Friday, March 31, 2023

Books Read - Q1 2023

Starting off the year with only two books read. 

[Previously: Q4 2022, Q3 2022, Q2 2022, Q1 2022, our 2021 Book Review Compendium, 2020 Book Review Compendium, 2019 book compendium, 2018 book compendium, and pre-2018 book compendium.]

  • Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (1/5) You would think that it would be impossible to make a bad graphic novel about what it's like to work at a Canadian oil sands mine. For some reason, I was expecting this to be like an investor presentation with exciting tales about the mining process. The author Kate Beaton is a millennial Canadian girl who grew up in a small town on Cape Breton Island, part of the rural, economically depressed province of Nova Scotia. Her Catholic parents did not have a better idea for her and her four sisters except to get liberal arts degrees at small Canadian colleges. After graduating, she was single, in debt, and had no job prospects. Her best idea was to move to western Canada and make a bundle of money working in the oil sands mines in order to get out of debt. Life there was unpleasant: "people are bored and crazy". Imagine living in a place where the residents were selected for having poor prospects. It turns out that you can't walk into the mines and drive a ginormous, cool Caterpillar 797 hauling truck, either. (The trucks cost $5 million or so and can haul 400 tons. Their 4,000 HP engines have 20 cylinders displacing over 100 liters. The mining companies are working on making them autonomous.) The hours are long and her entry level jobs are tedious. Also, unfortunately, she is sexually harassed while working and while living in the man camps. I'm sorry that happened and I certainly would not recommend that a young woman work in mining. There has to be a better way of getting started in life. It looks like she got married at age 35 to a Canadian soyjack type of guy and they now have two kids. What was the point of waiting so long? What if she'd found a man in college and been a stay-at-home-mom after graduation?
  • An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace (4/5) Quick summary: author Tamar Adler "explains what cooks in the world’s great kitchens know: that the best meals rely on the ends of the meals that came before them." (In other words, "a cookbook for leftovers".) As she puts it: "Meals' ingredients must be allowed to topple into one another like dominos. Broccoli stems, their florets perfectly boiled in salty water, must be simmered with olive oil and eaten with shaved Parmesan on toast; their leftover cooking liquid kept for the base for soup, studded with other vegetables, drizzled with good olive oil, with the rind of the Parmesan added for heartiness. This continuity is the heart and soul of cooking." Egg-maxing: "I usually have at least one nicely cold soft-boiled egg on hand to lure my thoughts away from eating lunch out." "The eggiest thing you can make is mayonnaise. The degrading of mayonnaise from a wonderful condiment for cooked vegetables or sandwiches to an indistinguishable layer of fat has been radical and violent." "Mayonnaise is egg yolk bound in oil, and oil bound in egg yolk." "Aioli is Provençal for garlic mayonnaise. If cheese is milk's leap toward immortality, aioli is garlic and egg's collective shot at the firmament." Based (on eating raw eggs in mayonnaise): "I trust the freshness of my eggs, and the cleanliness of the lives of the hens that lay them." Thoughts on chickens: "As soon as you boil a chicken that was raised outdoors, pecking at grubs, you'll notice that its stock is thick, golden, and flavorful. When it cools, it will thicken. Chicken that've led chicken-y lives develop strong, gelatinous bones..." French cuisine as buttermaxxing: "A little shallot, chopped finely and added to the butter along with parsley, makes the traditional French accompaniment to steak..." She really likes M.F.K. Fisher and suggests her book The Cooking of Provincial France. Geographical determinism: "Cuisines that cook in olive oil use herbs that grow well in the same climate as olive groves, like parsley, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, and sage. They are best for herby oils. Cuisines where food is cooked in butter have their own herbs, like chervil and tarragon. Where yogurt is treated as a sauce, mint, cilantro, and dill are prolific." Kids in the kitchen: "Children must help shell peas. In a world of things too big, getting peas from pods is a chance for pea-sized people to exercise authority." On beans: "Beans have always been associated if not with poverty, with the sweating classes." "In New Mexico, big pots of beans are cooked studded with pork and served for dinner."

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