Point of View, Subjectivity, and Otherness in A Song of Ice and Fire

(Note that at the time of writing this post, only four books have been released in what is expected to be a seven-book series. Also note that there are some spoilers towards the end of this post, which I’ve indicated with a rather prominent warning.)

One of the unique things about George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series is its use of what are commonly referred to as “POV chapters.” Every one of the books in the series has a small cast of “POV characters,” and it is through these characters’ perspectives that we see the story unfold. Each chapter presents a single point of view; each chapter is even named after the character whose point of view is being presented. The chapters are not first person narration, but rather third person narration with a large amount of focalization and free indirect discourse.

As we move on to later books in the series, more POV characters are introduced. Often very minor (or even previously non-existent) characters suddenly become POV characters, and this of course increases their seeming importance to us, the reader, since each POV character is, from their own perspective, the most important character in the world. It is also easy to empathize most with the character whose perspective filters the story. We get their view of events, their hopes, their fears, and so on.

This also means that villains who seem very one-dimensional can begin to be much more sympathetic once we get their point of view. If we only get Character A’s perspective of Character B, and Character A hates Character B, then of course Character B will probably seem like a jerk to the reader, too (even if the reader does notice a few cracks and obvious biases in Character A’s reasoning). Character A might even have good reason to hate Character B, since Character A doesn’t know the whole story, and doesn’t understand Character B’s true motivations.

But once we get Character B’s subjective perception of events, things begin to change. We realize that their seemingly completely indefensible actions do, in fact, have a defense. And even if we don’t agree with the logic guiding their actions, we might at least sympathize with them, especially if we discover that they feel guilty about what they’ve done (and, thinking back, we realize we never agreed completely with absolutely everything Character A did, either). We begin to discover that Character B has a complex interior life, a far more complex interior life than Character A initially gave them credit for.

The use of the POV chapter technique switches us between subjectivities. George Eliot’s narrators were really good at this. Jane Austen was also one of the pioneers in her fluid movements of focalization and free indirect speech, switching seamlessly and fluidly from focalized perspective to focalized perspective within the span of a single paragraph. What this heavy use of focalization usually reveals is a more complex inner life than we initially gave a character credit for. The object becomes a subject. In Jane Austen, the more focalization and free indirect speech we get for a character, the more we like that character. (Wow! Elizabeth Bennet has so much interiority! I love her!) If you never have your thoughts reported in free indirect speech in Jane Austen it’s probably because you’re just comedy relief or something.

But back to A Song of Ice and Fire: in Character A’s POV chapters Character B is an object, but Character B is the subject of his own POV chapters. We have to change our opinions once we get Character B’s perspective. It’s kinda like Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book, but in The Ring and the Book, we never really sympathize with Count Guido, even though he gets two monologues and the other characters only get one. He’s a bastard all the way through.

What is unique about GRRM’s series is that as we see watch petty squabbles between these characters who have more in common than it at first seems (in terms of their fears and hopes, the surprising complexity of their inner life, etc.), we also have the threat of a not-so-petty squabble.

To clarify, the “petty” squabble I’m talking about is what characters refer to as “the Game of Thrones” (also the title of the first novel in the series). This is the game in which different POV characters vie for political power in the Seven Kingdoms. (Of course non-POV characters vie for power as well.)

This game of thrones is of course “just a game.” It doesn’t really matter who is actually sitting on the throne: a Mad King is deposed, but he’s replaced by a king who completely ignores the affairs of state. The peasant class continually suffers, regardless who sits the Throne. Nothing changes, really, and outside of the aristocracy, most people don’t really care who has political power. (They also don’t really know what’s going on, since gossip and ignorant superstition always distort the truth to a pretty absurd degree.) But all the different POV character have (mostly) very similar ambitions.

The larger threat, coming from beyond “the Wall,” way up in the North, is certainly more important: an army of “Others” are coming. We do not get the perspective of any single Other. The Others are like empty shells of cold evil, not quite a ghost, but certainly not human. They do not have any subjectivity in the way we understand the concept. They are truly “Other” to every POV character in the book.

The Others are like a force of nature. The motto of House Stark is “Winter is Coming,” and the ominous overtones of this motto obviously foreshadows the coming of the Others, who are associated with winter, ice, cold, and the land outside civil society. (The few humans who are unlucky enough to live beyond the wall are called “wildlings,” but consider themselves “free,” insofar as they are not bound by the same feudal customs.) We do not get the perspective of the Others, just like we will never get the perspective of nature. Characters cannot relate to an Other the way that can relate to another character [1]. Nature and the Others are relentless; they cannot be reasoned with. The Others are not like us. Eventually the various squabbling POV characters will have to unite in order to deal with the much larger outside threat.

—Warning: Spoilers Below—

The opposition between Ice (the cold Others, coming from the wintery and barren North) and Fire (Daenerys with her dragons, and who is not harmed by fire) also plays into this important theme. I am reminded here of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, and more specifically the opposition that Brontë sets up between the cold exterior that Lucy Snowe (snow!) puts on — the cold mask of her exterior — and her more fiery, passionate inner life; passion being associated with burning desire, fire, etc. (Speaking of Charlotte Brontë, ice and fire also constitute important aspects of Jane Eyre’s subjectivity.) But going back to A Song of Ice and Fire, we have human passion, and its associations with heat, up against the icy, cold, empty shells of inhuman Otherness. The Others are like cold corpses, dead things that have been emptied of the heat of human life. (Of course this is similar to vampires and other undead creatures; it’s hardly an uncommon trope in fiction.)

Slightly off-topic, but I am reminded of a quote by John Ruskin, from Modern Painters V:

“all the power of nature depends on subjection to the human soul. Man is the sun of the world; more than the real sun. The fire of his wonderful heart is the only light and heat worth gauge or measure. where he is, are the topics; where he is not, the ice-world” (Pt. IX, ch. 1 “The Dark Mirror”).

Anyways, a couple theories regarding the series and the “song of ice and fire” need to be addressed here. The most important one is in regards to Jon Snow’s parentage (note the name, obviously), but first I should probably mention the theory which claims that the “song of ice and fire” in the series’ title refers to a union between Jon Snow (Ice) and Daenerys Targaryen (Fire). Jon comes from the North, and at the beginning of the first book he finds a snowy white direwolf called “Ghost” (i.e., not-Life, like the Others), just as Daenerys, coming up from the southeast, hatches dragons and is herself immune to fire.

But the common theory now (and there’s a fair bit of evidence for this, as well as a Facebook group) is that the Song of Ice and Fire actually refers to Jon’s parents, who were, in fact, not Ned Stark and an unknown woman, but Rhaegar Targaryen (Fire) and Lyanna Stark (Ice). The Targaryens have always been associated with dragons and heat, and the Starks have always been associated with winter and the north. So Jon is not simply one half of the song of ice and fire (i.e., the “ice” half), rather he is himself the song of both Ice and Fire, the realization of that union.

This theory regarding Rhaegar and Lyanna also negates the above one if the union between Jon and Dany were taken literally, since such a literal union would imply that incest is the solution to the threat of Otherness (if Rheagar is Jon’s father, then Daenerys is his aunt). Although there’s plenty of incest in the series I seriously doubt that the conflicts of the series will be wrapped up with an incestuous union. (Although I guess it could be. That would be… something.)

Thematically, then, Jon represents the overcoming of the alienation between self and other, fire (inner life) and ice (cold exterior). Without sounding too corny, one of the points of the series is that all the characters, with their conflicting points of view and petty squabbles, are going to have to overcome their differences and deal with the larger threat. After all, they all have much in common (they all have a passionate and complex inner life, regardless of what they’ve done), and together they need to deal with that which truly does not have an interior life, that cold force of nature which is truly “other” to any single subjective perspective: the force of nature (the objective world) coming down from up beyond the Wall, the force of nature coming down from “outside” human society, beyond the Wall of civilization, just as the objective world comes down upon the human subject and penetrates into his inner subjective life.

Jon Snow, then, is this union (the song) between Ice and Fire — the acknowledgment that humans have both an objective “shell” and a subjective “core” [2]. In A Clash of Kings Daenerys has a vision of her brother Rhaegar standing over a child bed, saying, “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire” [3]. Jon is the cold (the exterior object) and, as the characters will come to discover, he is also the fire (the interior subject).

It is significant, too, that Jon chooses to go to the Wall. He exists at the threshold between human society and the forces of nature, the threshold between subject and object, between the subjective person and the objective world outside, between self and absolute Other.

Finally, this theory regarding the series also raises a few ethical questions, since I personally think that all types of “Otherness”-labeling is basically what constitutes evil, even if you want to claim, No really, this time they really ARE Other–they’re totally not like us. They’re the evil ones. I mean, obviously in the series the Others really are evil (probably?), but that is itself a bit problematic, as it implies that there really are things for which it is safe or ethical to label as Other. I don’t think it’s ever okay to do that, even with something like the “awesome forces of Nature” or something. (See, for example, the argument in Timothy Morton’s Ecology Without Nature.)

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[1] “An Other” versus “an other.”  The capital-o Other is the absolute Other. The otherness of another human is, by contrast, not absolute.

[2] Or, at least, we have the illusion that we such a core. I think it was Nietzsche who said that subjectivity is just an illusion caused by language and grammar.

[3] From A Clash of Kings, in one of the Daenerys chapters, obviously. The quote that “he is the prince that was promised” also ties in nicely to Lyanna’s dying words, “Promise me, Ned.”

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If you go to an alternate universe…

…and meet the alternate version of your significant other, are you allowed to make a move?

I think this is the kind of thing you should decide on with your spouse beforehand. You know, like in some kind of formal contract.

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The Passage by Justin Cronin

I am not a fan of the vampire craze in today’s media, because I think that vampires are being horribly misused. Being bitten by a vampire should be a very bad thing, not simply the means by which one gets a fun superpower. If you want to write about vampires, you can do whatever the hell you want, really, as long as you think about why it is that you’re doing it. Vampires can be beautiful or they can look like monsters; they can have super-strength or they can turn into bats. None of that matters as long as some forethought is put into what these choices mean for the story and the ideas that are being written about.

So, with that said, I enjoyed Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Vampires clearly constitute a major part of the novel, but the book is not just a collection of worn out tropes from vampire fiction. The Passage explains the various aspects of its vampires (pseudo) scientifically, in a way somewhat similar to Richard Matheson’s treatment of vampires in I Am Legend. That’s not necessary to a good vampire story, but it can be fun if handled well. And I’m not saying The Passage is even all that realistic (it’s not), but the book sets up the laws of its own universe and then it obeys those laws, which is good enough for me. Along with the scientific explanation behind the vampires, there are also things in the book that can’t rationally be explained and are actually very supernatural. There’s a nice mix, actually, of science and the supernatural.

What I think is most important is that the book is not a rehashing (or even a subverting) of the traditional tropes and clichés associated with vampires. The book uses the idea of vampires to tell the story it needs to tell, and in doing so it takes things in a unique direction, without lingering on the fact that it is doing so.

The novel is ambitious in its scope, chronicling both the fall of our world and the rise of a new one. This might cause a few readers to feel disappointed when familiar settings and characters are established only to be abandoned, but that is pretty central to what Cronin is doing. Once we “jump” suddenly to the post-apocalyptic world, there is a real sense that we’ve lost something. The world we know — the one established in the first section of the novel, with references to familiar brands like Walmart and McDonald’s —is very clearly gone. If Cronin had started the novel after the world had already ended, the effect would not be the same. In other words, yes, it sucks and it’s jarring that the world that was established is completley gone: that’s the point.

If there is one weakness in the novel it definitely lies in its pacing. In the middle third of the book things… just… slow down. There are about a half dozen events and excursions that could easily have been compressed into two or three. Thankfully, things do pick back up a bit towards the end. Some people seem to dislike the ending more than I do, but I thought it was pretty satisfying. It did not wrap up every question, but it did have a certain degree of closure for the present adventure. Since there are two more books in the trilogy (or whatever it is — I’ve heard the books might not be strictly chronological) it remains to be seen what the significance will be of some of those seemingly unnecessary events in those middle sections.

Each section of the novel (there are twelve: eleven plus a postscript, which makes for a significant number in this particular story) begins with a quotation from Shakespeare or Wordsworth or some other Western literary giant. One could debate whether the quotations are appropriate or empty ostentation (I think they’re appropriate), but it is clear that Cronin is dealing with many of the same themes as these writers. I mean, yeah, obviously Cronin ain’t no Shakespeare. This isn’t the best novel of our time or the decade or the year. But the metaphors and literary devices in The Passage are not just added in after the fact (which, according to On Writing, is basically Stephen King’s modus operandi). They’ve been carefully worked into the story right from the start and they are essential to it.

The questions and themes I’m referring to are ones relating to life and death, the certain degree of isolation inherent in human experience, as well as the possibility for human connection and sympathy. They may seem like obvious themes, especially for a genre that deals explicitly with life, death, and “the undead,” but it is still very rare for a work in the genre to deal with these questions in an intelligent, mature, or original manner (which is why most works in the genre are rubbish). But The Passage actually does deal with those questions, and it actually does so relatively intelligently. I’m hoping that the future installments in the trilogy (or series, or whatever it is) are equally up to the task of expanding on those questions and thinking about them in new ways.

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The laziest movie pitch

Alright, so picture this: a kid gets his face eaten and then there’s a big investigation.

And… uh, well that’s it.

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Confessions of a Sleazy English Professor

  • I’ve had tenure for awhile now, but I’ve only recently found the courage to teach my “Graphic Novels as Literature” course. And by “Graphic Novels as Literature,” I mean a couple old issues of Amazing Spider-Man I found in my basement, where Spider-Man fights the Hulk, and then they team up and beat the #$@% out of Dr. Octopus.
  • One time I told a student that I would give him a letter of reference, but all I sent was a drawing of a stick man with his head on fire.
  • If a student essay has a pun in the title, I’ll give it an A without even reading it.
  • Sometimes when I’m lecturing I pretend to go back to my laptop to check my notes, but it’s really just playing old episodes of Seinfield with the sound off and subtitles turned on.
  • If a student I don’t like tries to use literary theory, no matter what they say, and no matter how insightful it is, I will just tell them something like, “No no, that’s not what ______ meant; go back and re-read _____.” The thing is, most of the time I haven’t read whatever text I’m talking about either, and I’m just bullshitting. But who’s going to question me?
  • At a bar one time this med student was talking about her heavy workload, so I said, wistfully, “Ah, if we had but world enough and time.” And she was like, “Oh, is that Jane Austen?” And I was like, “Uh, yeah, sure, baby. Can I buy you a drink?” (She said no.)
  • One time a student asked me for help understanding “The Death of the Author.” I didn’t feel like getting into it, so I just said, “Oh, he was just talking about Dickens. So Charles Dickens, the author, is dead. That’s all you need to know.” He said, “What? How does that help? I thought this was an important essay.” And I replied, “Well, jeez, kid. Just keep it in mind next time you read Hard Times.”
  • I have mastered the art of asking leading questions whenever I don’t know the material well enough to kill 50 minutes with lecture.
  • The thing about proper MLA style and formatting is that undergrads never get it completely right. So I can dock basically as many points as I want for improper style, depending on how much I like a particular student.
  • I dock participation points if anyone comes to my office hours when I’m in the middle of watching my soaps. I’ve pirated every episode of Days of Our Lives.
  • Speaking of participation marks: I don’t actually keep track. Everybody gets an A, except that I dock points for really random things I decide on before class. It’s like a drinking game, except it’s my students’ futures which are at stake.
  • I routinely go to informal book clubs and offer really messed up but convincing interpretations of whatever book is being discussed.
  • One time I realized that I basically had three quarters of the varsity football team in my Intro to English Lit class. I failed all of them so that they were ineligible to play in the championship game. Obviously, this was after I bet $20,000 on the other team.
  • I switched the focus of my research to the nineteenth-century novel because I’m cheap and pretty much every nineteenth-century novel worth studying is available for free from Project Gutenberg.
  • My favourite book is the novelization of Star Wars: Episode III. It’s like a Shakespearian tragedy and a medieval romance, all in one. Except it’s in space, and the swords are made of lasers. I tried explaining that to Harold Bloom once, but I don’t think he was paying attention.
  • One easy way to I like to use to kill class time: I assign a really easy, enjoyable novel, but then I tell the class that what it’s really about is the author’s unconscious obsession with bestiality. Then I open things up for debate.
  • I go to conferences basically so I can get shitfaced in hotel rooms with other scholars whom I’ll only see a few weekends a year. Then the next morning I wander around, hungover, trying to score free books.
  • I always write positive reviews for other scholarly books because I want people to like me.
  • My favourite class of the year is always the discussion seminar where I assign a random John Donne poem and say, “Okay, now let’s find all the sex jokes.”
  • For $95,000 I ghost-wrote Clive Cussler’s last three novels.
  • Old Marty Spellman’s wife told me that she was tired of being married to an English professor. That’s why I told her I was an astronaut before I tried to get her to sleep with me.
  • Yeah, of course I’ve read War and Peace. But I sure as hell don’t remember the character names or what happened. Denisov something something Russia blah blah.
  • None of my colleagues know this, but I’ve written a six-volume analysis of the Battlestar Galactica TV show remake. I haven’t published it because I don’t want anyone to think I’m crazy. The sixth volume just contains slow-cooker recipes you could use if the Earth were destroyed and we all lived on space ships.
  • The last book I published was only 104 pages and the only edition ever printed costs $87.00. Initially, it only sold eight copies‚ until I worked out a deal with a friend in California in which we both assign each other’s textbooks. Now my book makes me a pretty nice chunk of change, but all its reviews on Amazon are really negative ones from students who couldn’t afford the book in the first place.
  • I convinced the government to give me $38,000 to spend next summer in England researching Sir Walter Scott’s private letters and manuscripts. All the materials I mentioned in my grant proposal are available for free on the Internet, but the government doesn’t know that.
  • I once wrote an epic social realist novel about class struggle, except that on the last page the narrator reveals that all the characters are bees, and when they “talk,” they’re really just doing their bee dance.
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Bright Star (2009)

“A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in the lake is not immediately to swim to the shore, but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do no work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothens and emboldens the soul to accept mystery.” (Keats to Fanny in a lesson on poetry.)

Bright Star asks us to luxuriate, through our senses, in the experience of being in the film. The philosophy of accepting mystery and enjoying our time while we are “inside” the poem is reminiscent of John Keats’ actual theory of negative capability, but also to his “Ode to a Nightingale,” which Keats composes and narrates at one point about halfway through the movie. In “Ode to a Nightingale‚” the poet uses his imagination and the “wings of Poesy‚” (33) to temporarily enjoy being in a world of something better, higher, something not of our regular earthly existence, where “youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies‚” (26). Later on in his experience, the word “Forlorn” brings the poet back to his more earthly senses, and the poem ends.

This betBright Starter, higher world is the one inhabited and embodied by Keats in Bright Star, and our experience with him is only brief. At the beginning of the film, we are concerned with the death of Keats’s brother (the youth in the Ode who “grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies‚”). Briefly, we experience the courtship between Keats and Fanny, and their somewhat idealized love. Keats, attempting to describe his feelings to Fanny, says, ‚”I want a brighter word than bright, fairer word than fair.” The end of the film brings us back to reality: Keats is often abroad, unreachable, while Fanny is forlorn. Keats grows sick and dies.

Fellow poet Brown recognizes that Keats is the better writer. But Keats is also a better man, who lives up to a higher ideal. While Keats refuses to breach the walls of propriety with Fanny, Brown impregnates a maid. “With what ease you help yourself,” Keats notes, not angry, but genuinely perplexed. Later in the film, Brown too will realize that the difference between the two men goes beyond their skill in poetry.

The film touches only briefly on the agony and depression that Keats suffered, and their effects upon his mental health. Its focus is on the beauty of his life. The imagery is often of the English countryside; gentles breezes coming in through open windows cause white curtains to flutter carelessly, like the butterflies that Fanny and her sisters start collecting. The soundtrack makes you want to close your eyes and luxuriate in the music, as Keats does when he listens to the singing nightingale and composes his ode.

Keats died at the age of 25 (a horrible, long suffering death), yet he became one of the great English poets, on only a small body of work. Keats wrote “Bright Star” about Fanny, but the title of the film might equally apply to either Fanny or Keats, or simply to their experience together. Percy Shelley’s famous elegy for Keats ends: “The soul of Adonais, like a star, / Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are‚” (495-496). We look back on the short life of Keats, and see in him the embodiment of a Romantic ideal, a bright star. Whether that is at all fair to the man that Keats really was, I’m not sure.

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Serious Chocolate Chip Cookies with Walnuts

Walnut Chocolate Chip CookiesThis is a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, I guess, but it’s a really fancy recipe and takes a lot of time to do. You have to brown a bunch of butter, and toast a bunch of walnuts, and refrigerate the dough, and blah blah blah.

But it’s all worth it, though, because these cookies could shame a bakery. They could drive a world-renowned physicist to insanity. They could make an angel weep. The recipe makes a lot of cookies, and each one is really big and really dense, so they should last you awhile. And you can taste the fact that these took a long time to make. I’m serious. You can taste how fancy these are.

These cookies come from here at Sugar Plum and they were featured on Savour. (They are very classy cookies.) They are similar to Levain Bakery copycat recipes floating around, but a fair bit more dense. There is quite a contrast between the “crispiness” of the outside and the chewiness of the inside… though the cookies are much chewier than they are crispy. In terms of changes, all I did was add a bit more chocolate and reduced the bake time a bit, because soft cookies are the bomb. If you want to live up to the classiness and seriousness of these cookies, you should only use very fancy and very expensive ingredients. I did not, because I am a poor grad student, and I buy whatever is on sale at Metro.

Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sea salt
  • 1.5 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (two sticks)
  • 4.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground sea salt, plus additional for sprinkling
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
  • 2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 16 oz coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Melt 2 tbsp butter in a small sauce pan on medium heat. Stir in 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 tsp sea salt, and bring it all to a boil. Whisk frequently until golden brown. Stir in all of the walnuts until they are well coated. Spread the walnuts out onto a greased or buttered cookie sheet and place in the oven for 3-5 minutes, to lightly toast them. (Don’t forget about your walnuts if you move on to the next steps.)
  • Melt 1 cup butter (2 sticks) in a small sauce pan on medium heat. Keep whisking, let it boil and start to foam and brown a bit. Remove sauce pan from heat, set it aside.
  • Sift together flour, baking soda, and 2 tsp sea salt in a medium-sized bowl, and set it aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl and using an electronic mixer, beat 1/2 cup (1 stick) of softened butter with the 2 cups of brown sugar and the 1 cup of granulated sugar until it’s all well combined. (It’ll be grainy; not completely smooth.) Beat in the 1 cup of browned butter you recently heated up. Now beat in the 4 large eggs and the 4 tsp of vanilla. Add the sifted dry mixture (flour, baking soda, sea salt) to your wet mixture, and slowly beat until just combined. Stir in the chopped chocolate and the walnuts until thoroughly mixed. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
  • Drop large giant clumps of dough (at least 1/4 cup each) onto your cookie sheet. They won’t spread too much, so they don’t have to be too far apart, and you should flatten them a bit, with your palms or a fork. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 11-13 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to turn golden brown. Remove from oven, let ‘em cool for a minute or two, then transfer the cookies to wire racks.
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Banana Bread with Streusel Topping

Banana Bread with cinnamon streusel toppingThe recipe is an amalgamation of two recipes. The banana bread recipe comes from here at Recipe Zaar. It uses sour cream. I already had another banana bread recipe, but I wanted to try something new. I adapted the recipe a bit to include chocolate chips. And because there were a lot of nuts in the streusel topping I was going to add to it, I reduced the chopped nuts from 1/2 to 1/3 cup.

The streusel topping is from The Pioneer Woman Cooks! If you go to check out her recipe, you’ll see that The Pioneer Woman also knows how to take a darn good looking photo. I cut her recipe in half – and that’s what I have here – but I still found it was just a bit too much streusel, and I didn’t use all of it. However, in retrospect, when I added the streusel to the top of the bread I really could have pushed it down further into the bread mixture and thus added more, OR I could have made a centre “layer” of streusel in the middle of the bread. I regret not doing this extra layer. I have put it as an “optional” step in this recipe, but I really would recommend it. If you do add this middle layer, you may want to reduce the chocolate chips in the bread. Or use cinnamon chips. Or anything else you can think of!

I also modified the streusel recipe by replacing some of the flour with ground up walnuts, and I replaced the pecans with walnuts, just because for a banana bread I think walnuts go better than pecans. The bread was delicious. I used it to make banana bread french toast. (Which was also fantastic.)

Banana Bread with Streusel Topping Recipe

Banana Bread

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup mashed banana (about three medium ones)
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup chocolate chips

1. Grease a large loaf pan.
2. Cream butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
3. Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture, then bananas, then nuts and sour cream. Mix until well combined.
4. Add the bread dough/mixture to the loaf pan.
5. Add the streusel topping (see below). Don’t be afraid to push it down a fair bit into the bread, since the recipe here gives you plenty of streusel.
6. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour.

Optional Middle Layer: When adding the bread mixture to the loaf pan, only pour in half at first, then add some of the streusel topping to this first half of the mixture, not quite letting the streusel reach to the edges of the pan. Now pour the other half of the bread mixture on top of this, and then finally the rest of the streusel.

Streusel Topping Recipe

  • 1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup) (melted)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 tbsp white sugar
  • 6 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, ch0pped
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, ground up

1. Combine all the dry ingredients. Melt the butter.
2. Add the butter a little at a time to the dry ingredients, mixing it in each time until small clumps form.
3. Add the streusel to the top of the banana bread in the pan (or to the centre, too) as per above. Using a fork, mix up the very top of the banana bread with the streusel, just so that not all the streusel falls off loose when the bread is done.

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Don’t change your printer’s toner when it tells you to

Two months ago my printer (an HP-2170W Laser Printer) told me it refused to print anymore pages. It told me I was out of toner and I had to replace the cartridge. But it was lying to me - there was plenty of toner left.

In fact, since that time, I have printed hundreds and hundreds more pages. All I had to do was trick my printer into believing that it had more toner than it thought. A bit of Googling told me about this trick, which works on a bunch of printers, not just the 2170W.

First, I opened up the printer to take out the toner and its cartridge.

Printer

I pressed down the little green thing to release the toner (left) from its cartridge (right). I found the little window that the printer “looks” into to check the toner levels:

Window

I put a piece of duct tape over the window and used a sharpie to darken it.

Duct Tape Over Window

I put the toner back in its cartridge:

Putting the toner back in its cartridge

After putting the toner and its cartridge back in the printer, I was done.

I print out a lot of paper (sorry, Earth) because I find reading academic articles on my computer screen to be extremely painful. I practically doubled the amount of printed pages I was able to get out of this one toner cartridge, and only just recently had to shell out the $50 for more toner.

Even after my printed pages started getting visibly grayer, I got an extra hundred and fifty or so pages by shaking up the toner and its cartridge before I printed things.

There is something very satisfying about tricking technology and saving money at the same time.

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Soft and Chewy Oreo Cookie Cookies

Oreo Cookie CookiesA long time ago I came across this Chocolate Chip Oreo Cookie Recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod. The recipe was good, but it was mostly a chocolate chip cookie with a few chunks of Oreos in each cookie (which, indeed, is a perfectly fine idea for a cookie). But I wanted an entire cookie that had a kind of Oreo taste, yet maintained the chewiness of a regular chocolate chip cookie throughout. I find the chunks of hard Oreos (a relatively dry cookie) don’t fit well with an otherwise soft and chewy cookie.

It occurred to me that one way to create my chewy Oreo cookie would be to grind up the Oreos and add them to the batter. The result is this recipe. I also added some cocoa. And as for the Oreo filling, I found that if you separated the filling from the cookies, put it in the fridge awhile, you could then cut it up and shape the pieces into chip-sized… chips.

The recipe worked; the cookies were delicious, and did indeed taste kind of like big, soft, chewy Oreos. My girlfriend thought they were just a bit sweet. Next time I might drop a bit of the sugar.

Oreo Cookies on an Oreo Tin Soft and Chey Oreos

Soft and Chewy Oreo Cookie Cookies

  • 1 stick butter
  • 6 tbsp sugar
  • 6 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1.25 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 6 Oreos
  • 1/3 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips

1. Separate the Oreo halves and the Oreo filling. Grind up the cookie portion of the Oreos, and put the filling in the fridge. Set the Oreo crumbs aside.

2. Beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add egg and vanilla.

3. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, Oreo crumbs and cocoa. Add this to wet mixture. Fold in chocolate and white chocolate chips. Put the dough in the fridge.

4. Take the Oreo filling out of the fridge and cut it up or shape it (whatever way works for you) into a bunch of little chip-sized chunks.

5. Take the dough out of the fridge, and drop tablespoon-sized cookies onto bake pans or sheets. Add the filling “chips” to the tops of the cookies.*

6. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-11 minutes.

* shaping the filling into little chip-sized chunks isn’t that easy. Next time, I might consider just mixing the filling in with the dough, and adding more white chocolate chips.

Row of Oreo Cookie Cookies Oreo Cookie Cookies

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