My dear readers may not all be aware that I just moved to Brooklyn, NY. I love it here. I have known since I was little that I belonged in New York. But DC will always be close to my heart. I was born in Columbia Hospital for Women, in the District. I grew up in Upper NW, and then spent the past three years in Petworth. DC is a wonderful, varied place and I love it very much.
Today, I was feeling homesick, and I posted on Facebook that I was missing my old hood. A friend mentioned that DC was a rectangle, and it just seemed like the perfect thing to write about right now.
Washington, DC was founded in 1 791 to be the new capital of the United States of America. Previously, the capital had been in Philadelphia, but Congress decided that the capital of the country should not be in a state. Instead, it should be its own federal district, so no state could have undue influence over what when on in the seat of the federal government. Because of this, DC still to this day has no voting representatives in Congress.
And so Washington, DC was born. It is a city that was planned on a grid, with avenues (named after the states) cutting diagonally through the city. It radiates out from the Capitol, which is located in the center of the city, and it is divided into four quadrants: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. Politically, there are eight wards of DC voters.
The city was planned to be a perfect square – 7 miles square. It was made with land donated by Maryland and Virginia. However, due to rising tensions between the north and south, Virginia took back its half in 1847. DC is now mostly a square, with a bite taken out.
DC is, historically, a heavily black city. Recently, the percentage of black citizens is down to about 50% of the population, but in the past that percentage has been much higher. Especially east and south of Rock Creek Park, much of the city is pretty densely black. Because of this, there is a vibrant history of distinct black culture in DC.
The neighborhood nearest and dearest to me in Washington is Petworth. I lived there for the past three years. It is a neighborhood “in transition” – gentrifying, but by no means gentrified. Because rent is still relatively low, Petworth is an incredibly vibrant, diverse mix of people, with the population varying drastically in terms of age, race, and class. It’s a pretty amazing community of people, with lots of small local businesses and neighborhood pride. All of my friends still live there, and it’s truly an amazing place.
My dear friend Torie made the above print of a map of Petworth. I love it, and it hangs right above my bed in my apartment.
So, DC, here is my tribute to you. I’m missing and loving you today.
Toast seems, at first glance, like something too ubiquitous to even post about. However, the humble, rectangular toast is such an important part of our culture that I just could not ignore it.
Toast is made by exposing a slice of bread to heat. Toast is an essential breakfast food, often served at restaurants with a breakfast order without even asking for it. Many people enjoy toast with butter, and some even put jam or jelly on top. In England, orange marmalade is a popular toast-topper. The French like Nutella on their toast. Additionally, dry toast is a lovely option when you are sick to your stomach (read: vomiting).
But let’s look deeper at this rectangular breakfast treat. What is the chemical process that turns bread into toast? Wikipedia tells us that toast becomes toast due to a Maillard Reaction. A Maillard Reaction is “a type of non-enzymatic browning…[resulting] from a chemical reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar, usually requiring heat.” It was named after a chemist named Louis-Camille Maillard. Ok. Clear enough. Now for the nonsense:
“The reactive carbonyl group of the sugar reacts with the nucleophilic amino group of the amino acid, and forms a complex mixture of poorly characterized molecules responsible for a range of odors and flavors. This process is accelerated in an alkaline environment (e.g., lye applied to darken pretzels), as the amino groups are deprotonated and, hence, have an increased nucleophilicity. The type of the amino acid determines the resulting flavor. This reaction is the basis of the flavoring industry. At high temperatures, acrylamide can be formed.“
If you understand that, God bless you. I certainly don’t. But I figure I must have some science freaks among my readership, and babies, that was for you.
Since I found out I could no longer eat gluten, I’ve really missed toast with butter. Gluten-free bread is pretty universally nasty. But I’ve recently found that when toasted, or made into grilled cheese, it’s palatable. I bought a beautiful red toaster off Amazon for 14.99, and I’ve become a toasting queen. I ate toast with butter for breakfast this morning, in fact! And it was delish.
Part of the charm of toast is that it has other diverse uses than a breakfast staple. Some sandwiches are traditionally made on toast. I have fond memories of eating tuna on toast at the pool with my parents. Just writing about it makes me want one rull bad. BLT sandwiches (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato, for those who have lived their sad, sad lives without ever experiencing one) are also traditionally made on toast slathered with mayonnaise.
I would be remiss not to address some more unconventional rectangular toasts in this post. First, let’s cover French toast. French toast consists of a slice of bread soaked in egg and pan-fried in butter. It is often eaten with maple syrup. In French, they call it “pain perdu,” meaning “lost bread,” because they used the stale bread that they otherwise would throw away and made it into something edible. Because of the inclusion of the egg-soak, French toast actually has a bit of nutritional value.
Another rectangular toast variation is Melba Toast. Melba Toast used to be one of my favorite snacks. It is super, super dry, and very thin and crunchy. There’s a special flavor to it that is probably also a result of some sort of Maillard Reaction, and I’ve always really liked it. Wikipedia tells us that Melba Toast “is named after Dame Nellie Melba, the stage name of Australian opera singer Helen Porter Mitchell. Its name is thought to date from 1897, when the singer was very ill and it became a staple of her diet. The toast was created for her by chef and fan Auguste Escoffier.”
All in all, the humble, rectangular piece of toast is a staple that has survived through the centuries. It is crunchy and delicious, especially when bathed in butter. Thank you, toast, for sustaining us until lunchtime. Thank you for improving our BLTs. And thank you for settling our tummies when we drank too much the night before.
Graham crackers, classic rectangular snack, have a fascinating history. We’re going to turn to our good friend Wikipedia to learn about it.
The graham cracker was invented in 1829 by a Presbyterian minister named, predictably, Sylvester Graham. Originally, they were made with graham flour – a course and bland flour. Graham invented these crackers as part of his “Graham Diet,” intended to curb “unhealthy carnal urges, the source of many maladies.” I assume he made them rectangular because the rectangle is the most sensible of the shapes. He was fairly obsessed with masturbation, and convinced that a bland diet could suppress the sexual appetite. Praise Jesus.
Fortunately for our sex lives, graham crackers are now made mostly from white flour, Graham’s great enemy, and sweetened with refined sugar, another great evil. They are often fed to children in daycare or preschool, although why that is, I’m not sure. Probably because they are bland, enjoyed by everyone, and easy on the stomach. Also, they dissolve in your mouth, so no choking hazard (by the way, that dissolving factor was always my favorite part of the Graham cracker experience. I liked to hold the cracker between my tongue and the roof of my mouth until it dissolved. Yum!).
The best graham crackers I’ve ever had are sold at Modern Times Coffeehouse, underneath Politics and Prose bookstore in DC. They are made by Pollystyle, a local bakery owned by a lovely woman named Polly. They’re perfectly slightly crunchy, only slightly sweet, and unbelievably delicious. I miss them dearly. They used to taste great with a cup of coffee (something else I’ve given up – it makes my nose and gums itchy). So, so yum.
One great use of the graham cracker is a graham cracker crust. Although a pie is (rarely) rectangular, it is still a delicious, if inferior, treat. The graham cracker crust is a classic crust on a cheesecake. I love it for chocolate pudding pie. And I’ve recently found it to be a delicious crust for a key lime pie. It’s usually made by mixing butter (and maybe some salt) with craham cracker crumbs, which is then pressed into a pan, and baked for a bit. Very yum.
Perhaps the most culturally significant use of the graham cracker is in the classic campfire treat called the S’more. The rectangular S’more is made of a toasted marshmallow (I’ve always preferred mine charred) and a bit of (rectangular) chocolate bar squished between two graham cracker squares. It’s not particularly gourmet, but anyone who’s had one would acknowledge that the S’more is extremely sweet but pretty delicious.
Thank you, Reverend Graham, for developing this delicious rectangular treat. Sorry it hasn’t curbed my libido.
Ah, saltines. Food of the Gods, when the Gods have the flu. Or feel like eating some soup. Bland? Sure. But salty? Absolutely. So salty. The pretzel ain’t got shit on our friend the saltine when it comes to the salt factor.
Now, I wasn’t allowed to have junk food growing up. Remember Combos? Those were a no-go. Bugles? No way, Jose. And don’t even start with me on Doritos. So, I ate a lot of saltines.
And thank God for that.
My parents must have foreseen my personal values and standards from an early age. After all, what do those junky snacks all have in common?
They’re not rectangles.
That’s right, folks. Not. Rectangles. So, fuck them, they have no place in this blog.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s get back to the rectangular topic on hand – the saltine.
According to our helpful pal Wikipedia, a saltine is “a thin, usually square cracker made from white flour, shortening, yeast, and baking soda…lightly sprinkled with coarse salt.”
The saltine was the first cracker to be leavened with baking soda. It was invented in 1876 by F.L. Sommer and Company, a company based out of Missouri. At first it was called the “Premium Soda Cracker,” due to that baking soda, and later became called “Saltines,” due to its use of baking salt. The saltine caught on brilliantly in America, and Sommer’s business eventually merged with other companies to become part of Nabisco in 1898. Now you can find Saltines in America under the brand “Premium,” by Nabisco.
Keep educating us, Wikipedia.
After the term “saltine” began to be used to refer to all crackers of this sort, Nabisco lost its trademark. In 1907, the word “saltine” was in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defined as, ‘”a thin crisp cracker usually sprinkled with salt.”‘
And there we go. A brief history of the saltine.
So how has the saltine permeated pop culture?
Well, most restaurants serve a plastic-wrapped packet of two saltines with soup. The idea is that you crumble or dip the saltine into the soup, making it perfectly water-logged and delicious. I have fond memories of this treat from my glutenous days.
[I must include a warning here. The saltine has a hexagonal cousin, the oyster cracker. These babies are also often made by Premium, the same company that makes most saltines in the US, and are often served with soups. Do not be fooled. Oyster crackers, while similar, are a far inferior, unquadrilateral product. In other words, they need to back the fuck off the territory of the saltines – the soups of America deserve the best.]
Saltines are also often recommended to people with stomach viruses. They are extremely bland, and are very easy on the digestive system. Also, delicious, but usually only on the way down.
Additionally, there exists something called The Saltine Challenge. The goal sounds simple – eat 6 saltines in 60 seconds without drinking anything. Just six crackers? In 60 seconds? What pussy can’t do that? BUT WAIT. Saltines have a secret power, and that power is efficiently soaking up the saliva in the mouth. So, after chewing the saltines, the resultant crumbs are impossible to swallow, and many people fail. Oh, saltines, you sneaky bastards.
In conclusion, saltines are an important and valuable part of American culture. They have a proud history of feeding the sickly and soaking up the soups of our great nation. Thank you, saltines. It’s been so, so real.
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, is a beautiful work of historical fiction. It is the first book of a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, an important adviser to Henry VIII of England during his reign. Unusually for historical fiction, Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize – an extremely prestigious award in the world of contemporary fiction (Mantel’s second book in the series, Bring Up the Bodies).
Wolf Hall begins chronicling Henry VIII’s reign at the beginning of the downfall of Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and the rise of his second, Anne Boleyn. It chronicles Henry’s split from the Catholic church, and the threat of the protestant reformation. It also focuses on the political atmosphere of the time. There are so many different issues in play that it makes for such fascinating history. The book ends at the beginning of the fall of Anne Boleyn, after she fails to produce a male heir, and as Henry gets madder and more power hungry. Throughout, we also follow the personal life of Thomas Cromwell, a very smart and cunning man who knows how to run Henry’s court successfully.
This book is truly brilliant. The writing is fantastic – colorful and unbelievably gripping. I was thrilled that it was as long as it was, because I didn’t want it to be over. But what really makes Wolf Hall so interesting is that it paints Thomas Cromwell, a man historically depicted as a villain, in a very likable and sympathetic light. I have so much affection for the fictional Cromwell that I dread his inevitable downfall in the third book – something I know from historical context, so not a spoiler.
I highly recommend this book. It’s not gorgeous, high brow literature, perhaps – not James Joyce – but it is really fun to read, and definitely well written. The subject matter is hard to mess up, because it is so fascinating, and Mantel does a brilliant job with it.
I love religion. I think it’s fascinating, and really, the driving force behind much of history.
I’m certainly not religious, but I was raised Jewish, and I do appreciate the culture and traditions of Judaism. I can read Hebrew, I know most of the prayers, and I go to services on the High Holidays. That’s pretty good.
God is a bit harder. I’m not sure I believe in God, but it’s hard for me to say I for suresies don’t. It’s probably a relic of my (very reform) religious school experience growing up. But it just feels wrong and not totally sure to say “I don’t believe in God. I’m an atheist.” Plus, if there is a God, it’s definitely the Jewish God – our God is a total asshole, completely arbitrary, and without any of that peace-and-love bullshit. The Jewish God will fuck you up, but you’d better believe anyway.
Anyway. Last year was the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (1611). KJB is the primary Bible used throughout America, and much of the rest of the Western Christian world. It’s where the classic formally worded verses come from – “Thou Shalt Not Kill” is a King James affectation, for example. Translations straight from the Greek or Hebrew tend to just use “you.”
The King James Bible was commissioned by King James of England in 1604. It was completed in 1611. Committees of translators were hired for the task. However, this was not the first Bible in English. In the 15th century, John Wycliffe and his followers wrote the first translation of the Bible into English, so that the common Christian man could read it (before, the Bible was just in Latin). In the 16th century, William Tyndale wrote another translation. Tyndale’s version was the first printed bible in circulation. He was a talented linguist, and his translation makes up a lot of today’s KJB. However, his work was interrupted when he was burned at the stake as a heretic. Wah-wah.
Today, the King James Bible has a pretty interesting legacy. It’s generally viewed as the be-all-and-end-all authority of Bible study in the American Christian world. However, it’s a translation – so it really cannot be taken entirely literally for textual analysis. In the more-ancient world, scholars had to be fluent in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin to reputably analyze the Scriptures. It was understood that their original languages were important contextual evidence. But today, I often see preachers and ministers quoting from King James as if it were itself the Word of God – which nobody could possibly believe.
BFF**: In England, the right to print, publish, or distribute the King James Bible belongs exclusively to the Crown. So, even though it’s in the public domain in most of the world, Queen Elizabeth II is the only one in England with the right to lay her mitts on KJB.
** – Bonus Fun Fact
Friends, countrymen, and rectangles:
I couldn’t sleep last night, and, for some reason, rectangles were running through my head. I looked through some old posts, and remembered how goddamn brilliant this blog was.
So, add me back to your Google reader!
The rectangles have returned.
Finals are over now, so I’ve had a lot of time to devote to looking at expensive scarves on the internet. My most exciting discovery were V. Accornero scarves for Gucci.
Vittorio Accornero (1896-1982) was an Italian illustrator for many years before he began designing for Gucci. He invented his first pattern, “Flora,” for Grace Kelly, and his scarves were absolutely iconic in the 60s and 70s.
I completely understand why.
Accornero first caught my eye on Ebay, with this scarf (in cream). The picture is terrible, but look closely.
Not only are the flowers and mushroooms unbelievably whimsical and opulent, but Accornero’s signature piece was integrating little bugs (beetles, flies, ladybugs, butterflies, etc) into his work. It’s unbelievable.
Click here for pictures from a show, entitled “Giardini di Seta,” or Gardens of Silk, in a gallery in Italy.
I hadn’t read the Odyssey, Homer’s epicly legendary epic, since ninth grade. Of course, I hated it then – it was a horrible chore to get through, the language was dense and the poetic structure grueling. And it was long as shit. I always thought of it as something good to have read and interesting to talk about, but awful to actually read. Like Milton’s Paradise Lost. But I’ve read it again, for a class in college this time, and I really enjoyed it.
5 Reasons to Re-Read The Odyssey
1. Dude goes everywhere. Seriously. Everywhere. It’s one big trippy dream adventure. Kind of like the Yellow Submarine. Odysseus goes to the land of the Lotus Eaters, where the natives feed his crewmen flowers and they never want to leave. Circe turns his men into pigs. Odysseus goes down to hell to talk to a prophet who has to drink cow’s blood to talk to him. It’s trippy, man.
2. First person narrative. Most of the book is told in the first person, which is hard for any author to craft, let alone an epic storyteller with hundreds of pages worth of material. However, Homer also masterfully handles the third person, when he uses it, and just has such a grip on language.
3. Compelling protagonist. Odysseus is fascinating, but in no way is he perfect. His overwhelming pride and hubris is always present. He knows that he’s the “master trickster”, and it takes him most of his journey to figure out that he needs to humble himself a bit to live in the world and get back home. The transformation is great to watch.
4. Sharp imagery. Okay. Read this passage from the Cyclops’ cave.
He carried a huge load of dry wood to make a fire for his supper and heaved it down with a crash inside the cave. We were terrified and scurried back into a corner. He drove his fat flocks into the wide cavern, at least those that he milked, leaving the males – the rams and the goats – outside in the yard. Then he lifted up a great doorstone, a huge slab of rock, and set it in place. Two sturdy wagons – twenty sturdy wagons – couldn’t pry it from the ground – that’s how big the stone was he set in the doorway. (Od. 9)
I, at least, have a perfect mental image of the fire, the sheep, the huge cave and the men cowering in the corner. Of course a storyteller this great has to have great imagery, but I didn’t realize how sharp it was until this time around. That’s how we do, Homer. Very nice.
5. Cultural cross-references. Okay, everything references the Odyssey, from Joyce’s Ulysses to the Coen brothers’ O Brother Where Art Thou. George Clooney makes a hot Odysseus, by the way. Other works based on the Odyssey include 2001: A Space Odyssey (a film) and Cold Mountain (a novel). Some serious cultural masterpieces.
As draining as it sounds, read the Odyssey again. I think you’ll find that it’s not only interesting and clear but way less dry than you remember it being.
History of the Lego
The Lego Group began in the workshop of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Billund, Denmark, who began making wooden toys in 1932. In 1934 his company came to be called Lego. It expanded to producing plastic toys in 1940. In 1949 Lego began producing the now famous interlocking bricks, calling them “Automatic Binding Bricks”. … The bricks, manufactured from cellulose acetate, were a development of traditional stackable wooden blocks that locked together by means of several round studs on top and a hollow rectangular bottom. The blocks snapped together, but not so tightly that they required extraordinary effort to be separated.
The company name Lego was coined by Christiansen from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”. The name could also be interpreted as “I put together” and “I assemble” in Latin, though this would be a somewhat forced application of the general sense “I collect; I gather; I learn”; the word is most used in the derived sense “I read”.
The Lego Group’s motto is kun det bedste er godt nok which means ‘only the best is good enough’.
Read and Enjoy –
The Lego Bible
or rather, The Brick Testament
Check These Great Legos Out!
Ricki says, Legoland rocks!
Laura says: It was so fun, you can just let your imagination fly and build whatever you want.
Daniel says: It was so beautiful, seeing all the germs in one place. Apparently you can build entire rooms (rectan.gu.lar).
Lego Ipod Speakers
The Lego’s older, larger sister, the Duplo, is also a rectangle.