Thursday, March 28, 2013

Circle of Friends: GONE GIRL and Green Beans

This past Monday night, the Friends met at my house. These gatherings are always one of the highlights of my month, but this particular meeting seemed especially enjoyable. Maybe because I hadn’t been able to attend the past two months. Maybe because all the delectable comfort food they brought hit the spot on a cold “spring” night. Or maybe because Gone Girl—our book for March—lent itself to a very interesting discussion.

The Friends were divided in their opinions of this NY Times bestselling mystery by Gillian Flynn. Basically, it is the story of Amy and Nick, married for five years and hell-bent on destroying each other. Amy is narcissistic, self-absorbed, and psychopathic; Nick merely narcissistic and self-absorbed. Neither is remotely likeable. About two-thirds of the Friends enjoyed the book; one third didn’t. Those who did enjoy it liked it mainly for plot, for its “shock value.” As one Friend so succinctly put it, “It creeped me out.” It isn’t surprising the book’s appeal lies mainly in its plot, as there is NOTHING in either of the two lead characters we can even remotely admire. One Friend said she “admired” Amy’s “evilness,” but I’m thinking she found the “evilness” intriguing rather than admirable. The book did lead to a discussion on the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath—a point we never never fully clarified. One googled source stated the issue is debated at the “highest levels.” We decided we definitely fit into that category!
Having given the opinions of the two-thirds who favored the book, I’ll now give voice to the few dissenters, of which I’m one. Before writing this post, I checked the reviews on Amazon. Given the book’s popularity, I fully expected to see it rated as a five-star or at least a four-star read. I was surprised to see it earned only three and a half stars. The one-star reviews expressed my exact sentiment: There is nothing positive to be gained from reading this book. Or as Miss Dupree, my eleventh-grade English teacher, would have said, “It has no redeeming social value.” As I implied above, there is no protagonist in this story—no one to “pull for.” A protagonist doesn’t have to be perfect, but he/she should have at least some qualities that make him/her worthy of our sympathy. Nope, no such person in Gone Girl. Like Tom and Daisy Buchanan on steroids, the lead characters tear through their egomaniacal lives, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. And we don’t even have a Jay Gatsby to feel sorry for.
As for plot, I’ll admit, Flynn writes a great beginning. The first few pages had me hooked, hungrily reading and turning pages. About a third of the way in, I was suspecting the major twist, and about halfway through, I found the plot to be contrived and unrealistic. My husband and I have been married for almost thirty-nine years, and the only prediction I’ll make with absolute certainty about him is he won’t eat beets. The amazing Amy is able to foretell every single move her husband will make. She might be brilliant, but even a genius wife can’t do that. I thought I might be alone in this assessment, but I found many on Amazon who agree with me. For us, Gone Girl can’t be gone soon enough.
Something all the Friends did agree on—every single dish deserved five stars! It was almost impossible to decide on a single recipe to share with you, but one mentioned several times was Jean’s Beans—prepared by Pat. If only all veggies could taste this delicious!     
Jean's Beans

1 lb. fresh green beans

4 T butter (I use less)

1/2 cup minced onion

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 cup celery, minced

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1 tsp rosemary or 1/4 tsp dried (98% of the time I use fresh, but I did use dried once and it was still good)

1/4 tsp basil

3/4 tsp salt - I use half this amount if I salt the water the beans cook in

Trim the ends off the beans and cut them diagonally into 2" pieces. Cook in enough water to cover them for 15 mins. or until tender

Drain and keep warm.

Melt the butter and saute the onion, celery and garlic for about 5 mins. Add the parsley, rosemary, basil and salt, cook for another the 10 mins. The recipe says to cover them, but I don't.

Toss everything together and serve.

The original recipe is called Herbed Green Beans and Jean found it in the cookbook San Francisco A La Carte which is put out by the Junior League of San Francisco. It has become the go to holiday recipe for most of my family.

Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as the Friends did. And please share with me your opinion of Gone Girl.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Latest Marketing Ploy--More Questions Than Answers

            No doubt about it, the writers for Yahoo Shine know how to rope in a reader. The teaser under the headshot of an attractive young woman was something like: “What’s different about this mannequin?” Oh, so it was a mannequin. I clicked on the pic. 
            I thought the article would be about how a certain H&M store in Sweden is using lifelike robots as mannequins. I was wrong. What’s causing all the buzz—or what has “gone viral” or “set tongues wagging”—is that the mannequins are a lifelike Size 12. In addition to “sparking an internet praise-a-thon,” the use of these mannequins has raised a criticism: “Will this just encourage obesity?”
            I’ll have to say, this particular question was not what first popped into my mind for many reasons. First, Lane Bryant has used “plus-sized,” “full-figured,” or my favorite Precious Ramwotse euphism “traditionally-built” mannequins for years. The concept is not new. I guess what makes these mannequins so special is that they’re being used in a more mainstream venue—a store that caters to the youthful and “hip”—as opposed to the old and hippy. Second, I don’t consider a Size 12 to be obese. A little overweight, maybe, but not to the point of being unhealthy. And when the average size of women these days is a 14—as the article states—a Size 12 could actually be considered the “new small,” couldn’t it? Anyway, that’s the reasoning I’m going with.
            So while the obesity question didn’t occur to me, here are some that did:
·         What’s with the Princess Leia hairdo? I’m so hoping this isn’t a fashion forecast. But maybe because this store is in Sweden, the Viking-opera-singer look works.

·         Why the socks? Are the mannequin’s feet cold, but not her bare legs and midriff? Has she just smeared Vaseline on her heels and doesn't want to get the platform greasy? Are slouchy, stretched-out socks the latest in sexy boudoir attire? If so, I’ve been sexy all this past winter and didn’t even realize it. I don’t think my husband did, either.

·         If this model is supposed to be so lifelike, where’re the muffin tops? I know they claim to make panties that don’t create these, but I’ve yet to find any that follow through on this promise and still stay up without a belt or suspenders.

·         Along this same line, where are the wobbly bits? If we’re truly going for lifelike here, let’s show a little cottage cheese.

·         Why the shawl? Actually, I know the answer to this—to hide the wing-dings. The only time I’ve bared my upper arms in public in the past few years was to go swimming. And I wouldn’t have done it then if they made swimsuits with sleeves.
            Maybe you can answer some of these questions for me. Or maybe you have questions of your own. Or maybe you just don’t give a rip about what marketers tell women they should look like and you’re happy with yourself whatever size you wear. Please comment!
PS If you know where I can find those magic no-muffin-top panties, I'd really love to hear from you!


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Oh, the Possibilities!

             When I received this picture of Brooks, I immediately thought of the first lines of a William Carlos Williams poem, “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow.” I guess in my career as an English teacher, I must have read or assigned this poem a dozen times. But to be honest, I never understood—truly understood—that first line until I saw this picture. Brooks might not able to verbalize his thoughts, but his expression tells me he definitely understands what Williams is saying. A red wheelbarrow doesn’t just carry dirt or tools or toys. A red wheelbarrow carries possibilities.
            Another person who would have understood this poem was my dad, Joe Fink. As a young man of seventeen, he found his dream job. He joined the merchant marines and sailed off to see the world, albeit a world being ravaged by WWII. A few years later, it took a shipwreck to convince him that sailing was not the best occupation for a family man. He traded his seafaring for a job at a refinery along the Houston ship channel. Not the most glamorous or exciting of occupations, but steady work that would provide well for his family.
            After twenty-five years at the same company, he retired. A hard worker all his life, he now had time to pursue another dream job—gardening. And he pursued it with gusto. In winter, he’d study the Farmer’s Almanac, deciding when and what to plant. The first hint of spring would draw him outside to prepare the soil by hauling dirt, manure, or compost--all in a wheelbarrow--all the while imagining the crops the contents of that wheelbarrow would yield.
            I’m sure he didn’t work long hours tilling, planting, harvesting just to put food on the table. Quite honestly, it probably would have been cheaper for him to buy vegetables at the grocery store— although they wouldn’t have been as tasty and he couldn’t have shared them with friends and relatives. I think gardening attracted him because it provided a way to stay active and fit. And it gave him a sense of accomplishment, a sense of still being productive in his later years. Most of all, I think it gave him peace—a place and time to meditate, to connect with his Creator. Once, for Christmas, I gave him a little plaque for his garden which bore the following verse by Dorothy Frances Gurney: “The kiss of the sun for pardon, The song of the birds for mirth, One is nearer God’s heart in a Garden, Than anywhere else on Earth.” When he opened the gift and read it, he said, “You know, I really believe that.” 
            My dad passed away a few weeks ago. God, in His perfect timing, took him just as all quality of life was gone. But it was also perfect timing because it’s almost spring. Time to start a garden. 
             I’m no Bible scholar, but I do know that heaven is a place where our souls will be at their happiest, most content state. So with spring approaching, I like to think of my dad outside. He’s wearing a straw hat, some worn leather working boots, a pair of dark green coveralls that sag in the rear. Under a gentle morning sun, he’s headed toward his garden, pushing a wheelbarrow full of heavenly possibilities.
Daddy maintained a huge garden until his late 80's when he had
to downsize. But even in a small garden, he was able to produce
bumper crops of veggies. (And, of course, he allways had his
his faithful sidekick Sandy to keep him company!)