Author sparks controversy at this year’s Hoggies

hoggieLOS ANGELES – The awards for best reads of 2016 were awarded last night by the Academy of Reading Arts and Sciences during a live telecast from Dorothy Chandler pavilion in Los Angeles.

As usual, this year’s ceremony brought out the usual mix of gowns and glamour as the world’s literati arrived to recognize the achievement of the books that most moved, enthralled, and entertained over the past year. Thomas Otto, president of the Academy noted how many of this year’s contenders were actually published in the past five years. “This truly is unpresidented [sic] in the history of the Hoggies.”

The normally joyous occasion was thrown into controversy early in the evening when Sinclair Lewis came back from the dead to excoriate the mostly American audience for what he sees as rank stupidity over not having learned the lessons of literature and history. Lewis, whose seminal novel Main Street was re-read by the Academy in 2016, showed in a two-hour slide presentation a sample of the thousands of novels that he claims could  have kept the electoral nightmare from playing out in the US this year. Lewis said “If only more people picked up a darn novel from time to time.” Lewis finished his remarks by chiding the audience: “The boys in the Zenith Rotary or down at the BPOE* lodge may think there’s some sort of strength in stupidity, jingoism, and know-nothingness, but their approval is no gauge of success.”

Among last night’s winners:

BEST NOVEL – FEMALE Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

BEST NOVEL – MALE Being Dead by Jim Crace

BEST AUDIO RECORDING Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

BEST RE-READ – FEMALE The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

BEST RE-READ – MALE Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron

BEST IRREVERENTLY FUNNY FICTION Marry Me by Dan Rhodes

BEST THOUGHTFUL, INTERESTINGLY TOLD, SLIGHTLY ANITA BROOKNERISH NOVEL The Spare Room by Helen Garner [The funny thing is this category existed last year.  The Academy was pleased it read a book in 2016 that fit the bill.]

BEST SHORT STORIES The Safety of Objects by A.M. Homes

BEST CRIME/THRILLER NOVEL The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

BEST, SLIGHTLY SAPPY, BUT TOTALLY ENJOYABLE AND UPLIFTING NOVEL – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

WORST PIECE OF PANDERING, SAPPY BULLSHIT – The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson [This could have been a tie with Rachel Joyce’s sequel to Harold Fry, but that annoyed the Academy so much it didn’t read much beyond the first chapter.]

BEST FOR MAKING SOMETHING FABULOUS BORING Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr

BEST NOVELS BY NEW-TO-THE-ACADMEY AUTHORS

Euphoria by Lily King
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Hotels of North America by Rick Moody
The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee
At Hawthorne Time by Melissa Harrison

BEST PENELOPE – Penelope Lively for Cleopatra’s Sister [The only Penelope the Academy read in 2016.]

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS – (two awards given) Eric Ambler and Nevil Shute

[*Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America (BPOE)]

Crazy as fudge for 2017

I'm only using this picture because I love it. It doesn't have much to do with this post.
I’m only using this picture because I love it. It doesn’t have much to do with this post.

We all know how I come up with or join challenges and then promptly forget about them. I am slightly better at following reading resolutions, but this year I am in the mood to do some crazy resolutions that are more like challenges that I will never finish. If I had any doubt about doing some stupid stuff, WildmooBooks pushed me over the edge. Here are some of my contenders with the easier ones towards the top.

Read Civil to Strangers by Barbara Pym
I love Pym to death and I believe Civil to Strangers is the only book of hers I have yet to read. (I told you I was starting with the easy ones.)

Read 104 books
I squeaked in just under the wire with 104 books this year. I thought the equivalent of two a week was a good challenge. It was, and will be again in 2017.

Re-read one Brookner novel each quarter
I think I am up to 11 in my chronological re-read of Anita Brookner’s 24 novels. (I still have one to review from the end of 2016.) In general I love re-reading her books, but I am keen to finish my gazetteer of London place names that appear in her work. At this proposed rate I could finish it in just over three years.

Read at least one unread book from each of my fiction shelves
Sometime during 2017 I will finish chronicling my 35 shelves of books in by ‘shelf by shelf’ feature. Of those shelves, about 28 of them are fiction. My goal is to read one unread book from each of those fiction shelves. This might turn out to be the most fun of all my goals for the year.

Read all of Willa Cather’s 12 novels over 12 months
She wrote 12, there are 12 months in the year. Easy as a damn peach. I’ve read most of her novels, but her magnum opi (opuses?) O, PioneersMy Antonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop, were read a long time ago and I’ve been wanting to revisit them for some time now.

Read at least one short story collection on my shelves
I have several worthy contenders on my shelves, but I never seem to make the time for them. Maybe some of them are too big.

Carol Shields (the one I most want to get to)
Katherine Mansfield,
William Maxwell
Somerset Maugham
Doris Lessing
Willa Cather
Jean Stafford
Muriel Spark
Evelyn Waugh

Pair a novel with a biographical work about a different author each month
This could get trickier for me as I can get bogged down when I dip into non-fiction. I think I would prefer memoir over bios, but we will see what we can see. I’m not going to assign months just yet, but I think I know who my twelve authors are going to be. Pay close attention to some of the cheating overlapping with other challenges. Note that none of these authors is new to me, and I actually have bios/memoirs/letters for each one of them already on my shelves.

Anita Brookner
Willa Cather
Margaret Drabble
Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Penelope Fitzgerald
Marge Piercy
Barbara Pym
May Sarton
Muriel Spark
Fanny Trollope
Rebecca West
Edith Wharton

Follow Nonsuch Book down a Clarissa rabbit hole
Nonsuch Book and some others are going to be reading Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa “throughout the year, each letter from this epistolary behemoth on its noted date.” I’ve seen others do this online previously and I like the idea of it without knowing anything more about the book itself. Happily I own a copy, but I won’t be reunited with it until mid-month, so I will already be behind.

Station Eleven fan fiction?

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Driving down a road on the Big Island of Hawaii got me thinking about Emily St. John Mandel’s wonderful dystopian novel Station Eleven. Not because the Big Island makes me think of dystopia, but the isolation of the island got me thinking about the  possibility of whether there could  have been parts of the world that may not have been directly impacted by Mandel’s flu pandemic. Or, perhaps, how post-flu life for survivors on the Big Island might have been different than it was in the Great Lakes as portrayed in Station Eleven.

I can’t say that I have ever read fan fiction of any sort, but the more I thought about Station Eleven: The Big Island Edition, the more I was hoping someone may do it. I would never give it a go myself because for me to be happy with the effort it would take a good deal of research I am unwilling to undertake and a good deal more creative talent than I possess.

But let’s ponder the possibilities:

Does the Big Island get skipped, or do we encounter small groups of survivors?
My first thought was that the island get’s skipped entirely by the pandemic and that the 187,000 or so residents (and the thousands of tourists stranded there) have to make do with resources on the island as they are eventually cut off from the rest of the world, and technology begins to fail. But in order for this scenario to be plausible there would have to be something that would keep people from getting to the Big Island as the pandemic swept the globe. Since Mandel’s flu was pretty fast moving, one could imagine it just might be plausible that a multi-day hurricane event, perhaps leading to damages to the airports on the island, keep any visitors from arriving. By that time, the pandemic could be understood in the rest of the world and officials on or off the island make the decision to keep the island closed off to visitors. There could even be conflicts about whether or not to sabotage the airports to keep the contagion out. Maybe a few last flights out to let some visitors foolishly fly to their ultimate deaths…you see the possibilities here?

Perhaps it could be just as rich and entertaining if the pandemic did hit the island and left just 1% or so of it’s population.  That would leave just about 1,870 residents plus about 200 tourists that survive. (This really could be an information junkie’s fantasy camp. In 2004 the Big Island had just under 10,000 guest rooms. Absent newer information at my fingertips, let’s use that number. Assuming 2 people per room, gives us 20,000 visitors at any given time, and only 1% of them surviving the flu.) So we have 2,070 people alive on the very big, Big Island. With 2.5 million acres (4,028 square miles), there would be plenty of room for everyone–even if the pandemic did skip the island.

Both scenarios would  be fascinating, but the latter is probably more in keeping with Mandel’s original.

No dangerous animals and lots of food?
Other than humans, and a feral dog or two, the Big Island has no dangerous mammals that would threaten the human population. But what they do have are all the typical domesticated animals like cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, etc. (and feral versions of each of these as well). And we haven’t even talked about what the ocean would be able to provide. There are also enough market gardeners and other farmers that could keep the green things growing and pass along their expertise. As we know from Station Eleven, as technology starts to fail those farmers would have to get back to the basics, but that seems doable–especially if your base population is only around 2,000 people.

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Opportunities for conflict
With adequate food and water sources, and a hospitable climate, one wonders if Mandel’s dystopia would turn into more of an Utopia. Possibly, but all of the human conflicts are still possible, and when you add in the visitors with the local population, on-island military personnel, the breakdown of technology, etc. you could probably come up with enough friction to make things interesting.

Oh, yeah. Did I mention the active volcanoes?
With three active volcanoes on the island, including one that has been erupting continually since 1983, what more needs to be said? Pele (the Hawaiian fire goddess, not the  soccer player) could make one of those babies pop in a spectacular way at any time.

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Contact with the neighboring nation-state/kingdom of Maui…
Do the people of the Big Island eventually make contact with survivors on neighboring Maui? With the possibility of a self-sustaining island, do they risk allowing a relationship with Maui? Do they keep them at bay? Do they invade Maui? Do the Hawaiian islands reunify? Do they eventually travel even further into the South Pacific like the ancient natives did?

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The full scale return of Hawaiian culture?
Hawaii is one of the few places I have been in the developed world, where I feel like enough of the traditional ways have been passed on and preserved, and in some cases are still practiced, that I feel they could lead the way in surviving. From how to work the land sustainably, to native fishing techniques, building and navigating outrigger canoes…I might be romanticizing the remaining abilities a bit, but I think less so than in many other places. Not to mention that there is a UH campus on the Big Island and the native Hawaiian studies program is not an abstraction in the same way it would be elsewhere.

The list goes on
In many ways the Hawaiian island of Molokai is more isolated from outsiders (and was once a leper colony) but it’s close proximity to Maui and Lanai make it seem less isolated. And there is Niihau (The Forbidden Isle), the only privately owned of the eight main Hawaiian islands. It is virtually closed off to visitors and many of its 170 or so inhabitants live a relatively native life. And then this sets me to thinking about other remote parts of the world, islands and otherwise. Some that are very remote perhaps would be disrupted very little. But what about the British island of St. Helena? The remote island in the  south Atlantic where Napoleon was finally exiled and died. They easily could have missed the contagion. The mind boggles. Perhaps if Mandel gets bored she could write little sketches about how various parts of the world fared. Maybe Netflix could turn it into a series…

Book pile demolished

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Back in September I pulled all of the new(ish) hardcovers I hadn’t read yet off my bookshelves. For the most part they were unknown quantities that were taking up too much of my limited shelf real estate. I decided to see if I could read, or at least try to read, all 26 books in the pile before the end of the year. And now that the end of the year is upon us, it’s time to reveal how I did.

Pretty darn good, as long as you accept that deciding not to continue with a book is as virtuous as finishing a book. The whole experience proved to me yet again that I need to take praise of new books with a grain of salt. Or at least do a better job of filtering the praise through my particular set of likes and dislikes.

It is also interesting to see what I decided to keep and what I decided not to keep. It doesn’t always correlate to what I liked best.

(DNF = did not finish)

In descending photo order:

At Last by Edward St. Aubyn: KIND OF ENJOYED / DONATING
Although I enjoyed it, it was a little too arch to keep around (or read the others in the series).

Hotels of North America by Rick Moody: ENJOYED / KEEPING
A man’s story told through his online hotel reviews. Clever, funny, and I want to read it again some day.

The Last First Day by Carrie Brown: ENJOYED / KEEPING
Comforting in a melancholy way.

Euphoria by Lily King: REALLY ENJOYED / KEEPING
Love me some anthropologically based fiction. (See also many of Barbara Pym’s characters and Satin Island found below.)

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift: REALLY ENJOYED / KEEPING
The upstairs/downstairs tale told in a unique, beautiful way.

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes: KIND OF ENJOYED / KEEPING
I wasn’t a huge fan of this because it wasn’t what I expected, but I am keeping it because now that I know that, I think I would enjoy it more. Plus there just aren’t enough novels about classical music.

Mr. Mac and Me by Esther Freud: ENJOYED / KEEPING
I’m actually not sure I will read this again, but I am not sure enough to risk chucking it.

Sweet Caress by William Boyd: JUST SHORT OF LOVED / KEEPING (I THINK)
I think Any Human Heart is superior to Sweet Caress so I may not keep it.

The Dubious Salvation of Jack V. by Jacques Strauss: REALLY ENJOYED / KEEPING
Gay coming of age in South Africa, those are too rare to not keep.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal: HATED & DNF / DONATING
I really love to hate this book, but no enough to keep it on my shelves.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: TEDIOUS & DNF / DONATING
I think everyone has a position on this one. Mine is pretty clear.

The Blue Guitar by John Banville: ENJOYED / KEEPING
Banville’s books are beautifully written and beg to be re-read.

The Girls by Emma Cline: REALLY BORING / DONATING
I liked the set-up of the young girl looking for something in her life. But once she met the other girls I thought it got really boring really fast.

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy: AMBIVALENT & DNF / DONATING
Bad timing. I think I would enjoy reading it under the right circumstances, but not so much so that I want to keep it on my shelves.

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy: REALLY ENJOYED / KEEPING
I love books that deal with academic endeavors (although this book does not have an academic setting. There is much in this that I would like to read again.

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell: I KNOW I WILL LOVE IT BUT HAVEN’T STARTED IT YET / KEEPING

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild: REALLY ENJOYED / MIGHT DONATE
I found this clever in a superficial way and really enjoyed reading it, but I think it might do more good being circulated than sitting on my shelves.

Ruby by Cynthia Bond: AMBIVALENT & DNF / DONATING
I think this was a case of just not being in the mood.

And Sons by David Gilbert: ENJOYED / DONATING
I totally enjoyed this, but I don’t think I will read it again.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan: AMBIVALENT & DNF / DONATING
At first I was really into this story, but then it got complicated in a way that didn’t interest me much.

Zero K by Don DeLillo: HATED / DONATING
Holy shit, how can a book this short be so painful and take so long to read?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: AMBIVALENT & DNF / DONATING
This might be a great book, but I couldn’t get past the fact that all of the action seemed to be predicated on actions taken due to superstition/religion. I am guessing that is part of a commentary, but I find it tedious.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney: DIDN’T LIKE & DNF / DONATING
So rubbed me the wrong way in the early pages and I knew it wouldn’t change enough to make it worth my while to continue.

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee: HATED IT & DNF / DONATING
The snotty review says it all. (Click on title if you missed it the first time around.)

Canada by Richard Ford: REALLY ENJOYED / MIGHT KEEP
I’d never read anything by Richard Ford and may have only purchased it because it was on the remainder rack and one of my best friends in the world is Canadian. I really liked this book on many levels, yet I’m not sure I want to keep it. I don’t think I would re-read it.

Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe: DIDN’T LIKE / DONATING
I’ve been a big fan of Wolfe’s past fiction (Bonfire, Right Stuff, Charlotte Simmons, etc., but this one didn’t work for me at all. Didn’t even give it 50 pages before I quit.)

The ghost of goals past

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It’s 16 hours (local time) to the end of 2016. I had a goal of reading 104 books this year (equivalent of two per week), and as of five minutes ago, I achieved my goal. I was doubtful earlier in the week as I got quite busy and time seemed to compress. I was four books shy of getting there and I just didn’t see how it was going to happen.

I had some short books lined up to make it happen (although that felt like cheating), but in the end it was a clerical oversight earlier in the year that saved the day. For some reason I forgot to log the fact that I had read Richard Ford’s excellent novel Canada. So at the last minute I went from needing to read two books in 1.5 days to only having to read one.  And thankfully, I chose my 104th book well. A gossipy, classical music memoir/bio was just the thing to occupy me on a 5-hour flight. Perhaps A Genius in the Family by Hilary du Pré and Piers du Pré (on which the movie Hilary and Jackie was based) is more than a gossipy, classical music bio, but it was details about performers, pieces, concerts, recordings and such that made it easy for me to fly through the book. Incidentally, I had a similar experience recently with Marilyn Horne’s memoir which was much more gossipy and a super quick read. Another nice thing about those kinds of books is that they contain an endless stream of ideas for one’s Spotify listening.

I toying around with some reading resolutions for 2017, but I haven’t figured out exactly what those might be. Part of me wants to plan something really crazy and part of me wants to plan nothing. More anon.

Here are my 2016 goals as posted on January 4th.

Get back to 100
I think it has been a couple of years now since I made it to a 100 books in a year. Last year was a respectable 81, but 2014 was a measly 63. I need to up my  game. The only way this is going to be possible is if I read really short books watch less TV. And here it is January 4th and I still haven’t finished a book. I am already behind. But let’s make this more interesting. Instead of 100 books, how about the equivalent of two books a week and make it 104 books for the year? Sounds good, 104 it is. Now I am even further behind. ACHIEVED

Come to terms with platform confusion
I keep track of books I read in at least four ways: 1.) A handwritten list in a notebook that I started keeping in 1994; 2.) An Excel spreadsheet; 3.) Goodreads; and 4.) This blog has tabs for books for recent years and then alpha lists by author. This is going to take some thinking. There are redundancies and things that are annoying and time consuming and there are also new possibilities afforded by my conversion to WordPress. Not sure how this will resolve itself, but I have resolved to resolve it. TOTALLY NOT ACHIEVED – I didn’t even think about this much over 2016, let alone try and do something about it. I’m thinking I might get to doing something about early in 2017 given that I am running out of space at the top of my blog to keep adding tabs for each year.

Limit book purchases to newly published books
I bought a LOT of books last year and most of them used. When Simon Savidge was here in September I vowed that my resolution for 2016 would be to only buy books published in 2015 or later. I still want to do this, but I’ve also resolved that I am going to break this resolution whenever I want. This may seem like no resolution at all, but there is a nuance in it that oddly makes sense to me. Besides, NW DC is getting a new used bookstore and I consider it my civic duty to support that venture. NOT ONLY NOT ACHIEVED, BUT A DUMB IDEA – Given that my success rate with new (and expensive) books was about 50%, there is no way that I am going to do this again. I will have more about this particular failure in the coming days.

Spend some time in my library
I’m not talking about the public library, I’m talking about the beautiful room in my house that was completed over a year ago, is chock full of books, but almost never gets used. In fact, I have really only used it to store books. Lucy often curls up on the chair, but due to less than adequate seating and lighting, I haven’t spent one minute (seriously, not one) in there reading. This means I really only read in bed. How have I gone so long without a reading spot? Must make seating and lighting for that room a priority. GREAT STRIDES WERE MADE – We really need additional/different seating in the library for this to be totally successful, but I did increase use of my library in a meaningful way. Not just for reading, but also just to poke around, and even blogging in the library helped me get joy out of using the room. Hopefully the furniture issue will be sorted out in the first quarter of 2017.

Figuring out the ineffable
There is something else I want to achieve in 2016 relative to reading, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. As I sit here thinking about it, I think it may boil down to feeling like I frittered away far too much time that could have been used for reading. There were many times during the year when I wanted to go read and then an hour or more later I would still be futzing around not doing much of anything. So I think carving out longer spans of time to read it definitely part of it. And I think maybe I just need to shut-up and read. SUCCESS-ADJACENT – I can’t say I was totally successful on this count, but I definitely was better about going off and reading a book. I think part of the reason is that John has discovered the joy of Spotify and will spend hours with his headphones on listening to song after song. Because of this, I feel freed up to turn off the TV and go to another part of the house and read. For some reason, I have a hard time being in another part of the house from John. In my twisted control freak mind I think I feel like I need to program his time.

My new favorite thing

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I saw Lapham’s Quarterly a few weeks ago in the check-out lane at Whole Foods and had to have it. I find it absolutely charming and interesting and have decided it is my new favorite thing. Each issue focuses on a specific issue and is filled with shortish bits and bobs from all over.  The journal’s website explains it better than I can.

Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.

The texts are drawn from authors on the order of Aristotle, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Thucydides, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, Edward Gibbon, Mahatma Gandhi, Confucius, Honoré de Balzac, Jane Austen, Jorge Luis Borges, Matsuo Bashō, Henry David Thoreau, and Joan Didion. Abridged rather than paraphrased, none of the text in the Quarterly runs to a length longer than six pages, others no more than six paragraphs. Together with passages from the world’s great literature, each issue offers full-color reproductions of paintings and sculpture by the world’s great artists. The connecting of the then with the now is further augmented with the testimony found in the letters, speeches, diaries, and photographs, in five-act plays and three-part songs.

The website is very cool and has lots of content, but I must say, I love the printed version. The art is cool, it’s beautifully designed, and I love it as an object as much as I love the content.

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Christmas Baking Part Two

I got a little cranberry happy on Christmas Day, although you can’t tell from this first picture. Might only be interesting to bakers in the crowd.

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Friday night. Made the cranberry curd.

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Next day, the cake.

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You know how much of this batter I ate? A lot.

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Christmas Day, time to assemble the cakes.

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Not only did I have to level off the top, I had to cut the two layers in half to make four layers. Usually I am terrible about trying to get even layers so I wasn’t going to take any chances.

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Time for the meringue.
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These didn’t actually get used in the recipe, but I thought they looked pretty.

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Tip: when a recipe says beat the meringue for 15 minutes, don’t think you can stop early because it looks right. By the time dessert rolled around the meringue hadn’t held its shape as well as I would have liked. But it tasted great.
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More cranberries.
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This time they don’t get cooked, just get chopped with sugar before going into the cake.

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I forgot to take a picture when it was at its most dramatic. I ate a lot of this batter as well. I don’t know why I even bother with the oven some times.

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It tastes even better than it looks. The pumpkin babka and the panettone, from a bakery, weren’t as good as they look. The kitchen background is at our friends’ farm.