books, sponge candy and gingerbread

5 Dec

I just finished reading “The Fight” by Norman Mailor. It is the first Mailor book I’ve ever read, and, like I’ve heard said, his style is brilliant. It’s forceful, powerful stuff. I guess writers learn how to write by copying other writer’s style, by wearing their cloak for awhile until they weave their own. Let me say this: Mailor is impossible to copy. It would be thoroughly intimidating to even try such a thing. Mailor is no teacher.  Here’s a descriptive taste:

“The rainy season broke, and the stars of the African heaven came down. In the torrent, in that long protracted moon-green dawn, rain fell in silver sheets and silver blankets, waterfalls and rivers, in lakes that dropped like a stone from above, and with a slap of contact louder than the burst of fire in a forest.” (pg. 219)

It’s a classic in sports journalism, a story about the fight between Mohammad Ali and George Forman in what used to be called the Congo—the heart of Africa. I don’t read sports. I don’t really even like sports. But this piece of writing is a journalistic masterpiece, and I’d gladly follow Mailor and his observations anywhere he’d go—whether to a boxing ring in Africa or somewhere else.

I am now reading King Leopold’s Ghost, a history book written like a novel—in other words, it’s creative non-fiction, like The Fight. It retells the story of “Greed Terror and Heroism In Colonial Africa” I only now realized the irony of this succession: The Fight, which takes place in what used to be the Congo, followed by King Leopold’s Ghost, which chronicles the massacre that took place there.

Downstairs, mom is making sponge candy. The first time she tried making it, last week, it was terrible. She didn’t get the corn syrup mixture hot enough and she didn’t fold in the baking soda fast enough, so it didn’t puff up like it’s supposed to. When she poured it into the pan it looked flat and gloopy. Then she tried it a second time. It was good, but not great. It still wasn’t puffy enough. For the third batch, she let the temperature of the candy get ten degrees hotter than what the recipe called for. When it reached 310 degrees, she let it cool for about ten seconds. She folded in the baking soda (fresh, of course) and stirred it really, really fast. It was so cool. The mixture puffed right up like a balloon, and she poured it over the pan. It hardened in a few minutes. When the mixture on the pan was dry and hard, she cut it into squares. Then comes the good part—chocolate. Over steam, she melted dark and milk chocolate and then dipped the square pieces of “sponge” into the chocolate and set them on wax paper to dry. I’ll say this: they taste far better than any sponge candy you’ll buy at the store. It’s sweet and creamy on the outside and spongy, caramel tasting on the inside. I’m thinking about making everyone in the editorial department at work sponge candy for Christmas.

Now, I’m being summoned to make a gingerbread house with my little sister. One last thought: Eating the candy while decorating is half the fun in making a gingerbread house. If you like gingerbread, by the way, Salvatore’s Italian Gardens restaurant constructed a full-sized gingerbread house this year. Walk through the doors, and gingerbread is all you smell–cinnamon, French vanilla and a whole lot of freshly baked sugar cookies. I wrote an article about the house for the Lancaster Bee this week. Riveting journalism, I know.

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