Monday, April 18, 2011

April Showers Bring...

...delicious vegetables! The Dude and I (and Erin and Nujoud) joined a CSA this year, and we are really enjoying it! For those who aren't familiar, joining a CSA basically means you buy a share in a farm's crops and get weekly vegetable deliveries. We have only had two deliveries so far but we are already loving the fresh salad greens, snap peas, and green onions. Part of the appeal of the CSA was also that we would get to try some foods we usually don't eat. This week we had two challenges: beets* and mustard greens. Both of us expected we wouldn't like beets at all; neither of us had tried mustard greens before. We tried both of them (as well as some squash) tonight and we were pleasantly surprised!

For those who are interested, both were easy to cook.
Beets: peel beets, slice, and marinate in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic salt, and pepper. Grill to taste.
Mustard greens: cut out stems and roughly chop the greens. Carmelize onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat, then add greens, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Cook the greens until they wilt but not until they are mushy.

I still don't think beets are my favorite vegetable, or even in the top 5 (hey, I love a lot of vegetables) but I enjoyed them!

*Every time I hear beets I think about Dwight Schrute. Bears, beets, Battlestar Galactica!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Increasing Awesome

When we're all let down by the government bickering, this guy can get us excited again. Non-space nerds, just watch the first minute for some motivating philosophy. Everyone else, you'll be sucked in at the end of that minute anyway and get to learn some great stuff about what NASA is doing!

Thanks Nujoud for sharing this!

Friday, April 15, 2011

A World At War

Fall of Giants, Ken Follett
I am a big fan of Ken Follett, both of his many WWII dramas and of Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. In Fall of Giants he manages to combine both styles of writing and I think it works wonderfully. Fall of Giants traces characters from England, Germany, Russia, and America from the lead up to World War I through the end of the war. It is a huge cast of characters but Follett manages to move between them such that the reader isn't confused but at the same time, still gets enough focus on each story to really care about the characters. For those who do read it, the characters who caught my attention most were Ethel Williams, Maud Fitzherbert, and Gus Dewar. I absolutely recommend this book for just about everyone...whether you enjoy it for the historical fiction, the characters, or just the chance to become absolutely absorbed in another world for a while. Fall of Giants is the first book of a trilogy and while I know I have years to wait for book two, I can't wait!

Note: This book is one that counts toward my efforts in the Chunkster Challenge. My goal was the "Mor-book-ly Obese" level, which requires 8 books of at least 450 pages, of which at least three are over 750 pages. So far I have read four over 450 (and reviewed two of them here and here) and this one is my first 750+. If you're interested in a long read, check out some of the other reviews!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Quiet Bravery

Every Man Dies Alone, Hans Fallada
This extraordinary novel was written in only 24 days by the author who survived Nazi Germany. It is loosely based on the story of Otto and Elise Kempel, a couple in Berlin who quietly dropped anti-Nazi postcards throughout the city at risk of their lives. In the novel, they become Otto and Anna Quangel. When their son is killed in the war, Otto and Anna realize they no longer believe in Hitler and feel they must act against him. Each postcard they drop could bring a death sentence. In my opinion, the book's strength lies not just in its portrayal of Otto and Anna, but in its ability to examine the psyche of many people, from the Jewish widow living upstairs to the SS officer investigating the postcards. As the novel progresses you are forced to see the many compromises and wrenching decisions people made during the dangerous times. The novel amazingly manages to combine a psychological examination with an action filled plot. I found the afterword about the author to be as interesting as the book itself; don't stop reading at the last page!

Note: This book is one that counts toward my efforts in the Chunkster Challenge. If you're interested in a long read, check out some of the other reviews!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Paws For A Cause

This past Sunday, I participated for the second year in a really fun charity event: Paws for A Cause. It's a great twist on the usual run/walk a 5k for charity. Instead of going on your own, running a 5k, and getting a t-shirt, you bring your dogs, walk a 3k, and get bandanas for the animals. Last year the event was a 5k, but due to heat and distance a lot of dogs were wiped out early, so this year it was held in April instead of June and was limited to a 3k. This proved to be a perfect distance for Max and Layla, who slept away the rest of the afternoon.

The Dude and I were also lucky enough to be joined this year by Nujoud, Zara, and their dog Lotus. Zara has learned the word for "dog" and would occasionally point to one and inform us of its presence, despite the fact that we were constantly surrounded. She also enjoyed taking the free dog treats and feeding them to whoever was nearby. I think Max and Layla both fell in love! I had a great time not only with my own friends and pets but getting to see all the other dogs, which ranged from some type of miniature chihuahua (which literally disappeared in the grass when it squatted to pee) to three gorgeous Great Danes from the Great Dane rescue of Southeast Texas.

If you live near me, I hope you can make it next year. Even if you don't, suggest a dog walk to your favorite charity. I think it's a great fundraising idea!

I did my best to take pictures with one hand while the other hand was being yanked out of my arm by Max, who was making his best effort to sniff every dog in the area. Good times!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Amazing Tiffany Aching

Note: I wrote this entry after reading the first two books in the series but never published it. I've since read the last two books as well and enjoyed them just as much. Pick up the first one and I know you will love Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle as much as I did! Thanks for the recommendation Audrey!

The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett
This was another Audrey recommendation and what a good one it was! I loved the matter of factness of the main character, nine year old Tiffany Aching, who reads fairy tales and thinks witches get short shrift. She won me over early on when she used her little brother as bait for a monster and attacked it with a frying pan. Soon enough she encounters a six inch tall, red haired blue skinned man, one of the "Nac Mac Feegle" or Wee Free Men. The Nac Mac Feegle were the highlight of the novel for me as they inject great humor as they go about their "stealin, drinkin, and eatin." The unlikely alliance between Tiffany and the Nac Mac Feegle becomes critical when she has to rescue her little brother from the Faerie Queen. As soon as I finished this I was ready for more!

A Hat Full of Sky, Terry Pratchett
A Hat Full of Sky is the next adventure for Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men. Tiffany still longs to be a witch and gets the opportunity to train and learn how to use her great natural power. Unfortunately that power is a draw for bad as well as good and Tiffany has to learn who she really is in order to save her own life. The Wee Free Men are once again at their best, and Mistress Weatherwax, the most powerful witch in the world, is unexpectedly as humorous a witch as I have ever read about. I actually preferred this to The Wee Free Men, but I'd still recommend reading both for the sheer fun of them.

For those interested in more, the next two books are Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight. They were both great reads. Also, Audrey reviewed all four books as well...check out her reviews!

Bibliovermis - The Wee Free Men
Bibliovermis - A Hat Full of Sky
Bibliovermis - Wintersmith
Bibliovermis - I Shall Wear Midnight

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Fine Piece

Russian Winter, Daphne Kalotay
I had seen this book recommended a number of times and it did not disappoint; I devoured the entire novel in one (long) day! The story revolves around Nina Revskaya, a ballerina in the Bolshoi Ballet during the Stalin era who now lives in Boston. She has decided to auction off some of her extraordinary jewelry collection. Each piece recalls for her a story or an event in her life. The auction house is surprised when an anonymous donor comes forward with an unusual necklace which is a clear match to earrings and a bracelet donated by Revskaya. Nina clearly knows something about it, but refuses to speak to Grigori Solodin, the necklace's mysterious donor. As the story of Nina's life unravels, so too do many of Grigori's beliefs about himself. The novel touches on many themes and subplots but they are woven together beautifully.

Note: This book is one that counts toward my efforts in the Chunkster Challenge. If you're interested in a long read, check out some of the other reviews!