Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting Ready For Battle

Planner: Calendar
When I was in high school, I used to love the weeks leading up to school. Although I often dreaded going back for another year and I certainly dreaded the summer homework, I absolutely love school shopping. It is almost like, I would imagine, a fashionista buying a dress for the party of the season: finding something flashy, but at the same time something in which she feels comfortable enough so she won't regret her choice at the end of the evening. Anyway, I would do the same thing with school supplies. Something cool and enticing, so I would want to use it, but also something that served a definite function.

In seventh grade I started color coding my classes and my homework and I am convinced that this was essential to my high GPA throughout my middle school and high school career. The strict organization permeated every aspect of my school life and even if my room was a mess, my binders were always pristine and my homework was always highlighted in the appropriate color in my planner.

In college, this system degraded. I tried a number of organizational systems that did not work very well. Detailed syllabi replaced my planner, for the most part. The subjects of my classes varied widely from semester to semester and it was difficult to maintain the rigid color scheme. I no longer had a system that allowed me to organize my homework and keep my school books separate from the mess that sometimes engulfed my room. Both junior and senior year I tried to revamp my system to limited success. I became more organized and improved my work and efficiency and my class and thesis notes were fabulous. However, I still could not replicate my high school organizational successes.

This year, I am going to try again. I bought myself a new planner (see one page above) and a new set of pens (instead of highlighters) to color code it. I have assigned colors to my classes and various other work for the remainder of the summer, although I know these will change again as the Fall begins. The new university at which I will be taking classes has a more traditional system than my alma mater, so perhaps the rigidness of the organizational system will fit it well.
Planner: Week
Good luck on the school year, everyone (in school or otherwise), and may you enjoy your preparation as much as I am!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mushroom Ristotto, Take Two

Mushroom Risotto with Parsley and Roasted Pecans
I am trying to perfect my mushroom risotto. My mother and I love the mushroom risotto at one of our favorite local restaurants and we have been trying to copy it since. I made another attempt last night. It was fabulous, although a little different from my last attempt. Warning, this recipe makes enough for about 6-8 people (or four people and 3 leftover meals). You can cut it in half to make a smaller amount. Here's the recipe:

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups mushrooms, chopped, minced, or sliced (personal preference). A mix of mushrooms is usually best. We used a combination of porcini, oyster, and crimini. Make sure that at least half of your mushrooms are very flavorful.
  • 1/3 cups shallots, minced
  • 1 3/4 cups arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup white wine
  • 5-6 cups stock (your choice, I used a vegetable with a mushroom base, but you can also use any other vegetable or chicken or a mix)
  • white pepper and salt, to taste
  • 3/4 tablespoon whipped butter (you can omit this if desired and add slightly more cheese)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (although you can add more or less based on how creamy you want it)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped roasted nuts
  • Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the mushrooms
  • When the mushrooms are beginning to brown, add the second tablespoon of olive oil and the shallots and garlic.
  • When the shallots are soft, add the arborio rice to the pan and mix the rice into the mushrooms. Cook until the rice is becoming translucent. In a separate pot or in the microwave, warm the broth. If the rice begins to brown, start adding liquid immediately.
  • When the rice is translucent (or has begun to brown) add the white wine.
  • When the rice has soaked up the white wine, begin to add the warmed broth 1/2 a cup at a time. Season with white pepper and salt every second addition of broth. Wait until the first half cup has soaked up the previous half cup.
  • By the time the rice is done, it should be soft and have soaked up at least 5 cups of broth.
  • Then, add the little bit of butter and stir it in. This should make the rice creamier.
  • Once this is stirred in, add the Parmesan cheese. Stir in.
  • Serve the rice hot and sprinkle the
I really enjoyed it.

On another note, I wanted to make some bread recently, but it's about 109 degrees here, so most of my cooking has to be done on the stovetop so it does not heat up the house too much.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Origins of Writing

I found a fun short piece from the BBC on the origins of writing around the world which I thought people might enjoy.

I finished my Art History midterm today. I think it went well, but one never knows. Lots of Plato to read for tomorrow.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Flamingos for Thought

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
I have been writing my art history midterm most of this weekend so I am fairly swamped (it's due tomorrow), but I had a moment to read this fabulously written and interesting article about flamingos in the New York Times. I highly suggest it.

I learned in my high school biology class that flamingos develop their traditional pink color from pigments in the algae that they eat, but I did not know why they stood on one leg until now. The article is great, I highly suggest it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Nox, A Review

I just finished Anne Carson's Nox, which was a Christmas gift from one of our oldest family friends and his wonderful girlfriend who is a famous novelist. On the back of the "book," Carson describes her work thus: "When my brother died, I made an epitaph for him in the form of a book. This is a replica of it, as close as we could get." I put the word "book" in quotations marks because this work is not, strictly speaking, a book. It is, rather, a box with a fold out visual-and-prose poem and at the same time, an associative reading of Catullus 101.
The Catullus poem is beautiful, as is Anne Carson's work. While being a poem and a journey in grief, it is also a character study and a postmodern novel; the readers must flesh out the complicated lives of the characters through (often literal) fragments. It is an engaging read which develops a sort of ethos of sadness as well as a desire for inquiry.

I don't want to spoil it; I suggest you read it. Her work is wonderful.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wine Snob: 1992 Husch Reserve Pinot Noir

Husch 1992 Reserve Pinot Noir
Recently, it was my birthday. Although I was (and am) ill, I managed to gather up my strength for a nice quiet dinner with my parents and a bottle of wine left for us by my uncle. The wine was reasonably close to my own age and I thought it would go well with the meal. I was right, the wine was lovely with the salads, pasta, and pizza we all shared.

I was kind of nervous at first. When the waiter poured the wine it was distinctly brown. I think he saw the look on my face because he told me that if I left it to breath, it would probably be quite nice. He was right: after only a few moments the wine turned from chestnut brown to a sort of brick red. The flavor progressed to become a very light, round, warm wine with minerals and a hint of pink pepper. It retained the slight tannic bite at the end.

I always like to compare old wines (when I get the chance to have them) to their original descriptions. This wine certainly changed from when it was bottled in 1994 after a 20-month period in oak barrels (this was Husch's first reserve pinot noit). They said that it tasted of cherries, violets, and cinnamon with a long, softly tannic finish.

If there are any bottles out there to try, I highly recommend it. Let it sit for at least an hour before tasting.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I have my German midterm tomorrow. I am a little nervous, but I think it is going to be ok. After that, I will post a review of the delicious wine I had tonight and maybe go to the doctor because my cold is getting worse.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Slightly Ill Meditations on Textbooks

Although I have been taking good care of myself (sleep, veggies, fruits, vitamins, Greek, scholarship, a little Latin, etc), my cold seems to have relapsed and I feel rather ill. Consequently, my understanding of the world (as it always does when I am distracted by a painful throat, the sniffles, etc, declines rather sharply. Although I struggled through both some Crito and even a poem by Catullus this afternoon (110), my ability to effectively take in information sharply declined after a long art history lecture in a darkened room. As such, instead of continuing with Plato, Homer, or even reading Zuckert for my research, I have been reading a textbook.
Crito (Cambridge Elementary Classics: Greek) Plato's Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues Handbook for Classical Research
My only mandatory class for the fall (aside from at least one course in each Greek and Latin) is a seminar on, essentially, how to produce classical scholarship. I am not sure what this entails precisely, although I seem to remember something about producing a term paper, the only book assigned for the class is a recently-published research manual by David Schaps called the Handbook for Classical Research. After I began nodding off while reading Plato's Philosophers (which quite interesting and this demonstrates clearly that I do not feel well), I decided to something with a simpler tone and point: my new textbook.

Like any good textbook, Schaps' work is engaging without being particularly challenging. Schaps has a strong personal style in his writing that is amenable, even if his opinions, at times, can be rather irritating (especially when he presents them as universal sentiments). However, there is something that feels wrong about the book. Although I am only 50 pages into the book, I get the distinct feeling that Classical research is simply not a subject that can be stuffed into the form of a textbook. Furthermore, although Schaps' distinct voice makes the book more engaging that it might be with a more distant author, it also causes me as the reader to constantly question his qualifications for writing such a book. The only place I have heard his is in one brief discussion of ancient coinage. It caused the more cynical part of me to wonder whether he has children to put through college, because certainly a general research handbook is going to sell better than the Economic Rights of Women in Ancient Greece.

To be sure, there are a lot of things that I still do not know. Until a few days, I had never researched fragments and my examination of the Teubner volume in the library containing Pindar 169a gave me some interesting insights (like how many times Plato's dialogues quote this fragment), but if it indeed contained the information I sought, I did not understand it. I have not gotten to examine Schaps' explanation of research with fragments yet so I do not know if he would be helpful. I certainly could have used this book in high school or early college when, while I had access to them, I did not understand what a commentary was and I sailed through my texts blindly until Propertius II helped me out in my Aeschylus class. Yet, at this moment in my career, I am less in need (for example) of a textbook that explains what scholia is than a textbook that provides a detailed understanding of different types of scholia and how to read them (e.g Ancient Greek Scholarship) or perhaps (more pertinent ant the moment) a detailed monograph on strategies to deal with textual fragments and their sources.

Maybe Schaps refers students to resources like this (I do know that he mentions Eleanor Dickey's book), but even if that were the case, it seems like a fruitless mission to write a book on a topic that is designed only as a chaperone to bigger and better resources instead of writing (or hiring someone else to write) analysis at the level necessary for rigorous undergraduates or less experienced graduate students as the book, by it's very nature (and the assumption made clear in the introduction) is geared solely toward individuals who intend to research and publish in the field. More thoughts as I get farther along (and hopefully as I become more coherent as my cold wains).

Notes 08/17/11: I was thinking that the book was declining further when I came to a chapter entitled "Book Reviews" (Schaps 57-65), but I was impressed to discover that the chapter was not instruction on how to read a book review, but on how to write one that might be accepted by a journal and what types of journals tend to publish them. However, the jury is still out.

Note 08/19/11: Once again I must add a positive addendum to my review. Although I have used many dictionaries in my time as a student of the classics, I still found Schaps' chapter on lexicography illuminating when it came to dictionaries (Schaps 69-80). It was nice to find out that there is a dictionary of Mycenean Greek (although, apparently, the best one is in Spanish) and that Woodhouse is the only full English-Classical Greek dictionary around, but other smaller ones, such as one by by James Morwood (good to know for prose composition).

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Joys of Research

Over the past few days, I have begun once again working on editing my thesis. This process is mostly for graduate school applications, but some is as a tonic for my own soul. Although my thesis certainly did what it needed to and was relieved well, it failed to entirely answer the questions upon which I wrote it. I know what I cannot spend my life fine-tuning my undergraduate thesis, as Propertius II gently reminded me, but I just do not feel like the project is finished yet.

I love researching, which I think is part of the reason that I love Plato. My favorite thing is finding that nugget of text that others missed and figuring out the possibilities of what it means. Plato is full of these little moments that could have huge interpretive significance. I have spent the last few days researching the possible dramatic date of the Laws looking for the clues dropped within the text itself because I think that Catherine Zuckert, who has a wonderful chapter on the dramatic (not compositional) date of the laws in her book does not fully address some of the complications with her position.

Through this process I realized the truth of something a friend said: she told me that not everyone is a researcher. At the time, I thought this was absurd. I figured that if someone liked the topic enough, they were bound to like researching it. However, over the past few days I've been able to see her point. Someone researching needs to not only like the topic, but rather enjoy what a blogger on the CAMPVS refers to as "the hunt." I might put it rather differently; for me it's more like a hike which is long, sweaty, and arduous (although it is invigorating as well) with the "epiphany moment" as the peak of the mountain where the hiker feel like (s)he can suddenly see the entire world (or sometimes suddenly realizes it's not the peak at all).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bread for Cerinthus

I realized recently that although I love to bake bread, I am more of a bread-for-eating person than a cookistry/baker artist. I like the warmth, friendliness, and flavor of the bread and I am only going to make it if it sounds like something that I would enjoy eating. So as much as I tried to keep myself from making Tartine Bread in order to explore other options, I keep coming back to it. When Cerinthus was here, I made us a loaf of the Country Bread for a picnic lunch. It was lovely.

Crackly, wonderfully caramelized crust.
More importantly, I may take a hiatus from bread baking in general. I love it and it's fabulous, but it's incredibly hot here and the oven makes it stifling. Furthermore, most of my favorite bread recipes take a lot of time and I am taking two classes at the local big university, preparing graduate school applications, and studying for my fall exams, so I have more than enough on my plate. I will definitely miss my bread, though, and I think it will make a major comeback this winter.
Moist, soft, flavorful crumb.
In the meantime, I will do some other cooking blogging as well as other random thoughts that come to mind.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Writing and the Gift

The ability to write well is a gift. I do not mean that some people are born with talent and others are not and only those with talent write well. I think some can gain the gift with diligent reading and practice. In fact, I recently listened to a magnificent interview with Leonard Susskind on this very subject (the Standford "How I Write" lectures from iTunes U). It always amazes me the way in which two textbooks of pieces of scholarship can relate precisely the same information and one is exciting and inspiring while the other is insipid and dull. I do not have the gift. I flatter myself to think that I have flashes of it from time to time, but my style is always slightly uncomfortable and self conscious as it stands one foot in the formal and one in the conversational sphere.

This comes to mind for two reasons. First, because I recently read some writing of a few of my friends. Each one has a distinct flourish to his style and each voice speaks distinctly from the text. Even though the writing is unpolished or not perfectly expressed in places, there is an engaging unifying principle: a real person speaks out of the page. Just as my art never found a stylistic guiding principle, I fear my writing is the same. Second, I just tonight finished reading Lévi-Strauss's Totemism, and I found his style absolutely enthralling. This is amusing because Totemism clearly aims at an audience other than the casual reader. Most of the work is comprised of either a detailed analysis of the history of anthropological and sociological scholarship concerning totemism and a detailed description of what cultural practices were misrepresented as totemism by previous writers. My background in this was minimal: I took one introductory level anthropology class a few years ago and that is the sum total of my experience. However, despite my lack of background, Lévi-Strauss was riveting. His writing style reminded me of the way an engaging professor might lecture; he leads his audience through his point of view, explicitly enough so that the audience follows, but subtlety enough that, in realizing his point, the members of the audience feel almost as though they have discovered the truth for themselves. That is a magnificent gift.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Prioritizing Intellectual Projects

I only have a few weeks of summer left. I have to start prioritizing my intellectual projects. It seems I have had a number of weeks the seemed to evaporate with little progress at all. However there are a number of things that I simply must do before I finish the summer.
  1. Review my Greek Grammar and vocabulary in Hansen & Quinn.
  2. Review my Latin Grammar and vocabulary in Moreland & Fleischer.
  3. Finish the Crito.
  4. Read more Homer.
  5. Finish the Medea.
  6. Write a draft of my personal statement.
  7. Work on thesis revisions (for graduate school writing sample).
This means that a lot of other endeavors will fall by the wayside including Xenephon, Infinite Jest, most of the works on my reading list, re-vitalizing my French, etc (although some short lived things I may do just for fun now and then).

I have only seven weeks to prepare for my Greek and Latin exams (to get into the classes I desire). Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Thoughts on Plagerism Prevention

Many universities and high schools use a service called which scans the web, and archives of papers, journals, and books in order to determine whether a paper is plagerizing. I like the sentiment: people should certainly do original work and make sure that citations are full and accurate. However, I think this poses a serious problem for intellectual discussion and creativity. Here is the reason: most of the time (since I graduated from college) when I want to float an idea that I had or force myself to articulate my opinion of some scholarship I would write about it and post it on this blog or on Platonic Psychology. Now, taking the summer art history course, I have to be very careful. If I write an analysis something discussed in class and said topic shows up in a  paper, it is likely that my phrasing in the paper, by natural impulse, will sound like the previous work I have penned. Beyond this, friends of mine have had long discussions on Facebook about papers they were going to write. It seems absurd to penalize a student for using social media to discuss their academic pursuits. Isn't that the opposite of the goal of education?

I do see the obvious counterargument: most plagerism is plagerism and not students enjoying high-minded discussion on the internet. I also do not have any evidence such a scenario might happen, however, Turn It In is constantly expanding their database so it seems that one of these incidents is in the foreseeable future. In reality, I guess, my complaint is a selfish one: I do not want to live under constant fear that one of my papers is going to sound too much like one of my blogposts and get hauled into see some dean and try to talk my way out of failing a class. I can only hope it never happens.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

I haven't posted a lot recently because things were quite busy when Cerinthus came to visit and unfortunately I caught some kind of horrible cold. On the other hand, my spider bite is healing rather nicely.
 Jannach's German for Reading Knowledge
I am going to spend this weekend doing translation and studying for my German quiz. I am finding German easier after 7 weeks of class than I did at the beginning, but it is still a little troublesome. The problem that I have with German is that it seems to be in the no-man's land between an inflected language (a language with endings or inflections that indicate the part of speech) and a word-order language (where word order and prepositions determine the part of speech). In my experience of German, articles and adjectives have inflection, but nouns hardly change at all. Furthermore, word order is totally bizarre. Groups of words are often stuck together in chunks (e.g. a subject or object and a genitive phrase indicating possession) but these chunks can appear almost anywhere in the sentence. Perhaps it is just that my book focuses on reading instead of composition, but it baffles me how anyone actually speaks this language because the rules seem to be mystical rather than concrete. Maybe I'll get the hang of it at some point, but I don't think I'll ever be able to understand where German places its commas.