January 28, 2005

The 282+1 Book Meme

Here's a new book meme. Starting at the top left of your first bookcase, count off your books from left to right until you find the twenty-eighth book. Turn to page twenty-eight and copy the first full paragraph you find on that page. What book is it? Have you read it? Did you like it?

Why the number twenty-eight? i don't know; i had to pick a number and today is January 28th. Besides, if you don't have at least twenty-eight books in your home, the books you do own are probably not very interesting anyway.

Here's mine:

Now to invent something touching the more private career of Claggart, something involving Billy Budd, of which something the latter should be wholly ignorant, some romantic incident implying that Claggart's knowledge of the young bluejacket began at some period anterior to catching sight of him on board the sevety-four--all this, not so difficult to do, might avail in a way more or less interesting to account for whatever of enigma may appear to lurk in the case. But in fact there was nothing of the sort. And yet the cause necessarily to be assumed as the sole one assignable is in its very realism as much charged with that prime element of Radcliffian romance, the mysterious, as any that the ingenuity of the author of The Mysteries of Udolpho could devise. For what can more partake of the mysterious than an antipathy spontaneous and profound such as is evoked in certain exceptional mortals by the mere aspect of some other mortal, however harmless he may be, if not called forth by this very harmlessness itself?
What a bunch of gobbledygook! It's from Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Stories by Herman Melville. i have not read it, and after typing that entire paragraph, and remembering just how turgid Melville's writing is, and what an unpleasant experience reading Moby Dick was... well i think it's fair to say i'd rather be smoking Billy Budd than reading it.

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January 16, 2005

Cheapo Wine Pick Of The Week

1999 Trinity Oaks Zinfandel, $4.99 at Bel Air Market. This is good shit. Tastes like a ten dollar bottle of wine. Looks and smells good too. The 1999 label isn't as pretty as the one pictured here, but don't let that fool you. At that price, i could drink two bottles tonight, but i won't.

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January 14, 2005

Just An Observation

It is impossible to listen to Louis Armstrong's 1931 recording of Stardust without tearing up. Trust me on this.

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January 13, 2005

Memo To The Makers Of The O.C.

Please tell the talent to stop chewing while talking. It doesn't project casual coolness, it's just gross. It doesn't matter how attractive the speaker/chewer is. Mouth sounds are gross, especially when amplified by a 5.1 home theater system.

Also, everybody in the real O.C. is Republican. Even the kids. So have a clue, and stop inserting those snide liberal one-liners into the dialogue.

On the other hand: Peter Gallagher singing? Not bad. Surprisingly good, actually.

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January 08, 2005

The Comfort Lunch

If today isn't a day for the comfort lunch, i don't know what is. Dark clouds, cold rain, wind, hangovers, and the unspoken subtext of impending grade announcements have quieted our little house of mirth here in the Big Valley. Times like this call for - no require - a grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch.

i still remember the afternoon my grandmother (on the German side, the midwestern side) disclosed to me to the secrets of her famous grilled cheese sandwich. She had a big house in the country, with chickens, ducks and bunnies in the back yard, and a big pyramid-shaped strawberry planter in the front.

(A short aside. My grandmother had a vegetable garden too. Besides the usual carrots, cabbage, potatoes, green onions, tomatoes and broccoli, she grew a thing called kohlrabi. It's a relative of the brussels sprout and cabbage family, with a fine German heritage. i must have been about six or seven when she cooked it for me and my brother during one of our weeklong rustic summer holidays (our parents would drop us off to get us out of their hair). i've never had or seen kohlrabi since, but the memory of it is bound tightly with my memories of Grandma and that garden. Now that's a comfort food.)

She also made the best italian salad dressing. But my grandmother's take on the classic grilled cheese was simple, which is as it should be. i've tinkered with it over the years, but the essentials are still there. Assemble these items:

  • two slices of sharp cheddar or muenster cheese

  • two slices of bread, wheat or white or my favorite: dill rye

  • dash of fresh ground pepper

  • dash of cayenne pepper

  • margarine or butter

  • about four thin slices of ham, or bacon
(In a pinch, mayo can be substituted for margarine or butter. Mrs. Dash or another season salt can be substituted for cayenne, if you like.)

It's not about the ingredients, it's about technique.

First spread a thin coat of margarine over one side of each slice of bread. (Grandma always used real butter, of course.) Make sure to spread the margarine out to the edges of the crust. There should be no bare spots. You want the entire side of the bread covered because this will be the side of the bread that gets grilled.

Next lay the bread out, margarine side down, and cover each piece of bread with enough cheese that you can't see any bread underneath. If you're slicing the cheese, it should be medium thickness. Not too thick, but thick enough so some of it will melt out of the sandwich. the cheese will be doing two things here: enveloping the meat, and occasionally dripping onto the grill to create bits of fried cheesy crusty goodness.

Arrange whatever meat you're using on top of one piece of bread. The proper technique at this step is to create air pockets in the meat (if you're using thin sliced ham) for the cheese to melt into. i bunch up the ham into little flowerets to achieve this purpose. The ham should never be laid flat, because that just makes for a boring sandwich.

Now heat a nonstick pan until little drops of water splashed from your fingertips dance happily for a moment before evaporating. Keep the pan on medium heat. This recipe is not recommended for electric stovetops, because temperature control is the key to a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

You might want to start the soup now. Campbell's tomato soup should be heated to a simmer, but never boiled. i like to add a half can of water only, although the instructions call for a whole can. Sometimes i'll mix in a dash of white pepper, and i garnish it with a sprinkle of dried oregano.

Back to the sandwich: sprinkle fresh ground pepper and cayenne pepper over the slice of bread with cheese on it, then carefully flip that slice over onto the slice with the ham. When the pan is ready, slap the sandwich down onto it making a "thwump" sound. It should immediately start to sizzle. The "thwump" and the sizzle are important; it's part of the whole comfort thing.

Do not leave the stove, while cooking. You need to peek under the sandwich and check its color constantly. A side is done when it's golden brown and speckled, never black. The pan should be hot enough to melt the cheese thoroughly, but not burn the bread. Too low, and you get a soggy sandwich. Too hot and it gets black on the outside before the cheese in the middle melts. Adjust the flame as needed.

Grilling the sandwich right is a slow and loving process. The perfect medium temperature is achieved with practice, when the globs of cheese reach down and begin frying on the pan at the exact moment that the first side is the perfect color, you have mastered the art of the grilled cheese.

After flipping, grill the other side until it's golden color matches the first side. Now for the fun part. Slide that baby onto a plate and, before eating, spread a thin coat of real horseradish (not cream sauce) over one side. Slice diagonally, park yourself on your favorite couch near your favorite coffee table, cuddling in your favorite comfort blanket, flip on the TV tuned to HGTV or some other favorite comfort program, and enjoy with soup.

Update: Here's a switch; i post a recipe, while the multi-talented Candace posts a poem!

Update 2: SWG brings us another grilled comfort food, for Elvis Day.

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January 05, 2005

Useless Alias Trivia Blogging

The exterior shot of the tunnel in Rio De Janeiro, where Sidney went to meet Tomazaki with the samurai sword, is actually the tunnel underneath Grand Avenue between the Los Angeles Music Center and the Los Angeles County Courthouse.

Bonus trivia: i think the mausoleum in Moscow, where Sidney's mother is buried, is actually the Westwood Cemetery, where Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood are buried.

Can you believe i only lived in LA for one year?

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January 03, 2005

Artie Shaw's Passing

The great bandleader and clarinetist Artie Shaw died last Thursday. i just read about it today and it reminded me of this old Poetry Wednesday post, where we discussed Artie Shaw in the comments section.

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