Wednesday, May 1, 2013

35 Before 35 Recap: 4 years left!

Since my birthday was this month (I turned 31) I thought it would be a good time to recap my 35 Before 35 list now that I have 4 years left on the timeline. Mind you, I've only been working on these goals for a few months, so only one of them is completed, but I did realize that most of the goals I've chosen take a lot of time and planning to complete, so I thought I'd give you a behind-the-scenes look.

35 Before 35

1. Finish knitting the scarves and socks I started for family members
 I'm on my way! I have completed several of these projects and only have a few left, which feels really good. I will unveil them here after I gift them to the recipients. I don't want to give anything away early!

2. Run the Peachtree Road Race
I should probably start training now if I hope to complete this goal. The Peachtree is an annual 10K in Atlanta and I don't think I could finish a 5K right now. Actually, I know I couldn't because I can't even run to the stop sign on my road without getting winded. I am planning to run a Color Run 5K with Lacey soon, so that should kick my training into high gear. Or low gear. Gotta start somewhere.

3. Go back to Paris
We are saving for quite a few house projects right now, but this is next! We would really like to do this for our 10 year anniversary (I'll be 33) since it's where we went on out honeymoon.

4. Go on an Alaskan cruise
See above!

5. Learn French
I have the Rosetta Stone set, but I need to actually sit down and do this.

6. Stop eating meat for good
I have cut back, but I haven't completely quit yet.

7. Go camping
My Christmas present to Donnie was a camping trip sans child. Ooh lala. We just need to set a date.

8. Lose 35 lbsI joined Weight Watchers and am really liking it so far. In fact, I have lost 10 lbs. Holler!

9. Be a better listener
While I was typing this my co-worker was talking to me and I was tuning him out, so I think this one needs more work.

10. Take yoga classes
I don't think I could commit to a class schedule because my child care schedule changes each week, but I did find a few yoga studios in my area that offer drop-in classes. I just need to go check them out now.

11. Read 100 books
I am currently working on book 8. This leaves an average of 23 books per year for the remaining 4 years. Psh. I got this.

12. Have an vegetable garden
I planted one! Donnie built me a raised bed on my birthday and I joined Smart Gardener to help me make the most of the small space. I think I even saw a cucumber sprout yesterday. Post to come!

13. Have a lower maintenance, cruelty free beauty routine
I think this needs to be divided into two separate posts because I've realized they really are distinct goals, both of which I have made progress on. I am replacing items with cruelty-free options when I run out and I will do a post on my favorites soon. Also, my new job necessitates an earlier morning waking time, so I really need to tackle the goal of figuring out a shorter get-ready ritual.

14. Complete p90x
This has definitely not happened yet. My co-worker loaned me the disks, but I have yet to get started. I think I need to start with something less intimidating and work my way up to it. I posted back in March about doing the 30 Day Shred and that didn't happen either because apparently I am incredibly lazy.

15. Host a dinner party
Not yet.

16. Go whitewater rafting
We plan to do this when we go camping.

17. Start investing in a retirement plan Not yet. But Donnie and I have recently had some serious conversations about preparing for the future and have figured out our 5 Year and 10 Year plans, so that's a start.

18. Pay off my credit card debt
I have been diligently plugging away at my debt management plan and if I stay the course I should be debt free in about 2 years.

19. Declutter my house and stick to a chore schedule
I have started decluttering and preparing for a yard sale and Donnie is getting really sick of the growing hoard of boxes in the garage, but I keep insisting that he will feel awesome when I have transformed it into a stack of cash. I am still really struggling with a chore schedule, but I have tackled our laundry situation and am staying caught up on it, so that's progress. Having less crap in my house should make keeping it clean easier.

20. Complete our remodeling plans
We have finished the hall bath. Holler! Post to come. We just embarked on Operation Curb Appeal and I could not be more excited. The two things I hate the most about our house is the carpet and the whole outside. I will be so happy to cross one of those off. I have dreams of my home being a sanctuary from the outside world and this will be a big step closer to making that happen.

21. Participate in 4 public service projects
Not yet. Do you have any ideas of what I could do?

22. Watch 100 Classic Movies
I have watched some, but my enthusiasm has waned. I have The Grapes of Wrath sitting at home and have been putting off watching it. Have you seen it? Is it any good?

23. Get my back tattoo covered up
Not yet. I pretty much have the idea worked out, I just need to save the money.

24. Keep my car clean
Not yet. This really should not be as hard as it feels.

25. Have a signature scent
I have been trying some out, but I haven't found it yet. I am becoming increasingly enamored with Rose scents and am currently using a cruelty free Rose perfume oil, which I like. I would like something a little more complex and interesting, though. Suggestions?

26. Get a nice camera and learn how to use it
Not yet.

27. Get back to my natural hair color
Redacted! Read all about it if you haven't already.

28. Take a photo I like every day for a year
I started this and then forgot for a day and felt defeated and quit. Story of my life. I plan to start again on New Years Day.

29. Make a friend who lives near me
Not yet. I probably need to leave my house and get out in my community for this to happen. There is a local bookstore on Main Street, so maybe I should start there.

30. Find a church I like
Not yet. I found one I'd really like to visit, but I haven't convinced Donnie yet.

31. Go Geo caching
This would take about half an hour to complete, so it really is a filler goal. I should just do it already! Lucas would probably really enjoy going on a little adventure.

32. Start 5 new traditions with Lucas
It is too early to tell since Lucas is only 1 and it only happened once so far, but he helped me plant the vegetable garden this year. And by "plant" I mean tried to dig up my seeds with his little plastic play shovel. He also really likes watering the flowers. By "watering the flowers" I mean trying to drink out of the hose and getting soaking wet. He is definitely my garden buddy.

33. Have a better wardrobe
This goal is underway. I have an extremely limited wardrobe and wear only 2 pairs of pants and about 6 tops on rotation. I have a new job now and have set a monthly wardrobe budget to fix this situation. Style posts to come.

34. Make my own wine/beer
I may change this to Make my own Eau de Vie. Who knows?

35. Get 100 followers on this blogI have 5. All of whom I know and are dear friends. I am an avid blog reader, but am rarely participatory. I need to really start putting myself out there.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Monthly Mixed Drink: The Kir

Sorry I dropped off the face of the earth! I have been working on securing a new job and winding down things at my old job to prepare for my departure and that has taken up quite a bit of my blogging time, but now I am back. I've missed you.


Once upon a time I was at a little hipster coffee house with Donnie seeing a show and they had a very short specialty mixed drink menu. I am a sucker for house specialty mixed drinks because sometimes they are the best part of a meal. My favorite so far has been the grapefruit and jalapeno martini, aptly named Cool Heat, that I had with Laura at Watershed. I salivate over memories of it. Anyway, this night I had a drink that contained white wine, St Germain, and a couple of other minor ingredients. It was delicious and the intrigue of mixed drinks containing wine was born. Being the Francophile and wine lover that I am I chose a classic French mixed drink this time: The Kir.

A Kir is an aperitif, which is an alcoholic drink enjoyed before a meal. I find the idea of an aperitifs and digestifs so romantic and sophisticated that I am considering indulging in them more often. In the United States the social more is that the consumption of alcohol is typically reserved for sporting events, special occasions, and college. In copious amounts; otherwise, not at all. This is probably due in combination to our post-Prohibition era and religious indoctrination, especially in the Bible Belt where I am from. In Europe it is just a part of the meal like appetizers and dessert.

Blackcurrants via Wikimedia Commons.
Aperitifs are served before dinner as a means to stimulate the appetite. They are usually dry and light so they are refreshing without overwhelming one's taste. Champagne and white wine are popular choices. Europe has a very slow-food social mentality about mealtimes and I think that serving an alcoholic drink as the first course is also intended to lighten the atmosphere of the event. The Kir is a popular aperitif and was originally called blanc-cassis, named for its ingredients of blackcurrant liqueur and white wine, but became more commonly known as the Kir in the mid-20th century after Felix Kir. Kir was a French parish priest who joined the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France. He is highly revered for assisting the escape of more than 5,000 prisoners of war from the Nazi prison camp in Longvic, eastern France. Following the war he was elected mayor of Dijon in the Burgundy region. He began to serve the blanc-cassis as his signature drink at engagements, which was necessitated by the red wine shortage following the Nazi confiscation of local Burgundy. Sounds like a cool guy, right?

The Burgundy region of France via Wikimedia Commons.
The ingredients in the drink are creme de cassis and white wine. That's it. It seems pretty straight forward, except there are lots of different types of white wine and they range from very dry (Sauvignon Blanc) to very sweet (Moscato). Since this drink originated in the Burgundy region of France and aperitifs are commonly made using a dry wine, I decided to go with a white Burgundy, specifically Chablis. BUT the grocery store had other plans. I think my local grocery store prides itself on the wine selection because it is very large and visible with tons of signage. It is also seemingly extensive, a visual marketing trick to fool the less connoisseurial wine enthusiast, because there was not a Chablis in the bunch. In my disappointment I ended up going with a cheap Chardonnay, the more common of the Burgundy whites, which in this case was made in California, not France. Womp Womp.

I chose this Creme de Cassis because I thought it looked a little more artisenal that your typical Dekuyper. Are you sensing a disconnect in this pairing? An expensive liqueur and a cheap wine. I'll admit that I can tell very little difference between a cheap wine and a top shelf supermarket wine. They're all good as long as they aren't Turning Leaf.
Luckily, my blackcurrant liqueur was actually made in France using "a traditional French Family Recipe..." What exactly is a French Family Recipe All Caps? Surely the recipe does not belong to the French Family of France? Or is there a standard recipe of this name commonly used in the making of blackcurrant liqueur? I noticed a few places on their website where it seemed a little got lost in translation, so maybe that is what happened on the label as well. At any rate, it compares well with other liqueurs of this type and I liked it.
The label Up Close.
I recently read an article in Mother Earth News about making your own (illegal) fruit liqueurs and I found it actually pretty fascinating. Did you know that a distilled fruit wine is called an eau de vie, which translates to "water of life?" Doesn't that sound enchanting? Maybe I'll revise my goal to make my own beer or wine to make my own distilled fruit liqueur? The cursory instructions included in this article make it seem pretty easy. I do have dreams of one day growing dwarf orchard trees at the back of my property and if I can get Donnie to comply maybe I'll spend my summers making homemade jams and eau de vie. But I digress.

The Kir

1. Pour a small amount of creme de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) into the bottom of a wine glass.
Don't mind the diaper in the background.
2. Top with white wine.
Like so.
3. Enjoy.

The verdict: No wonder one is supposed to use a dry white wine! Blackcurrant liqueur is hella sweet. This article calls creme de cassis "jammy" and that it spot on. Donnie thought this drink was too sweet, but I thought it was refreshing as long as one did not overdo it on the liqueur. And it feels like a festive, celebratory summer drink, like it should be drunk* at picnics or, dare I say, Independence Day gatherings. Undoubtedly my impression of this drink was influenced by my new found knowledge of its history. I drank it for a few days before I tired of it, so I'll probably enjoy it every now and again. 

*My inclination here was to type "to be drank," but then I wasn't sure if that was correct. Lo and behold it was not. Drank is the past tense of Drink and nothing else. The passive infinitive of Drink is to be Drunk. In some dialects (read: my dialect) Drank is commonly used this way, but it is still incorrect. If you are wondering, as I was, what a Southern dialect is officially called by linguists: General Southern matches the borders of southern states that seceded during the Civil War. The fact that the South is still pretty linguistically definitive is interesting to me and the theory is that we tended to not move around much on account of our agricultural heritage. The manufacturing and prospecting histories of other US regions have caused them to become more linguistically homogeneous. My specific region is Southern Coastal. Yes, we do say catty-corner.

**This Wikipedia article on Southern American English kind of blew my mind. It is ALL true and even though I consider myself to be grammatically correct most of the time, I did not know that all these dialectical uses were not correct. Like Dove for past tense of Dive and Drug for the past tense of Drag. I use these but the correct terms are Dived and Dragged. Noted.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What I Watched: Star Wars (1977-1983)

The first movies I started watching on the 100 Classic Movies list were those in the Star Wars film series, even though they weren't the first ones I wrote about. It took a little time for me to get through them all with the turnaround from Netflix on the one-disk-at-a-time plan and the fact that I was really lazy about watching them and sending them back in a timely manner. I love Space, but, to be honest, I was really not interested in watching these. Before watching them I was already familiar with the franchise because, well, who isn't? Star Wars references are very prominent in American pop culture. AND I've seen Fanboys, Spaceballs, and the Family Guy Star Wars episode.

Via Wikimedia Commons
When I worked at a bookstore there was a girl there who was a major Star Wars fan. She watched the movies regularly, read all the books, and won Star Wars trivia at DragonCon every year. She loved all things Yoda and had a shrine dedicated to him in her bedroom. She had to drive me somewhere once and we listened to the Star Wars soundtrack on her tape deck. Writing this out really makes it seem like I am making her up. Like this is a caricature of the stereotypical Star Wars fan, but I assure you she was real. And multifaceted. She did have other interests. At the time I found her insufferable and we didn't get along very well. We've lost touch and now I wish we hadn't.  Also, while researching for this post, I discovered articles about all manner of strange things, like how inefficient the Death Star's trash compactor is for the size of the ship, etc. Star Wars fans are serious, yo, and I think this is where my aversion came from.

I always assumed these were serious movies, along the lines of Star Trek, but my first impression was that they were much more comical than I expected. The overall storyline is serious, but there is a lot of comic relief and some really beloved characters. Here is a summary of my thoughts once it was all over:

1. C-3PO is the best character. Don't argue with me about this because there is no argument to be made. Actually, an argument was made, so let me fervently address it before moving forward. This article is poorly written, but aside from that the author states that C-3PO is a more annoying character than Jar Jar Binks. Blasphemy! C-3PO may not be the most useful character, but annoying he definitely is not. He is a charming companion for R2D2. He is so posh with his fancy speech, uptight mannerisms, and oil spa baths. Even his obvious anxiety disorder, if droids can have one, is precious. He has so much personality for a robot and provides many comedic moments in the narrative. I read the Wikipedia article about him to get a little more insight and discovered that one of his specialties is etiquette. Naturally. 

C-3PO at the San Diego Museum of Man via public domain.
2. Princess Leia is a bad ass. Everyone knows that Leia is Luke Skywalker's long-lost sister and the daughter of Darth Vader, but that is all I knew about her before watching these movies. She is also a member of the Imperial Senate and a spy for the Rebel Alliance. It should also be noted that she has expert aim with the plasma blaster guns, which seemed to really be an anomaly in these movies. She does not tolerate idiocy, fights alongside the guys, and she will f- you up. No wonder she was every Star Wars geek's wet dream.

I love this Princess Leia tattoo so much. skyemariah via HCSWS.  
3. Luke Skywalker is a whiny and incompetant moron. The fate of the universe depends on him and maybe that is a lot of pressure for anyone, but I almost couldn't stand him. In the beginning I was thinking he was really going to have to step it up if I'm going to get on his side. My co-worker has the theory that Luke Skywalker represents a cinematic Everyman. He is plucked from his ordinary, unremarkable like and thrust into an extraordinary circumstance in which he has to overcome great obstacles. He is a regular guy, but is also ultimately posited as the hero. This is probably how the viewer is supposed to feel, but I just could not get there with Mark Hamill. This article Why Star Wars sucks actually asserts that Han Solo is the everyman hero of the original trilogy and I wholeheartedly agree with that. Also, Luke ranks #14 on Empire Magazine's 100 Greatest Fictional Characters. Ack. Why does everyone like him so much? These are the only acceptable Luke Skywalkers:

4. Han Solo and Chewbacca are the cutest best friends ever. Frankly, if I had my way, saving the galaxy would have been up to Princess Leia with the assistance of Chewie and Han. Leave Luke Skywalker out of it. I completely get why Han Solo is a heartthrob: He is the quintessential bad boy. Ann C. Crispin's backstory of how Han and Chewbacca met (as depicted in the The Han Solo Trilogy) is so sweet. In this history Han is a pilot who is ordered by the Imperial Navy to capture and skin a Wookiee named Chewbacca who has commandeered a naval ship carrying Wookiee children to slavery. Han refuses and is publicly degraded and Chewie vows a life of indebtedness in gratitude. They become fast friends and go together into the business of smuggling. Also, he and Chewbacca are extremely capable fighters and space navigators and, besides, look how cute they are as a team: 

Calvin and Hobbes as Han and Chewie by Chris Wahl, Bill Waterson, Rabittooth via DeviantArt and Creative Commons
5. No one in the entire galaxy is good at shooting a laser gun, except Princess Leia. Or it is remarkable how poorly calibrated those guns are. Evidently, the problem is that they are shooting plasma gas. Everyone knows that plasma gas is unpredictable and
that "the inherent instability of plasma gas in blasters reduced the weapon's accuracy under sustained fire." I told you that fans were serious. I was looking for other articles criticizing the accuracy of these gun or at least commenting on how comical the gun fighting sequences are because lasers are flying but no one gets hit, but what I found were explanations. It seems to me that with all this advanced technology someone would have said, "let's not use plasma in guns since it sucks."

6. This is old news but a petition to the White House to commission the building of a Death Star received enough votes to warrant an official response. It is pretty hilarious and shows the Obama administration has a sense of humor. They officially decline building a Death Star citing the project's proposed cost ($850 trillion), the craft's fundamentally flawed design, and the administrations oppositions to destroying planets as reasons against the project. Lolz, White House. You guys are so clever. After the petition response is published Governor Wilhuff Tarkin of the Outer Rim Territories released a statement on the Star Wars blog stating that the inhabitants of Earth are too primitive and unpredictable to handle such a  powerful weapon as the Death Star and our possession of such a craft would be a "technological terror...used to upset the peace and sanctity of the citizens of the Galactic Empire." Touche, Star Wars geeks, touche. You, too, are quite clever. 

Bonus:: My favorite comment from Donnie: 

Me: What is Jabba and what is his role in all this?

Donnie: He's a gelatinous kingpin.

Anyway, I don't think I really need to include a discussion of why these movies should or shouldn't be on the 100 Classic Movies list, BUT I will state that all 6 movies in the Star Wars franchise have been nominated for or won Academy Awards, they have a vast and rabid fanbase, they are the basis of a rich and storied fictional universe, and Star Wars references are so familiar to Western collective consciousness that we get them whether we've seen the movies or not. So, do they belong on the list? Yes they do.

Do you agree?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Weekend Recipe: Black-Eyed Peas with Chard and Soba Noodles...Kind Of

I made this recipe from my Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker cookbook by Robin Robertson. I love black-eyed peas and I loooove carbs (especially pasta), so this seemed like it could be a match made in heaven. My favorite quick and easy weeknight meal that includes black-eyed peas and carbs consists of black-eyed peas, instant rice, butter, salt, and pepper. Super healthy, I know, but so good. 

Anyway, here's the ingredients list for this recipe as written:
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard (I used fresh spinach) 
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (I used canola oil)
  • 1 large carrot, halved lengthwise and sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 15 oz cans of black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 c vegetable stock (I used vegetable bouillon)
  • 8 oz package of soba noodles
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Firstly, I have never had chard, but I've read about it on food blogs and it is quite popular. Have you had it? My local grocery store didn't have any, but a quick substitution search on my phone revealed that I could reliably use spinach in its place. I don't know how accurate this is, so feel free to weigh in if you've eaten chard. Actually, since chard is in the same classification subfamily as beets, beet greens would probably have been the better substitute, but I've sure never seen those at the regular grocery store. If you've ever wondered why this Mediterranean green is called Swiss chard, I'm here to assuage your curiosity. It is named for the homeland of the Swiss botanist who discovered it.

Doesn't chard look lovely? Photo by mercedesfromtheeighties via Wikimedia Commons.
Trim your chard leaves from the stalks (you only want to use the leaves for this recipe). Cook for 5 minutes in salted boiling water. Drain and set aside.

At this point, meaning during the very first step of the recipe, I was just moseying along following the directions and trusting that they were correct and would result in the dish I was expecting, as one does with recipes. Suddenly, I realized how idiotic it was that this is the first step. When a recipe says to set something aside it usually means that you will revisit it in a few minutes. Well, while my spinach was cooking I scanned the rest of the recipe to see when we would come back to it and discovered that we add it to the recipe at the end of the crock pot cooking time 6-8 hours later. So what to do with this set aside chard/spinach in the meantime? I just stuck it in the fridge. Later, 7 hours later in fact, it looked so slimy and unappetizing that the thought of putting in my mouth was really skeeving me out, so I threw it away. You can now call this recipe Black-Eyed Peas with Soba Noodles Sans Chard/Spinach. I recommend, obviously, boiling the chard/spinach right before adding it to the crock pot as one of the final steps in the recipe.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, shallots, and garlic and cook until softened.

Did you notice that I didn't use a skillet. What can I say? It was dirty I'm a rebel. Also, the directions say to cover the skillet while cooking. I didn't. See: Rebel. Also, this is not necessary. Have you ever cooked shallots? Shallots belong to the onion family, obv, but are mellower than your common onion and smell amazing cooking in the oil.

Transfer the carrot mixture to a slow cooker and add the black-eyed peas and stock, and then season with salt and pepper.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

This is when you are supposed to add the chard/spinach. Then serve over soba noodles. Enjoy!

Guess what? I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished product. It was okay. I think that I prefer my black-eyed peas unadulterated. Also, I wonder if this would be better if it did actually have chard or spinach in it. This is the third recipe I have made with this cookbook and the third time I have felt underwhelmed. How many chances should I give it before deciding it isn't worth trying anymore?

Do you love black-eyed peas as much as I do? How do you like to prepare them?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What I Read: Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

Almost every time I go to the library now they say "oh, you're Sarah" when I ask for my holds and then ask me if I want a list of what I currently have checked out because there are so many. I always politely and self-consciously decline because I am well aware of what I have checked out. And I check the list online on the reg to make sure nothing is overdue. My bibliophilia knows no bounds.


"In the cycle of slaughter, reprisal begat reprisal."

It is really difficult to take a picture of a library book with a shiny protective cover. Ugh.
Anyway, last night I finished reading Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone and I wasn't really sure how to being writing about it. Laini Taylor is definitely one of my new favorite writers and I really look forward to reading whatever else she writes. She is a master storyteller and a true wordsmith. When I was younger I was a book snob and would only read modern literature and while I still am partial to this genre and have also grown quite fond of young adult fantasy (especially urban fantasy) over the years. The problem is that so much of it sucks and it takes some sifting through the crap to find the gems. Ever since Harry Potter and Twilight became wildly popular I feel like everybody and their brother are writing young adult fantasy fiction to try to capitalize on this popularity and so much of it is bland, predictable drivel, so it is really exciting to me to discover a talent like Taylor and I wholeheartedly thank my hairdresser, who knows her fantasy fiction, for the recommendation.

"Mercy, she had discovered, made mad alchemy: a drop of it could dilute a lake of hate."

Following the core-shaking ending to Daughter of Smoke and Bone I felt that Days of Blood and Starlight had a bit of a slow start, but I read them back-to-back and probably wouldn't have felt that way if I'd read them when they were published with the requisite time in between. I'm really afraid to write more about it because I don't want to ruin the story for anyone else who might want to read it, but I will say that some great new characters are introduced that become as equally beloved as Karou, Akiva, Zuzana, and Mik. Also, Taylor obliterates everything the reader thinks might happen and many times I felt these characters I had grown to love were in impossible situations and then Taylor spins the tale in such a way that I thought there may be hope after all. And it didn't feel forced or unbelievable and I find that really refreshing, especially in this tired and overwrought genre. And hope is really the point of this story. Taylor has challenged what it means to be an enemy and crafted characters who dare to hope for something better in the face of impossible odds.

"Because it was not Akiva beside her. Of course it wasn't, and what ran through Karou's mind in that instant was bitterness, a double pang: one for when she thought it was him. And one for when she realized it wasn't." 

I am so excited that Karou is a strong, independent character. A lot of books in this genre have a love story angle that is all consuming for the girl in the book and it comes to define her. I find this really annoying personally, but I also don't think it is the best message for the target demographic. I was really excited about the Hunger Games trilogy because I thought Katniss was finally going to be the heroine I have been looking for and I definitely enjoyed reading those books, but in the end I was left feeling deflated, defeated, and uninspired. Maybe the ending of the Hunger Games is realistic. How can one person deal with so much heartbreak and not be crushed and broken? And I sometimes like reading things that feel like tragedy, but the ending of that story just felt wrong. So far, Karou is the perfect heroine. She is strong and determined, but doubts herself at times. She is flawed and relatable and I found myself identifying with her and rooting for her even though I have, obviously, never been in her position. She is a real girl with the weight of two worlds on her shoulders. So, I am super excited to see where this story will go in the last installment and even with all the plot twists and turns, Taylor has not left me feeling dissatisfied yet. I read the acknowledgements at the end of this one, which I never do, because I wasn't ready for it to be over.  I read that the final book isn't due out until sometime in 2014 and while I will be waiting impatiently, I am glad Taylor is taking the time she needs to do justice to the ending.

"The grief left her face, resignation settling her features into an unnatural calm. Akiva understood that she was ready to die."

While I am loving these books I will say that stories with battles and armor and fight scenes are really not my bag and all. In fact, I am usually immediately turned off by stories with these plot elements, so I want to tell you that if you feel the same way don't let it prevent you from reading these books. The battle scenes are beautifully crafted and integral to the storyline. Also, since I am only a visitor to the fantasy genre, I oftentimes have trouble wrapping my head around the pronunciation of the names of people, places, and things in these books. Characters and cities are often named using a fantastical language and don't seem to roll off the tongue and, speaking for myself, it can take some getting used to. This book takes it a step further by having characters additionally named in Czech and the constant use of unfamiliar (to me) weaponry. There is a fight scene in the beginning and one character was using a poleax. My brain kept wanting to pronounce this Po-lee-ax, which makes no sense and was very distracting. Turns out it is pronounced Po-laks or Pole-axe depending on the source. "Po-laks" feels distinctly European, while "Pole-axe", feels more natural to my native American South tongue. A poleax is a short-handled spiked axe with a blade on one side. Now we all can say we know a little something about medieval weaponry. Also, am I the only one who thinks "medieval" is a hard word to spell? My brain slows down to a crawl every time I have to type it...which is becoming surprisingly often.

Poleax on a Lithuanian coat of arms via Wikimedia Commons. You can see a picture of a real 15th century one at Museum Syndicate.

Finally, I have an affinity for space, which I will tell you all about in my upcoming Star Wars post (you can hardly contain your excitement, am I right?) and on that digression I will leave you with my favorite passage from this book:

"She pictured the moon's racing swerve around the world, and the world's hurtling course around the sun, and the glitter of the stars in their That was illusion, too, just as the rising and setting of the sun was a trick. It was the world that moved, not the stars, not the sun. The sky moved, panning across that vastness as it rolled through space, hurtling end over end, and that hurtling was what kept her pinned here. One of billions." -Laini Taylor

Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you know your way around a poleax? Tell me all about it. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Weekend Recipe: Goulash of Smoke and Bone

As you know I just finished reading The Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and in the novel Karou and her friends frequently visit a cafe called Poison Kitchen. I love how Taylor describes this cafe in the story and I would absolutely want to go there if it were a real place. It is located in Prague Castle and is decorated with old statues wearing gas masks. The history of Prague Castle is interesting. During WWII it was occupied by the Nazis during their invasion of Czechoslovakia and Czech soldiers rose up and attacked them. Then the Castle was home to the Czech government during the communist regime. Now, in modern day Czech Republic, the castle serves as head of state.

Prague Castle. Pretty, right? By Stefan Bauer via Wikipedia.
Anyway, Karou's favorite thing to eat at the restaurant is goulash and there are several scenes where she is partaking in this dish. I have never had goulash and wasn't quite sure what it was, but my mom described it as a stew containing mainly ground beef and tomatoes that is usually served over egg noodles. Fun fact: Goulash is one of the national dishes of Hungary. Since I have a longstanding love affair with all pasta dishes, I set out to find a highly rated vegetarian version and I was not disappointed. Happens that had such a recipe.

Vegetarian Goulash

Gather your ingredients.

1. 1 teaspoon olive oil (I used canola oil since that's what I had on hand)
2. 1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
3. 1/4 cup celery, chopped
4. 1/2 cup of mushrooms, sliced (I used closer to a full cup)
5. 1 small green bell pepper, thinly sliced
6. 1/2 cup veggie crumbles (I used closer to a cup)
7. 2 garlic cloves, chopped
8. 1 teaspoon paprika
9. 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes in juice
10. 1/2 cup red wine
11. 1 teaspoon dried oregano
12. 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed
13. 1 teaspoon tomato paste
14. 1 teaspoon sugar
15. salt and pepper

Heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion, celery, and mushrooms. Saute until just tender (5 minutes).

I know my lighting is stellar.

Add green pepper and veggie crumbles and cook another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and paprika.

I like how the frozen veggie crumbles steam here.
Stir in the tomatoes and their juice. Add the wine, oregano, caraway seeds, and tomato paste.
A note about caraway seeds: This is my first time using them. I opened the container and sniffed them and I was immediately in love. I imagine caraway would be a lovely scent in toothpaste, lotion, and candles. According to WebMD caraway is used medicinally for heartburn, bloating, gas, improved control of urination, killing bacteria in the body, and relieving constipation, so, bonus!

Drink some of the wine you just opened.

Please excuse my jammies and bedhead. Also, yes, I broke lent and yes, I feel bad, but I simply cannot be held to such stringent rules.
Bring the mixture to a boil and then turn to low and simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Right before serving add the sugar (I just tossed in a sugar cube) and season with salt and pepper.
A note about sugar in tomato-based dishes: Sugar complements and tones down the acidic taste of tomatoes to make tomato-based dishes taste smoother. That's why adding coconut milk to curry dishes works so well. Plus, duh, coconut is awesome. Brown sugar also works and is super good in spaghetti sauce. Only add a smidge.

Serve over rice or noodles (I used a quinoa-based spaghetti). Enjoy!

The Verdict: Now that I have had goulash I can say that it is pretty much the bomb. I could eat this day and night. In fact, I ate it for dinner and then breakfast the next day. It's that good. Donnie, however, wouldn't even try it. He is an extremely picky eater and this recipe has ALL of his least favorite foods: peppers, onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms. When I got done cooking it I told him that I made it for him and he said, "uh...I am not eating that..." Lolz. More for me.

Have you had goulash? Do you love it as much as I do? Have you tried caraway seeds? What else should I make with them?