“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” - Shel Silverstein

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Sassy Scholar - Jane Austen Term Paper

          For The Love of Jane Austen

          I never fail to be amazed when I mention my love of Jane Austen novels in conversation only to be met with a tell-tale blank stare indicating that the person with whom I am speaking has no idea who she is. I then proceed to rattle off at least three of the five completed Austen novels by name. I am fully aware, that even well-read individuals have rarely heard of her epistolary work Lady Susan or her incomplete novel Sanditon, named so by Austen’s family and “completed” by numerous authors, so I do not mention those. Probably about half of the time this ends with me ranting about how Jane Austen is one of the most celebrated English authors in history, because she is. In fact, she has been referred to as the first great woman novelist (Bagnuolo), because she is.
Born in 1775, Jane Austen was the daughter of a clergyman and had seven siblings, only one of whom was a sister. She was brought up in an environment in which her father encouraged education of his daughters as well as his sons. Austen was allowed the use of her father’s library and he encouraged her writing by maintaining a supply of books, paper, and pens. Later, he even attempted to get one of her works published, but without success. Jane was said to have been very close with her father, and especially close with her sister Cassandra. Readers see glimpses of this relationship in her novels when they experience the bond between characters such as Elizabeth and Jane Bennett or Elinor and Maryanne Dashwood.  Jane Austen never married. She loved one man, Mr. Tom Lefroy but the two were not permitted to marry because, though Austen was a gentlewoman, her family was not well to do (Alex). Surely, this experience provided fuel for her novels, in which, the heroines always married for love not for money and lovers were united against the odds without regard to fortune or connections or a lack thereof.
Austen was successful because she wrote about what she was familiar with. She wrote about her own era and the society in which she lived. She had a thorough knowledge of the composition and characteristics of the social classes because she lived it. She wrote of places she knew and had experienced. These are what she drew on for inspiration; her surroundings gave birth to her settings and characters (Bagnuolo). Incidentally, one will never see dialogue quoted in one of her novels unless there is a female in the conversation. Austen’s style is to summarize conversations taking place between men and save her detailed dialogue for the ladies. I have always attributed this to keeping with the pattern of working with what was familiar to her. Even though Austen’s work did not gain widespread popularity until long after her death, her contemporaries acknowledged this key ingredient which made her novels so splendid. In a review printed in 1816, the year she released her third novel, Sir Walter Scott wrote, “The author's knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting. The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader” (Melani).
This give Austen’s writing an authentic quality that cannot be duplicated. Sanditon makes this point perfectly clear. While every effort was made to complete the work seamlessly, in true Jane Austen style, even meticulous study of her writing could not make up for the lack of firsthand knowledge in the version I read, which was completed by Another Lady. The authenticity was not there and it is obvious to the reader where it disappears.
            “The widespread appeal and popularity of Austen’s novels shows that her work, although written in a different era, addresses issues that are timeless” (Strout et al.). It is interesting to note that her novels are popular, and considered the epitome of romance in spite of being wholesome. Unlike the racy romance novels of our day, her novels never mention sexual encounters, kissing or even touching (Harman). On the contrary, Jane’s novels are written in a time when eloping was wrong and couples were chaperoned and they remain true to those high moral standards. Yet, each one is a page turner, keeping the reader wanting more. At the same time, any of her novels would make a lovely, classic bedtime story for a little girl.
Of course, when I rattle off the names of three of the five Jane Austen novels prior to my rant Pride and Prejudice is always included and always first. It was originally titled First Impressions, but after revising this epic romance Austen had it published in 1813 with the title it bears today. This was her most celebrated and popular novel while she was alive, and though her other works are very popular today Pride and Prejudice still has the largest fan base. Her works generally deal with the same issues and questions, though she explores them from different perspectives, under different circumstances, and with a variety of consequences (Melani). However, Pride and Prejudice has a significantly different theme woven together with the familiar Jane Austen fare and one might say there is a moral to this story. The underlying, serious tone is to be wary of being judgmental and presumptuous.  It is absolute brilliance how Austen teaches readers the folly in pre-judging people based on stereotypes or hearsay, addresses pressing issues such as the importance of duty to society versus duty to oneself, and then marries them both to comical satire in Pride and Prejudice.
The characters are all real and memorable even though not much time is spent describing them. The reader always gets to know Austen’s characters through their speech and actions. Thus, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy are one of literature’s most beloved couples and Caroline Bingley is hardly more than a heartless villainess. Mr. Bingley and Jane Bennett are cherished as the sweet unsuspecting couple, Mr. Collins irritates the audience and the rest of the Bennett family makes them laugh.
Austen’s character selection helps tell the story, but it also speaks to the issues. Elizabeth Bennett’s parents are the product of society, it is implied that their marriage, in keeping with the norm was based on the ideals of the world around them, namely money and connections. It is apparent throughout the story that they are ill-suited for one another and they have regrets. The same holds true for Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, while Louisa is wealthy and was able to maintain her social stature in marriage, she is not happy. In this way, Austen makes clear her thoughts on what truly makes a happy marriage.
Mr. Collins represented what society dictated a young woman in the Bennett girls’ position should pursue, a secure income, comfortable home, a husband with a respectable career and eventually a family. His character was deliberately designed to be everything Elizabeth thought was undesirable, in order to expose the ridiculousness of following a culture that would encourage incompatible marriages based on compatible circumstances, in essence putting survival over living. In Regency era England, single men had open access to money. What they did not inherit, they could earn. The only way for a single young lady to get money was to marry it (Newton).
The reader gets another dose of Austen’s money-does-not equal-happiness stance in Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter, Anne. In this case, we see that money does not always equal manners either. Lady Catherine is just plain rude, feeling as though because she is a woman of rank she has a right to be so. Her daughter is sickly and fragile, and they live a very lonely life together other than occasional company.
Mr. Wickham’s character points out the dangers put upon young women of good breeding and fortune, in a society that values both above all else. These young women are set up to be preyed upon by men who seek to advance themselves without earning it. This scoundrel Wickham must have been quite interesting to readers in Austen’s day, when families tended to be more on guard against less-than-worthy girls trying to seduce their sons into marriage for their money. Why would families be less concerned about their daughters being preyed upon in this manner? Men of the day did not need to get married. They could do so if they chose, but it was not a necessity for a man to have a wife. Men made their own money, and moved about as they pleased. (Newton) Society looked upon married and single men indiscriminately. Young ladies, however, needed to marry in order to provide for themselves financially and secure a respectable place in society. Even women of wealth were expected to be married at least once. Spinsters, women who had never married, were looked down upon to some degree regardless of their financial status.
Even with all the flaws of the world she knew up for examination, Jane Austen still manages to entertain readers and endear herself and her characters to them, nearly two hundred years after her death. Her work is extremely popular today and has been translated into over 30 languages including Japanese, Hebrew, Icelandic, Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu. Her complete works are among the most read and beloved books in the English language. Austen’s novels have been either directly made into big screen movies or used in adaptations (i.e. Clueless (1995) adapted from Emma) many times. There are also numerous made for television movies based on her work, (Harman) even her own life story has become a major motion picture.
I, therefore, feel perfectly within my rights to be aghast when one of my peers does not know who Jane Austen is, or cannot at the very least recognize the title of one of her world renowned novels. One may as well say they have never heard of Shakespeare, for Jane Austen is the first great woman novelist. She is, without a doubt one of the most famous, celebrated English authors in history.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Glamorous Gourmet - Shish-Kabowls!

I was on a quest recently for a nice stuffed pepper recipe. My hubbykins had been asking me to try one. Well there are *so many* out there I couldn't choose! I didn't want to make them in the crock pot because I hate soggy peppers and I wasn't sure baking would be any better. I love grilled peppers. Like when hubby makes shish-kabobs. I love shish-kabobs, but the beef is so expensive, we haven't had them in the longest. The only beef I keep around is a couple roasts and ground beef. Which incidentally is the main ingredient in most stuffed pepper recipes...and some how my mind jumped from here to Shish-kabowls! 

Mix This In A Bowl:
2lbs Ground Beef
1 Packet Onion Soup Mix
1/4 cup Worcestershire Sauce

Cook It In A Skillet With This:
1 cup Dales Seasoning (just pour it over top don't mix)
1/2lb Bacon cut into 1 inch sections

Cook this as you would taco meat breaking up the beef chunks, until it is cooked through. Drain and return to the pan and cook an additional 5 minutes to improve the texture of the bacon. Then transfer it to a large bowl 

And Add:
1 Medium Onion (chopped)
1 Large or 4 Roma Tomatoes (diced)

Mix it up and use it to stuff the peppers. If you halve the peppers or use a small variety these can be finger food. Top each pepper with several Sliced Baby Portabello Mushrooms and grill the bowls for 10 or so minutes until the peppers are tender but still crisp.

The Glamorous Gourmet - Chicken Bellagio

I had this dish at The Cheesecake Factory and I loved the taste and texture so much I was searching the web for a recipe before I finished eating! I came across a recipe here at RecipeLink and it was perfect! I left out the arugula because my husband isn't fond of course greens... I may try to convert him because it does add a certain something flavor-wise to the dish. I have done nothing but crave this all week, but alas I only bought enough of the specialty ingredients to try it once! I won't be making that mistake again...

By way of tips I have these:
1) Fillet your chicken breasts (even if you plan to pound them) you'll get twice as many but they are thin enough to cook through without burning the coating.
2) Use a meat thermometer so that you don't cook the chicken any longer than is necessary. This keeps it moist.
3)Make sure you have plenty of the Garlic Pesto. Even if you don't use it all you can store it in the fridge, but you need more than one recipe worth if you're going to make more than 6oz of pasta and who can feed a family with 6oz of pasta?? If you're lazy or on a budget basil pesto in a jar works just fine. I prefer Classico brand, but that's just me:)
4) Prosciutto is expensive, $14 a pound at my local supermarket. So to keep costs down order it from the deli by the slice. I ordered 10 slices cut very thin and paid $1.29. Of course if you shop for the month you may want get more. I'll be ordering 3 packs of 10 instead of one next month and freezing the other two. Of course I may be going out to get more this weekend     so I can make this again NOW! LOL
5)I did not use the nuts and it still tasted perfect.

So with all that in mind, here's the recipe! Enjoy!

CHICKEN BELLAGIO(Cheesecake Factory copycat recipe)

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
2 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. pine nuts or walnuts (optional)
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced or microplaned or grated
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
4 slices Prosciutto, room temperature

1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. oregano

4 Tbsp. olive oil or enough to coat bottom of pan with 1/4 in. of oil

6 oz. angel hair pasta
2 Tbsp. garlic pesto sauce

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
3 Tbsp. garlic pesto sauce
1/3 cup Parmsan-Reggiano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper

1 cup washed arugula
half a cup of shredded or grated fresh parmigiana regianno

To prepare the garlic basil pesto, add all of the ingredients for the pesto to a food processor and pulse until well blended; set aside.

Pound out the chicken breasts one at a time in between two pieces of plastic wrap or in a ziploc bag until flattened out evenly.

In a bowl, mix salt, pepper, oregano, and parsley into the bread crumbs to season.

Coat the breasts in flour, and then dip in the beaten egg, and then into the seasoned bread crumbs. Coat completely flipping the breasts over a few times to completely coat. Refrigerate the breasts on a plate for 15 minutes, uncovered, to get the seasoned bread crumbs to really stick. Remove the Prosciutto from the fridge and allow to reach room temperature for ease of separation.

5Boil the pasta in salted water until done, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low until needed.

To prep the parmesan cream sauce, add heavy cream to a saute pan and bring the cream to a simmer, and incorporate the basil pesto. Add salt and white pepper to taste, and as it begins to thicken, add the parmesan cheese and stir vigorously to incorporate it. Continue to stir until it thickens more. Reduce heat to low to keep warm.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

Heat a non stick or well seasoned cast iron skillet over medium low to medium heat. Add olive oil and fry the breasts on the first side until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, dip each slice of Prosciutto into the hot oil for 10 to 15 seconds, and then place on each chicken breast (2 for each breast, overlapped). Use a thermometer to insure perfect doneness of the breasts. (I pull mine at internal temp of 150F). Place on plate in oven to keep warm.

Drain the pasta and place in a large bowl. Stir in garlic basil pesto. Place the pasta on a plate. Pour some of the cream sauce over the pasta. Add the chicken breasts with the Prosciutto slices facing upwards. Top the breasts with more cream sauce. Top with arugula. Drizzle the arugula with some extra virgin olive oil.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Home Sweet Home - Finally Banish Kool-Aid Stains!

This tip was so amazing I had to share it *with* pictures! I had stains on my rug for as long as I can remember, and with six kids they multiplied regularly. I'm so thankful I ran across this info on LilDuckDuck.com 

"Mix equal amounts of ammonia and hot water. Spray the stain. Take a towel and place over the stain. Go over the towel with an iron on its highest setting and watch the stain transfer! It was amazing. I did this 5 or 6 times over the stain and it was gone. It was an old stain too! Test in an area first." 

So here is the stain I chose to document for proof that this works
 Here it is half gone
 Almost there!
 My poor rag that caught the stain... But on the up side it washed completely away in the laundry :)
 No more Kool-Aid! I also promptly went over my rug with my rug cleaner to clean the whole thing and suck up the stinky ammonia :p
I also would like to add that you're going to want to open the window (and doors!) and throw a fan on because this is quite noxious. I should have expected it, I mean ammonia is pungent as it is and we are heating it up and turning into a vapor, but it caught me off guard. So I'm sharing a heads up :)