FINT Book Review: Joss Whedon & Race

et’s face it. White liberals are having a “woke” moment that is shamefully long overdue. Growing up in the 1980s and early 90s as a white middle class kid from a moderately open-minded family (albeit residing in the conservative American south east), I was taught that the most respectful way to treat people of color was to be “color blind”. That is, to behave as if the color of their skin did not matter. It’s who they are inside that counts. And while that is a lovely notion for a fictional, utopian, post-racial society, it is unrealistic for our world. Moreover, it’s disrespectful and hurtful because it negates the realities of people of color. In Virginia, I could see that racism was alive and well. But I moved to Seattle, Washington at my earliest opportunity and was quickly absorbed into a little bubble of like-minded people. How easy it was for me to forget what it was like beyond the membrane of my blue cocoon.

Mary Ellen Iatropoulos and Lowery A. Woodall III’s collection of critical essays, Joss Whedon and Race cover Whedon’s relationship with race, ethnicity, and nationality on his television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Angel (1999-2004), Firefly (2002-2003), and Dollhouse (2009-2010), as well as the Firefly movie, Serenity (2005). Though Whedon is known for his progressive narratives, he’s not immune to perpetuating cultural stereotypes even as he seeks to subvert or transcend them. This is particularly true of his early work…

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Read the rest on Film International!

 

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Cookbook Review: Quinoa Cuisine

Not to brag or anything, but I’ve been into quinoa since before it was cool. I grew up with a slightly hippie mom who forbade sugar cereals and soda and thought that carob was an acceptable alternative to chocolate. We also rarely had red meat. She provided proteins from fish, chicken and tofu and, of course, quinoa. I became a vegetarian when I was 14 and finally began to appreciate my mother’s health-conscious ways. Because of her, I already had several healthy recipes under my belt. Of course, it never hurts to have more.

Quinoa has been very popular, of late. David Lynch even cooked up a bowl as a special feature on the “Inland Empire” DVD. And now we have Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser’s terrific cookbook, “Quinia Cuisine”, which boasts “150 Creative Recipes for Super-Nutritious, Amazingly Delicious Dishes”. If you’re skeptical about quinoa, that claim might sound like a bit of an oversell. Perhaps it’s because there are still a lot of people out there who are suspicious of it. I can understand why. It looks weird. It smells a little strange before you cook it and especially before you give it a good rinse. But trust me when I tell you that this strange little food really can be “amazingly delicious”.

“Quinoa Cuisine” is a terrifically laid out cookbook with an unusually worthwhile introduction, outlining its history and health benefits as well as many cooking methods and a few factoids. For instance, did you know that quinoa is NOT actually a grain? I did not. Apparently, it’s more closely related to beets, spinach and chard. What you’re actually eating is quinoa seeds, thus making it a “pseudograin”. I won’t spoil the whole thing for you. I’ll just say that I usually skim over introductions to pretty much every book I read. Not this time.

The actual recipes in the book are coded with helpful symbols that indicate such qualities as “30-minutes or less”, “gluten-free”, “kid friendly” and vegan or vegetarian.

The first chapter consists of “Essential Recipes” which are not only recipes you’ll make often, they also appear as part of other recipes later in the book. This is where you might begin to realize the true magic of quinoa. You can make every damn thing with it, from pancakes to pizza dough, tortillas to pie crust. If you’re living gluten free and didn’t know about quinoa this book will probably change your life.

From there, the book moves through every meal, blowing your mind with options: Breakfast, Starters, Salads, Soups & Stews, Side Dishes & Pilafs, Meat & Fish, Vegetarian and even Dessert. There are also special sections for Packed Lunches and Party Food. This is a truly comprehensive book that transcends genre and cuisine ethnicity. Think of your favorite dish. I’ll bet you cash money that there is some version of it in there. And, as a side bet, I wager that you’re going to love it made with quinoa. Maybe I have a little bit of a gambling problem. But that doesn’t mean I’m not right about this.

My one complaint with this book is that, apart from the front and back covers, there aren’t any photos of the food. I’m a visual person and I always like to compare my completed dish with the photo in the book, just to make sure I did it right. Granted, I get kind of annoyed with the step-by-step photos that food bloggers are so fond of. I don’t need to see what all my ingredients look like laid out on the counter together. But a little food porn is what often draws me to a recipe. I know they probably wanted to make more room for recipes (and possibly to save money by printing in black and white). But I wouldn’t mind a slightly higher cover price for the benefit of one little picture for each recipe.

Apart from the lack of photos, I am perfectly pleased with “Quinoa Cuisine” and highly recommend it to anyone who is already a fan or even a little quinoa curious.

Book Review: Classic Southern Desserts

Having spent my formative years in the south, I may be a little biased. But I firmly believe that nobody knows how to make a smashing dessert like the folks from below the Mason Dixon line. Southern Living’s “Classic Southern Desserts: All-Time Favorite Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Pies, Puddings, Cobblers, Ice Cream & More” assembles the greatest hits of those buttery confections in one convenient volume. With over 200 recipes, the gang’s all here. They even throw in an entire section dedicated to cheesecake.

You’re gonna want to bake everything in this book. Some of the recipes sound harder to pull off than others but, if the pictures are any indication, they would doubtless be worth the effort. There are also plenty that sound quick and easy. They aren’t too proud to encourage pre-made pie crust and other store-bought short cuts. A proper southerner understands that a good homemade dessert is a good homemade dessert. Who cares if it didn’t take all day to make?

Each section introduction gives some history behind the genre and highlights a few standouts. The descriptive paragraph for each recipe oozes with imagery, making each and every entry sound like the greatest dessert of all time. Where applicable, they also tell the stories behind the recipes so you can feel like you are reenacting history in your kitchen.

Each recipe is also helpfully labeled to identify certain categories of desserts such as “holiday favorite”, “sweets to share” and “kids love it”.

Here are a few titles that caught my eye and will be realized on my counter top ASAP:

*Praline Bundt Cake (with sugared pecans!)
*Baby Sweet Potato Cakes with Pecans and Sticky Caramel Sauce
*Oatmeal Cookie Sandwiches with Rum-Raisin Filling
*S’more Puffs
*Grapefruit Tart
*Caramel-Applesauce Cobbler with Bourbon-Pecan Ice Cream
*Sweet Potato Cobbler
*Bananas Foster Upside-Down Cake
*Key Lime Frozen Yogurt

Now try to tell me your kitchen isn’t calling to you.

Southern Living’s “Classic Southern Desserts: All-Time Favorite Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Pies, Puddings, Cobblers, Ice Cream & More” is now available in hardcover.

Book Review: Cooking Through the Seasons

In the film “Food, Inc”, Robert Kenner asserts that one way we, as a country, can make positive changes in the corrupt food industry, is to “vote” by shopping a certain way. Buy organic, locally-grown ingredients and, most importantly, buy in season. Don’t encourage the production of genetically modified food or food imported cheaply from other countries by demanding foods that are hard to come by. Americans have become accustomed to having whatever they want when they want it, behaving not unlike spoiled children. Shopping in season is not only good for the farmer and local economy, it also makes it a lot more fun to anticipate a seasonal food. Books like Cooking Light’s “Cooking Through the Seasons; an everyday guide to enjoying the freshest food”, employs that philosophy, and has assembled a collection of recipes to help celebrate the seasons.

While the concept is terrific, in terms of being a functional cookbook, there are a few problems. For one thing, it’s not terribly well organized. The book is logically broken up into sections by season, starting with spring. But if you want to know what to cook with the ingredients you already have, or if you’re looking for, say, a good soup to make for dinner, you pretty much have to read the whole seasonal section to find it. It also doesn’t feel very comprehensive, having only a few recipes per dish per season. It’s really more of a series of suggested menus than a complete guide to seasonal cooking. However, there are certainly some inspired gems. The photography is also quite lovely, making every dish look like a winner. And that is quite a feat considering the calorie-counting implications of Cooking Light.

The book is broken up thus: There are four sections, naturally. Each individual season has a summation page (“The [season] Kitchen”) followed by an “In-Season Chart”, “Flavor Companions”, “Best Ways to Cook” and then the recipes. The “In-Season Chart” is the most helpful of the book’s features. It lists which fruits and veggies to look for at the store and it’s a great way to make a shopping list based on what your personal flavor preferences are.

The “Flavor Companions” section expounds on your shopping list by suggesting accompaniments for the seasonal produce such as cheeses, herbs and sauces. This is also very helpful, especially if you plan to cook seasonally beyond the recipes in the book and maybe even make up some of your own dishes.

The “Best Ways to Cook” section is another con to the book, unless you are really new to cooking. It reads like a beginners’ guide, explaining basic cooking techniques like boiling and grilling. There are a few helpful tips in there, but anyone who cooks their own meals on a regular basis will probably skim through these sections.

Another small criticism of the book is that it’s not particularly vegetarian-friendly. These days, there are so many dietary restrictions around that it seems like it would be in the best interest of new cookbooks to cater to a wide variety of needs besides just the traditional American diet.

That said, this is definitely a terrific book for getting started in the practice of seasonal cooking; a practice which every American should seriously consider taking up.

Cooking Light’s “Cooking Through the Seasons; an everyday guide to enjoying the freshest food” is now available for purchase in hardcover.

Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.

In a way, it’s like he’s been dead for a long time. Isn’t that what a recluse wants? For the world to act as if he’s dead? But he wasn’t dead until now. And I already miss his crazy ass.

Like nearly every American teenager, I first became familiar with J.D. Salinger when I read “Catcher in the Rye” in 9th grade English class. And like many American teenagers, it absolutely spoke to me. It was even more profound considering that most of the other kids in my class were completely unaffected. Some were bored by the book. Some just thought Holden was a jerk. Some probably didn’t actually read it at all. I was in private school and many of the characters in the book that Holden called “phonies” reminded me of the people I begrudgingly spent every day with. I wrote two papers about the book. One was a typical literary analysis and one was a “diary entry” written in Holden’s voice. The latter came to me very easily. I got an A+ on both papers. I felt that I had never completely understood a book better than I understood that one. And with that, “Catcher in the Rye” became my favorite book.

What really knocks me out is a book, when you’re all done reading it, you wished the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.

Later, I voluntarily took an AP English class over the summer which was all about Salinger. We read every book that he’d published that summer. I had never had so much fun in school. “Nine Stories” blew me away even more profoundly than “Catcher”. I was so moved by “For Esme with Love and Squalor”. I don’t think a book had ever made me cry before. We also learned a bit about J.D. Salinger, the man. He was crazy. He was a recluse. His family hated him. He’d been accused of inappropriate relationships with young girls. It was fairly obvious that everything he wrote was at least semi-autobiographical. This did not bode well for his mental state. But I fully understood how one could let the world get to him. And that’s what had happened. He was better off in hiding.

I re-read “Catcher in the Rye” and “Nine Stories” yearly. In college, I once spent an entire Saturday in the downtown Tacoma library (remember libraries, kids?) seeking out his uncollected works: short stories which had been published in literary journals and magazines and then forgotten. I exhaustively searched through the microfiche and spent dime after dime photocopying everything I could. I didn’t find everything, but what I did manage to collect felt like a treasure. I later devoured those stories and thought this was an author who was incapable of writing a bad sentence.

He does have that vault full of unpublished works. He has said that what’s in there is vaulted for a reason. He thinks it’s terrible and he never wants the world to see it. I don’t know who is in charge of his estate or what will become of those stories now. Part of me wants to read them, of course. But considering the quality of what he allowed to be published, I also trust his judgment. And I never want to read a Salinger story that I don’t love.

Speaking of which, it’s been a while since I re-read “Nine Stories”.

Hotter With a Beard: Chuck Klosterman Edition

This edition is in honor of my friend, Elyse, who met the illustrious Chuck when she was the maid of honor to his groomsman at a friend’s wedding. I recently gifted her a copy of “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” (mmmm…Cocoa Puffs…) and his picture on the back cover features this cute but also sort of geeky clean-shaven face.

Apparently, he now looks like this:

Proof-positive of the magic of facial hair. The evidence is undeniable. The shorter bangs help too.

First IMDb and Now This!

Amazon and partners continue to bona fi my career as I am now listed as an author on Amazon.com!

not for tourists book

If you have a minute (and a copy of the book), please give it a (preferably favorable) review.

The 2009 book is on its way!