Saturday, April 05, 2008

Manfred the Wonder Dog

When was the last time you thought of Tom Terrific...and his sidekick (here, serving as office equipment) Manfred the Wonder Dog?

Quite some time? I thought so.

I have always thought that "Manfred the Wonder Dog" would make a great name for a cat. Don't you think....or don't you?

Book Review: Wonderful Tonight by Pattie Boyd

Those of us who grew up as Beatle fans have grown up since, and what with the way of the world and all that, our hearts may not pound as they once did at any news of a....BEATLE! Nevertheless, when Pattie "ex-Mrs. George Harrison" Boyd's memoir came out last year, I bought it immediately and devoured it faster (if such can be imagined) than a big bag of potato chips, turning each page eagerly, as if at last I might discover the secret of....the BEATLES!

Ironically enough, one of the things I realized from Pattie Boyd's narrative (which is decently written, although a little heavy on the girlish breathiness) is that is was not easy to be a BEATLE! The now well-trodden territory of losing most or all of one's privacy to the press was relatively new, especially in Britain, especially for what most establishment people viewed as a passing trend. George (always my fave rave), Paul, John and Ringo were ill-prepared and basically, flummoxed on many levels by their rapt public, while the government (remember those drug arrests) basically fucked with them at every turn.

Read my full review of Wonderful Tonight here on LAist, and do go see the show at Morrison Hotel Gallery on Sunset (same block as Toi, across from Meltdown), which opens this Sunday and runs for a few weeks (there are links to the Gallery in the LAist piece). And the book is being issued in paperback in late May, just in time for the beach.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Anne Enright: The Gathering

So, I've been busy...elsewhere. Yes, writing for LAist and neglecting my own blog. Rather than have you chase my review of Enright's Booker Prize-winning novel over to that other website -- which presumably you just did because you absolutely wanted to read my cookbook lists -- I'm reprinting it here. Just for you. This novel surprised me with its directness; my brain was holding on to some embarrassing notion of the Irish novel through a soft-focus and fond lens. Enright's book is disturbingly clear. (For more clear, modern Irish fiction, read Colm Toibin.)

The Gathering, by the Irish writer Anne Enright, won the 2007 Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious awards for a writers who is “a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.” Enright’s win was a long shot; although she’s published plenty, she isn’t one of the usual suspects, like Ian McEwen or J.M. Coetzee, who tend to pop up on the Booker shortlist regularly. The Booker Prize can make an author. Enright is now on a world tour that one suspects her publishers didn’t plan until she won.

The Gathering is a simple story, narrated by a middle-aged woman named Veronica, who begins: “I would like to write down what happened in my grandmother’s house the summer I was eight or nine, but I am not sure if it really did happen.” Veronica’s brother, Liam, her closest sibling among 10, has died; she must go from Dublin to Brighton, England, to collect his body. Liam’s death leads Veronica to a lengthy meditation on what long-ago, half-remembered events may have led to Liam’s death and shadowed her own life. Her assured cadence belies her confusion about what really did happened in her childhood, and makes for 261 compelling pages.

Veronica is a reliable narrator who traces her shaky memories along with the untruths her parents and grandparents have sustained for reasons she discovers as she tells her story. The sins of the fathers haunt Veronica; she is grieving, we learn, not just for Liam, but for her own lost soul. In the imprint of his suffering, she discovers the hard truth about her own sadness.

Enright’s tone in The Gathering is cool and relentlessly honest. In her journey of revelation, Veronica spares no one, and her observations are both painfully clear-eyed and nastily funny. This is not the whimsical Dublin of Paddy Doyle, nor the grim but lace-edged world of William Trevor. The Gathering is a closer relative to James Joyce’s pitiless view of how his beloved country killed and ate its young.

All that said, The Gathering is not depressing to read, and has its own humor. Enright deserves applause for taking on one Irish family’s sadness without portraying them as pitiable victims.

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Best cookbooks: Don't miss these lists!

What you're looking at on the left is a plate of Very Chocolate Cookies, with cacao chips inside that lend a wonderful slightly bitter chocotaste to a buttery bite-sized nibble. You want to eat these cookies. There's even a variant that includes piment d'Espelette, a Basque hot pepper that is A.O.C., meaning in part that it is hard to find and expensive.
You will find this recipe -- the one you want so very much -- in Chocolate and Zucchini, a cookbook by a French blogger, Clotilde Dusoulier, who didn't wake up to her culinary heritage until she lived in San Francisco for two years. It's a great cookbook and a great blog, (and all you Francophiles and Francophones can read the version francaise) and was #1 on my list of Best Cookbooks of 2007.

Read the whole article and find the links here, on LAist.
A few weeks later, I posted a list of five rediscoveries, cookbooks from the past that I really adore. This list includes homey, fun books like the late Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking, as well as Sophie-daughter-of-Jane Grigson's Sophie's Table. (If you don't have it, you ought to get Jane Grigson's Good Things, right now.) Sophie's cookbook has all manner of recipes, including -- since we're talking about cookies -- an oatmeal chocolate chip that includes no flour and is buttery and delicious.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Einstein: April 6, 1990 - February 13, 2008

Einstein, Thanksgiving 2007
No, I am not going to look up until you take the damn picture!

A Nutmegger by birth, Einstein started life amidst humble beginnings in New Britain, Connecticut on April 6, 1990. Firstborn among his siblings Greystoke, Soupy, Peewee, and the Dalai Lama, Einstein was always the first kitten in line for everything. Shortly after learned to toddle around, he adopted one of his human caregivers, another firstborn, to be his lifelong assistant. He was eternally grateful to her for teaching him to use a litter box.

Einstein used one of his lives early on when he fell three stories from a window screen and survived unscathed. (Why he was clinging to the screen remains unknown.) He cultivated a relationship with his indifferent father, Jim, sitting at the closest distance Jim would tolerate (about 3 feet) and staring into the same space as his dad. For his mother, Kitchen, Einstein expressed unqualified affection (even though she refused to teach him to use the litter box), attempting to nurse long after all his other siblings had been weaned. He would slide in to her teat as if he was reaching home plate. Kitchen was not amused.

A move deeper into New England – to Morrisville, Vermont in December 1992 – offered new opportunities for adventure. Shortly after he recovered from a brief and almost deadly bout with diabetes, Einstein slaughtered his first small creature, leaving only the tail and the gall bladder, and no mess whatsoever. Subsequent encounters with small rodents proved almost consistently successful on Einstein’s part, although his human’s eleventh-hour save of a barely-maimed mouse that he had planned to finish off later destroyed his consistent record. Each winter in Vermont brought swarming cluster flies, like a weeklong bonus of flying potato chips. He particularly enjoyed watching large creatures like moose from his Vermont windows, and never tattled when the moose asked him to keep their frequent visits to the spring outside the house on the q.t.

In his East Coast years, Einstein often enjoyed visiting Cedar Grove, New Jersey for the holidays, where he became acquainted with the Queen of Snacks, who offered him smoked salmon and other delicacies, and the Endless Lap, who watched television unmoving for periods of time long enough to allow adequate napping time. He also encountered a sage elder who correctly perceived what Einstein would say first if he could speak (as animals are reputed to do at midnight on Christmas eve): “So, what have you done for me lately?”

A move to Arlington, Massachusetts in 1995 provided windows on three sides of his living space and thus much more activity and information to manage. Although small creatures apparently ran rampant in the cat-patrolled space above, Einstein’s presence created a force field that kept all the mice away from his home. Life was peaceful in Arlington, save for an alleged “play date” with another cat (with the questionable name “Cookie Dough”) arranged by misguided humans. This “play date” did not end in disaster, as Einstein had sniffed Cookie Dough’s scent on bags brought to the location by an individual known and barely tolerated by him and because Ms. Dough offered proper respect, leaving his litter box and food untouched. Thus the incident ended without incident.

Relocating across the river to the South End of Boston meant a nerve-wracking moving day spent hiding behind the toilet in a new bathroom. But it also brought new opportunities. The tiny city mice were unprepared to encounter the mighty Einstein, and he learned that a light touch could be just as effective as a nasty slap when controlling vermin. Barely had this native New Englander settled on Milford Street, where there was much outside traffic to patrol from the windows above, when the appearance of boxes boded more disruption.

Whisked from his native New England to a brief stop in New Jersey and then on not one, but two, airplanes – where first class did not appear to involve cats – Einstein arrived in the Golden State in March 2001 and remained in a boarding house for a week. While the accommodations were not gracious (other cats were present!), life was peaceful enough for him to catch up on his sleep, and by the time he was taken to a spacious apartment on a street that was busy enough to keep his powers of observation honed, Einstein was ready to settle in to the life of a SoCal retiree, lying in the sun and chasing imaginary foes. But no real foes materialized, and one of Einstein’s regrets was that he never got the chance to kill any small creatures during his days as an Angeleno.

A health crisis in May 2005 (a bum liver, possibly from too much partying) led to many tiresome trips in the car, often to visit a horde of women, one in particular who poked and prodded him endlessly and seemed to expect his affection in return. Hah! His requests to avoid car travel went unheeded; however Fancy Feast was offered at reasonable intervals and the many comfortable chairs (and a new extralarge bed!) made life quite posh, notwithstanding his ignored requests to move to 90210, or at least Beverly Hills P.O.

Einstein preferred to mishear the name of his neighborhood, Los Feliz, as “Los Felix,” named after the “Righty-O!” cat. In March 2006 Einstein received an unexpected bonus when his human left her job and took a year off from working. She readjusted her life to become more like his, taking naps and following no particular schedule. It was as if sixteen years of subliminal messages had at long last proved successful. Had the bipedal mammal come to her senses? Had centuries of feline efforts been successful?

For a long time, the answer seemed to be yes, and then no, as the human started to disappear again, although this alternated with intervals of cat-pleasing behavior that Einstein taught her himself. For his part, life was mostly pleasant, although he found that his frequent bouts of upchucking often led to long car trips and visits to those fussing women. He also had to tolerate having pills tossed down his gullet, although he avoided biting the human in retaliation because of her ability to provide Fancy Feast at intervals. Also, as he became older, he appreciated her company much more, especially in the evenings, as well as the simple pleasure of walking across her lap once, twice, three times before settling down.

As time passed, Einstein began to consider a broader range of options. An upchucking incident on Sunday, February 10, 2008 left him feeling diminished, and he decided, after another forced visit to those infernally cheerful and caring women, to stop taking in food and drink. That, combined with the progression of other health problems, left him feeling completely unwell, unable to sleep, and frankly so preoccupied with his own problems that the affection of the human was no longer inspiring. On Wednesday, February 13, just after 11 p.m., he gave up the good fight.
Einstein's great skill was for simply BEING -- in the moment, on the chair, at his water dish, on the bed taking a nap. Like many cats, he did not see any necessity for DOING. This is probably the strongest lesson I learned from him, other than the constant need to check your perimeters.