Friday, April 30, 2010

April Book Reviews: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," "A Thousand Splendid Suns," "My Life in France," "Angela's Ashes," and "My Old Man"

My Rating Scale: *OK **Good ***Great

by Mark Haddon
Rating: ***

Seth and I listened to this one on our road-trip to Boise. I had no idea what it was about and chose it solely because I thought the title was awesome. It turned out to be about a 15 year old boy with Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. He spends the book trying to find out who killed the neighbor's dog. I LOVED this book. A great story and a pleasure to listen to. The narrator did a great job as well. I highly recommend this one. Also, as a side note, we started out listening to "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch, but didn't even make it a half hour before we were fast-forwarding it and making snarky comments. He seemed to put himself on a pedestal like he was some great hero or something and it was annoying right from the start. Maybe we didn't give it much of a chance, but I think we ultimately made a good decision as the Mark Haddon book was a million times more enjoyable than what we heard from Pausch.

by Khaled Hosseini
Rating: **+

'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is a book about the last 30 years in Afghanistan and how it affected the lives of two native women. It's historical fiction, but I'm sure the stories of the two women are not far from reality in terms of how women are and were treated.

I was a little hesitant to read this book because I loved The Kite Runner so much and thought there was no way Hosseini's next book would be as good. I'm happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Like 'The Kite Runner', I listened to this book on CD. I actually think it adds a lot to this type of book because the narrators are able to correctly pronounce Afghan names and other words correctly. This book was very engaging and suspenseful. If you liked 'The Kite Runner' you'll like this one too.

by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
Rating: **+
This is the first 'foodie' book I've read. I wanted to broaden my literary repertoire into different subjects and categories and I figured I could kill two birds with one stone (and maybe make a soup out of them) with this book. I love Julia Child and thought it would be cool to read her autobiography whilst learning about French food and cooking at the same time. I love Julia's sense of humor. She's so down to earth and likable. Her passion for cooking and food is very endearing. I don't have either of the two main cookbooks she talks about in this book (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 & Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 2 ) but have a sudden strong urge to buy them and try all of the delicious recipes she spent so much time and effort perfecting. What a labor of love! I also really wish I spoke French and could read the names of all the wonderful food she talked about. Hmm... sounds like I need to plan a trip to France! 

by Frank McCourt
Rating: ***+

This is an autobiography from Frank McCourt about his childhood growing up in a poor, Irish Catholic family in Limerick, Ireland. I loved this book. Had I known it would be this good I would have read it years ago (I read the first page or two once). What made this even better is it was an audio version read by the author. He's a great storyteller and having him read this gave it so much more character. What a tough childhood he had. It's surprising he was able to make most of his story so humorous. I'm very curious about his other books now as well. This was a lucky find as far as audiobooks go. Highly recommended. Did I mention you should get the audiobook?? (Library people, library!)
My Old Man
by Amy Sohn
Rating: *+

So my friend Heidi lent me this book so I could screen it for someone else and see if it was suitable. The reason for this is there is a lot of sex and "adult situations" in it and she wasn't sure if a certain somebody would like it or not. This book is about a twenty-something Jewish girl, Rachel, who drops out of rabbinical school and becomes a bartender (to the chagrin of her parents). During this transition phase she carries company with an "educational" female friend, a famous older boyfriend, and her parents who have issues of their own.

I did like this book, however there was a bit of a separation between the first half and the second half. I really liked the beginning of this book... a bit shocking but engaging. By the second half of the book I was baffled as to why Rachel's boyfriend is interested in her at all. She doesn't seem to be anything special and I can't understand why he likes her or chooses to spend time with her. I can understand why he gets angry with her all the time. Of course, I don't think the boyfriend is anything special either and I can't understand why Rachel would be so attracted to him (other than the fact that he's famous). I'm going to stop there and save my detailed review for a later time so I don't give away too much of the plot. This was a quick, easy read. I'd recommend it as a guilty pleasure type book, so long as you can handle sex and crass language.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thursday 13: Right Now

1. I am thinking… I need to wash my hands because they smell like sandwiches.

2. I am thankful for… this time in my life. I've got love, sufficient money, and enough free time to enjoy both.

3. From the kitchen… made some Beef and Broccoli stir-fry tonight for dinner. Come back later this week for the recipe and a detailed review!
4. I am wearing… A light blue Old Navy t-shirt with purple flowers on it, a hooded sweatshirt, jeans and my ugly brown clunky work shoes.

5. I am creating… A test to measure the performance of a heat exchanger.

6. I am going… to run a 5k this weekend. Hope I don't die!

7. I am reading… Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt and My Old Man by Amy Sohn

8. I am hoping… The rain will hold off while I do my grocery shopping this evening.

9. I am hearing… A basketball game on t.v. and the water running at the kitchen sink where my husband is doing dishes.

10. Around the house… I still have several loads of laundry to fold from last week! But at least I dusted.

11. One of my favorite things… When my husband leaves for work in the morning and pulls all the blankets up on me to keep me nice and snugly warm for another hour until I have to get up.

12. A few plans for the rest of the week… Grocery shopping tonight. T.V. night tomorrow. 5k on Saturday and probably a fly fishing jaunt up on the Weber on Sunday.

13. A picture to share…
Seth thought he'd finally tied into a "big 'ol brown" up on the Weber River a couple weeks ago. I think they call them 'suckers' for a reason.

(Borrowed from Fond of Snape)

To see more Thursday 13 participants click here.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Today's Special: Around the World in Four Easy Meals

Vietnamese-Style Beef and Noodle Broth- New Recipe. This was one of the better Asian meals I've made in a while... well Asian soup anyway. It was a tad bit bland made as-is, but this type of soup is meant to have things added to it, so I put a dollop of Thai garlic chili paste and a couple shakes of soy sauce in mine and it was perfect. Seth said this reminded him of Pho.
Black Bean and Salmon Tostadas- Repeat. I made these once before and used guacamole instead of the chopped up avocado. This time I made these with the chopped up avocado and I have to say it wasn't as good. Which is fine because it's so dang hard to find a ripe avocado at the store anyway. I thought the guacamole cut down on the fishiness of the canned salmon as well.

Vegetarian Reubens with Russian Dressing- Repeat. Here is proof of how good these sandwiches are... I asked Seth what he wanted for dinner and read off all the recipes I had planned for this week. He chose this one. Take my advice and make this. In fact, double the recipe... you'll thank me later.
Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans- New Recipe. We both really liked this. I used 10 oz. of spinach instead of chard because Wally World didn't have it. I also used some chicken broth instead of the water it calls for to add a bit more flavor. Seth said he liked this better than Gnocchi with Zucchini Ribbons & Parsley Brown Butter. I don't know that I agree, but it's a close call. This recipe says there are 6 servings. I'd say there's 4 small servings. Um... Seth and I ate this all ourselves. So yeah...2 large servings.

Food How-To:
Bok Choy

There are many of you out there who probably don't use things like bok choy in your cooking because a) You don't know how or b) You're sitting there thinking...what the hell is bok choy? If this is you, don't be ashamed. I don't think the typical American uses much beyond carrots and potatoes. In fact when I bought bok choy for the Vietnamese soup this week, the girl who rung up my groceries had no idea what it was.

I first tried using bok choy a few weeks ago and having never used it before, wasn't quite sure what to do with it. I assumed you just used the dark leafy part. So I did. And I threw the rest away. Only this week did I learn that I had done it ass-backwards (which is also how I did my 3-point turns in drivers ed).

Not that you aren't supposed to use the leaves, but of all the tutorials I watched, most used bok choy like celery. Yeah, that's it. Think of bok choy like Asian celery. You can eat the leaves, but most people just use the stalks (or separate the two and cook them for different amounts of time. Leaves take a lot less time to cook).

I tried chopping up bok choy a couple different ways, but this way was the easiest and produced the most uniformly size pieces, so for simplicity's sake, I'll just show you one way. The best way. MY way.

This is bok choy. Buy some.

Break off one stalk and wash all the dirt off.

Slice off the leaves where the white stalky part starts to narrow. Slice off the very bottom of the stalk to remove any woody bits.

Cut the stalk lengthwise into several thin strips.

Gather the strips together and slice across them, making small diced pieces. 

The finished product.

If you want to use the leafy part too, just slice it up into thin strips and add it toward the end of the cooking process to make sure it doesn't get too wilted and mushy.

See? Bok Choy isn't scary. It's just celery's really pale friend. Try it out!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thursday 13: Thirteen Thursday 13 Ideas!

Every week I sit here and try to think of another Thursday 13 idea. I honestly didn't think I'd be able to come up with 13 usable ideas, but here they are (in my opinion anyway). Feel free to use them for your next Thursday 13 and leave me a message if you do. I know I'm set for the next 13 weeks!

  1. 13 Favorite Recipes
  2. 13 Items in My Shower
  3. 13 Pictures of Fish I've Caught
  4. 13 Favorite Places to Fish
  5. 13 Things That Must Go (things that irritate you)
  6. 13 Foods at My Last Meal
  7. 13 Hairstyles I'd Have if I Were Brave Enough
  8. 13 Favorite Flavors of Icecream
  9. 13 Books Worth Re-Reading
  10. 13 Maladies I've Had
  11. 13 Gifts for Mom
  12. 13 Things on My Wishlist
  13. My Top 13 Blog Posts
For more Thursday 13 posts click here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thirteen Point One Miles

First Seth got this crazy idea. Then I started to like that crazy idea. Now I think we're going to actually act on the crazy idea. We're going to run a half-marathon. That's 13.1 miles. Or, more than three times farther than I've ever run.

There's a part of me that's really excited. Then there's another part of me that's scared and terrified beyond belief. We've got about 20 weeks to train, a training plan, and enough fear to motivate us. I figure if I run at a slightly slower than normal pace, I can do it in 02:10:00. Since this thing is mostly downhill and I'll be full of adrenaline, I think I might have a chance of doing it in 2 hours even. TWO HOURS. Two full hours of running. Somehow two hours sounds easier than 13.1 miles. I think I'm gonna throw up.

The good news is, we'll be running in a very scenic area. We're doing the Little Grand Canyon Half-Marathon which goes right through Buckhorn Wash, an area where we camped just last year. It's home to many pictographs and petroglyphs and towering canyon walls that seem to be alive. So long as I don't get eaten by a coyote, I may have a chance at this.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Today's Special: Fruits and Veggies

Seared Salmon with Magical Butter Sauce- New Recipe. Ok, so I made this last week, but somehow I forgot to post about it. But, technically I made it this week too, so there. I keep a bag of frozen salmon fillets in the freezer at all times these days. Seared salmon makes for a delicious, fast, fancy-ish meal and this Magical Butter Sauce just adds to the awesomeness. The butter sauce is made using 1/3 c. butter, 2 tbsp. jam (your choice), and 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar. Last week I made 2 kinds: boysenberry and apricot. The apricot turned out a little bland but the boysenberry was surprisingly really good. This week I made boysenberry again and mango. Mango slightly edged out the boysenberry, but it was a close call. This sauce works really well on lots of stuff (i.e. salmon, chicken, veggies) and the sky is the limit on flavors. I was worried it would be too fruity and sweet but it wasn't at all. Plus, who doesn't like to dip their food in butter? Feel free to serve the sauce in little cups to dip into or pour directly on the chosen recipient (recipient=food, not a person, unless you're into that sort of thing). If you click on one link in this post, click on the one for Magical Butter Sauce, you won't be disappointed.

Pioneer Woman's Favorite Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup with Salsa Verde- New Recipes. The Pioneer Woman did a whole post special on grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup one day and I thought it sounded delicious. Seth happened to walk by when I was looking at the page again and commented on how delicious one of the sandwiches looked. That sealed the deal. This grilled cheese sandwich was a huge hit... Seth ended up eating two. I loved the addition of green chilies (I had to use the diced ones because I couldn't find whole chilies at the store and I was too lazy to roast my own!). If you're not a big fan of tomato soup, these sandwiches were substantial enough on their own. But, the tomato soup did turn out really well. It was very fresh tasting but not bland like a lot of other tomato soups of this style. I think the salsa verde added a lot to the flavor and looked really beautiful. I ended up having to use quite a bit more olive oil than the recipe stated so the basil/parsley mixture would liquify into a "thick sauce." Both of these recipes were winners. (p.s. I still want to try the Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto & Mozzarella and Turkey, Brie and Apple Grilled Sandwich)

Creamy Chicken Asparagus Soup- New Recipe. Wow this soup was awesome! Not too heavy... a mix between a cream soup and a broth... just perfect. I think this is a new staple. Even better the next day and this recipe makes a ton!

Bonus: How to Cut Up a Pineapple

Apparently pineapple season is upon us. Don't be intimidated by that pickly looking exotic fruit. It's easier to cut up than it looks. Just as easy as a cantaloupe I'd say... maybe even easier!

First get your pineapple, a sharp knife and a cutting board.

Cut off just under an inch from the bottom.

Cut off about an inch from the top (below the leaves).

Carefully slice off the rind all around the sides.

Slice pineapple into disks approximately 1/2" thick (or whatever thickness you prefer).

Remove hard center by cutting around it with a paring knife or use a small round biscuit cutter.

Keep the pineapple rings as shown if you like, or continue on to make smaller pieces...

Cut each slice diagonally several times (like a pizza) to create even chunks.

Now add to your favorite recipe or eat as-is! Delicious!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My New Apprentice

The other night I was the first one home from work. Because of this, I reaped the benefits of a cat who loves the first person she sees after a long day alone in the apartment. This fleeting love and affection usually lasts about 5-10 minutes after which she discards said person like an old dirty shoe and resumes her position of stature on any heightened structure available.

Part of the love and affection period involves constant "meowing" and a puppy like stretch and pawing on your leg, one "arm" stretched out towards you as if death will occur if attention is not immediately expelled. If she is picked up during this time or petted, a distinctly content purr with high-pitched intonations is exuded.

Some days I'm so distracted and/or tired when I get home that I don't notice the incessant meowing at my feet. Monday night I came home with loads of groceries and set about putting all the food away and then got started on dinner. It was about this time that I realized that crazy cat was still meowing away and had jumped up on the washer and dryer and was poking her head into the kitchen. It was then that I realized this cat just needed a better vantage point. She wanted to see what I was up to and didn't have a good enough view on the floor.

So, I got out one of our barstools and set it in the middle of the kitchen and patted the seat, motioning for her to jump up. She quickly got the idea and jumped right up. She immediately stopped meowing and sat there happy as a clam, watching me chop and stir. Maybe she's been reading my Julia Child book when I'm at work and wanted to start learning how to cook. If so, she's going to need one hell of a hairnet.

Thursday 13: My Life in Shoes

This week I chose the 13 pairs of shoes in my closet that I wear the most. Some of these shoes I wear by choice, others are a requirement, but I wear them all for one thing or another.

1. I wear these shoes almost every week day. Not the cutest by any means, but I have to wear steel toed shoes to work and this was about the best of all the shoes I had to choose from. Yeah, they're a bit hashed.

2. These Asics were my first real running shoes. I still think they look hot and they're really comfortable. Sadly, they're at the end of their life, but I still like to walk or run in them on occasion.

3. These are currently my very favorite shoes to wear. They're easy to slip on and off and look good with everything. They are a metallic copper color, so they're not so boring as brown or black. Plus they were super cheap.

4. These are my "Danners." I wear these on any kind of outdoorsy excursion. They're also the shoes I wear as my spare when I go out fly fishing (gotta have some dry shoes to change into!)

5. These shoes are fairly new to my closet. I got them on the spur of the moment so I wouldn't have to wear my grubby work shoes on a date with Seth. Very similar to my copper flats which will need replacing soon anyway!

6. Of all these shoes, I probably wear these the least. Well, at least this time of year. That may change come summer time. Most of my nicer shoes (aka heels) aren't the best for wearing around all day as they start to give me blisters, so they don't come out of the closet too much.

7. I got these as replacements for my other running shoes. They're not the cutest with their Pepto pink color, but I wanted to try a "minimalist shoe" after reading "Born to Run" and I found these for cheap. So far they're working out great and the pink is actually growing on me.

8. These are my Simms fly fishing boots. I wear them just about every weekend. They've got the new Vibram rubber soles instead of felt and I love them!

9. These are my cowboy boots. I don't get to wear these much either, but they're really comfortable and I wear them any time I get a chance. No that's not real ostrich.

10. I wear these shoes anytime I need to do a lot of walking and/or socks are needed. They're my only pair of somewhat stylish shoes that I can wear socks with.

11. When I need to wear a nice pair of shoes, these are the ones I normally choose. They are fairly comfortable, look nice, and go with everything.

12. These are a second pair of steel-toed work shoes. I think they're cuter than my ugly clunky brown ones, but sadly they're less comfortable and are a bit too narrow for my feet and give me blisters.

13. Last, but not least... my stripey flats. I love these shoes. Like my copper flats, these go with almost everything and they're comfortable to walk around in. I got these as a spur of the moment necessity at Walmart a couple years back in Craig, CO. Sadly, they're starting to wear out and I have yet to find a replacement.