Archive for April, 2010

The Eyes Have It

April 25, 2010

Just what do they have, though? For ages, eyes have been said to be the windows into the soul, but as any good writer knows, what those windows show is dependent on that one small word chosen to describe them. And even words that in other contexts could be said to mean virtually the same thing take on vastly different connotations when they’re used to describe our eyes. So, what are those expressive orbs really saying? Let’s listen in:

Sparkling Eyes: “It’s Uncle Hans’s birthday, and I have a troupe of acrobats and jugglers to perform at his surprise party. It’ll be the first time anybody’s ever been able to surprise Uncle Hans, and boy, will he EVER be surprised!” Or, there could often be a note of mostly-harmless mischief detectable with sparkling eyes: “The boss is always paranoid about being wiretapped; just wait till he sees that oversize fake “bug” in his office. April Fool, boss!”
Glittering Eyes: Not-so-harmless mischief here. “Ha ha, you think that microphone is fake? Go right ahead and laugh, comrade. You’ll see!”
Gleaming Eyes: “Mom and Dad are away for the weekend, so I think it might be nice to have a few dozen close personal friends over to the house for a party! Won’t that be fun?”
Flashing Eyes: “You had FORTY people in to play indoor baseball while we were away?! Is that, perhaps, why the living-room furniture is all floating in the neighbors’ swimming pool?”
Shining Eyes: Little Annie just received a pony of her very own! A real live pony!
Glistening Eyes: The real live pony has just stepped squarely, and with malice aforethought (possibly he had a glittering eye?) on Little Annie’s foot.

You see how it is. All those adjectives, when applied to, say, a diamond, would pretty much mean the same thing. But applied to human (or, I suppose, animal) eyes, the choice of words can make or break the atmosphere.

Read a Childhood Favorite Through Grown-up Eyes

April 10, 2010

And you just might get a disappointing surprise. At least, that’s happened to me more than once as I grew up and reread books I’d enjoyed in childhood. (And the mark of a good book is Rereadability.)
Oh, not all the books I revisited lost their magic. Many even seem to improve with the maturity of the reader. The Little House on the Prairie series is a good example. When I read them as a child, I just enjoyed them for their storylines. As a teenager and adult, I was able to appreciate the very real people behind the stories, and to admire their resourcefulness, courage, good humor and abiding love for one another.
But what about the books that lost some of their magic as I grew up? Please understand, I don’t mean to say that they are not good books, or well-written books. They are. They just don’t happen to have a very long shelf life, you might say.

“Pippi Longstocking”: What kid wouldn’t want to have Pippi for a neighbor? And what grown-up neighbor wouldn’t want to have her banished from town? Pippi is definitely an adult’s worst nightmare: wild, smart-mouthed, reckless, you name it. She even has a whiny, manipulative side to her, as demonstrated by her stock response anytime she’s chastised for her bad behavior. This response can be boiled down to “I’m so sorry, but I’m a poor little orphan and I don’t know any better.” Tommy and Annika’s mother must be a candidate for sainthood for her tolerance of Pippi and her allowing her kids to play with her.
“Harriet the Spy”: This is a hilarious book, and the satirical aspects of its humor are even more apparent to an adult reader. But Harriet herself? Ugh. She’s a richer, smarter, more urbane version of Pippi Longstocking. Just as Pippi is the kind of playmate most children would love to have, Harriet is the type of friend nobody would wish for. All that sneaking around, spying on people, writing down everything they do, and also writing down her often quite nasty assessments of their character. No wonder all her friends were so angry when they got hold of her spy book.
And Harriet’s parents? Clueless, both of them. They fob Harriet off on a nanny for eleven years, the nanny leaves to get married (she’s cut from the same cloth as Tommy and Annika’s mom) and Harriet, quite predictably, begins acting up. Quite possibly it’s the first time the parents have actually had to deal with her on a day-to-day basis. So what’s the first thing they do when Harriet begins talking back and defying them? They send her to a child psychologist, of course! Continuing the pattern of paying somebody else to deal with the little darling.
The Encyclopedia Brown mysteries: Yes, the mysteries and their solutions are very clever (I was never able to beat Encyclopedia to the solution) but I find it a bit scary, and did even as a child, that Encyclopedia’s dad was the town’s police chief, yet his biggest cases had to be solved by his ten-year-old son. The poor man. Wonder if the office of police chief was an elected position in their town of Idaville. If so, I smell a massive political cover-up at work to keep the hapless chief in office.
Incidentally, Encyclopedia’s real first name is Leroy. Leroy Brown. Which inspired the song that Jim Croce almost recorded: “Bad Bad Leroy Brown, dumbest dad in the whole damn town!”
Most of the Judy Blume books: Judy was a big favorite among kids, especially girls, when I was in school. As I read more and more of her books, however, they took on a sameness that is rather creepy. She could probably consolidate a lot of her work into one big book titled “My Parents Divorced Because They Love My Little Brother/Sister More Than They Love Me, and Now I’ll Never Get My Period and What If the Kids At School Find Out?”
It came as something of a shock to me to learn that Judy Blume also wrote books for adults, including one racy selection about a suburban housewife eager for thrills, called “Wifey.”
The Betsy books by Carolyn Haywood: These are really old books, written in the 1930’s, I think. Which goes a little way, but not very far, toward explaining why Betsy and her friends had so little supervision. The kids, who were all less than eight or nine years old, just seemed to run loose all over town, organized events and outings, and brought home all manner of pets, with scarcely a mention of a parent. Weird.

Again, these are all good books, well-written, imaginative, and so on. And while their plots and characters may not resonate the same way with older children or adults, they still provide interesting food for thought. Look at me, I’ve just killed a good hour examining them from different angles. Now I’m going to go and read a book about the famous London cholera epidemic, or maybe one about the various misdeeds of Aileen Wuornos. Something I wouldn’t have cared much for as a child, in other words.

The Egg and You

April 1, 2010

Easter is nearly upon us, and no matter how you look at the holiday, you can’t escape this simple fact: Easter and eggs cannot be divorced. Dyed eggs, Ukrainian wax-painted eggs, chocolate eggs, peanut-butter eggs, even those Peeps eggs. And then there’s plain old ordinary chicken eggs.
I’ve been known to say a few uncharitable things about eggs in the past, mainly having to do with the smell of eggs when they’re cooking and the fact that some people can’t seem to leave well enough alone and sneak eggs into perfectly good potato or macaroni salads. A low trick, that one.
But in the spirit of the coming holiday, I have decided I need to give eggs credit where it’s deserved and, while I’m at it, do them a favor by providing a bit of instruction on Care and Training of Oeufs (CATOO for short.) So here we go, and Happy Easter to all!
Oh, and I’ll just have a chocolate egg, please.

Eggs have gotten a bad reputation in recent years, owing to their undeniably high cholesterol content (213 milligrams per egg.) But eggs still pack a powerful nutritional punch for their size; they’re high in protein, iron, riboflavin and vitamins A and D.
The color of the eggshell, contrary to popular belief, has no bearing on either the taste or the nutrition of the egg. Some chickens lay white eggs, some don’t.
Likewise the color of the yolk is due to the hen’s diet: hens fed mainly on alfalfa, for example, produce lighter-colored yolks than hens fed a wheat-based diet.
What are those cord-like strands running from the egg white to the shell? Those are chalazae, and the more noticeable they are, the fresher the egg. Which brings us to the most important aspect of eggs, freshness.
It goes without saying that eggs must be refrigerated. They lose as much quality in one day at room temperature as they would in a week of refrigeration.
Eggs should be stored in the door of the refrigerator, in their original carton. Moving them into another container increases the chance of their being damaged or picking up odors. They should be stored large-end up and away from any strong-smelling foods like onions or garlic. As long as the shells are intact, eggs will keep up to a month, although they’re at their best if used within a week.
How should leftover eggs be stored? Cover yolks with cold water and refrigerate, tightly covered, for up to 3 days. They can be frozen, but 1/8 teaspoon salt or 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar or corn syrup must be added for each ¼ cup of yolk. Whites will keep up to 4 days, tightly covered, and can be frozen as is for up to 6 months. The easiest way to freeze them is to put one egg white in each section of an ice cube tray. After they’ve frozen, you can transfer them to a plastic freezer bag. Both yolks and whites need to thaw out overnight in the refrigerator before use. And hard-boiled eggs will keep in the refrigerator for no more than a week.