Thursday, December 17, 2009

Curried Squash Soup

I think I've been neglectful. It has, however, been worth it. I've cooked until my arm has nearly fallen off. I've made (among other things) apple butter, cranberry butter, gumbo and this bit of lovely.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash, quartered and seeded
2 medium (large? I don't know, about tennis ball sized) onions, peeled and quartered
1 large or 2 small apple(s), cored, peeled and diced
1 medium head garlic, minced
6 C vegetable broth
1 t. brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1.5 T curry powder or more. I'm a big fan of curry, so I think I put in 2.5 T or something like that
1/2 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger (N.B. this is necessary in my house: my sister is allergic to ginger, so there isn't any in our curry. Yours probably has some already.)
1/4 t. ground nutmeg
A touch of chili or cayenne pepper powder. Juuust enough to give it a little extra kick. I'd say a scant 1/4 t.
1 C plain yogurt

Preheat oven to 350F. Put squash and onions on to baking sheet. Brush squash with olive oil so it doesn't dry out.

Roast in oven. Keep an eye on it while it's in here. The onions will be tender and ready to come out long before the squash, and they'll start to scorch. When they go soft and start turning brown, pull them out with tongs and put them aside.

When the squash is tender (I think it took me 50 minutes or so), pull it out of the oven and let it cool. Once it has, peel it and cut into 1.5-2 inch chunks. Don't worry about chopping it up finely or precisely; it's going to get cooked until it falls apart and then run through the blender. Chop the onion up into smaller pieces.

At this point, I threw a bit of olive oil into the bottom of my stock pot and cooked the onions a little more. I like my onions sweeter and more caramelized than a lot of people, so that's totally optional.

Put squash, onions, apple, garlic, broth, brown sugar and all the spices into the stock pot. Bring it all to a boil and then let it simmer until everything falls apart when you poke it with a fork. Make sure the salt, pepper and other seasonings are to your taste and adjust as needed. Then let it simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Once you're there, you can do this one of two ways: you can turn the heat all the way down and blend it to smithereens with an immersion blender or you can take it all off the heat, let it cool and run it through a blender/food processor, in batches if necessary, until it's all smoothed out. If you've used an immersion blender, take the pot off the heat. Either way, stir in the yogurt until everything is blended together.

If you're eating right away, heat it back up and serve hot. Most of mine was divided into single serving portions and frozen. It reheats wonderfully.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Singing a Novel in Blues

I recently read The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. It was, as most books are (at least in part), a story about relationships, the family you're born with, the family you make, friendship and love. This story is set in the bayous of Eastern Texas (I hadn't realized before this that Texas had bayous at all, though after looking at a map, I feel like I should have figured that out long ago.) and the stories of family and friendship are played out through an abused dog, an abandoned cat and her kittens. I truly enjoyed the book and so when I trotted off to find a link to it, I decided to take a look at what other people had to say. Some loved it, others found it mediocre. But what surprised me were the most negative reviews. Those readers complained that the book was insufferably slowed by repetition, annoyingly full of lists and, according to a few readers, "condescending."

I know interpretation is a personal thing and so on, but I think a lot of the people irked by the book are missing something. They're reading the text as words on a page, instead of hearing the story, either in their minds or spoken aloud. See, The Underneath is a pretty good book on paper, but when you read it aloud, it becomes amazing. It's full of myths and folktales (I'm going with 'folkmyths' for the rest of this post, because they both seem to be present) and draws on blues music so heavily that with only minimal work, you could probably turn this novel into a (long) song. These are the things that stayed with me through this novel, so they're the ones I'm going to discuss.

If you read The Underneath aloud, the traditions Appelt draws on show up in full force, both the Blues and folkmyths. The blues in particular are explicitly invoked early on, when Ranger's song draws the calico cat to him:
Oh, I woke up on this bayou,
Got a chain around my heart,
Yes, I'm sitting on this bayou
Got a chain tied round my heart...

This kind of repetition is present throughout the whole novel. The stories in it are told and re-told like the song - each iteration is like the others, but not quite the same. Something is added or altered - little details from before become whole stories in their own right; another character retells an earlier story. Bit by bit, the story grows.

In the reviews I read, Appelt's tendency to list things (particularly trees) draws frequent criticism. I can see where the impatient reader might find these lists tedious, but they add to the melodic tone of the book and again draw on a common feature of folkmyths and fairytales. Medieval tales in particular feature extensive lists1 while Grimm's Fairytales (the unaltered versions) are full of repetition.2 Appelt's listing of trees pulls from this tradition, but diverges from its typical use. Her lists of trees are not so much as list as an invocation: the trees are witnesses to the events of the bayou and Appelt calls on them to help tell the story. As the tale says, "Trees are the keepers of stories." One loblolly pine becomes a character in its own right. The novel tells/sings its entire life story, from a tiny seed to a lightning struck, hollowed out trunk, to its final end when it falls into the bayou, abandoned by its branches and roots.

Appelt even finds a way to turn this invocation and repetition into one of the most familiar elements of any fairytale: "A tree's memory is long, stored in its knots and bark and pulp. Ask the trees and they will take you back a thousand years...." Now perhaps this is just me, but that sounds like a tree's version of "once upon a time."3

The repetition in this novel, with the traditions of blues music and folkmyths behind it, helps pull a sweet story about a makeshift family of animals into the realm of the folkmyths it draws upon. I can see how this reiteration could frustrate those who like faster-paced stories, but it is not condescending. If anything, it is the reverse: the Appelt clearly expects her audience to understand the traditions upon which she is drawing and to see how they add to the story.

And to all those frustrated by the repetition and pace, I really do suggest that you try reading the story aloud. It's an entirely different experience.

1) You haven't read a list until you've read the Mabinogion or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Half a dozen trees have nothing on a list of all the knights with all their abilities, the names of their fathers, horses, swords and dogs. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has a particularly lengthy section on a feast, listing off all the foods eaten, what they were served on (particular mention is made of the eating utensils) and how the feasting hall was decorated while the Mabinogion has a list of knights ("The Catalog of Arthur's Companions") that goes on for several pages including such names as "Sight, son of Seer," "Boar, son of Restless" and "Watch, son of Watch-dog.")

2) "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is a particularly striking example of this kind of repetition. Nearly everything happens in threes.

3) There is an entire essay - and a lengthy one at that - waiting to be written about the bayou/setting (trees included) as a character in this novel, but I will leave that to someone else.

Links for the interested to the book's page on Goodreads and on Amazon.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Coherency, I has it.

I keep planning to post and then Real Life keeps happening. Therefore, bullet point update. (Plus a very nifty word.)

I have:

- settled on a topic for my first self-assigned paper. 5 page close reading of the excellent Fever 1793. Self-assigned due date is October 9.

- read The Underneath by Kathi Appelt. I'll be writing a mini-essay about that, too. Self-assigned due date: tomorrow, as the book is due. I always check out more than I can actually read.

- been frustrated by the fact that I can finish a hat in 48 hours, but in 2 months of work on my shawl, I've only made 7in. of knitting.

- enjoyed the first cider of the season.

- sorted out issues with my Bryn Mawr account. I can now use off-campus access to get to the Oxford English Dictionary! (I cannot even begin to tell you how excited I am about this. My love for the OED knows no bounds. It's like Wikipedia, but just for words. I go in and don't come out until half an hour later.)

- cooked very little. The kid sister wants biscuits; I am tired of making biscuits, but I feel guilty about making anything else. I did make chocolate chip cookies. They spread out too much, but were delicious anyway.

- discovered One Note. Absolutely made for organizing research and my hyperlinked brain. I'm in love.

- been nominated (kind of by myself, kind of not) for Word Nerd Knight of the Month which means I get this shiny little graphic:

Bonus! Word of the day, because the OED is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Palus: A marsh, a fen. In archaic usage, an abyss.
From Anglo-Norman palud, then Middle French palus

Discovered playing the "you can only change one letter" game online, when I was making sure I wouldn't break the game. (My word was 'pacus,' a type of South American fish.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dumplings are Delicious

My family and I enjoyed an excellent dumpling dinner a couple nights ago. I poked and prodded the internet for a recipe that sounded like it would suit our tastes. Everything, of course, had ginger in it and my little sister is allergic, so that was going to be an obvious adaptation. Eventually, I found this delicious recipe from An Intimate Hunger. Posted below is my adaptation of that recipe. I advise going to her blog to check out the original, especially because I'm not posting the recipe for her dipping sauce here and it's excellent with the dumplings. Also, these dumplings are sweeter than most, because of the way I tweaked the recipe.

1 Pkg won-ton wrappers (We got about 50 in our package)
1 lb ground pork
2/3 T Cardamom
1/3 T Cinnamon
1/4 t Chile Powder (I used Ancho Chile Powder because it's what I had on hand. This particular variety has very little heat, but makes the other flavors richer. Vary this to suit your tastes.)
2 T green onion, minced (I prefer my onion chopped fine, but tiny little minced up bits aren't strictly necessary.)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
1 large egg, beaten
Half an apple, grated (or more, if you like less pork and more fruit.)

Flour for dusting.

Be aware that you'll probably want a cookie sheet by the end of this. If you don't have one, get out the wax paper, because you're going to want it.

Mince up your green onions and throw them in the microwave for roughly 30 seconds to soften them up. Then, in a large bowl, combine all the ingredients EXCEPT FLOUR well. The best way to do this is to dig your hands down into the raw pork and work everything together. It is disgusting, but effective.

Refrigerate for 1/2 hour to an hour to let the flavors meld a bit.

In the meantime, make the dipping sauce.

Dust your cookie sheet or wax paper with flour. Keep a bunch of flour handy, because you're going to need to put more down. Won-ton wrappers are designed to get sticky when wet, so when water gets on your folding/wrapping surface (and it will), you need to soak it up with flour or your won-ton wrappers will rip open and you will have ruined, or at least marred, your dumpling. And that would be sad.

Have a small bowl of water handy, and a brush for brushing water on to the wrapper. Lay out your first won ton wrapper and brush the edges with water. Or the whole wrapper. Both the author of the original recipe and I just brushed water over the entire wrapper and it came out just fine. Using a spoon, place a heaping (or more or less, depending on the size of your wrappers) teaspoon of your pork mixture off-center in the wrapper, fold one half over the other and press the edges together to form a tight seal. I say off-center because it makes it easier to fold the won-ton wrapper over. Place on floured surface and continue through the rest of the wrappers and pork.

Get some steaming apparatus going. I used a frying pan with a vegetable steamer placed into it and scrounged up a lid that fit. It fit 8 dumplings at a time. Put your dumplings in and steam for 20 minutes.


Here's what mine looked like after steaming:

That's the second batch of dumplings. I only got one from the first batch because my family ate the rest without me.

I used up the entire package of won-ton wrappers, but we certainly did not eat fifty dumplings between the four of us that night. The rest were left on the cookie sheet, covered in plastic wrap and thrown in the freezer until they were completely frozen, then tossed into a zip lock bag. There's half of a one-gallon bag in the freezer and it's full of dumplings. 20 minute snack, appetizer, dinner, whatever.

Go forth and nom! (And if you make your own alterations to this recipe, I would love to hear about them.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tweet for Literacy - Stories are important (for everyone)

Ms. Twitter UK (for August 2009), Rebecca Woodhead, pointed to Twitter's ability to bring a social element to reading and writing. And today, Cory Doctorow illustrated her point beautifully. Patti Smith, who teaches visually impaired kids, wrote to him to thank him for making one of his novels available as an e-book and licensing it under the Creative Commons license. She turned it into a book in Braille.

Books in Braille seem to be widely available in two genres: little kid's books and Serious Classic Works. Obviously, that leaves a huge gap and it's likely to leave the blind or visually impaired out in the cold when it comes to literature. It's not just that teachers see this as a problem - Smith's students want to read, but there's very little YA literature available in Braille. Stories are important and to my mind, the only thing worse than someone who doesn't care about reading is someone who wants to read, but is, in some way, prevented from doing so. The good news? Three cheers for the internet! Cory Doctorow posted in his blog and tweeted about the issue and so another author, Paula Johansen, sent some of her work as e-books to Patti Smith. Hopefully more authors will follow suit, because everyone deserves to have stories.

Relevant links, for the interested:

Cory Doctorow's Post & Tweet
Word Nerd Army Issue 7: Twitter Brings a Social Element to Reading and Writing
Word Nerd Army Issue 10: Stories are Important

And something I can and will plug at every opportunity: The Literacy Site Seriously, you click a button on a website once a day and a kid gets a book. Easiest way to support literacy ever.

EDIT: If you want to help with textbooks (apparently fiction is not on the agenda unless in an academic anthology), check out Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic and consider volunteering if you can get to one of their training centers.[full post]

Monday, September 7, 2009

Dried Fruit Breakfast Biscuits

When I get bored, I bake. This usually involves taking my stand-by biscuit recipe and doing strange and unusual things to it. Sometimes, the results are great (this recipe and the Cheese and Tomato Sauce Biscuits, for example) and other time, they're an abysmal flop (when I tried to add cocoa powder). These came out rather well, I think, and so I'm sharing the recipe. They're kind of like scones, but don't quite qualify.

Dried Fruit Breakfast Biscuits


2 C flour (plus a little extra)
1 T plus ¼ t. baking powder
1/3 C cooking oil
2/3 C milk (plus a little extra) - not skim, preferably
2-3 T honey (Or more, or less, to suit your taste.)
3 handfuls dried fruit (or so. I'm guessing my handfuls came to a total of about ¾ C) Use raisins, craisins, dried apricots, etc. Don't use super dry things like banana chips.
1 egg (beaten)

Preheat oven to 450ยบ F.

Mix flour and baking soda and about half of your fruit in a large mixing bowl. Add milk and oil. Don't add it all at once; it'll make stirring everything until well-blended easier. Instead, pour about half in, then add the rest so you can get the stuff that hides at the bottom. Much easier in the long run.

Add the egg and the honey and the rest of your fruit and stir until it's all thoroughly mixed together. The dough is probably a bitch to handle at this point, so add flour bit by bit until it's manageable. If you're concerned about it becoming too dry, throw more milk in.

When it's not so sticky that touching it will leave your hand covered in goop, turn the whole business on to wax paper and knead it a couple time. If the wax paper rips, consider it done. Turn on to floured surface or more wax paper. Roll with rolling pin (flour the rolling pin or the dough will stick to it and make a mess) until it's all ½ inch thick. Cut with a round cookie cutter. I used one with a 3" diameter. Aim for the big side, because the fruit will make smaller biscuits fall apart.

Place biscuits at least an inch apart (and preferably closer to 2, but you have some wiggle room on that) on lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for about 12-15 minutes. Once they start getting a bit golden brown, turn off the oven, crack open the door and let them cook in the residual heat for another 3-5 minutes.

I don't know how many this actually makes. I forgot to count when I put these in the oven and by the time I remembered to count again, several had been eaten.

Note: This recipe is based on one from my mother's ancient Betty Crocker cookbook and started out with only the flour, baking soda, oil and milk. I've obviously adapted it quite a bit so feel free to muck about with this recipe to your heart's content. Nuts, vanilla, whatever. Go crazy. If anything works out particularly well, please let me know, because I'd love to hear about it! :)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Carol's Guide to "No Really, You Can Cook for Cheap." Part One

I'm writing this because not enough people "get" cooking. It's some weird, strange thing that happens in other people's homes or that Mom does and it's probably a little scary. Except that it's not that hard. Now, how-to articles and recipes aren't hard to find online. But there are things no one ever thinks to tell you: what's the bare minimum equipment that you need? Which foodstuffs qualify as kitchen staples and which ones are on a buy-as-needed basis? And how do you pick your spices?

This series was inspired partly by the fact that my father won a "have someone come cook in your home" dinner that was decidedly mediocre and partly by Evelyn Raab's wonderful book, Clueless in the Kitchen. Tonight's dinner was really a wake-up call for me. A steamed chicken and potato dinner with some onions thrown in for flavor is a learning experience for someone? Of course I'm well aware that some people just don't cook, but the idea that someone would consider a basically unseasoned steamed dinner something new and tasty? I was stunned.

As for Clueless, I feel that Raab tends to include a bunch of things that aren't really necessary and she tends to neglect the 'why' when she says which things are. The same goes for a lot of "get started cooking sites" like this one (you don't actually need a sifter, they're just occasionally useful). I still heartily recommend buying Clueless in the Kitchen or checking it out from your local library, if for no other reason than I can't beat her explanation of how to chop up different veggies and decide which kind of rice you need. Also, she teaches you how to unclog your sink. And I will not.

Part One: But What am I Supposed to Cook It In?

With some decent supplies, anyone can hack their way through cooking, learn by trial and error and make every subsequent post I'll write on the subject irrelevant.

Unfortunately, this also tends to be the most expensive part of the whole endeavor. Raid your local thrift store and rummage sales for as many of the following items as you can. Stalk your local ads/Craigslist/whatever to get the rest on sale. If you've got a handy local college, see what you can salvage as people move out at the end of the semester or year.

- 1 or 2 good knives. Some people recommend a paring knife (2.5-4in blade) but I find that the blades are too short for my taste. I recommend what's usually called a utility knife (get a sturdy one) with a 4-7 blade. Paring knives are good for detail work, but if you're trying to cook for cheap, you're probably not going to be de-veining too many shrimp. If you can afford a chef's knife and/or a bread knife, go for that, too. A good knife is worth the money, so invest in something of decent quality. (Not to say that you have to buy the most expensive thing in the history of the universe, but don't skimp either.) A larger serrated knife is helpful, but if need be, you can fake it with a sharp, serrated table knife.

- 10" frying pan. You can get bigger or smaller if you think you'll need it, but a 10" frying pan is pretty dang multi-purpose and is probably what you'll use most for day-to-day stuff.

- A 2-3 quart pot. Again, multi-purpose. It won't handle anything enormous, but it'll probably take care of your day-to-day soup/pasta/etc. needs.

- 2 spatulas. You need two of these because there are two different kinds: the kind sometimes called a "turner" and the kind sometimes called a "plate scraper" or "rubber spatula." The first is the version with a long handle and a flat thing at the end for turning over pancakes or eggs or anything else you may have in your frying pan. The second is the kind with a flexible rubber head, excellent for scraping out mixing bowls, measuring cups or whatever else you can think of.

- 1 or 2 cutting boards. Get a big one and a small one, if you can manage it. If not, get something medium-sized and wash it between rounds of cutting stuff. In general but especially if you're only getting one of these, it needs to be plastic. Wooden cutting boards can be nice, but if you cut raw meat on them, they turn into a breeding ground for germs and you will die a horrible death may get really sick. Don't do it.

- Measuring spoons and cups. Measuring cups come in two kinds: dry and wet. It doesn't particularly matter what kind of dry measuring cups you get as long as you get them in 4 sizes: 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup. For the wet measuring cup, the important thing is to get something microwave-safe. I prefer 2 cup measures, but it's not terribly important as long as it's 1 cup or larger and you can heat it up. Measuring spoons, again, shouldn't be expensive. Get the cheapest ones you can find - sizes should go from 1/4 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon

- Long-ish wooden spoon. Have at least one of these for stirring hot things. Wooden spoons may scorch, but since they aren't made of metal and thus don't conduct heat, you won't get scorched. These will also keep your hands away from steam and hot oil and anything else that's likely to hurt. Some people will add slotted spoons here, too. I'm not sure they're essential, but they're great for getting food without scooping up oil or water as well.

- Air-tight containers. These should hold your flour/rice/sugar/chocolate chips and they're very important because they keep out bugs and mice and anything else that would otherwise make your food unfit for consumption. Metal Boy Scout popcorn containers (or similar things) work well and you can frequently get them for next to nothing at thrift stores. Plastic bags do not: most animals can still smell the food inside and they'll chew through the bag to get at it.

- Baking pan. These come in all sorts of sizes, but 9x13 is standard for a lot of recipes, so if you can only get one, this is it. Good for everything from brownies to lasagna. If you can get two, an 8x8 or 9x9 should be your next choice.

- Large mixing bowl. A lot of recipes call for two mixing bowls, a larger one and a smaller one, but you can usually fake the smaller one in a mug or a bowl or that wet measuring cup up there. It's hard to fake the large mixing bowl, though, so pick one up. Aim for something in the 4 quart range - anything that can withstand a bit of a beating should do. Something that can go in the microwave or oven is a plus - it can double as a baking dish.

- Strainer or colander. Self explanatory. You can use these to drain pasta and wash fruit or, if you get one that can fit in your pot, use them to steam rice or veggies.

- Can opener. Unless you're making everything from scratch, you'll probably have to open a can at some point.

- Aluminum foil. Wax paper is useful and plastic wrap is good for covering up leftovers, but you probably really will need aluminum foil. It's actually probably the single most useful cooking tool for a college student, especially those without kitchens. If you have aluminum foil and a coffee pot, you can make something (this is especially excellent for hot sandwiches; I don't recommend this for anything involving raw meat, though), wrap it up in aluminum foil and use the coffee pot's heater as a hot plate. It can take plastic wrap's place and cover up leftovers. It can wrap up your lunch so you can take it with you. About the only thing it can't do is go in the microwave. Don't try that one.

- Cookie sheet. There are ways to get around this. If you don't bake, you may be able to get away without one and if you do, but can't get one, you may be able to "fake it" by turning the 9x13 pan upside-down, covering it with aluminum foil (if it's glass) and cooking on top of that instead. But a cookie sheet is pretty useful and they're usually not terribly expensive.

- A whisk. Okay, this isn't absolutely necessary, but it's really, really incredibly useful. Anything that's liquid-y that needs to be mixed together thoroughly will be easier to manage with a whisk. Get a medium sized one and whomp your food into submission.

And a few things that you don't need but are really nice to have anyway:

- Vegetable peeler. You can do this with a knife if you have to, but it's much easier to peel things this way.

- Grater. One of these can grate cheese or carrots or pretty much anything else you can think of. It'll save you money in the long run, when you'll be able to buy a chunk of cheese and grate it yourself instead of forking over extra money for something that's been pre-packaged.

- Ladle. Easiest way to get soup or stew out of a pot without eating from it directly, but you can fake this with a mug or liquid measuring cup.

- Loaf pan. If you need to, you can bake whatever you would put in a loaf pan in your 9x13 pan or a glass casserole dish, if you have one, and in a pinch, you might be able to throw something in a pot and put that in the oven. (Maybe. Depending on your pot. And even then, I wouldn't recommend it.) But for whatever reason, eating brownie-shaped bread just isn't the same. If you don't plan to ever bake anything but biscuits and bar cookies, though, don't bother.

- Microwave-safe containers with lids. These things are wonderful. Throw any leftovers in them, seal them up and toss them into the fridge overnight and then throw them in the microwave when you want to heat them back up. Make a huge batch of something when you have time, parcel it out into single serving portions, freeze and grab one of these out of the freezer when you have to eat and run. It makes taking food with you on the go much easier. It makes defrosting easier. It makes a lot of things easier. If you can find these and they're in your budget, get some.

That's about as bare bones as you can get while still having something to work with. If you work long days and don't have time (or energy) to cook, crock pots can be useful. They're not always cheap, though, especially good ones. If you need one but it doesn't fit into the budget, you may have to ask for one as a present or stalk a thrift store until one shows up.

There's a whole slew of other things - skillets, dutch ovens, roasting pans and more - that you might find useful, depending on what you cook and the appliances available to you, but I've tried to keep this list as universal as possible. Is there any cooking equipment I haven't listed that you absolutely can't live without?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The BRAAAAAAINS of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I recently finished reading my local library's (slightly overdue) copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I confess that I did not, perhaps, get as much out of this book as others might have, as I haven't read Pride and Prejudice in over a year and did not particularly enjoy it when I did so. (I understand that this makes me a heathen in some circles. I did not enjoy Little Women, either. Make of that what you will.) As a fan of all things undead, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this re-telling of a classic. The blurb on the back cover proved to be, unlike many books, quite accurate: "Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read." When a story opens with "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains," how can you go wrong?

One of the most wonderful things about PP&Z is how even as Elizabeth decapitates zombies, the story remains neatly within its period. (There are a few exceptions, mostly there for humor, but they aren't overwhelming.) The zombies? Usually referred to as "unmentionables." Instead of reading in the sitting room, the women all retire to the dojo and make sure their guns are ready and sharpen their knives. Perfectly domestic, just heavily armed. Mostly, I enjoy watching all the Bennet sisters slaughter as many zombies as they possibly can.

PP&Z isn't a great masterpiece by any means, but since it's not supposed to be, I don't mind one bit. It's strange. It's funny. It's absurd. It is absolutely not for those who cannot stand to see the slightest alterations to Austen's works or those who take themselves seriously. It is for anyone who wants to see Elizabeth Bennet send Darcy smashing into the mantelpiece with a well-placed kick or enjoy a lovely illustration of zombies feasting on cauliflowers, having mistaken them for brains. And if you believe that taking up arms against the undead with your significant other makes for a great date ... well, join the club. We have jackets.

This whole thing came out hilarious; I was laughing so hard at some points that my sides hurt. This isn't "serious" zombie fiction - try World War Z if you want that - but it is good fun. If, however, you simply must search for academic value in this book, there are discussion questions at the back.

Consider the very deep: "Does Mrs. Bennet have a single redeeming quality?" or the thought-provoking: "Vomit plays an important role in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ... Do the authors mean for this regurgitation to symbolize something, or is it a cheap device to get laughs?"

That right, folks, academia in a zombie novel. Now you can have your brains and eat them, too.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

An Inaugural Post and Other Nonsense

I have recently decided that I should actually do something productive with all that stuff I read and write something about it. Not that reading isn't productive in and of itself, but this way I shall have something to show for all of it and that will make it Worth Something to those who might otherwise consider reading time to, in fact, be free time during which they should be allowed to pester me.

Also, I need a place where I can show off my knitting. If I'm going to spend several months on something, I think I should have the right to show off after I've finished it. I'm also prone to starting and then abandoning blogs, journals and so on, but perhaps having a Purpose will keep me going. I can hope.

A few things about me that may or may not be relevant to your interests or my writing here: I bounce back and forth between Wisconsin's Fox Cities area and Bryn Mawr College in Philly. I started school at a very traditional 18 and have been completely non-linear about my education ever thereafter. I read, muck about on the interwebs, play with new software (especially if I don't have to pay for it), cook, knit, watch TV (occasionally, mostly if there are explosions involved. 'Mental' is the exception to this rule) and, if time permits, do Productive Things that are usually far less interesting than anything else on the above list. There are three things in the world (that I know of) about which I do not have Opinions. They are: the local curling club, men's underwear and grout.