Archive for February, 2006

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

In : Book Reviews, Posted by on Feb.02, 2006

Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvelous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant. – Gore Vidal
They say that when Marco Polo was on his death-bed, a priest begged him to confess to having invented much of what he claimed to have seen on his famous journeys. Marco’s answer was this: “I have not told half of what I saw.”

The not-quite-a-novel, Invisible Cities, takes us to the court of the aging Kublai Khan where Marco Polo serves as a special emissary. The Khan has grown melancholy, and each evening he has the young Venetian tell him of one of the fabulous cities he has visited.

There is no plot in this book, only cities. And it is possibly the most beautiful work I have ever read.


Jalapeno Cheese Potatoes

In : Recipes, Posted by on Feb.02, 2006

This recipe is dedicated to anyone still on the Atkins diet. It marries the impressive carb count of potatoes with a heart-cramping amount of dairy. Jalapeños are vegetables, so this pretty much qualifies for a complete meal.

This recipe also comes in two versions: the easy, I-have-access-to-American-convenience-foods version, and the much harder, I-can’t-buy-cheez-whiz-in-my-country version, for our friends overseas.



2 lb. bag of Ore-Ida Frozen Hashbrowns (the diced variety)

16 oz. Jalapeño Cheez-Whiz

Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 Cup of Sour Cream


2 lbs. potatoes, skinned and cut to 1/2″ dice

2 cups light cream

2 cups American Cheese, 1/2″ dice

1/2 cup Sharp Cheddar,1/2″ dice

2-3 Tb. Blue Cheese (optional)

4-6 pickled jalapeños

Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup

1 Cup Sour Cream


EZ Version
Note: I haven’t made this version in a long time, and I may be off about the Cheese. You might want to keep some extra handy in case you need more to cover the potatoes.

Preheat Oven to 350° F. Melt Cheez-Whiz. Break up frozen Hash browns in bag, empty into large mixing bowl. Pour Cheez-Whiz onto Hash browns. Add Cream of Mushroom Soup and Sour Cream. Stir to combine. Empty into 9×13 baking dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until top is bubbly and golden-brown

Hard Version

Preheat oven to 350° F. Add potatoes to pot and cover with water. Bring to boil and cook for 2-3 minutes until partially cooked. Drain.In a 3-4 Q sauce-pan, add cream and heat over low flame (While making the cheese, it is vital that the sauce  never comes to a boil.) Add American cheese and stir until melted (5-10 minutes). Add Cheddar, repeat. Add Roquefort, or other blue cheese if using. Repeat. Cook, stirring constantly until sauce has thickened. It should cling to the spoon, but still be loose. If it over-thickens, just add some more cream. Off flame, stir in jalapeños. Add potatoes and stir to coat. Add Cream of Mushroom soup and sour cream. Stir to combine. Empty into 9×13 baking dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes until bubbling and golden-brown.

Apples in the Middle Cake and Whipped Cream Frosting

In : Recipes, Posted by on Feb.02, 2006

Want to find a birthday cake suitable for a 1 year old?  No, then this cake also makes a yummy dessert for any age group. Riley would not touch it, but all adults at the birthday party raved about it.  Valerie, sorry my emails to you never worked.  Here it is.


  • 2 c Apples
  • 3 tb Sugar
  • 1 ts Cinnamon
  • 2 c Sugar
  • 1 c Cooking oil
  • 4    Eggs
  • 1/4 c Orange juice
  • 2 ts Vanilla
  • 3 c Sifted flour
  • 1 tb Baking powder
  • 1/2 ts Salt


  1. Peel, core, and chop apples into small pieces. Mix together with 3 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
  2. In large bowl, combine sugar and cooking oil; beat. Add eggs, orange juice, and vanilla.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; add to creamed mixture. Beat until smooth.
  4. Pour half of the batter in a greased and floured 12 cup bundt pan (or 9×13 retangular pan) and then pour in the apple mixture and then pour the rest of the batter on top.
  5. Bake at 325 degrees F for 60 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool in pan 10 to 15 minutes; turn out on wire rack or serving plate to complete cooling. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar or lightly frost with cream cheese frosting.


  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream


  1. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth.
  2. In a small bowl, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form.
  3. Fold into the cream cheese mixture.

Vietnamese(ish) Noodle Bowl

In : Recipes, Posted by on Feb.02, 2006

As it is summer down here, I present Kirsten’s second favorite hot weather dish. It’s not quite as good as Mai’s (and if you are in, or going to, Houston, be sure to stop there), but it does the job.

It’s particularly good with sauteed shrimp (marinate them in a couple tablespoons of nuoc cham), chicken, or barbecued pork. Of course, since this is really just a bowl of noodles with stuff on top, you can try out anything that sounds good. Anyway, this is the way I usually do it.

And Celia, sorry about the delay.


Vegetables and Noodles

  • 1/2 lb. dried Rice Stick Noodles (or Rice Vermicelli–not “bean thread”)
  • Carrot
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce
  • Bean sprouts
  • Chilis
  • Cilantro
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts

Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

  • 5 Tbsp. sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. water
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • minced chili, to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. thinly sliced green onion



  1. Boil 1 quart water
  2. Turn off heat and add dried rice noodles
  3. Stir occasionally until tender
  4. Drain noodles and shock in cold water. Set aside

Nuoc Cham

  1. In a medium bowl, mix water, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. Whisk until sugar dissolves.
  2. Add the rest of the nuoc cham ingredients. Stir and set aside for about half-an-hour.

Note: I’m pretty vague on amounts here, because it’s all pretty much to taste. As a round figure, a half cup of each of the vegetables and a few tablespoons of cilantro would probably serve two.

  1. Julienne carrots and cucumbers
  2. shred lettuce
  3. trim bean sprouts
  4. chop cilantro
  5. crush peanuts
  6. slice chili into rings, or chop

To serve, put noodles in a large bowl, arrange vegetables on a plate along with any meat or other toppings. Add noodles to individual bowls, layer whatever toppings you want, and add nuoc cham.

Vietnamese Oven-Barbecued Pork

In : Recipes, Posted by on Feb.02, 2006

Okay, this recipe is 100% stolen. I got it from an excellent collection of Vietnamese recipes, which, if you like this, might be good place to go next. I include it here because it goes perfectly with the Noodle Bowl recipe.


  • 3 shallots or the whites of 3 scallions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 lb. pork shoulder


  1. Mix shallots, garlic, & sugar. Grind or process into a paste.
  2. Add fish sauce and pepper, stir. Set aside.
  3. Slice pork against grain into 1/8″ thick strips. (It will help if you freeze the pork for about half an hour beforehand)
  4. Add pork to marinade. Marinate for one hour.
  5. Heat oven to 450. Line baking sheet with foil (do not skip this step). Arrange slices in overlapping layers.
  6. Bake. The original recipe called for twenty minutes on the first side, flip all the pork, and another twenty minutes. This overdid it a bit. You want the pork to have a crust, and the ends may even blacken, but these instructions turned a fair amount of pork into charcoal. I recommend shortening the time, and just keep an eye on it as it cooks.
  7. Remove and serve with your bun.

A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey

In : Book Reviews, Posted by on Feb.02, 2006

What an incredible, dizzying achievement.

Of course, the dizziness may just be from the amount of nitrous I was huffing when I read this book. Not that I could feel it, though. I finished A Million Little Pieces at 6:00pm, but I’d been chasing my vicodin with demerol since noon. And I needed it. I’d only brought the book with me to have something to do in the doctor’s office while I waited to have a tattoo removed.

I never mentioned this to my mom, but when I was in high school, I had the name of an ex-girlfriend tattooed on the back of my left eyeball. Yeah it hurt, but that’s love. Anyway, the other day I was stretched out on the kitchen table having a mild seizure after snorting a mixture of super-glue and lit butane (I call them “Krazy Ballz”). So while I’m doubled over backward, and my eyes are rolled so far back I swear to hell I can see the top of my spinal column, Kirsten walks in. Well, she spots that tattoo right away, so as soon as I’m back on all-fours she makes me call a plastic surgeon. I bit half-way through my tongue, but I made the call anyway, because I’m kind of a bad-ass.

So the doctor’s going at my optic nerve with 10 grit sand paper, and I’m not on any pain-killers outside the vico-rol coctail and the laughing gas (I wanted to be sober so I could blog about it later), and right then I finish Frey’s memoir. What a great read.

Update: In light of the recent revelations about the veracity of Million, I must shame-facedly confess that I never in fact read this book. I apologize to my family, friends, and most of all, Oprah.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clark

In : Book Reviews, Posted by on Feb.02, 2006

Todd described this book as “A cross between Harry Potter and Jane Austen.” I couldn’t agree more. The setting is England, and the events are planted firmly in magic. The book is also about collecting books, which I can completely relate to. You know how in Harry Potter the magic world and the muggles world don’t interact, well in this book they do. Magic is used to win wars and help seaside villages. It seems so plausible. I personally think that fax machines are magical.

I have a copy in Lima if anyone wants it.

The Catcher in the Rye

In : Book Reviews, Posted by on Feb.02, 2006

I know, I know – it’s mandatory high school reading material, but I never read it in high school, and when John Lemley mentioned he was teaching it, I decided it was high time I read it.

The most astonishing thing about the novel is that it was written over 50 years ago! I had to keep flipping to the publication page to make sure I read it correctly. There are some definite things that signal its age, but the issues that teenagers face: conformity and identity still ring true. I think it was especially meanful to me as a high school teacher who constantly struggles to relate to 14 and 15 year olds.

Thanks John Lemley. Keep in touch so I know what to read next.

Spicy Ginger Drink

In : Recipes, Posted by on Feb.02, 2006

Our first recipe is in honor of Kirsten’s pregnancy. She swears this stuff helps with morning sickness.* That’s as may be–I just think it’s tasty.

We adapted this recipe by taking out about 3/4 of the sugar recommended in most of the versions I’ve seen on-line. Be warned though, without all that sugar the ginger gets pretty spicy.


  • 1 cup peeled ginger, ~1/2″ dice
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup lime juice


-Chop ginger extremely fine in a food processor, add water as it grinds. Strain juice into a saucepan.

-Add sugar to saucepan and bring to boil. Stir constantly and reduce by about 1/3.

-Add lime juice, return to boil, and remove from heat. Cool

-Serve one part ginger mixture with three parts sprite / tonic water.

*But don’t go crazy–pregnant women are supposed to watch how much ginger they take in. Or so Kirsten tells me.

How-to: Book Review

In : General, Posted by on Feb.02, 2006

Now that our reader base has finally broken into double digits, we’d like to extend to you an invitation to contribute to this site.

By now the sense of possibility is probably overwhelming you.  That’s to be expected.  I’m going to assume that it’s passed.

So here’s all you need to do to become an honest-to-goodness book reviewer on our incredibly influential web-site:

  1. Register.  Either click that link (or the one in the sidebar), and follow the instructions.  You should receive an email with a randomly generated, yet aesthetically pleasing password.  Then
  2. Log-in.  You will then glimpse the amazing “behind the scenes garbage dump” that calls home.  You know all the times that I’ve brought the site down for hours on end?  Well, it all happens here.
  3. Click the “Write” button in the menu and fire away.  Be sure to “Publish” your article when you are done.  If you just “Save” it won’t appear on the web-site.

That’s all there is to it.

And now, a little fine print.  Be nice.  You don’t have to be nice to the books, just be nice to each other.  And try to keep your language nice.  My grandmother reads this site (Hi, Grammy!).  Also, I have the final say about what gets published, so if you’re a student looking for cheap revenge (or, God help you, brownie points), I’ll have to cut your account if I don’t find you entertaining.