#AWineAWeek

by dichroic in daily updates

We’ve decided to start a new project and resuscitate our moribund joint blog – this was inspired by our friend Brett’s OTTBeerDiary project, in which he reported on 365 craft beers in 2015 (but actually sampled (hopefully not finished) a staggering 1125 beers in 2015, including over a thousand he hadn’t tried before. We are not as crazy dedicated as Brett, so we’re only committing to report on one wine per week, though we may write abut more. We tend to have wine 3-4 times a week. Sometimes we restrain ourselves and take a couple days to finish a bottle. Sometimes we have wines we’ve had before. We won’t insist on having all new wines this year, but we won’t write about one wine more than once – unless we think it’s really changed as it aged. Wines of the same type from the same vineyard do change a lot from year to year, so we’ll treat each vintage as unique.

The wine writings will be over in our Avontuur blog, but I will either crosspost or link from here – or write about the story behind the tasting here.

Here’s all the background and explanation of how we describe a wine, and an explanation of our rating system: Embarking on a wine adventure.

Here’s our first wine adventure: Montinore, special blend. Yes, we started out by cheating, a little.

confessions

by dichroic in books, daily updates

I. I never heard of the Thin White Duke before this week. I mean Ziggy Stardust yes; the brilliant creator of Space Oddity and heroes yes; one of very few Boomer musicians who was still making good new music by the time I was in high school yes (pause here to regret John Lennon; assassinated on the heels of the release of Double Fantasy, just as he seemed to be coming back to us); Bowie the actor yes; husband of Iman and therefore half of a couple who was always going to look cooler than anyone else around. Yes.

But somehow I missed out on the Thin White Duke persona and to be completely honest, it doesn’t sound like I really missed much.

II. I kind of wish Alan Rickman had never played Severus Snape, in a way. Because I am so much more a book person than a movie person I am always going to make my judgements based on what’s there in print, and Alan Rickman was such a glorious actor that he seduced hordes of HP fans into falling in love with a villain – and not only a villain that you love anyway because he’s sexy – I can understand that, though book-Snape is anything but – but a redeemed villain who had a core of truth all along. Because Snape isn’t that, really.

Rowling didn’t write the series as black and white good vs evil. THe only major character who is truly cartoon-evil throughout is Voldemort himself; everyone else is good or bad only in how far they are from him. Snape saves Harry’s life (though without revealing Quirrell as Voldemort’s host) in the very first book; Sirius is obsessed with revenge in book 3; Umbridge is revealed in book 5 as no better than many of the Death Eaters she’s reviling; Harry himself is a jerk about as often as you’d expect from an adolescent boy; Dumbledore’s moral ambiguities are revealed in books 6 and 7. Snape doesn’t kill anyone (except Dumbledore, who asked him to) or turn anyone over to Voldemort himself, so you can argue about how evil he is, but what he is, is an asshole. He picks on an 11-year-old boy because of decades-old quarrels with that boy’s dead father. He plays favorites in class. He cannot bear any sort of contradiction or argument. And yes, he turns out to be the Order’s man in the end, but it’s not because his love for Lily kept him pure or helped him see they were in the right; it’s because his obsession with her kept him from going against her side and allowed the Order to use him. There’s no real indication that he valued the Order’s principles or opposed Voldemort’s for any other reason than his fixation on a dead woman. That reads to me less like romantic and more like creepy.

So there’s book-Snape: an unwashed obsessive asshole. And then they go and cast a brilliant and accomplished actor in the role, and suddenly he’s a romantic hero. Oops.

(Some day I really ought to get around to watching more of Rickman’s work, so I can fall in love with him without compromising my literary prejudices. Sense & Sensibility, maybe; Col. Brandon really is a nice guy.)

trading in, trading up

by dichroic in books, daily updates

Amazon has a cool promotion going on; you can trade in an old Kindle and get a giftcard for $5 to $35, depending on model and condition, plus an extra $20 that can only be used to the purchase of a new Kindle. However, if you’re going to do this, don’t be in a hurry; I sent mine off on January 7th and it has just been delivered, after taking a scenic tour of the Midwest. Amazon is still saying it’s not arrived, even though their tracking shows it was delivered this morning.

I actually had three working Kindles on hand. One was a Kindle Keyboard I decided to replace because my brother had given me a gift card and I wanted to see if the front-lighting feature on the Paperwhite would be useful to me. (It definitely is! So nice to be able to read easily even if the room is a bit dim, or to read in bed without a light to annoy Ted.) The second one is that first Paperwhite; I decided to replace it after a cat stepped on the screen putting too much weight on one claw and left a tiny divot that shows a spot of light. It still works; I just wasn’t sure it would keep working, so I bought a new one.

The reason I want yet another Kindle is that this newest one is annoying me; I believe it’s an older version of the Paperwhite that had only 2Gb of memory instead of the current 4. I have a lot of Kindle books, and I prefer to keep as many as possible on the device because I don’t entirely trust cloud backups. (Or rather, I don’t trust the people who own their servers to keep them operational long term. Yes, I know, you kids get off my lawn!) Whenever I load too many on it either tells me it’s low on memory and can’t take notes (I don’t care) or refuses entirely to add new books.

Also, work gave me a giftcard for Christmas that, with the money from this trade-in, will go a long way toward buying a new Voyage.

At least, it will when and if they ever get these old Kindles and accept them! Hopefully they’ll give me the full $30 on at least the Keyboard, since there’s nothing wrong with it.

far above the Moon

by dichroic in daily updates

The way I feel about David Bowie was best expressed by a former officemate of mine: “Ikoon is er niet meer”. Idiomatically, that’s “An icon is gone”, but I think it sounds better in the literal Dutch: “Icon is there no more”. I don’t want to underestimate his continuing creativity, but what he’ll be remembered for is what he’s already given us; even if the just-released album or the ones he would have released were to become beloved classics, they’d be just a cherry on top of the legacy he’s already laid down.

My favorite song of his is Major Tom; it came out when I was 2. My favorite performance wasn’t one of his own songs, but his collaboration with Mick Jagger on Dancing in the Streets at Live Aid; it was witty and rocking and energetic. That was in 1985. 69 is younger than you want to see someone die, but it’s at least time to make a lot of music. There’s also the fact that he changed the world for some people in a very real way; whether or not he actually was gay or even bi in the end – he said himself that was a mistake – in the years he was searching and figuring himself out, he was open in a way hardly anyone was, at that level of fame. He was weird and skinny and androgynous and out about being gay, and he was also famous, talented, and cooler than anyone else ever – it’s easy to see how that could tear the world apart and rebuild it in a better way for some kids trying to figure themselves out. That’s important and lasting, but again, the legacy is there and it’s solid. So my regret as a fan is not so much for what might have been, but for seeing a colossus crumble, an icon gone that’s been there my whole life.

I’m sad on a human level; 69 is barely at the threshold of old age, and liver cancer is a sucky way to die. What made me saddest of all, when reading about him on Wikipedia, was to learn that he and Iman have a 15-year-old. To the rest of the world, Bowie is Ziggy Stardust, glam rocker, superstar chameleon, icon. To Lexi Jones, presumably, he’s just Dad. So she’s spent a significant part of her young life watching him deal with cancer – 18 months is a long time when you’re 15 – and now she’s lost her dad entirely. There’s a hole left in the world when an icon dies, that hurts all of us but my warmest thoughts right now are with those who have lost a big part of their world.

I don’t think step tracking is supposed to be complicated…

by dichroic in daily updates

I don’t think I’ve mentioned this, but I gave up wearing my Misfit Shine activity tracker, or rather it gave up on me. It popped out of its wristband – the rubber one it came with, not one of the mesh ones I was having so many issues with (Misfit’s own version couldn’t hang on to the Shine, which kept popping out of the band; an aftermarket version held the Shine securely but the whole band kept coming off my wrist. That happened sometime between erging and bedtime, meaning the thing is somewhere in my house, but that was a couple months ago and I haven’t seen it since. (It is red. Very red. RGB 255-0-0 red. I got a red one to prevent exactly this problem, but apparently that strategy didn’t work.)

I’ve been doing without a tracker, but I’ve also been slacking off since completing the Holiday Challenge – three weeks ago now! I happened to look today, and though it’s good that I diversified my workouts, doing some weightlifting plus a little kayaking and hiking (on the few occasions weather allowed), it’s bad that I’ve only done a total of 11 workouts of all kinds in that three weeks. I need to exercise more, and I need to move more when I’m not officially exercising, and the tracker helps with at least the latter.

This week I started wearing my old Fitbit One again, and well, yuck. It’s ugly and it just doesn’t work well. Yesterday I walked from my office to a local kiosk to get coffee, did a bit of walking at lunch, and did 10km on the erg in the evening and yet it credited me with under 3000 steps. That shit just ain’t right. Today I didn’t go for coffee but went to the supermarket for lunch, another couple hundred meters past the coffee kiosk, and it’s already giving me almost 4000 steps. And I haven’t even erged yet. (Maybe it’s because I am wearing stompier boots today.) This is clearly not a repeatable system. I don’t really care if a tracker is perfectly accurate, but it needs to be at least consistent!

So I will try something else, since for obvious reasons I don’t want another Shine (or their Shine 2, which has the same shape and seems likely to have the same issues). I’ll also keep an eye out for Misfit’s new product, the Ray, which looks like it might attach more securely, and also can be worn with a watch without looking silly. I’d buy one now if I could, but it’s not available until some vague time in “Spring, 2016” – that could be 5 months away. Also, while you can already preorder the Ray, they’re not offering any of the accessories the website shows it with, except a plastic or leather wristband.

There’s also still the Holy Grail, the Apple Watch – but based on both the Ray reviewer who talked about how the Ray even looked good next to his Apple Watch, and my husband’s struggles to get his to track our distance on a hike the other day, I’m beginning to think the Apple Watch may not actually be very good as a tracker, and I don’t know that it really has any other function I care much about – especially at that price.

For now I’ve ordered Misfit’s cheapie Flash, which is similar to the SHine but is thicker and made of plastic. It’s probably just as likely to get lost, and it’s not as sleek and pretty. On the other hand, a black one currently costs $15 at Amazon – at that price I can afford to lose a couple a year. I’ll likely get a Ray once those are available – unless my Sine decides to show back up someday soon!

if Pepys could have it his way, why can’t I?

by dichroic in books

They keep talking about revolutions in publishing – e-books, print on demand, and so on – but I think what I want is for it to revive an older capability. MUCH older. I would like to be able to just say, I want this book in this format, as Sam Pepys could (admittedly, I’d prefer to pay a lot less for the privilege than he did, relative to my other living expenses).

This year’s holiday was divided into two parts: busily getting ready for Christmas and hosting guests, then just hanging out, reading, knitting and doing basic house stuff. There were other holidayish and non–holidayish things: the weather let me get out in a kayak once and we went hiking the last day; we had plumbers paying two visits apiece for each of two different issues plus a dishwasher repair and a vet visit. (you know how being on antibiotics can upset your intestinal flora? Apparently the feline version can result in anal glands that require “expression”.) We saw a movie and hung out with an old friend, we went to a party at the neighbors’, we cooked and ate and drank lots. But mostly, it divides into those two basic parts. The relevant part is that since I spent two whole weeks in the house where most of my books reside, I spent time reading paper instead of a Kindle screen. I feel like I may lose some book-person cred here for admitting I kind of prefer the screen these days. I don’t need to hold it open so I can knit more easily at the same time, I never lose my place or my bookmark, and I can turn out the bedside lamp and read at bedtime without bothering Ted.

Still, despite the vast stock of e-books I’ve squandered my fortune on, I don’t really trust Amazon (or any other e-book sellers). When I buy a book I want to own it from there on, not have it become obsolete or be subject to whether a particular company stays in business and maintains a particular service. (I suppose this is a consideration I’d have confronted long ago if I were a movie buff whose library was on film/VHS/CD/LaserDisc/DVD/BluRay.) So for the books I love most, even if I met them in electron effigy I want to acquire them in corporeal form. And since I am no longer young enough, in Anne Fadiman’s phrase, to believe that either my paperbacks or I will last forever, I’d prefer hardback. What I want, really, is good reasonably priced volumes, ideally with the quality of, say, the first couple of Harry Potter books in the US version. (Who made the book binding decisions on those, anyway? And can they please be given authority over lots more books? Thick creamy paper, crisp typeface, an excellent illustrator hired, sturdy bindings, distinctive covers.) Matching sets for series, maybe in a box, would be nice – I envision a 20-volume set of slim Phryne Fisher hardbacks, for instance. They could be in jazz colors with Art Deco designs on the bindings and jackets showing the iconic illustrations of Phryne and her beautiful clothing from the original paperbacks. (I agree that the actress who plays Phryne in the TV show and appears on the reissued paperbacks does look the part, but I still like the line drawings better).

Samuel Pepys could get that sort of thing – he could go to a bookseller, tell them exactly what volumes he wanted and how he wanted them bound. He was probably very limited in what books were available and I’m certain they cost a lot more in relation to his food, clothing and shelter than I’m willing to pay, but then his booksellers didn’t have computerized printing and modern transportation. I don’t need fine calfskin and gilding; I want books that are a pleasure to hold and to read, not just to collect, and I really don’t want to pay $450 for a children’s series, no matter how much I might love The Dark is Rising. (On second thought, its being a children’s series has nothing to do with it. I just don’t want to pay $450 for five books.)

I have a boxed set of the Aubrey and Maturin books, with three books bound into each volume, that nearly meets my criteria – in order to keep those volumes to a readable size they used thin paper, but otherwise those aren’t bad. The Library of America books I used to get were OK despite both thin paper and boring covers – when I subscribed those books didn’t come with jackets – but they never really had the books I most wanted.

I wish Amazon or someone would invent a service that would let me specify the book or series I wanted, let me choose mass-market paperback, large-format softcover or hard cover, maybe let me select from a couple different quality levels and possibly a few other options like regular or large type, then just print, bind, and ship me the book I wanted. The same typeface, cover/dust jacket illustration and so on could be used for all formats, so those shouldn’t cost more for design than they do now. I could decide on my priorities and stock my library with the books I wanted most as I could afford them, then when civilization crumbles around my knees and takes with it the infrastructure needed to support my Kindle I could retreat to my bookshelves and be all set for the rest of my life.

The halfway point

by dichroic in daily updates

I’m just a little bit over halfway through my end-of-year vacation – I’ve got the rest of this week and the weekend, and then I’m back to work on Monday. There’s a really painful moment in every vacation from work, when you wake up and realize you’ve only got a day or two left. There’s no getting around that moment, but I do have a way to compensate,and I’ve been very good about it on this trip I’ve been conscious of where I am in the vacation from the beginning, so I’ve had all the luxury of waking up and realizing my whole two weeks was before me, or, like this morning, realizing I had a whole long week left.

On the downside, I’m almost a little bit bored. Christmas has come and gone, along with the in-laws visit, and Ted’s gone too, though just for a night. (He had to go check on some stuff at work.) I elected to stay here at the lake, because I don’t really trust the cats alone with the Christmas tree. I would be enjoying the extra time here – well, I am enjoying the extra time here, it’s just a bit quiet. The house is still lovely and quiet and I love the view of the lake in every season. The only problem is the weather is not conducive to actually spending any time outside, so I’m getting a little bit housebound. If we’re lucky, we maaaay have a day that’s clear and warm enough to go kayaking or rowing, but I’m not all that find of being in a tippy boat on a big lake in 40 degree weather. Still, I have my knitting, and all the books in the world (most of my on-paper library lives here), and two cats. I can take my pick of watching the fire in the fireplace or the lake. And if I get really bored, I can take my pick of doing something creative (more so than knitting or cooking – I think a certain amount of tedium is needed to kick my brain into writing mode) or do some cleaning I ought to tackle.

One more week. I buy lottery tickets now and then just for the fun of making it possible, even if vanishingly unlikely, that I could win and make this my everyday life.

almost ready and on tenterhooks

by dichroic in daily updates

Things I did yesterday:

  • Worked a full day
  • Erged 14 km and completed this year’s Concept 2 Holiday Challenge
  • Paid a bill
  • Medicated two cats
  • Cooked a tasty Chicken Francese (A new recipe for me. Recipe note: I do recommend this one, because it was very tasty and not too difficult – but when you’re making the sauce after cooking the chicken, I’d skip adding in the rest of the parsley. When cooked in the butter, it turns an ugly olive color – as opposed to the parsley included in the egg wash/batter, which looks fine. I’d add it as a garnish at the end instead.)
  • Put the final touches on my holiday packing: knitting, clothes, gifts etc.

Pretty productive for one day. And now I just need to get through a work day, load up the truck, and we are off to the lake for two weeks of quiet holiday bliss. Yay!

I expect to be around online, but just in case, Merry Christmas / Happy Yule to those who celebrate either, and Happy New Year to all!

How to be Jewish – in 1846 London

by dichroic in books

I found something fascinating today: The Jewish Manual: Practical Information In Jewish And Modern Cookery With a Collection of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette, written by Judith Cohen Montefiore, and published in 1846. Judith was the wife of Sir Moses Montefiore – interestingly, she was Ashkenazic and he was Sephardic, so I guess there weren’t issues with that. Her sister married the head of the Rothschild family in England and the two men became business partners, so we are talking about extremely rich people here – but, at least in the case of the Montefiores, also ones who were dedicated to helping their people.

This is hilarious and surprising – it is the most Anglicized possible Jewish book imaginable. For instance, she says about veloute and Bechamel sauces, “These preparations are so frequently mentioned in modern cookery, that we shall give the receipts for them, although they are not appropriate for the Jewish kitchen.” She does use suet or butter instead of lard in all recipes, and doesn’t mix milk and meat in the same dish; I think the main point of the book is how to suit English acquired tastes while still remaining kosher. There’s no discussion of separate plates or of not serving milk and meat at the same time, though; maybe everyone already knew the rules.

There are a lot of recipes I wouldn’t expect, and twists on familiar ones – surprisingly, her recipe for “matso soup” calls for beef broth, not chicken. I’m also surprised by how many recipes here aren’t either English or French – maybe Montefiore’s husband’s Italian background or her father’s Dutch roots account for them. There is “Almondegos soup” – but with egg balls instead of meatballs. Several recipes call for “that most fine and savoury of sausages, chorissa”, which I think must be chorizo. There’s a recipe for Impanada, which areprobably related to empanadas – but made of fish, alternated with layers of potatoes and dumplings, and there’s one for “Dutch Fricandelles” – but again made with fish instead of meat like modern frikandels.

There are just a few traditional Ashkenazic Jewish recipes, or things that sound like they might be: “Kimmel meat” (beef slow-cooked with vinegar and caraway seeds – or maybe this is Dutch?) and “Kugel and Commean”, which is made of peas, beans, beef, marrow bones and a calf’s foot, not much like any kugel I’ve ever had. Among the pastry dishes, there are Waflers (which are indeed waffles, because it says “wafler irons are required and can be obtained at any good ironmongers of the Hebrew persuasion”) as well as “Lamplich” and “Staffin”, neither of which I’ve ever heard. There are also “Haman’s fritters”, fried in boiling oil, which are definitely not hamantaschen. For Passover, there are several recipes for puddings and fritters using biscuit powder – I have absolutely no idea why this would be kosher for Passover. “Matso cakes” also call for biscuit powder, so maybe it’s matzo meal. “Matso diet bread” calls for a pound of sugar and eight eggs, so apparently the word “diet” also meant something different to Mrs Montefiore! (OK, well, I did already know that the word wasn’t used about weight loss at the time.)

There are also hints on the toilette, with various recipes for improving hair and skin, I will not be trying any of these, not having easy access to “spermacetti”, mutton fat or spirits of wine. On the other hand, a mixture of spirits of wine, honey, rosemary, rose water and soft water is probably not the worst thing to wash your hair with (honey is a gentle cleanser). I will say that her advice on fashion is still fairly reasonable: “Fashion should never be followed too closely, still less should a singularity of style be affected; the prevailing mode should be modified and adapted to suit individual peculiarity. The different effect of colours and the various forms of dress should be duly considered by every lady, as a refined taste in dress indicates a correct judgment.” (Nothing wrong with “a singularity of style” for those who want it, but I suspect that blending in with society was a major aim of this book, and it’s good advice for anyone who wants to do that.) This bit, though, is different from the current advice that v-necks are flattering: “Dresses made half high are extremely unbecoming; they should either be cut close up to the throat or low. It is, however, in bad taste to wear them very low on the shoulders and bosom: in youth, it gives evidence of the absence of that modesty which is one of its greatest attractions; and in maturer years it is the indication of a depraved coquetry, which checks the admiration it invites.”

Perhaps “depraved coquetry” can be my new watchword.

Dear Simon

by dichroic in books

Dear Simon Winchester,

I know you know your history better than that. I also know you know you’re writing for people who don’t. Therefore, please do not oversimplify to the point of inanity.

Thanks,
Me

I’ve liked several of Winchester’s books in the past, but in The Map that Changed the World, he is losing me not very far in – by seeming to suggest that the Enclosure Acts in England were an unmitigated good, purely because they made the English countryside much prettier. WTF?

This is actually an odd case where I somehow learned the populist history before the what you might call the official version, or the good side of the picture. The Enclosure Acts, by taking away the rights of non-land-owners to farm common land, led to hard times and short-term starvation for a lot of people. They fled to the cities, for lack of any other options, ending up in the sort of gin-laden rookeries you see in Dickens. Later on I read the other side of it in books on other aspects of history. The good side is that they enabled landowners to farm much more efficiently than before, so that England was able to produce much larger amounts of food, leading to a massive growth in population. As far as I can tell (and I’m not pretending to understand the entire picture) enclosures helped the rich immensely and both hurt and helped the poor. It’s not a simple story …. but I am pretty sure that the aesthetics are not the biggest part of it.