Monthly Archives: May 2012

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Synopsis:

It’s not enough to say that Middlesex “tells the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides, and the three generations of the Greek-American Stempahides family,” as the back cover begins. Yes, it does this, but this book also reveals more than just their story, it shows how much the present depends on the past and how the two forge connections so intertwined that one cannot even determine direct causation. Neither a coming-of-age tale nor a love story, Middlesex tells a coming-to-knowledge story, which requires that both Cal and the reader know the full story from the time when Desdemona and Lefty lived in the Old World, to his mother and father’s clarinet romance,  to the house in Grosse Point, Michigan and all of the secrets along the way. Only once this knowledge has been achieved, can one fully understand the breathtaking story of Cal Stephanides.

Why should you read it?

The characters, Cal, Desdemona, Milton, they drive this book. It’s not action-packed like most of the movies being made today, though it is not without its car chases, riots, and teenage love scenes. This book will never be made into a movie because it’s a story about people, their lives, and their experiences. The narrator, Cal, toggles between “Homeric” lyrical prose and straightforwardness that falls somewhere between tragic and hilarious, “Sing now, O Muse, of the recessive mutation on my fifth chromosome!”

I can’t speak highly enough about this book. One thing that stands out about this book is the treatment of fate. Was Cal fated to exist way back since his grandparents married? Or by trying to control the outcome of the pregnancy, did his parents alter or confuse his destiny?  Similarly, does being born with the particular visual characteristics of one sex destine a person to living their life as that gender? Or does the biological sex determine how a person feels gendered? This gets us straight to the nurture/nature debate, which I think I’ll try to avoid here. After all the emotional and physical distress that Calliope experienced in the course of these pages, the self-doubt and discomfort in her own skin, it seems that finding out the truth was really more important to his final re-birth than either nature or nurture.

My experience:

While reading this sometimes-humorous, sometimes-heartbreaking story about a boy literally trapped in the wrong body-shell and his experiences of not quite fitting into society, one question that kept coming back to me was: what does it mean to feel like a boy or a girl? Maybe this seems silly, but it’s something that I think most people take for granted. If you’re not suffering from gender dysphoria, it’s likely that you’ve never had to think about this, either.  Months after having read this book, I’m still not quite sure what I think it means to feel like a girl, even though I have “felt like a girl” my entire life.  Does anyone have any insight on this topic? I’d love to hear it!

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What do you think about this style of post? I haven’t done anything like it before, so is it too dull? Too long? I know I need work on synopsizing. Is that a word? It should be. Feedback is always appreciated!

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Lemon Berry Sweet Buns

Things tend to lodge themselves in my head.

If you say a single line from that “Sexy and I Know it” song, or better yet, “Somebody that I Used to Know,” the song will be stuck on repeat in my brain for the rest of the day. Sometimes I’ll hear a word that I like, something that has a nice sound, and I’ll think that word over and over. Sometimes for days. Please tell me this happens to you.

Apartheid. Bungalow. Un parapluie.

It’s starting to happen already.

I saw this recipe on Joy the Baker this past winter, and I knew I had to have it. But then I had all this internal dilemma about do I want to try to find gross out-of-season berries? Or just use frozen? I know frozen berries are a perfectly acceptable substitution, but I felt like waiting until the start of berry season would not only be super delicious, but it would also be a warm, sweet, and fresh welcome to summer.

Aaand let me tell you, all those months of anticipation were worth it. These rolls were amazing. My mother doesn’t actually like lemon or berries, but the texture of the dough, light with just the slightest hint of lemon, was enough to entice her. The berry and lemon mixture oozed through the layers in this incredibly enticing way, slightly tart, but overall, just sweet enough to be awesome.

Bring on the sundresses and lemonade.

Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Gather up your ingredients. Pretty bowls get you extra points.

Dough! The texture of this dough was amaaazing. I never wanted to stop kneading it. Maybe I’ll make it into a pillow.

I mashed up the berries in the filling. Super juicy, but it covered the length of the dough better than leaving them whole.

Rolling and cutting is my favorite part. It’s a little hard and super messy, but have confidence! Totally worth it.

I may have let these rise an extra half hour. But hey, there are worse things than extra-puffy buns.

And there we are. Baked, glazed, and ready to be devoured! These are so huge they dwarf my spatula. All you need is an equally-massive ice-cold glass of milk and you’ll be set.

Lemon Berry Sweet Buns

(Very slightly adapted from Joy the Baker)

Dough:

1 cup 2% milk

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast (That should be about two packets.)

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour, plus another 1/2 cup

Filling:

1/2 cup raspberries

1/2 cup blackberries

1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling

zest of one lemon

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, melted and slightly browned

Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

For the dough, gently heat milk in a small saucepan to about 95 degrees. Stir the milk, sugar, and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the paddle attachment in place. Let this mixture sit for 5-7 minutes, until bubbly and frothy. When the yeast is ready, add the softened butter, eggs, lemon extract, and salt, as well as the all-purpose flour and 2 1/4 cups of whole wheat flour. Stir together with paddle attachment on low speed for two minutes. After those two minutes, replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and beat for 10 more minutes. During this time, the dough will begin to come together nicely.

Spread the last 1/2 cup whole wheat flour over a clean, dry surface. Pour out the dough onto the bed of flour, and knead it into the still-sticky dough. This will take a couple of minutes, and you should still have a slightly tacky dough when you’re through. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel, and let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, to make the filling, stir together the berries, cornstarch, 1/3 cup sugar, and lemon zest. Don’t be afraid to muddle your berries a little. It’ll make your situation messier, but also delicious.

Brown your butter, and let it cool slightly. Grease a 9×13 inch pan, and set it aside.

To roll your buns, begin by flouring a large, clean surface. Roll out your dough to a 10×20 inch rectangle. Spread your browned butter over the rectangle, then follow with the berry mixture. Roll up the dough on the long end like a spiral, making a 20-inch-long tube. Using a bench knife, or other sharp knife, cut the tube into quarters, then cut each quarter into thirds, making a total of 12 buns. Quickly and gently place the rolls in your prepared baking pan. Cover the buns with plastic wrap and a tea towel; let rest for one hour. (I did 1 1/2 hours, and they were a little too puffy.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake buns for 20-25 minutes, until dough is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Let cool.

To make the glaze, stir together sugar, lemon juice, and water. Pour over cooled buns and consume heartily, preferably the same day. If you must store them, do so in an airtight container.

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe! Stay tuned for some talk about super awesome books later this week!

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Nice to Meet You!

Food, books, and crafts? That’s a bit of a wide scope. It’s a bit odd, you may say.

Well, I would reply, life is random.

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I went back and forth on this one for a while. Should I do a cheesey introduction post? Or possibly just jump right into a recipe or book review without warning?

So, I made a bit of a compromise: a list of my obsessions!

That way, you get a little taste of my tastes. Sound good? Good.

Onward!

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1. Teal pagoda shelf!

I fell in love with this design as soon as I saw it in this book. Over winter break this year, I managed to convince my dad to help me make one. After incorrectly buying lumber, dropping the borrowed saw, and inhaling too much spray paint, we ended up with this! I am incredibly proud of it because it was my first attempt at carpentry, but mostly because I created it with my awesome papa.

 

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2. Cyclamens!

These flowers are called cyclamens, at least according to this label. I had never seen them before, until I bought them for my rad boyfriend. I almost wanted to keep them for myself. Look how vibrant they are! And the strange way they open! Love.

While I’m on the topic of flowers, I have to say, I’m highly obsessed with anything floral print. I’m on a quest for the perfect pair of floral pants. They would need my sister’s nod of approval because I’m blind to all sense of taste when it comes to floral prints.

So, expect plenty of floral!

 

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3. Nail polish!

This particular look was inspired by this post. I love that nails are a simple, yet bold way to add a pop of color or drama to any look at any time. I’m a big fan of strange colors like lime green and bright yellow, and -of course- anything with glitter. I obviously belong in the craft world- I can never get enough glitter.

I’m really into Essie brand nail polish, right now. The one in the picture is Rainbow in the S-Kylie from the Nicole by OPI collection.

 

4. Spinach Chop!

This spinach chop, from this book, knocks me on my butt every time I make it. Here’s the genius of this recipe: the ingredients aren’t from specialty stores, the preparation isn’t complex, there’s no reason why it should be THIS GOOD. But somehow, it just is. Heidi Swanson must just be brilliant. Only explanation.

 

5. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice!

I’m completely obsessed with this book. It’s everything you ever needed to know about how to make bread as close to in a professional kitchen as possible. It even teaches you how to think like a pro bread baker in terms of dough formulas. Awesome.

One thing in particular that this book says that I’ve never before seen in a bread recipe: wait 45 minutes after it comes out of the oven to break into it. There’s some on my cooling racks right now…staring at me…taunting me.

It’s going to be a long 45 minutes.

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So if you’ve made it this far without closing out of your browser, there you have it. 5 of my current obsessions. A couple of recipes and topics didn’t make the list, but there will be time for them later. For now, I hope you found something interesting or otherwise enjoyable.

Come back later this weekend for the first food post!

You know you want breakfast rolls in your future. I want them in your future, too.

— Mirandom

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