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!

CCCB: Oliver Twist

It’s Thursday, so it must be time to bake something and read a book I’ve avoided reading for a couple of decades.

I’ve done cake and cookies, so why not bread? Nutty bread. Looks like the flour:nut ratio is 25:10, and I have no idea whether that’s like totally nuts.

I have baked a couple of loaves of bread before, but they’ve never been like actually any good.

So much ingredient.

I got to use the fud professor attachment to the kitchen machine. I may not have picked the right blade, though, because the nuts came out very unevenly chopped. On the other hand, the recipe said to do that to give some textural variety, so… Probably a bit on the coarse side, though?

Making the bread dough is a breeze with a kitchen machine with some oomph, so I don’t have to actually use any muscles. Except when cleaning up, as I seem to have smeared the machine with honey.

D’oh!

Wow, that’s some active yeast… it… like… quadrupled in size.

I’ve never handled dough that’s this sticky before. It’s absolutely impossible to do anything bready with, so I just kinda scooped the d’oh into the forms and hoped for the best…

And, yes, it’s a arisen again! Raise the bread!

Cool, baby.

Oo. I thought this was going to be very dense because of all the nuts, but it’s kinda fluffy.

Mmmm… butter on the bread while it’s still hot…

And some brown goats cheese.

And how does it pair with the book? Excellent! The nutty buttery goatey chocolatey (OK, I made hot chocolate to drink with this) goes great with Dickens’ witty and exciting book about that hapless waif.

I have to say (well I don’t I just told a lie ha!) that I’d rate this bread a “well, that’s quite OK then”. It’s the first thing I’ve baked in this blog series that’s like successful.

Am I getting better at this or is this just a fluke!? Tune in next week for

oh I have to talk about the book, too.

For this week’s eeney meeney miney mo of books that’s been sitting in my bookcase, unread, since the late 80s/early 90s, I choose… well, you’ve read the title of this blog post, so it’s probably no surprise. It’s Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

And the reason that I have it but didn’t read it is because I WON”T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME. I read tons of books, but whenever I have to read something, it’s just torture to motivate myself to read it. It’s insane and counter-productive and weird, but there it is. I remember once in like fifth grade we were assigned a book to read over the holidays and write about and we could pick pretty much anything we wanted. I picked a book I’ve already read, and the teacher asked why, and I said “well, then I don’t have to read it”.

Instead I read dozens of other books.

What can I say? I’m counter-productively lazy.

This book is an artefact of me taking English at the university, and I just couldn’t bring myself to read it. And looking at that first page, it does look a bit eh.

Whaaa? I’ve never seen an upside-down y typo before.

Anyway! As you all know, it’s a very funny, very angry book. Dickens is relentlessly witty, and is scornfully sarcastic about all persons in charge. And it’s an exciting, classic adventure story, to boot. I’ve seen several movie/tv versions of it, so I know just about what’s going to happen, but there’s so much pleasure to be had from Dickens’ writing. It just flows so well: It’s entertaining and smart.

It’s such an effortless read that I started wondering whether this edition had been updated to modern English or something, but no: I found somebody that had helpfully shot a picture of a 1837 page, and it’s pretty much identical, except for some slight changes in punctuation, as far as I can tell.

Oh! An ear! So I didn’t bail at the first page, but made my way to chapter 13 before I stopped reading back in… 1991? Something like that?

I have no recollection of having read bits of it before, so apparently reading a novel as a required assignment was so traumatic that I’ve suppressed the memory.

It’s a delight to read now that it’s unrequired reading.

But while it’s fun, in the final third I got to the “I want to read this book forever” slash “bored now” point. Dickens is padding out the storyline quite a bit with atmospheric bits (like the above). While it’s fun in isolation, the loss of tension in the third part is palpable.

So Dickens is nice, but what about the edition?

The reproduction of the artwork is shockingly bad.

But worse are the footnotes. Here’s a footnote after “crowd at the execution”, and I innocently flipped to that to see what the editor had to say, and…

Boom! Spoiled the next-to-last chapter of the book. Nice work, asshole. So I had to stop reading the footnotes and never found out what a “paviour” was.

CCCB: The Place of Dead Roads

It’s Thursday, so it must be time for some baking and an old book.

I decided on ginger nuts, and I wanted a recipe that would give me slightly soft cookies. So I went for one with syrup. Does that makes sense? I don’t know? Do I look like I know what I’m doing?

There’s an extraordinary amount of butter in this… 250g butter vs. 400g flour. Does that even make sense?

Melting the butter in the syrup… Look how delicious that looks! LOOK!

Eww.

Fold fold.

Yeah, that’s an appealing colour. I took one quarter of the dough and added liquorice powder, because I wanted to experiment. But no matter how much powder I mixed in, the dough tasted like… dough… So I may be giving myself a heart attack.

Most important of all, I got to use one of the attachments to my kitchen machine that I’ve had for a while but never found a use for: A spice grinder thingie. It works well, but it’s fiddly: The finest powder seems to migrate to underneath the rubber sealing ring, no matter how hard I fasten it…

Roll roll…

Bake…

Er… flattening…

Growing!

Totally flat!

Well, that was a bust. Not only did they flatten out way too much, but I burned them. I tasted a couple and they were… not very good. To the trash can.

I should perhaps add more flour? I don’t know? But the dough is super-hard and that doesn’t seem likely to happen, so…

Paper cups!

Now then!

Uhm…


Mushrooms!

And…. I undercooked them.

Next try!

Ok then!

And… they turn out to just not be very good. If I bake them X amount of time, they taste like dough, and if I bake them X+3 seconds, they get hard and greasy at the same time.

And the liquorice batch weren’t much better. I’d rate them…. almost edible?

That’s an awful recipe. Or I did something really really wrong.

I hope the book’s better!

It’s The Place of Dead Roads by William Burroughs.

I remember when I bought this: It was one of my first trips to London, in 1993. I went there with a friend to see a week-long series of concerts called The Thirteen Year Itch. It was a showcase for the British record label 4AD, and I was all agoggle.

I was in my early 20s and made my way to all the record shops and bookstores in London, I feel, and had a suitcase filled with goodies when I left. I remember… Sister Ray on Berwick Street? And several other record shops around that area. Sister Ray was mind-boggling. I remember buying a bunch of Angela Carter books at… Blue Moon Books?

And then I bought a bunch of inter-leck-tuals books at Foyle’s. Just the size of that place intimidated me. I remember getting… I think Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow there at the same time? And a couple of Burroughs books because I had read Naked Lunch.

But I never read this book, because… I was kinda over Burroughs already, but bought it because it was something to buy. It’s not that I didn’t intend reading it, but you know.

It’s not quite what I expected slash dreaded. This is a book from 1983, and is much more subdued than Burroughs’ well-known 50s/60s work. It’s a fairly straight-forward narrative novel about a gay Western gunslinger, and has all of Burroughs’ ticks. It’s an entertaining read.

You gotta love these anti-dog rants. “… ingratiating, cop-loving …” There’s also long loving descriptions of all kinds of guns.

The narrative drops into dreams and fantasy without much preamble, so you gotta pay attention. It takes a while to get into the rhythms of any writer when starting a book, and that Burroughs takes a bit more time than most isn’t that surprising.

It’s written in third person most of the time, but Burroughs drops into “I” at particularly exciting points, and things get perhaps a bit more verbal? I thought that we were going to see Kim Carsons killed. Instead the bit after the colon is just a description of what reputation that punk was looking for.

But once I got into it, there’s so much fun stuff in here. Burroughs is funny and he writes exciting bits when he wants to. But, of course, he’s more into confounding the reader than telling gunslinger stories, which is fine.

Burroughs plays a bit with dialect, which is fun, but he also uses odd spellings in non-dialogue text. Or is “opponenet” just a typo? If so, there’s an awful lot of these, so perhaps it’s just bad proff-readding?

It’s all of Burroughs’ obsessions (guns and drugs and sex) quite condensed, but it’s a sometimes-exhilarating read. The bits about taking out mobsters and fashioning a new world were a lot of fun.

But then there’s the third part:

It’s a time slip thing, and we go forward to the present (i.e. 1984) through a series of not very developed scenarios, and then to Venus, and then we slip back again…

… and this part of the book was a bit of a slog for me.

But I was overall surprised at how enjoyable a read this was. Nine thumbs up. Makes up for those horrible cookies.

And I’ve got one more Burroughs to do in this blog series.

CCCB: Haunted

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It’s Thursday, so it must be time to pick an ancient unread book from the bookcase and bake some cake.

The lucky winner this week is Haunted, a short story collection by Joyce Carol Oates. This is a collection of horror stories published in various magazines:

It’s time for a shocking confession: I’ve never read anything by Joyce Carol Oates. She publishes about 75 books per year, but I’ve still somehow managed to avoid all of them. And it’s weird, because I enjoy reading her essays in The New York Review of Books, but it’s just not… happened.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve had two of her books sitting unread on my bookshelves since 1996.

But still, I didn’t know what to expect here at all. And this turns out to be a pretty grisly collection of horror stories. Let’s give you a flavour:

Spooky, Gothic, unnerving, and it’s sometimes a bit on the horrific side for me, and I used to be a horror movie enthusiast. But still, thrilling, and I’m looking forward to reading the other book of hers that’s on that shelf.

I don’t have anything interesting to say about the book, though, so let’s get to the cake:

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Eek.  That’s whole lot of cream on the cake.

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But it’s banana-ey deliciousness from Betty Crocker.  And it’s delicious.  Mmm.  Bananas, banana bread, banana frosting…

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And look how well it pairs with the book. Excellent.

Banana.

CCCB: Mind as Passion

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Eenie meenie… It’s Thursday, so time to pick another book to read from the cache of my most ancient unread books and bake another cake.

And this time the lucky winner is Susan Sontag: Mind as Passion by Liam Kennedy. Which I apparently bought at a sale in mid-90s (so it’s a bit newer than most of the books here, I think).

Back when I was pretentious teenager (before maturing into a pretentious adult), I used to read books written by all kinds of intelligent people (preferably in places where people could see me reading them), and Susan Sontag was one of them. I vaguely remember On Photography and… er… Notes on “Camp”? Was that a book or just an essay in a book?

Oh, yeah, it’s in this one:

Isn’t that a stylish edition?

Anyway, I was a fan, so I picked up this book about Sontag and never read it. Because you know.

It’s not really a biography, but it’s an overview of her writings. Here’s a sample:

But the thing is, I’m not really that interested in reading about Sontag’s writing. It’s interesting to have it contextualised to see what she was writing against, I guess, but it just mainly reminded me that I probably should be re-reading Sontag instead of reading this book.

It’s refreshing to read a British take on her writing. And, I mean, it’s well-written and all.

Let’s look at the cake instead:

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The cake to go along with the book is ginger layer cake with rhubarb fool.

Look at my expert decorating skillz!

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It turned out pretty delicious, although I over-baked the ginger cake by a couple of minutes.  (I was watching Xena, and I couldn’t find the time buzzer thingie.)  And the rhubarb for the fool could probably have been a little less wet — the fool turned a bit more runny than was probably warranted. I mean. A lot more runny.

But it was pretty delish anyway.  Mmm.