Month: December 2007 Page 1 of 3

Book Review: My Kitchen Wars

by Betty Fussell.

Betty Fussell will never be an M.F.K. Fisher. Nevertheless, I picked up her book today and didn’t put it down until I’d finished it. (In case you don’t know Mary Frances, let me just say My Kitchen Wars is a memoir about Betty’s life, as seen through her experiences with food. She lived through the Depression, WWII, and so on…throughout her memoir, you get a sense of how Americans treated food through the years. Or at least some Americans.)

Her husband was Paul Fussell, a writer. A Writer. Betty Fussell’s Wikipedia entry says, “She is the former wife of Paul Fussell, a literary critic and military historian.” Her ex’s says, “His first wife, Betty Fussell, a food writer and biographer, whom he met at Pomona College, has written a memoir, My Kitchen Wars (1999), that discusses their more than 30 years of marriage in highly negative terms, including allegations that Fussell had adulterous affairs with both men and women.”

I don’t know. Memoirs, autobiographies always puzzle me. Especially when everyone involved is still alive. Is it the truth? If it isn’t the truth, why didn’t you sue for libel? Is it better to just let a bad marriage go at some point? Or was it the truth, and you’re content just to leave a question in people’s minds that it might not be true? Anyway, the book depicts years upon years of two people never talking straight with each other, of two people settling into a set of assumptions because it was more comfortable that way, then acting surprised when their spirits or what have you can’t take it any more, and push away. But it’s told with such a charming voice that you forget how superficial everyone’s been acting, how easily it’s all been justified. He thinks of her as just the wife, someone intelligent enough to talk to and stupid enough to take advantage of. She thinks of him as the provider, the force between her and chaos. She gives in on every point because he throws temper tantrums if she doesn’t. He thinks of her as too passive to be anything other than a wife. At the end, he says he wishes he hadn’t left her, doesn’t want to live without her, but can’t be bothered to talk about her new cookbook for five minutes. She says she had to leave him because she needed room to write where he couldn’t criticize her. But at the beginning of the book she says she still loves him.


Why was it so fascinating?

I’ve seen a lot of people whose marriages have come apart now. (And people like my parents, who got through the roughest parts and kept it together.) I don’t want to be in the same town, let alone the same room with them. Why spend a whole book with people in this situation?

From time to time, you get things like the moment, in the sixties sometime I think, when Betty goes to France with Paul and they have homemade bread and butter. Her reaction was that for the first time, she’d had real bread and real butter. After which, she (and the rest of her set) go nuts over nouvelle cuisine, cooking their way through Julia Child cookbooks, peeling the skin off ducks, in order to make pate en croute inside their sewn skin. Her marriage was like that, too: Paul Fussell was the first non-jock, non-gay guy she’d met after the war. He was witty and intelligent. She loved him, and then she let him run all over her life, making her follow all kinds of odd little rules that upper-middle-class people had to follow, then the rules that professors’ wives had to follow, then…

How does loving something get to be an overly complicated game? What do you do when you can’t play anymore? –I think that’s why I liked the book. The parallels between food and relationships was drawn well and nakedly, if not with an excessive amount of wisdom.


Jeanne Robinson is going to be a part of the first zero-G dance after all — this Sunday.

Well, there’s yer problem right there.


Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Looks about 6000 times as fun as the first one.

Black Sheep. Zombie werewolf sheep in New Zealand. Hopefully, this will be to horror movies what Kung Pow! was to kung-fu movies.


Today was the Great Octopus Expotition* of Rachael C. Kenyon. She’s been asking what octopus tastes like, so I told her I’d take her to the sushi place we like and we’d try some. Seriously? If you’re ever in a situation where your kid likes to try new foods, go to a sushi place and sit at the bar. The chefs had to discuss the order like three times, back and forth, back and forth, Ray ran over to the chef and watched the whole thing. They brought it over, and she waited to eat it for like five minutes, because she wanted to eat some miso soup and wait until my udon came. My lunch finally showed up, and I asked her if she was going to eat the octopus.

“It’s too big,” she said. Well, she was right. The rice was smaller than normal, and the octopus draped over the sides like a frilly dress (the way they cut the octopus means the purple edges look ruffled). So I ripped the excess off, and she dunked a piece in the soy sauce (no wasabi). The whole time, the chefs had been ignoring her. But they both glanced over as she chewed.

“How is it?”

One thumb up.

…but, honestly, I think they were won over when she started slurping udon noodles off a plate. The other chef made her a mocktopus, mock crab tied with seaweed on one end, shredded on the other, and deep fried. That got a “It has a good taste!”

By the time we left, we were both so full that we were ready to explode. When I told Ray that, she leaned over and whispered to me, “Miss Mary [her old preschool teacher] said she used to be skinny but then she ate so much candy that she exploded and that’s how she got to be fat!”

We both had to laugh about that.

*A la Roo, if you’ve seen The Heffalump Movie.


Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is coming out next year. Here‘s the sneak preview, from NG’s website.

The character design reminds me of PJ Harvey, because her face gets lopsided. I seriously cannot think of any other way to come up with that face other than look at PJ Harvey and go, “Huh. Now that’s how you do sardonic.”

The Hobbit

…will come out in 2010/2011 (as two movies?) with Peter Jackson producing and Sam Raimi directing. So far, so good.

And Gandalf:

Ian McKellen stated that he’d love to be Gandalf again, and that Peter Jackson had let him know that he had to do it, even though Jackson might not be involved. “If I am still functioning and working well, it is very likely I would be asked to do it. I am glad to read that it is looking more and more likely. I would be disappointed if they didn’t want to have the original Gandalf.”


Andy Serkis is also keen to reprise his role as Gollum. “I would love to be involved with it because Gollum in the Hobbit – there’s great scenes in that with the riddles in the dark passages, is one of my favourite – that I remember from being a child – one of my favourite books and that scene really – I remember it very strongly. So I’d love to be involved with it. I’m not sure whether it’s going to happen or not but if it ever did, yeah, that would be great.”

Ian Holm is 76.

Sad to say, all, but I’m much more excited about a Hobbit* movie than I was about LOTR.

*Pansy Deepdelver of Brockenborings.

Schrodinger’s Cookies

There is the science of cooking…and then there are the cooking metaphors of science.

Half-Life: The time required to convert one half of a reactant to product. The term is commonly applied to radioactive decay, where the reactant is the parent isotope and the product is a daughter isotope. (

Half-Life of Baked Goods: The periodicity for about half the cookies to be missing. May also be applies to radioactive decay. This is especially short for snickerdoodles.

Schrodinger’s Cat: We place a living cat into a steel chamber, along with a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. There is, in the chamber, a very small amount of a radioactive substance. If even a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat. The observer cannot know whether or not an atom of the substance has decayed, and consequently, cannot know whether the vial has been broken, the hydrocyanic acid released, and the cat killed. Since we cannot know, the cat is both dead and alive according to quantum law, in a superposition of states. (WhatIs?com)

Schrodinger’s Cookie: We place a living child into the kitchen, along with a parent capable of handing out punishments. There is, in the kitchen, a batch of cookies intended for a Christmas party. If even a single cookie is missing, the parent will send the child to its room. The first parent’s back is turned. The other parent, in the living room, cannot know whether or not a cookie (see Half-Life of Baked Goods, above) has disappeared, and consequently, whether the child has been sent to its room. Since the parent cannot know, the child is both grounded and not grounded according to parental law, in a superposition of states. (Children grasp this thought experiment instinctively, i.e., “Eventually, Dad’s going to come into the kitchen and steal a cookie, and I’m going to be blamed for it, so I might as well have one, too.”)

D&D Character Quiz

I am a 2nd level Chaotic Neutral Elvish Wizard.

Hm…sounds about right.

Christmas A Capella

By Straight No Chaser.

–These guys are nuts. Just plain nuts.

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