Happy 4th of July!

To celebrate this great holiday – my favorite holiday aside from New Year’s and my birthday – I wanted to share with you these artistic renditions of our local fireworks.

Surreal Fireworks

Of course, to be completely honest, I’m not really artistic. I’m just a clumsy photographer. Still, I hope that the photos manage to transmit some of my enthusiasm for this holiday. Happy 4th of July, everybody!!!

Carlos Ruiz Zafon As A Torture Device

This review of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Prince of Mist reminded me of how I once took revenge on a group of extremely obnoxious graduate students.

These students had a huge issue with the fact that somebody who was their age (and looked the way you saw in the photo I posted yesterday) and who had just received her PhD was supposed to teach them and grade their work. The topic of the course was the same as the topic of my doctoral dissertation that I had just defended. This meant that I really knew what I was talking about in class. The grad students, however, kept interrupting everything I said with exclamations of “Just a moment, I’m going to check on my laptop whether what you say is right!” I can’t count the number of times when I would say something completely trivial only to be interrupted with a sarcastic, “Really? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure that Goethe wrote Wilhelm Meister,” I’d respond patiently.

“Wait, I’ll check it on my computer anyways,” the students would invariably say.

I got so tired of this constant struggle with the students that I plotted a revenge on them. Over the break, I assigned to them Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. Zafon is a bestselling  writer, and I knew that my snobby grad students would be humiliated by the need to read a book that had been robbed of any intellectual prestige by its huge popular appeal.

“You want us to do what??” one student asked looking terrorized. “I’m going home for the break. I can’t have my friends see me with this book. They will ridicule me forever!”

“Yes, our profession demands certain sacrifices,” I announced gravely. “It pains me to assign it to you but our love of scholarship should be placed above our private concerns.”

A week later, students returned from the break.

“So did you manage to get through the book?” I asked.

There was a long pause.

“I have to confess,” one student said, turning around and glancing at the door to make sure it was shut completely and nobody could overhear his confession from the hallway, “I enjoyed it so much that I stayed up all night long reading.”

“Oh, thank you for saying this!” another student exclaimed. “I discovered that I literally couldn’t put this book down and thought something was wrong with me. I mean, I know it’s a really crappy book, but it was so enjoyable.”

After that, the students lost some of their former superciliousness.

IntenseDebate Also Sucks Dick

What is it with bloggers who keep installing weird commenting systems on their blogs? Don’t want people to comment? Just disable comments altogether instead of making them go through some weird new-fangled system that makes you feel cool.

First, there was Disqus that was so bad it forced me to drop over 15 blogs out of my blogroll. I kept trying to comment but faced with the need to battle with the Disqus that seemed dedicated to revealing my RL info, chose to drop these blogs altogether.

And now there is another commenting system that is even worse than Disqus. It’s called IntenseDebate. Whenever you comment on a blog that has IntenseDebate, it creates a profile for you and begins storing all the comments you made on blogs that have adopted this system. Of course, you are never informed that this is going on. A little dossier of your comments (torn completely out of context) is created. Any obsessed cyberstalker can easily access them and fuel their insanity. (I have such a crazed follower who dedicates endless hours to following everything I do online. Thanks to this strange creature, I discovered that IntenseDebate had created a profile for me. Without being in any way authorized by me to do this, of course).

I have no idea why some bloggers keep being so disrespectful to their readers. If a person decides to comment on your blog, this isn’t the reason to put them through a system that traces their every online move and treats them like suspects in some crime.

If you have any respect for your readers at all, you need to put a huge banner on you blog warning them that you use IntenseDebate to spy on them. Otherwise, you don’t deserve to have any readers at all.

Clarissa’s Chicken Soup With Rice: A Recipe

As I mentioned before, I prefer to make complex, multi-ingredient recipes that take hours to prepare. However, sometimes one feels like creating a simple, easy-to-make old favorite. In our family, chicken soup with rice is one of such staples.

The most difficult part of making this soup is preparing chicken stock. The stock is central to this dish’s success and can under no circumstances be substituted with the store-bought kind. To make really good chicken stock (that you can use for all kinds of soups, not just this one), take some chicken meat on the bone. I only had drumsticks in the house, so I took four of them, removed the skin(nobody in hour house likes the skin) and put them into a large pan filled with water.

This is how it needs to look before you start cooking

I also added a medium-sized onion, two small bay leaves, and several peppercorns. After this is done, put the pan on high heat. It is very important that your stock never starts to boil. This is why you need to hang around as it heat up. Grey foam will start appearing on top of the stock, and you will have to keep removing it with a slotted spoon. Granted, that’s a drag, but the more foam you remove, the clearer your stock will end up looking. After the stock comes almost to the boiling point, lower the heat, add some salt, dice a carrot and add it to the stock. Now, your stock will need to remain on low heat for about 90 minutes.

This is what your stock will look like after it’s done:

The stock was so clear that I had trouble taking a picture without my reflection appearing in it

Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf and the onion after the stock is ready.

While the stock is cooking, boil some eggs and make some white rice the way you regularly make it. Make sure the rice isn’t mushy. Put a tablespoonful of rice, half a boiled egg, some chopped fresh cilantro into a bowl. Add the stock. Throw in a couple of croutons. And you are ready to eat.

Pretty, huh?

Notice how clear the stock looks. You can barely even see it. This means it was made correctly and enough foam was removed in the process.

This soup can easily be eaten as a main course.


Curious Statistics About Amazon’s Top Reviewers

A study has discovered what the majority of Amazon‘s top reviewers is like:

Seventy percent of the top reviewers are male, their median age is 51-60, and more than half hold a graduate degree. About 14 percent of those reviewers are professional writers.

As one of Amazon’s top reviewers, I’m glad to report that I’m quite exceptional in this area, too. I do have many graduate degrees but I’m neither male nor 51-60.

I Found an Alternative to Sephora!

Those of you who are not fans of Sephora will not understand how deprived one feels when separated from it for any length of time. I was so convinced that Sephora was unique that I didn’t even look for any alternatives. Then, yesterday, we went to our favorite Indian restaurant, which, as bad luck might have it, is located 50 minutes away from where we live. I’m addicted to Indian food but have the misfortune of living in such a backwards little town that it doesn’t even have an Indian restaurant. (Have you heard of any other place in the civilized world where people have to drive for an hour for Indian food?)

So yesterday benevolent forces helped me stumble upon a Sephora-like place called Ulta on my way out of the Indian restaurant. It is almost like Sephora but it has the grave disadvantage of discriminating against men. As soon as we walked in, N. observed in shock that there wasn’t a men’s section, not even a tiny little one. Probably, men in Missouri have no interest in looking good, and from what I’ve seen in this state, that might be exactly the case. However, Ulta has something Sephora doesn’t: a really huge section dedicated to hair. Curling irons, straightening irons, hair dryers, and, most importantly, a really huge selection of hairbrushes, like I’d never seen anywhere else.

Another thing this store has is an impressive selection of these facial masks you can see in the picture. I got used to them in Montreal but they are always an incredible drag to find in the US. The last place where I did manage to locate these masks was Ithaca, NY, but even there the selection was paltry. Here, it was better than in Montreal. (For Chesterfield, MO to outdo Montreal in any way is a really big deal).

The only thing I regret that I didn’t know the store existed before going there. I just found their website and it gives you a 20% discount off anything bought in the store.