Sarah Vowell

25 02 2009

wordyassassination-vacation1partly-cloudy I don’t really read a lot of non-fiction, I don’t have the attention span for it. My sister and I are opposites on this – I like to escape into reading, she can’t be bothered with a book filled with lies. Of course, there are exceptions – she loves Harry Potter, I love Sarah Vowell.

I wish I could say I found out about Sarah Vowell by listening to “This American Life” or catching some article she wrote for “The Village Voice” or something. However, I knew nothing of her until I watched The Incredibles dvd extras. She was the voice of Violet and had a little feature bit about how the producers cast her. And it was hilarious and totally sounded like someone I wanted to hang out with all of the time – so I went and bought Assassination Vacation, which was the radness.

Now, I’ve finished The Partly Cloudy Patriot and just started The Wordy Shipmates and think that Sarah Vowell is my new hero. She’s wicked smaht, almost to the point where I don’t know if I’d be able to actually have a conversation with her because her breadth and depth of knowledge is intimidating. She’s one of those supernerds who’s so comfortable and funny about her extreme nerdiness that everything she does ends up seeming cool. For example – Assassination Vacation chronicles her tour of the country visiting various landmarks devoted to presidential assassinations. And it is captivating. I already have American history geek inclinations (I come from a family of history majors who’s idea of a a great weekend is walking around the Antietam battlefield) – she makes them okay. Because not only does she find interesting little known facts about the subjects, she also drops pop culture references and personal anecdotes to keeps her essay from falling in the the pit of dry, boring recitations of events that normally send me screaming from non-fiction. Seriously, she analyzes the failures of Al Gore in 2000 using quotes from Revenge of the Nerds II and My So-Called Life and later got Stephen Colbert to narrate the essay for the audio book.

So, it doesn’t matter if you’re like me and generally can’t make it past the first 30 pages of most non-fiction, or if you’re like my sister and can’t justify spending time reading “stories” – I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re going to dig something by SarahVowell. Break out of your comfort zone and learn something. And embrace your inner nerd.

[Also – all of the books have awesome cover designs. This makes me happy.]


The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

19 02 2009

little-giantThere are lots of different definitions of perfection.  I have, like, 18 different “perfect” days.  The one that happens most frequently is the quiet perfect day – you know, the one where you wake up feeling rested and your coffee comes out perfect and you actually have appropriate breakfast food and the sun is shining and it’s the perfect temperature and the whole day just unfolds wonderfully, but when you go to describe it all you can say you did was not much of anything.  Well, that’s kinda how this book is.  Perfect in a quiet way.

Truly Plaice, the narrator and star of the story, is far from perfect.  Huge since she was born, she never stops growing and never fits in.  She has a beautiful older sister, a drunk of a father and a mother that died giving birth to her.  She has to fight for every little happiness in her small town, and she knows it.  Truly isn’t upbeat, she isn’t an optimist, this isn’t a book of sunshine and rainbows.  This is how she describes her relationship to her sister:

“My whole life, people could never understand how someone like Serena Jane had ended up with someone like me for a sister, but the answer was easy, if you thought about it.  The reason the two of us were as opposite as sewage and spring water, I thought, was that pretty can’t exist without ugly.  Even without looking at my puddle-brown eyes first, everyone still would have noticed that Serena Jane’s eyes were the promising blue of the Atlantic in July, but I made it a sure bet.  I made my sister beautiful without her even trying.”

That’s kinda the theme of the whole book – balance and opposites.  Because, compared with Truly, just about everyone is opposite, but she’s still able to find her balance.  The book is populated with a cast of incredibly well defined characters and Tiffany Baker has a knack for description that doesn’t attract attention to itself until you realize you have a completely formed picture of this world living in your head.  And all of that is very nice, but what makes this book so damn good is Truly.  She carries a whole world of hurt inside of her, and there were plenty of times that my stomach felt sick in empathy, but she manages to find her joy eventually, and that’s really all a person can want in this life.  There’s really not much more to say about this book, just like the perfect quiet day, describing it in detail would be a disservice.  It’s something you have to experience for yourself.

[Side note:  My perfect day that happens least frequently is the one where I wake up well rested to find out I have obscene amounts of money.  This has happened a sum total of 0 times, but I haven’t stopped hoping.]

Music Notes from El & Lo

18 02 2009


Lauren: I generally don’t like Paul Simon.But I really like Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard.Elizabeth: I like the You can call me Al songMainly for the videoLauren: Chevy Chase makes everything better.I like Cecelia too. Elizabeth: Yeah, I actually do like Paul SimonI like my rock a little softer and infused with folkLauren: Those are about the only songs I really dig on by him.Elizabeth: Do you like him with the Garfunkel?Lauren: I generally do not like my rock a little softer, and USUALLY (with some notable exceptions) I try to keep folk out of it.Not really.Actually, I fucking detest Bridge Over Troubled Water.I hate that song like I hate American Pie.Elizabeth: But, what about that awesome recording I did of it and gave to you for your birthday last year?Lauren: Oh.Um.I mean…that was great….Elizabeth: I know it wasI made itSo, you really just hate the Simon and Garfunkel versionwhich I guess is fair, they didn’t do a rap in the middleLauren: SO TRUE.Because THAT was AWESOME.Elizabeth: Just call me MC Scat Cat!Lauren: YOU did that song with Paula Abdul!?Elizabeth: Oh, no! I just modeled my rappin’ skillz on him!


Why Did You Think We Call Him Big Easy?

18 02 2009
Fact: This picture is from Google Images and is titled "Irish Baby"

Fact: This picture is from Google Images and is titled "Irish Baby"

Elizabeth: I’m pretty sure if you have booze on hand, everyone will be happy. Lauren: Don’t I always? My baby is a drunk.Elizabeth: True…I just don’t like bringing it up. Are we going to have a baby drunk intervention?Lauren: I guess we should. Right?Elizabeth: I don’t know…is the drinking ruining his life and the lives of his loved ones? Has he killed anyone yet? Is he a baby? I’m pretty sure if the answer is yes to any of these, then some sort of intervention or rehab is necessary.Lauren: Oh no! He IS a baby!Elizabeth: Crap…we totally need to intervene. I’ll call A&E. Lauren: Arts & Entertainment?Elizabeth: They have the show “Intervention” that documents…interventions. Lauren: Oh. I would know that if I had cable. Elizabeth: True.

Lauren’s son, Big Easy, was learning how to walk around this time.  Anyone who has spent any time around a kid at that stage knows how hilarious they look stumbling around like El after last call (one of the many reasons flats are necessary when drinking). Lo is a good mom and does not get her child intoxicated.  Please don’t call CPS.

Oh, Elinor Klivans! You Are a GENIUS!

15 02 2009
Hello, lover.

Hello, lover.

So Superbowl Sunday compelled me to have a very waistline unfriendly gathering at my house with a few people, pre-Valentine’s Day (which I hate). I made penne with vodka sauce and these OMGAMAZING cupcakes I found in the (apparently) new-favorite Cupcakes! book. There was also carmelized onion and rosemary bread courtesy of the Crazy Greek which totes gave me a food boner and coconut macaroon that Leighleigh made and DOUGHNUTS. We all left 75 pounds heavier. But the MORAL of the story is that you need to make these cupcakes posthaste. The ingredient list is simple, making them is simple, they look simple, and they will make your brains fall out of your head. I found that the Sticky Fudge Frosting (which truly lives up to its name) makes enough for 2 dozen, while the cupcake recipe itself only makes 1 dozen, so I just HAD to make another batch tonight. And even though it wasn’t baked, I’m going to post that penne with vodka sauce recipe. It got rave reviews and made some fucking badass leftovers. Why are you still sitting there reading this?? MAKE THE GODDAMN CUPCAKES ALREADY. But just in case you’re curious, I spend my evening on VD watching the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the SHIT out of the Pittsburgh Penguins. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. It was rad. Okay, now go make the cupcakes.

Butter Cake Cupcakes

  • 1 1/4 cup CAKE flour (it’s important that it’s cake flour, trust)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line 12 muffin tin cups with liners.
  2. Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl and set aside (I don’t have a sifter, so I just whisked it for awhile.)
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until each is blended. Add vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes.
  5. Add flour mixture (at low speed, duh) and milk, alternating in 3 and 2 parts, respectively. Mix until just incorporated and the batter looks smooth.
  6. Fill liners with about 1/4 cup batter and bake 19-22 minutes, or until tops spring back when you push them. Cool cupcakes in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan to cool on wire rack for as long as you can possibly stand it.
Chocolately goodness, now in mah belly.

Chocolately goodness, now in mah belly.

Sticky Fudge Frosting

  • 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tbl. unsalted butter
  • 1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  1. Put chocolate, butter, condensed milk, and salt in a heatproof bowl or the top of a double boiler and place it over, but not touching, a saucepan on barely simmering water. (Pyrex is your best friend here.)
  2. Cook, stirring constantly, until chocolate and butter have melted and the frosting is smooth and thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from water and stir in the vanilla.
  3. Scrape chocolate mixture into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until frosting thickens further and cools to lukewarm, about 2 minutes.
  4. Elinor says to frost the cupcakes immediately, but I say you should let the stuff stand about 10-20 minutes to let it thicken further and it’s SO MUCH EASIER to spread. I wouldn’t lie to you! Use a small spatula to frost them, then consume and pretend they have no calories.

I Am Patting Myself on the Back Right Now.

10 02 2009

Because of this:



I was bored tonight so I baked some of my trust ol’ BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES EVER, from the ATK cookbook. I didn’t have any semisweet chips, so I used the milk chocolate I had. This made them…comfy. AND! The best part is that they look like fancy cookies you’d see at a bakery! My cookies never look that nice! They always look like I just threw them on the cookie sheet so I would quit eating the dough. NOT THAT IT EVER HAPPENS THAT WAY. Ahem. I just wanted to share my happiness. That is all. Good day.

Come Mr. Tally-Man, Tally me – HEY! Where’s My Goddamn Banana??

7 02 2009
Contrary to popular belief, this shit was NOT bananas.

Contrary to popular belief, this shit was NOT bananas.

I was SO STOKED for these cupcakes. Banana Butterscotch from the Cupcakes! book by Elinor Klivans. I love banana, I love butterscotch. A melding of two delicious flavors, yes? Well, actually, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, these cupcakes are good. I am, however, fairly certain that all of my teeth fell out of my head. Just now! They’re reeeeeaaalllllllllllly sweet. And that is an understatement. And the banana!? TOTALLY LOST TO THE BUTTERSCOTCH. I’m going to have to find a way to improve upon this recipe. When I do, I’ll post my revised version. It was just…disappointing. Not, like, Chinese Democracy disappointing. More like…Foo Fighters disappointing (I hold that for the caliber of musicians that are in that band, the music should be a lot more interesting. You won’t change my mind, so don’t bother.) I think I need to up the banana quotient by another banana and lay off about 1/4 cup of sugar. The frosting is good, but would taste a lot better if the banana flavor were more apparent in the cupcakes. You can’t see me right now, but I’m making a frownie-face. I hate when my baking fails me. Also, I am shaking my fist at Elinor Klivans, even though I’m sure she’s perfectly nice and didn’t mean to ruin my Saturday night. Whatever. I’ll just pawn them off on my dad tomorrow. That guy loves him some sugar!

Banana Butterscotch Cupcakes aka DISAPPOINTMENT CAKES

  • 1 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 6 Tbl. unsalted butter (3/4 stick), room temp.
  • 1 cup sugar (try it with 3/4 & let me know what happens)
  • 2 med. bananas, broken into 1″ pieces
  • 2 lg. eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (any fat content)
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips (again, try 3/4 cup here. JUST DO IT.)
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Line 12 muffin tin cups with paper liners.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until blended and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add banana pieces, mixing til blended. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well in between each addition. Add vanilla and beat for 1 minute.
  4. On low speed, add half of the flour mixture, mixing just to incorporate it. Mix in the buttermilk and then mix in the remaining flour mixture until it is incorporated. Stir in the butterscotch chips.
  5. Fill each paper liner with a scant 1/3 cup of batter. Bake about 25 minutes (in my oven, they probably could have been done in 23). Cool for 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack.
  6. Remove cupcakes from pan onto wire rack. Eat and feel funny about not tasting any of the banana. Make frownie-face, and decide to post on blog anyway.

Butterscotch Frosting That Will Make Your Teeth Turn to Dust

  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (next time, this will become 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the half and half and brown sugar over low heat, stirring often, until sugar melts. Increase the heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, and boil fro 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour into small bowl and refrigerate until cool (mine took about 30 minutes).
  2. In a large bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar on low speed until smoothly blended (this could take a couple of minutes). Add vanilla and brown sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
  3. Use a small spatula to spread the frosting. This shit is NOT pipe-able, fancy decorators. Eat, feel super-bad now about the lack of banana, and vow to do better next time. YOU MUST!!