Friday, February 21, 2014

Babylon Registration

I registered the Big Yam for junior kindergarten yesterday.  The night before, I was a bit of a sleepless wreck because of it.  Well technically, it was 1 part "my baby is growing up!"/"I hope the school system doesn't strip him of his innocence and openness", 1 part the Wonder Twins only wanting to sleep if they had a steady intake of boob nectar, and 1 part reading this Guardian article about James Lovelock and how he's this big climate change doomsday guy who basically says that we've fallen off the precipice and that the effects of global warming are irreversible, any attempts we make to curb greenhouse gas emissions are laughable, and that in 20 years we're facing a future of famine, mass human migration, and other Max Max-type nightmare apocalyptic scenarios.  This of course spiralled into, "Why am I bringing children into this horrific future?" and on and on and on.

Anyway, I was fully expecting to be an emotional wreck, picturing this as a bit of a dress rehearsal for his ACTUAL first day of kindergarten when I will have to drop him off by myself (as the Dotytron will be facilitating OTHER people's kids' first days of school) and will probably promptly come home and bawl myself silly.  I somehow turned a corner without knowing it and now that I'm faced with the open, guileless, exuberant person my Yam turned out to be, I want to protect him from all that school represents.  It's the thin edge of the wedge here, people.  Bullying!  Other people's poor parenting decisions!  Hegemony!  Conformity!  Well meaning but ill-informed liberalism!  Gross white kids in fedoras!  It's all there and then some.  I can't shield him from all this ugliness indefinitely, but I would like more time.  It's so personality dependent, too.  The Big Yam is a gentle, sweet kid who doesn't have the kind of toughened, entitled, bragadociousnes with which I swaggered into kindergarten.  I've been hanging around with the Wonder Twins at drop-in centres trying to suss out prospective nannies and the reports from staff, other parents, and caregivers who frequent the centres are all unanimous - the Big Yam has a reputation as being a considerate, good-natured, kind soul.  I mean, the kid spent an hour yesterday practising his hip hop dance routine, of his own volition.

I digress.  I also put the cart before the horse.  Yesterday's registration turned out to be rather unemotional and instead, boringly administrative.  So much paperwork!  Emergency contacts and then a 6 page sheet on your kid - what they can do, their fears, their interests, their skill level.  SO MUCH HANDWRITING.  My hand cramped up after writing my address.  Seriously school board, can't this stuff be done online?!  Upload that shiz yo!  I didn't even know how to answer the questions - my sense is that they're just trying to prescreen for those kids who have always been at home with a parent or doting grandparents and haven't been socialised.  For his interests, I put down: transportation, dance, music, reading, philosophy.  LOL!


Last night was Academic Book Club, which is slowly being seeded with non-professors, which is nice.  We read A.M. Homes' May We Be Forgiven.  It's about this kind of layabout, directionless, blank slate man, Harold Silver, whose brother has clear violent issues and basically destroys his family, leaving Harold to pick up the pieces.  It sounds like very, very heavy stuff, and yet, the book is blackly comedic (I would say more black than comedy).  I had a lot of issues with this book.  Unlike similar family-implosion books (Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You for example), I had a hard time navigating the tone of this one.  According to my book club member, Homes is deeply critical of the ridiculousness of bourgeois, middle-class American life and this is meant to be a big EFF-YOU to that.  I got that to a certain extent, but I found the satire was lacking.  Right when things would border on being humorous (in a Jonathan Tropper/David Sedaris way), Homes would bring in an element of grotesqueness or grim, discomfiting reality (bully brother as a child circumcising a cousin in the basement during a family gathering), or something so beyond the realm of reality that it made the novel no longer funny but just kind of depressing and unbelievable.  I kept getting jolted out of my wavering investment in the characters and events.  The ending is also a little tacked-on and maudlin as well.  I was also uncomfortable with how a non-Jewish writer wrote a Jewish main character - first of all, I never got that Harold Silver was Jewish.  As my (Jewish) book club friend said, "Bashing your wife's head in with a lamp so isn't a Jew way to kill someone.  First of all, if he was Jewish, she probably would have been able to fight him off."  LOL!  I was also uncomfortable with a lot of the Asian stereotypes and supporting characters, whose race was used for cheap jokes.

I wasn't the biggest fan, but Book Club was of course, hilarious.  One of the academics was talking about how she'd read in The New York Times about "this app that allows gay people to look up other people who are nearby who want to have sex" and I'm like, "Yeah, Grindr, what's the deal?" and she's like, "How do you know about it?" and I'm like, "BECAUSE I LIVE IN THE WORLD, DUH."  I will never understand how these women can read everything like The New Yorker, The Guardian, Slate, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and still KNOW NOTHING!  How can you be so "informed" but be so clueless at the same time?!?  It's the biggest paradox to me.

Other books I've read lately.

Travelling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott, who writes fiction, memoirs, and is a contributor to Slate.  This was another Academic Book Club pick.  I was intrigued.  Lamott became Christian later in life and is a leftist Christian.  I am so deeply secular that I find it hard to empathise or relate to people who have religion or faith in their lives.  You might as well be telling me that you believe in aliens.  In this memoir, which is really well written (she can turn a pretty phrase and conjure evocative, imaginative metaphors), she talks about how she came to Christianity and how her faith has helped her.  To me, the idea of praying and knowing that God exists is so far removed, I can't even approximate what that must be like.  Anyway, I found the book revealing because Lamott is kind of a gong show.  Recovering alcoholic, eating disorders, unnaturally obsessed with her son.  She writes about the mother-son relationship charmingly and describes her love for him in a way that completely resonated with me, but at the same time, there was definitely an undercurrent that she was/is too reliant on her kid.  Like, she NEEDS her son to prop her up in some way (she's a single mother).  Her son ends up getting some woman pregnant at like, the age of 19, after going to "art college" and living and studying on his mom's dime (yes, I'm feeling judgemental about that).  Also, Anne Lamott looks like this:  


That is to say: kind of cray.  Even though she writes about her hair in this book that I read, I can't get over the thin white-lady dreads.  She also comes across as mad drama.  Too emotional.  The kind of friend who has too many peaks and keening lows and NEEDS YOU all the time to talk them off the ledge.  Still, it was worthwhile reading.



Y'all know how much I loved Eleanor and Park, so based on my sis' frantic FB status updates on her book, Fangirl, I read that and followed that up with Attachments (her first novel).  Fangirl is a YA book about one half of a twin sister set who goes off to university and experiences the inevitable growing pains of that first year away from home.  The girl, Cather (sister named Wren - Cather-Wren, get it?  I will say that one of my bones of contention with Rainbow Rowell is her character naming!  It's so teenaged girl Writer's Craft!  I should know!  Every female character in my OAC Writer's Craft course had a name like Mächen, or Zelda), writes fan fiction and is famous in the fan fiction world.  When she goes to college, her sister decides to forge her own, independent path, leaving Cather, who has clear anxiety and attachment issues stemming from their mother's abandonment and their father's mental issues, to figure out how to become an autonomous being.  The writing is SO GOOD.  It was deeply addictive reading and the romance in it (OF COURSE THERE'S A ROMANCE!) unfolds in a YA-approved way.  I loved this book.  Some people have had quibbles with all the examples of Cather's fan-fic that are interspersed amongst the chapters, and I can see that, but I might have liked this more than Eleanor and Park, if that was even possible.  Eleanor and Park goes to this really dark place that I didn't love, but the boy-girl stuff in it is better than in Fangirl.

Attachments is written from a male point of view and is skewed older than YA.  The characters are in their mid-to-late 20s and it's about a guy who is some kind of arrested development genius who is living at home with his somewhat smothering, over protective mother, working nights where he screens people's flagged inappropriate emails at a major newspaper (this book takes place in the late 90s).  By reading the email exchanges between two female staffers, he starts to fall for one.  This was okay.  A decent, quick read but I didn't love it.  Let's just say I can see how Rowell got a book deal, but this one definitely felt like a person's first novel to me.

Relish is a graphic memoir that chronicles the author Lucy's long standing love affair with food.  Picking particular dishes and memorable food moments throughout her life, she illustrates how her gourmand parents instilled in her a love of fine wine and cuisine.  The book has charmingly illustrated recipes and I quite like the clean-lined drawing style.  However, I will say that it felt kind of slight.  She was raised by a pioneering caterer mother in Rhinebeck, New York, before Rhinebeck became Rhinebeck and I would have liked to see more of that.  Otherwise, it's a pretty flimsy memoir as far as memoirs go, and the food writing isn't as tantalizing as top-notch food writing can be.  I didn't salivate once.  



I finished the Divergent series and as I suspected before it came out, Veronica Roth didn't end on a high note.  Like many other YA trilogies there were too many loose ends to wrap up and it wasn't properly plotted.  The ending of the series is deeply unsatisfying and meandering.  The message is all garbled and while there is a big, shocking death of a principal character, I wasn't super invested in any of them any way.  It felt like a chore to read.  

And that pretty much brings me up to date on the reading tip.  Not too shabby for a mum of 3, if I do say so myself.  

Last weekend we spent with my sis and outlaw bro.  It was a very low-key weekend.  Lots of eating, maxing, relaxing, some House of Cards watching, and some shopping at Target.  We left on Valentine's day, but I still made the Big Yam make Valentine's for his friends.  We did a heart-shaped potato stamp on cardstock, signed his name on the back, and made these chocolate sugar cookie cut-outs and gave them out in little cello bags tied with red yarn bows.  


Valentine's breakfast

Our Valentine's dinner was boss.  A friend of mine from the jungle days is the chef de cuisine at Aft Kitchen, a tiny barbecue restaurant in Riverside.  He hooked us up with 2lbs of brisket, their queso mac'n'cheese, baked beans, and collards.  The brisket was SO GOOD.  Melting, fatty, with a delicious crusty barque.  It was amazing.  So spoiled.

Made a batch of cheescake brownies recently.  Ate practically the whole pan.  My go-to recipe is this one from an old issue of Gourmet magazine (RIP Gourmet magazine, I miss you so).  

I finally tried the famous Marcella Hazan tomato sauce that's been floating around the internet.  Made a triple batch and dialed back the butter a bit.  I froze it but used some for a skillet lasagne dish - it's really good!  Nice and rich with the acidity of the tomatoes mellowed by the butter and simmered onion.  I thinned mine with a bit of water.

Made a version of the Barefoot Contessa's (one of the most ridiculous cooking persona names, ever!) pot roast with roasted tatties and brussels sprouts.  The pot roast was bomb.  My new trick is to freeze the extra pot roast/beef braising liquid to use to add richness to beef broth-based soups, or in pastas like the one below.

Mushroom pappardelle with garlic bread.  So easy!  Sautéed like, almost 2 lbs of thickly sliced onions in butter/oil.  Then added diced onion, garlic, and about 500mL of pot roast liquid and a sprig of rosemary.  Reduced it and then tossed with just-cooked pappardelle with some pasta cooking water to loosen.  Finished with grated parm.  I ate bowlfuls and bowlfuls of this stuff.

Cheddar broccoli soup and Ace bakery roasted garlic bread, spread with my garlic butter and broiled on both sides, then spread with basil-scape pesto and topped with white beans that I simmered then mashed with some rosemary and lemon zest.  Topped with a drizzle of good olive oil.  So good!


Fin.




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