BC&B: Pâtes aux Citron, Jambon, et Olives Noires le Procope w/ Quatre-Quarts aux Poires

I had a cold, so I’ve been fixing Emacs bugs instead of cooking, but now I’m back in the kitchen.

This is the first pasta recipe I’ve done from the book? Looks annoyingly simple: It more fun to do elaborate dishes. But perhaps it’ll be delicious. Hm. That list of ingredients makes me doubtful, though.

Because it’s basically just very thin spaghetti with cold olives and ham, and with a … sauce? consisting of lemon juice and olive oil.

I mean: I like lemon, and I love olive oil, but this is a bit ridiculous, isn’t it? Not even a smidgen of sugar to take the edge off? Hm…

So we cut a bunch of prosciutto into strips, and then add the olives, some thyme, lemon zest (!) and the saucy stuff.

I don’t really like super-thin spaghetti. It goes from crunchy to oatmeal in the blink of an eye, but this time I stood there the entire time and tasted. “crunchy… crunchy… crunchy… crunchy… AL DENTE!” *whisk away*

So that’s the dish — the recipe seemed to imply that I’m not even supposed to stir the hammy/lemoney/olivey thing into the pasta, so I didn’t.

So what did it taste like? Well, the prosciutto was delicious, and so were the olives, but man, that lemon thing is just so harsh.

Perhaps going forward I should just stop trusting the recipes in this book, and just start diverging whenever it seems like it’s going overboard in a direction or another. I mean, if this had, like, a quarter of the lemon, and there’s been more herbs and perhaps a pinch of sugar or something, then this would have been great, but it’s… not.

But I ate it all, so.

Oh, the book:

I’ve now come to Outline by Rachel Cusk. Man, that’s a good-looking cover.

Cusk is hot shit now, which is why I’ve bought this book. I’ve been trying to make an effort into sampling whatever people are enthusiastic about instead of obsessively just reading all the novels of a handful of authors, and it’s not going that well. Sally Rooney was just eye-rolling in her attempts to be all abject and stuff, and Patrick DeWitt wasn’t witty enough.

But let’s read the first three pages together.

Hey, that’s not too bad… in fact, it’s rather spiffy. The language has got a kind of languid quality to it that I find very appealing, and it looks like we’re not going to get heavy on plot, which I also like.

Heh heh. Venezuela.

Anyway, this style of writing reminds me of The Paris Review, which is my favourite in-flight reading material: Sharp, smart, amusing. But… it… also seems a bit familiar? Did I read this before?

I did! It’s that novel The Paris Review serialised some years back! Dude! What are the odds! Hah! I liked her before the was popular!

I do remember really enjoying it back then, so I might as well re-read it now. The only thing I remember about it is… that… it’s in Greece? Some bits on a boat with an older guy? And then some … problems in an apartment?

Very vague, and I wonder why I didn’t go out and buy Cusk’s other novels back then since I remember enjoying it a lot. I guess I just kinda forgot. I remember them serialising Roberto Bolaño led to me buying a bunch of his novels…

Anyway, I should make a dessert, and the next thing in the dessert chapter is this cake, which looks very simple and… possibly delicious? I love pear. And this has both pear and pear brandy.

But a very very simple recipe.

So first layer the pear bits. The recipe was really vague about how thick the slices were supposed to be, so I ended up with these chunks? That’s probably not right.

The dough is, again, very simple: Just butter and sugar whisked together, and then eggs, and then flour. I… feel… that my butter was too cold, so I didn’t get enough air into the butter/sugar thing. *crosses finger*

Boo! That didn’t rise at all.

Flat as a pancake.

Well… perhaps it’ll taste good…

From that angle it doesn’t look awful!

Actually… this tastes a lot better than I thought it would do. It’s more of a pie now, I guess, than a cake. The pears are perfectly cooked, and the pear brandy and the vanilla go really well together. It is, shockingly enough, really tasty!

I have to remake this sometime, but do it… better…

Anyway, Outline is fascinating. It’s basically structured around people telling stories to each other and then discussing the stories. There’s no attempt to have each person talk in a distinct voice: They’re all the same person. And that person is very thoughtful and smart and somehow these stories, no matter how slight (or not) seem vital.

I have no idea how Cusk does this, but it’s a delight to (re-)read.

Like I probably said up there somewhere, I didn’t know anything about Cusk other than seeing her books pop up, very prominently, in All The Bookstores over the past couple of years, so I assumed the was new. But she’s not. But I seem to be correct that she’s become a much bigger deal, starting with this book, after having published what seems to be a couple of very controversial books, and having to sort of start over again:

“Without wishing to sound melodramatic, it was creative death after Aftermath. That was the end. I was heading into total silence – an interesting place to find yourself when you are quite developed as an artist.”

[…]

She believes Outline’s “annihilated perspective” might be the “beginning of something interesting” (she is already working on a sequel).

And indeed it was.

I think I’ll toodle down to the bookstore tomorrow and buy the other two books in this trilogy.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Poulet Rôti aux Herbes Pile ou Face w/ Le Cachat

OK; time for more food. The next selections from the Bistro Cooking book in the cheese section is this thing:

It’s… uhm… Simple? It’s chevre with cottage cheese and some herbs.

I did not have summer savory (because it’s autumn), so I just went with thyme.

So you dump it all into a food processor and then run it until it’s smooth.

And then pat down into a bowl.

It’s… uhm… it tastes like… even blander chevre? I mean, cottage cheese doesn’t bring a lot of flavour, and “several sprigs” of thyme didn’t really add much, either?

Then it’s supposed to be covered by a layer of eau de vie, which is apparently French for “any kind of booze that’s not made from grapes”, so I went with a pear liqueur. I don’t know whether that was a good idea or not…

And then into the fridge. It’s supposed to stay there for some days?

OK, on to the main course, which is a roast chicken with a bizarre amount of greenery:

Adding that all up together, that’s almost 200g of green stuff to be slathered onto the poor chicken.

Look!

Greens!

The main greenery was supposed to be sorrel leaves, which are out of season, so I substituted with wood sorrel… but… I should probably have gotten a couple more plants, because it’s almost all stems.

So the final weight of the leaves…

… was less than the recipe called for.

But into the food processor it goes.

Darn. I forgot to take a pic when the fud professor was all full of herbs, because it was an impressive sight. Once it had been chopped up, it’s no longer as exciting.

OK, then the chicken is coated with egg yolks (to make the herbs stick)…

… add salt and pepper …

… and all those herbs.

Now that’s a herbed chicken.

And some butter, of course.

Meanwhile, I baked some bread to go with the dish.

So the chicken went into the oven at 250C, and then baste it ever ten minutes. I’ve recently gotten a turkey baster, so I got to try it for the first time. It’s really effective.

I had kinda expected all the herbs to just turn into ash, but I guess the basting help keep it from burning off. Still, it doesn’t look very pretty now, does it?

After 90 minutes, out to rest for some minutes before cutting.

Then the sauce is made from just reducing the liquids from the pan.

So I naughtily added some tomatoes and bread, and then sliced some bits off the chicken, and there we are.

Oh, but I need something to read!

The next book on the shelf is The Elephant of Surprise by Brent Hartinger. Let’s read the first two pages:

See? It’s a very frothy, teenagery kind of book. I think I’ve read the previous books in this series…

So how’s the chicken? It’s delish! Sort of! I mean, it’s moist and tender and just about perfectly cooked. Goes super well with the ridiculously tasty tomatoes and the freshly baked bread slathered with butter.

But!

Those herb and that sauce… I just don’t get it. Despite there being a great variety of herbs used, I basically could just taste parsley. With a hint of tarragon. If I had had the described amount of sorrel it would have been a different thing, but it was just parsley that came through. Couldn’t taste the chervil or the dill or the sorrel, just paaaaarsley.

If parsley is your favourite thing in the world, this is the recipe for you.

But I had a solution: I just stopped adding sauce to the chicken, and then it was delicious. I ate until I died. Literally. I literally died.

The book paired well with the chicken: It’s also a light, moist and tender treat. Hartinger has a way of writing the way I remember writing as a teenager; full of digressions and bad jokes. But he also does a really weird thing in this book: He goes on these long didactic sections about Freegans, of all things. I know, this book is from 2013 so it was probably a novelty at the time, but now it’s just like “er well that’s a turn of events”.

Hartinger writes the kind of stuff that goes down really easily on a sentence by sentence basis. There’s nothing awkward here and there are no snags. If I were 14, I would have absolutely adored this book, and I kinda quite like it quite a bit now.

Oh, yeah… the cachat… two days later is still tastes like slightly herbed chevre with some pear booze on top.

That’s not bad, but I think I would have preferred eating the chevre just as it came from the shop.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Daube de Boeuf Auberge de la Madone aux Cèpes et à l’Orange w/ Gâteau au Chocolat Le Mas de Chastelas

It’s been a while since I cooked anything for this silly blog series, but I’ve been like busy and stuff. And so I’m going to cheat and not actually read a book (this is a food/book pairing blog, I’m sure you don’t remember).

So just food this time, but it’s food that takes a while to er marinate or something.

Look at all these ingredients! Well, OK, the laptop with SG1 isn’t going into the pot, but the rest is.

It’s basically beef in wine (Boeuf Bourguignon or something), so you need some meat that can cook for a long time, so I chose these, but I’m a bit leery about the one to the right… doesn’t seem fatty enough…

Well, it’s all chopped and in a pot. Easy enough.

Then the wine is added, and then…

… it’s into the fridge for 24h to … get all flavourful or something.

So while that’s taking care of itself, I thought I’d make a cake.

It’s a suspiciously simple recipe, and it’s got a suspiciously small amount of flour…

I mean, these are the ingredients. Chocolate (half a kilo), butter (a quarter kilo), sugar, eggs (ten of them) and a teensy smattering of flour. How is this ever doing to result in a cake?

OK, so first get the chocolate a-melting in a pot-in-pot water bath thing. I know that everybody recommends doing this in the microwave these days, but doing it this old-fashioned way is fine by me: It’s a bit slow, but….

… I’ve got to separate ten eggs! I’m pretty good at separating eggs, but I’m not perfect, so I’m doing it in an intermediate small bowl to catch mishaps.

See? The chocolate is totally melting.

And the eggs are separating! I only fucked up a couple.

Mmm… chocolate…

And egg whites.

And then the butter is dissolved into the chocolate. I have to say, the resulting mess is really, really tasty.

The egg yolks are whipped a bit, and then the minuscule amount of flour is whisked into it, and then it’s all whisked into the chocolate/butter mixture (that’s now cooler).

Now the batter tastes even better!

And then all the egg whites are whisked gently, gently into the mess…

And then into a springform. That’s a heavy cake, dude.

So after I had popped the cake into the oven to bake (for just 15 minutes) I re-read the recipe and saw that it called for a 27cm springform, while I had used a 24cm springform.

OOPS.

It’s a bit overfull, but I hope it’s baked enough now… The recipe calls the baking method “bizarre”: 15 minutes in the oven, then 12 minutes out of the oven with a lid on top to “steam”. Well, there’s no way to put a lid on that, but I put a slightly bigger bowl over it and hoped for the best..

OK, it sank a bit…

What!

OK, it’s more than a bit too moist in the middle (well, runny, actually), but it’s totally, utterly delicious! It’s so light and fluffy! It’s … like… a chocolatey omelet! A chocolate souffle! This is one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever had! Such a clean, great chocolate flavour, with a fabulous light texture.

I’m definitely going to do this cake again, but I’m getting a bigger springform to get a more even bake. Or perhaps I should get out my slide rule and do some maths on how to scale the recipe down.

Wow.

OK, still in a chocolate coma the next day, the meat is now all marinated and stuff.

Smells surprisingly good for a cold casserole of raw meat. I guess it’s the herbs that do it.

I don’t know how well this photographs, but the meat is now purple.

So the red wine is reduced a bit…

And the meat, after being patted dry, is given a good browning. This seems like a pretty strange way of doing it, but then again, I know nothing. But can you even get a good sear after the meat has been in an acid liquid for 24 hours?

Well, I don’t know. Difficult to tell with the purple colour, anyway…

And then the veggies are also sauteed, and then it all goes into the sauce to “barely simmer” for four hours.

A heaping of mushrooms are also sauteed. The recipe calls for cépe mushrooms, which I couldn’t find fresh in the shop at all. The recipe also says that if you can’t find cépes, then use “mushrooms”.

Mushrooms.

I googled and found that some people (especially Americans, apparently?) use “mushroom” as a synonym for champignon, so I got a bunch of those.

Then, after four hours, they’re added to the rest, along with orange juice and orange zest. Smells nice! Looks horrible!

OK, and now I was prepared for something wonderful and… eh… no. Not at all. Was there something off with the orange? I used organic ones so that the zest wouldn’t be all POISON and stuff, but… the flavour… is really harsh. It tastes like I’ve dropped a bottle of orange extract into the dish: It has a horrible, astringent, artificial smell and taste.

WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT.

As for the meat — as I suspected, the leaner cuts were dry, but the fattier bits had the perfect consistency: Moist and totally tender.

But also pretty much inedible due to the orange zest.

Oh, well, I can eat more chocolate cake (with some port) instead. Cheers!

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Tapenado Restaurant Maurice Brun w/ Oeufs en Meurette

This is a slightly unusual tapenade — it’s big and chunky and is supposed to be eaten like an appetiser. Well, I’m on board with that, because I love olives.

I was unable to find olives from Nyons, so I substituted some other, less Nyonneuse olives. I wonder what makes them special… Hm… Ah, they’re called “Tanche” olives. I should try to get some to see what they’re like.

Anyway, the other ingredients are thyme, capers and anchovies, which is the normal ingredients for this sort of thing, I think. And then there’s rum. That’s a bit more speecial. Anyway, blast them in the food processor, but only until they’re chunkily chunked.

That’s not a very… pleasant sight now is it? OK, I’ll sprinkle some thyme over it.

There! I did it!

OK, I have to quickly get started on the book to read while shovelling tapenade into my mouth. It’s Patrick deWitt’s French Exit, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, which is never a good sign. But you can read the first three pages while I’m setting the table.

Caught up?

OK, let’s get eating and reading. deWitt is going for witty and worldly, I guess, while this tapenade is going for super-rustic, so it’s not an obvious pairing. The tapenade is quite good, though. Olives are always nice, and the pop of super-salty anchovies here and there provide excitement. And the rum does do something for it all. Adds a kinda effervescent thing.

Quite nice.

But more food is required, so:

This is basically poached eggs on toast with a red wine sauce. Oh, right, it says to in the subtitle up there.

But so many ingredients for the sauce!

Chop!

Chop!

Chop!

And then this is supposed to really cook for ten minutes to reduce. That’s a lot of wine.

For the toast, we’re supposed to cut out rings of rustic bread with a cookie form thing, but I don’t have that, so I used a cocktail glass.


Poor birb.

Into the oven to get some broiling.

The sauce is thickened by adding a flour/butter mixture to the sauce slowly. It’s not explained what’s the point of mixing them together first is. Wouldn’t doing a normal roux work?

Add add.

Whisk whisk.

And now the toast is ready, so it’s time to do something I’ve never done before: Poach eggs.

So I’ve got my water/vinegar cooking, switch it off, and then I add a couple of eggs and let them steep for three minutes. I managed to get the eggs into the water without burning my fingers! I’m a pro!

That… does… not look very appetising.

But as soon as it’s on the toast it looks delish!

And then I poured some of the sauce over and did my best to eat before the eggs cooled off.

Mmm… almost perfect yolks. Yum yum.

This was pretty good. The eggs are eggs are eggs, but the red wine sauce did add something special to it all. I mean, besides making the plate look like I had committed a grisly murder.

Perhaps there should have been less sauce.

But know I know how to make poached eggs on toast, at least. I should do that more in the future.

I didn’t get to read much while eating the eggs (JUST EAT NO READ), but the books is a bit annoying. deWitt tries so hard to do this style of writing that it comes off more like a proposal for a romantic indie comedy: The characters deliver one line after another like this; always seeing like scripted world-weariness. Oh yeah. It’s being made into a movie.

Quelle surprise.

So I guess it was a successful gambit for the author, but not a win for the reader.

The author piles on the quirks and the repartee and characters, and it almost works. It’s almost a charming book. It’s probably going to be a very charming little movie. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the lead.

The most annoying thing about this book is probably the hapless son: He’s given absolutely no positive characteristics, but even so, a young, stunningly beautiful woman can’t help but love him. That shit’s just not necessary in a novel, but in a movie, it’s a must, of course.

On the positive side… uhm… well, OK, deWitt writes with a light touch. Everything breezes by. It’s pleasant. It’s a nice read. While nothing’s actually funny, everything happens with with a little smirk and a wink.

Except for the requisite third act tragedy to give the movie the required gravitas.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Salade Frisée aux Lardons aux Lyonnais w/ Mon Gâteau au Chocolat

I think I’ll do a salad tonight, because… Salads.

As salads go, it’s not very saladey. I mean, the main ingredient is pork sausage. Those aren’t green. Or not supposed to be green. If you’re eating green pork sausage, you should probably reconsider.

I went to a couple of stores to get endive, but couldn’t find anything. So I finally thought “perhaps it’s called something completely different in Norwegian”, and indeed it is: “Sikory.” Which is very similar to “chicory”, which she mentions up there. Like duh. I should read recipes more thoroughly.

But… it mentions “frisée” in the name I see now. We do have frisee salads here. I mean, it’s nothing like an endive. And I got endives. I think. “Sikory.” But small.

Gah!!!

That’s a frisée! So I got the wrong salad!

Gah!

As if this were not baffling enough, what we in the U.S. (and France) refer to as frisée is in turn called endive in the U.K.

OK, I’m soldiering on with the wrong type of greens…

And Stargate: SG1 and beer to drown my sorrows.

The recipe says “fresh pork sausage”, so I got some raw salsiccia. Which is Italian… but it’s fresh and it’s pork, so…

Mm… looks so appetising simmering for half an hour.

The dressing (Dijon, peanut oil, vinegar) is kinda tasty. I don’t really go for super-vinegary salad dressings, but this one’s nice.

So that’s the sausage in the wrong kind of salad. It would have looked visually better with the frisée, I mean endives, I mean the curly green stuff. It’s so… pale…

She said to cut both the bacon and the bread in one-inch cubes. That’s oddly huge for crutons, isn’t it?

That’s a really unappetising-looking salad bowl, isn’t it? All the colours are somewhere between sickly green and sickly yellow.

But the flavour is kinda good. The sausage is excellent, the croutons could have been more baconey (needs more bacon), and the dressing goes well with it.

The salad should definitely have been endives instead of endives, though.

Since I’m just making a salad (and a cake), it’s fitting that the book I’m reading tonight is a very small one. I picked up The Red Tenda of Bologna by John Berger on a whim at a bookstore the other month because I watched The Seasons in Quincy the other er year. I don’t think I’ve read anything of him before.

So let’s read the first three pages of this slim booklet:

Hey, it’s nice. It’s a reminisce told in these short sections.

And there’s even a recipe in here. Nothing could be more apposite.

Goes well with a salad.

So let’s make a cake, too:

That’s the easiest chocolate cake recipe ever. And I’m already slightly sceptical: I like cakes with lots of flour. I mean, I love chocolate, but I really prefer to eat chocolate as chocolate, and not dissolved into butter and named “cake”.

But let’s see. Perhaps this one will be fab.

So the most important bit: Melting the chocolate with some unsalted butter.

I used the pot-in-pot thing. I think it’s less work than the newfangled microwave method.

Mmm… deli… OK, it looks horrible. But then!

Smoooth chocolate.

And then you whisk some egg whites and beat the yolks into the butter and then add the way-too-little flour and then carefully fold the egg white into the batter and:

Presto! Wrinkly-looking cake!

I may have slightly overcooked it. I tested it (with the wooden stick trick) and it was too underdone and then a second later it was overdone.

But not too bad.

To drink with this cake, she suggests a fortified wine called Banyuls, which I have never had before, I think. It’s basically a French Port.

Mmm… They really do go well together. I had like three slices and er six glasses. Nice.

This blog post is part of the Bistro
Cooking & Books
series.

BC&B: Pot-au-Feu aux Deux Viandes Chez Adrienne w/ Gratin Dauphinois Madame Laracine

OK, time for more bistro cooking and more books.

Today I’m doing this meaty meat recipe, which looks pretty fun. It’s the most complicated recipe so far, with about seven things that have to be timed to be finished at the same time.

And it’s got marrow bones, which I’ve never cooked ever, so that’s even more fun. And, yes, I’m watching Stargate SG1 while cooking.

So the marrows are swapped in leeks.

And there’s two meats being boiled.

Skim skim skim.

And a pot of cabbage…

And a pot of other veggies.


But I gotta have more starches, so I’m doing a gratin again, even if I hate cheeses in dishes like this. But this time I’m going to cheat and just put the cheeses on top, and perhaps it’ll be edible then.

Wine for the cook…

Ingredients for the potatoes.

Weirdly enough, we boil the potatoes in a milk/water mixture first before putting into the oven.

There you go. Looks absolutely horrible.

And then the meats have cooked (along with veggies) for ninety minutes, so in with the marrow bones.

Which cook for half an hour…

… and come out looking like this. Man, it’s like some Japanese horror.

Quick, find the next book to read while eating!

*gasp* What I’m reading for this dish isn’t a novel! It’s… *shiver* non-fiction!

But it’s about comics, so it’s OK, I guess. SEO: Breaking the Frames by Marc Singer.

And I cleverly timed the potatoes to be ready at the same time! I did it!

Din din.

Well, OK, the gratin gambit didn’t pay off: It was still inedible (for me), which I take to mean that it was delicious.

The marrow bones were interesting. I mean, delicious, but interesting because I don’t think I’ve ever had cooked marrow bones before, just grilled. I was afraid that all the marvellous flavour would leech out of the marrow, but the leek did its job: The marrow was still there and so good.

The rest was fine. The meat was super-tender, but a bit on the dry side for some reason. Perhaps I should have gotten fattier pieces? I just took what the butcher handed me.

The broth was very nice indeed.

It’s a really fun book to read while eating.

I mean, it’s impossible not to feel a giddy glee while reading it, because Singer does smart, savage takedowns of a large number of people involved with comics criticism (and more than a few creators). His main point is basically that there are currently two main approaches to writing about comics, and both of them suck. There’s the fandom-generated codswallop that refuses to actually criticise anything, and there’s the stuff written by academics that often seem to not have actually read the comics in question, but write about the form/medium/genre (they’re usually confused about that too) in the abstract.

Zing!

The general rah rah atmosphere surrounding comics is tiring, and Singer skewers writer after writer in terms like the above.

However, I haven’t actually read any of the stuff he’s giving sick burns to, so it’s difficult to say whether Singer’s full of shit, too. I mean, he does quote some people saying abjectly moronic stuff, but sections like the above makes me go “hmm”. I like a number of works written by Alan Moore, but he’s done some problematic stuff for sure. So I’m not “HOW DARE HE SAY ANYTHING NEGATIVE”-ing what Singer’s doing here, but I just don’t understand Singer’s point here. He seems to be willfully misreading Moore: The From Hell graphic novel was, if I remember correctly, dedicated to the five women who were murdered, so Moore isn’t saying what’s being refuted up there. Moore is making the perfectly uncontroversial statement about how we relate to “Jack the Ripper”, which is by now best modelled as a fictional character.

This seeming bad faith reading here makes me distrust Singer’s reading of people I’m not familiar with.

I think the entirety of Chapter 2 is pretty confused and often unconvincing, even if it’s really fun to see somebody take a chainsaw to Planetary and Kingdom Come.

Singer quotes Leslie Fielder from the mid-50s:

The middlebrow reacts with equal fury to an art that baffles his understanding and to one which refuses to aspire to his level. The first reminds him that he has not yet, after all, arrived (and, indeed, may never make it); the second suggests to him a condition to which he might easily relapse, […] even suggests what his state might appear like to those a notch above.

At first I thought that this perhaps didn’t apply that much any more since nobody dares call anything out for being low-brow any more. But then I thought a bit more: Perhaps it’s still accurate? I mean, you have people endlessly obsessing about middle-of-the-road things like Sopranos or Breaking Bad (and all of the rest of the New Age Of Quality TV crap) and how it’s the New Novel and various absurdeties. It’s a hegemonic position that’s full of angst, because they have to sharply delineate against the “bad” TV (i.e., the things that refuses to aspire to being Serious TV), while also having to defend themselves against snobby art world people.

So I think it’s probably pretty much accurate?

Myself, I love trash and I love art and I hate The Sopranos.

Much of the rest of the book is less about skewering other critics than doing analyses of various comics books. This is ostensibly to uncover how badly other critics are reading these works, but it doesn’t read like that’s the reason these chapters were written. Singer gives solid readings of works by Chris Ware, Alan More and Marjane Satrapi, three creators I like, and points out a bunch of problematic things about some of their central works.

But far too often, his complaints seem to come down to, well, that they aren’t, like, nice. Or good. Or something.

For instance, he points out that the central character in Persepolis is rather insufferable (which is true), but then somehow wants that to be a flaw. Reading Singer, he seems upset that that character is full of it, and doesn’t learn anything in particular. I always assumed that that was what Satrapi wanted to do, but it’s possible that she’s as oblivious as to that as some of the critics Singer quotes that valourises the character.

It’s the same with his reading of Ware and Moore: Their works are as ideologically iffy as Satrapi’s, but… so?

The final chapter I couldn’t make it all the way through, because it’s all about Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner, which is Baker’s least interesting book, and one I probably didn’t make it all the way through. It’s b-a-a-a-d, but not even interesting enough to make me want to read a take-down of it. I mean, it was fun to see Singer do that with works I have an interest in, but Nat Turner?

Nah.

This blog post is part of the Bistro Cooking & Books series.

BC&B: Soupe à l’Oignon Pied de Cochon w/ Anchoïade Chez Gilbert

As you will remember from the previous chapters of this blog series (*cough* *cough*), I’m cooking my may through the Bistro Cooking book. So for dinner tonight I’m starting off with:


So that’s an… anchovy… paste thing on toast, I guess?

So here’s the ingredients: It’s really super-simple, once again: Basically just garlic, anchovies and bread. (And vinegar and parsley.)

So first you’re supposed to toast the crusty baguette, and the phrase above stopped me in my tracks. “Set aside; leave on the broiler.” LEAVE WHAT ON THE BROILER? The bread? How do I leave the bread on the broiler? Won’t it get over-broiled?

And after like five hours it dawned on me that she meant “leave the broiler on”.

OH!

OK, that mystery out of the way, there’s chopping…

Toasting…

Putting the anchovies into some water for ten minutes for reasons not explained. (As somebody who doesn’t know what he’s doing at all, it would be really nice if recipes mentioned what they were trying to achieve with certain steps, but I guess there’s space limitations.)

This is to make the anchovies less salt, perhaps? Or less oily? In any case, I don’t think this achieved any of those things, because it tasted as salt before I put it into the bowl of water as before. I mean, they’re oil covered.

And then everything is chopped and mixed together…

And that’s the result!

And…

It’s… really… flavour forward? I mean, it’s basically raw garlic and anchovy bits on toast. If you don’t like raw garlic or anchovies, it’s really going to suck. I love garlic and I like anchovies, but even for me, this was a bit of a shock, because… it’s just that?

I don’t think many people would find this pleasurable, and it didn’t pair with the book (about which look further down).

But for the mains I’m doing the first soup in the book:

Soup time! I love onion soup, despite there being cheese involved. But at least this cheese is going to get fried, so it’s less disgusting.

But to make the soup, I have to make chicken stock, which is something I’ve never done in my entire life.

It’s these veggies…

… and then plonk into a pot with the chicken carcass.

After boiling (I mean simmering) for a while it looks a whole less perky.

And then you separate the solids from the fluids and then let it refrigerate. Meanwhile, I’ll start reading a book!

The next book on the shelf (which I therefore have to read while eating the soup) is Normal People by Sally Rooney. I don’t quite know how I ended up buying this? I must have read somebody mentioning this as something particularly good?

In the months since I bought it, I’ve noticed that it’s popped up several times as a subject on a bunch of web sites, so it seems like it’s become a Big Deal. I’ve avoided reading all those articles, so I have no idea why.

So let’s read the first three pages together:

Well, that’s interesting. I like the way it’s initially rather befuddling, with the author (presumably) playing up the confusion factor by withholding information about what these characters’ relationships are, thwarting the reader’s expectations and making you take stock of what you’re reading. The conventions she uses for dialogues also contributes to the effect.

It’s a very interesting technique.

So it works on a sentence by sentence basis, but the plot and characters bore me silly: To be moronically mean, it’s about a nerd getting sexually involved with a jock The huge twist is that the nerd is an upper class girl who’s all kinds of fucked up (I mean, she’s upper class and all) and the jock is a very sensitive working class guy. But apart from that, we’ve all read this story 10x too many times, and it was pretty boring even the first time around.

Perhaps this mundane over-done subject matter is why it’s getting so much recognition? YA tropes dressed in an adulting literary style?

And just like YA books, there’s plenty of fan service: These paragraphs about how reading books is like great and deep and fantastic are catnip to readers. They tell us that we, the readers, are wonderful, special people. *puke*

This novel takes place like five years ago, and some of the references Rooney makes to even the most trivial stuff is incomprehensible to me. All the guys (in Dublin) wear “plum-coloured chinos”?

What?

These are what these students are wearing? In Dublin? Without getting beat up? Are you sure, Rooney?

Did you mean “khaki”? I mean, I guess some plums are khaki coloured? Or rather, plums exist with all colours in the world, so “plum-coloured” means nothing. “Plum” is a specific colour, but “plum-coloured”?

YES THIS ANNOYS ME.

Rooney’s description of the environs are often on this hand-wavey non-specific level.

OK, back to the soup. It’s basically just the stock, wine and onions.

Shake baby shake. That’s a lot of… collagen?

Half of the wine for the stock, half of the wine for the cook.

So after simmering for 45 minutes, the onions are all tasty and winey and I’m less whiney.

It’s kinda good…

But there’s like no seasoning I mean salt in there. I mean, look at that recipe again:


There’s no salt in it! Or like anything! It specifically says “unsalted chicken stock”. Is that a code word for “quite salty chicken stock”? I mean, it’s possible. Most stock is like 95% salt, so perhaps “unsalted” means “less than 2%”? I don’t know, but this seriously needed more salt.

And perhaps like some spices. Mmm… spices…

The cheesy bits were tasty, though, and… I mean, it’s OK, but it’s not the best onion soup I’ve tasted in my life.

So it’s a pretty good pairing for the book:

The plot feels awfully contrived, what with the sensitive jock getting depressed in the third act so that you can bring everything together nicely.

Of course, we (the dear readers) are much smarter than these literary people in college.

I guess what I find most grating in this maddening book is the way that the characters have these deep reflections upon themselves and their surrounds that sound nothing like what anybody has ever thought ever about anything, but are just like what an author ruminating wildly would type automatically.

OK, I think I’ve typed enough about this book, right? At this point it’s probably not entertaining to anybody, not even myself. But in summary: I think she writes well on the micro level, but it’s a pretty… annoying… book on a macro level.

But let’s take a look at a couple of reviews that I can finally read, like… say… this one.

All of this intellectual sauce has been ladled so thickly over the novel that it’s difficult to make out the shape of its much less grandiose origin, the thing the novel has always done and does better than any other medium on Earth: tell a story about how people decide whom to love and what they do about it. The eternal appeal of this foundation explains why Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë are as much a pleasure to read now as they were 150 years ago.

And let me just snip a thing totally out of context from this review:

As clichéd as it is, Rooney’s work strikes me as relatable: Anyone who has ever tried to define love or purpose will find their food for thought here.

Right. It’s relatable. That’s what people want, I guess?

This blog post is part of the Bistro Cooking & Books series.