Monday, March 20, 2006

How NPR almost caused my divorce

Over the weekend, I was driving around running errands. I heard an NPR story about a new vegetable cookbook by some woman. The title of the cookbook is "Vegetable Love." (Go to to find the link to the book; I'm feeling lazy tonight.)

Anyway, the reporter was interviewing the cookbook author and issuing a challenge. Present a recipe for a tired, staid vegetable that makes it more interesting and new. The chosen vegetable was "carrot." (The recipe can also be found on the aforementioned but unlinked The recipe sounded fairly simple, so when the time came to help Lynda with dinner later that night, I decided to give it a try.

While I didn't have all the ingredients, I combined what ingredients I did have with some memories of an Alton Brown "Good Eats" episode on carrots and came up with a fairly close approximation to what the cookbook author was going for--though I think I was a bit heavy-handed with the cayenne pepper. None of this caused tension in my marriage, however. That came tonight . . . while eating leftovers.

Tonight, we were eating the leftover carrots and warmed up meatloaf. Sarah and Grace were remarking that they didn't want to eat the carrots, which we had not offered to them in the first place. (The girls ate other vegetables instead.) Lynda told Grace that she didn't have to eat the carrots and remarked that they "were pretty spicy." I responded that yes, the carrots were a bit spicy, but they provided a nice counterbalance to the blandness of the meatloaf.

Calling out Lynda's meatloaf as bland didn't seem to sit very well with her. I could immediately see her hackles rise a bit. (Especially since she had put sage in the meatloaf this time.) I quickly backtracked and pointed out that meatloaf was supposed to be bland (but that bland doesn't mean "not tasty" just "not spicy"). I emphasized that her meatloaf was VERY tasty (which was true) and that meatloaf was not intended to be a spicy kind of dish; after all, you don't see Caribbean Jerk meatloaf, right? That got a twinkle in her eyes, so maybe we will see that in the future.

I'll keep you posted on how that turns out.
In other news, we might be snowed in tomorrow and be forced to eat our own young to stay alive.

Such is the breathless reporting regarding the Emergency Level Wrath of God type storm that is poised to strike the Midwest tonight and tomorrow.

According to the mighty forecasts of the local Dual Doppler Skycam Chopper 10 Weather Storm Team we might see (GASP!) 4 to 6 inches of snow through tomorrow.

I shit you not! 4 to 6 FRAKKIN' inches of snow!!

Pray for us; we may never speak again. It's been a good run. I hope the plows make it through before our wood runs out.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace

The first DFW book I ever read was A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, a collection of essays and magazine pieces on various topics. I really enjoyed his writing style and his direct, scientific/mathematical approach that gave me a new way of viewing ordinary stuff.

I went on to read Infinite Jest, the work that has served to best define Wallace (whether he likes it that way or not). It may not be his most representative work, currently or in the future, but for now IJ seems to be his Ulysses or his Gone With the Wind--the work that will always be uniquely Wallace's, the first one listed in all of his author bio blurb.

Infinite Jest is a book that defies description. You simply have to try and give it a read, most likely giving up on page 200 after confronting another three page footnote tangent in 6 point type, then attempting to understand why said footnote involves such involved details as the precise chemical composition (with scientific notation & abbreviation) of table salt, and THEN realizing that page 200 is approximately 20% of the total book. Obviously, this isn't everyone's cup of tea.

Consider the Lobster, however is a bit more approachable for the DFW novice. It is, like A Supposedly Fun Thing . . ., another collection of essays and therefore offers a variety of subjects that are of a more reasonable length. The variety of the essays is again appealing in its (seeming) randomness. I suppose the nature of Wallace's life as a writer for hire is that he bounces from magazine to magazine, topic to topic. These disparate essays were written over the course of decade for such different periodicals as Harpers, Rolling Stone, and Gourmet Magazine. (I admit that I wonder how the magazine editors feel when confronted by Wallace's draft manuscript. I imagine that all of his articles are routinely four times longer than requested and full of pointless details and sidebar comments. That is, at least, how these pieces come across, but maybe I am not familiar with the writing style of high brow American monthlies.)

If there is a common theme interwoven between such different subjects as the Adult Video News Awards (Big Red Son), the merits of Bryan A. Garner's A Dictionary of American Usage (Authority and American Usage), a description of how DFW and his neighbors reacted to the events of 9/11/01 (The View from Mrs. Thompson's), the inability of sports figures to write acceptable memoirs--and what that reveals (How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart), John McCain's run for the 2000 Republican nomination (Up, Simba), or whether or not lobsters feel pain when boiled (Consider the Lobster), only DFW knows for sure, I guess. What I do know is that I was confronted with topics and points of view that I wouldn't have found without his book. That is what I like about DFW--uniqueness.

His style is overwhelming, to be sure. It's almost like he approaches his writing like he is an alien using a foreign tongue to describe what he is observing. I think this description is appropriate because Wallace is, by his own admission, a grammar snob (see almost every word of the aforementioned essay Authority and English Usage if you doubt me). But his grammar snobbery leads him to write in a formal manner that reminds me of people who were taught English rather than those who live in English. He also has a rapid-fire style that comes across as breathless and exciting at the same time. Let's take one footnote to see what I mean about style and to appreciate the honesty that comes from his observations:

"As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it's only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let's-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather, that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way--hostile to my fantasy of being a true individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. (Coming up is the part that my companions find especially unhappy and repellent, a sure way to spoil the fun of vacation travel:) To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing."

That is a wonderful passage, something that I dearly wish I could have conveyed as neatly in my Master's thesis. (More on that another day.)

DFW is great, maybe best in smallish doses, but fun to read. You won't like every essay, nor every topic, but you will find something to admire and think about.
Here is the link to this week's resurrection of my old GSU sports column, The Authority Speaks.


Spec said...

I don't have much to say about your post, except to say that my belief that vegetable's are evil seems to be holding up.

Also, glad to see that you've added Nanci Griffith's "Flyer" to your iPod. It is one of my favorite CDs ever. Which is saying something.

Anonymous said...

Coming soon to a dinner table near you!

Caribbean Meatloaf

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
3/4 cup Quaker® Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup catsup
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons Caribbean jerk seasoning or Mexican seasoning

1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple in natural juice
1 jar (9 ounces) mango chutney
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or cilantro
Heat oven to 350°F. Combine meatloaf ingredients; mix lightly but thoroughly. Shape meatloaf mixture into a 10 x 6-inch loaf on rack of broiler pan. Bake 30 minutes.
Drain pineapple, reserving juice for another use. Combine pineapple, chutney, jalapeño pepper and mint; mix well.
Remove meatloaf from oven; spoon 1/2 cup pineapple mixture over top of meatloaf. Continue baking 20 to 25 minutes, until meatloaf is to medium doneness (160°F for beef, 170°F for turkey). Let stand 5 minutes before slicing. Serve with remaining pineapple mixture.
Makes 6 servings.

David said...

Awesome Lynda!

That'll be great . . . I think?

David said...

BTW . . . we received hardly any snow at all that weekend.

Stupid weathermen.