CCCB: Downriver

For the baking today, I’m going to do a slight re-run: A few weeks ago I did a knead-free pan bread. Which turned out delicious. But it seemed to me that the recipe just had a few more complicated steps than seems necessary: You’re supposed to fold the dough a few times before doing the second proofing (but why?) and pre-heat the pot to 250C, which makes transferring the dough to the pot kinda on the eek side.

So let’s try to just skip those two steps.

So mix flour, salt and dry yeast, add water, and mix until it’s, well, mixed. Then let stand for 18 hours.

I floured up the pan…

Beat the dough down a bit…

Beat beat!

Transferred to the pan and let it proof there for 90 minutes.

There.

Then into the oven for 30 minutes at 250C with a lid on and then 15 minutes at 200C without.

Still not very dark… I think 200C is too low temperature…

Then catastrophe! The bread sticks to the pan! On the sides! Where the flour wouldn’t stick! Gah.

Let’s taste it anyway…

It’s very nice! There’s less of a crust at the bottom, which is both nice and less nice, since there’s little crust at the top, either. So if you hate crust, this is perfect, but who does that? Let’s try it again…

Once more, let the dough rise for 18 hours.

Then… tada! Put some baking paper into the pot. I wondered whether this would inhibit contact with the metal to the point that there wouldn’t be any crust on the bottom, but we’ll see…

Beat the dough down a bit and then scoop into the pan. Put the lid on and let it proof for an hour and a half in the pan.

Then into the oven at 250C for half an hour (with the lid on). Then take the lid off, turn the temperature down to 220C, and bake for 20 minutes more. (I shifted it up in the oven to give it a chance to get some crust going…

And yes! It’s almost perfect! I could have given it five minutes more for more crustiness, but it’s nice and fluffy, and still chewy and glutenous and very satisfying.

Hah! I knew those complicated steps in the middle were totally superfluous!

I should write this up properly as a recipe blog post some day with proper instructions, because the NY Times recipe is way too complicated, and doesn’t give a better result, in my opinion. The only difference is that there’s more of a crust on the bottom of the bread, but whatevs. Totally not worth the bother.

And now I have to pick a book from among the remaining eight unread-since-1992 books to read while eating some bread.

And the winner is… Downriver by Iain Sinclair!

Now, why haven’t I read this one? Or perhaps a better question is: Why have I bought it?

I think the answer to the second question is “it was on sale” and “I was thinking of Iain Banks”.

One is an SF author and the other in Iain Sinclair.

I love shopping at book sales, but I have noticed that that seems to make them less of a priority to actually read. And couple with the Iain/Ian sitch, it’s probably not anything I would ever have worked up the enthusiasm to try reading. And I don’t seem to have made the effort; the book has that “never been opened” feel.

Let’s read the first two pages together.

The most striking thing here is, of course, that the margins are tiny. Especially the bottom margin, which makes it physically unpleasant to read the book, because my fingers are constantly getting in the way of the text while reading.

I’ve got plenty of other books by Paladin (the literary but cheap imprint of HarperCollins, kinda like Picador (which is… Penguin?)), and they’re usually set better than this. Did they do it to keep the page count down? If there’d been normal margins this would probably have been a 500 page paperback instead of a 400 page one. Or did they just keep the typesetting from the hardback but cut down the paper size?

ANYWAY!

The other thing you noticed is that this is a very, very early-90s British novel. Very literate and excruciatingly erudite. Post-modernism was over, so we’re back to modernism, I guess?

But how’s the bread with the book? Well, if probably would have made sense with a darker, more complex bread, but this is a quite satisfying combination. The full-on sweet wheat experience coupled with random acts of bizarre violence and even weirder exigesises (that’s a word) on the meaning of each London neighbourhood complement each other well.

Downriver is very much a product of its time. Sinclair, for instance, predictably rails against nouvelle cuisine, as did all other older authors at the time, it seemed like. And the writing style is what I remember as being diagnosed at the time as “word processing novels”: It’s not that authors didn’t write long books filled with convoluted sentences before; it’s just that the word processor made it so easy to go over and over the text, revising sentences into maximum cleverness. And “[…] a side of bloody Aberdeen Angus, with all the coronary trimmings” is witty — but there’s just so much of this stuff. Everything is tortured into a kind of samey, erudite mush.

On the other hand, there’s amusing dog hatred like this (“the first bite is on the house”), so who am I to complain?

Hey! I know what he’s talking about here: Railway Time. Before railways were a thing in the UK, towns didn’t really feel the need to remain synchronised, so everybody just set their watches by whatever means were agreed-upon in that hamlet. But when railroads were introduced, you had to have a way to write accurate time tables, which led to the railways being the ones who standardised the time (i.e., Greenwich Standard).

So here Sinclair is taking that bit of trivia and using it as a starting point for imagining what perhaps could result in rebelling against that standard. Sounds cool, right? But as with any springboard in this novel, nothing leads anywhere: It all ends in some inconsequential petit guignol or other, and at this point I’m losing faith that Sinclair knowing what he’s doing.

Is it coked-up épater la bourgeoisie all the way through?

I guess this particular bit disappointed me more than all the other disappointing bits in this book because it reminded me of what Thomas Pynchon did with something not altogether dissimilar in one of his books (Mason & Dixon, I think?): The shift from Julian to Georgian calendars. Pynchon takes the factoid and really builds something on it; making it into this entire paranoid What Happened To Those Lost Eleven Days mystery, making the reader care because we trust that it’s going somewhere. And it kinda did!

It was thrilling.

This book isn’t. There’s plenty of funny bits (like Sinclair making a movie with The Corporation (i.e., BBC)), but it’s all so inconsequential.

And I can’t really imagine anybody wanting to read this at all in a few decades, because most of the references (and it’s a book that’s 75% reference) will be completely incomprehensible by then.

Let’s see what contemporary readers think! Let’s try Amazon, because that’s where people people hang out. (Let eye rolling commence.)

:

He’s not good at plot, satire, character, or structure in a work this length, but Downriver is still conventional enough in style (realism punctuated by historical visions) that it isn’t really a formal experiment, or a Thomas Bernhard-style dynamic rant either.

The highest-rated review here is a two-star review, which is pretty unique. It means that people really loathe this book.

This one’s pretty amusing, too:

Neither I nor anyone in my book-group liked this book, in fact I was the only one to finish it. I should explain that I downloaded the book so my husband, whose sight is not good could read it in enlarged type from my computer, I had the Penguin print copy. My husband read the first chapter and abandoned it. This was pretty well what the rest of the group did. I should say that there are ten of us and all have either a degree or a professional qualification, reasonably intelligent, well read people – all equally baffled. I realise the book has been well received and has won prizes but I think I can honestly say it is the only book that I have read and resented the time wasted in reading.

Yeah, I know, most of the other reviews are favourable, but then they usually are on Amazon.

Sinclair has a flair for doing very vivid descriptions (“The furniture was impregnated with ancestral flatulence (bad meat, verruca’d potatoes, cabbage boiled to a nappy-like consistency)”), and while you immediately get it, I started wondering whether some of the most imaginative things are standing expressions or what. I mean, “verruca’d potatoes”? While on one level obvious, on another… what would that really be? Warty potatoes? Is that a thing?

Nope: It’s a Sinclair Original. Or is he thinking of a different… dish… called something similar? The expression seems annoyingly familiar in a way.

The cover blurb on this edition is by Michael Moorcock, and the quote from Angela Carter is on the back. In the latest edition, Carter’s quote is on the front. It’s not surprising, but it’s kinda amusing.

I may have mentioned this before, but Sinclair’s go-to literary device is list-making. In this little paragraph I count… five?… lists of things. And there are chapters in this novel (or “tales” as Sinclair calls them for some reason or other; they’re definitely more chapter-ey than tale-ey) that have a surfeit of these paragraphs.

I say “I may have”, because it’s taken me a month to read the first half of this book, so the first bits I wrote in this blog post have been lost in the mists of my bad memory. I decided that enough was enough and forced myself to read the last two hundred pages over two evenings.

And either that helped a lot, or Sinclair changed tack for the last hundred or so pages completely. I mean, that’s what I expected him to do, sort of, so I’m not that surprised, but I acknowledge that the difference may be in the reader and not in the book.

I’ve read more than a handful of books where the author pummels the reader at the start of the book, and then eases up in the last bit, and then we all enjoy ourselves. It’s a Stockholm Syndrome thing combined with a masochistic streak in the reader: It feels so great when the tiresome bits of the novel are over.

Because the last hundred pages or so are a hoot. Sinclair goes all pomo and includes a section of (supposed) notes from the (perhaps imaginary) editor of the first chapter of this novel. Now we’re talking!

In the last chapter, Sinclair sends a letter to one of the characters in the novel and asks him to finish the book. Sinclair’s typewriter, you see, has broken down and he can’t find anybody to repair it.

So now “I” is a different person, which is a callback to the notes from that editor up there. It all ties together!

I’m so enthused by the ending (not shown above; that’s a few pages before it ends) that I contemplated starting to read the novel from the start again. But, by Emacs, no! No!

Bad book!

Bad!

CCCB: Miracle of the Rose

When I went to the kitchen equipment store and asked for the stuff I needed to bake these things, the shop assistant asked me “you’re making smultringer (literally “lard rings”) after Christmas?” incredulously.

Which was slightly weird. These are things one makes in Scandinavia at Xmas, but they’re eaten all year long, because these are the Scandinavian version of donuts.

That is, it’s dough that you deep fry, but there’s an important difference: These aren’t made from yeast dough, but uses baking powder and horn salt (ammonium bicarbonate). This page explains the origins more in depth.

It’s basically just a pretty normal (but moist) dough (look at me, I’m an expert after making like a handful of things), but it has the aforementioned horn salt (which smells very er invigorating) and lots of eggs and cream and butter.

WHERE DID THAT BEER COME FROM.

Oops.

Whisk whisk whisk.

Add the dry bits.

Mix. Done. And then you let it rest in the fridge until the next day.

That’s it! The dough is the easiest I’ve made, I think?

But then comes drama! Deep frying! I’ve never deep fried anything in my life, so this is the exciting part (for me).

The fat comes in half kilo blocks. You traditionally use lard, as the name implies, but these days everybody uses some kind of plant-based fat (this is coconut, shea and palm, I believe).

Then catastrophe! The dough is very sticky. I mean… stickier than an HSTS policy! I nervously tried to get some more flour into the dough while everything was sticking to everything else, and I finally wrestled it into some kind of submission.

But since it’s so sticky, getting any kind of ringy rings out of the dough was a challenge. Which I failed as. As you can see.

Oops! I had started the deep fryer with the cubes of fat in the basket, which meant that they didn’t touch the heating element, which meant that the heating element gave off a not-very-pleasing smell of overheated electronics. Gaaah!

Did I mention that I’ve never used one of these before?

I quickly pulled the plug and then dumped the blocks of fat right onto the heating elements.

And got the powder fire extinguisher out of the closet.

But look! I didn’t burn the house down! (If ever my neighbours happen onto my blog they must be so reassured.)

Mmmm… Crispy on the outside and sweet and fluffy on the inside…

Masses of lardy … shapes!

Ok, time to choose a book that I’ve avoided reading for like 25 years…

Eenie… meenie…

I choose Miracle of the Rose by Jean Genet, and I know exactly when and where and why I bought this, and why I’ve avoided reading it: I bought it in London in 1993 at the big Foyle’s (I was in London for the 4AD festival called Thirteen Year Itch (it was 4AD’s 13th anniversary)), and I bought it because it was an author whose name was familiar to me, and I had to buy something, and I didn’t read it because I’d read some Genet while in high school (not as an assignment) and I didn’t like his books.

See? It all… makes… sense…?

The other reason I’ve avoided reading this is that this is a translated work: If I want to read something badly translated, it might as well be badly translated into Norwegian and not badly translated into English. In my experience, English language translations are often of high quality, but sometimes tend to go more for authenticity (i.e., preserving the other language’s cadence and grammar) than legibility.

But let’s read the first two pages in the book.

Hm!

There was a hole in the seat, and when my gripes got too
violent because of the jolting, I had only to unbutton.

Hm? Gripes? Complaining? Unbutton? The opposite of buttoning up? No… er…

Oh!

gripe (grīp)
v. griped, griping, gripes
v.intr.
To have sharp pains in the bowels.

(If you didn’t get hit, he shat down the hole in the seat.)

Is that related to “having the grippe”?

This book was written in 1951 and translated into English in 1965 by one Bernard Frechtman. Looks like he’s done a bunch of Genet books.

And my reservations seem to be warranted: The text has a very Frenchie flow to it, and I’m guessing that he’s using quaint English words to emulate other quaint French words.

The book purports to be about Genet himself in prison, and that may very well be true, for all I know. He did spend a lot of time behind bars, didn’t he? I’ve done no research.

The translator is footnote happy. (It’s like gun crazy, but with footnotes instead of guns.) Genet writes a lot about language in this book, and expounds, say, on the differences between “Les Bijou” and “bijoux” which of course makes the translator chime in. As much as I hate footnotes, the translator doesn’t really go overboard with the explanations, even if he sprinkles them generously throughout the book.

There’s a lot of little bits in this book that I absolutely adore.

I wanted to become rich in order to be kind, so as to feel the gentleness, the restfulness that kindness accords (rich and kind, not in order to give, but so that my nature, being kind, would be pacified). I stole in order to be kind.

Or what about this one:

He is indeed vulgar, but with a vulgarity that is haughty, hard, maintained by constant labour. His vulgarity is erect.

I mean, you can’t quibble with that.

But these glimmers of brilliance are mostly submerged in a swamp of semi-opaque, meandering recollections. Genet doesn’t have much of a structure going on here… or perhaps vaguely shifting back and forth between various people and times and situations is a structure as good as anything. You can’t really say that there’s much sense of progress in the book, because we return to the same things so many times; sometimes we learn a bit more than last time and sometimes not. Genet glides around as if writing by nothing more than free association. Still there’s a sometimes satisfying connectedness to these pages.

But… I agree with my teenage self. I don’t really like Genet’s books. Getting through this one was mostly a chore, but with some real points of interest. I can see why he fascinates.

So how does the lard not-quite-ring pair with the book?

Well, they’re delicious, and, of course, makes the book a lot sweeter.

Nom nom nom.

CCCB: Jane Eyre

Thursday is book’n’bake day.

The bready hype the last few months has been the no-knead bread recipe from the New York Times. (Were they the ones responsible for the one-pot pasta travesty that was all the rage a couple of years ago? That thing was vile.)

But let’s give it a go.

You basically just combine the ingredients and then let it sit for 18 hours.

After which you fold it a bit and then let it sit for 90 minutes more…

Before plonking into a pot.

And then bake with a lid on for 30 minutes.

I should have floured the baking paper more: This dough is sticky, and transferring it from the paper to the piping hot pan was a challenge.

Then pop the lid off…

And then bake 15 minutes more.

I wondered whether I was supposed to continue baking until it had, like, the right colour, but the bread felt OK… Perhaps I should have put it higher up in the oven.

Let’s let it rest a bit while I pick out a book to read from the cache of my oldest avoidingest books:

And I chose Janë Eyrë by Charlottë Brontë. (Is that the correct number of rock dots?)

As with Oliver Twist, this book was an assignment for my University English class. And as you can see from that dog ear up there, I got to page 13 before abandoning it: Not even making it past the introduction.

And my stypid reason for giving is basically the same as for Oliver Twist, so I won’t repeat it here. But I’ve learnt one thing since 1991: NEVER READ INTRODUCTIONS!

So I’m just skipping to the start of the novel, with a nice facsimile of the original title page…

I had been very positively surprised by Dickens, so I’ve got high hopes for this one, too. The language seems a bit more old-fashioned than Oliver Twist, despite being written some decades later…

But how does it pair with the bread?

I was worried that the bread wasn’t cooked all the way through (because it was kinda light) or that it was going to be very compact (since it’s flat-ish), but it’s perfectly baked inside and very fluffy.

It’s a very nice bread! The best I’ve baked, ever. It’s fluffy, but not insubstantial. The bottom crust is nicely crusty, while the top could have gotten a bit more heat. It’s perfectly chewy on the inside, with perfectly wheaty glutenous action going on without being sweet. I mean, it’s just wheat, salt, yeast and water: No sugar or syrup added, which is a common trick to avoid dryness.

Well, this is a bread I’m definitely going to bake more of. Good reporting by the New York Times once again!

And how does Jane Eyre read?

“[…] under her light eyebrows glimmered an eye devoid of ruth”. It’s fun how some of Brontë’s language could sometimes be modern smarty-pants writing (ruthless -> devoid of ruth).

Brontë does tend to go into great detail about just about anything, but I’ve never read anybody that uses so long sentences that still manage to have them so clear and compulsively readable. She’s got a huge variation in what tricks she uses to keep on going, and on the reader goes with her.

Oh, yeah, this is a strange thing that I’ve seen in a lot of English writers (from the oldee time): Using just the first letter of place names; here it’s “L-“. Are we meant to understand what town this is? Brontë has “stony street” in quotation marks, so is the referring to some L town that famously has a stony street?

If that’s not the point, but just keeping things vague to make them … less specific, then you could just have dropped the L altogether…

I should do some research; I’ve seen this phenomenon in more than a handful of books.

Oh! Another canem auris! So I stopped reading the introduction pretty fast, and then read until chapter seven of the novel before abandoning it.

I think I can see why I stopped reading just here, because the preceding page is a bit snooze-worthy, but reading Eyre now, I’m plenty entertained. Brontë isn’t funny the way (say) Dickens is, but the story is interesting and, like I said, I really like her reading on a sentence by sentence basis…

I thought things got way less compelling once we get to Rochester. He just doesn’t seem that interesting to me, and yet Jane Eyre is riveted by him. I mean… it’s still a good read, but things grow progressively more conventional as the book progresses.

I guess all book-reading British people were expected to know some French at the time… and the weird thing is, I’m just about able to parse that, too, even if I don’t know French. But, after all, it’s a seven year old who makes these French utterances, so I guess it’s pretty basic French.

Hm…

The novel has also been the subject of a number of significant rewritings and reinterpretations, notably Jean Rhys’s seminal 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea.

Oh! I’ve read that book. It was good? It’s been some decades.

Literary critic Jerome Beaty felt that the close first person perspective leaves the reader “too uncritically accepting of her worldview”, and often leads reading and conversation about the novel towards supporting Jane, regardless of how irregular her ideas or perspectives are.

Ah. It was the first novel written as a first-person narrative? Then I do understand why it’s so famous now. Because reading it I’m a bit disappointed.

CCCB: Last and First Men/Star Maker

Wow, it’s Thursday, so something must be baked. And it’s not me!

Years ago, there was a fabulous cookie in the stores here. They were made by Walkers, and they were “stem ginger” cookies. They were glorious. Chewy, flavourful, in your face.

Apparently nobody else liked them, because they disappeared only to be replaced by Walkers shortbread “stem ginger”… things… and like all things shortbread, they’re not any good.

So now’s my opportunity. I can make them myself! Here’s a recipe! But what is even “stem ginger”? I mean, all ginger is “stem”. Or rhizomes. Or roots. Or whatever those things are.

This explains it, kinda. When you cook ginger (first for a while in water and then in sugar), it becomes something called “stem ginger” in many parts of the world, and it’s not quite the same as candied ginger.

So I went a-boiling and then put them in a container and let them sit for a week, and:

Look how… de… lish… ous?

Yeah, OK, they look like Satan’s wet farts, but they taste nice.

Got all my ingredients…

Uhm… my Muscovado sugar looks a bit… er… solid? Yes, solid.

Hah! I’ve got tools!

After blitzing that block of sugar in the blender for a while it got very powdery.

Perhaps a bit too powdery: See that haze over the blender? Yes, I think I inhaled a lot of aerosol sugar. That’s not unhealthy, is it? IS IT

The rest went without mishap. Dry stuff mixed with butter…

Chop chop chop.

Blend blend blend.

Mix mix mix.

Roll roll roll and then into the fridge for 20 minutes because of reasons that aren’t explained.

Chop chop chop.

I never know how much these things are going to expand in the oven, so to avoid to get a Continuous Cookie Landscape thing happening, I went way wimpy this time and only did six cookies in the first batch.

And…

They didn’t expand to 12x their sizes! Who knew!

OK, that’s half done (and I froze the rest of the dough for later, which, according to the recipe is A-OK).

I didn’t quite understand the “Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, making sure that the water isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl” part of the recipe. Vaguely holding a bowl over water doesn’t like something that’s going to make a lot of chocolate melding action happen, does it?

IRC to the rescue: What they’re talking about is this principle:

Trapping the vapour under the bowl. Well, I don’t have a copper Bain Marie, but I’ve got plenty of small pots and pans:

Hah! Take that, oh so Bain Marie.

Melt melt.

Dip dip.

Done!

Well, this is a bakin’ and readin’ blog, so I have to pick a book from my collection of books from the early 90s that I have managed to avoid reading until today.

I pick Last and First Men/Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon.

There’s two reasons I haven’t read this book until now. The first one is silly and the second is deadly:

I hate reading collected editions. It makes reading seem like a chore, somehow. When I’m done with a book, I want to go on reading something else, not more of the same. So I avoid buying collected editions, and will gladly spring for buying five separate smaller paperbacks instead of one giant collected hardback.

But I bought this book, probably in like 1989, because Samuel Delany wrote somewhere that he thought that this was the bee’s knees.

I think.

At least some author I respected thought that this was good.

But when I started reading it, I found it tedious in the extreme. Like, way beyond reading calculus, which I also had to do at the time.

And I haven’t changed my mind there at all.

The book is one of the first science fiction books, and Stapledon is a horrible writer. First and Last Men is the history of humankind from the 1930 on, where we learn of the soon-to-come French/British war, and then the German/Russian one, and then…

It’s all told in the manner above: As written by some omniscient historian from the year 2 billion CE.

I think there’s probably some people who would like this thing. For instance, people who like reading recaps of stories instead of reading stories. And there’s a lot of those, so perhaps this would be a brilliant read for somebody who isn’t me?

Reading this was a soul-deadening experience, and, Reader, I have to admit I couldn’t get through it this time either. I failed! I had to start skimming, and then I started skipping chapters, and then I just skipped to the end.

Here’s the end, on page 246:

Well, that’s not too bad, is it?

BUT THEN THERE”S ANOTHER NOVEL! THIS IS WHY I HATE COLLECTED EDITIONS!

Well, OK, this one doesn’t seem to be written in exactly the same tone, so I’ll give it a go…

Oh, I was going to try the stem ginger cookies while reading.

Mmmm… yum… they’re crispy but also chewy. They could have used more stem ginger, to give them even more chewiness. Next time I’m baking these, I’m doubling the stem ginger.

Dee-lish.

While the first novel was about the history of humanity, the second book is more… lateral. It’s about a person who goes around (in his mind perhaps) around the galaxy, visiting planet after planet, and joining up with minds from each of these planets. So they collectively visit all kinds of strange planets… for page after page after page (did I mention “page after page”?) after page.

This is, after all, a pretty original structure for a novel, so I had expected to last longer, but I just can’t.

It’s deathly dull.

As a catalogue of wonders, it just doesn’t work. Stapledon cycles through all possible extrapolations from the current state of the art (of 1937), and he’s a smart cookie. But he lacks spice.

Mmm. Ginger.

Oh, right…

Well, I started skimming and then skipping and then jumped to the end of this novel, too.

I’ve let everybody down!

CCCB: Composed on the Tongue

IT IS THURSDAY AND I MUST BAKE

I had a lot of egg whites left over from making custard, so I thought I’d just make something very simple to go with this week’s book: Meringue. Olé! Caramba! Gaucho!

But I put lots of liquorice powder into the er dough before piping it onto the silicone.

Not a lot of process pictures… you just whisk the egg whites until they’re really stiff (he said etc), adding sugar during the process, and that’s it.

Then you bake them for 60-90 minutes at 100C and you can start eating as soon as they’re chill.

Sooo chill.

Well, that went fast, so now I have to choose a book to read while nibbling these… things…

I choose… Composed on the Tongue by Allen Ginsberg.

This blog series is about the unread books that I have had the longest in my possession and somehow accidentally on purpose have avoided reading. This one seems to have been bought in 1996, and might be the most recently acquired ones of the books above.

And the reason for not reading it all these years should be pretty obvious. I mean, poetry. I mean. I love poetry, but reading it is just, you know, hard. Even my favourite poet, Charles Reznikoff, puts me right to sleep after a page or two, so getting through a book of poetry takes weeks.

But I get a lot of sleep! That’s healthy, I guess.

Whaaaa… This isn’t poetry! It’s a collection of essays and interviews and stuff! I never knew! I have a strict no-spoiler attitude towards book, so I never read the blurb on the back and basically even try to avoid looking at the cover, really, but that sounds insane so pretend I didn’t write that, but it’s true.

The contents of this book are quite diverse… The first bit is a collection of journal entries about Ginsberg’s encounters with Ezra Pound.

“I found out that after seventy years I was not a lunatic but a moron.”

That’s harsh, Ezra.

Oh, but I was going to see how the meringue goes with the book…

They are super light and fluffy.

Just like the book! So it’s a perfect pairing; especially with the liquorice powder encased in the sugar/egg white body. Nom nom nom.

Anyway, back to the book: I though the most interesting bit was the one where Ginsberg talks to Michael Aldrich and friends about “improvised poetics”.

There’s an interview (done by Yves le Pellec) that has a number of very amusing anecdotes about Kerouac, Neal Cassidy and Burroughs.

The longest section is a transcript of some lectures about William Carlos Williams.

The students interject with questions now and then, and Ginsberg is… er… not always that appreciative. “Phil, you have something relevant?” I’m guessing that Phil usually didn’t.

Oh! I think we had that poem in an English class once! Perhaps everybody does? It’s a good one.

So there we are: This wasn’t the book I expected, but it was an interesting read.

CCCB: El desorden de to nombre

For the baking part of this challenge, I chose the Norwegian delicacy “school bread”, which is a bun with a dollop of custard, and then coconut frosting on the exposed bready parts.

I’m guessing it’s called that because it’s very sweet and kinda fulfilling, what with all the wheat, sugar and egg involved.

Not a whole lot of ingredients, really.

The dough is started by dissolving fresh yeast in sugary milk, and I don’t have a cooking thermometer (hey, hang on a bit… I do! I just forgot) so I used a laser temperature measuring thing. Body temp!

So that’s the dough…

And then there’s the custard which is egg and spices and milk and vanilla…

… that you heat up gently to thicken… The instructions in the recipe I was following were like “and then heat until it’s thickened BUT NEVER EVER LET IT BOIL OR GET ANYWHERE NEAR THAT TEMP BECAUSE YOU”LL DIE! YOUUUU”LLLL DIEEEEE, so I was standing there stirring for what felt like hours until I got bored and googled another recipe which said “oh, whatevs, if it starts boiling just pull it off the heat it don’t make no diffrence”, so I pumped up the heat and…

Presto! Custard! And no boiled yolk bits, but smooth and nice.

Wimpy recipes are annoying.

So you make buns and poke a hole in them were you want the custard to go…

… and then bake! Bake!

So then you cool them off and add some frosting and dip in coconut…

And that’s the end result. I went a bit hog wild with the custard — I think there’s never enough, but there’s too much on these, really.

So now I have the baking goods, and I need to pick an unread book from my the deepest recesses of my to-be-read bookcase. I pick…

El desorden de to nombre by Juan José Millás. Which means something like… er… The Unruly Name? I’m guessing! It probably has a title that Wikipedia can tell me… Hm… Nope…

Oh! “The Disorder of Your Name”. Not that far off. The Norwegian translation of the title means “Unknown Name”.

And that brings me to the reason this book has gone unread since I got it in about 1990:

It’s a translated book, and I have an antipathy towards translated books.

I do read a lot of translated works; I’m not an animal. People write fabulous stuff in all kinds of languages that I can’t read, and to not partake would be to deprive myself of some of the best books that exist. But still. Every time I crack open a translated book, I’m thinking to myself “How horrible is the translation going to be this time?”

And I’m not talking about a philosophical worry about the ontology of whatever, but really: How horrible is it going to be?

If you read any translated book published in the US, you’ll find the translator kvetching for pages and pages and pages about how difficult translations are, and that nothing can really be translated, and no words mean the same thing in any languages, and I understand why the translators put that shit in, because translated works in the US is a novelty: Less than one percent of books sold in the US are translated works. In civilised countries that’s probably like 50%.

I’m just guesstimating on the last bit.

So while the Americans are frittering about preserving nuances during translation (“Hm, maman isn’t quite mother but it’s not quite mummy either, oh! everything is so difficult, let me write a ten page ‘afterword from the translator’ because nobody has ever thought these thoughts before because I’m the first person to ever translate a book”), I’m worrying about how horrible it’s going to be, because most translated books are translated by nincompoops.

They don’t understand the language they’re translating from, and they’re horrible at writing the language they’re translating to.

“#notalltranslators”, I hear you twittering immediately, and that’s true. There are many wonderful translators that are great writers with an in-depth understanding of the language and culture they’re translating from. But that’s not the norm.

And the pair up there? Who did this book? They’re my bête noire.

(Er. What’s the plural of bête noire? I don’t speak French.)

They were amazingly productive in the 80s, and they fucked up book after book that I read. When its from a language that I can understand, whenever they write something really puzzling I can back-translate it into what it must have been in the original language and then I go “ah, that’s what the author meant. Not ‘Proceed, you punk rock musician, create daytime’, but ‘Go head, punk, make my day’. (I wish that was a made-up example.)

But with languages that I don’t understand, with these two my only option is to soldier on, not understanding what’s going on most of the time.

Ah! It’s published by Aschehoug. My sister worked for them at the time and got tons of free books, which is probably how this ended up with me…

So let’s see… “Over en kopp melkekaffe”… That means “over a cup of milk coffee”. So he’s drinking café con leche; i.e., latte?

*sigh*

This is going to be one of those translations, isn’t it?

The other really annoying thing about this pair of jokers is that they write Norwegian as if this were the 1940s, not the 1980s. It’s not just old word forms and stilted sentence structure, but their vocabulary is practically anachronistic in part.

And they’re well-regarded translators, really. They’ve won prizes and everything. Since I’m always right, that just goes to show how people-ey people are.

So how does the baking goods pair with the book?

Chomp chomp chomp. Well, it makes it better. I mean, Millás is pretty interesting anyway.

It’s a supremely 80s book; playing with and teasing the reader in all kinds of different ways. It’s somewhat metafictional, and the protagonist is (unusually enough) an editor at a publishing house. (Protagonists from this era are usually authors.) We get the recap from of a number of short stories he’s reading… but we never get the endings, because he’s too impatient.

It’s fun!

There are incomprehensible paragraphs, but it’s hard to say whether it’s because of a wretched translation or because Millás wanted those paragraphs to be incomprehensible. It’s still a thrilling read now and then.

[time passes]

I wrote the above after reading about half of the novel, and then it turned out that the protagonists starts writing a book… that has the plot… of this book, more or less.

So it checks all the clichés of mid-80s pomo literature. Which I love! It’s my favourite genre.

All thumbs up from me.

CCCB: The Two of Them

It’s Thursday, so I have to pick a book to read. Hickory dickory…

I choose The Two of Them by Joanna Russ.

Many of the books I’ve apparently avoided reading for two and a half decades have good reasons for not being read. This is not one of them.

I bought, at the time, all the books that Joanna Russ had written, and over the years (I try to avoid reading too many books by the same author in a short time period), I’ve read them all except this one.

I’ll let you read the first three pages before I comment.

So this is a typical 70s Joanna Russ book: It’s science fiction, it’s funny, it’s scathing, it dumps you straight into the storyline and lets the reader catch up the best they can.

Russ was a part of the new wave of sf writers in the 70s that wanted to bring the genre forward literally. Literally forward? I guess as part of this cohort were Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany and… Uhm… I forget. Both Butler and Delany are, of course, major favourites of mine, and I’ve read all their books, some of them several times. Delany even had a major, major best seller in Dhalgren (although I would guess it sold 10x as many copies as were read).

Indeed.

This is a quite straightforward sf novel, though. Two interplanetary agents go to a backward planet to er do something, and that’s as standard an sf plot you can get. The planet they go to here is basically Saudi Arabia, and Russ doesn’t so much try to file the serial numbers off as stamp them all over each page. There’s great glee to be had seeing Our Hero (or is she?) putting all those stupid misogynist ka’abalites in their place.

Which, of course, means that this book Would Be Frowned Upon By Twitter these days. Tsk tsk orientalism tsk tsk colonialism. It feels downright naughty to be reading this book.

The author gets involved at some points, imagining other ways the book could go. And it doesn’t really go where you’d think. It’s a thrilling reading experience, and Russ’ deft skill at confusion/anger is something to behold.

And now I’m sad that I have no further Russ books to read. She’s stopped writing now, right?

But I was gonna bake something. Let’s see… how about kransekake, which, in English, is called kransekake. English is such a rich language.

Or do I mean depraved? Deprived? All of them?

Anyway, the recipe is trivial: You mix almonds, sugar and egg whites and put it in the oven. However, there’s like some manual labour involved.

For instance, you have to (but you are) blanch the almonds, which I’ve never done before. You let the almonds steep in hot water for ten minutes, and then you spend half an hour watching MST3K (the new season) while drinking rum’n’coke while er shucking the almonds. It’s very relaxing.

*squeeze* *squeeze* *glug* *squeeze*

I don’t have a grinder, so I ran the almonds (half blanched (but you are) and half not) through a fud perfessor.

I googled around a bit and found a site that said you have to be careful not to run them too long because the almond oil will start separating out from the dry stuff, and you don’t want that. So they recommended running it half a minute, and then put the stuff through a sieve and then run it again.

And I thought… why would you run the sieved stuff again? It’s already flourish?

And while I was standing there shaking the strainer it hit me: They meant run the stuff that doesn’t make it through the sieve in the fud perfessor some more!

Thank you, thank you. No, I won’t accept your Stanford offer; I’ll just be sitting here waiting for the McArthur “Genius” Award people to send me my award.

So you roll out the dough into sausages and then put them into these round shapes. The recipe said “finger thick”, but I’ve got many fingers and some of them are way thicker than other fingers. And other people have bigger hands. And smaller hands!

WHY CAN”T RECIPES BE METRIC

Uhm… I wisely started in the middle of each one because running out of the top rings isn’t nice. They’re supposed to overlap when you build the tower after baking… I mean, I need the smallest rings from all the baking rings, and then the next-to-smallest ones…

I think? MacArthur?

Anyway, do you think these will increase in size much when baking? I wouldn’t think so? I mean, it’s just almonds, sugar and egg whites… I guess the egg whites might make them blow up somewhat, but not a lot? I think? I mean, they’re not whisked or anything?

AAAAAAAAA

Well, it’s good that I did one test first.

Back to the rolling board and roll some narrower ones.

Pop them in…

And… I think that’s pretty spot on? Except for how uneven they got? How can anybody roll with the required precision?

I was afraid they were gonna stick to the non-stick rings, but they didn’t. *phew*

Now there’s only decorating left…

D’oh.

I didn’t know that I had a grinding attachment to my Kenwood that I could have used to make the almond flour instead of the fud professor. I’ve never used it! It would have been an adventure!

Oh well.

After the rings have cooled way off, it time to build the tower.

You use regular glaze to glue the rings together.

Look! It’s a tower! Even if the rings came out way wobbly (and a bit overcooked).

And then… to decorate the cake. As it’s usually served around the Norwegian fourth of July (which happens in May in Norway), it’s usually very flaggy. Here’s a typical example:

But that seems so… uhm… I don’t know. You know.

Surprise reveal:

Unfortunately no stores around here were selling cocktail Anarchist flags (how could they have missed this market segment?), so I had to make them myself! Geez!

Printed out some…

Cut cut cut.

Glue glue glue.

Eating time!

You start at the bottom so that the tower doesn’t become stumpy.

So how does it pair with the book?

The crispy exterior along with the moist, chewy inside is a dialectic that fits the sf-angry exterior of the book with the feminist-angry chewy centre of the book.

Perfect!