Monday, September 19, 2011

Meatless Monday ~ Chilly Morning Breakfast

Uh-oh.  It's Meatless Monday again?  I'm awfully bad at this regular weekly post thingamajig.  That's okay though, since today I'm giving you a breakfast recipe which means one of two things: something for you to dream about all night or something yummy to wake up to.  Well, an idea of something yummy to wake up to at least.

Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies by the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.


With the weather turning chilly, I've been returning to my favorite winter breakfast: it's vegan, it's filling, it's yummy, it's OATMEAL!  Okay, I know it doesn't sound all that exciting, but my version of it really is delicious.  Plus, I like to think of it as a time-release meal - it contains simple sugars, complex carbs, proteins, and fats, so you keep metabolizing it all morning and it keeps you going straight through until lunch.  Plus, there's a butt-load (literally - teehee, poop) of fiber to keep your tummy feeling satisfied.  Oh, and it takes less than ten minutes to prepare, and it only takes that long if you're really sleepy.  For all of those people who think that vegetarians and vegans are weak and lacking in energy, I give you the power of oatmeal.


Jennifer's Super-Duper Chilly Morning Oats
(I just thought of that title on the spot - are you impressed?!)


Ingredients:
1 cup almond milk (plus 1 tbsp if using raisins)
1 tbsp raisins (if'n you want - sometimes I'm not in the mood)
1/2 cup oat (not instant)
1 banana
peanut butter
agave or maple syrup (or brown sugar for you traditionalists)
cinnamon

Put your almond milk (and raisins if using) in a pot and bring to a boil.  Watch it, because almond milk likes to foam up faster than you can say "scrumdiddlyumptious."  Add the oats, lower heat to medium, and cook for five minutes.  Microwave your banana for one minute (in your serving bowl, because who wants to wash extra dishes?) and add it to the oats while they cook.  Stir 'em up really well and dump the whole mess back into your bowl.  Top it all with a (very) generous spoonful of peanut butter, a drizzle of agave, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Enjoy!

The peanut butter gets all melty, so you can smooth it over the top of your oatmeal and have a bit with every mouthful.  Yum!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week Two

Welcome to week two of the Fragile Things Group Read, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings in honor of RIP VI.  If you missed week one and/or have no idea what I'm talking about, go check out my post from last week!

Okay, I'm just going to say it up front: I did not love this week's selections.  Nor did I like them very much.

This week's chunk of readings started with a poem, "The Hidden Chamber."  Unlike "The Fairy Reel," which we read last week, "Chamber" lacked a specific structure.  I want to call this a prose poem, but according to Janet Burroway in Imaginative Writing*, a prose poem is actually "A poem that is not written in lines but continues to the margins of the page like prose" (359).  I suppose it's actually free verse, but to me it seems more like prose with odd line breaks.  There's very little apparent rhythm and it doesn't lend itself to reading aloud, which is generally a feature of poetry that I enjoy.  In terms of content, it's a bit gothic, replete with ghosts hidden away and dead butterflies.  I like ghosts, but this did nothing for me.  Overall, the poem was a somewhat meh experience.

Though I didn't love the "The Hidden Chamber," I did appreciate its relationship with the story that followed it.  "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" (yes really) is a very gothic tale, including ghosts and sword fights and things that go bump in the night.  Structurally, it is a story within a story: we first see a woman running out of the dark up to the door of a creepy house; it is only later that we learn that her story is being written by a writer struggling with his craft.  I loved how the themes continued between the two and how the story almost seemed and extension of the poem, but I found the scariness in "Forbidden Brides" overdone.  What I did appreciate about it, was that in the story goblins are a reality and the world of stockbrokers and toasters is the fantasy.  However, for me this wasn't enough to save it.  In fact, it seemed a little gimmicky - I both enjoyed the cleverness and questioned its integrity.  Plus, the title is just way too long.

Up next is "The Flints of Memory Lane," in which a teenage boy sees a ghostly woman with a scary smile at the end of his driveway, freaks out, and runs across town to his friend's house and calls his parents to pick him up.  That's it.  It's about three pages long and wholly underwhelming.  I suppose it's also about an insecure narrator, since he questions whether his ghost story is really a ghost story, but rightly so.  In terms of interesting connections making stories somewhat more interesting, "Flints" is connected to the next story in that both feature a building sold to property developers, which also did very little for me.

"Closing Time," this week's final story, is yet another ghost story, this time told to the narrator's companions at a bar.  The narrator recalls his youth, when he had formed an instantaneous yet temporary friendship with three brothers over several pages from an old, girly magazine.  They stumble into a poorly described fairy world and upon a little house with a demonic red knocker, into which the three brothers disappear.  I actually liked this story, as it demonstrated the interesting bond that strange children are able to form so easily, and evoked a creepiness that the blatant gothic style of the poem and "Faceless Brides" lacked and "Flints" couldn't hope for.  However, the outer story in which the tale of the fairy world was nested is distracting and weird, and not in a good way.  The narrator tells about the background of the bar - okay.  Then he describes the specific night on which the story is told and mentions that there were four customers there, including himself.  He repeats a few ghost stories that were told and follows that with, "And then one of us said," refusing to name the customer who tells the story of the fairy world.  Based on the end of the frame, it can only be the narrator who tells this story, yet he refused to admit to it.  Why?  This conundrum is not interesting to me, as perhaps Gaiman intended, but confusing and irritating, and ended up tainting the only ghost story I enjoyed this week.

I read all of the stories on different days, so I don't think it was something I brought to them that made them so disappointing.  Gaiman seems to lean pretty heavily on the story-within-a-story trope, as all three of these stories rely on it.  While I loved his use of it in "October in the Chair," this time around Gaiman disappointed me.  The frames were uninteresting and largely unnecessary, except perhaps in "Faceless Brides."  Overall, I found that these stories didn't at all live up to the expectations that last week's built in me.  I'm hoping that next week's redeem the collection in my eyes.

*This is a creative writing textbook that I really like - enough so that I actually bought the author's book devoted entirely to fiction writing as well.  I definitely recommend it!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Read Because of Another Blogger

I think I've been forgetting the
picture lately.  Oops!
Three posts in three days?!  Holy poopers!  But I assure you, my lovely readers, that it is true.  I'm back for the third day running, this time to participate in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  Today's topic is Top Ten Books I Read Because of Another Blogger, which I love.  Since joining the blogging world, I have read a lot of things that I may not have read otherwise.  Lets see if I can make it to ten!  For your browsing pleasure, links to other blogs are to their reviews of the books.

1) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: I can't remember a specific blogger that led me to read this.  Mostly, I just kept seeing references and reviews that made me think that I was missing out on something.  And I was!
2) Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde: So far I've read The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book and it's all thanks to Ally at What Red Read.  Thanks Ally!
3) Cider House Rules by John Irving: Though I'd meant to read Irving for a while, I probably wouldn't have gotten around to it if it wasn't for Christina at The Blue Bookcase.  And it was definitely worth it!
4) Room by Emma Donoghue: Like Rebecca, this one was all over the blog world so I don't have anybody specific to thank for turning me onto it, just the book blogging in general.  Thanks all!
5) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: Same goes for this one which, I can now say with some lack of surety, I liked.  I think.  Maybe.  Thank you?
6) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: I'm not sure who I have to thank for this one, but thanks all the same.  I probably wouldn't have read it on my own, but now I'm so glad that I did.
7) Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: I'm still in the middle of this one, all thanks to Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings who is hosting the reading group.  Great choice!

These last three are books that I have acquired because of bloggers, but that I still have yet to read:

8) The Boat by Nam Le: The rather impulsive purchase of this collection of short stories was inspired by Lucis at The Blue Bookcase.  I can't wait to read it!
9) The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning: I picked up this tome thanks to Ellen at Fat Books and Thin Women.  When I have some time to devote to it (i.e. winter break), I plan to read through all three installments.
10) Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese: This one wasn't actually recommended by a book blogger. Kristen from Rage Against the Minivan (a blog about adoption and stuff and life in general) mentioned liking it once (at least I think she did - I can't find the post where she mentioned it) and I nearly forgot about it until I saw it at the library sale last month and decided to pick it up.  It sounds great and I can't wait to read it!

I made it!  And this is why the book blogging world is so great!  In the sixteen months I've been a part of it, I've been exposed to so many books that I never would have heard of or ventured to open otherwise.  Sometimes those exposures warn me away, but often they inspire me to pick up something new which, most often, I have loved!  What books has the book blogging world inspired you to read??

Monday, September 12, 2011

Meatless Monday ~ Vegetarian Blogs and Resources

So it's only my third installment of Meatless Monday, and I already managed to forget about it.  Oops!  I walked in the door after getting back from my internship, and said "Oh crap, it's Monday."  But never fear, my veggie-munching pals, I still have veggie stuffs for you to read and enjoy!


Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies by the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.


Today I'm going to share with you some of my favorite vegetarian blogs and resources for the web.  For any veggie converts like myself, making the change can be very difficult.  I come from a meat-loving family who, apart from my sister, would never even consider dropping meat from their diet.  My sister was vegetarian for a bit, but converted to eating fish, then chicken, then the whole animal kingdom, though she still identifies with me and loves vegetarian food.  My friends like their meat and though they are supportive of me, it can be very difficult just to find somebody to talk to or whose experiences you can relate to.  Thus, reason number 28593267 (thank you random finger mash) that the internet is awesome: other vegans and vegetarians use it too!  And never fear - you need not be vegan or vegetarian to participate in this community - aspiring veg-heads and people who just want to make a positive difference in the lives, the environment, and/or the lives of animals and other humans are welcome as well!


I tend to go in and out of phases of what blogs I read fanatically, but here are some that have been on my list for a long time because they're just so darned great!


101 Cookbooks - I can't say enough good things about this blog.  Heidi posts so many amazing recipes and though she's heavy on dairy and eggs, there's plenty for vegans to enjoy as well.  She posts recipes that she's found in cookbooks (with permission!) as well as the multitudes of delicious dishes that she creates herself.  She often combines unexpected ingredients and flavors, but I have yet to make something of hers that wasn't absolutely wonderful.  I recently received Heidi's new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day, and can't wait to plumb the delicious depths of what it has to offer (and then tell you about it!).


Oh She Glows - Angela is pretty much the vegan equivalent of Heidi.  Okay, not exactly, but like Heidi, Angela posts lots of great recipes, nearly all of which I adore.  She also discusses her transition into veganism, and other things she gets involved in, like photography and gardening.  Angela seems like a really sweet person, and her blog is definitely worth a visit.  She doesn't have a cookbook out yet, but I would definitely pick it up if/when she writes it!


Post Punk Kitchen - This blog and vegetarian resource was created by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, one of the authors of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World as well as some other amazing cookbooks that you will see reviewed here.  It contains recipes, advice, discussion boards, and some other stuff too!  It's a definite stop for anybody pursuing a vegan lifestyle, but great for the lacto-ovo-vegetarians out there as well!


Eat, Drink & Be Vegan* - Named for her absolutely amazing cookbook, Dreena Burton's blog is a great stop for anyone interested in healthy, animal-free, child-friendly cooking.  Dreena blogs about her food and her kids, and offers up some great recipes to boot.  I can't wait to review the cookbook of the same name, because it is just fantastic!


The Chubby Vegetarian - While all of the blogs I've listed prove that vegetarian and vegan foods can and should be delicious, The Chubby Vegetarian shows that they can be decadent as well.  Though I haven't made all that many of his recipes (some have a lot of steps) I love just to look at his yummy concoctions.  And don't worry - what I have made is indeed yumilicious, so you won't be wasting your time!


craigslist's Vegan Forum - This forum is great for anybody who wants to talk vegetables.  It is much more populated than the vegetarian forum, and is filled with veteran veggies who are always willing to share their experiences and advice.  It's a great place to go when your mom refuses to leave the bacon out of the potato salad, or when your brother-in-law just won't stop asking where you get your protein.  Just avoid the trolls - they feed off of ill-will like we do off of vegan mashed potatoes.


The above is just a tiny sampling of the online vegan/vegetarian community.  There's a lot more out there, including ones that I read - I just chose to post about my very favorites.  What are your favorite online vegan and vegetarian blogs and resources??  I'd love to expand my reading list!


*I can't help mentioning how much the lack of an Oxford comma in this title bothers me.  But don't let it stop you - punctuation in no way predicts deliciousness.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fragile Things ~ Neil Gaiman, Week One


So despite all that I've said about challenges, I've gone and signed myself up for another one.  I've also jumped on the bandwagon, because everybody and her mother is doing Stainless Steel Droppings's Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) VI Challenge.  As much as I hate to be a follower, I just can't help it!  The RIP challenge emphasizes dark, gothic, supernatural literature.  It also has levels designed just for me!  I'm committing myself to Peril of the Short Story and Peril on the Screen, so I'll be reading lots of dark short stories (which I was planning to do anyway) and watching lots of creepy movies (ideally while cuddling under a warm blanket with the hubby...you know, for protection).  If you like, you can follow my progress over at my Challenges page (just avoid noticing how pathetically I'm doing on all my other challenges).


I've already jump-started the challenge, by joining SSD's group read of Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (check out the reading schedule here and other people's reviews here).  In the introduction to this short story and poem collection, Gaiman discusses his original conception of the collection and how it changed over time into what it is today.  I don't usually like to read these kinds of introductions, but it was actually pretty interesting, and even inspiring.  Gaiman claims that "Writing's a lot like cooking.  Sometimes the cake won't rise, no matter what you do, and every now and again the cake tastes better than you ever dreamed it would."  I love this (and not only because I love cake).  Just because something's not what you imagined doesn't mean it's not good, and that's really exciting for an aspiring yet perpetually blocked writer like myself.  A lot of the introduction is devoted to a brief introductions for each story, so I saved most of them to read in tandem with the stories themselves.  The ones I've read thus far added interesting background information to each story, though some got a bit dull (I don't need to know about every prize).  Overall, the introduction is filled with beautiful writing, inspiration, and a touch of humility, and I'm happy that the group read guidelines kept me from skipping it.

So far, the stories do not disappoint.  The first, "A Study in Emerald," is, according to Gaiman, a fusion of H.P. Lovercraft and Sherlock Holmes.  Though I've never read either, from what I know about them, I see elements of both fused brilliantly together.  A line that I especially loved from it describes the queen of England: "She was called Victoria, because she had beaten us in battle, seven hundred years before, and she was called Gloriana, because she was glorious, and she was called the Queen, because the human mouth was not shaped to say her true name" (11).  The familiar world is turned upside down and goes through many renderings throughout just this one sentence.

It made her eyes glow.  Apparently.
Up next is the first of the collection's poems, of which there aren't all that many.  I was actually pretty surprised to find poetry in here, but pleasantly so.  "The Fairy Reel" is short and sweet.  It follows a pretty conventional form, finding its rhythm in syllable count and rhyme.  For anybody who fears poetry and is upset to hear that verse makes an appearance in this collection, it is quite accessible: only two pages long and quite straightforward, it tells a story of loss and regret.  It is also, as Gaiman tells us in the introduction, "enormously fun to read aloud."  I read it to the cat.

The final selection for today is "October in the Chair," a surprising story that finds all of the months around a campfire for a highly structured monthly meeting in which each tells a story (September is a cheater and tries to repeat an old one).  The story within the story is of a boy and a ghost, and was a "dry run" (xv) for Gaiman's current (as of the introduction) writing exploit.  It is a sweet story encased within a slightly bizarre one.  I would love to read more about the months, as Gaiman characterizes them wonderfully.

So that's it for this week!  I'm excited to read more of the collection, as it starts off wonderfully and I always mean to read more Gaiman, since he never disappoints.  To all participating in the RIP challenge, good luck!  Please leave me some short story and movie recommendations.  To those of you who are not - why not?!  If you need me, I'll be reading all the other reviews that I've been avoiding all morning, for fear that they would taint my own.

Friday, September 9, 2011

And then...

 A note: there will be spoilers in this post, but I will save them for the end and warn you when they are coming, so don't be scared to keep reading!

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, and this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic finally gave me the motivation to actually do it.  The topic was "Top Ten Sequels I've Been Dying to Read," and as I sat there trying to think of any (I was unsuccessful), all I could think about was those afterwards in books that tell you what happened to all those characters.  You know, those sections that force closure and tell you what to think and are often sickeningly sweet.

I remember the first time that I ever saw one of those ten year later-type final chapters.  I was probably about ten years old and it was in a Lois Duncan novel, Daughters of Eve.  I thought that it was so clever, and was delighted to learn that the characters I so enjoyed continued to exist after the events of the novel.  Over time though, my thoughts have changed to the point that recently, I've decided to skip such chapters if I see them coming, and end the novel early.  Of course, I haven't had a chance to do this since I made this pronouncement, so my resolve may crumble, but for now it seems like a good idea.

Why though?  Shouldn't I want to know what happens to the characters that I've followed for hundreds, or even thousands of pages?  Sure, of course I do.  But that doesn't mean that I want the author to tell me.

Remember when J.K. Rowling came out after releasing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and started talking about all of the characters and the stuff she didn't reveal about them in the books?  Like how Dumbledore is gay, and Hannah Abbot becomes the landlady of The Leaky Cauldron, and other such nonsense, and people ate it up?  The thing is, to me at least, if it's not in the book, then it doesn't count.  If it wasn't worth being in the text, why should it matter?  This is the same way that I feel about those final chapters - they have no bearing on the actual story and are generally just there for overly tidy closure.

By the final chapter, especially if I've loved a book, the characters are mine.  I love them, or I hate them, or I'm not sure how to feel about them, but no matter what, they belong to me.  I have my own thoughts about what happens to them, and I like to imagine their endings for myself, particularly if how they live the rest of their lives isn't crucial to the actual story.

Spoilers to Harry Potter, Cold Mountain, Middlemarch, and, unexpectedly, Battlestar Galactica ahead - proceed at your own risk. 

As I've already mentioned it and its so widely known, Harry Potter is an obvious example here.  After thousands of pages of the revelation of a magical world to which he belongs, Voldemort's defeat, and Harry's discovery of who he truly is, Rowling wraps everything up with a cozy little scene at the train station several years later, in which everybody married exactly who you thought the would when they were fourteen years old, everybody's personality is exactly the same, and the world is, apparently, perfect.  Where, I ask, are the years of psychotherapy for PTSD?  Or Hermione's discovery that in addition to being obnoxious, Ron is terrible in bed?  Or the fact that the platform is not so crowded as it was in the past thanks to the decimation and incarceration of so much of Britain's magical population?  Gone.  A war and nineteen years have not changed Ron's weak sense of humor, Hermione's inability to choose between amusement and annoyance, or Harry's tendency to stand around and listen to his friends talk while contributing nothing.  It's disappointingly vapid, and not true to Rowling's ability to find reality in the fantastic.

The ending to Cold Mountain is equally underwhelming.  Four hundred pages of beautiful writing and plot culminate in a chapter taking place ten years later that is both predictable and hackneyed.  He dies and she is left with the child they created on the one and only night they finally joined together (never seen that before).  The other female character marries the only eligible male character around.  All are filled with joy as they eat under the autumn sky.  Been there, done that.  Maybe I should tear the page out of the book, and bring back the possibility that Inman survives and that everybody can live balanced lives.

Middlemarch ended a bit more realistically, though the neat ending is still disappointing.  Granted, in this case I didn't love the book itself, but Eliot's insistence on wrapping everything up with the details of what happened to everybody for the rest of their lives is tiresome.  So many years cannot pass so neatly, especially after eight hundred pages of such complexity and depth.

Which brings me to the most laughingly awkward example I have, which actually comes from television.  The husband and I recently watched all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica, which, if you don't know, is about the nuclear destruction of a planet far from here and the few survivors' search for a new home.  Within the last few episodes, they finally find a place (hint, it's here, but just at the dawn of mankind) and in the final episode, we get to see what happens to ALL of them.  They spread out across the planet and settle (great survival tactic, guys), and then do weird things.  One decides to explore the whole, unfamiliar planet completely alone without adequate supplies.  One decides to go build a cabin with his new wife who he knows is about to die, yet finds this worth a permanent goodbye to his only living child.  One vanishes.  In this case, there was an opportunity for a great ending, dealing only with the future of the human race (that is, us), which they made super-awkward by bringing things back to the individual level and having those individuals make terrible decisions that make you wonder how the human race survived long enough for us to judge them.

On reflection, Daughters of Eve actually did this best.  Some of the girls went to college, some married, one died, one ended up in a mental hospital, some remained unnervingly the same.  Though Duncan wraps up the next couple of their lives in a mere sentence each, collectively she at least hints at the variety of human existence and the possibility that all does not necessarily go well.

Overall though, I'd rather the freedom to imagine the futures of characters that I have spent a whole novel or even series getting to know to an excessively short sum-up of what happens with them.  Characters can lose complexity when their futures are oversimplified, and beloved stories can lose their gleam.  When their stories end, characters' lives should continue, but in the minds and hearts of the readers not on a page that can never be enough.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Meatless Monday ~ Blossom du Jour

Happy Labor Day, my little vegetarians!  I hope your Labor Day will contain as much meatless merriment as mine!  As today is my birth-holiday, I will be trekking down to the local park for some vegetable-based barbecuing, illicit sangria FRUIT PUNCH, frisbee-playing, and general frivolity.  But that's not what this post is about.  This post is about the deliciousness that is Blossom du Jour, because today is, yet again, Meatless Monday!

Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies by the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.

Last Wednesday, the husband and I took the train into New York to go see Cirque du Soleil's new show, Zarkana, and to eat copious amounts of delicious food.  To get it out of the way now - Zarkana was amazing.  Neither of us could follow the storyline at all, but it didn't matter because did you know that people could do those things?  There were amazing jugglery, ropeless acrobatics, a twisty guy on a slippery floor, and semi-mute silliness.  It was great.

But let me backtrack.  Before going to the cruelty-free (see, I'm not too far off-topic) circus, we had lunch.  Blossom du Jour is one of the many recent offsprings of Blossom, a popular vegan restaurant.  I've never been to Blossom, but I'm sure that it's amazing because its mini-me is.  Blossom du Jour is primarily a take-out place, though it has a few feet of counter-and-stool space (but no bathroom - plan ahead if you plan to eat in).  It serves sandwiches, salads, wraps, and juices.  It also features a continuous video of the animals at a Farm Life Sanctuary (not sure which one, sorry).  I must say, there's something very satisfying about watching frolicking farm life with the assurance that it will not be making an appearance in my sandwich.

Sloppy Joe Slides - there were originally three,
but I couldn't get the camera out in time!
As for the food: the husband ordered a Sloppy Joe Sliders, which he declared to be meaty, indistinguishable from the original, and generally yummy (my word, not his).  Or, in his words, "remarkable loyal to the flavor and texture I remember from when I was a kid."  I had a bite and it tasted quite authentic.  As an omnivore, I was never really a fan of Sloppy Joes, so I wasn't too effusive about the sandwich, but it's definitely a great choice for sloppy joe fans.  I ordered the Midtown Melt, which the menu describes as "cajun-spiced seitan, v-cheese, agave guacamole, lettuce, chipotle aioli."  And oh man, was this delicious.  I devoured it and even though I was stuffed (yes, the servings are more than sufficient without being gluttonous) , wished I had more.  The husband liked it as well, and was very jealous when he discovered that I had guacamole and he didn't (bwahaha!).  The whole thing cost about $20, which is quite reasonable for lunch in the city, especially one as delicious and lovingly-prepared as this one.

Midtown Melt - I took this pictures while clutching
the other half of the sandwich in my other hand!
Blossom du Jour is a definite stop for anybody who likes good food on the go in New York, not just the vegetarians and vegans.  Check it out - you won't be disappointed.  And, if you have enough room left and don't need to run to the nearest Starbucks to use the restroom, Cocoa V, the organic and fair-trade chocolateering fraternal twin of BDJ, is right next door.  I didn't get to try it, due to the aforementioned need to run, but I did press my forehead to the glass and it looked amazing.

Happy Labor Day, my lovely readers, and if you find yourself in Manhattan, be sure to check out the yumminess that is Blossom.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Middlesex ~ Jeffrey Eugenides

"Aw that's sweet OH WAIT THAT'S YOUR BROTHER."

I suppose that Jeffrey Eugenides deserves a trophy or a cookie or something (or maybe he'll just settle for a Pulitzer) for how good a job he did eliciting the above response from me.  Doing such an impressive job of balancing familiar and potently romantic moments with the no-no of incest is kind of impressive in how well he manages to detach himself from these two conflicting elements, but it mostly just made me queasy.  Though perhaps this isn't the best start to a book review.

Back to the basics.  Here's a rough summary of the novel which I'd heard praised a thousand times before picking it up and realizing I knew zilch about it: the novel is narrated by Cal, born Callie, a hermaphrodite with an *ahem* interesting family history (which essentially makes him his own second cousin and robs him at birth of the penis that his DNA says he should have).  The novel is written in the form of an autobiography going back years before Cal's birth and is set mostly in Detroit, though also has bits in Turkey and Germany.  In addition to the obvious issues of sex and gender, the novel also addresses race and its various forms.

It's taken several days for me to even attempt to write this review, largely because I don't know what I think.  I had a slightly shameful fascination with the fact that this was about a hermaphrodite, which was exacerbated by my wondering if Eugenides was simply exploiting the strangeness of a rare genetic trait that he read about somewhere.  Combine that with the ickiness of the incest and the novel's apparent claim that lesbians should have no problem with incest because they're sexual freaks too, and I have a hell of a problem on my hands.

Because I couldn't put this book down.  Even though the writing bothered me - the casual narrative form of a memoir in the context of a novel just seems lazy to me - I had to keep reading.  Even though I didn't find Detroit that compelling of a backdrop, I had to keep reading.  Even though it made me question some of my own fascinations and my own interest in spectacle, I had to keep reading.  Even though there was a character named Chapter Eleven and no reason was given for this (Wikipedia explains it but I wish the book did too)... you get the point.

I enjoyed Middlesex, I did.  I didn't love its characters though, or the motivations ascribed to them.  The mothers all turn into stereotypes: Desdemona, a sexual deviant in her youth, becomes a complaining, self-pitying old woman; Tessie, who once pleasured in a man playing the clarinet against her flesh, becomes a shell of woman, existing only for her family and the activities that the community says should interest her; and Zoe, whose character was never explored, becomes a nag who drives her husband away.  Callie, fortunately, manages to avoid this fate by becoming a man and therefore not a mother, but wait - why did Callie decide to become Cal?  Calliope seemed like a pretty well-adjusted and even stereotypical girl, excited for bras and menstruation, when she suddenly finds out that genetically (and according to American notions of sex) she is "supposed" to be a he, and decides to make the change.  The only apparent motivation for this decision is that Calliope liked girls.  What?!  How is that sufficient motivation?  Cal spends 500 pages exploring his family's history in the context of his own rebirth as a man, and never explains this key point.  Maybe I missed something.  I hope I did.

I could go on about my ambivalence towards Middlesex all night, but I won't.  I won't be trading this book in, but I don't see myself rereading it either, at least not for quite a while.  I am pretty confused by all of the unqualified effusiveness I've read about it and hope that somebody can explain it to me.