Amanda Gates
Syndicate content

A Musings - August 2009

Editor's Note: I'm happy to present a guest post written by my co-worker and friend, Marni. She's our foodie in the office, and her knowledge of Twin Cities restaurants and all-around food facts are greatly appreciated. She recently finished In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. (She read The Omnivore's Dilemma a while ago as well.) I have yet to read these books, but I know many people are interested in this theme, so I wanted to share Marni's educated and thoughtful comments. Thanks Marni!

I know it’s the fashionable thing to say now, but seriously, Michael Pollan’s writing in this and The Omnivore’s Dilemma has changed the way I think about food. I no longer pay attention to the “nutrition facts” (you’ll read in the book how we can’t really prove half of what we think we know about nutrition) on a bag of bread or box of crackers—I read the ingredients. I hear Michael Pollan’s voice in my head: “Does this item have more than five ingredients? Would my great-grandmother recognize this item as actual food? Would she ever have cooked with guar gum?”

Of course it’s impossible to expect all Americans to fundamentally change the way we eat—our way of life is dependent on the fact that we can purchase goods that are shipped from far away, that are pumped with preservatives, that last forever in storage and only take minutes to prepare. So while I think Pollan’s general rules of thumb are helpful, most people aren’t going to follow them religiously. At some points he gives some pretty pie-in-the-sky advice too, like how eaters should “involve themselves in food production to whatever extent they can, even if that only means planting a few herbs on a sunny windowsill or foraging for edible greens and wild mushrooms in the park.”

Foraging? For mushrooms? In the park? I think at one point he also recommends people buy a whole pig or sheep and freeze the different parts to make it more cost-effective to purchase grass-fed, organic meats. And while I don’t think there’s any inherent problem with this advice, it’s the best of all possible worlds he’s talking about here. Like I said, too many other things in our lives prevent us from living like this any more. Other parts of our culture—driving to work on highways, telecommuting to get more done, sitting in front of the TV and computer—they’ve all coevolved with this food system that we have today. We would no longer know how to function if we actually had to cook every single meal with natural, in-season ingredients, when really it wasn’t so long ago that that was the case. In that sense, the book causes you to think not just about how you eat, but about how you live. Because Pollan shows you how inextricably the two are linked.

I suppose Pollan can assume a level of commitment to quality food in his audience because of the very fact they have picked up his book. But I think the best of this book lies in what you personally decide to take away from it—not in following everything he says to do. Like tonight, I had a tasty frozen pizza from Target’s organic-imposter Archer Farms brand. It was delicious. But those are more of a treat for me now than a norm. When I go to the grocery store I really do think of the book’s mantra, “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” And once you read the book and understand what that means, you can pretty easily begin to apply it in small ways that I think, at least for me, actually make a difference. I cook more now. I eat more fruits and vegetables. Of course I still indulge in frozen pizza, Cheetos and other “edible foodlike substances” from time to time, and I have yet to start an adorable windowsill herb-growing operation or forage in the park for mushrooms, but I guess you’ve gotta start somewhere.

Posted: Thu, 08/27/2009 - 03:07 | Comments: 4

I didn't plan to write a second act to my first post, but I've seen another handful of summer flicks (and I'm lacking in book posts right now) that I thought were worth mentioning.

Public Enemies: We saw this movie over Fourth of July, I believe. There were reasons I liked it, and some things that were disappointments. Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard were wonderful. I absolutely believed him as John Dillinger, and their love story was sweet and sultry. I thought the action scenes were pretty well shot. It was interesting to learn about the beginnings of the FBI, bank robbers' lifestyles and the mixings with the mob. It was also amazing to see them have shoot outs in plain daylight and get away. Crazy. However, I thought the movie's cuts between scenes were poorly done and the swelling music was rather cheesy. The sound and the coloring seemed off too, and because I talked to others who saw the movie at different theaters and said the same things, I don't believe this was just at my viewing.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: I already made some comments about the movie in this post, but I'll just reiterate a little bit. I still love these characters to no end, even more so now that they've grown up. While it's hard to condense these books down for screen, I think the film did justice to the book. The only part that lacked for me was the ending. I think the drama could've been played up so much more here. It kind of fizzled. But that's just a small part of the entire film, which I greatly enjoyed. Ron during the quidditch match was hilarious - well played!

500 Days of Summer: This was a trailer I watched at the same time as the Away We Go trailer back in April. I knew I had to see this movie, too. While she tends to play similar characters, I have a tiny love for Zooey Deschanel. And I loved this movie. It's not your typical romantic comedy in any way, and it really gets to the heart of the relationship. The time-shifting technique works well here, and the writing is so funny. I'm not unique in saying that my favorite scene is Tom's post-intimacy song and dance: Who doesn't love Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams," and when Tom looks in a store window to see a historical movie stud staring back at him, I almost died laughing. Fabulous and fun this movie. (For the boys out there, the hubby loved this one too.)

District 9: This was the hubby's choice, and he loved it. I thought the movie was interesting in its obviously "bigger meaning" ways. To think about how we separate those different than the majority is pretty sad. It also makes you wonder what we would do if beings from other worlds were to enter ours. But because of the deeper issues it raises, the movie depressed me, which means I didn't enjoy it very much. I have trouble enjoying depressing movies, but that's just me. The effects were great for such a small budget and the main actor, Sharlto Copley (who has never, ever acted before), was pretty bloody brilliant, especially when you know he improvised quite a few of his lines.

We don't have any movies on the list currently (I think I'll keep The Time Traveler's Wife for rental), but I know fall will bring several more we want to see including New Moon, The Informant, Shutter Island, Couples Retreat, Whip It, Where the Wild Things Are, and Sherlock Holmes. How about you?

Posted: Mon, 08/24/2009 - 04:44 | Comments: 3

One of my bffs put me on to Unclutterer, a blog about getting and staying organized. I try to check it a couple times of week, and one post from last week fits right along with this blog: Clear Bad Book Clutter From Your Life and Your Bookshelves. Not only does the author say it's perfectly OK to put down a bad book, but she also encourages us to abandon bad books from our homes entirely.

I've talked about my thoughts on "bad" books before. I said that as I get older, I find it an awful waste of time to keep reading a book that can't seem to hold my interest. This has happened more and more lately, and I'm happy to hear someone else (Unclutterer, as well as the Washington Times article she references) say it's OK.

Also, I tend to go through my bookshelves once or twice a year and pack up a bag for the half-priced bookstore. I have one paper bag full now, but I think it's time to do another go round. I only want to keep the classics in my mind (Harry Potter, David Sedaris), my absolute favorites (see sidebar), and those I think others might want to borrow someday (Twilight, most recently). It can be hard to part with books, but I find if I go in with little emotion about it, it can be a quick and easy task.

How often do you purge your bookshelves? What books must stay on your shelves, whether considered "clutter" or not?

Posted: Wed, 08/12/2009 - 22:30 | Comments: 5

I just finished Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There'd be Cake, a book of essays of her "coming of age" in Manhattan. Essay compilations can be hit or miss. You have authors who consistently knock your socks off (Sedaris) and others who don't. I'd say Crosley falls in between somewhere. I wasn't too entertained by a few essays, but others made me smile and nod in agreement. [Added 8-12-09: Crosley has been nominated for the Thurber Prize for American Humor - congrats!]

After I read the book, I listened to a Barnes & Noble podcast that interviewed the author. Listening to her speak about her work, it made me appreciate it more. The book actually stemmed from an e-mail. Crosley decided to compose a humorous e-mail on her adventure in moving from one Manhattan apartment to the other, basically just a rant about her experience with lots and lots of detail. A friend at the Village Voice saw some potential in it, had her add an introduction and, bam, she’s writing for them.

She said the book is about “dashed expectations,” which makes perfect sense and is completely relatable (how often do you expect something, anything in life to be awesome and it turns out not to be?). For example, she was disappointed by her first apartment, her first volunteer job, her first real job, her first bridesmaid experience, her first non-one-night stand. That’s what these stories are really about and once I heard that, more of them became relevant to me and I understood the book a bit more – and found I liked it more than I thought.

I also liked that she didn’t focus on what a lot of female writers focus on: dating. She had maybe two references to dating/sex in the book, but otherwise, she said she purposely tried to sidestep that stuff. While dating mishaps are funny, too, sometimes it's nice to read about other things, like turning 16 or moving to Australia. In the interview she says, “You just jump into it and hope your weirdest, more bizarre experiences someone can relate to.” Overall, more hits than misses in this book.

Posted: Mon, 08/10/2009 - 01:10 | Comments: 1

A couple weeks ago I read Jennifer Johnson is Sick of Being Single by Heather McElhatton (another freebie from work). The novel follows the path of Jen, a single Minnesota girl who works downtown at a Macy’s-like department store (in marketing). She has a love-hate relationship with her sister, a gay best friend, a big mouth, an infuriating boss and a long string of bad dates. The book has all the ingredients for a typical, ho-hum chick lit novel. But I give McElhatton some credit, because this one is a bit different.

Her characters are hilarious. I laughed out loud quite a few times. I loved all the Minnesota references. Jen does meet a man and “nab” him, but the way their relationship goes from there is not like every other female-centered novel. There are no cute little jealous misunderstandings, the man is far from Prince Charming, and though she always wanted to meet the man she’d marry, Jen remains, in the long run, slightly ambivalent about it.

It really is a different type of novel masked at chick lit, starting with the Barbie doll on the cover. You can even read nearly the entire thing and think you’re reading a Bridget Jones or Jennifer Weiner book (though this is written better), but you get to the end and…whoa. Threw me for a loop and I closed the book with some shock, some sadness, but then some pleasure because, jeez, I didn’t know that was coming.

Posted: Thu, 08/06/2009 - 03:32 | Comments: 2

You can click here to watch the trailer for The Lovely Bones. I really enjoyed this book, and I was anxious to see how they would make a movie about it. But after watching this, I'm not sure. The heaven scenes look a little too trippy and the suspenseful music and scary scenes at the end don't really remind me of the book I read. I'm sure I'll still see the movie, and I'm sure different trailers will come out that I'll probably feel differently about, but after first viewing, I have my doubts.

Posted: Wed, 08/05/2009 - 03:05 | Comments: 1

When we were at the theater waiting for Half-Blood Prince to start, we saw a “first look” at the new animated movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. It’s based on a children’s book by the same name. [Description from Amazon: “If food dropped like rain from the sky, wouldn't it be marvelous! Or would it? It could, after all, be messy. And you'd have no choice. What if you didn't like what fell? Or what if too much came? Have you ever thought of what it might be like to be squashed flat by a pancake?”]

I loved this book as a child, however, most everyone I know has never heard of it. I gave it to my nephews for Christmas, and no one there had ever heard of it. The friends we were at the movie with had never heard of it either. I’ve had the same experience with other books and authors from my childhood: William Steig (he wrote Shrek, by the way, but also lovely books like The Amazing Bone and Dr. De Soto), James Marshall (Miss Nelson is Missing, Miss Nelson is Back - hilarious), Tomie dePaola (Strega Nona = love for me), Nancy Carlson (meeting her was an elementary school highlight) and so many more.

The one thing all these books have in common? My first grade teacher, Mrs. Larson. I’ve always held a special place in my heart for Mrs. Larson. I think her class is where I got my love for reading. Also writing. She had us write about our weekends every Monday and I loved those assignments (Over the weekend I…). She was encouraging. You always wanted to get your paper back with a little pop bottle drawn on it, because that meant she’d buy you one from the teacher’s lounge for doing such a good job. She was fun. I always wanted to make her proud.

I owe a lot to Mrs. Larson, perhaps more than any other teacher I had, and she taught first grade. First grade. It goes to show you how experiences when we’re young can truly shape us.

Do you have a teacher or another adult who shaped who you’ve become or who guided you toward who you are now?

Posted: Mon, 08/03/2009 - 01:04 | Comments: 3