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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why Eh? : The Adventures of an Adult Reader

This is the first in a series featuring Courtney, a normally, Non-YA-Reading reader, reading YA. Got it?


I have always had a very intense (and completely rational) fear of borrowing books from friends. Not because my dog may likely chew on them like she once did to a very expensive textbook, or because I tend to walk like a baby deer and may trip at any given moment, and the loaned book may go flying into a conveniently placed sinkhole. No, the real source of my anxiety comes from the fear of hating the book they loved so much. I would never be able to look them in the eye. I would have to completely abandon my life and start anew in a different city with a fake ID and a new name. 

After enduring an incredibly passionate rant on Tamora Pierce’s books, from fellow bookseller, Lizzie, I was ordered to begin my education with The Song of the Lioness Series. She recomended these books with such a sense of awe and adoration, I began to sweat so much I became dehydrated. I have never found myself enjoying the fantasy genre so Lizzie's casual mention of sorcery and knighthood made me queasy, automatically assuming I would hate it.

But alas, like a majority of my fears it was for nothing. Thankfully I won’t have to retreat back to Alaska because I quickly fell in love with the character Alanna and the world Pierce created. Here is a book about a young girl who wants to be a knight, and instead of accepting the fact that its simply not allowed, she disguises herself as her brother in order to train. It’s a classic Shakespearean trope but unfortunately is still a relevant topic. Pierce ,though, never portrays her gender as a weakness or something incongruous with being a fighter and that is what makes all the difference. She trains among the boys, has all sorts of wild adventures, hangs out with princes and fights evil wizards and none of this is at odds with her perception of herself as a girl. Not only are these books overwhelmingly positive, but Alanna also has several romantic and sexual relationships, and the narrative contains no indication of slut- shaming or the hint that she should regret exploring her sexuality. Nor or any activities viewed as traditionally feminine are devalued either.

 It may also be important to note that this series came out in 1984 which is practically the stone age of YA. I could rant all day about the importance of characters like Alanna to young readers, and I wish this was a series I had been introduced to in the peak of my confusion and weirdness about being a girl. Especially when the only books at my library  had only male protagonists going on adventuress or were about traditionally feminine girls and their boy troubles. And for a young queer kid such as myself who has never been comfortable with the way femininity has often been shoved my way, it would have made a world of a difference if someone would have given me these books. Preferably a magical library troll or even a cool librarian who looks like Tina Fey and later becomes the Miss Honey to my Matilda. 

For now though, I have 24 more Tamora Pierce books to read and a Meg Cabot bookclub meeting to attend. So read these books, give them to everyone forever always as gifts, and bask in the amazingness that is Alanna.


(editor's note: I've used the old covers of these books because the current incarnation totally buys into gender norms and I think Alanna would disapprove.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Eat Your Artichoke Heart Out

Back in January, our marvelous Workman Publishing sales representative asked if I'd be willing to participate in recipe testing for a forthcoming cookbook called The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slice Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini. When he said I'd receive some recipes and a box of artichokes, of course I agreed.

Fast forward to the end of March. I'm moving in 10 days, and my kitchen, usually replete with specialty gadgets, machines, spices, etc, is mostly packed up. Only the bare necessities – knives, cutting boards, a few pots and pans, salt and pepper – remain. And now, the long-ago promised box containing two pounds of baby artichokes appears on my desk.

I immediately went through a mental list of friends who might let me invade their kitchens for a evening,  but I was getting ahead of myself; I should at least look at the recipes before panicking.

Fortunately, the two baby artichoke recipes included in the excerpt appeared achievable in my minimized kitchen state. I chose to make the Baby Artichoke Torta, an egg-based baked dish with Parmesan, breadcrumbs, garlic, and onions. I hadn't prepared an artichoke in over 15 years (can you tell they're not my favorite?), so I followed the instructions for butchery and read the notes carefully. Too bad I wasn't so careful about reading the ingredients list before I started. I had to make a last-minute run to the grocery (thankfully across the street) for not one or two but FIVE ingredients. I think that's a personal record. Hey, I'm moving. I blame the stress.

I boiled the trimmed artichokes, then sauteed them with diced onion and minced garlic. Once the artichokes started to soften, I added a few spices and some freshly chopped parsley. Then I whisked 7 eggs and slowly added in the hot vegetable mixture. I added some breadcrumbs and Parmesan, tossed it all in an 8 x 8 baking pan (a glamorous disposable foil one that I'd found the week before in the recesses of a cabinet above the fridge), and baked it for 35 minutes.

As soon as it was in the oven, I bolted out the door to the bookstore to pick up the salvaged packing material I'd stashed earlier in the day, and I walked back in the door just as the timer sounded. Perfect! My apartment smelled of toasted breadcrumbs and parmesan with a veggie undertone.

I relaxed on the couch for ten minutes while dinner cooled, then cut squares of the torta and served it with a mixed green salad drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The crumb topping was crispy, the filling flavorful, and the texture just right. Next time someone presents me with a pile of artichokes, I know just what I'll do.