she must be to so many viewers, who week after week call to vote for her. Who are they? What is it they like about her? What is wrong with them? I predict she will go far, though she has much less talent than some of her competitors. Talent is only part of the mix. Also: Is it a coincidence that the bottom three on country music week were two black girls and a Jewish boy who thinks he's Stevie Wonder? Next week is the songs of Queen. I anticipate considerable misery.

-Jonathan Safran Foer exposes kosher slaughter as inhumane. I admire artists who take on causes for being socially engaged, but they also have a hard time convincing me that they're worth listening to on matters outside their expertise. That said, who is opposed to the humane treatment of animals?

-Little Sister on the Katie Couric story: "It's like the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn!" Poor Little Sister.

-I haven't cooked any terribly delicious food lately. The closest I came was last week with some mussels. Mussels are affordable ($3.50/lb at the Milwaukee Public Market), tasty, and extremely easy to cook. Heat up some olive oil in a pot, add garlic and crushed chiles and stir just until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the mussels and a cup of dry white wine with a nice acidic bite (I used a cheap, cheap Sauv Blanc) and cover the pot, keeping the heat high enough for the wine to bubble away. When the mussels have opened up (after perhaps two minutes), the dish is done. Garnish with lots of fresh parsley and serve with crusty bread or toast for mopping up the oil-garlic-wine-mussel juices. Apparently not that long ago, mussels were caught wild and dirty and came with beards attached. Now they are farmed and come to market very clean.

My other achievement was a variation on this turkey pot pie. In place of mushrooms, okra. Okra, turkey, cornbread, good.

-SW rags on RayRay:
Rachael, Rachael, Rachael...I'm not gonna give you grief for sauteeing hot dogs, but don't you know that cooking with a delicate and aromatic oil essentially destroys all the properties that make it extra virgin in the first place? Lemme explain. Those flowery, peppery, grassy qualities that makes EVOO so distinctive instantly go up in smoke when you subject the oil to heat. Try this one time, heat a couple tablespoons of your EVOO in a pan, and then carefully drain some into a soup spoon. Blow on it until it cools. Now taste it. Compare it to a taste of EVOO just out of the bottle. Ugh, huh? A perfectly good waste of a perfectly good oil isn't it? Best to keep some organic canola oil in your cupboard for all those browning/sauteeing tasks and to reserve the EVOO for drizzling. Geez, how many time have I used EVOO in this paragraph? I'm starting to sound just like you...
This is patronizing, snarky, and at least partly wrong. First, many cooks cook with extra virgin olive oil, not just Rachael. Why not pick on Batali? He insists on deep frying in EVOO. Even if it tastes better raw, it isn't bad cooked. When you cook with it you don't sip it off a spoon, obviously. Second, canola oil tastes like crap. Really. Corn oil and peanut oil are both much tastier, and vegetable oil ain't bad. Schmaltz, butter, and lard are all in a different league. Canola oil is the triumph of fat=bad propaganda over good cooking. Forget about it.

Meanwhile, Giada is #11 on the Amazon bestsellers list. (Two of the top five are books about dogs!) I assume that the Giada crowd is a less classy version of the Nigella crowd, but that's just a guess. Some people really like Nigella's writing (?!?!) and cooking. Anyone out there willing to speak up in support of Giada's?

-Keifer Sutherland: yesterday cocaine, today cooking.

-Like a good story? Find love on the internet.

11 Comments:

Blogger Kalyn said...

Hey, no worries, your non-food posts are just as interesting as your food posts. Personally I think Katie Couric is highly overrated, Giada is a bit skinny for my taste, and I do sometimes use EVOO to saute things, but for stir-fry I always use peanut oil. Your analysis of The DaVinci Code was great.

10:17 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

Welcome back, MZN

I do know folks who while they don't oppose the humane treatment of animals, do oppose touching the issue at all. Too pie-eyed to type the whole story now, but I can't blog it, so I might come back to it here.

11:42 PM  
Blogger kat said...

nice to see you back and healthy, mzn. i read somewhere that even "natural, organic" companies bleach and deodorize canola oil. don't know if this allegation is true, but anyway, i agree with you about the oil's poor flavor.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Tania said...

I loved your analysis of "The DaVinci Code" and agree that, much as I like Audrey Tatou, she is not Sophie material. I would have cast either Sophie Marceau or Monica Bellucci, instead.

You're a talented writer, so whatever you chose to write about will be worth reading. But please keep your Ice Cream Project; I still want to make and try every one!

12:02 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

Kat: as Canadians we are supposed to be loyal to the great Canola but taste is the ultimate test. Depending on who you ask, canola might be very bad for you or, in the words of the Whole Foods folks, "a safe and wholesome food." Good or bad for me, I'm staying away from it.

Chocolate Lady: I'm looking forward to hearing about the people who oppose discussing the humane treatment of animals. When I was a vegetarian I was opposed to discussing my reasons for being a vegetarian but this didn't keep the topic from coming up practically all the time.

Thanks, Tania and Kalyn. If I read any more bestsellers I'll be sure to blog about them.

1:24 PM  
Blogger the sad billionaire said...

Hey Haverchuk-- welcome back! As an also sometimes erstwhile blogger I totally relate to the need to take a break now and again. Giada is totally cool. I used to hate her show, because of her tendency to overpronounce Italian ingredients in the most ostentatious manner since Alex Trebec, but now I think the soft-focus "I Am curious Yellow" food erotica style is totally psychedelic. Whaddaya think of Big Love? FF and I hated it at first, now we are hooked. Casting Lily Kane and Mac was such a cruel trick. How could we not watch? I will keep prostletyzing Top Chef. It is awesome. Take er easy, Haverchuk!

5:22 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

Mr. Bills, glad to see you blogging too.

I was flipping through Giada's bestselling volume today and it seems like an ok book. There are way too many pictures of her in it and she grins too much. Isn't her mouth enormous? Given Giada's reputation, the publishers would seem to have restrained themselves from excessively peppering the book with shots of her breasts. Which is to say they come only every twenty pages or so.

Big Love is brilliant. (And it has not just Lily and Mac from VM, but Beaver too.) I might have a whole Big Love post in me, but for now I'll just remark that it works so well most of all because of its novel social dynamic. You find yourself wondering, well what would it be like to be best friends with your husband's two other wives? And there have been so many good lines, as when Bill's friend asks, "Have you thought of adding a fourth?" And when Bill says of his father-in-law, "He's not welcome in my homes."

The Sopranos, on the other hand, is losing me. I don't think it's doing anything new. Tonight's Godfather tribute seemed very old and boring.

11:22 PM  
Anonymous tfp said...

Hey mzn, I like your food and mishmash posts, so whatever you write about is cool with me.

I hope they will show American Idol over here. Jac and I like watching it. We've had a few series of Australian Idol but as our population is so much smaller I think we've run out of talent and they need to take a break for a few years (seriously!).

5:51 AM  
Blogger zp said...

on kiefer: reminds me of the boys from Goodfellas. when they are slicing the garlic with a razor blade in jail. or more generally, the cooking and drugs crosscutting of the final sequence.

on haverchuk: mish mash is my favorite food. thank god you are back, startlingly lifelike photos or no. that weeks old burger with mayo was beginning to give off an odor . . .

on nancy franklin (non sequitur): she still loves sopranos, i never have.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Pyewacket said...

Glad you're back. I having been posting lately either, because of a personal crisis. I'm glad to know everything's okay with you, and you were just taking a break.

And I had read that thing about the EVOO and canola oil and thought exactly what you did! Patronizing and wrong.

11:03 AM  
Blogger the sad billionaire said...

Oh yeah, saw the Beav last night. I should have said, "I'm hooked." FF hates the show, and thinks it is heavy-handed and trite. I wish the main character was the home store partner who played Shaq's doctor on "Curb"... Bill Paxton's whole skinny striving white guy schtick is not for me. I wanna see more of the girl who stole the iPod, too.

12:58 PM  

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