Tuesday, February 28, 2006

My itinerary.

Soon I will be traveling like nobody's business.

March 8-12 Austin, TX AWP (attending just for the hell of it)

March 22-25 Chicago, IL CCCC (presenting a paper I have not yet written)

May 11-12 Milton Keynes, UK Open University (presenting another paper I
have not yet written)

June 12-15 Pacific Ocean Cruise with sibs to celebrate parents' 50th

Also considering attending the Nebraska Writers Conference June 22 or something like that--possibly have a manuscript consultation with Mark Doty? Is it worth the time away? Is it worth the $$$?

When I proposed traveling to all these conferences, it seemed like a really good idea. Now I feel balky and whiny about it. Time away from the historian who, if truth be told, is the best person in the world to spend time with. Time away from the last remaining child who lives at home, aka my son, who will probably be playing soccer and whose games I will likely be missing. Time away from my college daughter who will be home for the summer during the last two trips. Time away from Bruiser, the most soulful and supportive of the furry kind. Time away from my own bed, my own cooking, blah blah blah. Worst of all, time away from home this summer when I could be establishing and maintaining the precious and elusive routine.

I intend to pick up many, many useful and inspiring ideas from the conferences, and I intend to do myself and my colleagues proud with my paper presentations (which, though unwritten, are/will be brilliant). I intend to buy pocketsful of milagros in Austin and have many broadening experiences. I intend to network my ass off. I intend to add a wing onto my UK trip that will involve seeing my granddaughter and her mom and dad, and perhaps the Shetland Islands. And I will try really hard not to be a big homesick baby--and that's the one thing on this list of intentions I can't guarantee.

Monday, February 27, 2006

I ask myself, why so quiet?

Maybe it's the post-vacation thing--coming back to too much to do, keeping my head down, etc.? Anyway, I took a quick trip up to Logan to visit my college daughter, who is continuing the honorable if poorly remunerative tradition of the fam by majoring in the humanities--a Professional Writing major, and holding. We had a great time: saw three movies, ate out, tore it up retail-wise in Logan, and talked over the limitations and pleasures of a freshman year at a land-grant institution.

This visit, I was struck by the Ag in Aggies, as it were. My first husband had big Logan roots, including an uncle who was the basketball coach at Utah State in the glory days-- by which I mean the days when Ainge played for BYU and Tom Chambers played for the U, and some good players I can't quite remember played for the Aggies. We used to go up there sometimes in the summer because it was a little cooler than down in the Salt Lake Valley, up to his grandmother's for Thanksgiving, and so on. I'm sure that Logan lifers would tell you Logan has changed a lot. But to me, it seems to have a certain eternal quality. Once you get out of Logan proper--and Logan proper isn't so big--it's all farms. Some ranches, too, but largely fields that, at this time of the year, are unplanted and gleaming with snow.

On my way into town, I thought briefly about taking little snaps to post here, the signifiers of hickville--"USU Experimental Animal Science Lab," where, what? they breed the [insert freak animal joke here]--but on my way out, I thought better of it, and here's why:

I got a little dirty-windshield action on these, but I think it kind of catches what Utah farming in a wintry mountain valley looks like--kind of beautiful.

In other weekend news, Sleepy E made it to SLC, and the historian and I got to break bread with him, Middlebrow, Dr. Write, and Son, and Otter Butt and her darling baby.
Completely enjoyable, if always a little weird, to meet a person with whom your only contact has been writing. Cheers to this emergent genre, the blog, that makes such events, their pleasures and oddnesses, possible.

Monday, February 20, 2006

What we did to celebrate the American Presidents (a photo essay).

Flew into San Jose and drove to Santa Cruz in our snappy rental.

Looked at this view from just outside our room.

Observed scenic dogs.

Observed other scenic dogs.

Closely observed scenic mineral life.

When capitalism dreams, it dreams of this (Pebble Beach golf course).

And this (large, fancy house with beachfront view).

The historian follows his bliss, despite above-mentioned capitalism dreams.

Damn if we didn't all feel the love.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Good radio.

Yesterday, while driving in to school for a meeting, I had a moment of radio synchronicity. I wasn't listening to my usual NPR, because it's the pledge drive and that just drives me nuts. Instead, I was listening to what used to be the alternative station, but what is really now a shrine to the alternative music of yesteryear, with select updates.

Anyhow, a great Nine Inch Nails song came on--title unknown, sorry, but I'm pretty sure it was new. Then, a great Foo Fighters song came on, followed by "Heart-Shaped Box" as I was pulling into the parking lot and locating a parking space. I was tempted to stay in my car to finish that song and see what came up next, my music luck was just that good. But I was chairing the meeting, so dutifully off I went.

Sometimes the radio synchronicity is so good that I can remember certain dimensions of it for years. For instance, about twenty years ago I had a similar run of great songs in a row that culminated in the supremely cheesy, and yet also supremely sing-along-able duet of Diana Ross and Lionel Richie, "Endless Love." Oh, how I loved that song! My only dilemma was which part to sing along with. On a good day, I'd hear it more than once, and then I could sing both parts. (On a related tangent, my daughter and I happened to be listening to a "best of" Diana Ross and the Supremes cd in recent weeks, and had a spirited discussion on the following question: how did Diana Ross get to be soul superstar with that wimpy voice? You may also wish to discuss this amongst yourselves.)

Points to the commenter with the best radio synchronicity story.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Tonight, we heard Chick Corea and Touchstone play in the Jazz at the Sheraton series. Such an old-timey set of names--Touchstone, Sheraton. Jazz, even. Imagine, dear reader, how my heart sank when Mr. Corea, after introducing the members of his band, each and every one of whom needed a haircut in the worst way (the flutist/saxophonist had a stunningly glossy mullet, for instance), announced that they'd be playing a program of music based on--wait for it, my lords--a reading of an L. Ron Hubbard novel.

But imagine how my spirits rose when the music was fantastic. They had a percussionist who had a set of very gray, very gnarly dreads that happened also to be extra frizzy on top--a halo-like nimbus atop this middle-aged Brazilian full-on freak. He had actual water in a dish that was miked so that when he dipped his hands in it and let it fall, you had the sound of . . . falling water. There was much rhythmic clapping, shouting, and even a flamenco dancer. You heard right. I won't get into the sexual politics of having a beautiful young woman doing this haughty yet provocative (haughty because provocative?) dancing in front of a bunch of, let's face it, paunchy, middle aged guys with shockingly bad haircuts. Yet the dancing was rhythmic, musical, full of spirit, celebratory--like the whole evening.

I have loved hearing the music in this jazz series over several years. I've had the chance to hear the up-and-comers, like Joshua Redman (now probably as canonical as anyone), the old pros, like Monty Alexander and John Clayton. And then sometimes you hear true, crazy originals, like Chick Corea, who has reinvented his music more times than Madonna and still seems as fresh as the morning news. Fresher.

The thing about jazz is that almost all recorded jazz pales in comparison to the live performance. Lots of folks--Marcuse, D.H. Lawrence, Walter Benjamin--have commented on, even lamented, the effect of recorded music on the immediacy and locality of live music. Well, I love recorded music of all sorts, but in the case of jazz, you better show up to hear the show, and I mean really show up, or you miss what it is altogether. Tonight at the Sheraton was where it all went down.

Meyer lemons: the outcome.

As it turned out, after much deliberation, I made the Meyer lemon cake from the Chez Panisse Cookbook. Despite the worrisome detail of the recipe--there was much fear of deflating the batter, and many urgings to fold in various ingredients gently--the cake turned out beautiful and delicious.

Moreover, while I was zesting the lemons with my ever-so-efficient Microplane grater, I found that there really was a difference in the odor of these lemons versus your standard, useful but sort of pedestrian lemon. There was some slight spiciness to them--floral, as one of the three tarts has noted.

Though the recipe asserted I would need eight lemons, I really only needed four for the cake. So, while it was baking, I used the remaining juice and zest to make lemon curd, as lis suggested. It was my first try at this wonderful confection. Again, this lemon curd had more bite, more citrus, more lemon to it than any lemon curd I've ever tried.

I totally don't regret my purchase of the lemons. The cake was divine. Yesterday afternoon, my son called and said, "Mom, I think you should have us over for dinner." Perfect: some people to help eat the cake. It was a big hit.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The lemons that ate my paycheck.

Yesterday, when I was shopping for food at Wild Oats, I saw these lemons--a golden yellow, weighty, heavy in the hand, which means, usually, more juice per lemon. Then I looked at the sign. Say what? Meyer lemons? The lemons of lore and fable?

I've been reading about Meyer lemons ever since I bought the exceedingly twee Chez Panisse Cookbook lo these many years ago--the one that first told me how to make a pain au levain, the bread recipe where you catch your own yeast from the vibration of fairy wings crossed with the mistral, and the bread takes a week from yeast making to loaf. But I digress. It also had a recipe for a Meyer lemon cake, which waxed poetic about the sublime nature of the Meyer. Here's what a Meyer lemon is, according to foodreference.com:

"The Meyer Lemon (Citrus meyeri) is thought to be a cross between a lemon and an orange. They are thought to have originated in China about 400 years ago. The Meyer Lemon was introduced to the U.S. from China by Frank Meyer in 1908. Meyer lemons look like a large orange, with a very soft edible skin. They are sweet, juicy and fragrant, and are excellent in vinaigrettes and sauces, or sliced skin and all in salads. Meyer Lemons were mainly grown as ornamentals, but they are appearing more frequently in food markets."

Skin and all! I declare. I had never, ever seen one in a store where I shopped. Well, I figured I better buy me some and decide what to do with them later--maybe make the cake as an homage to Alice Waters. So I picked eight of them and put them in a bag. They were $3.99 a pound, but I didn't weigh them, because they're lemons! Lemons are light, usually. I don't usually weigh lemons.

So I got up to the cashier. She rang up the lemons as if they were ordinary, mere mortal, organic lemons at 2 for a dollar. I corrected her: "Those are Meyer lemons, I think they're a little more," I said, knowledgeably, pedantically, all full of snooty Chez Panisse esoteric produce names.

Serves me right. Those are $24 lemons, lovely as they are, in the picture. $24! My God.

Should I have put them back? Should I have cried out a California French expletive in protest at the absurdity (l'absurdite?) of these trop cher citrons?

As you can see, I caught my breath and bought them. There will be a Meyer lemon cake or a really amazing lemon pie in the offing, mark my words. Either that, or I will slice them thinly, skin and all, for a hella expensive salad.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Antarctica dreaming.

My old college friend Randy recently fulfilled a longtime dream by taking a boat to Antarctica. He gave me permission to publish this photo, which suggests something of the otherworldliness of this landscape.

I have had a long romance with the idea of cold, polar places. It stretches back to reading the biographies of polar explorers in my family's Childcraft volumes, which I read assiduously far longer than I should have. I checked out children's biographies of Amundsen, Peary, and Byrd from my library. This romance stretched into adulthood, though I added on a wing to it with an interest in Himalayan landscapes, and another special room in the romance for Alaska and the northern parts of Canada.

My friend's trip has made me think about the imagination's landscapes. Why would I, a girl who spent most of my growing up years in desert places, find an imaginary home at the poles? Why would I be drawn to the freezing stories of those explorers?

I'm thinking of the places in which I most like set my life's future story: the gorgeous wild coast of northern California; southern Europe; Alaska. What dimension of each--the bare wreckage of long-gone industries, and the smash-rock sea; the idea of fields of lavender; a map made of rivers and forests--ignites my dreams, catches my heart?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Sunday at the park with Bruiser.

Yesterday was a full day. We woke up to read the piles of newsprint on our porch (summation: everything is bad and stupid), then decided to take Bruiser to the dog park because it was cold, and therefore the park was less likely to be sloppy with mud, and because it had snowed the night before, and Bruiser digs the snow.

The morning was bright. Bruiser alternated between running like the wind in his prance-y, I'm-glad-to-be-a-dog style, and getting into it with other dogs--play-fighting, etc. Here he is with some running companions (he's the handsome one in the middle)--

After the successful dog-park outing, we had important work to do back at home. I had to make weekly contact with Scotland, and had a serious chat with Miriam. And, since my writing group was meeting in the afternoon, I had a poem to write. Which I did, instant messaging with Dr. Write while assembling some notes for a poem that turned out to need more baking, as it were. As in, it was really more a pile of notes than a poem. That meant that I had to scour the "new ms" file for a poem that was closer to being a poem. Which I found--a poem that was once a pile of notes that I had, at some point, turned into a rather vague villanelle. Back when I turned the pile of notes into the villanelle, I remember thinking, well, that was good practice, but also, whew! kind of crappy! But yesterday, with the cooling power of several months' neglect, I was able to see the possibilities, and it actually is coming along. I'll post it, in progress, on my website sometime soon, if you want to check it out.

Finally, last night we went up to Libby Gardner Hall to hear my son's choir, along with the other University choirs and the University philharmonic, play an intense and stunning performance of Mozart's Requiem. I have loved this piece for a long time but never had heard it live. It was like hearing Mozart's passionate and terrifying argument with God, and it was gorgeous, thrilling. I'm only sorry that I didn't call all my friends and relatives to tell them to come. Very, very sorry, friends and relatives.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Important movie alert.

Anyone living in the SLC area who missed the opportunity to see Junebug while it was here, whenever that was, it is back! Showing at the Broadway, you should not miss your chance to see this wonderful film on a big (-ish) screen. I myself will be attending the 3:45p.m. screening, because I loved it so much the first time.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

SPAM-tastic Sunnydogs!

Those who follow the news closely are already aware that 10-year-old Cynthia Coombs of Herriman, UT (just a few clicks to the south and the west of where I live) won the SPAM "National Kid Chef of the Year" award for her recipe for SPAM-tastic Sunnydogs.

The recipe involves making a batter out of Bisquick, eggs, applesauce, cinnamon and vanilla. Then you dip small pieces of SPAM into the batter, frying them corndog style. You drain them, then insert a kabob or Popsicle stick into the end, and, to serve, you dip your dog in applesauce, honey, or maple syrup. Did I forget to say this is a breakfast dish? To that end, you take any leftover batter and fry it up as pancakes to serve alongside the sunnydogs.

Young Rebecca comments, "I thought no one else would think of corn dogs. And after I tried it, I thought it was pretty good. Even people who don't like SPAM would like these."

In trying--unsuccessfully--to find a link to this story, I came upon the SPAM website, where, in a digital recipe book, you can find recipes for SPAM Sauerkraut Lasagne, SPAM Chimichangas, and SPAM-spread crostini.

Although I never really warmed up to SPAM, I have eaten plenty of disgusting processed foods in my time, and liked them. For instance, my mom--who is a great cook, so this should be understood in a certain context of late sixties-early seventies foodways--used to make a dish we called "Hot Dog Sauce Over Rice." It involved a tomato base with chili-type seasonings, sauteed onions, celery, and green peppers, and sliced hot dogs. Over rice.

It was so good. Though I no longer eat hot dogs, I can remember how much I loved this dish.


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