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taygete

adventures, by accident

Month

April 2012

Weekend-First Weeks

Like many librarians (and other people in service-type professions) I work an irregular week. During the school year, and when summer/graduate classes are in sessions, most weeks I work one late shift (2-10 pm) and Saturdays. Unfortunately, with finals and holidays and vacations, this schedule isn’t quite regular – sometimes I get stuck with six days weeks or one day weekends, because of the way the schedule works. It’s not always ideal, but it does average out.

One advantage of working Saturdays is that I get to start my weeks on Sundays with a weekend. There’s something pleasant about starting off with a weekend, since I’m usually doing something fun, and it gets my weekend-y errands and chores out of the way. I can spend Sunday cooking or having brunch with friends, going to yoga and the farmer’s market, sleeping in, whatever I’m in the mood for, as with a typical Sunday. Since I get Mondays off, I can run errands and take care of things on my to-do list before the hustle and bustle of the week get in the way. It also means I usually start my weeks off with clean laundry, groceries, and a clear mind.

In the end, I suppose that’s how everybody feels about their weekend. Maybe I just like mine better because I’ve gotten used to it, or enjoy avoiding “the Mondays.” For whatever reason, it’ll be weird to adjust to a regular ol’ schedule, even for the few weeks of the summer where it applies.

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World Book Night 2012

Copies of Friday Night Lights for World Book Night 2012
Copies of Friday Night Lights for World Book Night 2012

Yesterday I participated in the first-annual World Book Night here in the United States. There’s more information at the website, but to summarize: the idea is to get books into the hands of non-readers or infrequent readers by “hand-selling” 20 free copies of a book of your choice. I applied and was selected as a book giver for my second-choice book, H. G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights, and elected to pick the books up at my local independent (also: amazing) bookstore, Atomic Books. Myself and two other givers were featured on their Tumblr account, discussing our books and our giveaway strategies: http://atomicbooks.tumblr.com/post/21439572738/world-book-night-givers.

My first hesitation in participation was the practicality of identifying low- or non-readers. Asking somebody straight out seemed accusatory and confrontational, but I wasn’t interested in making awkward assumptions about who was or wasn’t a reader based on outward appearances. Luckily, my book provided me with a perceived “in” – all I had to do was ask passers-by if they were Ravens fans, and if so, were they interested in a free book on football to celebrate World Book Night? I was sure I’d find 20 such persons in short order, and decided to stand on a busy street corner in downtown Hampden, near a bus stop, ATMs, popular restaurants and shops, and a convenience store.

My results were … mixed. First, carrying 20 copes of a book is a heavy proposition (thanks to T for doing most of the heavy lifting). Secondly, a few factors (to be discussed later) made the time/spot of my choosing less than ideal. Finally, I think people were suspicious of “free” handouts on the streets for unclear reasons.

To be clear, the people who were interested in the books were sincerely excited, grateful, and enthusiastic almost to the point of dumbfoundedness. I got many a wide-eyed stare from people who couldn’t seem to believe their luck. I did have a few people who declined my offer because they already owned or had read the book, or were with friends/significant others and didn’t seem to want to be greedy by snagging multiple copies. But for every “yes”, I probably got 3 “nos”, and in the end, I wasn’t able to donate all my books on the designated evening. Some pedestrians obviously thought there was a catch or a gimmick, and seemed worried that the book had invisible strings attached. Many people were harried, carrying children or groceries or bank deposits, and didn’t want to stop for a strange woman in the street with a sack o’ books. A few people were in a digital world (on phones, earbuds in, etc.) and I was reluctant to be rude.

A few things might have conspired to make my World Book Night an incomplete success. The weather in Baltimore was iffy (unseasonably cold and sporadically rainy) and traffic was unusually bad due to construction on a main highway. I also realized, after the fact, that many of the restaurants and shops in Hampden are closed for business on Mondays. Considering all these factors, the foot traffic was lighter than other nights, and most people who were out and about were not inclined to linger. There’s also the fact that this event is new to the United States, and perhaps not widely understood, so there wasn’t a sense of inclusion to persuade people to take books. A few friends I spoke with about their experiences similarly had a difficult time unloading all 20 of their books, and most of them were left with a handful of unclaimed copies.

All things considered, would I do it again? Absolutely! Most of the book recipients were very sincere and enthusiastic, and even those who declined were polite and straightforward about it. It was a good experience, and reminded me a little bit of my Girl Scout cookie booth sales. Next year, I might try a few things differently – maybe give out books downtown, where there’s more activity, or with other people, to limit the “weird lady on a street corner” element. A sign, a bookmark, or another type of identification beyond a thumb-sized button might help with this, too. I’m glad I participated, and am looking forward to World Book Night 2013!

If you’re curious, the books my friends and I weren’t able to donate are going to a local prison via a professional connection, so they won’t be wasted by any measure. I’m glad they’ll be getting some love somewhere!

Cookbook Club, Volume 2

Earlier this month, Cookbook Club mastered the art of French cooking, courtesy our heroine and inspiration, Julia Child. Despite all being somewhat “under the weather” (hair of the dog is a real thing that works, as it turns out), we enjoyed ourselves and the food thoroughly, and had a great time.

I mean, really, how can you go wrong with an ingredients stash like this:

Ingredients: wine, liqueur, butter.

The wine was a 2010 beaujolais-villages, which felt right for spring, and well all enjoyed. I’ve also had another Louis Jadot (a côtes du rhône, I think, at a Julia Child-themed potluck two springs ago, where boeuf bourguignon was the main). Our complete menu as follows:

Dinner menu
Featuring artichokes with hollandaise, coq au vin, gratin dauphinois, and crepes suzette.

We actually started with Kir Royale cocktails and a selection of olives and cheeses, courtesy Wegmans’ fabulous olive and cheese bars.

Kir Royale cocktails
Bon appetit!

The hollandaise was a revelation – I’ve been eating artichokes all my life, and usually dipped them in mayo (when I was younger) or lemon/butter mixes as an adult. The problem with hollandaise, beside the fact that it will one day kill you, is that it makes a volume (serves four normal-eating people, or the three gourmandes) and wouldn’t keep very well. I’ve also had and and enjoyed it on asparagus; if you can find enough people to share with, I highly recommend it! Eating artichokes gave me an excuse to tell a story about my father’s youthful follies in California after two decades of Midwestern living – after having artichokes at a friend’s house, he went out purchased a roundish green produce item and proceeded to boil it, only to discover that avocados are not to be boiled. My parents were artichoke converts after their years in California, and Trish and I ate them regularly as kids. My parents even have lovely, classic artichoke plates. (If they go missing after one of my visits, I will have to plead the fifth.)

Cookbook club in action
Cookbook club in action: artichokes boiling, bacon rendering.

Flambeing the coq au vin was a success, and I impressed myself (and my friend’s husband) by flambeing without setting off the fire alarm. Dessert, once again, proved to be the challenging dish, though delicious. The crepe recipe made very wet crepes, which were harder to flip and flambe. Crepes stuffed with orange butter, soaked in Grand Marnier and browned in cognac are, it turns out, delicious no matter the effort that went into them.

Our next selection is Alton Brown’s Good Eats Vol. 1, whenever we get around to it. I suspect there will be significant rigging of kitchen equipment involved, so I’ll be sure to bring my camera this time!

Stuff

My parents came to visit in March, which is always a nice excuse to do touristy things, and have them take me to dinner at places I couldn’t afford on my own. I pretended it was because it was my mom’s birthday, but I think we all know the truth. In their too-brief visit we managed to hit up Baltimore’s two major art museums, take a bus trip in the rain through some “scenic” neighborhoods, tour the Iner Harbor, Cylburn Arboretum, and Little Italy, and hit up a few Civil War Battlefields. I hadn’t been to Antietam in years, and its’ vast expanses almost put Gettysburg to shame. It was a super-windy day, and we took the driving tour after viewing the film at the visitor’s center (which I recommend). Dad has one of those fancy-pants parks passes, so it was a fascinating and frugal visit.

I appreciated that they filled the trunk of my mom’s Civic with a stash of my worldly possessions, until recently consigned to their basement. Sometimes I feel like I have too much Stuff, and sometimes I get a disproportionate amount of nostalgic joy out of re-discovering Stuff I’d almost forgotten I had.

SWAG!
Goodies from my parents' visit - Girlyman's latest CD (gift from my sister) and some cookbooks, including Julia Child's The Way To Cook
SWAG!
More goodies - a feather boa I wore to my college convocation, real Wisconsin maple syrup from my parents Thanksgiving trip, high school mixtapes, vintage Williams-Sonoma kitchenware.
Pie Plate
Saving the best for last - a pie plate (with matching dessert plates), a belated housewarming gift from my friend Emily. So gorgeous!

(Sometimes the landline phone from your freshman year of college is in a box. I have complicated relationships with my Stuff.)

Not-so-humblebrag

A photo of my award-winning* entry in the 2012 Edible Book Fest:

Shallot's Web
Shallot's Web

*Award: Least Edible.

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