In Which Cookbooks and Writer-Brain Take Over

18 March 2004

I looked through Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine last night. It was one of those cookbooks that purports to tell you how they do it at the restaurant and ends up convincing you that really, you're better off at the restaurant and paying a bit more to have someone else roll your herring around fingerling potatoes and spices for you. There were a few recipes of interest (partly because I am a tomato fanatic and have been on a risotto kick lately), but most of it was...pretty pictures. And in my mind, unspiced meatballs are not Swedish meatballs at all, nor worth eating. Also, any recipe that begins with, "Take a whole duck" are likely to get a rude response from me: "Yeah, you take a whole duck, buddy." Ditto, "You will probably have to special-order the lamb loins from the butcher." I am not special-ordering anything for a recipe I've never tried. If I can't get it at Byerly's...well, I'll still probably try Cub Foods, Whole Foods, and our friendly local Asian grocer. But I have enough obscure cravings that I'm not eager to create any new ones, thanks.

Don't get me wrong: I would eat most of the recipes in this book if they were served to me, and the pictures are definitely in the "food porn" category. But it is not a cookbook for actual cooks with other hobbies. And if I say that, and I know I'm willing to spend all day in the kitchen some days, you can trust that it'll be true for people who don't want to spend more than two hours making a single meal.

I just get split-personality about cooking. Last night, to follow up Tuesday night's attempt to dirty every dish in the house, I made Kraft dinner. A few days ago, I read a weblog entry from someone who had read an awesome cookbook and said, "why bother making Kraft macaroni and cheese when you can make sage-parmesan pasta with no more time or effort?" Well, for me the answer is that Kraft dinner is something different from sage-parmesan pasta entirely. Sometimes I want one and sometimes the other. Kraft dinner isn't an inferior version of pasta with cheese sauce, it's...radioactive orange stuff. Tasty radioactive orange stuff. Also, homemade pizza and delivery pizza and frozen pizza are different foods, just as thin-crust, deep-dish, regular, and two-crust pizza are different foods. To me this is self-evident, but I realize that other people deal with the universe differently. I'm just saying: that's why. That question is the same to me as "why eat cheese when you can eat tomatoes with no more time or effort?" Because sometimes I want tomatoes, and sometimes I want cheese, and the two do not substitute for each other.

But back to the cookbook: I find that the pretty pictures do nothing for me. I find that I would a million times rather have something like Dragonwagon's Passionate Vegetarian that's jam-packed with recipes than give each recipe a glossy spread. I'm not generally such a novice that step-by-step pictures are necessary to show me what color the onions should be at a given stage of sautéing, and the finished product pictures...meh. All right, some of them were lovely, but pretty and tasty are orthogonal values.

Other than that, I've been reading Blade of Tyshalle. Let me say that this is not a book for the faint-hearted. Many nasty things happen in this book. I am not reading The Proof House next, even if I could then give it back to Stella on Saturday morning. I need not to be disturbed after this book. Perhaps I shall sit quietly and read Sauna: the Finnish Bath. I believe that, beatings with branches notwithstanding, that will be sufficiently tranquil. At least I can hope. In fact, with the mood I'm in, I should maybe just turn to Sauna when I finish writing this chapter of my own book -- oof, okay, so the problem isn't Blade of Tyshalle at all, the problem is with Edward in mourning and Ansa coming out of denial into a blazing rage. The problem is that my characters are just picking themselves up from local minima, and I need to get them going again soonly soon.

Why is the answer so often "type faster?"

Still. Blade of Tyshalle is not particularly helpful to my current mood. Hmm. I am not afflicted with a surfeit of cheerful reading material -- there's a Dan Simmons on my pile, for heaven's sake. That's what we call indicative.

And then there are a few things I could read but probably shouldn't. A few days ago, Zed or maybe Jym linked to an article about how Bush's feet were not to touch dirt at one appearance, how his flunkies were very clear about this. And I know I've read too many Tim Powers novels, because my brain keeps picking and picking and picking at it: what has he short-circuited, that he doesn't want to touch the land? What will happen to him if he does? What will happen to the country? Will there blood spurting from somebody with no visible wound? Will Ashcroft shrivel up into a pile of dust and then blow away? Will he battle John Kerry with greatswords for the soul of the land? Does someone marry the land on the Mall there in Washington, with the pool right there by the Washington Monument, and what the heck does Lincoln have to do with it?

Do you see what I mean? When I'm like this, I should probably be kept away from, oh, say, the world. Usually I can shut it off. Days like today I can't. I look out the back window at the rain turning to snow on the wet birches, and my brain supplies that the Snow Queen from "Glass Wind" has gotten another ice sliver into someone, and I almost expect to see him lying on the snow and gravel by the broken front tree.

Sometimes people sidle up to you, if you're a fantasy writer, and ask if you really believe all that stuff. Believe, no. No no. But see, yes; the brain is trained, it produces, it adds things in, it pokes you repeatedly on the way home from the library. Hey. HEY. What? That yard has got Snowhenge in it. That's a million times better than Carhenge. Shut up, will you? We could have Snowhenge. With a little water to freeze stuff. We're not having Snowhenge, we're going home and sorting the laundry. pout And writing more book, all right? Will that keep you happy? Book! Book book book! Hey. Heyyyyyyy. What is it this time? I've got a story idea. Yarrrrrrg!

Today we get what's coming to us, and what's coming to us is a water softener. I really, really hope that the person who installs it has just enough distinguishing features but not too many. Because I don't want my brain going off on aliens or Fair Folk installing my water softener if the person is really weird-looking, but on the other hand, if the person has too few distinguishing characteristics, well, that's weird, too. Creepy-like.

Maybe I'll just let Mark answer the door, and I'll hole up in the office and put things on the page that are supposed to be weird like that. Maybe that's a plan.

Back to Novel Gazing.

And the main page.

Or the last entry.

Or the next one.

Or even send me email.