Sunday, September 19, 2010

How To Be a Wizard Wordsmith

I came across an excellent book the other day that I believe every literate person should read.  You may ask yourself, what is it?  Ulysses?  Crime and Punishment?   No, it's The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark.

The book has captivated me because it pushes my writing in unfamiliar directions.  As you can tell from my previous blogs, I love to learn new things.  Clark's book improves my word usage like never before.  He cultivates language utilization by emboldening writers to take chances on sentence structure.  His volume, furthermore, assists writers in developing enchanting language and bewitching grammar.

I remember in sixth grade when my teacher, Sister Flo had us diagraming sentences by the boat load.  They were ugly devices that sometimes resembled voodoo dolls with pins sticking out in various orientations.  I realize that she was trying to make us aware of the parts of speech.  For example, subjects needed predicates in order to be a clear statement.  Equally, she taught to craft sentences with both direct and indirect objects.

Unfortunately, I still committed numerous sins of the English language after Sister Flo's class.  Diagramming sentences didn't give me the confidence I needed to become a higher quality writer.  Instead it took me another twenty years to acquire a command of words to want to write for pleasure.   I now know if I want to master writing I am required to draft, edit and polish my writing continuously.  It takes me a while to perfect this process but I am patient and pertinacious.

How does Clark get people to be spunky about syntax?  Ha, ha!  By bending the rules a tiny bit.  I was so pleased to read that.  I love to stretch standards and fashion them according to my fancies (see pg. 35).  That is grampowerment to me (see pg. 40).  I like that Clark considers words to be tools that writers use to convey their meanings and it is a liberating message to hear.

I hope you check out Clark's book after reading this post.  It will rescue your shabby sentence structure from your memory's dustheap.  In addition, his manual will give you ready refinement to the significance of your sentences.  Yet, most of all, let Clark's book unearth the magic of your writing within the confines of the English language.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Flatbread Heaven 4

It's hard to believe that summer only has less than two weeks remaining.  The weather has turned towards fall but my thoughts are still occupied with summer.  That is why I had to grill some more flatbread.

I was watching Mark Bittman from the New York Time demonstrate his Grilled Lebanese Pita Bread recipe.  It looked inherently easy and delicious.  His recipe called for all-purpose flour and za'atar spice mix.  I decided to improvise a whole wheat recipe with my own spice mix.

I like this recipe because it has more flavor than chapati.  Chapati is unleavened bread and this recipe has a tablespoon of yeast to help the dough rise.  You will be amazed, with a little advanced preparation, how simple and delicious this flatbread is.

Natalie was my videographer again, so if you hear heavy breathing on the video, you know who that is.  Likewise, Michael was my consultant in this recipe.  He helped me figure out how to mimic the za'atar spice mix.  Ben and Tim just watched and waited until it was time to eat.

Here is my version of grilled pita bread:

1 cup filtered water, room temperature
2 tsp table salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp yeast

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
olive oil for brushing dough

1.  Combine water, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl.  Stir and let sit for five minutes.
2.  Add flour mixture and stir.  Use hands to combine lingering flour.  The dough will be somewhat dry. You can add a tablespoon of water at a time to combine all of the flour.  Cover bowl and let sit in a warm place for an hour.
3.  Preheat grill for fifteen minutes.  Turn out rested dough onto a floured counter.  Knead dough by hand for five minutes until soft and pliable.
4.  Cut dough into 8 pieces and roll each piece into a ball.  With rolling pin and more flour, roll out each piece into a 6 inch diameter circle.  Place each disc onto a sheet pan with parchment paper.  Brush each pita disc with olive oil.  Prepare spice mix* listed below.
5.  Scrape off grill with cleaning brush.  Turn grill down to medium heat and brush grill grates with cooking oil.  Place pita discs onto grill, olive oil side down and cook for about a minute.
6.  Brush uncooked side with more olive oil.  Turn pita bread over when bubbles are visible and grill marks are present underneath.  Cook second side for about a minute.   Sprinkle spice mixture on top of pita while cooking second side.  Pita bread is done when second side shows browning and grill marks.

*Diane's spice mix

sea salt
black pepper
1/8 tsp ground cumin
couple sprigs of fresh thyme

Friday, September 3, 2010

Our American Toad

It was sizzling last Monday and I decided to pull the hose and sprinkler out for Timmy to enjoy.  Much to my surprise, a toad had hopped out from under our hose cart.  I didn't realize before then that we had an amphibian living in our backyard.
The Vrobel's American Toad is fond of shelter under the hose cart.
The next time I saw him (assuming the toad is a male), was Tuesday night after opening the garage door.  Luckily, he wasn't squished by the car but continued sitting smack dab on the driveway.  I had to caution the kids not to step on him.

It makes me feel good to know our backyard is in good health and can support the American Toad.  After reading up on the reptile's background, I discovered that he is doing us a favor.  He is our natural bug zapper.  Our garden plants can grow pest free thanks to the American Toad.

The other fascinating tidbit that I learned is that amphibians are sensitive to increases in acid rain or heavy metals.  Likewise, there have been reports of frogs and toads with missing limbs because of chemical exposure.  Oregon State University found that frog exposure to low levels of nitrate and nitrites (found in commercial garden or yard fertilizer) can affect amphibian development.  Thankfully, our lawn has been chemical-free for the last three years.

It is satisfying finding thought-provoking wildlife in our backyard.  I feel good knowing we are being good stewards with our quarter acre plot of land.  I just hope our American Toad likes his digs enough to stay.

Additional information on amphibian health and organic lawn care:
Homeowner's Guide to Protecting Frogs
Lawns: Pesticides Use and Alternatives