Monday, May 3, 2010

The Miracle of Bin 444

Bin 444 is a cabernet sauvignon bottled by Wyndham Estates in far-away Australia.  A quick trolling of the Internet reveals this winery is located in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales.  This doesn't mean much to me because I have never visited the Hunter Valley, or New South Wales, or even Australia for that matter, but now I have good reason to: the Miracle of Bin 444.

The bottle upon which the miracle was visited was 1.5 liters of the 2002 vintage.  We purchased it at our local wine store on the recommendation of our local wine store guy (alas, he is no longer around to give us his sound and excellent advice) for a Christmas party back in 2003.  We never got to that particular bottle that day and it languished in the cellar for another 6 years until it was called into duty at the Great Ladies Bonfire Party of September 2009.  And even then it was not fully consumed, about half of the bottle was left over.  I must have had a taste and deemed it worthy of holding onto, maybe for cooking purposes if naught else, as I vacu-vinned it and put it up in the cabinet over the refrigerator.  Other bottles were in time called forth from said cabinet over the following months and the bottle of Bin 444 slowly sank into the back of the cabinet, forlorn and forgotten until one day when it was remembered and pulled out to help marinate some steak tips.

I re-corked it with the vacu-vin and left the bottle out on the counter, not intending to drink any.  However my wife poured herself a glass the next day at dinner time and asked what was up with the bottle of port I had left out?  What bottle of port I asked?  The bottle of Bin 444 she said.  That's no port says I - Well try some says she.  So I will says I, and I pours myself a glass.

Wikipedia defines a miracle as "an act defying the laws of nature. Sometimes an event is also attributed (in part) to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature."

And well, by God and by Wikipedia it was a miracle. The laws of nature had been subverted if not interrupted.  Instead of a miserable vinegary unholy stinking glass of yecch (I exaggerate for dramatic effect, this is the fate I imagine for most wines which overstay their visit upon this vale of tears, or so I believed) I held in my hand a glass of Bin 444 which tasted like a tawny port, all mellow with a bit of caramel.  In fact it was damned good!

So how did this come about?  The vacu-vin must have done some good in removing all or most of the air from the bottle.  Was the conversion caused by oxidization?  Another fermentation?  Maderization?  I have no idea, I just learned those terms by doing an Internet search on Google.  But in any event, the label writer did not lie when they wrote that "the Bin 444 can be enjoyed now or will reward medium term cellaring". 

So we bid a fond adieu to you, our now empty bottle of 2002 Bin 444.  While you were not the Miracle on 34th Street, or the Miracle on Ice, and not even closely related to the Miracle of Compound Interest, you were our little miracle, and we thank you for the quirky pleasure you brought into our lives.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Post #12 - Gingerbread yogurt bread

Thinking of cream means one thing leads to another.  Well - I suppose it doesn't have to but it did.  When I play word association football with cream I immediately say "gingerbread".  Can you say gingerbread?  I knew you could.  Well, let me tell you about my little gingerbread experiment.

I searched the cookbooks and didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but in Fannie Farmer I found a sour cream gingerbread recipe I used as my baseline.  I subbed yogurt for sour cream, added some currants as an inspiration via Lafayette's favorite gingerbread cake, and voila, out of the oven came a wonderfully tasty and moist little gingerbread cake.

Recipe, with notes:
1/4 pound butter (I used salted)
1/2 cup sugar (recipe called for a cup, hahaha)
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup yogurt
2 eggs
1.5 cups flour (I used .5 cup of cake flour and 1 cup organic whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1.5 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup currants (would have used raisins if we had them)

Took about a few minutes shy of 40 at 350 degrees to completely bake.  And here it is, with it's lil' buddy sitting right beside it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Post #11 - Why I Love Cream

I just whipped up some heavy cream to put on a slice of rhubarb-strawberry pie.  It only took a few minutes to whip it up using the trusty old hand beater. And boy, was it good.  Just cream, a touch of sugar and a drop of vanilla.  I mixed up only a small amount, so I ended up eating the rest out of the bowl.  Yumm.

That got me started thinking about cream and how it really is almost a super food.  When you eat or drink cream you get full and then you can eat no more.  Isn't it almost impossible to binge on cream?  Personally, it doesn't take a lot to fill me up, and when I am full I am sated.  End of story.

There used to be a Lay's potato chip ad, the tag line was "bet you can't eat just one".  And they are right.  A bag of potato chips is another world of food.  Crispy salty fatty carbs can be almost impossible to stop eating.  I have spent more than one gluttonous occasion with a large bag of Doritos in my lap, stuffing my face until...wait, why is that bag empty? Something drives you on even though you know you should stop.

Can the "French paradox" be the result of eating healthy foods that happen to have healthy fats in them?  Does the fat act as a satiety trigger that shuts down your appetite in a timely fashion, so you won't eat and eat and eat trying to get full?  My little episode with the whipped cream makes me think this just might be so.

And now back to cream...for some reason my Mom never bought cream when I was growing up, so we never had real whipped cream.  We did however use Cool Whip.  The Wikipedia entry for Cool Whip is pretty interesting.  It was created by a food chemist and is "made of water, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oil (CPKO), sodium caseinate (a milk derivative), natural and artificial flavor, xanthan and guar gums, polysorbate 60 (glycosperse), and beta carotene".  None of those ingredients except for water will be found in your typical non-food engineering chemistry lab kitchen.

Never having had cream as a kid, it always seemed quite exotic to me.  I remember the first time I whipped cream, it was exciting in its way, a bit of a little miracle.  Stirring in air can make a liquid into a semi-solid, not a bad little chemistry experiment.

So boys and girls, throw away the Cool Whip and buy some heavy cream.  In a few minutes you can have the real thing.  It will make you happy and contented.  And you will never go back.  I promise :-).

Monday, March 29, 2010

Post #10 - Adventures in Birthday Cake Land

Is there any more loving way to show your affection for someone special than cooking them a great meal?  And if it's their birthday, to bake them a delicious cake?  Not to my way of thinking.  And as it was once again that Someone Special's birthday, my first and most pressing question was: what kind of cake? The question was asked and immediately answered without hesitation: "coconut!".  And thus the next question for me, the party planner: would I bake it myself or rely upon the professionals and buy one?  I decided I'd try making it myself.  So what recipe to follow? My challenge was to find a cake recipe which would (a) most importantly, taste good and (b) was within reach of my skills and experience.  Not too complex, not too simple...a delicate calculus of taste, ingredients, memory and mechanics.

We have a bunch of cookbooks but nothing inspirational turned up.  The coconut cake recipes seemed to consist of two pounds of sugary frosting with coconut flakes mixed in.  This sort of thing is not to my taste even if was not my cake.  My friend Mr. Google turned up a lot of similar recipes, but at last I found two which I liked the looks of, a coconut raspberry cake and a coconut chocolate cake.  I put them to the final arbiter and the decision was made: we were going with the Gâteau Choco-Coco!

The gâteau choco-coco recipe comes from a blog by a nice young Parisian lady who runs a sophisticated web site named Chocolate and Zucchini. It's a great place to visit, thank you Clotilde!  I don't know that I would've come across it without searching for a cake recipe, bless the internets and the people who spend their time and energy to share their talents with the world.

The recipe is simple enough.  Here is the list of ingredients:
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 stick, minus 1 tbsp butter, softened
- 1/2 cup fromage blanc or plain yogurt
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 4 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, diluted in 4 Tbsp hot water

You also need some parchment paper.

Well, I followed the directions, mostly....I swear I did!  I chose to use 1/2 cup of sugar instead of a full cup.  I probably didn't bake the coconut flakes quite long enough because I was worried about burning them.  I also used unsalted butter, which came out of the freezer and didn't quite defrost all the way, so that it was little grainy after mixing up the ingredients.  But the batter was delicious!  I knew it would be good.

Oddly enough though the cake didn't rise much, and it had kind of an odd texture to it.  And it wasn't until I wrote this entry that I realized why:  I left out the baking powder!  Rookie mistake.  But it didn't really matter, it was still delicious even if a bit weird looking.  I served it with whipped cream made from Highlawn Farm heavy cream and black raspberries and the birthday girl loved it.  A success!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Post # 9 - Sardine Review, Group C

Let's begin our sardine reviews with the smallest and for the time being the loneliest group, our sardine tasting laggard collection, Group C. The only member of this sorry club, thus far, is Brunswick Sardines in Olive Oil. These are Atlantic herring canned in Canada.  Brunswick is owned by the Bumble Bee food group, which also distributes King Oscar sardines in the US.  Brunswick has a web site dedicated to their products with interesting information about the fishery as well as descriptions of their various products.  It's not a great web site in terms of design, but it does have a certain endearing earnestness to it.

Unlike most brands these sardines come wrapped in a plastic covering with some spiffy art work.  Your typical sardine wrapper, which is usually printed in color on cardboard stock, looks like it was designed as a junior high school art class project.  This packaging was designed by a graphic artist and looks nice.  Too bad it's plastic, the points scored for graphic aesthetics are lost for being environmentally unfriendly.

The wrapper itself has the usual dietary information.  Serving size is truthfully labeled as one serving unlike several other brands.  The contents are what they should be: sardines, olive oil and salt, nothing else.

OK, let's get to it the fish now, I'm getting hungry.  The lid pulls off easily enough.  Let's take a look inside the can.  Inside are several large sardines.  The appearance quality is OK.  However, straight out of the can they lose badly on the taste test.  The label says they are packed in olive oil, but it is at best a very indifferent olive oil, there is no love left in this oil.  But worst of all they are soft, mushy and tasteless.  In a word: yecchhh!  After trying several cans the initial tasting is confirmed each time. I cannot recommend them.  There are better choices out there and we'll take a look at some of them next time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Post #8 - The Penguin Delivers

I love reading.  And I love a nicely-made book. The actual physical book itself - a high quality cloth binding, nice creamy paper, crispy beautifully shaped fonts - a well-made book is an experience in the physical world which richly complements the abstraction of the written word.

Just this past week I was looking for a copy of Great Expectations to replace our old paperback Signet classic which has sadly deteriorated over the years and finally vanished down the wormhole.  On Amazon I found this copy of Great Expectations, in hard cover.

Published by Penguin Classics, it seemed like just the thing.  An interesting cover design, cloth-bound, good paper, and some nice quality touches about it like the built-in bookmark thingie.  The price was reasonable as well.  It appears that Penguin is republishing some classics in this new hardcover format, there are several other books under the imprint which have been released over the past year or two, with others due out this year.

This edition was published in 2008.  Based on the copyright information it appears this copy may have replaced an earlier edition.  These books remind me of the Modern Library series, nice books that feel good in the hand, built to last (although not quite as nice as the Library of America series).  This will undoubtedly be the last copy of Great Expectations I will buy. It will be good to re-read it in the future.

To meet the $25 free shipping minimum I also bought a copy of Jane Eyre.  It has an attractive cover and is a part of the same series, it was also published in 2008 and printed in the UK.  There is something nice about having a English book published in England, even if it is a far cry from the England of 1846.

A quick Google of Penguin Classics turns up some interesting posts here and here.  And here too. The entire collection can be browsed on Amazon, where they can be bought at a fair price.

I would like to borrow these words to express my excitement in finding this series of books:

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy."

Substitute cheap paperback for Jabberwock and you get the drift.

Post #7 - Why Not Sardines?

Sardines are good.  Let's start with that.  My co-workers may think I'm eating some odd variant of cat food but they are missing some good stuff.  Handy to eat at any time. Low in the food chain so blessedly free of environmental toxins.  Full of heart-healthy omega-3's.  Inexpensive and infinitely renewable.

Some time ago I became food-sick of the cafeteria offerings and decided to start eating sardines for lunch.  Not every day, but a few times a week depending on my mood.  Shopping the local grocery stores scored six different brands which I will review for your pleasure, complete with pictures of the packaging as well as the stars of the show, the sardines themselves.

So let's meet our little fishies, listed in order from best to (the dreadful) worst.

Group A:
Goya Sardines in Olive Oil (Spain)
King Oscar Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil -Two Layer (Poland)

Group B:
Season Sardines in Pure Olive Oil (skinless and boneless) (Morocco)
Traders Joe's Skinless and Boneless Sardines in Olive Oil (Morocco)
Roland Sardines (packed in water) (Morocco)

Group C
Brunswick Sardines in Olive Oil (Canada)

There are a few other locally available brands which I may add later.  I recently came across some Pastene sardines which like their compadres canned in Morocco are also skinless and boneless.  There is also the Beach Cliff brand, which is canned in the USA but may be very similar to Brunswick (better grab some now, looks like they are closing up shop).  Lastly, there is the Royal Crown brand, which is canned in Scotland.  I have eaten these before but can't remember the details.

Thus far the best tasting sardines have been packed in olive oil. Water packed is common and not as good but OK.  Avoid anything else.  If you need mustard on your sardines add it yourself.  Sardines packed in mustard are just plain yecch.

After I began this project I came across a reviewer on Chowhound who is up to 49 different cans now.  But the top sardine dog in the webbed world is definitely Society for the Appreciation of the Lowly Tinned Sardine. Yes, there is a world full of sardines out there, but we are exposed to little of this variety.  Maybe some day.  But for now, this is what we got to go with in the mile radius of my workplace.

I will break out the groups into separate posts over the next few days.  Until then,  enjoy!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Post #6 - Tracing Hawthorne's Steps to the Custom House

"An unwearied pall of cloud muffled the whole expanse of sky from zenith to horizon." - The Scarlet Letter, Chapter 12

And so it was on the morning of Sunday, January 17, 2010.  My friend Ed kindly agreed to accompany me as we re-traced Nathaniel Hawthorne's steps as he would have departed from his home on Mall Street and walked to the Custom House.

We start our walk at 14 Mall Street (click the hyperlink for a map).  There are two plaques on the house, one by the front door and one facing the street.  The plaque on the street states Hawthorne's name and the years he lived at the house, 1847-1850.  It was while living here, after losing his job as surveyor, that he wrote The Scarlet Letter.  Other pictures of this house over the past 100 years, as well as other Salem houses he lived in are documented at the Hawthorne in Salem web site.  According to this web site, Hawthorne lived at 18 Chestnut Street from 1846-1849 when he was surveyor, but perhaps this is an error and should say 1846-1847, because elsewhere the author states the family only lived at Chestnut Street for a couple of months before moving to Mall Street.  In any case - it looks like we can make another walk to work from Chestnut Street some other time.

The view down Mall Street towards the Salem Common.

Crossing Washington Square North to the Common.

Walking the path in the Common towards what else...the Hawthorne Hotel.  We could have taken a short cut across the Common and through the hotel parking lot, but this seemed a nicer way to go.

We've just walked past the front of the hotel bordering Hawthorne Boulevard - hmm, is there a pattern here?  We're looking down Essex Street.  We're going to walk down Essex Street and take our second right onto Herbert Street.  It's just past the white wrecker jutting its nose into the street.

Here we are at the top of Herbert Street.  I like the way the shadows play with the light on the wet pavement.  Coincidentally,  Hawthorne lived on Herbert Street after graduating from Bowdoin, moving back in with his family for 12 years.  Because he called it "Castle Dismal" perhaps he would have preferred not to walk this way.  If we had taken the first right off of Essex Street we would have walked down Union Street, where Hawthorne was born in 1804.  That house is no longer on Union Street, it was moved to the property of the House of Seven Gables in 1958 (the year I was born...which I would not mention except for the sheer randomness of it).

Now we are midway down Herbert Street. Notice how narrow it  the street is, with cars parked on the sidewalk.  Not surprisingly this is a one-way street.  This sort of streetscape is common along the waterfronts of old New England towns.  Example of similar streets in Marblehead, Gloucester, Newburyport and Portsmouth readily come to mind.

Now we've reached the bottom of Herbert Street.  Derby Street is in front of us.  We're going to turn left onto Derby.

Heading up Derby Street towards the Custom House.  It's on the left just past the brick building.

And there it is, our destination, the Salem Custom House, now a part of the Salem National Maritime Historic Site.  It's well worth a visit.  Please come sometime and take a tour.

Here's a detail of the Custom House front entrance.

This is the view of the Derby Wharf from the front entrance of the Custom House.  The weather looks rather murky.  At the moment not much is happening, only a few people walking up the wharf.

And now it's time for us to take a coffee break...well hey, even though we just got here, why start work quite yet?  So it's off to....

 ...A&J King Bakery.  My favorite eating spot in all of Salem, and a great way to end our walk.  Thanks for coming along with us!

Post #5 - Sharing a Canon ip2600 printer using Windows 7 64-bit (updated 2011-06-05)

We have a Canon ip2600 printer which we've shared over our network for several years now via a PC running Windows XP . However, times have changed and the XP computer has been replaced by a Dell Zino running Windows 7 64-bit, so it's time to move the printer sharing duties to the Zino. Ah, what larks. What was ez-pz under XP turned into quite the little adventure under Win 7-64 bit.

It all started innocently enough - installing the printer couldn't have been easier.  After turning on the printer and connecting the USB cable to the Zino the drivers were automatically downloaded from the Internet and installed on the PC.  Wow, wasn't that simple?  However, our task is not quite complete, the PC which shares the printer must dole out the printer drivers to the network clients.  We must download and install those drivers onto the Zino. And of course our XP clients require 32-bit drivers.  Well that should be easy, eh?  Ah, what larks.

To make a long story short, attempting to install the 32-bit XP drivers on the Zino failed.  And why - well only the software gods can explain this one, but after some research, I discovered that the string that identifies the printer in the 32-bit ip2600.inf file does not exactly match the self-same string as the 64-bit description.

64-bit says: Canon Inkjet iP2600 series
32-bit says:  Canon iP2600 series

and n'er the twain shall meet nor match.  And they must.

To install the 32-bit drivers download the 32-bit drivers in the Canon driver file ip2600svst215ej.exe.  If you are searching the Canon support website make sure to select the Vista 32-bit drivers to find this file. After downloading use WinZip or 7-Zip to de-archive the contents to a folder on your hard drive - if you simply click on the .exe file it will attempt to install the drivers, and this will fail since these are for a 32-bit system and you are using a 64-bit OS.

Next, go to your new folder and edit the 32-bit ip2600.inf file to read:

"Canon Inkjet iP2600 series" = CNM_0331XP, LPTENUM\CanoniP2600_series341B, CanoniP2600_series
"Canon Inkjet iP2600 series" = CNM_0331XP, USBPRINT\CanoniP2600_series341B, CanoniP2600_series

"Canon Inkjet iP2600 series" = CNM_0331VISTA, LPTENUM\CanoniP2600_series341B, CanoniP2600_series
"Canon Inkjet iP2600 series" = CNM_0331VISTA, USBPRINT\CanoniP2600_series341B, CanoniP2600_series

Make the modification, save the ip2600.inf file, run the installation once again by clicking the Additional Drivers button under the printer's Sharing tab, check the x86 box to load the 32-bit drivers and now you are good to go.

And now a literary nod to old friends Pip and guardian Joe Gargery in Great Expectations:
"Pip," said Joe, appearing a little hurried and troubled, "there has been larks. And, dear sir, what have been betwixt us--have been."

**Note: on June 05, 2011 added details on the source of the 32-bit drivers and where to get them.
**Note: 04 April 2012, minor grammar update.
**Note: added URL to Canon Canada support website for driver

Friday, January 15, 2010

Post #4 - Hawthorne

Today I’m going to briefly write about a great American author who grew up only a few miles from where I now make my home. One day when I was exploring the side streets of Salem off of the Salem Common I discovered one of his homes, a modest wooden frame house with a placard on it listing the name Nathaniel Hawthorne and the years he lived there. It lies less than a mile from the famous Customs House where he worked as the Surveyor from 1845-1848.

I’ve never read a formal biography of Hawthorne, just the introductory essays that appear as the prefaces to collections of his stories. What I remember of these biographical bits always struck me as being somewhat unsatisfactory. Off to the semi-wilds of Maine to Bowdoin College – how did Bath, Maine compare to what must have been a relatively sophisticated and worldly Salem – then home again to write a novel which is a failure and then not to be heard from again for years and years, holed up at home – to emerge like a butterfly from his chrysalis, to write beautiful and moving novels and short stories. Of course, it has to be more complicated than this, but this is the story I carry around inside my head, and it has a lot of empty space in it.

Well, now due to the Internet and all of the material made available to the public, an inquisitive person can learn all he wants to about Hawthorne, or of course anyone or anything else. I didn't know, or had forgotten, that he spent part of his childhood in what would have been a wilder part of Maine near Lake Sebago. And also that he was at an earlier age the surveyor at the Boston Customs House. And that he attended Bowdoin because it was less expensive than other colleges (yes that was a long time ago!). And that he was one of those curious creatures, a political animal, a lifelong Democrat and beneficiary of his college buddy Franklin Pierce. Writing these cursory thoughts has increased my curiosity about Hawthorne's life, I feel inspired now to look for a real book written by a real honest to God autobiographer to learn something of the "real" story.

I don't have anything in particular to add at this time to all of the other thoughts out there about the Scarlet Letter and his other writings, but I do like imagining what it may have been like to have lived in Salem and New England during his time. Many of the same houses still exist, as do the streets, and the sea looks the same as do the clouds and sky and the weather. Of course there are many changes, but maybe there is still more of the landscape left than one would think on first blush.

To put myself in Hawthorne's place I propose to walk in his footsteps, even if it is but a short walk. This coming Sunday I'm going to drive over to Salem and find a place to park, then walk from his former house on Mall Street over to the Customs house, following a route I hope he walked. I will try to get a few pictures. Capping off my walk will be a visit to the great A&J King Bakery, to enjoy a chocolate croissant and a cup of coffee. I think he would approve.

And one final thought: did he ever meet Fitz H. Lane? They were born the same year and died only a year apart. Both lived in Boston, and on the North Shore during much of the same time period, and it was a smaller world then...or so it would seem from this end of the time-scope.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Post #3 - Which Dead Author Would You Invite to Dinner?

In my last post I mentioned some of the books I've read and re-read which have given satisfaction over my lifetime.  There are a few more to add to the list - I'll update it as my memory resurfaces them, like rocks in the spring garden.  But now let's shift to a new tack - who would you you pick as your literary dining companion, if somehow the gift could be made?

In time I may change my mind, but my first pick, if it were possible, would be to have dinner with Jonathan Swift.  This is not based on any knowledge of what he was like as a man - perhaps he was in person a boorish lout - but the man who wrote Gulliver's Travels could not be boring.  I think this was the first book I read where I suddenly found myself in awe of an author's intellect.  It's been a while since I've read it, but it was a wonderful experience to travel in Swift's mind.  A superb imagination and delightful wit and a fine style.  A first-rate satirist and a piercing observer of the human state.  if we could make it a threesome I would extend an invitation to Samuel Clemens, I can't help but think it would be a fine time.

As an alternative, if Swift was not available, and by placing the gentlemen in this order I would not pretend to say that one is first and the other second, I would extend an offer to Miguel de Cervantes, to discuss Don Quixote.  The copy I read was a translation, by Burton Raffel.  It left me yearning to learn to read Spanish so as to truly relish the novel.  Reading it was a major undertaking, but well worth it, a story funny, sad, dramatic, full of friendship and once again a deep understanding of our human condition.  Once again, I would invite a third companion....and what do you know, maybe it would be Mark Twain this time.  I think they have something in common.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Post #2 - Reading as a Hobby

This post is all about reading and writing and if I get to it, some of the authors I admire.

Reading has been important to me from the first day I learned how to turn those odd graphical symbols on a piece of paper into sounds and language.  Over the course of my lifetime I've read a lot of books. I wish I had a list, because I've forgotten at least 90% of them.  However, some of these books I have re-read, several of them three times or more.  The books I've re-read have meant different things to me each time I've read them.  Sometimes a book I've read at an earlier time in my life comes across as a dud the second time around.  I attribute this change to the River of Life moving along and changing the meaning I once found in the book and its ideas.  The book hasn't changed, but I have.  Sorry, old friend.

Some books however can be read over and over, they are truly golden.  I've never really thought about the meaning of 'golden oldie', but it means untarnished.  Perhaps golden is not the best analogy, because gold in itself has no meaning beyond a surface color, sheen and texture, you're not too likely to find new meaning in it 10 years from now.  Each re-reading of such a book however brings something new, something you never saw before, something you never really understood and perhaps mentally skipped.

So what are these books?  Number one on my list is The Odyssey.   What an amazing story.  I read it for the first time when I was 15 and re-read it last when I was 50.  Each time it has been a wonderful experience.  Odysseus is the man.  End of story.

Now, the next author may surprise you, but this gentleman is J. R. Tolkien.  I first read  The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as a teenager, and have read them again every 10 years or so.  I had the distinct pleasure of reading these out loud to my sons, what a pleasure that was.  I have to give The Hobbit the nod over the LOTR as a more satisfying work of art, at points LOTR is too stultified, but I easily overlook this for the greatness of the theme, the sweeping plot and its grounding in the down-to-earth hobbits whose lives change and are changed by the events Tolkien chronicles in his imaginary but so real world.

Next up I trot out old friend Charles Dickens and his masterpiece David Copperfield.  I bought a copy of this book for my son for Christmas, which in fact inspired this whole post - as I said on Christmas day, this is a book you can read every decade and find it teaches you something new as it breaks your heart and rewards you with some of the happiness best (and only) found in books.

My last author for now is Ray Bradbury and his compilation of short stories, The Martian Chronicles.  This is relatively lightweight compared to Homer, but I make no excuses for a great story teller with a world-class imagination.  The best stories are just as good as they were the first time I read them 35 years ago or so.

For next time:  writers I most admire - and would like to meet.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Post #1 - My New Year's Resolution

My New Year's Resolution: start a blog.

OK, that was easy :-)