passover prep.

Another in a series of bad pictures (of delicious things).

crack

matzah crack, first batch, with birthday sprinkles

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The glass cat paradox.

Opening a box, I found a small glass cat, purple, from Venice I think, that a friend once gave me. To whom besides a cat person would you give a glass cat? But that cat person cannot display it, because the cat would knock it over.

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Leavened.

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Latest loaf, all purpose with some whole wheat and a couple of tablespoons of oat bran, olive oil, molasses as sweetener.

All the years I’ve lived alone, I’ve always kept one of those classic strips of three yeast packets in my fridge. Sometimes it’s been years between attempts to bake with yeast, and sometimes I’ve pulled the packets out to discover they were three years past their use-by date (long even by my loose limits), but they were always a cheap just-in-case item. Well, now I have been baking bread almost every week for a year and more except for the months when it was too hot to turn on the oven, so a few weeks ago I went to the supermarket to pick up another Fleischmann’s three-pack. “$2.79?” I thought. “Really?” I looked at the shelf label and it told me that the unit price was $59.39 per pound (or something like that). Hmph! snorted I to myself, I know that the price for a full pound from (say) King Arthur isn’t anything like fifty-nine dollars. Key Food didn’t have any full pounds to check this, but Whole Foods, when I was lured in there by Z a day or two later, did. Price per pound? $5.39. That is, buying yeast in packets raises the price tenfold. Which is perfectly acceptable if you use one packet a year for three years, but not if you’re baking every week.

Canny Brooklyn shopper that I am, however, I waited till my next trip to Sahadi’s, where I found four different kinds of bulk yeast and got a pound of SAF Blue Label for $4.25. And look how dynamically my latest loaf rose! I always trust Sahadi’s for fast turnover, so I don’t doubt this is the freshest and happiest yeast I’ve ever had; and I am not tempted to skimp on it, but can dip my teaspoon luxuriously.
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Let me know if you want to share my pound of yeast. I figure I have six or eight more loaves till summer, by which time my investment will already have paid for itself,  and then I’ll move the package from the fridge to the freezer for the hot months.

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One way to start a folktale.

chickpea-Cicer-arietinum-also-garbanzo-bean-Indian-pea-ceci-bean-Bengal-gram-is-an-edible-legume-Stock-Photo

aka garbanzo

There was also another standard introduction about a broad bean and a chickpea fighting by a public fountain and being put to jail by lentil, which happened to pass by, but being released after the intervention of a split pea.

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Vintage mysteries by Phoebe Atwood Taylor

A first experience of Phoebe Atwood Taylor

First two experiences, I should say. The very first came about through a coincidence, or accident, suitable to a classic mystery. I cannot fathom why a copy of the 1966 Norton edition of Taylor’s 1938 THE ANNULET OF GILT, one of her series featuring Cape Cod local hero Asey Mayo, should have swum up out of the depths of the Brooklyn Central LIbrary’s stacks and onto the not very extensive Mystery shelves of my local Carroll Gardens branch. I’d never heard of Taylor but this was definitely a Vintage Mystery, or vintage something anyway (a mere glance at the typeface would have told you so), and I snatched it up. When I couldn’t get the self-checkout kiosk to recognize the volume, I brought it to the librarians’ desk. “You’ve saved it,” said the technician, clicking some keys and releasing it to me, “it was due to be discarded.”

In the first sentence it is established that our hero, Asey Mayo, drives a roadster. A roadster!  I doubt I’ve come across many literary roadsters since my Nancy Drew days (and suspect I’ve never seen one in three dimensions). And indeed the book seems to me to affiliate with kids’ adventure books as much as it does with mysteries. The three rambunctious children Asey glimpses in that first sentence are key to the story, and the light tone of their dialogue prevails throughout the book, though Bad Things including murders do happen.  There’s even an elephant. On the mystery side, there are also plenty of clues (though Asey learns some things before we do) and a classic case summary.

I went back to the BkPL catalog to see if there were any more Taylor treasures lurking un-withdrawn, and found one of the mysteries she wrote under the name of Alice Tilton. (As Taylor, her real name, she wrote over 20 Cape Cod-set Asey Mayo stories; as Tilton, half a dozen mysteries featuring secret adventure novelist and Shakespeare lookalike Leonidas Witherall’s sleuthing in the Boston suburbs. She also used the pseudonym Freeman Dana.) This was 1943’s FILE FOR RECORD, reprinted in 1987 by Foul Play Press in Vermont. It too has a lighthearted air, despite quite a nice person getting brutally killed. Where ANNULET develops its Cape Cod atmosphere carefully through landscape (and seascape) descriptions and dialogue styles and accents, FILE FOR RECORD collides its Massachusetts suburb with a classic British country house mystery, including, along with a baffling and decorative (samurai sword) murder, people who say “Er” and “I say,” a gentleman’s umbrella, and a local Major. It is also a WWII home front story: key elements are shortages of gas and of young men, an air raid alarm, and two “victory swop” events. Like ANNULET, it offers us a cheerful, unflappable, modest hero and a likable gang of helpers that accumulates around him. Sample line of dialogue: “‘Turk,'” Leonidas said, ‘move over and make room for the admiral.'”

I enjoyed both novels very much and would happily read any others, in either series, that I come across. I also hope someday to find one of her Freeman Dana stories.

UPDATE: A nice report from mystery blogger Kate at Crossexamining Crime on Taylor/Tilton’s last Witherall mystery, THE IRON CLEW. I had wondered whether the mock-Aristotelian effect of the whole thing taking place in a single day were common to all the Witherall books; it is true of both of these, so I am inclined to believe it is.

Covers, potentially for the Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt: ANNULET OF GILT, a car (a roadster?) fallen off the road; FILE FOR RECORD, a stack of papers stabbed with a knife.

 

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Overheard in Brooklyn, Prospect Park edition

elmblossomAll these within a minute or so on a single path in Prospect Park:

“‘Bunnies and Twinkies,’ she said to me, ‘bunnies and Twinkies, that’s all I want you to think about.'”

“I could do the dark road, too, another time.”

“To steal a Monet . . .”

Witch hazel, red maple, elm, and cornelian cherry are in bloom. (Photo borrowed from the City Birder.)

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Overheard in Brooklyn, junior scientist edition.

On Union Street in sudden warm weather. A girl of about five, pushing her scooter along, her father walking beside her. Insistently: “The SUN doesn’t move. The EARTH moves.” Geez, Dad.

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Neglected.

How can I not have known about this fantastic resource till now? Neglected Books, a work of passion from an American ex-Air Force tech guy living in Belgium and finding, just as promised, neglected (out of print, unmentioned, missing from library shelves) books. His comments are compact but (and?) thoughtful. Thank you, Twitter and the New Yorker’s Page Turner blog, for bringing the blog to my attention.

And now as I read backwards into his 2015 posts I see that it’s no coincidence all the 2016s are about women writers. In fact, he’s carrying over a project started in 2015 to read and report on women only, saying, “I can honestly say that not a single book I read during 2015 failed to challenge me and to open me up to perspectives and sensibilities I had never really taken the time to consider.” Brad Bigelow, you’re my new hero.

Cinema phile.

I went to a movie with Zach, HAIL CAESAR!, at the modest local movie house. I was happy to see that the theater, admittedly a small one, was basically full for a Saturday afternoon grownup movie. “All the grownups in Carroll Gardens are here,” said Z. (The ones not owning children: those were flocking to ZOOTOPIA, also at that theater.) So much more pleasant than the modern zilloplex up the road. Plus they are showing the National Theatre HAMLET on Wednesday. I wonder if I can find an unemployed friend to go to the 2:00 show with me.

Anyway, HAIL CAESAR. Silly but handsome and basically good-natured, kind of like George Clooney’s character, now I think of it. You do suspect that the Coen boys thought of the movie genre setpieces and stock characters they’d like to recreate and then came up with a “plot” to connect them together. I mean, kidnapped by Commie screenwriters (to a modernist cliffside gem in Malibu)? Go for: the water ballet; Scarlett Johansson’s accent; the sailors’ musical number; Josh Brolin’s sincerity; the adorable Alden Ehrenreich; Clooney’s beefy, sandal-strapped calves; and the palmiest palm trees. I even enjoyed Tilda Swinton’s double act. I will have to quit saying I can’t stand her.

Relativity in daily life.

Dressed for lunch with a lawyer, I headed first to my local library, where they are accustomed to see me in my casual, not to say shabby, neighborhood clothes. Explanation? “I’m going downtown, that is to say, Midtown, which of course from the South Brooklyn perspective is uptown.”

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