Saturday, August 29, 2009

Summer Book Reviews

I have put this off for a while so instead of three books I have FOUR for you! Try to contain your excitement everyone.

My Life in France, Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme
As I mentioned in my last book review, I was trying to read this so I could go see the movie. Not a problem. I started it on a Friday and was done by Saturday night. This book was so engaging and fun; it really felt like Julia was just chatting with me. It was fascinating to learn more about her life and how she went from an American in Paris to the Julia Child we all know. My first introduction to Julia was when I was young and my mom watched her show on PBS. I remember thinking of her as the woman with the funny voice who used lots of butter (not too far off!). I was surprised to learn that Julia was interested in the science of cooking and spent days recreating recipes to ensure that they worked every time and could be replicated by the home cook. The book was a great read for everyone, even if you're not into cooking. I did see the movie a few days later and enjoyed that too. They had clearly done a lot of research and the Julia portion of it was accurate and hilarious. Two drumsticks up!

Book of Lies, Brad Meltzer
I first read Brad Meltzer's books in high school. He was like a younger John Grisham then and I enjoyed it. Now he's trying to be the next Dan Brown and frankly it's not working. The plot did keep me interested but the characters were flat. The addition of a Biblical basis for the plot seemed contrived. I think he was a better writer when he came up with his own story lines. I would recommend his earlier work, such as Dead Even or The Tenth Justice. Still, this is not bad if you're looking for a quick vacation read.

Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass, Natalie MacLean
This book was a shower gift from some very special ladies. In it, the author takes you all over the world of wine, from Burgundy in France to Napa Valley to Chile and Australia. She did get a little wordy and technical at times but I learned a lot about how wine was made and it definitely made me want to try a real tasting some time. The last chapter gives recommendations for what types of wine to drink with different foods so that will be a great reference for me.

Sarah's Key, Tatiana De Rosnay
I had read a review about this and then stumbled on it again in the bookstore. It blew me away; I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours and that includes a work day. It's the story of a young Jewish girl in Paris who is rounded up to be sent to the camps. Her brother hides in their secret cupboard and she promises to return and let him out. Sixty years later an American woman living in Paris discovers a connection to the story and sets out to discover what happened. The action goes back and forth between past and present. It's haunting and gripping. The characters and plot are well developed. This book was amazing and I expect all my readers to clamor to borrow it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remembering Senator Edward Kennedy

Senator Kennedy was a great man who championed causes close to my heart: civil rights, education, and recently health care reform. With his passing the Senate and the United States as a whole loses a great force.

I can't say it better than Paul Krugman

Friday, August 21, 2009

Beware of the White Out!

Fall is approaching fast (not that you can tell based on the weather here in Texas) and that means it's time to get excited about football! In particular for me that means Penn State football. While I definitely consider myself a big fan I admit I am no expert on the game itself so here are my top 10 "Things you need to know about Penn State football even if you don't know much about football."* Catchy right? Letterman's going to hire me any day now. Without further ado here they are!

10. Beaver stadium rocks. Just look at this video...

...and read these quotes from other Big Ten players. Every time the boys in blue walk onto that field they have a huge advantage, which is awesome since we have eight home games this year. Despite that I still think that...

9. Our schedule sucks. Not because it's difficult but because it's too easy. When it comes time to rank teams and we have the same record as someone else do you really think voters will look at wins against Akron and Eastern Illinois and rank us ahead? No they will not. Even if we are lucky enough to go undefeated (which I am in no way expecting...remember Iowa last year?) I can totally see a one loss team being ahead of us. It sucks but that's just one more reason we need a playoff.

8. Our most valuable commodity is quarterback Darryl Clark's head. He's already had three concussions. Last year we had an awesome backup, Pat Devlin, but he wanted to be a starter so he left. That means this year if Clark takes a hit our QB will be true freshman Kevin Newsome. This kid is supposed to be really talented and I'm looking forward to seeing him play but not this year unless we are up by 12 touchdowns against the Little Sisters of the Nearsighted (see item 9).

7. If Clark can stay healthy our offense can rock. Check this lineup (ok it's from last year's team but most of them are still here and I wanted to post this picture).

Left to right: Quarterback Darryl Clark, Tailback Evan Royster, Wide Receiver Deon Butler, Wide Receiver Jordan Norwood, Tailback Stephfon Green

Royster is already on the watch list for lots of awards. I could look up which ones but a) I am lazy and b) this list is supposed to be for people who don't know what all those awards are anyway so stop complaining. Yeah I'm talking to you in the cheap seats.

6. We are Linebacker U. This year we return senior Sean Lee after he was out with an injury last season. He's on track to break some records and if that means breaking the hopes, dreams and possibly a few small bones of opposing QBs on the way I'm fine with that. We also have Navarro Bowman who changed his number to 11 after PSU linebacking great Lavar Arrington. Reportedly (according to my mom who watches the Big Ten Network) his teammates are calling him "Lavarro." I LOVE IT!

5. Weak schedule = too many early games. Noon games were bad enough on the east coast but they're worse here in the Central Time Zone. I like beer for breakfast as much as the next person but it's a lot harder to get pumped when the game is over in time for the early bird special at Luby's. Plus the new neighbors will probably look at us sideways if we start tailgating at 6am in the driveway.

4. Joepa still rocks. I know this is probably the most controversial thing I will write here but he is the man. Look, Penn State is an amazing program with a long history of success and an incredible fan base. But if you don't think that we are getting at least some of our recruits because they have been dreaming of playing for the guy in the coke bottle glasses since they were just a twinkle in their parents' eyes, you're kidding yourself. Last year we had an incredible senior class that had entered the program during one of our worst losing stretches in recent history and they frequently mentioned Joepa. The man is a legend.

Let's go Joe!

3. Win or lose, you can be proud of this team. They're not all perfect but in general acting stupid and getting poor grades gets you off the field and even off the team. Every summer they put together a fundraiser for kidney cancer. They've raised over $400,000 in seven years since they began. Especially right now when so many athletes are poor role models I think this is amazing. If you want to learn more, go here.

2. We have this guy.
I admit that I don't necessarily believe we will win the game if the drum major lands his flip. But he goes out there every game and tries. That's why I love college football and PSU football in particular: every team has their own traditions that get the fans and players excited.

1. This could be our year! Ok, so maybe it doesn't look that way on paper. But that's the beauty of college football. You never know when your team is going to surprise you so you wake up early on Saturday, paint your face, scream yourself hoarse and support your team for every game. So get out there and enjoy it! Let's go State!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

I have actually managed to go a month without posting pictures of Max, so naturally I need to correct that.

Showing off his handsome physique.

This is what happens when he hasn't been brushed in a while.

Hanging out with Molly.

We had these other applicants attempt to join our zoo but we had to inform them that we are currently running at full capacity.

"Are you done yet?" Yes, I am. No more pictures...for now.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Showered with Books

The Woman Behind the New Deal, Kirstin Downey
This book was a gift from my aunt at my bridal shower (yes, I know it seems random, and that's because it is...I love my family!) It's about Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor. Eleanor Roosevelt gets a lot of credit for being a powerful woman but Frances Perkins was unbelievable. She was the first ever female cabinet secretary. She spent her whole life fighting for laborers, advancing the 40 hour workweek, the end of child labor, and the beginning of unemployment insurance and Social Security. You've probably seen bumper stickers that say "The 40 Hour Work Week: Brought to you by Unions". Well they should say brought to you by Frances Perkins! As for the book itself, I really enjoyed it. There were a few chapters in the middle that got dragged down in policy and lost focus on Frances in particular but overall it was a great look at an incredible woman. Thanks Aunt Ellen!

Room With A View, E. M. Forster
As much as I have read, I often see lists of the classics and realize how much I haven't read. I sometimes take issue with "must-read" lists of "classic" books just because not everybody is going to like them all. Still, I try to give them a chance. I enjoyed Room With A View but it's not a book I'm going to read twice. Ah well, check it off the list! I am definitely going to check out the Merchant Ivory film made about it with a star studded cast.

The Coffee Trader, David Liss
This was another shower gift (thanks Nujoud). It's the story of a Jewish merchant in 17th century Amsterdam who is looking to regain his fortune through an investment in a new commodity: coffee. But the theme of the book is really about people and how we can lose sight of the forest for the trees. I really enjoyed this because as the plot progressed its complexity grew, but it only served to illuminate the characters even more. In the last hundred pages I was completely engrossed. Aside from the characters, the historical perspective was fascinating. British banking looked to the Dutch at that time as examples. They had the first modern stock exchange with futures changing hands and bubbles that left people poor as quickly as it had made them rich. Sound familiar? This is definitely worth a read for all of you because it has something of everything: history, economy, mystery, lust, and greed. I'm adding the rest of David Liss' books to my list to read. High praise!

Next up: Julia Child's memoir My Life in France, so that I can go to the movies to see "Julie and Julia"!

Monday, August 3, 2009

How much do you cook?

Today I read a really interesting article in the New York Times. Go read it, then come back.

Ok, back now? Thanks!

For those of you who cheated and didn't read it, the article is about how cooking has changed in the last 50 years. We spend less time preparing food in total, and much of what we call "cooking" now is really assembling prepared ingredients. Despite that though, reality shows about cooking are doing well and the Food Network is highly successful.

I enjoy cooking and I think I am a decent cook. However, I am not someone who comes home from a long day at work and thinks "Boy am I stressed. I am going to cook a big meal to make myself relax!" The Dude and I do make most of our own meals, but during the week we use plenty of frozen vegetables, 90 second rice, prepared pasta, and bottled salad dressing. I do like cooking from scratch and finding new recipes but it's more of a hobby than a daily routine. Part of why The Dude and I try not to eat out too much is because we definitely eat much healthier at home...even an unhealthy home meal is usually better than what we'll get at a restaurant. I definitely agree with the article that eating more prepared foods contributes to obesity.

I'm curious to hear what other people's habits are like. How much do you cook? Is it still "cooking" if you don't make everything from scratch?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Starting the Day Off Right

One of the highlights of wedding planning: cake for breakfast!

-- Post From My iPhone