March Books

Hello readers!  My self-imposed  hiatus is over.  It has been a very busy month thanks to a 3/31 deadline, but we’re through that now and hopefully I’ll be back to posting regularly!

Perhaps it’s because of the madness at work, but I got a TON of reading done on the train and before bed this month.  I made it through six books.

A Widow for One Year, John Irving

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I suppose it would be that one won’t love all the books one reads in a year.   This was my first “bust” of 2014.  The book is in three portions, following three segments of our protagonist Ruth’s life.  First, when she is four and her mother begins an affair with her husband’s assistant who is 16 years old, Second, when she is mid 30s and contemplating marriage, and Third, when she has been widowed about five years after the wedding.  The first segment is the strongest of the three.  While I found the affair totally gross (sixteen year old boys? Oh yuck let alone not even legal) it’s the best written.  But I found adult Ruth to be an incomplete person–there were times where I felt her actions or reactions were completely implausible, and I got really sick and tired of the running commentary on her physical appearance.  I hate to say it, but the whole thing seemed like a man trying to write a woman and just not getting it.  I have another Irving book on my Kindle, The Cider House Rules, which I have not read yet but only got because it was on super sale and I loved the movie.  I really hope I have a better reaction to that one!   I can’t say I would recommend this book to my blog readers.

On Such A Full Sea, Chang-Rae Lee

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The world building in this dystopian fiction is fantastic.  Our main character is Fan, a teenage girl who lives in B-More (formerly Baltimore).  In this America, the rust belt cities are occupied by “New China” residents who  moved to North America after China became too environmentally unsafe to live in.  The other segments of this country are the Charter communities, which are the upper class, and the Counties, which resemble a backwoods, every man for himself environment.  Fan leaves B-More to search for her boyfriend who has gone missing.  It’s such a great, subtle commentary on late stage capitalism–you have to really process what the characters think, say, and do to really get the full picture of this strange new world.  It’s a terrific story, I can’t think of anything else like it, and it comes highly recommended by me.

I Am Troy Davis, Jen Marlowe, Martina Davis-Correia, Troy Davis

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This is a hard one to review.  It’s more than the story of the Troy Davis trial, it’s his (and his family’s) biography.  As I got closer to the ending, and I knew what was coming, it just made me feel sick.  I feel strongly that the US Corrections system does not work, and have felt so for some time, but this book makes the failings of the prison and justice system so personal that it helped shape my take on the prison system even more.  I am deeply touched having read this book, and I urge people to at least read about the Troy Davis case or the UN’s position on the death penalty (or the UN’s Alternatives to Incarceration) if you cannot make it through this difficult book.

Boy, Snow, Bird. Helen Oyeyemi

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The title of this book is the names of the three women featured in this novel.  Boy Novak runs away from her abusive father to live in Connecticut, where she marries a man with a beautiful stepdaughter named Snow.  Boy becomes pregnant and when she gives birth, it’s clear from her daughter Bird’s appearance that her husband is actually a black man and passing for white.  Using elements of mysticism and fairy tale, Oyeyemi explores race relations in 1950s New England with touching results.

The Silent Wife, A.S.A. Harrison

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Did you like Gone Girl?  Well put this right on your list then–Harrison’s first and only novel (she passed away last year, sadly) examines the long term partnership of Jodi and Todd.  It’s told in a similar style (sometimes our main character is Jodi, sometimes it’s Todd) and as you keep turning the pages the crazy grows and grows.  I’m very sad this is Harrison’s only book, I really dug it and I think I got through it in only a few days as I couldn’t put it down.  So if you like relationship psychothrillers, this is a can’t miss.  Also,  if you read this book, I totally envisioned Jodi as Robin Wright (aka Clare Underwood on House of Cards).

Empty Mansions, Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

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The too-strange-to-be-true-but-really-is-true story of Huguette Clark–the youngest daughter of W.A. Clark who made his millions mining copper in Montana.  I feel like I don’t want to say too much to give anything away–first, the book tells of her father’s ascent in business and politics, then on to her childhood, then on to her very sheltered adulthood.  Huguette passed away a few years ago, and still had assets in the nine figures to her name, so the conclusion of the book discusses the dissolution of her estate.  It’s a fun, fascinating read about the .001%, and about American History, and human nature.  A real gem of a story.

Total books read in 2014: 13

 

Recipe: Thai Butternut Soup

Hello readers!  I apologize for the silence this past week.  This second half of March is gearing up to be overwhelmingly busy thanks to work plus weekend trips (one for work, one for fun…but I’ll probably be bringing work to it!)  so I am not sure I will be doing much posting before April.  But I’ll try my best when I can!

I made this soup Sunday night and it was to. die. for.  I pinned it a bit back and thought, well, cooking from my pinterest is sorta like cooking from my cookbooks, right?  Let’s not talk about how many pins I have that I haven’t done anything with!  The majority of my pinterest is recipes….I’d guess easily 90%, and I have over 1,600 pins, so, yeah, a lot of recipes there.

I tried photographing it but it turned out just horribly, so I’m using the picture provided courtesy Cooking Light.

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Here is a link to the recipe.

I’ll note that I did not have cilantro in the house so skipped that (Plus, I notice J. is not a huge fan of cilantro.  I am, but I know it is  a polarizing herb).  Also, I didn’t have peanuts, so I swirled in a heaping tablespoon of PB out of the jar.

This will undoubtedly become a repeat recipe for me.

Also, it could easily be made vegan.  Swap vegetable stock for chicken stock, and check out this vegan fish sauce.  I think I will try that fish sauce myself.  Who knows what’s really in the fish sauce I bought from the store….

Anyways, if you like curry and coconut milk and spice, run don’t walk to make this recipe!

High Five for Friday: Food Style

I was thinking this Friday would be as good a time as any to showcase some of my favorite culinary links.  These are all links that I use frequently and have influenced my cooking style.

1. The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do The Work

It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since the winter this recipe was published in the Times.  It was nearly impossible to read a cooking website without seeing no-knead bread featured during that winter.  I still make it all the time, and I still run into people who are new to it.  This is probably one of the least fussy bread recipes I’ve ever seen, and I’ve never had it come out flawed. I recommend it to anyone who wants a good crusty loaf of bread like what you’d get at a nice restaurant.

2.  SB Canning Homemade

Want to can the basics like jam, whole fruits, pickles, and tomatoes?  Want to go all out and can full meals, soups, and stews?   From the most basic water bath canning for beginners to long-term pressure canning, this site has it all.  I prefer it to the Ball site, and that’s saying something.

3. Ice Cream Recipe Creator from Fine Cooking

I LOVE this.  Take the basic technique, infuse, add, and mix in ingredients to generate your own custom ice cream recipe.  I have made some awesome ice creams with this–have fun!  Maybe I’ll make some soon….it will be a high of 40-something soon, time to break out the suntan lotion and beach hats, right?

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I know, I know, I talk about Fitness Blender a lot on here.  But remember, I live in  city where the weather is barely above freezing on a good day, our sidewalks and streets are caked with ice and snow, and I mostly rely on trains and buses to get around.  Going to the gym is a pain in the ass this time of year.  I’m one week in on my 8-week workout plan for busy people and so far I really love it!  I’ve been eating pretty healthily too to go along with it.  This video helped me visualize all the stuff I’ve read about healthy eating.  When I go to the grocery store now, I think to myself, “Was this on Kelli and Daniel’s table?”

5. How to make a Shrub Syrup

Shrubs are a mix of vinegar, fruit, and sugar that you combine with sparkling water or booze to create a tart, fruity beverage.  I made a strawberry ginger one and a raspberry one this past summer, and I’ve been treating myself to them this past fall and winter.  I particularly loved the strawberry ginger and I plan on making homemade ginger ale soon.  Ginger ale/beer is one of my absolute favorite drinks!

I hope you liked these high five for friday recipes!  Enjoy your weekend!

Cooking from my Cookbooks: Tagine of Yam, Shallots, Carrots and Prunes

The second recipe of February comes from Tagines by Ghillie Basan.  Back in the days of yore before Amazon Prime I used to add cheap cookbooks to my orders to get them high enough for free shipping, if I was $5 or so away from that goal.  That’s how I picked this up–but I was also interested in the recipes, as I own nothing else Moroccan.

To cook a tagine, you don’t need the vessel of the same name.  I went with a medium sized cast iron dutch oven….I have a tagine from World Market but I read reviews of people who tried to cook with it and it did not go well.

This is a very thin cookbook coming in at under 70 pages. The recipes are meat-centered for the most part, with lots of lamb and fish recipes.  This vegetarian one caught my eye and it’s the first recipe I have made from this book.

Tagine of Shallot, Yam, Carrot, and Prunes

2-3 T olive oil with a pat of butter

1.5 inch piece of ginger, grated or finely chopped

1-2 cinnamon sticks or 1-2 t ground cinnamon

about 16 small shallots, peeled and chopped in half (or quarters if you can’t get small shallots)

1.75 lbs yam or sweet potato, in bite sized chunks

2 medium carrots, in bite sized chunks

3/4 C pitted prunes, coarsely chopped

1 T honey

2 C stock, chicken or vegetable

Cilantro and mint, for garnish

Heat the olive oil and butter in your cooking vessel of choice and add ginger and cinnamon.  Add the shallots and brown them.  Add the yams and carrots.  After 2 minutes, add the prunes and honey.  Then add stock and boil.

Reduce heat and cook for 25 minutes.  Stir in some of the cilantro and mint.  Add salt and pepper if desired, and cook down any remaining stock until the sauce is thick and sticky.  Serve over couscous and garnish with remaining herbs.

February Books

I read four books in February–two fiction and two non-fiction.  Let’s begin:

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Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America, John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney

Dollarocracy tells the details behind campaign financing–from the Supreme Court rulings on campaign spending, to the advertising agencies creating campaign ads, to the television stations receiving enormous revenues, and how this affects the tenure of elected officials.  For me, some of it felt dry (for example, the legal stuff started to lose me a bit) but I certainly got a lot from this book.  I’d recommend it, with the caveat that you may find yourself skipping chapters that lose your interest.  It’s worth it–you’ll still get something new out of it.

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Bullet Park, John Cheever

I picked this up at a used book sale nearly two years ago and finally had time to pick it up.  Are you a fan of Mad Men?  This book, set in suburban 1960s New York, could run parallel to Don and Betty Draper.  It’s dry, dark humor which gets more creepy as it goes on.  It’s the story of two men, with the last names of Hammer and Nailles, with a climactic interaction at the end.  The story of how in that time and place, a man’s duty and a man’s desires were at great odds.   It’s a quick read, and I can’t remember anything else quite like it.

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Timebound (The Chronos Files), Rysa Walker

This book was a blast.  A seventeen year old girl learns the gift of time travel was passed down to her from her grandmother and she has to travel time to stop her grandfather and aunt from using a cult to take over the world.  PLEASE let there be a sequel to this!  This was the YA fiction I needed, to take the sting of Allegiant out of my mind.

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To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care, Cris Beam

Oh my goodness.  I read this in 24 hours.  Cris Beam tells the story of a great number of foster care youth, foster parents, adoptive parents, and birth parents.  It’s completely compelling and unpredictable.  Honestly, of all the books I’ve posted year to date, (I know, only two months! but still) this is the must-read one.  I work for an agency that funds education for youth ages 17-21 for wards of the state so when she gets to the part about youth aging out, I could really see how what she wrote about is reflected in the youth serviced by my agency.  The subjects of this book are treated with compassion by the author, and it’s a book I won’t forget.

Total books read in 2014: 7