Friday, February 20, 2009

The Word Nerd Sez: J is for ...


Who couldn't love a word with so many funky letters in it? Look at the potential Scrabble score:


(And don't tell me it's too long for Scrabble; if you leave "POSE" open and I have letters and room, I can totally score 25 points on it, plus bonuses.) Plus, it's a word someone crabbed together from two languages: "juxta," from the Latin for "near," and "pose" (or "position") from the English. It means to place two or more things side by side, most often for purposes of comparing and contrasting. It's an essential tool to the nonfiction writer, I believe. When I'm surveying critical reaction to someone's work, I often find it useful to juxtapose positive and negative reviews. I think it gives a broad idea of what critics think, but it also gives a subtle message: take what critics think with a grain of salt; read/look/listen and judge for yourself.

One last cool thing about juxtapose/juxtaposition, I discovered this morning: it's the last word in the J section of my old Webster's Dictionary. That really makes me want to look up the last word in every section, but I have work to get back to. Darn!

*Thanks to Pholph's Scrabble Generator: What is your score? Get it here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Come pick me up ...

... okay, I haven't landed yet after seeing Ben Folds in concert last night. (He is my favorite recording artist, and if you hear my cell phone ring that's him singing.) First of all, he puts on a great show, totally rocking out on the piano. Second, I took Boy to the concert and for once I could sing along with the music without complaints from the peanut gallery. Usually I am told I am embarrassing myself (and him, of course, that's a given), but last night I wasn't the only one singing along. It was an interesting mix last night at the Michigan Theater; lots of college kids, of course, but I saw a few kids younger than Boy, and quite a few fans older than myself.

It's interesting to consider the songs that an artist picks to perform in concert. You always hear a lot from the new album, and last night was no exception: eight songs, plus two variations coming from an upcoming release of remixes. Interesting, though: no songs at all from his penultimate album, but three from his first ... and none of the radio hits that helped him break through in the 1990s. People often call out suggestions during his concerts, and he often riffs on that, making jokes about being a "wind-up automaton." I think a lot depends on the backup band; two years ago he only had a drummer and bassist, but this year he added a couple extra percussionist/keyboard/all-purpose musicians, and it made for a different sound. I was fine with that; he played my favorite song and a couple of Boy's favorite songs, and even had a whole section of the show where he played "waltzes" (ie, 3/4 time) solo on the piano. Since I'm freaky enough to build a whole playlist on iTunes of just songs in 3/4 time, I ate that up.

One last thought: how hard must it be to serve as the warmup band? No one's heard of you, they're all waiting for the main act, they talk while you sing, and they're glad when you're done. Rough gig, that. Still, they get to see the main act perform every night, so maybe it's worth it.

If you want a sampling of what we heard last night (warning, one song has R-rated language; the title gives it away), you can try this awesome little gadget below. You might recognize one song that appeared on "Grey's Anatomy" a few weeks ago; in any case, it's an interesting assortment to sample.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

In praise of blueberries....

I'd thought of several things to write about today: the letter J, how I have too many things to do this month, how I might go stark raving MAD if the weather doesn't get warmer, how irritating it is when someone makes an appointment with you and then doesn't show up or even call, how the cats are trying to sabotage me ... but I got distracted. Right now, I can only think of one thing:

How did I ever not love blueberries?

They're sweet with just the right hint of tartness. They're firm and round and squish with a burst of flavor when you crunch them between your teeth. They're tasty raw and fresh, and they're just as tasty baked into something warm that makes the house smell great when you bake it.

When I was younger, I wasn't a fan of blueberries. I wouldn't spit them out and gag, but I wouldn't seek them out, either. If I had a choice at Thankgiving, I'd pick apple or pumpkin or maybe even peach before I'd take a slice of blueberry pie. I'd go picking with my grandparents, and while they threatened to weigh my grandpa before and after entering the blueberry patch, those fresh berries would be safe from me.

With age comes wisdom, I suppose. (Getting older is good for something, at least!) Now I love blueberries any way I can get them: dried in my cereal, frozen and then nuked with my oatmeal, fresh by themselves, baked in pies, crisps, cakes. When I go to the store in the depths of winter and see a big old pound box of fresh blueberries staring at me, I forget all about global footprints and local cuisine and I grab that box of berries that came all the way from Chile. Fresh blueberries! In winter! I must have them!

And so I did today: raw and tasty on my cream of wheat, and baked into a tasty crumb cake I made this morning for my no-show guest, to disguise the smell of last night's fish dinner. I had a piece, and it was tasty and delicious. And low-fat, so I will share the recipe:

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup stick butter, softened
1 t. vanilla
1 large egg
1 1/3 cups flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/8 t. salt
3/4 c. lowfat buttermilk (or take 1 T lemon juice and add milk to make 3/4 c.)
1 cup blueberries
3 T. sugar
3 T. flour
1 T. stick butter
1 t. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat a 9-in pan with cooking spray. Beat sugar and margarine until smooth; add vanilla and egg, beat well. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mix. Stir in blueberries. Pour into pan.

Combine 3T sugar and remaining ingredients into bowl; mix with fork until it resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until wooden pick in center comes clean. Cool and EAT. Yum.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Photo of the Week--2/9/09

Budapest is a very lovely city, as you can see from this shot atop Buda hill. The Danube may not be very blue, but it was beautiful, with the fall foliage throwing little accents of orange and red into the landscape. What I remember most about our trip to Budapest, though, was the food! Goulash, paprikash, palacsinta (meat-stuffed pancakes) ... lots of warm, spicy sauces and tasty noodles and dumplings. Boy was 7 at the time, rather inured to travel, and not very adventurous when it came to food, but after a few days in Hungary he was asking, "Can we live here?" Mmmm, I'm salivating just thinking about it....