Holden Caulfield and the Too-Good-to-Throw Snowball Cookies

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The nostalgic journey through my bookshelves continues, and I can’t overlook this character: Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye‘s misguided rebel with a golden core—-well, maybe it was golden before he smoked all those cigarettes.

People tend to love or hate Holden, his critics labeling him a whiny kid who won’t act on anything.  In his defense, so is Hamlet, but we still keep him around.  I happen to be one of his fans—-how can you not love a teenager that tries to wipe away the “Fuck You” graffiti  to protect the innocence of children? A teen who mock-tap dances in the bathroom of his prep school to get a rise out of his roommate,  prancing around the washbowl saying, “I’m the goddamn Governor’s son. He doesn’t want me to be a tap dancer. He wants me to go to Oxford. But it’s in my goddamn blood, tap-dancing. It’s the opening night of the Ziegfeld Follies. The leading man can’t go on. He’s drunk as a bastard. So who do they get to take his place? Me, that’s who. The little ole goddamn Governor’s son.” I’ve read the book more than I care to admit, and that scene gets me every time.

Besides loving it for my own selfish enjoyment, this book is also extremely teachable.  It’s an exemplary bildungsroman (if you’re a writer and your coming-of-age text gets compared to Catcher, consider it high praise), and it has symbolism coming out the wazoo—-the baseball glove, the hunting hat, the snowball, the carousel, the record, the ducks, the museum, the graffiti, the actual song “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye”…you can’t throw a punch at an elevator pimp without hitting something symbolic in this text.

The story doesn’t exactly spin warm fireside fuzzies, but it does take place in New York at Christmastime, so it captures a certain holiday feel.  The recipe for snowball cookies was inspired by the scene below:

“I didn’t throw [the snowball] at anything, though. I started to throw it. At a car that was parked across the street. But I changed my mind. The car looked so nice and white. Then I started to throw it at a hydrant, but that looked too nice and white, too. Finally I didn’t throw it at anything. All I did was close the window and walk around the room with the snowball, packing it harder.”

I mean, come on.  How could you not slip into a frenzy of literary analysis on that one?! Not wanting to muss up something so white and pure? Not finding an emotional release, so instead packing those feelings in tighter? (You’ll have to excuse my nerd-isode.) Don’t worry, the only thing you’ll be packing these snowballs into is your belly.  Maybe your handbag.

I used Food Network’s version, because it’s the Food Network.  However, there are other versions that use pecans instead of almonds, and depending on your locale, they might also be called Mexican wedding cookies.  Click here for a link to the OG recipe.

Almond Snowball Cookies

Ingredients

3/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, sliced and softened (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Pulse the almonds and sugar in a food processor until very finely ground. Add the butter and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape the dough off the inside of the bowl, if needed. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and pulse to combine. Add the flour and salt and pulse to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper and roll into a log about 15 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cut the chilled dough into 1/2-inch pieces and roll by hand into balls. Space the cookies evenly on the prepared baking sheets and bake until slightly golden, rotating the sheets once, 15 to 20 minutes. Put the confectioners’ sugar in a pie plate. Briefly cool the cookies on a rack, then gently toss in the confectioners’ sugar until evenly coated. Return to rack, cool to room temperature, and then toss again in the confectioners’ sugar.

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Wishing you all a Merry Everything from A Lit.eral Interpretation.  Enjoy the family, the goodies, the awkward silences when relatives ask insinuating questions.  And as Holden would say, “Sleep tight, ya morons!”

 

Christmas Dorothy and the Heroine

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I know what you’re thinking–Dorothy and heroine? I knew she seemed overeager to take a siesta in the poppies.  Except we’re talking heroine with an E, Smartypants, so cool your jets.  Ya know, the badass female kind.

Let’s talk adventure.  At some point in your life, you’ve come across the hero’s journey, knowingly or not.  It’s a story format that occurs over and over again throughout literature and film.  Given in to the recent Star Wars mania? You just witnessed a form of the hero’s journey.  Harry Potter? Yeah, him too.  And also Percy Jackson,Odysseus, Ender Wiggins, Simba, Shrek, Hercules, Aladdin, Edmund from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Nemo…and on, and on. These are the types of examples I learned when first introduced to the concept, and they’re likely the examples most teachers use to teach the concept.  But then I got to thinking Where the ladies at?  Don’t The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland feature some adventurous females that follow roughly the same path?

Here’s the standard diagram, created by Joseph Campbell:

hero journey

Shall we do a test run?

  1. Ordinary World: Dorothy in Kansas, singing her someday-over-the-rainbow woes.
  2. Call to Adventure: Maybe I’ll run away.  Come on Toto, let’s go get FroYo in the big, bad city.
  3. Refusal of the Call: Crystal ball shows worried Auntie Em, aka Dorothy isn’t the runaway type (but who’s that fortune-telling dude? It’s like he’s some kind of wizard).
  4. Meeting the Mentor: No wait, that fortune-telling dude IS the wizard.
  5. Crossing the Threshold: One-way tornado ticket to Oz, please.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: Are you a good witch or a bad witch; hey, these munchkins have some sick dance moves; and I’ll-get-you-my-pretty introductions.
  7. Approach: Off to see the wizard with my homies Scarecrow, Tinman, and a Lion of the cowardly sort.
  8. Ordeal, Death, and Rebirth: Dorothy vs. Wicked Witch, aka mean-ass neighbor who wants to take Toto for the pound put-down special.
  9. Reward, Seizing the Sword: Dorothy: “What do you mean you’re not a real wizard?!”  Wizard: “I’m just a man, but here take these symbols of things you’ve had from the beginning.”
  10. The Road Back: Tap your heels together three times.
  11. Resurrection: Bring on the neighbor.  I’m ready.
  12. Return with Elixir: There really is no place like home.  Let’s have pie.

Fits suspiciously well, wouldn’t you say? It’s difficult to become something you can’t see, so let’s make sure we’re rolling out the lady examples of courageous doings (in addition to the Luke Skywalker goodness) when covering this ever-recurring story type, ya feel me. Good talk—- fist bump.

The Wonderful Blizzard of Oz

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Ah, there’s no place like home for the holidays.  This time of year gives me a case of nostalgia something mean—-a residue of all that Christmas Eve is-Santa-coming hoopla I can’t seem to scrub off after all these years.

Since I have a little break n’ breather before my next MFA term starts, I thought I’d feature books that remind me of the good ol’ days, when staying off the naughty list was a simple matter of eating your veggies and not getting caught terrorizing your sibling. And when I wrote letters to Santa, ya know, just in case (never got that puppy, by the way).

First in line is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which actually is a 14-book series by L. Frank Baum.  And in the grand tradition of Hollywood sugar-coating (I’m looking at you, Disney), the Judy Garland movie version is much more saccharine than the novel.  Do you know the backstory on the Tin Man, for example?  Oh, he wasn’t always tin. There was a love story gone awry  with a little bit of “I-don’t-want-my-daughter-to-marry-a-lumberjack”-mom-meddling that resulted in a Wicked Witch chopping off all his limbs (the tin smith did help him out, but the new tin biceps were tricky to get the hang of, and he then cut himself in half with his own axe).

But enough about that, let’s have a cocktail!  A very wise relative of mine birthday-gifted me the most perfect book for my particular brand of nerdiness: Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist.  It is from this bible of bookish booze that I took the following recipe for “The Wonderful Blizzard of Oz.”

Ingredients:

5 oz. pineapple juice

2 oz. coconut cream (it’s probably in the seltzer/mixer section of your grocery)

1 banana

6-10 ice cubes, depending on desired slushiness

*Now, most of the drinks in this book contain alcohol.  This one did not.  Crazy, I know. When I bust out a blender for a beverage, there better be some liquor in it!  And that’s how two shots of Malibu coconut rum snuck into the mix.

Directions:

Put all ingredients in a blender and pulse until ice is desired consistency.  Garnish with a pineapple ring, if you’re feeling ambitious.

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Warning: the consumption of this beverage has not been approved for munchkins or flying monkeys.  Blood-alcohol levels may vary.

 

 

 

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson: “Emergency”

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They say Jesus’ Son had such a cult following at one time that it was printed in pocket-sized editions so angelheaded hipsters, and other cool kids, could carry them conspicuously in the back pocket of their artfully faded Levis.  Now, I’m not sure if the following admission makes me more or less cool, but it took me a while to come around to Denis Johnson’s masterful collection of short stories.  It’s been added to my list of things like Napoleon Dynamite and bacon Rice Crispie treats, that at first I didn’t quite understand, but that reveal their genius more with each exposure.

This wasn’t originally on my reading list, as I’d already read it twice, but I found myself craving a re-read toward the end of the term, so I snuck it in (it can be devoured in about 2.5 hours if you’re really hungry for it).

My favorite story in the collection is “Emergency,” partly because of the absurdly hilarious ride it unfolds.  Georgie, a type of idiot savant in the ER, has an unerring compassion toward living things, whether a man with a hunting knife through his eye, or a mother bunny hit by a car (his car).  He reminds me of a pill-popping Lenny, a la Of Mice and Men.

While surfing their stolen hospital med cocktail, the two main characters get themselves lost out on a joy ride.  A terrible snow storm sets in, so they get out of their car—-Survivor Man would so not approve—-and stumble across what they think is a cemetery, but turns out to be a drive-in movie theater.

“We bumped softly down a hill toward an open field that seemed to be a military graveyard, filled with rows and rows of austere, identical markers over soldiers’ graves.  I’d never before come across this cemetery. On the farther side of the field, just beyond the curtains of snow, the sky was torn away and the angels were descending out of a brilliant blue summer, their huge faces streaked with light and full of pity.  The sight of them cut through my heart and down the knuckles of my spine, and if there’d been anything in my bowels I would have messed my pants from fear.

Georgie opened his arms and cried out, ‘It’s the drive-in, man!” 

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Correction: Georgie is one part Lenny from Of Mice and Men, one part The Dude from The Big Lebowski.  The combination, I think you’ll agree, is some kind of dark-magic wonderful.