Dec 17, 2014

What's Tastier: a Bowl of Cookie Crisp or a Bowl Full of Actual Cookies?

Forbidden Fruit(y Pebbles)


In this edition of the Forbidden Fruit(y Pebbles), where I enlist my family and friends to go back and taste test all of the cereals our moms wouldn't let us eat growing up, my brother, Kittyvator and I sample Cookie Crisp. What will it taste be like as adults? Will they be as good as we suspected? Or, were our moms right all along?

Then we go one step further and dare to ask the question: What tastes better: a bowl of Cookie Crisp or a bowl full of actual cookies?

We taste test Cookie Crisp cereal as adults to see if the allure from childhood remains.

Cookie Crisp

A bowl full of Cookie Crisp - note how the pieces shimmer with sugar.

Have you had this cereal before?

Brother: No
Kittyvator: No
Me: No

 

As a kid, what did you think it would taste like?

Brother: A bowl full of min-Chips Ahoys. if that's what it tastes like, my tastebuds will be pleased, buy I'll still be sad for our children.
Kittyvator: Chips Ahoy is my guess.
Me: I'd hope like cookies and milk!

 

Now that you've tried it, what do you think it tastes like?

Brother: It tastes more like cereal than cookies. My tastebuds don't appreciate that but at least the kids won't get diabetes.
Kittyvator: This jus just weirdness personified in a cereal.
Me: Cookie-flavored cereal, I supposed, but that turns out to be disgusting.

 

Was your mom right or wrong to not let you eat this?

Brother: Good job, Mom. Stick with cereal that looks like cereal.
Kittyvator: Absolutely.
Me: Correct!

  

The Verdict: This gets a thumbs down from all of us.

It's a taste-off between Cookie Crisp and a bowl flu of Chips Ahoy.

What happens when you just eat a bowl full of cookies instead of the cereal?

A bowl full of Mini Chips Ahoy.

What was better: a bowl full of Cookie Crisp or a bowl full of Mini Chips Ahoy?

Brother: Has the recipe changed for Chip Ahoy or did Cookie Crisp ruin my pallet? The real cookies are better, but only a by a little.
Kittyvator: The cookies were not better. They weren't hard and were basically tasteless.
Me: The Mini Chips Ahoy were better than Cookie Crisp but not nearly as tasty as I remember.

  

The Verdict: We're undecided about which is better - the bowl of Cookie Crisp or a bowl of Mini Chips Ahoy.

Dec 16, 2014

Kidnappings, Examining Rock and a Murder Mystery on the Bayou

My Week In Books

When someone recommends to me a book I like, I go back to them for more in the hopes they'll continue to be a good source of great books. Kat Chow, an NPR reporter and sometimes guest on Pop Culture Happy Hour did me right. Again. When I started reading An Untamed State by Roxane Gay, all I knew was that Chow enjoyed it. A few pages in, I knew I did, too.

As a rule, I don't watch scary movies. I hate that feeling of something being about to jump out at any moment, of waiting for the other shoe to drop. In An Untamed State, Gay establishes from the very first paragraphs that she's setting up something scary. And I was okay with that. When something is scary on paper, I can shot the book when it gets to be too much. With a movie I have to cover my eyes and plug my ears and that just doesn't leave a free hand for using the remote to turn off the television.

In An Untamed State, Mireille Duval Jameson is in Haiti with her husband and son visiting family when she gets kidnapped. Her thirteen days in captivity and the recovery that follows are explained in great detail. Interspersed throughout, Gay shares with us background into Mireille's relationship with her family growing up, her husband and his family and the country her parents call home.

There are so many topics lying central to An Untamed State: privilege, violence against women, the experience of first- and second-generation immigrants. I was most intrigued by the story of recovery. How does a person recover after experiencing terrible violence perpetrated against them? How do relationships recover?

Gay has created a marvelous book. When I was done and logged the book in my GoodReads account, my review simply said, "Wow."

- - -

When I look back on life, I see it as punctuated by music - good and bad - and it was for that reason I was interested in Behind the Music: A Collection of Short Stories With a Musical Theme by Karen J. Mossman. This short collection leans towards chic lit with it's dramatic stories and insertions of romance, which I don't always appreciate. But the first story, A Cry in the Night, about a musician and a woman both taking a break from their regular life and meeting each other in the process, shows a lot of potential. Although just a brief story, Mossman has the beginnings of what could be a much longer romantic novel.

I received a copy of Behind the Music: A Collection of Short Stories With a Musical Theme by Karen J. Mossman for free as part of a GoodReads First Reads contest.

- - -

There was a period when I was younger when I read mysteries all of the time. Agatha Christie, Nancy Drew, whatever. I've gotten out of the habit, but still enjoy a good detective story. Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran is just that, but it's so ... quirky. The setting is more The Wire than anything Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple would have encountered. Claire DeWitt herself is sort of a cocky mess, but so up front and confident about it that it's almost okay.

I don't think Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead is a story that will stick with me very long, but if I am ever stuck for a book to read, I'll happily check out the other Claire DeWitt story.


An Untamed State; Behind the Music; and Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead.

Dec 10, 2014

Tasting the Forbidden Cereal of Our Youth: Honey Smacks

Forbidden Fruit(y Pebbles)


In this edition of the Forbidden Fruit(y Pebbles), where I enlist my family and friends to go back and taste test all of the cereals our moms wouldn't let us eat growing up, my brother, Kittyvator and I sample Honey Smacks. What will it taste be like as adults? Will they be as good as we suspected? Or, were our moms right all along?

Taste testing Honey Smacks as an adult.

Honey Smacks

Taste testing Honey Smacks as an adult.

Have you had this cereal before?

Brother: No
Kittyvator: Yes
Me: Yes, at my grandparents' house in Cleveland.

 

As a kid, what did you think it would taste like?

Brother: I think they will taste light and airy like Rice Krispies, but maybe more honey-floavored like a Honey Nut Cheerio.
Kittyvator: They'll taste like sweetest corn puffs.
Me: I remember this cereal fondly ... sweet and delicious!

 

Now that you've tried it, what do you think it tastes like?

Brother: We have a winner! This is how cereal is supposed to taste. I am looking forward to starting future mornings off right with some Honey Smacks!
Kittyvator: I'm not sure. It tastes like a chemical with sugar. I loved it.
Me: It's just as I remembered! Bliss!

 

Was your mom right or wrong to not let you eat this?

Brother: WTF mom!
Kittyvator: No. Hell no. Sh!t no. I do believe she was wrong for that!
Me: WRONG! An abomination!

 

The Verdict: We ALL approve!

Dec 8, 2014

The Pros and Cons of a Forrest Gump Approach to History

My Week in Books

For the past week I've been lugging around the three pound tome that is Ken Follett's final installment to the Century Trilogy, Edge of Eternity. (The first two were Fall of Giants and Winter of the World.) Follett has attempted an enormous undertaking. Using wars as his focal point, he has explained a century of world history in only three novels: World War I, World War II and the Cold War.

Perhaps because the material was the most new to me, I think the book focusing on World War I was his most successful with each subsequent book being a little less so. That said, Follett has been writing historical fiction for a long time and the way he combines all of the knowledge he's accrued is pretty amazing.

Follett's approach with this series is to take a large cast of characters and illustrate world history through their experiences. Each subsequent time period is told via the next generation of the original cast. This works because the characters are in such close proximity to world events. In Edge of Eternity, one woman has an affair with President Kennedy, a man is an aid to President Nixon,  one woman uses her job as a journalist in Russia to feed information to her brother, a high-ranking government official, and so on.

Remember how in the movie Forrest Gump the title character finds himself at many key points in history? That's basically what happens here. And while I wish I had never thought of that comparison, because it cheapens the book and work that went into it, I think it's pretty accurate.

Why Forrest Gumping History Works


Although I've read about all of the historical events discussed in Edge of Eternity, I couldnt even attempt to relay the information to someone else. It's not an area of strength for me. By creating fictional characters that I care about and incorporating those characters into history, I become more invested. I still might not remember every detail, but I'm more likely to remember the general gist of what happened.

History, especially political history, is a funny thing because nothing happens in a vacuum. All of the pieces are related to each other but that can be hard to explain. In the context of a story that's removed from the boring lectures we might have gotten in school, it's easier to note how story lines interconnect, or how actions cause reactions and history forms over time through many, many series of events.

What You Lose When You Add Too Much Fiction to History


Very few among us is wholly good or wholly bad. But when you're trying to convey 60 years of history in one novel, you almost have to reduce people to narrow categorization. And so, in Edge of Eternity the bad guys are bad and the good guys are good. Unless they are a main character, in which case people are more nuanced. That's simply not the fairest telling of history but certainly makes relaying information easier.

One storyline Edge of Eternity I was particularly intrigued by involved Maria Summers and an affair she had with JFK. Follett researched this area by looking to Mimi Alford, whose 2011 memoir talked about her time as an intern in the White House, where she became a presidential mistress. While it might be based on fact, it's up to me as a reader to look at that plot point, step back and try to examine it as an example of a larger pattern. If I read it as history, and not historical fiction, then I am doing myself a disservice.

I've read many critiques of Follett's portrayal of the latter part of the cold war as being revisionist history. Most of the criticisms seem to come from republicans or conservatives who are offended in his treatment of Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. I think the complaints are well-founded. But. Almost any telling of history is revisionist to some point. Even the best journalists and historians out there make choices about what parts of history they report. The information presented, or not, shapes peoples opinions. Follett made choices and, in doing so, reduced some really complex parts of history into manageable events. I don't take issue with that because it's historical fiction. If I were reading a school textbook, I might feel differently.


Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy #3) by Ken Follett.


Follett is a great writer. I take issue with how he presents women and a need to put so much sex into all of his novel (often unrealistically), but I can put up with it for a good story. And that he can provide. While this should be the last in the series, Follett has reportedly said he would do another sequel. If he does, I'll happily read it. His books aren't perfect, but they are thoroughly enjoyable!