Old book stack

Books, Books, Books!  (Photo credit: Palmerston North City Library)

I’ve completed updating my 2012 List-o-Books, an enumeration of all fifty-five books I read last year.  As per my usual practice, the list is a hodge-podge of books with no particular theme,  a preponderance of non-fiction, and a few by some of my favorite authors.  The list includes one classic, 1984, a book I had somehow managed to escape reading until now.  A  number of books about food – particularly seafood – appear, but also a book about olive oil that knocked my socks off, and one about frozen food, or rather frozen food’s iconoclastic inventor, Clarence “Bob” Birdseye.  Throw into the blender one delightful road book about the Weinermobile, and it all added up to a fun, if scattered, year of reading.

There are two books I read that were a cut above the rest, absolute must-read books that I highly recommend.  Both books are  profoundly distressing, sobering windows into the darkest areas of man’s inhumanity to men.  These aren’t light reading, but worthwhile and engaging nonetheless.
Read on…

Still life

Still life of fish (Photo credit: mckibillo)

If you were searching for themes in the books I read, you would probably first notice the string of authors whose works I love : Bill Bryson, Mary Roach, and Simon Winchester to name a few. You would also find that I read Harper-CollinsBest American Science Writing and Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt‘s The Best American Science and Nature Writing series every year, reflecting my passion for well-written non-fiction.

And you might notice, as I recently realized, that I read a lot of books about fish.  I got hooked (pun intended) on this topic after reading a number of newspaper and magazine articles about the decline of fisheries worldwide, another looming environmental disaster that generations to come will need to reckon with.  Non-fiction writing about fish deals with ecology, biology, gastronomy, evolution, economics, politics, and a host of other topics that are of interest to me.  And I love to eat fish.

Consumption of proteins from fish

Image from GRID-Arendal, an organization established to support the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in the field of environment.

But, you say, “I don’t eat fish, at least not much. Why should I care about global fisheries?” And, if like most of my site visitors, you live in these United States where beef is king, you are probably right. But for a millions around the world, particularly in Asia and a large swath of central Africa, fish is a primary source of animal protein (see map).  These are some of the most populous, and politically unstable, countries on earth.  A threat to their food supply should be taken seriously. Without a healthy global fishery, famine would become widespread across the already impoverished continent of Africa, and Asian nations just emerging from decades of poverty would could face political turmoil from a hungry populous.

– Read on…

A silly historical re-enactment of an actual event in my daughter’s life, with assistance from Xtranormal.

Dijonnaise, a Hellmann's product

A dumb food product, Hellmann’s Dijonnaise – But Hellmann’s Mayonnaise isn’t bad!

Many months ago, I made the mistake of titling a post Dumbest Food Product of the Monthwhich of course implied that I would deliver a post about a dumb food product every month.  That implied promise mostly reveals my lack of self-awareness, as I should have known from past promises broken that I wouldn’t be delivering on said monthly post.   A better title might have been  An Occasional Dumb Food Find – in the spirit of the election season, I’ll restrain myself from anything but vague promises.

My Dumb Food Find this time around is Hellmannn’s Dijonnaise.  In principal, there is nothing exactly wrong with the idea of Dijonnaise.  In fact, I like the combination of a good Dijon mustard with mayonnaise on a ham sandwich or burger.  It just is that pre-combining them at the factory saves very little time or money.

Read on…

Quail Ridge Books & Music

Quail Ridge Books & Music,
with owner Nancy Olson
(Photo credit: Independent We Stand)

For Triangle area readers, Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books is an institution.  For the many fans of the store, it was sad surprise to see the News & Observer‘s cover story today, announcing that the store’s owner, Nancy Olson, is retiring and looking for a buyer.  According to the article, Olson isn’t interested in just cashing out and retiring.  She wants to find a suitable, new owner to keep the store in operation, for the sake of her employees and the community.

Living on the West side of the Triangle, I rarely get to visit this gem of a bookstore.  Nonetheless, I sincerely hope the store finds a new owner that will preserve the reputation and good will Quail Ridge has built up over the years.  As noted in a previous post, the store has an amazing record of success and longevity, in business almost 30 years in the same nondescript location since 1984.  Kudos to Nancy Olson and her staff, and let’s all hope the story will continue.

Photo of Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz CA

Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz CA

After enduring a long, stifling Catholic upbringing in Oklahoma, I made my escape.  I attended the University of California at Santa Cruz, the home of the Banana Slugs.  I fell in love with the campus, and the town.  After graduation, I hung around for a few years, working a few jobs that I don’t keep on my resume anymore, back when it was easy to live on not a lot of money.  I got comfortable with the languid rhythm of life in that little seaside hippie town.  But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.  I won’t bore you with the personal details of why, but I left Santa Cruz and moved to North Carolina, where I live to this day.  I’ve settled into the wonderful little town of Carrboro, a town with a lot in common with Santa Cruz.  But, alas,  it isn’t Santa Cruz.

When I left Santa Cruz, I always harbored the notion that one day I would move back.  I loved Santa Cruz.  I loved the ocean.  I loved the chilly fog coming in from Monterey Bay.  I loved hanging out at Bookshop Santa Cruz, then grabbing a pepperoni slice from Pizza My Heart before heading home to study.  I loved the Beach Boardwalk, with all its trash and seediness, the quintessential California amusement park.  I loved the quiet solitude of walking between the redwoods on campus, or kicking up sand at Natural Bridges State Park.  I loved walking down the street, certain to hear the distinctive, phase-shifted sound of Jerry Garcia’s guitar blaring from an open window,  a bootleg recording from a certain rare show.  I loved the street musicians, playing Christmas carols in the warm California sun, trying to will a real Winter into existence.

Read on…

Search results, searching for redi-quiche

My bronze medal.

I was trolling through some search results on this blog, and noticed that a lot of searches were for quiche.  Weird, I thought.  So, in a bit of navel gazing of blog-o-spheric proportion, I searched for Redi-Quiche on Google.  Lo , my silly blog post was the third highest search result, in bronze medal position.  When I search today, it is in fifth, still in the top ten!  Without even trying!  Which means there haven’t been many people blogging about this ridiculous waste of freezer space.

Not to be too high-minded about it, I just note this product as an example of our country’s blithe acceptance of whatever crappy, ill-conceived packaged food product comes on the market.  Most people want good, nutritious food.  Fortunately, many retailers are becoming aware of this and stocking more organic, whole foods.  At the same time, there is a countervailing trend of more and more ridiculous packaged products cluttering store shelves.  Certainly our lives are busy and some packaged foods are time savers.  But, as an example, I’ve rarely – certainly not recently – made brownies from a box, because there really isn’t that much time saved.   I can’t say I always practice what I preach on this score, but I know I get points for usually trying.

Please, do you and your family a favor:  don’t buy Redi-Quiche! Get some farm fresh eggs, crack them open and make a real manly quiche from scratch.   Try it with broccoli, or sausage, or artichoke hearts.  Share your recipes, do it yourself, and just skip this dumb product.

I’d love to hear your recipes, and if you run across any other dumb food products spread the word: we don’t want more dumb food!