December 15, 2011


Eat, Cry, Poop: “Baby Blues” Scrapbook 28. By Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

How’s That Underling Thing Working Out for You? A “Dilbert” Book. By Scott Adams. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

The Tipsy Vegan: 75 Boozy Recipes to Turn Every Bite into Happy Hour. By John Schlimm. Da Capo. $17.

Vegan Pie in the Sky: 75 Out-of-This-World Recipes for Pies, Tarts, Cobblers, and More. By Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero. Da Capo. $17.

     Let’s get almost-real, OK? Baby Blues remains so close to real life that readers can be forgiven for believing that Rick Kirkman (art) and Jerry Scott (words) have cameras hidden in homes throughout the country. Actually, they have their own experiences to draw upon – and if that isn’t enough, they have an apparently inexhaustible supply of not-quite-true-but-almost stories about raising kids. Take the Sunday strip in which bleary-eyed parents Darryl and Wanda shuffle into the kitchen where bright-and-perky Zoe, Hammie and Wren are waiting for breakfast…Wanda pours cereal onto the counter…Darryl dumps unpeeled bananas on top…and Wanda sloshes milk over everything…and then the parents collapse. “I think they were up late finishing our Halloween costumes,” opines Zoe. Now, did this really happen to Kirkman or Scott – or anyone? Who knows? It could happen; or something a lot like it could. This is the great thing about Baby Blues: even when you know it is exaggerated, you can look back at the strips a second time and think maybe they’re not as far beyond the pale as you thought in the first place. In Eat, Cry, Poop, for example, Hammie splashes like crazy while trying to swim, but fails to move forward, because, he says, “This must be really thick water.” He also asks Zoe to read his essay – and she tells him “you can’t do better than this,” explaining to him that it isn’t good, but he can’t do better. Wren is so fussy that Wanda barely gets any sleep, and when Darryl tries to sympathize while dressing for the office, saying “at least you don’t have to go to work,” Wanda answers, “Yeah. Raising kids is just my hobby.” Darryl shops for a gift for Wanda, knowing that what she really wants is “to be appreciated for being the good woman, wife and mother she is,” but when the saleslady says “we don’t carry that,” he opts for a push-up bra. None of these almost-reality scenes need ever have happened exactly the way Kirkman and Scott portrays it, especially in light of Kirkman’s skill with the characters’ expressions and his own artistic license: a Sunday “apologies to Milton Glaser” strip is simply wonderful, as is one in which Hammie pulls Wanda’s arm so much while his mom talks to a friend that the arm stretches halfway along the sidewalk by the time Wanda and Hammie continue walking. But even if these scenes have never happened quite this way, they could, more or less, and thinking about that provides a huge part of their charm. The Thanksgiving panel in which Darryl, Wanda, Zoe and (in her own way) Wren are all bowing their heads in thanks for their family, while Hammie is wondering if a cranberry would fit in his nose, is an absolute classic. One of many.

     No one puts cranberries in anyone’s nose in the latest Dilbert collection (the 37th, but who’s counting?). But it’s a fair bet that Dilbert and his cohorts fantasize about such insertions – probably of a somewhat more scurrilous type – as they navigate the pointless but, alas, almost-real world they inhabit. There may not really be giant slugs in any offices – well, in most offices – but when Dilbert sits next to one and notes that “my success depends on you doing your role in a timely and energetic manner,” white-collar workers will know exactly what he means. When a traveling Dilbert says it is “refreshingly honest” to be told at the car-rental counter that the company does not care about his reservation because “we’re in the business of selling insurance and overpriced gas,” business travelers everywhere will nod their heads in understanding. When “Dogbert the Empire Builder Consultant” advises the Pointy-Haired Boss that he should always “be in the general vicinity when something good happens,” far too many employees are likely to remember bosses with just that habit. When the PHB pulls rank to evict Dilbert and his co-workers from a conference room even though Dilbert has spent months setting up a meeting, then announces at his meeting that he and the other bosses need “to figure out why nothing ever gets done around here,” employees will not know whether to laugh or cry. And so it goes throughout How’s That Underling Thing Working Out for You? – too much that is offbeat and amusing to regard the collection as serious commentary, but too strong a foundation in reality to consider it merely funny. Dilbert continues its consistent walk along the tightrope between the real and the unreal.

     Like parents and corporate workers, vegans tend to take themselves very seriously most of the time, so it is nice to encounter the occasional vegan-focused book that handles things from a lighter-than-usual perspective. Two new (+++) books, The Tipsy Vegan and Vegan Pie in the Sky, do just that, especially so in the case of John Schlimm’s work. Schlimm, whose author photo shows him drinking beer while cooking, has developed such recipes as “sweet-and-sour Oktoberfest cabbage” (which includes light beer), “lentils in the fast lane” (made with vermouth or dry white wine), “sunburst salad” (with Cointreau), “hotta frittata” (with dark rum), and “hot toddy tofu with shiitakes” (made with rice wine or dry sherry). He even includes a “hangover tofu omelet” that contains a tablespoon of Marsala. All right, these recipes are not for everyone (even more “not for everyone” than is usually the case with food for vegans); and in truth, even if you enjoy cooking with alcoholic beverages, some of these may be a bit much – that omelet, for example, requires use of a blender and two separate skillets. Still, Schlimm’s recipes are off the beaten vegan-cooking track, and his amusing comments on them make reading this small-size book enjoyable. Vegan Pie in the Sky is the same size (6½ inches wide, 7 inches high) and has amusing writing of its own: “We understand the siren song of frozen premade pie crusts: no rolling pin, no flour all over the kitchen (and the cat), no need to pinch dough edges into little shapes.” And the focus of Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero is in many ways like Schlimm’s: coming up with interesting recipes that vegans will enjoy and maybe even be able to serve to non-vegans without getting deprecating or overly polite comments. Among the attractions here are ginger peach pandowdy (“pandowdy isn’t dowdy at all!”), banana toffee pudding pie, figgy apple hand pies (“reminiscent of a big old Fig Newton!”), curried macaroon pie and sweet potato Brazil nut crunch pie. Most of the recipes are for cooks who have some time to prepare the foods: these are not, by and large, quick-and-easy desserts. But vegans who love the taste of unusual pies and also want recipes for vegan versions of some old standards (coconut cream pie, pumpkin cheesecake, chocolate mousse tart and others) will enjoy trying out Vegan Pie in the Sky, coming up with their own favorites, and maybe, just maybe, showing some non-vegan friends that vegan desserts can be just as delicious as traditional non-vegan ones.

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