Thursday, February 28, 2008

I'm a Cheat

Many of you are aware of my dismay at leaving behind truly abundant and authentic Mexican food in California. We have found one restaurant, Loco Coco's in Kittery, which serves very good Mexican food, but their menu lacks my weekly favorites from Los Arroyos in Santa Barbara: homemade tamales and carnitas. Carnitas is the slow-cooked, super tender pork, which is perfect on a homemade corn tortilla with just salt and a squirt of lime. I got a craving for it a while back and was aghast to discover that in order for me to make my own authentic carnitas, I'd have to cook the pork in an alarming amount of lard.

Bravely pressing on, I found a recipe for cheating white people, and it's surprisingly good. It's not completely authentic and it doesn't have the wonderful charred edges like the real carnitas, but we enjoyed it a great deal.

Carnitas in a Crockpot for Fraudulent White People

3 pound pork roast (Pork butt is recommended, but I used another bone-in cut which was fine.)
4 garlic cloves
1 jalapeno, whole
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika
1 bottle light beer (I used Sam Adams light.)

Cut 4 slits in the pork and insert garlic cloves. Add the pork, jalapeno, and cilantro to the crockpot. Season with salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika (you can add a bit of chili powder if you want it to be spicier, but the jalapeno gives it a mild spiciness). Pour beer over everything. Cook for 4 hours on high, then 2 hours on low.

Remove pork from crockpot and shred or cut into chunks, trimming off fat. Ladle liquid from the crockpot over pork to keep it moist.

This made so much meat I served it two ways: For tacos, we had the carnitas on soft corn tortillas with a generous squeeze of lime and homemade salsa fresca. For burritos, we filled large flour tortillas with spanish rice, black beans, pork, salsa verde, and shredded monterey jack (or queso fresco if you can get it). Top burritos with sour cream and guacamole, if desired. Have a beer or margarita to go with it, or a soda, if you are a disgruntled pregnant teetotaler like me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Improving upon a Classic

Mistress Masham's Repose, penned by T.H. White (author of The Once and Future King, another favorite of mine), filches Jonathan Swift's Lilliputians, making them far more fascinating and fun. I always liked the concept of Gulliver's Travels yet found it rather a dull read. White even offers a brief but meaningful literary critique of Swift's work in a lighthearted discussion between two characters.

In Repose, young Maria is an orphan living in her crumbling family estate under the thumb of a cruel governess and a dishonest vicar. She discovers a secret outpost of Lilliputians living on a small island on the estate, and after some initial misunderstandings, they become friends. The action really picks up near the end of the book when Maria and the Lilliputians are threatened.

White has an extraordinary ability to take an existing myth and give it new life and depth. His prose is beautiful and painstaking, and he can poke fun at characters in the manner of Wodehouse. Repose is a children's book, the sort that assumes children are intelligent but don't have to understand every detail to enjoy what they are reading. How many children's novels include amusing anecdotes about Rousseau?

"He searched the Chinese Parlor, into which Rousseau had suddenly rushed in 1768, when he had indignantly read out an interminable and incomprehensible letter from himself to Diderot, leaving all hearers completely stunned."

White knows what children like. He condemns Algebra lessons as the worst kind of punishment, allows his protagonist to explore the grounds freely and happily at night, and proves her to be cleverer than her wicked oppressors. Like all the best children's stories, it concludes at Christmas with a generous exchange of gifts and a large meal.

I suspect Maria has much in common with young T.H. White. He suffered an unhappy childhood with parents who "loathed each other," but like Maria, he enthusiastically threw himself into learning and adventure. He taught himself Latin shorthand and falconry; he became an airline pilot, a fisherman, and a deep sea diver, not to mention the author two of the better novels I've read in my lifetime. His biography says:

"T.H. White seemed to follow the same advice he has Merlin give in The Once and Future King: 'The best thing for being sad is to learn something.'"

Imagine how different we would be if we always took this advice.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dulce Domum

For those of you who haven't seen a photo yet, here's one of the house we are buying.

That's right, we're buying a yellow house in Maine, just like Haley Mills' family did in the beloved (at least by my family) Disney classic, Summer Magic. We plan on performing far fewer musical numbers, though.

My plan is to turn the spare room on the first floor into the library and arrange all the books lovingly in there. We'll probably put the computer desk in there as well, but I'd prefer to have a cushy chair or two instead and leave the room utterly devoted to the written word. So here's a question: What color should one paint a library? Is blue, green, red, or taupe more conducive to good reading?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Playwrights teach us nothing about love. They make it pretty, they make it comical, or they make it lust, but they cannot make it true."

I have often been accused by Jackamo of not being forthcoming with my mushy feelings. I let people know how I feel, and I'm sincere about it, but I rarely gush. And since I've grown up, I've found that I despise most romantic comedies. On the rare occasions when Ickie is out of town, my plan is to move a few movies up on our Netflix queue that only I'd enjoy. But each time I have the same realization: we like and dislike the same things. If I like a romantic movie, he'd almost certainly enjoy it as much.

Now, I know there are just as many BAD romcoms as comedy, drama, horror, or action movies. I think what bothers me is that people who don't know me assume that I'll enjoy this trash just because it's aimed at women. I also believe the superficial relationships and manifold fallacies found in romcoms are quite damaging to lonely, impressionable females (we've all been there at some point). For several fine examples, I direct you to a list of "10 beloved romantic movies that are cloying, annoying, or unintentionally dysfunctional." There are so many I thought of adding to this list that there's no room here to discuss them. But just in time for Valentine's Day, I thought I'd mention some films I find to be genuinely romantic as well as having other fine qualities.

Northanger Abbey (2007): The leads are charming and funny, the satire is spot on, and the love story is never too heavy.

BBC Pride & Prejudice (1995): Once again I'll point out Austen writes comedy, not romance, but Lizzie and Darcy are able to achieve both with their clever banter and the depth of admiration they build for each other. Woe to all remakes.

A Room with a View (1985): This movie as well as the book has my favorite kisses in it: they are sudden and lusty--on an Italian hillside, in an English garden--and they make me feel all swoony.

Amelie (2001): Sure, there's a love story between two quirky characters, but the real love story is of a free-spirited life in candy-colored Paris.

Mostly Martha (2001): This German movie has all the conventions of a romantic comedy, but it still manages to do them well, and it's improved by an abundance of good food and culture shock.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): This is the most heartbreaking and true of the list. They know the relationship is hopeless, but they are so drawn to each other they're willing to take the risk anyway. Beautiful.

Sliding Doors (1998): This is probably the weakest entry on the list, but I still like the way it contrasts two separate story lines and toys with the themes of chance and destiny.

Roman Holiday (1953): This is my favorite romantic classic, not to mention the ideal date: joyriding around Rome on a Vespa. And like the most moving stories, the characters make selfless, honorable decisions in the end.

Shakespeare in Love (1998): It's a clever, hilarious story about the world's most famous playwright, and it's wonderfully passionate.

An Ideal Husband (1999): Who better to portray the nonsensical madness that is love than a gay playwright and a gay lead actor?

Before Sunrise (1995) & Before Sunset (2004): Both of these movies feature actual dialog between two people falling in love with each other, which is typically removed from romcoms (in favor of insipid montages). Both movies are a snapshot of the couple's life, set in a day, casually wandering around European cities. I applaud the opened ended conclusions of both movies. The second movie's ending rather goes against my moral judgment, yet I still can't resist it.

Strictly Ballroom (1992): Baz Luhrman combines pop music, tacky subculture, and comic opera like no one else. It's ridiculous and laughable, and the melodramatic final scene makes me absolutely giddy.

Much Ado About Nothing (1993): This is my favorite of Kenneth Branaugh's efforts to take Shakespeare to the modern masses. The scenes lush and gorgeous, and the rapport between Branaugh and Emma Thompson is positively delicious. (Although, Ickie and I are always sad when we watch it, regretting that those two broke up in real life.)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mixed Bag

It's always hard to know how consistent a collection of short stories will be. In any collection there are inevitably some stories I strongly prefer to others. Two collections I've recently enjoyed have been Suzanna Clarke's British fairy tales, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and Jhumpa Lahiri's Indian-American stories, Interpreter of Maladies. Clarke has given much credit to Neil Gaiman for her ideas, and thus far I had only read Gaiman's Stardust (I actually think the movie is a lot more fun than the book, which I found a bit flat and anticlimactic). With encouragement from Hayumbone, I gave Gaiman another try, checking out his only book at my local library branch, the short story collection Smoke and Mirrors.

I actually haven't finished it yet and am not sure I will. This is due to its wide range of story genres, most of which I can appreciate, but just a handful of which I really enjoy. In fact, my reaction to stories has ranged from loving one so much I read it twice in one day, to near indifference for several others. The same thing happened to me when I tried to read a second collection by Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners (LOVED the first story, couldn't drum up interest in the others).

Anyhoo, there are three stories in Smoke and Mirrors that I highly recommend. The first, oddly enough, is found in the introduction. "The Wedding Story" ends with a punch in the gut, but in a good way. The second is "Chivalry," a hilarious Arthurian update in which an old lady finds the holy grail at a secondhand shop in present day England, and when a knight (complete with armor and noble steed) appears to claim it, she puts him to work doing odd jobs around her house. The third story (and the one I read twice in one day) is "The Price." It gives me the creeps while simultaneously making me feel pierced and elated. It features a mighty peculiar cat, and you can read it online, but I recommend printing it out and reading it in bed late at night. I think I need to go read it a third time right away, actually. If all of Gaiman's writing were like this story, I'd consume it ravenously.