, Muskogee, OK

November 27, 2012

Book unlocks secret world

By Melody Carey
Guest Columnist

In America today the popular word for the good life is “happiness”… The American pursuit of happiness can often look like a compulsive, joyless effort to escape boredom, and in any case, a people blessed with far more material advantages than any other society has ever enjoyed is not clearly the happiest people on earth. One plain reason is…what I have called the highest standard of low living in all history. But this only forces the basic question. What then is the good life?

— Herbert J. Muller, 1970

•  •  •

What happens when the last secret of human life is so powerful that a computer cannot decode it? New hire, Clay Jannon, works the graveyard shift at “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” the title of a new whiz-kid techie novel by futurist Robin Sloan (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012). The store’s customers never buy a book. Instead, they come in the middle of the night, anxious to check out the next volume from the back of the bookstore, a magical place whose shelves reach up three stories tall. The books are catalogued on Penumbra’s old Mac Plus, but he has also instructed Clay to meticulously record all information about each transaction, including the customer’s mental state and what he was wearing, down to the buttons, in a magnificent old tome. And one more instruction, never, ever look inside the books in the Wayback list.

Clay is a self-appointed loser who has fallen victim to the 2009 technology downturn. His last job as Web designer and Twitter monitor for a former Google tycoon has given him the skills to navigate the world of computer encryption, including recognizing the many fonts used in digital typesetting. At night, he begins building a computer model of Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore, intending to market the store’s contents on the Web.

But when his roommate, Matt, who works at Industrial Light and Magic making movie animatronics, dares him to look inside one of the books, they find nothing but a jumble of undifferentiated letters in an unknown typeface Clay has never seen. Enter Kat, cute girl genius and Google researcher. Together they follow clues to decoding the obscure script, but even Google’s high-powered programs cannot unlock its mystery. Answers come with a secret book society and the story’s adventuresome denouement.

This is a lighthearted romance with the book, a modern tale for people who love their Kindle, but are still inextricably tied to paper print. Fans of J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Umberto Eco will find a carefree read in “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.” For a more serious take on our digital future, read Herbert J. Muller’s comprehensive and thought-provoking treatise, “The Children of Frankenstein: A Primer on Modern Technology and Human Values,” circa 1970. It says it all.

Mr. Penumbra’s Bookstore is set in San Francisco, home of classic Bay Area cuisine. Try a few of these recipes from San Francisco’s chefs for your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Ike’s Leftover Turkey Sandwich

Ike’s Place is a well-known San Francisco sandwich shop with specialties like the Al Bundy, Captain Kirk, and Jim Rome. Check out the menu at

4 ounces leftover dark mean turkey

Leftover cranberry sauce or fresh blueberries

Leftover cream cheese or Havarti


Sriracha sandwich spread or hot sauce

2 slices hearty bread per person

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Toast one slice of bread to medium in toaster. Place turkey on sheet of foil and ball it up so no juices can escape. Spread toasted bread with mayo and top with cranberry sauce or blueberries. Slap on sriracha or hot sauce and top with cheese. Place ball of turkey and both slices of bread on a baking sheet and bake 4-7 minutes or until bread is toasted and cheese is melted. Remove bread and leave turkey to heat for another 5 minutes. Place the turkey on the cheesy bread. Add any veggies, like pickles, lettuce, tomato, etc. Top with other slice of toast spread with more mayo. Save recipe for Christmas, if you have already used up all your Thanksgiving turkey. Source: Huffington Post, Nov. 25, 2012.

Waldorf Chicken


Start with fresh ingredients while there’s still time to enjoy this fall favorite from San Francisco chef Mark Sullivan of Spruce.

3 chicken breasts

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground fennel seed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

7 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup walnut halves

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 cup red seedless grapes, halved

2 Fuji apples, cored and thinly sliced

2 ribs celery, thinly sliced

5 ounces mesclun salad greens

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped tarragon

2 tablespoons snipped chives

Make 3 deep slashes in each chicken breast. In a small bowl, mash the garlic, fennel, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the oil. Rub the mixture all over the chicken and into the slashes. Transfer to a small roasting pan, cover and let stand for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts in a pie plate and toast for 10 minutes, until browned and fragrant. Let cool.

Roast the chicken for about 40 minutes, until cooked through. Let cool slightly, then discard the skin and thinly slice the meat.

In a food processor, blend the vinegar with the mustard and the remaining 1/4 cup of oil. Blend in the cheese and buttermilk. Transfer to a bowl, stir in the lemon zest and season the dressing with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the walnuts, grapes, apples, celery, mesclun, parsley, tarragon and chives. Add the dressing, toss well and serve. Source:

The Good Doctor’s Leftover Ham and Spinach Omelet

A wonderful way to use up leftover ham from the holidays. Best served in pajamas on a lazy day.

2 eggs per omelet

Leftover cooked ham, cut into small cubes

Chopped onion

Washed spinach leaves, trimmed

Shredded gruyere cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Beat eggs until well-blended and just frothy. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in small sauté pan and throw in the onions. Sauté until just beginning to wilt. Throw in a few spinach leaves and continue sautéing until leaves are just wilted. Remove to paper plate. In omelet pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add eggs and let cook slightly until edges are beginning to firm up, making sure omelet does not stick. Add ham, onions, spinach, and cheese along mid-left of the omelet, so you can flip the right side of the eggs over onto it. Continue cooking over medium-low flame until eggs are set inside, flipping once midway during cooking. Serve immediately with love and thanks.