Don’t f*** with Circe

Madeline Miller collects the myths that mention Circe the nymph, gives her a backstory, and then puts it all into a very entertaining story.

If you remember Circe at all, it’s probably because you know her as one of the obstacles Odysseus had to face before he could get home (though, Calypso is the nymph with whom he dallies for seven years, not Circe). Circe is known for turning Odysseus’ men into pigs. In this telling, she still totally turns them into pigs – who knows what a bunch of hungry sailors are going to do to a woman living alone on an island. A woman has to defend herself, after all. But the story is more nuanced than that; she changes them back eventually and they use a hidden cove on her island to repair their ship over the winter, when it is usually too dangerous to sail anyway.

Overall, Circe is portrayed as a nymph who has been rather unjustly exiled to live on an island in the middle of the ocean, where she teaches herself magic from the herbs there. She makes friends with the animals – it’s very Cinderella in that way, now that I think about it. People and gods come to visit her over the years, and she’s even once allowed to leave the island for a particular task.

Circe is a woman who has been allowed to fully realize who she is and what she wants and figures out how to get it. It’s wonderful.


Having Feelings

I had so many conflicting thoughts while reading All The Single Ladies. I agree with her premise: that many women are marrying and having children later because that is how they get time to fully form who they are and what they want from life. We need to support women at all stages of their lives, from single hood, through partnership (if that’s what you want), through parenthood (again, if that’s in the cards), and beyond. All of this, and this is most of what she’s saying, is 100% correct, and we should celebrate all of the ways in which people, both men and women, realize their full potential.

Does my praise sound forced? It might. I do agree with what All The Single Ladies had to say, but at the same time, I felt vaguely attacked for my own life choices (married in my late 20s, having a child a year later). Did those decisions, negatively affect my career? Probably. Moving across the country twice didn’t help, though. I’ve always chosen a new adventure over building a career. It’s part of who I am.

And so: All The Single Ladies gave me Feelings. Feelings of “I didn’t do life right” except that I’ve done life right for me so far, and I hope to continue that. But that was a conclusion that took me some time to get to.

The later chapters also gave me feelings of “Yes, we absolutely need to make it easier for women to have both children and careers” and “female friendships are super important” and “society needs to realize how much money women have.”

So: recommended, but apparently I needed some psychoanalysis to get there.

Lime sherbet + graham crackers = key lime pie sherbet? Work with me here.

Many answers to “what am I going to cook?” tend to involve a follow up question: “what food is about to go bad?” In this case, it was limes. It’s summer, we had extra limes that were looking a bit sketchy, and there was leftover heavy cream. Lime sherbet it is!

It turned out fairly well, if a little on the sweet side. So I threw some graham crackers into the bowl and called it Key Lime Pie Sherbet instead.

Lime Sherbet

1T lime zest
1c+2T sugar
pinch of salt
0.666c fresh squeezed lime juice
1.5c water
2t vodka
0.666c heavy cream

  1. Process the sugar, salt, and zest in a food processor until the sugar is damp. Turn processor on and add lime juice and water. Leave on until sugar is fully dissolved, about a minute. Put into bowl, add vodka, cover and refrigerate until mixture is 40F (30-60 minutes).
  2. Once it’s cold, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Then slowly add the mixture in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Immediately start ice cream maker and put juice/cream mixture in. Churn for 25-30 minutes, until it has the texture of soft-serve ice cream.
  3. Transfer from machine to storage container and freeze for 3 hours. (If you don’t do this, I’ve found that the mixture isn’t really cold enough to eat. It melts quickly and you end up drinking more than you eat.)


Advanced Adulting

If adulting is about calmly and rationally taking control of your life and the things that need to get done, addiction turns you into a perpetual child, forcing all of the people around you to take care of you and clean up the messes you leave behind. That’s as long as you still have people around you.

The first half of The Night of the Gun is about the disaster of addiction, the perpetual doing things half-assed if you’re going to do them at all, the constant pursuit of feeling good over everything else. David Carr’s trick is that he uses his reporting skills to go back and talk to people from his life and look at fun documents like his arrest record to clarify everything that happened.

The second half is about the crawling out of the addiction, becoming an adult, learning how to take care of himself and his daughters. It is potentially the boring part, or it’s the redemption arc that the story needs. It does have my favorite quote of the book, from a friend of his: “Are you going to be loyal to a fucking concept like being an artist, or are you going to be loyal to the human beings that you’re responsible for?”

I have a feeling I’m going to come back to this one when I’m in the bad times.

Torture porn is not a thing I ever need to read

It’s not too strong to say that I hated The Radium Girls. Why? Well, let’s take a group of women who work painting glow-in-the-dark watchfaces before we really understood that Radiation Was Bad For You. Let’s get you emotionally invested, talk about the various mysterious ailments these young women were getting, and then gruesomely describe one’s death.

Then, point made, the book should have moved on to show how women started mobilizing, protesting, fighting for their safety and OSHA rules. Nope. One group of women done with, let’s move on to the next and talk about their ailments and, I’m sure, another gruesome death. A quick scan through the rest of the book showed that that’s how the book works.

I’m sure that an understanding of radiation’s negative effects starts percolating through and you do see more fighting, but I don’t need to read lots of descriptions about how much people suffered in the meantime. I really, really don’t.

Not recommended.

You should care about things

The Way You Make Me Feel is a fairly typical young adult book. Clara is a screw-up of a teenager who wins prom queen as a joke (that she is in on). When she wins, she engineers a Carrie-esque prank; disaster ensues, she has to work on her father’s food truck for the summer with her self-declared mortal enemy, Rose. Rose turns out to not be so bad, she meets a boy, happy endings ensue.

But here’s what I like about it: it makes a fairly coherent case for why earnest caring about things is better than cool-kid detachment. Yes trying can lead to failure, but failing breeds grit and resilience. And when you succeed, that can be pretty awesome. Caring about things makes you happier than not caring about things.

So, yes, your typical young adult book with a good message. It was a good, light summer read.

Crepes make delicious snacks

Gluten-free bread is expensive, and flavor is always kind of a crapshoot. It’s never really going to taste exactly like bread and different flours taste different. I like the bread I make from scratch.

But here’s the thing: making bread from scratch takes forever. Even (especially?) gluten-free bread. I’ve got a good recipe – that’s another post though.

So a couple of weekends ago, I was craving peanut butter. Normally, I’ll cut up an apple or cut a celery stalk and have some peanut butter. That was not going to work this time, because it turns out that I was craving a peanut butter sandwich. And of course – no bread in the house. (There’s almost never GF bread in the house.) Peanut butter tastes terrible on corn tortillas – don’t try it, just trust me – and so what to do?

The answer, my friends, is crepes. Crepes are quick to make, quick to cook, easy to eat (I had one with peanut butter while I was finishing cooking the batch, thus sating my craving), and then you have extra crepes around! At least for a bit until everyone else eats them. They go fast.

Gluten-Free Crepes

5.5oz ATK GF flour blend
1.5t sugar
0.25t salt
1.5c milk (the recipe calls for whole, we never have whole in the house, 1% works fine)
2 large eggs
2T unsalted butter, melted & cooled

Start heating a 10″ nonstick skillet over medium heat. We actually have a crepe pan, so if you have one, please use it instead. A skillet is a fine substitute and not having a crepe pan should not stop you.

Whisk the dry ingredients (which includes the sugar this time!) into a medium bowl. Mix the wet ingredients into another bowl. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, whisk until all the lumps are gone.**

Once the pan is heated, pour about 0.25c of batter into the pan and swirl to get a thin, even layer of batter. (This is easily the hardest part of making crepes, and your first crepe is often kind of a mess. It’s ok, even if it looks bad, it makes a nice snack while you’re cooking the rest of them.)

Cook the crepe without moving until the edges are brown (about a minute). Gently slide a spatula around and under the crepe, loosening and then trying to flip. Cook until second side is lightly spotted – only about 30 seconds or so. Then transfer to a waiting plate. Repeat until your batter is done, placing one crepe on top of another.

This is the crepe recipe from America’s Test Kitchen’s How to Be Gluten-Free, which is a cookbook I HIGHLY recommend if you’re a gluten-free person like myself.

** Aside: I often mix the wet ingredients together in to a 4c pyrex measuring cup and then put the dry into the wet, to make the batter easier to pour into the pan.

Sometimes books aren’t what you want them to be

I added The Glass Universe to my Amazon wishlist in a fit of feminist fury after the 2016 election. I, I thought to myself, am only going to review books by and about women! I have not stuck to this – my interests are too wide ranging – but I find myself skewing more towards books by and about women.

Alas, I wish I liked this book better. I wanted it to be about the challenges that women interested in astronomy faced, or to take a step back and talk about the larger picture of how they fit into the whole field. Instead, it was a very dry “first this happened. then that happened.” Maybe the larger picture got addressed later in the book? I didn’t make it far enough to find out.

Not recommended.

Ignoring the feminine

Mary Beard is, of course, a well-know classicist, and it’s a personal life mission of mine to read all of her books. Even the dry academic ones – they’re quite interesting, if you’re curious about life in the Ancient Roman or Greek worlds. This is not one of those.

Women & Power is a very slight book – less than 100 pages – that is basically a transcript of two speeches she gave about just how deep silencing women goes in Western culture. Spoiler alert: the first example of silencing a woman in a written text is the Odyssey, which is possibly the oldest written text there is.

There are examples of powerful women in ancient texts, but these women are never portrayed as positive role models – think of Medea and Medusa – and even Athena is problematic. The feminine is secondary to the masculine by default.

This was a quick but illustrative read. Definitely recommended.

It’s fine I guess?

I’ve been putting off writing this review because I’m not sure what to say about Norse Mythology. It’s…. fine? I neither especially loved or hated it. Thor is more of an idiot than in the Marvel movies and Loki is just as chaotic but less deliberately evil/angry. It’s short stories, and they were probably told around a campfire whilst drinking back in the year 1000. You can’t get too long of a story in that circumstance.

It’s a sold three stars: enjoyable, but I’d be surprised if I’ll remember it in six months.