06 May 2009

Clever Maids

I have had a hard time finishing books lately. I finally set aside Miss Leavitt's Stars, about how we learned to determine the distances between the stars and between the earth and the stars. It was interesting, but I have a kind of blind spot or handicap when it comes to the details of physics. (I love the big concepts, though.) A sort of mental fog keeps me from comprehending basic mechanics. Ah well.

I have also been rereading Ward Just's 21 Stories, which is a mass-market paperback, and so fits nicely in my purse. And the stories are really excellent. But they seem to get rather more depressing as the book proceeds, so I have been correspondingly less inclined to take it out of my purse.

With Clever Maids, I've finally finished something. It's a decent read, about the female sources of the fairy tales we're accustomed to attributing to the Brothers Grimm, and has some biographical interest. But the author seems to have an axe to grind, which can get annoying. She keeps noting that the Grimms never thanked their female sources by name in their publications. Surely it would've been nice if they had, but I wonder if such public acknowledgment was really the custom in the early 1800s. The Grimms were folklorists--they never claimed to be the tales' original authors.

Still, nice to know a bit more about the Grimms and their process for collecting and setting down stories. The book is less interesting for its analysis of the tales, which is (to say say the least) not subtle. For fairy tale analysis, I prefer Maria Tatar's Off With Their Heads.

05 May 2009

Painting Class

Taking an art class as an adult feels funny. It's like kindergarten all over again: you wear a smock, make messes, cover your hands and forearms with multicolored streaks. It brings back memories: how it always seemed impossible to get the paintbrush clean just by swirling it in a cup of water.

Now I do manage to get the brush clean, but I remain pretty inept at things like circles and straight lines.

Today's class was about colors--we mixed primary colors with each other in different percentages to make a color triangle and mixed primary colors with complementary colors in different percentages to make earthier tones. Cool! But I definitely felt kindergartenish--using my finger would have worked better and been a lot more satisfying than mixing globs of paint on my palette with a knife.

04 May 2009

Chinese Broccoli

Last week I visited two different Asian markets for the first time: Tai Nam, which is in a shopping center on N Broadway just south of Argyle, and Golden Pacific, which is about three blocks north of Argyle on N Broadway. Part of the reason I wanted to check out these markets is I had read that they offer Japanese products, and for some time I have been looking for this dressing, which we used to get from our local Japanese market when we lived in Columbus. I have had a hard time finding it here, except at Mitsuwa, but since we don't have a car, we don't get out to Arlington Heights very often.

Anyhow, while I didn't find this dressing, I did find all sorts of other fun stuff, including pan-fried noodles, fried onions and fried garlic (makes a tasty garnish for stir-fries and salads), miso soup mix, pomelos, and chinese broccoli.

I didn't know for sure it was chinese broccoli until I looked it up; in Tai Nam there was such a tremendous array of unknown (to me) green vegetables that I just picked a bunch and hoped it would be good. It was. Strong-flavored when raw, but cooked with a sweet chili sauce and served over those pan-fried noodles, chinese broccoli tastes just delicious.

Hunting around the ethnic neighborhoods and markets around the city for groceries makes eating at home a terrific adventure. And cheap!

01 May 2009

April Showers, Chicago Style

It's been a pretty cold, wet spring, and everybody's complaining about it. I don't know how many times I've heard people say that Chicago doesn't have a spring; just (beautiful) fall, (brutal) winter, and (beatific) summer.

It isn't true. Chicago absolutely does have a spring, but those of us who've lived in warmer climes just expect it to start sooner and be milder. Since March began, we've rarely had snow (and snow sometimes in spring is only to be expected--think of Yukio Mishima's Spring Snow) and temperatures have rarely--if ever--descended into the 20s. Crocuses and daffodils started to appear in March; migratory birds have been passing through since late February.

The tremendously rainy, chilly April has demoralized everyone, but rain in April is hardly out of place.

(Don't make me repeat that old rhyme.)

I'm no particular fan of freezing or searing temperatures, but I really enjoy having four seasons. There are so many ways we lose touch with the outdoors; changes in weather remind us that we are subject to something beyond our own little plans. In winter, I make a point of watching for wintering ducks, and tracking how the harbor freezes and thaws. We stay home a lot more, but our lives are usually so outward-focused that it feels kind of like vacation. We rent a lot more DVDs and cook heartier meals.

In spite of the damp chill of the current spring, I've been delighted with the new flowers, the trees just beginning to bud and leaf out, the determined (and euphoric) singing of birds, and spotting species I haven't seen since before winter began. In the harbor, on the lake, and in nearby ponds I've noticed ducks and geese pairing up. In the parks, red-winged blackbirds have been extremely vocal about their territories.

So what if it's been cloudy and gray?

The sun will return in good time.