"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Monday, July 22, 2013

Recipe: Yogurt cake with strawberry-nectarine compote

 Got a cup's worth of yogurt in the fridge? I did yesterday, and after a few hours of editing the first chapter of my dissertation, I definitely needed to bake a cake. The obvious solution is this yogurt cake recipe, which I got from the Whole Foods website. The only thing I adjusted is adding a few drops of milk at the end, because the batter looked alarmingly thick and sticky. I figured it might be because I used very thick greek yogurt, so I added the milk to lighten it up. I have no idea if that was the actual cause or if the milk had the desired effect. Anyway, it turned out deliciously.

After I popped it in my inconsistent and uneven student-housing oven, I cut up some overripe fruit I had and improvised a little compote. Half a lemon squeezed over the fruit, 1/8 cup water, a tsp of sugar. Boil until thick and delicious.

I've actually gotten a lot bolder with improvising in the kitchen this year. Possibly because I'm the only person eating it, so if I mess up, no one else will suffer. Possibly because, when sorting which food blog to use for a given recipe, I end up actually paying attention to what ingredients differentiate scones from bread and pancakes from crepes. Possibly because I've had to substitute quite a few ingredients that I couldn't easily find in this part of the world. In any case, I've learned a lot about cooking as well as literature this year.

Ta-da! The cake rose A LOT, so much that I had to rearrange the racks in the over to accommodate it. It stayed nice a fluffy when I took it out, too.

The end product was delicioso. Not too sweet, because (as I forgot to mention earlier) I only had half the amount of sugar they called for. The compote could have been sweeter, too, if I'd added more than a tsp of sugar, but actually it made a lovely tea-time snack. The best thing about this cake is that it tastes gooey and dense without being buttery or fatty-feeling. It's sort of like eating a bowl of yogurt and fresh fruit, except also a cake :)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review: The Bling Ring

I wanted to see this movie for a few reasons. First, to see what Emma Watson's up to. Second, to finally see a Sophia Coppola movie. Third, for the chance to spend 90 minutes in the southern California sun.

And I definitely enjoyed it. There were some really interesting shots, great performances, and obviously, given the subject matter, killer costuming. I was especially happy to finally see Coppola's style - and it really is a style, which is wonderful. I love watching director's movies. Even when the directorial touches are light, like her use of obvious, jarring music or her choice of a few unconventional framings for key scenes in the movie, they give the film shape and a kind of consciousness - or maybe conscientiousness is a better word. It makes the film feel crafted.

This shot, for example, takes the point of view of one among many cameras directed at the characters' lives - news cameras, security cameras, phone cameras. It's not so much to make you feel alienated from the story, but enough to make you briefly remember your position as a viewer and briefly consider the angle from which the story is being told.

That angle is for the most part slanted toward Marc, the one guy in the group of five teens who decide to start stealing from celebrities. Except only one of them really decides. After Rebecca leads a puppy-dog Marc along on a few preliminary break-ins, the rest of the girls fall in without, it seems, a second thought. This is a bit difficult to believe, but then what these teens did in real life is also difficult to believe. I kind of expected Coppola to explore the motives behind the craziness, and she does to an extent.
Very subtly, she suggests the parallels between the teens and their famous victims - such as the way the victims carelessly leave the keys to their mansions under their doormats while the teens carelessly boast about their conquests to the friends who eventually turn them in. But I left the film with a lot of lingering questions about what was going on behind those beautifully made-up faces.

Again, very subtly, Coppola does convey the effect of the crime on the main characters. It comes through in the shift from lazy beach hangouts at the beginning of the film to a frantic cocaine montage near the end. It comes through in the different ways they break down upon arrest. Watson in particular did such a good job that I almost felt sorry for her, until I remembered how she'd wound up in that cop car.

The film doesn't excuse or explain what happens in it, which I liked. I just wish Coppola had trained her impartial and keen gaze a bit longer and looked a bit deeper at the characters. There was one scene I especially loved: Rebecca and Marc are driving in the dark, and the camera sits just behind them, in the middle of the back seat, so we can't really see their faces, just the partially-lit road ahead. Marc asks Rebecca if she would ever rob him if they weren't friends. Rebecca says something like, "I would never do that to you." And yet by the end, she betrays him. That one scene takes the characters fathoms deeper without even showing their faces and opens up new questions about the meaning of robbery, wealth, friendship - all the themes of the movie. I wanted more of that.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Recipe: Summer Quesadillas

This is just a quick recipe for some DELICIOUS quesadillas I made the other day and wanted to share. They're made especially summery by the zucchini and the corn and are a very filling and satisfying alternative to chicken quesadillas if, like me, you find summer makes you want to be a little lighter on your body and get a little vegetarian (at least until it's time to barbeque).
*Apologies for the terrible lighting in my kitchen. 

First I picked out some yummy fresh summer veggies - sweet mini peppers, zucchini, corn, and onion (not pictured, but essential in a lot of what I cook).

I sauteed up the onion, zucchini, and pepper, adding in that order and making sure the zucchini had enough time to soften and get a little browned.

Meanwhile, I dunked the corn in boiling water for a minute or so, then shaved off the kernels, which is always fun.

Added the corn...

...and some cayenne, to give it more warmth and flavor.

CHEESE. Plenty of cheese to melt it all together. 

I used about half my veggies for one tortilla and spread the cheese on both sides so it'll stick together. Then I let the tortilla get crispy (the filling was already hot).

Finally, some fresh avocado to top it off.

And voila! I gotta say, these were some of the best quesadillas I've ever made, or eaten. They were also super easy to make, as you basically just chop up each ingredient while the previous one is cooking away in the pan. Let me know if you try it how it turns out, and also what your favorite quesadilla filling is!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

This is Summer

Pancakes with strawberries for breakfast. Pasta salad for lunch. Fresh apricots in the afternoon. Burgers for dinner (left-over from the 4th of July).

Jeans cuffed. New tan lines every day. The perfect feeling of pulling on a hoodie as a warm day turns into a cold evening. Dirt scuffing over the edge of your sandals, dusts your toes with cool earth. 

Dogs racing through long grass in the park. Fat bumble bees slamming the window three times before they decide it’s solid. The warm belly fur of the little black cat you meet on the sidewalk. Two swans on the lake in the morning, ruffling their glowing white wings.