And Now for Something Completely Different

(you have to say that in your best Monty Python voice–go ahead–click on “Monty Python”! You can hear it!  Okay, now come back.)

Not too long ago I talked about some of my favorite book genres, and one of those books in the “Women in the Middle East” genre was Persepolis, which is a graphic novel.  I really loved that book, which surprised me.  I’ve never been one for comic books. Well, that’s not entirely true–I used to love “Archie” comics, what with all the high drama that minx Veronica stirred up.   But that’s where my interest stayed–it never segued into manga or anything crazy like that.  So liking Persepolis was unexpected.

Writing the Literary Obsessions post got me wondering if there were other graphic novels I might like.  I started poking around on Amazon and found a couple I thought I’d like, and then some I just wanted to read out of curiosity.

The graphic novel I read out of curiosity was called Black Hole by Charles Burns. It was very good, well drawn and well written.  But weird.  Very, very weird.  I felt like I’d read something I shouldn’t have.  It’s the story of teenagers who care only about getting laid, getting high, getting drunk, and getting laid. Oh–and getting laid.  It’s basically a cautionary tale (or tail–ha ha!– if you read it you’ll get the joke) about a bunch of teenagers who don’t care about a plague that seems to be causing them terrible, disfiguring wounds, growths, etc., as long as they get to keep having sex.  So of course you see the AIDS parallel here.  I found it very dark, quite depressing, and it made me think that I was neither young enough nor edgy enough to read graphic novels.

But I wasn’t quite ready to give up on graphic novels just yet.  I found Maus I:  My Father Bleeds History, and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began, by Art Spiegelman. Once again, a genre of books I am fascinated with led to my discovery of these two graphic novels.  Holocaust memoirs are unsettling and horrifying and at the same time utterly compelling.  Maus tells the true story of Art Spiegelman’s father, a Holocaust survivor.  The Jews are portrayed as mice, and the Germans as cats.  The Poles are pigs, the Americans are dogs, and a child of mixed heritage (i.e. German and Jew) is shown as a mouse, but with cat stripes. When the Jews (mice) are trying to pass as gentile Poles, they wear pig masks. It sounds odd, I know.  The animal portrayals make it easy to decipher who is who (a German civilian or a Polish civilian?), and don’t detract from the story in any way. I couldn’t put it down.  I read both books in two days.

It’s no secret that another of my favorite genres is the whole British thing.  And yes, there are graphic novels to fill the bill of..well, the whole British thing.  Like a message from above, I came across Posy Simmonds.  How could someone named Posy disappoint me in any literary fashion?  Well, she didn’t disappoint, and I love her work.  How did I find her?  Well, it’s kind of a long story (you knew it would be).  I was watching TV, home alone one day, which NEVER happens, and when it does I never watch TV, except for this time, and I came upon a movie called Tamara Drewe (and by the way, one of the main characters is played

“Friday Night Dinner” cast

by Tamsin Greig, who played the mother on the very, very funny British TV series “Friday Night Dinners”).  I really liked it, and noticed at the end it was based on a book.  When I went looking for the author (Posy Simmonds) at the library, they didn’t have anything except Gemma Bovery, so I got that one instead. Obviously you know this is going to be a takeoff of Madame Bovary, and it is.  Gemma (like Emma, the other Bovary) is unfaithful and feckless, and meets an end that is retribution for her misbehavior. But it’s so good!   It’s like a comic book soap opera.  I finally got Tamara Drewe, and I loved it too!  Apparently it is loosely based on Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, which I have never read.  But it tells the story of a woman who returns to her childhood haunts, vastly transformed, and a couple (the wife is Tamsin Greig) who run a writers’ retreat.  The husband is famous in his own right, and the wife is sacrificing and long-suffering, and of course drama ensues.  I just love these books!  The writing is so great, and then you throw in the drawing as well?  Well, I am in awe of Ms. Simmonds. I am looking forward to reading more of her work.

Not to be shallow, but something I love about graphic novels is how quickly you can finish them.  I read Gemma Bovery in a couple of hours!  It’s not that I’m trying to get it over with, but sometimes it’s nice to be able, in one afternoon, to check a book off your list that you’ve been wanting to read.  As an old grownup lady, I never thought I’d be a fan of the genre, but thanks to these books, particularly the works of Art Spiegelman and Posy Simmonds, I truly am.  They are completely different, and I hope you’ll give them a try.

Take Four as Needed for Anxiety…

Put this music on and come back.  No really, just click on where it says “this music”  and it will open in a new window.  I just learned how to do this and I am RAWTHER excited.  You know I will be attaching music to everything now, don’t you.  The music will open in a new window, and you can listen to it when you toggle back to this window.  Okay, so now you hopefully have some very beautiful, very soothing music playing in the background. Isn’t that nice?  That’s Bent, with their song “Swollen.”  It’s a pretty old song, but it’s one of the most gorgeous pieces of music I know.  Okay, back to more ways of alleviating anxiety (None of which include chocolate, because though I have tried, really I have, to use chocolate as a tranquilizer, I’ve found it only aggravates things, since now I have calories and fatness to worry about.  And maybe breaking out.), because on the whole I have a LOT of anxiety.

1.  The music is, first and foremost, my best way of dealing with stress and anxiety. When you’re done with “Swollen,” close out and try this one.  It’s Angela McCluskey singing with Telepopmusik, called “Don’t Look Back.”  This isn’t music to cheer you up–that’s a whole different criteria.  This is stuff to calm you, to soothe your savage breast.  Well, if not savage, certainly tense. Okay, now play this one!  It’s Royksopp, “In Space.”  Alright, now last of all throw in some Daft Punk, “Nightvision.”  None of this is new music–the Daft Punk alone is 10 years old!  But these are beautiful, peaceful, and calming pieces of music.  They work!

2.  Another interesting little thing I found is called Bach Rescue Remedy. They are stress relieving pastilles, and they are sort of like gummies.  They have a very mild citrus flavor, and you chew/suck two or three at a time.  They are homeopathic, made of flowers ( in Switzerland!), and apparently have no better efficacy than a placebo.  Well, I don’t know what to tell you, because I find they work really well–bring on the placebos! I generally chew a few when I feel wound tight as a spring.  And then, after about 20 or 30 minutes, I suddenly notice that I don’t feel wound quite so tightly.

3.  Much as I hate to admit it, going for a walk is hugely helpful (I prefer to doctor myself from the comfort of my own home).  Taking the dog tires us both out, and we both sleep better. Although I don’t think the dog has any anxiety.  She just likes to go for walks.

4.  Finally, if worse comes to worst, sit outside, look at the full moon (which always aggravates my anxiety issues–the moon, not the sitting), and open a bottle of wine. And maybe put on some music (see above).

How to Stay on Your Diet

Dolce & Gabbana has this ad campaign for Spring 2012 that makes me happy (and I seriously covet the dress the matriarch on the far left is wearing in the top photo).  It looks like some outrageously good-looking Italian family hanging out on the shores of Lake Como, going to church, yelling at their kids, loving their kids, eating and drinking wine outside (absolutely one of my favorite pastimes), and even (get this) including elderly people in the photos.  In general they are living the good life.   I just look at these pictures and hey–sign me up!  I want to look fabulous and dignified and attractive (while drinking wine outside?).  So every time I want to put something like, say, a Cheet-o  (or a fun-size Hershey bar, perhaps?)  in my mouth, I will look at these pictures instead.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Can’t…stop…eating…chocolate….

What is wrong with me??  Hershey‘s isn’t even my favorite chocolate!  I do love Hershey’s, it’s just not top choice.  And while I  certainly wouldn’t turn down dark chocolate either, if I get a choice I’ll choose milk chocolate every time (what can I say, I guess I have an unsophisticated palate).  Preferably Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, thank you very much.  I think this rampant ravaging is caused by knowing that I have to get back on the straight and narrow tomorrow, diet-wise.  How can it take me sooo long to lose weight, and then have it come back on sooo quickly?  Not fair. I am also well aware of the visible-signs-of-aging/sugar partnership.  Yikes!

Anyway, the whole reason I bought all these little Hershey bars (fun size indeed!) was to make oven s’mores.  Yes, you could toast your marshmallows in the fireplace, but it’s supposed to be near 90 degrees in Vacaville today.  And by the same token, toasting them over a campfire outside would doubtlessly end in an epic conflagration, what with today’s 30 mph winds.  So, broiler it is. Super quick, and you can very precisely control the golden-brown-ness (If you need that much control in your life.  Which I do.) of the marshmallows.

All things considered, the calorie content isn’t THAT bad.  I mean, it is tooth-achingly sweet (not a bad thing, in my book), and gooey beyond compare, and it weighs in at about 150 calories, which isn’t awful for a dessert. And really, even for me, a world-class sweet-tooth, just one is enough.  Plus, I think just about everybody loves a s’more.

So go heat the broiler, and place the rack so that the s’more will be about 4 to 6 inches away from the element. We’ll just make one s’more for right now. Break the rectangle of graham cracker in half, and put it on a baking sheet.  Put three sections of a fun-size Hershey bar on top (I tried it with two sections, but the marshmallows don’t balance very well), and then two marshmallows on top of that.  Put the whole little pile into the oven, and STAND THERE.  Don’t walk away!  It goes from toasty to terrible very quickly (or blackened to buggered, as the case may be). Keep checking, and when the marshmallows are a good color for you, remove from oven and leave to sit for a minute or so to let the chocolate melt and the marshmallows start to implode a bit.  Put the other half of the graham cracker on top and press down gently. 

In the interest of…what? probably not science, so the furtherance of economical desserts?…I ate this very s’more, and drank a big cup of very strong coffee with it.  You see, I give and I give.  In future, I will always eat my s’mores with a coffee chaser.

And I promise I’ll have a salad for lunch.

Listen to Your Mother! And Make Lunch for Her on Mother’s Day!

Before I forget, I wanted to show you how pretty my Spanish lavender is–it loves Vacaville! You could plant some Spanish lavender for your mother in her garden for Mother’s Day!

Trust me, lady–I know how you feel

Moving on.  I had a bit of a hard day yesterday. No, in the scheme of things it wasn’t tragic.  Well, maybe a little.  I was in a store and I got asked if I wanted the senior citizen discount.  I wasn’t sure whether to punch the clerk in the head or cry. I did neither, but the whole episode certainly did provide fuel for thought.

I remember, when I was about 25, my mother told me that no matter how old you get, you never really feel very different inside.  That once you pass 30, you stop feeling like you are getting older.  That you don’t feel any different than you did when you were about 30, even if you are, say, 48.  Sure, I know that I’ve aged on the outside, but inside?  I still feel pretty young. Now bear in mind my mother died at 66, so I can’t vouch for how she would have felt at 83.  But it’s true–I don’t feel much different than when I was about 30, even though I am fast approaching 50. So I cannot tell you how dismayed I was when the clerk asked me about the senior citizen discount.  “What?? I’m not old!  How could you think I’m that old??” (No, I didn’t say that–I just gasped a little and shook my head.)  The whole thing kind of laid me low.  A little reminder that hell yes,  I’m getting old and looking it.

I know it shouldn’t matter, that every wrinkle and grey hair I have is a testament to the fact that, yes, I am much wiser now that I’m older (no, really, I am), a testament to the woman I have become, and to the life I’ve led, blah blah blah.  YOU get asked if you want the senior citizen discount and tell me how you feel about the life you’ve led and the woman you’ve become.

The age thing, on the whole, doesn’t usually bother me that much–but that was before I knew I looked old enough for the senior citizen discount.  Holy crap!  Am I wasting away my years bemoaning my waxing weight and waning looks? Maybe that’s what my mother was telling me, to appreciate whatever age you are, ’cause you’re only going to keep getting older, no matter how you feel inside.

Ava

Cyd

My mother was very pretty–when she was young she looked a lot like a combination of  Cyd Charisse and Ava Gardner. The shape of Cyd’s face, but with Ava’s eyes. So even when she was older, she still had men (who were a bit older still) look at her, and that’s what prompted our conversation.  We were out shopping one day and she was getting checked out by a man, and she said that you never stop enjoying that feeling of being noticed and appreciated. It was a little gift, really, to pass this knowledge on to me, to remember that the pretty girl is always inside the aging woman.

So here’s a few more of her tidbits:

1.  Stay out of the sun (can’t tell you how much I wish I’d listened to that one).

2.  Stop wishing your life away ( I was always wishing for things to be different than they were).

3.  You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (all the champagne and chandeliers in the world won’t help–trashy is still trashy).

4.  Pay yourself first (I still have a hard time with this one–keep forgetting to save money).

5. Children (and pets, too, actually!) come to live with you.

6.  Put on a happy face.

I feel completely confident that your own mother has or had little sayings that crop up regularly, and that you still apply to your life.  So be good!  Be nice to her!  Mother’s Day is coming, so make her a nice lunch.  You could start with the Mother’s Day Punch I mentioned last year about this time, and then move on to this easy and very make-aheadable lunch. Oven-fried chicken, tortellini salad, followed by chocolate dipped strawberries?  Delightful.

Oven Fried Chicken with Tortellini Salad

The Chicken:

Water

3 Tbl. salt

8 to 10 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

2 Tbl. butter

1/2 cup flour

1 Tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

About 6 to 8 hours before you plan to cook the chicken, place the chicken in a large bowl. Toss in the 2 Tbl. salt and fill bowl with water, completely covering the chicken. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (or you could use a giant Tupperware, if you were so inclined) and place in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Remove the chicken from the bowl, and dry it well (I put paper towels on a baking sheet, put the chicken on the paper towels, and then dab chicken with more paper towels–it must be dry!). Put the butter in a large roasting pan and put the pan in the oven for a few minutes while it preheats–don’t forget it, though, or it will burn.  Put the timer on if you need to.  Remove the pan when the butter is melted.  Put the flour, remaining 1 Tbl. salt, and the black pepper in a plastic bag.  Add the chicken to the bag, a piece or two at a time, and shake to coat the pieces well with flour.  Shake the excess flour off well. Lay each piece, skin side down, in the butter in the roasting pan. Return the pan to the oven, and cook for 40 minutes.  Turn the pieces over and cook for 20 more minutes.  Remove chicken from pan and drain on paper towels momentarily, then on a rack set over a baking sheet.  Serves 4 – 5

The Tortellini:

9 oz. fresh or frozen cheese tortellini

2 tomatoes, deglopped and chopped

1/2 cup thin slivers of red onion

1/2 cup thin slivers of red (or yellow or orange) bell pepper

1/2 cup small black olives, halved

2 Tbl. chopped Italian parsley

1/3 cup olive oil

3 Tbl. red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, crushed

Cook tortellini according to package directions.  Drain and rinse with cool water.  Place tortellini in a bowl, then add onion, bell pepper, olives and parsley.  In food processor combine oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic and whiz to emulsify.  Pour dressing over the salad and let stand about 30 minutes before serving, stirring occasionally.  Serves 4

The Strawberries:

You know how to do this–dip strawberries in melted chocolate!

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