Tuesday, March 31, 2015

American Iliad: 30 Seconds in Tombstone



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Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral by Mary Doria Russell

EpitaphOn October 26, 1881, in what was more of a feud than the misdemeanor arrest it was meant to be, a shootout pitted lawmen against outlaws in Tombstone, a mining boom-town in the Arizona Territory. When the dust cleared,three cowboys lay dead, and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral was on its way to becoming the signature moment of the Wild West, forging icons from survivors Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

But what really happened on that fateful afternoon? Mary Doria Russell's Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral recasts the events within the context of the era's divisive politics and media (which today's readers may find familiar), painting a very different picture than the subsequent mythologies and Hollywood hagiographies produced long after the gunfight.

Here Russell describes her long-running interest in the story (she previously published Doc: A Novel), as well as five common misconceptions of the O.K Corral and its participants. Epitaph was a March 2015 selection for Amazon.com's Best Books of the Month in Literature & Fiction. 

 

Five Myths of the O.K. Corral by Mary Doria Russell

It takes two words to explain how I got interested in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral: Val Kilmer. His charming portrayal of Doc Holliday in Tombstone is the best part of the movie, but Tombstone also started me thinking about officer-involved shootings of civilians.

I'm a cop's daughter. I grew up with guns. Police work was dinner table conversation in our house. I understand the tedium, the crappy pay, the shift work, and the constant threat of danger. At the same time, I am deeply disturbed by the deaths of so many unarmed men, shot by the police.

The gunfight at the O.K. Corral was a misdemeanor arrest gone horribly wrong – an officer-involved shooting with disastrous consequences for everyone connected to it.

The self-serving lies began before the gunsmoke cleared, and –almost immediately– the gunfight became central to American beliefs about the Old West and frontier justice.


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Simplified and distorted, it has been the subject of over 40 feature films. Those movies have made the gunfight into an uncomplicated story of good guys and bad guys, of heroes and villains.

The true story is an American Iliad – a story of ruinous anger. Homer tells both sides of his story, giving equal weight to the Greeks and the Trojans, providing and honest portrayal of their weaknesses and strengths, their mistakes, their regrets and their sorrows. I wanted to honor that tradition because there is genuine tragedy buried under 130 years of mythology, misrepresentation, and sheer indifference to fact. I wanted to give voice to the real men and women whose lives were changed forever by those fatal 30 seconds in Tombstone.

Here are five myths, misconceptions, and misrepresentations of the events at O.K. Corral:

There was a gunfight in the O.K. Corral. The Tombstone shootout actually took place in a vacant lot behind Camillus Fly's Photography Studio, near the corner of Fremont and First, a little north of the O.K. Corral, but who has time to say all that?

The gunfight pitted cattle rustlers against lawmen. As Epitaph shows, many pressures led to those fatal 30 seconds on October 26, 1881, but stolen cows were not involved in any way.

Wyatt Earp and Ike Clanton were enemies. In 1881, Wyatt and Ike attempted to work together in secret to bring three stage robbers to justice. It was Ike's fear that the plan would be discovered by Johnny Ringo that became single most direct reason for the gunfight.

Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were friends. Wyatt and Doc had nothing in common except their affection for Wyatt's younger brother, Morgan.

Doc Holliday was a deadly gunman and a crack shot. In December of 1880, Doc participated in a Tombstone shooting contest and came in 10th of in a field of 13. His reputation for violence rests primarily on a largely fictional magazine sketch written by Bat Masterson decades after Doc died and could no longer sue for defamation.



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Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist Returning in September



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The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

THE-GIRL-IN-THE-SPIDER'S-WEBStieg Larsson's Millennium series, which started with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and went on to sell a reported 80 million copies worldwide (as well as spurring at least two movie franchises), is getting another book in the series.

How, you ask, is that possible?

There's a new author attached to the series and his name is David Lagercrantz. Sonny Mehta, Editor-in-Chief of U.S. publisher Alfred A. Knopf, had this to say about Lagercrantz: “David Lagercrantz’s familiarity and understanding of Stieg’s work as a journalist, coupled with his appreciation of Stieg’s work as a novelist, made him the perfect candidate to continue working on the Millennium series, and it is evident on every page of this extraordinary thriller. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is as good as its predecessors and uniquely of the moment. I know readers are going to be thrilled when they are reacquainted with both Lisbeth and Mikael in one of the most compelling Millennium novels to date.”

The new novel will publish on September 1st, 2015. The newly-revealed cover of The Girl in the Spider's Web is above, and here's a trailer for the new book:

 

 

(An interesting side note: David Lagercrantz, a Swedish journalist, is the co-author of a big favorite among a couple of the Amazon editors. The book is I Am Zlatan: My Story On and Off the Field, a great book about one of the world's finest soccer players. Sports Illustrated called it "terrific" and The Guardian claimed it as "the most compelling autobiography ever to appear under a footballer’s name.” We agree.)

 


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Monday, March 30, 2015

There's Good Reason to Love Bad Women



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Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Book hangover. Readers, you know what I'm referring to. The condition where you read something so Hausfrau good that you have trouble getting into anything else for a while, and even when you do, you're comparing it to 'that book.' I am still experiencing this a couple months after reading Jill Alexander Essbaum's exquisite debut novel, Hausfrau. Widely and cringingly described as "Madame Bovary meets Fifty Shades of Grey" (shades of the former perhaps, but certainly not the latter--sorry debaucherous book clubs!), 'Frau' follows Anna Benz, an American living with her husband and children in suburban Zurich. She is isolated and unraveling, and not, as many readers have pointed out, terribly likable as a result. Here, Ms. Essbaum talks about why, despite the unlikability factor, we still can't get enough of these "not nice ladies."

When I was six or seven years old my Sunday School class put on a play. The plot is long lost to memory, but as I recall it was a cautionary tale kind of thing, a do this, dont do that skit meant to school us in the ways of Christian principles.  My teacher cast me in the role of  “Lady of the Evening.”  I wore a silky blue kimono and sashayed around the room flicking imaginary ash from the tip of a paper cigarette, all the while swirling an empty highball. The only prop my Debbie-Do-Right counterpart had to work with was a beatified smile. Clearly I got the better end of that deal. 

But I was a good girl. Still am. Mostly.  Most of us, I think, are good. For the most part and for most of the time. We pay our taxes and brush our teeth and obey traffic laws. We operate within a system governed by personal and collective values, an enterprise of order built on a single principle: bad behavior carries consequence. Pilfer money from the till and you’ll lose your job. Cheat on your wife and you may be cutting fat alimony checks in the near future. Keep at those donuts, Kid, and your skinny jeans won’t ever fit again. 

It seems that lately there’s been a lot of conversation on the topic of unlikeable female characters in novels. Women we can’t stand. Women who do things we don’t stand for. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove and Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train all feature women who act on impulse, who connive, who manipulate and scheme. Who drink too much. Who sleep with their stepdaughter’s boyfriends. Who murder. 

These are not nice ladies.  

And we can’t get enough of them. Why is that?  Is it the thrill of vicarious living? Maybe, but some shenanigans just aren’t worth the joyride. Is it that we like to gauge our deeds by these characters misdeeds?  I mean, I may be bad, but I’m not THAT bad, right? Or is it simply an issue of rubbernecking? Far better to watch someone else’s life derail than live out our own train wreck.

I’m going to go a different way. I think we like to read about these characters because we are these characters.  Rather, because we know that it is in us to become them. Sure, we’re titilated and entertained and shocked. But as in the case of the Sunday School play, we’re also warned. And in the hands of a skillful writer, our interactions with these characters become experiments in empathy. This is a very good thing, as it is especially important to understand the behaviors we don’t condone; those are the most destructive. Some highballs are poured with poison. I’ve never swallowed strychnine. I don’t have to. I’ve held the glass.  

This is why we don’t look away. 


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Recipe Road Test: "The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen" Carnitas de Puerco



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The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen-A Cookbook by Shannon Bard

GourmetMexicanI didn't have carnitas until I was in my mid-twenties but it's been a regular in my crockpot ever since--well, until now.  There are a lot of really good dishes in The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen (it topped our Best Cookbooks of the Month list in February) but the Carnitas de Puerco recipe put my slow cooker version to shame...

Carnitas de Puerco is an ideal weekend dish since you are really just putting all the ingredients together and then letting it go on the stove for a couple hours where it smells amazing. The night I made this recipe I served it as a filling for tacos and everyone stuffed themselves with second helpings.  Not only that, but for the first time I can remember, I had a REQUEST for leftovers the next night.  I almost fell over. On day 2, served over Mexican rice, the pork had lost none of it's juiciness and was possibly even more delicious. 

Author and chef Shannon Bard was kind enough to share the Carnitas de Puerco recipe and photo from The Gourmet Mexican Kitchen below.  I failed to take a picture of either of my carnitas dishes due only to my hurry to get eating.  Cinco de Mayo is coming up and this is definitely on my menu along with some of Bard's margaritas from the book...CarnitasDePuerco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carnitas de Puerco
MEXICAN PULLED PORK WITH CITRUS AND CUMIN

Carnitas are prepared in different ways throughout Mexico depending on where you eat them, but this is my family’s absolute favorite. Bits of pork are spiced with orange and cumin and simmered for hours until they become super juicy, yet delectably crispy. The addition of the sweetened condensed milk adds a hint of sweetness and helps with the browning process. The final dish is incredibly simple to make and completely wonderful. Paired with rice, the juicy pork makes an excellent meal by itself or as a filling for tacos and tamales.

YIELD: 6–8 SERVINGS

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 (5–6 lb [142–170 g]) pork shoulder roast (Boston butt)
  • 2 tsp (5 g) ground cumin
  • 2 tsp (1 g) dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 oranges, halved
  • 1 lime, halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 white onion, peeled and quartered
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12 oz [340 ml]) can Mexican beer
  • 4 cups (960 ml) cold water
  • 2 tsp (10 g) salt

 

OPTIONAL, FOR SERVING

  • Warm tortillas
  • Fresh Avocado Guacomole (page 169)
  • Salsa Mexicana (page 158)

 

Rinse the pork shoulder under cool running water and pat dry with a clean paper towel. Move to a cutting board and cut into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces. Try to cut the pieces as uniform as possible, as this will ensure that the carnitas cook evenly. Don’t worry about trimming the fat as it will render during the cooking process and it is necessary to crisp the pork during the final stages of cooking.

Place the pork pieces in a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven and toss with the cumin and oregano. Add the garlic, 2 of the orange halves, lime halves, bay leaves, onion and sweetened condensed milk to the pan and pour the beer on top.

Cover the entire mixture with the water and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium-high heat. Once the mixture reaches a boil, reduce to medium and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, for 1½–2 hours, until the pork is fork-tender and all of the liquid has evaporated. You will need to stir more often as the liquid evaporates to ensure that the pork does not stick to the bottom of the pan.

Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C).

Once all of the liquid has evaporated, transfer the pork to an ovenproof dish (if not using a Dutch oven) and discard the bay leaves, onion, orange and lime. Sprinkle with the salt and pour any remaining pan drippings into the roasting dish. Cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove the pork from the oven and squeeze the juice of the remaining 2 orange halves on top. Serve with warm tortillas, guacamole and salsa, if desired.

Note: Carnitas literally means “little meats.”


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Friday, March 27, 2015

Celebrating 25 Years of Culinary Excellence



JamesBeard2252015 marks the 25th anniversary of the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards, honoring culinary excellence across the food industry.  Carla Hall will announce the winners in the book categories on April 24th, but you'll have to wait until May to see if any of your favorite chefs and restaurants take home a medal.  The finalists for the coveted 2015 James Beard Foundation Book Awards are:

AMERICAN:

Heritage by Sean Brock

The New England Kitchen: Fresh Takes on Seasonal Recipes by Erin Byers Murray and Jeremy Sewall

Texas on the Table: People, Places, and Recipes Celebrating the Flavors of the Lone Star State by Terry Thompson-Anderson

BAKING & DESSERT:

Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere by Dorie Greenspan

Della Fattoria Bread: 63 Foolproof Recipes for Yeasted, Enriched & Naturally Leavened Breads by Kathleen Weber

Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts & Non-Wheat Flours by Alice Medrich

BEVERAGE:

Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails, with More than 500 Recipes by Alex Day, Nick Fauchald, and David Kaplan

Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail by Dave Arnold

Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World's Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes by Talia Baiocchi

COOKING FROM A PROFESSIONAL POINT OF VIEW: 

Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns 

Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef by Massimo Bottura

Relæ: A Book of Ideas by Christian F. Puglisi

FOCUS ON HEALTH:

A Change of Appetite: Where Healthy Meets Delicious by Diana Henry

Cooking Light Mad Delicious: The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing by Keith Schroeder

Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans by Henry Fong and Michelle Tam

GENERAL COOKING:

The Kitchn Cookbook: Recipes, Kitchens & Tips to Inspire Your Cooking by Faith Durand and Sara Kate Gillingham

Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home by Marcus Samuelsson with Roy Finamore

Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook by The Editors of Saveur

INTERNATIONAL:

The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History by Ana Sofía Peláez

My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz

Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition by David Sterling

PHOTOGRAPHY:

In Her Kitchen: Stories and Recipes from Grandmas Around the World Photographer:Gabriele Galimberti

A New Napa Cuisine Photographer: Jen Munkvold and Taylor Peden

Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World's Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes Photographer: Ed Anderson

REFERENCE AND SCHOLARSHIP:

Butchering Poultry, Rabbit, Lamb, Goat, and Pork: The Comprehensive Photographic Guide to Humane Slaughtering and Butchering by Adam Danforth

Inventing Baby Food: Taste, Health, and the Industrialization of the American Diet by Amy Bentley

The Spice & Herb Bible (Third Edition) by Ian and Kate Hemphill

SINGLE SUBJECT:

Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan

Charcutería: The Soul of Spain by Jeffrey Weiss

Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient by Michael Ruhlman

VEGETABLE FOCUSED AND VEGETARIAN:

At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well by Amy Chaplin

Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi

Vegetarian Dinner Parties: 150 Meatless Meals Good Enough to Serve to Company by Mark Scarbrough and Bruce Weinstein

WRITING AND LITERATURE: 

The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food by Ted Genoways

The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky

The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber



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Observation in Retrograde: Tracing the Origins of Modern Science



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To Explain the World by Steven Weinberg

ExplainWorld"Is that what people believed when they weren't smart?"

My nine-year-old son is enthusiastic about astronomy. He's growing up in a wonderful time for it: With new planets being discovered seemingly every day, incredible, deep-space images from the Hubble Space Telescope, and exciting, exotic objects such as black holes moving from the theoretical to the observable, he has learned more by third grade than I have over three decades (or four). And with all these new tools and technologies changing our perception of the cosmos and its workings so fast, he will occasionally find the theories of centuries past--an Earth-centric universe, for example--completely ludicrous. Hence his question.

It's a teaching moment. "It's not that people weren't smart," I reply, "but that we have the advantage of all the work that they did before us." Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg has taken that notion and turned it into a thoughtful and accessible chronicle of science. To Explain the World guides readers through the history of scientific process, covering hundreds of years of trial and error, dead ends and successes, and, above all, the perseverance and curiosity that has shaped the ways that we observe and understand the world around us. Below, Weinberg describes one example of a conundrum with a simple solution that was misunderstood for centuries: the retrograde motion of the planets.

To Explain the World was a February 2015 selection for Amazon.com's Best Books of the Month in Nonfiction.

 


 

Walking in the evenings some years ago in the Austin hills, my wife and I found it easy to spot the planet Mars, a bright orange dot high in the night sky. We saw that, apart from its nightly movement from east to west along with the Moon and stars, Mars also moved slowly from one night to another through the constellations of the zodiac. Then a remarkable thing happened. Mars seemed to reverse its course for some days, only later resuming its former direction of motion against the background of stars.

This was not an original discovery. The retrograde motion of Mars and the other planets was noticed many times in the ancient world, and provided a challenge to philosophers who tried to explain what we see in the sky. Aristotle was convinced that anything beyond the orbit of the Moon can only move on orbits composed of circles, with their centers at the center of the Earth. He therefore adopted a scheme according to which each planet (with the Sun included) was carried around the Earth on a separate sphere, that was itself carried by other spheres to which it was attached, all spheres centered on the center of the Earth. The axes and spins of the each planet’s innermost spheres were cleverly arranged to give the planet an occasional wiggly motion, which would appear from Earth as a backward motion through the zodiac.

Alas, the scheme did not fit observations very well. After 300 BC, when the center of Greek scientific thought had moved from Athens to Alexandria, the astronomers Hipparchus and Apollonius came up with a better scheme, put into final form in Roman times by Ptolemy. Planets still move on circles, known as epicycles, but not around the center of the Earth. Rather, the planets go around moving points in space that themselves go on circles around the Earth’s center. The mathematical analysis of this scheme showed that it accounted pretty well for the observed apparent motion of the planets, including their retrograde motion, much better than had the scheme of Aristotle.

Story over, right? Not at all. The debate between adherents of these two schemes continued for about 1500 years, both in the lands of Islam and in Christian Europe. This debate illustrates how hard it was to sort out the relation between science, mathematics, and philosophy. The epicycle scheme of Ptolemy et al. did violence to the philosophical preconception of Aristotle, that motion in the heavens must be on circles around the center of the Earth, and since Aristotle did not regard mathematics as relevant to science, his followers did not much care that the predictions of his scheme differed quantitatively from the observed motions of the planets. Meanwhile, professional astronomers, who were paid to make accurate predictions, adhered to Ptolemy.


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Finally the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries revealed that both schemes were wrong, but also that the epicycle scheme of Ptolemy had been much closer to the truth. When Copernicus proposed that the Earth goes around the Sun, the evidence on which he relied was that this heliocentric proposal gives the planets just the same apparent motions as Ptolemy’s theory. In fact, as far as the apparent motions of the Sun and planets are concerned, the simplest versions of the schemes of Ptolemy and Copernicus are mathematically identical. The reliance on detailed observation and its mathematical analysis by Ptolemy had proved a better guide than the philosophical principles based on casual observation of Aristotle.

This is just one example of how hard it has been to learn how to learn about the world. To Explain the World describes various episodes in the discovery of modern science that show the difficulty our predecessors had in sorting out the relation of science not just to mathematics and to philosophy, but also to aesthetics, to technology, and to religion.

Aesthetics was historically more important than you might think. At first, the reason for preferring the theory of Copernicus to that of Ptolemy was not that it agreed better with observation, which it didn’t, but that it was far simply and less contrived. The queer looping motions of the planets on epicycles of Ptolemy were explained by Copernicus as a consequence of viewing the solar system from a moving platform, the Earth. For instance, going back to Mars, the theory of Copernicus shows that when Mars seems to be traveling backward in the sky, this is because the faster-moving Earth is catching up with Mars as both revolve around the Sun. It is a wonderfully simple picture, compared with either the concentric spheres of Aristotle or the epicycles of Ptolemy. And it turned out to be right.

--Steven Weinberg



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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wimps and Wizards



HarryPotterIllustr225It's an exciting day for fans of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter with announcements for both series in today's news.  

Last November kids everywhere devoured The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul and immediately started asking when the next one would be out.  Well now we know: the tenth book in the series will be released on November 3rd and we'll learn the official title and cover in a big reveal on April 27th.  So we've got about a month to ponder the color of the next cover...anyone for fuchsia? New for this book, Jeff Kinney is taking his tour global and will be traveling around the world sharing Greg Heffley stories and meeting Wimpy Kid fans from Seattle to Sao Paulo (those are not official tour cities, but you get what I'm saying). 

What else can be done with Harry Potter, you might ask?  How about a fully illustrated deluxe edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone?   Before you think about an eye roll, let me just tell you that I've seen a few pages of it and cannot wait to get my hands on the rest.  J.K. Rowling herself chose the illustrator, Jim Kay. Today, the cover of this deluxe new edition was revealed and I think it's something of a stunner...

 


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