Monday, October 26, 2009

Jonathan Safran Foer's new book

We're looking forward to this. Read the press.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


A week and a half ago (or so), I went to a canning/pickling workshop with my friend Charlotte. The workshop was at the local community house, and there were about a dozen aspiring canners there; in about three hours' time, we made and canned (under the supervision of the canning workshop leader) Dilly Beans, Pear Chutney, and Pickled Daikon and Golden Beets. After going to the workshop, I couldn't stop thinking about canning--it was so easy! I suddenly had this new technology of preserving food at my fingertips! And so, I started planning a canning day for myself.
As with any food event, there was the question of what to make; I browsed and contemplated many recipes and finally decided on BBQ Sauce, Tangelo Marmalade, and Pickled Peppers.
Two of those, I knew, would be more involved recipes, and the peppers would be something easier--I had gotten a handful of banana peppers over the weekend, and our own little cinder-block garden had produced a few poblanos and jalapenos.
I planned the day along with my friend Megan, as she had an interest in canning things and is in possession of a canning pot; it also turned out that Megan and I make an incredible canning team--we work well together, and she's not afraid of picking up hot jars with her bare hands. (There she is, pouring sugar into the marmalade pot!)
We worked tirelessly for hours. One of the two large burners on our stove quit working soon after we moved into the house, and this was what slowed us down quite a bit, as canning involves several things going at once: a pan to sterilize the jars, whatever is being canned, and the big canning pot to process the jars once they're filled. Here is a picture of half-way through the day: the BBQ sauce was already blended up (I used fresh tomatoes to make it) and in a bowl, ready to be ladled out into jars; the tangelos ready to be cooked down for the marmalade; the peppers chopped up and waiting in a bowl... Including cooking time (and time to go out and get more jar lids, as we filled up more jars than we expected), we were hard at work for about six hours. And of course, as we were hearing the little "ping" of processed jars sealing themselves, all that work was worth it. I was especially pleased with the way the BBBQ sauce came out--we have enough to give to friends and family, and some
to use ourselves.
However, the marmalade never "set up" as promised by the recipe, which never mentions pectin... The taste was wonderful, but I was really hoping for marmalade, rather than tangelo drink mixer--we'll have to try it again, with pectin this time. I'm also looking forward to canning tomatillo salsa. And rosemary jelly. If you haven't tried canning, it's rather easy if you have the necessary tools. Also, it would help if you are making only one thing to can (especially if it's your first time). The sense of accomplishment in seeing the finished product is pretty great--and renewed each time I see the jars I purposefully left sitting out on the kitchen table.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Today marks 9 years that I've been vegan.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I realize things. That I haven't posted here in a while is one thing. That of the three topics listed in the title of this blog, we've been hitting one consistently and neglecting the others, is another. I recently found some words I wrote after I learned of the suicide of David Foster Wallace, a little over a year ago. I like to recover these bits from my own past because they give me a view into what I was thinking at the time. At times it seems hard to believe that the people we used to be can be such strangers, or at least can be so surprising, to the people we are now. This is what I wrote:


Earlier today I found out that David Foster Wallace had been found dead in his home, that evidence pointed to his having killed himself. Wallace, for those who may not know, came to some fame for his writing. The first time I came into contact with his writing was when in Columbus about three years ago. One of my good friends had clued me onto his writing; we were both in a master's program in literature. I checked Oblivion out at the branch near my apartment but I couldn't get into it.

I complained to my friend that the writing was dry, it was heavy on the detail and light on the characterization. We talked about the merits of his writing and that I liked what he was doing, but I didn't enjoy reading it. These long phone conversations lead me to eventually pick up Infinite Jest, Wallace's magnum opus. I read the majority of Infinite Jest in Daytona during the AP literature reading of 2005 afterhours, in the hotel bar by myself.

During this reading I wasn't completely sure I liked the book. It was an effort to get through it and I liked it in an abstract sense, but did not enjoy it in the same way that I would normally think of enjoying a novel. We've talked on and off about Infinite Jest for the last 3 years, and I've come closer to liking the book every time that we talked.

The news of Wallace's death has come as something of a blow to me because I had recently (as recently as this semester) been thinking about rereading Infinite Jest and incorporating it into my current studies. Wallace is a writer I have always respected if not always enjoyed and that big novel I hesitate to mention once again has been a conundrum in my reading history. I think the reason that I've always had difficulty with this novel is that I've never been able to designate it in any category. I've always been able to relegate novels into one of several categories, usually having to do with whether I liked it or not or whether I thought it might have any (what we might call in 'the business') cultural relevance. In Wallace's big novel I could see all of the hallmarks of the big postmodern novel from all of the authors I've loved and admired but there was something that squirmed in me when I thought about it. Wallace pinpointed, or at least helped to gesture toward some postmodern discontent: some malaise of the modern world: an uncertain discomfort that has always been difficult or impossible to place in reality.

I've read some accounts of Wallace's death on the internets today and they all seem to point to this dark aspect of his writing as some vague indication of his apparent suicide. I find this ludicrous to the point of insult. Wallace wrote about the world in which he found himself with dark humor and aplomb. He indicated the source of his discontent through his fictional characters and pointed a way toward distraction, if not redemption. Certainly there may have been some dissatisfaction in his life, but I like to think that the process of writing works to excise these demons rather than to enliven them. Despite the difficulty I have always found in Wallace's work (and perhaps because of them), I don't hesitate to mention my respect for him as a writer. I think that I do like Infinite Jest after all, and not because of Wallace's death but because it is a challenging book that has caused me to think a lot more than even some of my 'favorite' books have.

I've just poured myself a couple of fingers of whiskey and I'm about to sit down with a good book. I am going to revisit Infinite Jest though I might put it off a little while longer. I think I do need to thank that old friend for turning me on to Wallace and providing a sounding board to discuss his work and complain about his less admirable qualities. In any case, American literature will suffer for this loss.

Since I wrote this, I've gone back and reread Infinite Jest with a group of friends. I did, indeed, find the second read more rewarding. This isn't surprising. I often find second third and nth readings more rewarding than the first. There is something to be said for the fresh experience of a new narrative, but I've always found rereadings to be extremely valuable. At the risk of contention, I often find rereading more valuable than initial reads.

This is a novel I've thought about quite a bit, and I still find it confounding in the right way. It makes me think about narrative, the role of the author in the fiction. I think about the nature of irony. Kierkegaard defines irony, in part, as a question which is not asked in order to gain knowledge, but to subvert or question the very act of questioning. Wallace's work makes me ask these questions of myself. There are some haunting and beautiful passages in the novel, and it is one that I look forward to reading again in the future.

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Vegan Month of Food"

Last year was the first year that I discovered vegan blogs--I had only been vegan for about six months, and was starting to bake more and more often, and I needed recipes. After a couple months of looking at all the various blogs, I settled on a few favorites (you can see them in the blog list just over to the right), and have been following them ever since. Of course, there are other blogs that I visit occasionally, especially if I'm searching for a new recipe for something, but there are few (if any) that I'd want to add to the blog list. So, last year as I was pedalling around the blogosphere with my training wheels still on, I encountered the phenomenon that is Vegan Month of Food. I learned that Isa Chandra Moskowitz proclaimed October to be the "Vegan Month of Food," or "Vegan MoFo," as it is endearingly called by a myriad of vegan bloggers. The call goes something like this:
The idea is to write as much as you can for the month of October about vegan food. The blog entries can be about anything food related - your love of tongs, your top secret tofu pressing techniques, the first time your mom cooked vegan for you, vegan options in Timbuktu - you get the idea. There is no strict guideline for how much you have to write, but we shoot for about 20 times a month, or every weekday.
At first, this whole enterprise seems rather exciting--who wouldn't want more posts about delicious vegan food from favorite bloggers? More pictures of food, more frequent discussions of techniques, more personal stories from vegans (aside from my husband, I actually don't know any vegans personally)... This year, however, I am thinking about the prescribed month differently.

I ask: what does "Vegan Month of Food" accomplish? The vegan blogging community is rather insular--it exists, but does not affect too many others outside of itself. Sure, it may be getting some little publicity, but it's publicity that doens't accomplish anything. I feel like for the rest of this month, the vegan bloggers who are participating (and apparently, there's an official list) will orbit around each other and then settle down a few recipes richer, but wiser? I am perplexed at the lack of direction and purpose within this phenomenon; I am even more confused about the activity that supposedly makes October special--vegan bloggers eating...vegan food and...wait a minute....blogging about it?! I wish that I could say that "Vegan Mofo" is about outreach and vegan education in excess of that which is already in existence on blogs, but it appears to be more about frenzy (empty frenzy, even, because what other reason is there to stay up and post at midnight as soon as the clock rolled over into October?). And I refuse to participate in it because that very frenzy and fanaticism is what can be alienating to others. Once again, "Vegan Month of Food" doesn't accomplish anything that any other month of being vegan doesn't; I would invite fellow bloggers (and non-bloggers) to consider more carefully the kinds of efforts spent on a daily basis, and to question whether those efforts couldn't be put towards more productive outcomes.