Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'll wait for the paperback...

I've spent a lot of time in bookstores. Wandering from shelf to shelf. Touching the books. Taking in the smell of the paper. And occassionally reading. I've taken friends who say they "never liked to read" into my favorite bookstores and helped them find that one book that will spark a love of reading. I've watched new parents try to find their babies first book. Laughed when someone had put copies of the Bible in the Science Fiction section. Is it just me or are the chairs in bookstores the most comfortable chairs in the whole world? Yes, I've spent a lot of time in bookstores, and one question I always ask never fails to get a few odd looks.

"Well, when does it come out in paperback?"

Ask this question, and atleast one person will look at you like you're the strangest creature they've ever seen. It's usually the one with a stack of brand new hardcover new releases in his or her arms. They can't fathom why someone would want one of those icky little pocket sized books. They don't look serious or intellectual. In fact, you find them abandoned on airport benches across the country. They don't look neat and tidy wedged onto a jammed bookshelf. They don't keep that "brand new" look for very long. Does she buy them because they're cheaper??? Does she have something against cardboard???


She...I mean I...buy them for the same reason a lot of people don't. They bend quickly. You get those lines down the spine from holding the book open in one place too long. the corners start to tatter from shoving it in your purse, or backpack, or pocket, or glovebox too many times. There are smudge marks from your coffee spilling on the edges of the pages. Vaguely Cheeto colored fingerprints under certain lines. By the time you've reread the book 5 times page 65 is missing, but you already know it by heart anyway.
I buy paperbooks because you can tell they are LOVED. That book becomes more YOURS than any mint condition hardback book ever will. Those unbent, untattered books depress me. They don't look like anyone has ever really loved them. Ever fallen asleep on them and bent the pages back too far. Ever left it out in the rain for a minute or two because they were reading in the sun. You know a book is beautiful, and well written, and inspiring, and funny...when it's falling apart.

That's why I always wait for the paperback.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Day the Brownies Made Me Think

by Abigail

I'm a foodie. The crazy kind. I think of parmesan reggiano as a staple. I keep assorted colors of quinoa in my pantry, and think it amusing to make tri-colored quinoa dishes. I use whole grains and flax meal. I have opinions of butter (West Country with Maldon sea salt, thank-you.) I cook things from scratch and rant about why o why would anyone ever buy those god-awful meals kits? (Seriously, doing the same thing yourself with real ingredients takes about 10 minutes more and makes a 10 times the difference. Ask and I will tell you how. At length. With arm gestures.) Indeed, I claim to despise all sorts of nasty frankenfoods, or edible food type substances. Naturally my children hate my cooking.

Still, I get cranky with some of my kind. They do so like to prate and babble about natural as the be all and end all of good. Esp when it comes to food. But sadly, key phrase repetition is all most of them grasp. Subtlety is a concept as far removed from them as what natural really is. Natural is simply natural. It can be better, say beet juice instead of possibly-hyperactivity inducing red-dye #40. On the other hand cancer is completely natural. Being eaten by wild animals is completely natural. Plutonium is natural. I'd really rather you didn't use it in my food, thank you very much. Cheese puffs and hair dye are completely unnatural, and by golly, I do so like them. Unnatural preservatives, on the other hand, actually do have their uses. Sometimes you need things which can last unnaturally long times. And sometimes, those preservatives are less bad for you than dipping things in salt, or make things tastier than a long lye bath. My problem, mind you, comes when everything is preserved to a fare-thee-well and beyond, as apposed to special cases. And while were are chatting about preservatives, let me just add that the dreaded sulfites that people get so worked up about are as natural as they come. Sulfites are pretty much sulfur. You know, the really stinky mineral. I can't help but think that if something has a box on the periodic charts it's even more natural than cracked wheat or broccoli. Allergies are natural too, btw.

Don't get me wrong. I still – mostly – despise frankenfoods. And one day I will get around to bashing McDonald’s and the Fast-food crap dispensers (and I mean that quite literally considering what ends up in the burgers) as they so richly deserve. I mean quite apart from asking us to eat a mix of ground up cow parts and cow poop, one has to take a moment to ask why on earth they need 17 ingredients in a “Chicken-ish Nugget.” Or why they have to treat the fries in such a wide variety of poly-syllabic chemicals. (And now, just to piss people off I will point out that a potato is made of many poly-syllabic chemical compounds all by itself). Or the awfulness of meals in a box. Or the pseudo spaghetti sauce that Prego and it's nasty ilk serve. Right there, that alone is enough to justify the Italians declaring war on us. But they are clearly an easy going people. That and we have a giant army and rich tourists.

Still, I must confess those frankenfoods have their uses and their virtues and to be a fair and decent person one must acknowledge them. And to acknowledge them one must first acknowledge that human beings come in wide varieties with a wide variety of needs. It's easy to despise artificial sweeteners until one becomes a diabetic. The purists dismiss the diabetics desire to have a candy bar, and not make themselves sick. The purists believe they should just learn to live without, or have only a tiny taste. Of course, the purists don't approve of candy bars in the first place, so they don't really get what the lose means. Likewise, the vegetarian. Now someone full of the militant rigidity of a teenager might be willing to eat lentils and greens. But I actually like meat. I just feel bad about making animals suffer for it. So I enjoy a lot of products that were once much like beans, until a wide variety of chemicals and a laboratory/factory process that would make Dr. Frankenstein himself blanch, turned them into something much like sausage patties, or burgers. (Avoid the fake bacon, sometimes only pork fat can play the role of pork fat.)

And then there were the brownies. I love brownies. I love to make brownies, the simplicity of chocolate, butter, flour, sugar, eggs. The way you can play with them by adding cocoa, or nuts, or spices, or a dozen other things to create all sort of variety (One day, if you are good, I shall tell you of the cherry, cream cheese, and peach brandy ones.) Still, I have friends for whom such things are sickening. I don't mean in the the moral or dietary outrage kind of way. I mean in the roiling gut, auto-immune kind of way. For them butter isn't something to be slathered on warm bread, it's a prelude to bloating. Wheat means their immune systems will attack their intestines. Which sounds kind of painful. Eggs, can mean swollen lips and trouble breathing. I think we can all come together on agreeing that breathing is really rather important.

Which brings me to the brownies that made me think. One day I was sitting around, drinking tea and eating brownies with a friend. This is not a radical act, but in this case it was an act of defiance against an almost religious view point. Why? Because I was eating brownies with a friend who can't eat my brownies. My brownies would harm her. We were eating frankenfood brownies. Wheat, egg, dairy free. Simple, ordinary, everyday, taste-like-brownie, brownies, with the exception of the fact that they simply weren't. One wonders how they are made. However, they are made it is very much not natural. Strange and bizarre alchemy must be done to turn things not of wheat and gluten to taste just like things of wheat and gluten. The binding of the eggs replaced by clever chemistry, the richness of butter, likewise.

So one must inevitably come to the conclusion that frankenfoods, at least some frankenfoods, have their uses and virtues. It's not the frankenfoods which are the problem. It's the zombification of food, when all the food offered is strange and unnatural. When it's not broccoli and potatoes, but broccoli essence turned into a vitamin and shoved inside a potato which has been dehydrated and reformed into a stick which is then coated in potato flavoring and deep fried. Just eat the damn broccoli and potato. Stop mucking about with that. But know that sometimes, you have to have a brownie, which is in no way except taste and texture, a brownie. But, like regular brownies, it should be a rare and special thing.

Long Live Complexity.
And Brownies.