As best I can tell, Larry Page and Sergey Brin think I'm playing Chinese tic-tac-toe with ABBA. Or trying, unsuccessfully, to make fleece-lined pants for a hungry juvenile squid. Or taking a slug with a toothache out for excellent tonkatsu chicken. Or removing Flarp from the handlebar moustache of a Go master/Atomic Physicist/Ice Cream Pie Afficionado.
So close, so close. And yet...
Last week, I began The Numerati, which details the digital breadcrumbs, the Annapurna of data, that you and I and everyone leave behind, daily. From frequent shopper cards to internet searches to high-tech HR department analyses, Stephen Baker pulls back the curtain on all the ways in which we're being tracked, monitored, scrutinized, quantified, analyzed. It's a bit apocolyptic. I should probably be terrified. Maybe I will be. Just as soon as I get past the giggle fits.
(I realize a book about number-crunchers and data-miners is not standard New Year's reading fare. Whence the jaunty self-improvement, the inspirational memoir, the transportative fiction that airlifts us out of dark January? What can I say? Once a data-wonk, always a data-wonk.)
What makes it all okay, what has me in hysterics, is the niggling, yawning divide between our data and ourselves. Computers excel at the numbers, of course, at gathering, tagging, organizing, cross-tabbing. Not so much at making connections. Assembling subtle stories, sniffing out the subjective, understanding the squishy human bits that reside between the bytes? Mighty tough, for those mighty machines. Yes, our every move is being tracked. But what's missing, I think, is more telling than what's there.
They're like three-year-olds, faced with a dot-to-dot, and no sense of number sequence. The dots are all there, and beg to be connected, but dots and lines alone won't a proper picture make.
Because I am amused by such things, I minded my own Google searches this week, curious to learn who I electronically am. Here, then, is my week in review: "moustache party", "graham cracker crust", "weather.com", "how to remove noise putty from hair", "akai hana", "weather.com", "what to expect after a root canal", " how to play Go", "how to make lined children's pants", "weather.com", "squid digestion", "gutta percha", "why is my sewing machine making loopy stitches", "weather.com", "slugs 4 noses 3000 teeth", "Voulez Vous Abba", "how to play Pong hau k'i", "are all atoms the same size", "weather.com". And there you have it: mustachioed Go Master, with a pet slug, and an Arctic address, and a love of seventies Swedish disco. Or maybe not.
Maybe, alternatively, we celebrated an eighth birthday, with blinky bugs and new legos and a 'Stache Bash. (Best 'Stache Pinboard Award goes to Janet Planet.) And lunch out at an excellent, new-to-us Japanese restaurant, where our exceptionally gracious hostess made starter chopsticks for the kidlets. And for the family fête, ice cream pie. Because what better to eat in January than frozen cake?
Post-party, we learned that Noise Putty also goes by Flarp, and can cement itself to long red hair, and can be removed, much to everyone's relief, with great fistfuls of conditioner. (Thank you, Messieurs Brin and Page.) Also, the ridiculous joys of bizarre facts, packed up in large fonts and bright colors. Did you know sloths take a month to travel a mile? Or that a squid's food travels through its brain? Or that slugs have four noses and three thousand teeth?
I had to confirm that last fact for myself. Turns out two of the four noses are more like eyes, and the teeth are more like rasps, but still. Those ubiquitous blobs are vicious.
We played Pong Hau K'i, though only amongst ourselves. Agnetha and Co. couldn't make it. (Though I did finally identify the band Zoë's been hearing, and loving, and trying to describe to me, with little luck. I thought it was maybe Elizabeth Mitchell, or Frances England, or possibly, They Might Be Giants. Turns out it was ABBA. I see a mirror ball in our future...) I also spent time brushing up on my Go, which I haven't played in, oh, thirty years, and which I'm determined to get in a game of, this winter.
(Be forewarned: If you search on both 'pong hau k'i' and 'how to play go', algorithms will assume you actually want to learn beer pong. AI's got a long way to go, I'm telling you.)
We checked the weather. A lot. It's been cold. The thermometer reads like my kids' ages. Right down to my littlest. Brrr.... Hence the lined pants query, which I now have answered, but haven't yet done. This would be because I started with curtains, something bright to live next to that laundry room shelf. And then, cranked out another two curtains, to cover the exposed sewing nook shelves. And then, three pairs of pajamas for the smallest, who's existing PJ's are two sizes too small. And then, two bigger pair, for two bigger brothers.
Because everyone could use a little cozy right now.
This would also be when I googled loopy stitches. Right after shouting at my machine for the sixteenth time. Out loud. Alone. In a not-polite tone. I was just trying to stitch curtains, for goodness sake. Simple seams. Straight ones. Four! Not hard!! All I got was pain and heartache and one constant battle for two inches without knots and loops and disaster. No dice.
Until I sought electronic advice, removed the new needle, and replaced it. This time, facing forward. And, um, turned the bobbin the right direction. I guess I'd be a little loopy, also, if my shoes were on backwards and my pants, upside down. (I apologized.)
Veni, vidi, vici, the root canal. Yesterday. So far, so good. And so totally bemused to know I'm now officially part tree sap. Pretty awesome, that.
I'm not sure I'll ever vici chemistry. Max just began a unit. He's adored it since age two. I've been playing catch up, ever since. I suspected, when I typed in 'atom size', that I should probably know the answer. Turns out I didn't even know the question. Atoms, it seems, don't have size so much as mass, which varies greatly between elements. Which makes perfect sense, if you're the atomic sort. Which I'm not. Yet.
I am, however, the fish soup sort, and have one child who feels the same way. Just after Christmas, Henry settled on a birthday dinner, the cornerstone of which was Norwegian Fish Soup. He'd never had Norwegian Fish Soup, mind you, but spied Fiskesuppe paging through this (the old, analog, ink-and-paper version), and decided on the spot it would fit the bill. In the end, he didn't love it (too many celery and onion-y bits; next time, before adding the roots and fish, I'll immersion-blender the broth), but I love that he imagined up such a meal. It's so him. Also, I love that he led me to this soup.
I've made many fish soups, over the years, none memorable enough to make again. There were bouillabases, which took too long to make, and required too much slippery, sloshy shell-picking to eat. Laksas, which I loved, but which began with a mortar and pestle and eighteen-item spice paste. (Began.) And chowders, much simpler, much blander, bandaged together with cups of cream. This fiskesuppe tilts toward the latter, but is simpler, lighter, deeper, more complex. Right. I don't understand it, either. Luckily, understanding's no pre-req to inhaling.
There's a standard base of aromatics, here, onto which you slosh water, milk and cream. The original called for stock, but with no fish heads on hand, I used water, which worked like a charm, sponging up ample flavor from every good thing that followed. It also called for two cups' milk, cut with one cup heavy cream, a blend that was deeply wonderful, without being belly-aching rich. Cream can be a cheap trick, wool pulled over our taste buds. Not here. It is necessary, and excellent, generously but judiciously applied. Dairy and brine both bring their own sweet, which simmers into something like fate. If this is surf and turf, I get it.
There are potatoes, cut to fit a spoon's hollow, cooked in the broth to fuzzy-edged tender. Carrots and parsnips, also, which—who knew?—get along famously with fish, and seriously lively up a bowl of blond soup. And Worcestershire sauce, which I grew up calling Lea and Perrins, and which I always understood to be beef's alter-ego. Certainly, I never imagined it in fish soup. My bad. It works. Brilliantly. (All those anchovies. Should've known.) And then, the seafood, the soup's heart and soul, the details of which, you decide. The original calls for two pounds of cod, which I would endorse in a heartbeat. By request of the birthday boy, we used a mix of cod, salmon, shrimp and langoustines. I'd endorse that in half a heartbeat.
It tastes to me of summer, somehow, of saltwater and saline air and the sunshine that beats down on both. It tastes, also, exactly of winter, of soft whites and pale pinks and calming comfort, velvet roots and sweet meat and ivory broth. I've mixed feelings about mid-century modern, but at its best, that's exactly this soup. It is all clean lines and spare aesthetic, pure and essential and all the better for it. Like what one might eat, in an egg chair, chez Arne. No fuss, no frill, just fish, roots, cream. What's missing—the sass of tomato, ziz of spice, the smoke and bluster of bacon—is as important as what's here. Just fish, roots, cream are gloriously enough. Enough, anyway, to know with an ache that the only thing missing is another bowl.
P.S. Good luck, Google. I connected the dots for you, this week. Next week, you're on your own.
Fiskesuppe (Norwegian Fish Soup)
adapted from Saveur, January/February 2013
I omitted the green pepper and celeriac originally called for, as I had neither, and didn't like the idea of either well enough to aquire them. I doubled up the carrots and parsnips, instead, and adored the extra hit of both. It is hard for me to wrap my head around fish in the Midwest, being Northwest born and bread. We don't eat it often, but when we do, Costco is my go-to: it is flown in daily, and impeccable. As with anything seafood, what's good and fresh trumps ingredient lists, every time. Good fish, well-frozen, is an excellent alternative.
6 tablespoons salted butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large stalks celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 leek, well-rinsed, sliced thin
4-5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4"
3-4 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced 1/4" (if large, halve or quarter first, then slice)
4 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cubed 1/2"
3 cups water or fish stock
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 pounds cod, salmon, shrimp, langoustines (any or all)
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup parsley, to garnish
juice of 1 lemon
In a large, heavy stock pot, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add chopped celery, garlic, onion and leek, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add carrots, parsnips, potatoes, water (or stock), milk, cream, 2 teaspoons salt, and Worcestershire sauce, and bring to a near-boil, stirring occasionally, until bubbles appear around edges and steam rises from surface. Turn heat down to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook 20-25 minutes, until roots are tender. (Test a few.) While vegetables are cooking, cut fish (cod, salmon) into bite-sized bits. When roots are tender, add the fish and/or shellfish to the soup, stir gently to combine, and continue to cook until fish is just cooked through, another 6-8 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, stir in lemon juice, and garnish with parsley, if desired. Eat by the bowl to chase away winter's chill.
Soup keeps beautifully, refrigerated, 3-4 days.