Monday, February 11, 2008

Attack of the Squeeing Fan Girl

Most of the time, I do a pretty good impression of a normal person. I can dress myself in a reasonably fashionable manner, there is no identifiable fan art in my apartment, and I think my personal grooming habits are acceptable. I think that most of my casual acquaintances believe that I am admirably non-eccentric.

But in truth, it's all a pose. I am an enormous, enormous geek. I seem to have a congenital tendency towards obsession: I was just built to be a fan girl. So here are some of my current geeky interests.

1. Empanadas. Can you be a pastry fangirl? If so, then I am one. I am slightly obsessed with pie. In fact, other than all things Irish, it may be my longest-standing obsession. There are very few pies that I don't love: sweet, savory, tarts, you name it. Making pie is one of my favorite comfort activities: it's what I do when I'm in need of a pick-me-up. (Given my chronic vertigo problem, this has made for some awkward cooking situations recently. I can make pie while the kitchen is whirling, but it's a messy process.)

Anyway, I've had a hankering for empanadas for the past few days, so last night I made a batch. Empanadas, for those not in the know, are sort of like Cornish pasties. You take a circle of pastry, put something in it, fold it over, bake or fry it, and you've got a yummy, portable lunch. Many years ago, I was introduced to this culinary delicacy at a glorious little restaurant in D.C. called Julia's Empanadas. Mine are a poor substitute for Julia's, but since there's nothing like Julia's Empanadas in Chicago, I've been making them periodically ever since.

You can fill an empanada with just about anything, but I like ground beef, which is the most common filling. For the pastry, I used this recipe from epicurious, except that I substituted shortening for half of the butter. This may be sacrelige, but I'm broke, and butter is expensive. Actually, though, an all-butter crust for empanadas seems a little wrong to me. For the filling, I used this recipe, also from epicurious. I used less fancy ground beef, and I substituted capers for the olives, because I had capers on hand, and again with the brokeness. I baked them instead of frying them, because frying is overkill, and I brushed the tops with a little bit of olive oil. They're pretty scrumptious, if I do say so myself. I will be eating them for lunch for the next week or so.

2. I have, God help me, fallen so low that I'm reading Firefly fan fiction. To be fair, it's especially good fan fiction, by an actual published writer. Here it is. It's not perfect, but the characters all sound right, and it's got a particularly good and believable take on River. I also like that it deals with a central, unexplored issue in Firefly, which is the tension between Mal's ethical code and his libertarianism. Mal can't abide exploitation, but he also can't abide any government that would be strong enough to stop exploitation in a systematic way. He's constantly stuck being a Big Damn Hero, because his only model for dealing with injustice is for some crusading individual to come in and beat up the bad guys. I strongly suspect that had the series survived, it would have dealt with this problem and with the idea that the Alliance, for all its brutality, is not all evil. I actually think that ambiguity is part of what makes the series compelling, and I wish it had stuck around for long enough to tackle it.

3. I am a fan of post-apocalyptic literary fun. I really enjoyed World War Z, which is one of those realist sci-fi books that is set in a world exactly identical to our own, with one small tweak. (See, for example, The Time-Traveler's Wife, which was a little cheesy for my tastes but which had a completely believable take on time travel.) In this case, the small tweak is the existence of a plague of flesh-eating zombies. Other than the plague of zombies, World War Z is a totally realistic book, reflecting all of our anxieties about globalization, American arrogance and military overreach, consumerism, the sad state of the news media, and what have you. In fifty years, this will be a pretty great source about American culture in the early 21st century.

If World War Z has a shortcoming, it has to do with characterization. It's really a book about society, not about individuals, and people's individual stories mostly serve to illustrate larger points. If that irks you, you can compensate by reading a really great, totally intimate post-apocalyptic novel: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. This is billed as a Young Adult novel, which I think makes it pretty geeky, but it's terrific and I think would appeal to a lot of my fellow grown-ups. It's a post-apocalyptic novel with some fantasy elements, but honestly, I think what I appreciated most about it was its totally unsentimental take on its protagonist's eating disorder. I usually hate eating disorder books, which often end up making anorexia look very romantic and almost admirable. Fifteen-year-old Daisy's anorexia is totally self-indulgent and, in a world that's falling apart, a little bit obscene. You can sympathize with Daisy's pre-apocalyptic problems, even as you realize that she's a bit of a whiny, over-entitled brat. Post-apocalyptic, post-anorexic Daisy is a much more admirable character than pre-apocalyptic, anorexic Daisy. Especially because this is a book aimed at teenagers, I really appreciated Rosoff's skill in pulling that off.

So that's what I've been up to on the geek front. I'm still working on my Central Park Hoodie. I hope to finish the left front tonight and move on to the right front. Fun!

No comments: