Archive for May, 2012


I frankly have been MIA due to feeling rather crappy, distracted and uncreative. However, when I popped on Google a little while ago, I saw that their Doodle today was celebrating the birth of Faberge and I just had to comment. I love Faberge eggs and Nicholas II and his family! I first got introduced to Faberge when I was about 14 or 15 and my family and I were visiting some friends in Mississippi. They had an exhibit on the Romanov family and the highlight was several original Faberge-designed eggs. While I can’t remember all of them, I do remember seeing these two: 1898 Lilies of the Valley Egg and the 1901 Gatchina Palace Egg. I was also lucky enough to see a few more eggs that were on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, when I went to university there. I particularly like this one, the 1896 Egg with Revolving Miniatures, for the intricately detailed paintings inside, as well as the 1912 Tsarevich Egg covered in lapis lazuli and gold. I had forgotten that they did more than just the eggs, but re-browsing the Museum’s website has learned that he did photo frames, household objects as well as religious icons such as this one of St George Slaying the Dragon. For more information on Faberge, check out this website or this one. Seeing these eggs and the exhibit on Nicholas II and his family, sparked my intense curiosity on the Romanov royal family and their tragic fate. Later, after studying Bertie, who later became Edward VII (my favorite prince/monarch of England), I became interested in Tsar Nicholas II’s mother. Her Russian name was Maria Fyodorovna, but her original name was Princess Dagmar of Denmark and she was the sister of Alexandra, queen of England and wife to Edward VII. I have been unable to find any books so far on her, but I will try again.

Jobs and Book Reviews

I have been very busy the past week and a half taking care of my son and trying (unsuccessfully) to keep on top of house work. Despite my husband’s prediction that I will sustain myself on ramen, I can actually cook and have been doing so every other night since he’s been in England. I’ve discovered that my son likes both avocados and homemade mac ‘n cheese, so we’ll be making more of that tonight. My hubby was supposed to fly in tonight at 6pm, but because of a gigantic delay on the European flight, he’s not coming in till tomorrow morning. I am VERY ready for him to be back home. Just having another adult in the house to help take care of things will help out a lot. I was let go on Friday from my job, which was partially anticipated after my evaluation (apparently I’m not chipper enough on the phone, though I thought I was doing a good job, and not passionate enough about my job). I’m sorry but I can’t be fake happy, it’s not in my nature. Part of the reason I wasn’t excited about the job was because I never had enough to do. Now don’t get me wrong, I like free time at work, but when you’re going to work and only really working maybe 2 out of 4.5 hrs, it’s easy to get bored. It was never supposed to be a permanent job, but rather an in-between one. But that’s enough dwelling on that subject. So I’m redoing my résumé again and applying for jobs once again. Let’s be honest, I never really stopped looking, but now it is more in earnest than it was before. On top of all of this, my best friend is in the hospital with blood clots and hemorraging  and no word yet if they are going to have operate on her. So I’ve got plenty of things to worry about.

Enough of the frustrating and on to the fun stuff. I am currently listening to the audiobook version of Garth Nix’s Sabriel, narrated by the brilliant Tim Curry. I’ve decided to start attending another bookclub, this one is a crafting and reading bookclub. It’s cool because they pick a category and you can pick whichever book you want to read and discuss. The category for June is nonfiction and I’ve picked this book called The Perfect Nazi,which is a combination of nonfiction and biography. As with all my book reviews, I rate the books on a scale of 1-5 stars (1 being the lowest and 5 the highest). Enjoy!

Children

The Goblin and the Empty Chair by Mem Fox

This book was weird. I’m glad that I read the write-up on the story on Goodreads or I would have no idea what was going on. A goblin sees his reflection and is so scared that he resolves never to be around anyone or show his face. Years go by and he is alone. Then one day, he happens upon a farmer who while working in the field, sighs and covers his face. The goblin decides to help him out, trying not to be seen, but is secretly seen by the farmer. The same thing happens with the farmer’s wife and daughter. One day they are getting ready to sit down for dinner and there are four places set but only three people (therefore I’m guessing the fourth person died). They set out food at the fourth place and wait for the goblin, who eventually comes and sits down to eat, after revealing his true face. The reader never gets to see him, so maybe he’s the son they lost, but I’m not really sure. The ending was abrupt. The only thing I liked about this book were the illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon (who also illustrated the Caldecott award-winning books “Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears” and “Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions”). Recommended for ages 7+, 2 stars.

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert

A very simple picture book about a man formed out of leaves, this book explains how the wind decides where the leaf man goes. On his way around, he sees chickens, ducks, geese, vegetables, fruits, turkeys, bunnies, cows, fish and all other manner of things. I like the end pages with their illustrations of individually named leaves in all kinds of colors. The author apparently liked to collect leaves and had a leaf file, where she kept them so she could illustrate them, which is how she came up with the idea for this book. This book really makes me miss the autumns back east. Recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.

One Monster After Another by Mercer Mayer

Another great imaginative monster book by Mercer Mayer, this one is a story about a girl who writes a letter to her friend. It gets intercepted by all sorts of monsters along the way. Another reviewer mentioned that it seems Mayer is channeling Seuss with all the crazy made-up words in this book and I’ll have to agree with her. I like that he included a dodo in the background of a couple pages of the book, in addition to the Stamp Collecting Trollusk, Letter-Eating Bombanat, and the Wild-‘n-Windy Typhoonigator. Recommended for kids aged 5+, 5 stars.

The Octonauts and the Only Lonely Monster by Meomi

I had no idea that there was a Disney cartoon show about these books, but I’m not surprised as it is seriously the cutest book I’ve ever seen. The illustrations of the Octonauts are like cartoon versions of kawaii (Japanese for cute – so cute it should be illegal) animals. The Octonauts are made up of a polar bear, kitty, penguin, dog, otter, bunny, octopus/bear (only thing I can describe it as)and a vegimal (vegetable animal, in this case a turnip). They live under the sea in the Octopod, which is being attacked/hugged by a giant squid aka nutopus, who is lonely. They search for another one but find out Archie is the only one, but he now has 8 new friends. I don’t think my son would get it this early in life, but maybe when he’s five I’ll let him borrow my copy that I will get. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.

Fraggle Rock Classics Volume 1 by Stan Kay

I never even knew there was a Fraggle Rock comic. I grew up watching the show and loved it, so when I found this while browsing the children’s section the other day, I figured it would be good. It had all the classic characters: exploring Gobo and his famous Uncle Traveling Matt, frantic Red, hippie Moki, sock-loving Goober and paranoid Wembley. It also had the Doozers, those crazy building fiends, and the doozer named Cotterpin who wants to be a Fraggle, and the creatures from “outer space”. While I liked reading about them, I think it’s better as a show. Thankfully the show is on Netflix now, so I can watch it with my son. Recommended for ages 7+, 3 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead

Amos McGee works at the zoo. Every day he takes care of his friends, which include an elephant, penguin, owl, rhino and tortoise. One day he gets sick and can’t visit them, so they come to his house and take care of him. I thought it was a very sweet story and I love the woodblock printing with pencil drawings. This is the first book I read for my Caldecott challenge, this one won the 2011 Caldecott award and is the first of 177 I need to read. Recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Another book I read for my Caldecott project, this one being a 2012 award honor. The book was a cute mini-biography about Jane Goodall. She, along with her stuffed animal chimp Jubilee, explore the nature and animals around her house. She loves reading about them in books and hopes one day to study the animals of Africa. She gets her wish when she is able to study chimpanzees at the Gombe Stream National Park. There is a further biography of Dr. Goodall in the back, as well as a letter from her encouraging kids to “make the world a better place for humans, animals and the environment.” I would’ve given this book more stars, but I wish that they would’ve included more information in the actual text and not just the addendum in the back. My 9 1/2 month old loved the pictures and illustrations in the book, as did I. Recommended for ages 1-5, 3 1/2 stars.

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

I really enjoyed this story as seen through the eyes of a child and the sculpted bushes that Grandpa Green creates. Grandpa Green had wanted to study horticulture, but was drafted into World War II, where he met his wife. They had a lot of kids, grandkids and then the main character, their great-grandchild who leads the reader through the story and his great-grandfather’s garden. Grandpa Green created all the sculptures for him to remember his life story. I think this should’ve won the Caldecott 2012 award, instead of just being an honor book. This book was read as part of my Caldecott award winners/honors challenge. My son loved the illustrations as well as I did. Recommended for ages 10 months – 5 years, 5 stars.

Children and Young Adult

Sorcerer of the North by John Flanagan

In this volume, Will is a full-fledged Ranger and about 4 years have passed since the last book. He is on his first assignment to Seacliff and right away he helps them out by stopping a group of Skandians from raiding and pillaging the area. Halt and Crowley order him, through his friend Alyss the courier, to go on a secret mission in Norgate Fief to Castle Macindaw, which is at the northernmost part of Araluen, on the border between it and Picta (the equivalent of Scotland). The interesting point is that Will was travel as a jongleur, basically a traveling minstrel, which is convenient as apparently Will is an amateur musician. Alyss ends up being his contact person at Castle Macindaw, disguised as the airheaded Lady Gwendolyn.

Overall I thought it was a pretty good book. There were some twists and turns, and you could never quite figure out who was bad and who was good until the end. nice change of pace. I like that Alyss is a smart confident young woman. I liked the idea of Will as a minstrel, a person who is well-liked even though they are strangers, in comparison to Rangers who people distrust even if they don’t know them. The Will/Alyss romance, which was hinted at in previous books, was a nice addition. The ending was very abrupt, but I know the story will continue in the next volume of the series. Recommended for ages 10+, 3 1/2 stars.

Young Adult

Natalie’s Good Fortune: A Tale of Piracy and Adventure: The Adventures of Natalie Brennan by Anthony R. Fanning

I was asked by the author to review this book, and as I love pirate books and ones with strong female leads, I said yes. It took me forever to read this book, partly because I was busy and partly because I couldn’t decide if I liked it enough to finish it. Once I really got into the story though, I enjoyed reading it.

Natalie Satterfield is a 15 year old upper class English girl whose Irish mother has recently died and her paternal grandfather sends her to Charles Town (modern day Charleston) to live with her absent father. On the way there, the ship she is riding on is attacked by pirates and she escapes to a deserted island. This is where it turns into a 1930s swashbuckling film. It turns out the island is inhabitated by brown-skinned savages who happen to be cannibals, and she escapes them by being rescued by the island’s other resident, a pirate named Black John Hayes. At first she dislikes him, but after spending a year with him rebuilding a ship from shipwrecks, she comes to trust him and calls him a friend. They go to New Providence (an island in the Bahamas) and end up with two extra crewman who travel with them to Charles Town. The reunion with her father doesn’t go the way she planned, and she ends up back on Natalie’s Good Fortune, the ship that she built with Captain Hayes. They end up finding the pirates that not only raided and sank Natalie’s ship, but also killed John’s wife. Will they be able to claim vengeance for the pirate’s misdeeds? To find out, please read the exciting first book of the series. I hope there are more books to come.

Overall, I think it was a great read. It was very descriptive in the beginning, which I personally like and I’m glad the author took the time to explain the nautical terms as not all seafaring books do that. I will admit that the violence in the book made me question the appropriateness for young adults, even with the kind of things that are out there now in YA literature. I realize that with pirates you are going to get a certain amount of violence given their line of work. That being so, I would recommend this to ages 16+, 4 stars.

Lewis & Clark by Nick Bertozzi

I decided to give this one a try after I remember it was on my to-read list, as I found it in the library today. I know about Lewis & Clark from history class but that was ages ago, so I figured this graphic novel would help me brush up on my history a bit. The overall look was very busy and it took me a bit to get used to how they laid out the design, but once I got into it, I devoured it quickly. Meriweather Lewis was sent by President Thomas Jefferson, a man he greatly respected, to find a water route from the US territories to the Pacific Ocean in 1803. Remember that this is right after the War of Independence and before the  the War of 1812. So there was a lot of un-British sentiment, which was tricky as the British, French and Spanish controlled the rest of what would become the US. Luckily for Lewis and Clark, Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803, which gave the US land from St. Louis following the Mississippi all the way over to where it meets up with the Columbia River. It took them 3 years to complete the journey, and then Jefferson makes Lewis the governor of the Louisiana Territory and Clark the Secretary for Indian Affairs. Lewis seemed to have lost his sanity a bit on the trip and killed himself shortly thereafter. The author kind of left the Sacagawea story hanging a bit, not sure if that was intentional or because there was no more information on her. Recommended for ages 14+, 3 stars.

Adult

In the Garden of  Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

Normally I can’t get through nonfiction/biographies in audiobook format because I get bored, but this book was definitely the exception. I had seen a good review on it, and since I’ve always been interested in World War II history, I thought I’d give it a try. It was a really fascinating book and gave a glimpse of the start of Hitler’s regime from 1933-34, as seen through the eyes of a lowly history professor turned American Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd. He took his wife, daughter and son with him and the evolution of the Nazi state is seen through their eyes. The book features many first hand accounts from not just the Dodd family, who kept extensive memoirs and diaries, but also from other Embassy officials, the friends of the Dodd family living in Germany, and close associates of Hitler. Seeing the collapse of the Weimar Republic (Germany after WWI to before Hitler becomes dictator)from the inside and how the German government sincerely thought that they would be able to control Hitler is intriguing. I find it so crazy and yet fascinating that this slight man who was shy and did really bad in school was so mesmerizing in his speeches as to brainwash an entire country into doing what he wanted. While I think Dodd did the best he could do given the situation he was in with the American government (particularly the State Dept not being on his side), I think he did a good job in Germany. I haven’t quite decided if I like the man as a whole, but he is an interesting character nonetheless, as is his daughter Martha. The books makes me want to further research on Hitler and how he controlled the minds of the German people before and during WWII. 5 stars.

BB Wolf and the Three LPs by J.D. Arnold

I can’t decide if I liked this graphic novel or not. I do believe that it was a very clever re-telling of The Three Little Pigs story, as well as a comment on racism between African-Americans and whites in Mississippi in the 1920s (heck that could be from right now in the Delta, things haven’t changed much in nearly 100 years).

In the book, BB Wolf is a poor farmer who lives with his wife and cubs on his wife’s farm. He plays the blues and drinks a lot. One day, Mr. Littlepig comes to his house and makes up some crap about a loophole in the farm’s contract so that he can kick the wolves off the farm. The wolves are portrayed as African-Americans and the pigs are the whites. The PPP come and burn down his farm and kill his wife and all but one of his children. He is so enraged that he kills Littlepig and is on the run. He ends up in Chicago doing odd jobs and playing the blues. He runs into his pal from MS named Loop and he fills him in on what had been going on back home since he left (i.e. pigs burning down a bunch of farms and causing chaos). BB kills another of the Littlepig brothers and is about to catch the third, when he is arrested and executed. 3 stars.

Rhubarb Renaissance by Kim Ode

The first rhubarb thing I ever ate was Marks & Spencer Rhubarb and Cream hard candy in the UK. Then when I married my hubby, he started making Rhubarb and Apple Crumble, and I discovered this vegetable in all its tart glory. I had no idea that rhubarb was used as a laxative by the Chinese, before it was used by Europeans in pies. I had seen rhubarb used in a curry, though that, I thought, was the extent of its savory capabilities. Boy, was I wrong! They use it here in the Good Medicine Lettuce Wraps (rhubarb and turkey appetizer), Turkey Tenderloins with Rhubarb BBQ sauce, Rhubarb Koresh (a traditional Persian lamb stew). I will say that the highlights of this cookbook seems to be the Salted Caramel Rhubapple Pie and the Eastern Sky Scones with Rhubarb and Mango. 3 stars.

The Big Book of Cupcakes by Betty Crocker

I’ve decided that I might make cupcakes for my son’s first birthday, so I figure this book would at least give me some ideas. I love that the recipes are so easy to make and even allow for recipes made with prepacked cake mix. There is a plethora of choices, so my decision on what cupcake and frosting to do should be easy. His theme is Rubber Duckies, so I figured I could maybe do Lemon Cupcakes with Lemon Frosting and a candy duckie on top. They have a recipe for Lemon Curd filled Lemon Cupcakes with Meringue, which I thought might be fun. Aside from that, there are many recipes that just look amazingly tasty, like the Aztec Chile-Chocolate Cupcakes with Cinnamon Chocolate Frosting, the Butterscotch Cupcakes with Salty Caramel Frosting, or the Dark Chocolate Chip-Mascarpone Cupcakes (whose topping sounds like Tiramisu). 5 stars.

The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern: Knock-Out Dishes with Down Home Flavor by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

I’ve been wanting to read this cookbook for awhile as it has had good reviews. Also I was raised in the South and it is refreshing to see someone do something new to Southern cuisine as it can be rather heavy and boring. Overall, I thought it was an interesting twist on traditional Southern fare. I didn’t care for most of the recipes, but their drinks like the Watermelon Margarita looked awesome and I’ve never eaten collards but the Collard Greens with Poblano Chiles and Chorizo looked tasty. And who would’ve thought up Rice Pudding Pops with curry powder or garam masala? I would personally have mine with nutmeg or ginger, but might give one of the other two options a try. 3 stars.

Peter & Max: A Fables Novel by Bill Willingham

I have read the Fables comic series through Volume 4 and absolutely fell in love with the story and the characters. Because I liked the comics so much, I figured the novel would be great, and Mr. Willingham did not disappoint. This book is a stand-alone story so you don’t have to have read the series, but it helps. Wil Wheaton, star of Star Trek Next Generation as Wesley Crusher, is fantastic as narrator. I would love to hear him narrate more books.

In this book, the story is juxtaposed between medieval enchanted Hesse and our present day world. It focuses on three main characters: Peter and Max Piper and Bo Peep. The Piper brothers are part of a traveling minstrel family, and one day their father decides to give the magical flute Frost to Peter (who is more talented even though he is the youngest). This action royally pisses Max off who basically swears to make Peter’s life a living hell and sends Max off the deep end. After the Empire attacks Hesse and starts taking over the country of enchanted swords and talking animals, Peter and Bo flee to the city of Hamelin. Later, Max teams up with a witch and receives the even more powerful magical flute named Fire, which he uses to get vengeance on all those who wronged him. Will Peter and Bo ever escape Max’s wrath? Will Fire destroy Peter? Will Max ever get his hands on Frost? To find out, read this fantastic book. 5 stars.

I’m sorry for not writing this week. Things have been rather crazy at home and work this week, and I’ve not had the time to post. I’m hoping to make things up a bit with this post, as it is on two of my favorite subjects, art and history. This week, I started watching the 2011 TV series Borgia, about the Italian Renaissance Spanish family, the Borgias. I knew something of the family before watching the series, but I must say that this show has seriously peaked my interest again in the Italian Renaissance. I will admit that normally I lean toward the Northern Renaissance in art (this will be a future post), but I also understand the importance of the Italian one, which is the one most people remember because of great artists like Michelangelo, Botticelli, da Vinci and others. I have had the good fortune to live in Italy for a few months when I was an undergraduate, and it was amazing. Not only because of the food (which cannot compare at all to American Italian, trust me), but because of the art, architecture and history of this great country. I stayed in Siena for 3 weeks and Florence for 3 months, and traveled around the country as I was able. Although I love Firenze, Rome I think is my favorite city in Italy (although I will admit, I like the food better in Florence).  The history and artwork in the Eternal City is just so amazing. You have Roman ruins right next to Baroque palaces, and those are right next to modern buildings. It sounds crazy, but it works. I have been to Vatican City, so seeing it in the show made me think of Michelangelo and all the work he did in St. Peter’s. Granted the show is about 40 or so years before he worked on the basilica himself, but he did do a lot of church commissions, so I figured it would be a good link for this week. Well that and I’m reading a book about his most famous sculpture David, as seen through the eyes of the model he used.

Because I was based in Florence, I was able to see a lot of the work Michelangelo completed for the city, as well as Casa Buonarrotti, where the artist lived and worked during his lifetime. The first time I saw a Michelangelo was in Paris, not Italy. I had gone to the Louvre as part of a summer abroad program in high school called People to People Student Ambassadors. In the Louvre, I saw his Bound Slave and Dying Slave sculptures. I was fascinated by these works of art. I discovered later, as it is explained on this website, that these pieces “were conceived of the figure as being imprisoned in the stone, as in his Third Captive piece. By removing the excess stone, the form was released.” The next Michelangelo piece that I saw was in Bruges, Belgium in the Church of Our Lady. This piece was the only one to reside in the northwest of Europe during the lifetime of the artist. According to this website, “The man who would later become pope Pius III (who only ruled 26 days in late 1503) commissioned Michelangelo in 1501 to create a set of 15 sculptures for the Siena cathedral. Michelangelo accepted but never finished the assignment. This finished sculpture was acquired in 1504 by a Bruges merchant, whose family gave it to the city in 1516.” It is a gorgeous sculpture, and as the webpage mentions, the model for this work and the Virgin in the Pieta, must be the same.

Madonna with Child, 1501

When Michelangelo was 13, he caught the attention of Lorenzo de’ Medici, aka Lorenzo the Magnificent. He was invited to join the household of the family and studied in their sculpture gardens. It must’ve been an amazing place to work and grow up, as Lorenzo’s household was a center for learning and famous humanists and poets of the day congregated at his house. When he was 16, he created the marble relief sculpture of The Battle of the Centaurs. The piece is so full of energy and movement, with the Lapiths and the Centaurs fighting each other, and it seems to come alive when you look at it. This story was taken from a Greek myth, which was told by one of the poets living in the de’Medici palace. For a more detailed description of the piece, please check out this page.

Battaglia dei Centauri (The Battle of the Centaurs), 1490-92

One of my favorite pieces of Michelangelo’s is Moses, from Julius II’s tomb in San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains). I have seen it and it is quite impressive, much in the same way that his most famous statue David is impressive (though David is taller, at over 14 ft, the statue itself being 9 ft). It was one of a series of six sculptures completed for Pope Julius II’s tomb, though the original plan was to do over 40 sculptures. Julius II was the pope after the Borgia pope, Alexander VI. Moses is depicted as the great Lawgiver with the Ten Commandments in hand. He has horns coming out of the top of his head, which comes from a misinterpretation from the Bible during the Renaissance. The translation came across as Moses had “horns of light” instead of “rays of light”, in reference to the way Moses glowed after he came down from Mount Sinai, after being given the Ten Commandments by God.

Moses from the Tomb of Julius II, c. 1515

The final work I would like to discuss is another of Michelangelo’s most famous pieces, The Last Judgement. Although the entire Sistine Chapel is gorgeous, this painting was what I had come to see when I visited the Vatican. I had written a paper on the the work for the Italian Renaissance art class I was taking, so I was excited to see it in person. It is enormous, covering an entire wall, and according to this webpage “was the largest ever painted in that century.” The painting, which depicts Judgement Day, also known as the Second Coming of Christ, was proposed by Pope Clement VII and after his death the commission was extended by his predeccesor, Paul III Farnese. It is interesting to note that the artwork was proposed after the French sacked Rome, which was seen as a sort of Judgement Day in and of itself. The painting caused a great scandal when it was revealed due to Michelangelo’s propensity for painting nude figures. I am especially amused by the following quote from Biago de Cesena, the Vatican Master of Ceremonies, who had this to say about the work (as quoted from the previous webpage) “it was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully, and that it was no work for a papal chapel but rather for the public baths and taverns.” Michelangelo had his revenge by depicting Biago as a demon in the painting itself, in the extreme bottom right corner. The nudity, however did not bother the pope until the Council of Trent, who had condemned nudity in religious art,  met 24 years after the fresco was completed that and the nudity was covered up by artist Daniele da Volterra (who was later nicknamed Braghettone, or “The Breeches Maker”).

The painting shows Christ the Judge in the center of the painting, deciding which souls will go to heaven and which to hell. Below him, according to this webpage are “angels blowing trumpets and the Archangel Michael reads from the book of souls to be saved. The larger book on the right contains a list of the damned destined for hell.” Michelangelo snuck himself into the painting as the flayed skin held by Saint Bartholomew (how he was martyred) directly belowed Christ. To the immediate right of Jesus is St Peter holding the keys to heaven, and is a portrait of Michelangelo’s patron Pope Paul III. Further down on the right (in the green dress) is Saint Catherine of Alexandria holding the instrument of her intended martyrdom, what is called the breaking wheel or later the Catherine wheel. The bottom right of the painting shows the boatman Charon, who ferried the dead over the River Styx in Greek mythology, is now taking them to hell. The bottom left shows the dead rising again so they can ascend into heaven.

The Last Judgement, 1534-41

Cooking frenzy

I apologize for not posting on Friday. I love doing the art posts, but this past Friday was just so hectic, I didn’t get a chance to do anything. I will do better this week. My hubby is gone to England to visit family and attend his sister’s wedding, so it’s just me, the baby and the pooch. I’ve been bored and lonely here at home, so I decided to experiment with some recipes this week. Usually my hubby is the cook and I look after the baby. Don’t get me wrong, I can cook, I just haven’t felt like it in ages. I’ve been wanting to bake for forever, as it is calming and therapeutic, but I’ve just not been motivated. Now I have 9 days to myself so I figured I would try some recipes. Just now I made a modified version of Mabo Dofu. It is a Chinese dish that they also make in Japan, and the Chinese call it Mapo Tofu. I used this recipe from the website http://www.justonecookbook.com. In my version, I doubled the garlic and ginger, and added another 3/4 pound of pork (trying to use the whole package that I bought). I took out the green onions entirely. The original recipe says to use 2 1/2 Tbsp Tobanjian with or without chili, but I didn’t know what it was so I decided to sub about 1 1/2 tablespoons of Chinese chili-garlic sauce instead. Turns out Tobanjan (this is the correct spelling) is bean sauce from China (more info on it here). The author of the original recipe does not specify what kind of miso to use, so I used what I had on hand, which was red with mixed grains. So I’m sure mine tastes far different than the original recipe, but it’s pretty tasty to me. I might add some more chili-garlic sauce to give it a bit more a kick. I think if I make it again, I’ll make some rice with it.

I also am planning on making some lemon-raspberry bars. I had originally wanted to make them for Mother’s Day for my mom, who was unable to leave her house due to a health issue, but I was so exhausted I decided to wait a day. The recipe is here, so feel free to make it on your own. I’m sure they’ll be yummy – how can they not with fresh raspberries in them? What kinds of interesting things have you cooked/baked recently?

R.I.P. Maurice Sendak

For those who haven’t already heard the news, author/illustrator Maurice Sendak passed away yesterday. He was 83. Most people know of his work from his most famous 1963 book Where the Wild Things Are, which won the Caldecott in 1964. It was later turned into an animated and live-action movie and an opera. The initial reaction to his book was not as good as people who think, especially in light of how popular and well-loved the book is now. According to this LA Times article, “the book was a startling departure from the sweetness and innocence that then ruled children’s literature. ‘Wild Things’ tapped into the fears of childhood and sent its main character — an unruly boy in a wolf costume — into a menacing forest to tame the wild beasts of his imagination. Librarians banned the book as too frightening. Psychologists and many adults condemned it for being too grim.” Sendak based the Wild Things on his relatives, according to the New York Times, “who, in his memory at least, had hovered like a pack of middle-aged gargoyles above the childhood sickbed to which he was often confined.”

This book was however not the only of his books to be banned. One of my favorite of his books, In the Night Kitchen, was banned because of the nudity of Mickey, the main character. The book, according to the preceeding NY Times article was ” a tribute to the New York of Mr. Sendak’s childhood, recalling the 1930s films and comic books he adored all his life. (The three bakers who toil in the night kitchen are the spit and image of Oliver Hardy).” In another article in the Times published yesterday, the authoer Dwight Garner says that In the Night Kitchen was his and his kid’s favorite book. “The whole thing is supple and serene and terrifying at the same time. Some have also objected to its would-be sexual innuendo (milk, phallic bottles and the like), and it was on the American Library Association’s list of the “most frequently challenged books” of the 1990s.”

I actually didn’t read Where the Wild Things Are until I was in graduate school. The Sendak collaboration I remember as a kid is “Really Rosie,” the animated show he did with singer Carole King, especially the Chicken Soup with Rice song. The song was from a book of the same name, which was part of a series of four small books called The Nutshell Library. I still think of that song and hum a bit of it every time I see a can of Chicken Soup with Rice.

I love that he was a mentor to another of my favorite children’s book illustrators, Paul O. Zelinsky (who I’ve met and fawned over when I found out he had also been an art history major in college). Zelinsky has gone on to illustrate some great books like the 1998 Caldecott award-winning book Rapunzel (my personal favorite), Beverly Cleary’s Strider and Dear Mr Henshaw, and Anne Isaacs folktale book Dust Devil.

Almost forgot one of the coolest things, lol. I wanted to give a shout-out to the Children’s Department Main Branch at Richland County Public Library, not only for being awesome, but for having the only endorsed-by-Sendak mural of  Max and the Wild Things at the entrance/back of their department. I always think of it whenever I see the book.

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