Monday, December 31, 2007

Books from 2007

I read a lot of books in 2007. Riding public transportation to and from work for 6 months had its perks, including 40 minutes of built in, semi-undisturbed quiet time each day. Now that I drive, I actually miss that bit of peace.

Several of the books I finished were related to food in some way or another. Here's a few of my favorites.

Consider the Oyster, MFK Fisher
Fisher has long be heralded as the forerunner of modern food writing. She was the first to successfully weave history, folklore, personal anecdotes, and recipes into cohesive, interesting essays that all are familiar with but few ponder. The title, but today's standards, seems boring to the point that readers might search for a hidden joke, a double entendre, something a little deeper under the surface. It is, however, exactly what it says. Fisher presents the biology of an oyster, reflects back on the comfort and simplicity of hearty oyster stew, and even speaks a word about the formation of pearls.

Her writing is relaxed, and I found it to be very indicative of the time period when it was published. The language used in Consider the Oyster seems old fashioned in the best possible way. Reading it, if you didn't live through the period of the early 1940s, you would think it was a simple and splendid time, when only good things happened and strangers smiled at each other in the streets.

A passage:
"Oysters are healthful and nourishing, full of all the chemical elements such as oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and on and on, which occur regularly in your own body are are necessary to it. They keep you fit, do oysters, with vitamins and such, for energy and what is lightly called 'fuel value.' They prevent goiter. They build up your teeth. The keep your children's legs straight, and when Junior reaches puberty they make his skin clear and beautiful as a soap-opera announcer's dream. They add years to your life..."

It's a beautiful thing, when a writer can make it seem like all of the world's problems can be solved by eating bivalves.

Consider the Oyster was my first foray into Fisher's catalog. It is one of five books that are grouped together in her compilation, The Art of Eating. I look forward to the remaining four books.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
I was enthralled with Hemingway's semi autobiographical account of a writer's life in 1920s Paris. He and his wife lived on about $5 per day, eating and drinking eagerly and satisfyingly with the likes of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. My favorite parts of the book involved F. Scott Fitzgerald and his intense drinking habits.

Hemingway's account of lavish living during a different time period was truely interesting. I read it just prior to my trip to Paris. And then, while I was there...

The Sex Life of Food: When Body and Soul Meet to Eat, Bunny Crumpacker
Something light and fluffy for vacation, easy reading for a long flight. This book was as hilarious and entertaining as the author's name, which I truly hope is a pseudonym.

Crumpacker assigns foods a gender based on their appearance, taste, and a variety of other factors. Asparagus and zucchini are obviously male, whereas eggs and sugar are female. Red meat must be masculine since it comes from steer, but cheese and milk are feminine in nature. She goes on to examine how infancy and childhood predetermine our future likes and dislikes, how things come to be regarded as comfort foods, and how eating in a restaurant is a metaphor for making love.

Each chapter begins with a quote. One of my favorites:
"People predestined to gourmandism...have...bright eyes, small foreheads, short noeses, full lips and rounded chins...The ones who are most fond of tidbits and delicacies are finer featured, with a daintier air; they are more attractive...People to whom Nature has denied the capacity for such enjoyment, on the other hand, have long faces, noses, and eyes...They have flat dark hair, and above all lack healthy weight; it is undoubtedly they who invented trousers, to hide their thin shanks." The Physiology of Taste, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

My Life in France,Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme
What an interesting woman! Julia Child co wrote this book with her grandson, and beautifully recounts how living in France shaped her career and life. I knew very little about Child prior to reading this book. I have seen a few reruns of her show and peeked through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Reading her memoirs about beginning cooking school at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, with only a decent understanding of the language, was inspiring, funny, and entertaining. This woman made things happen. She worked hard, and was rewarded. It was great fun to read about her travels and experiences. She would have been a fantastic person to have dinner with.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Who Even Knows?

I've lost count. I am robotic for the next four days, except that robots don't ever get tired.

When I woke up yesterday the first song I heard on the radio was the Devo version of "Working in a Coal Mine." It made me chuckle.

On a more serious note, one of my coworkers found a blade similar to a razor in a 50-lb. bag of sugar yesterday. Here's to hoping we changed purveyors on the spot.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mas

Added to the tally:

350 dozen mini pastries
40 large yule logs
250 dreidel cookies
250 gingerbread boys
10 gingergread houses

And it's one day closer to being the best day of the work year, December 26!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Week-End Tally

'Tis the season that lasts forever...

Retail people, back me up on this! I know you're in the same boat.

We have been prepping and calculating since mid-October for business that will take place between December 5 and 24. Production on all of these plans kicked in a couple of weeks prior to Thanksgiving, leaving just a bit of breathing room after Halloween. Candied fruit was soaked in brandy long before you cooked your turkey last month, and the fruitcakes they inhabit were baked back then, too. Perhaps that gives a bit of insight into why no one actually likes them?

Holiday work is repetitive and boring. Items are made weeks in advance and held until they are needed. The assembly line chugs along all through December, anxiously awaiting "the most wonderful time of the year," which in my eyes is December 26 through mid-January. Business stops on a dime and we can resume comfortable 8-hour work days until the next seasonal upswing. Valentine's Day, Passover, Easter, Mother's Day, Graduation Season, Father's Day, Independence Day, fucking SWEETEST DAY. Did I miss anything?

Here's a tally of projects I did this past week. I don't even want to think about the hundreds of pounds of butter cookies, the numerous loaves of Stollen, and all of the holiday products my employer produces that I am not involved with. Enough is enough.

Yule Logs, Full Size: 40
Yule Logs, Mini: 320
Gingerbread Houses, Assembled: 18
Gingerbread Houses, Decorated: 12
Gingerbread Boys: 250
Snowman Cookies: 650
Christmas Tree Cakes, Assembled: 12
Petit Four Setups: 20 Full Sheets, Cut
Other Mini Pastries: 10 Full Sheets, Cut

There's been a constant stream of Christmas carols all day, every day, since the Friday after Thanksgiving. The same song sung by different artists is still the same song in my eyes. By this rational, I have heard about 6 songs on repeat for the past eight working days, and I'm about to lose my mind. I don't care whether Celine Dion or Mariah Carey is singing Oh Holy Night. They're both ruining my favorite Christmas song with their theatrics and insane vocal ranges.

The same songs, the same projects, the same people, the same four walls. It's enough to make you go sugar-free.