Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Recipe Tuesday: Broccoli Pasta

Today's recipe comes from real Italians, so you know it's authentic! When I worked as a recipe demonstrator at the local grocery store, this awesome Italian couple would come in every Sunday after church. They were really friendly and I loved talking to them. They actually gave me this recipe last year, but I haven't had a chance to make it til now.

1 lb. pasta (I used whole wheat rotini)
1 lb. broccoli
3 cloves garlic (I used more, but I love garlic)
1/4 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese
1/4 lb. sharp cheddar cheese
olive oil

Cook the pasta as directed and drain, but do not rinse with cold water. Saute the garlic and broccoli in olive oil until broccoli reaches desired tenderness. Cube the cheeses, then mix everything together in a bowl and serve warm.

Yum! I ate off this stuff for days...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Will!

Today is the 445th anniversary of the birth of the Bard! To celebrate, the mayor of Chicago has declared today "Talk Like Shakespeare Day". For more info, visit Talk Like Shakespeare or the Shakesprearean Insult Generator.

How will you be celebrating?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Recipe Tuesday: Easy Chocolate Cheesecake Pie

Today's recipe comes from my chocolate Cool Whip container label. I've had this recipe for ages, and I finally dug it out last week and decided to test it out. Survey says: not bad!

1 chocolate pie crust
1 8oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 container chocolate Cool Whip
3/4 cup sugar

Whisk the sugar and the cream cheese in a bowl until well blended. Spoon in the Cool Whip. Mix well and pour into pie crust. Refrigerate until set. Enjoy!

How easy is that?! And it tastes pretty good, for faux-cheesecake.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Great Urban Race 2009

The Varsity

Yesterday was such a blast! While the rest of you were reading, blogging, and getting kicked off Twitter (poor Beth F!), I was running around Atlanta with five of my friends. The Great Urban Race is basically a one-day Amazing Race: competing in teams of two (or six, if three teams decide to make like Voltron), you're tasked with solving clues, running around the city, and taking pictures to document the whole thing.

We showed up at East Andrews Cafe between 11 - 12 to sign in, eat free food, and get ready for the day. At noon exactly, all the teams were given their clue sheets. Our strategy was to take time at the beginning to solve all the clues and create a plan of attack so that they weren't criss-crossing the city all day long. Plus, we only had five hours. A few of the clues (go to a hotel for a dance lesson, find these race officials and make a donation to charity, play a game of hoops at ESPN Zone) were easy, while some (find the statue in this picture, translate this clue written in WingDings) were slightly more challenging. We were given the option to skip one clue, but ended up doing all 12, which made me proud. It's not like we were really in it to win it; I just wanted to have fun. And I did! My body is incredibly sore (especially my poor feet - they haven't been this worn out since last year's Peachtree), but I can't wait to do it again next year.

Turns out, urban scavenger hunts are a pretty popular pastime. There's High Trek Adventure, Scaventures (more for corporations than individuals), Urban Hike (in Pittsburgh only, sadly), Urban Challenge (another one just for businesses), Meet Market Adventures (for my fellow singletons), and Urban Assault Ride. If it sounds like your kind of fun, I highly recommend signing up for one.

The rest of my pictures from the event can be seen at my photostream.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Read-a-Thon vs. The Great Urban Race

The 24-Hour Read-a-Thon is already underway, but I won't be able to participate this year. Why? Because I'll be spending the day in Atlanta, competing in The Great Urban Race. It's a bit like a small-scale The Amazing Race, which is one of the few reality programs I actually enjoy and will go out of my way to watch. Go, Margie and Luke!

Good luck to all the 'Thoners this time around - I hope I'll be able to participate next time.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Review: The Willoughbys

Title: The Willoughbys
Author: Lois Lowry
Genre: YA / Children's Fiction
Published: 2008
Pages: 174
Rating: 6 / 10
Challenges: YA Reading Challenge, A - Z Reading Challenge

Synopsis: (from the book flap)
"Shouldn't we be orphans?" one of the Willoughby children suggests one day. The four are, after all, part of an old-fashioned kind of family, and their parents - well, their parents are not all that one would hope for. Recalling literary heroes and heroines such as Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, and James with his giant peach, the Willoughbys concoct a diabolical plot to turn themselves into worthy and winsome orphans. Little do they know that Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby have already begun to formulate their own thoroughly despicable plan inspired by another favorite bedtime story: the tale of Hansel and Gretel...
Villains, benefactors, no-nonsense nannies, abandoned infants, long-lost heirs, and late-life romance all make their appearance along with the irrepressible Willoughbys as the Newbery Award-winning author Lois Lowry pays playful homage to classic works of literature in this hilarious and decidedly "old-fashioned" parody.

My Review: I won this from Chris last year. I actually read it a few months ago; I've just been really bad about reviewing, especially books that I'm not super-psyched about. And, sadly, this book falls into that category. It's an interesting enough story and a very quick and easy read, but I just didn't love it as much as I thought I would. The children are complete and total brats, and I just couldn't get past that. I understand it's a parody and meant to be making fun of them, but I just didn't like the kids. As they are the protagonists, it makes it difficult to like the book. I did like the adult characters, though, and even found myself sympathizing with the Willoughby parents, which I'm pretty sure wasn't supposed to happen. Maybe I was just in one of my childfree hardcore moods when I read this (I don't actually post on that community, fyi, but some of the stories are amusing), or maybe I just didn't "get it," but I vastly preferred A Series of Unfortunate Events and would recommend that series over The Willoughbys.

Other Reviews:
1 More Chapter

If you have reviewed this book as well, leave me a message in the comments and I'll link to your review.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mini-Review: Jane Austen in Scarsdale

Jane Austen in Scarsdale: Or Love, Death, and the SATs, by Paula Marantz Cohen, is one of the best Jane Austen-paralit novels I've found. I picked it up in a used bookstore for a few bucks based on the name alone, and now I really want to read Ms. Cohen's other books. Jane Austen in Scarsdale is an updated Persuasion, but knowledge of the original is not necessarily needed to enjoy it. Anne Erlich is a guidance counselor at a prep school full of students with college-obsessed parents. Her wealthy family talked her out of marrying the love of her life, Ben Cutler, believing him to be beneath her. Now her family's going broke and Ben has become a successful world traveler. He unexpectedly shows up at Anne's school to enroll his nephew, and zany romantic comedy shenanigans ensue. There's a predictably happy ending, of course, but getting there is so much fun! This was a witty modern take on Persuasion. How great is it that Austen's plots and characters are still relevant and fresh?

Other Reviews:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Recipe Tuesday: Spicy Grilled Eggplant

Today's recipe comes from my Williams-Sonoma Vegetarian cookbook. I have no idea how I ended up with this cookbook (I've never even been to a Williams-Sonoma store), but it has some really yummy, easy recipes.

2 small globe eggplants
6 Tbs olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley

You can use either a charcoal grill or my old pal George Foreman. Heat up the grill of your choice and cut the eggplants into 1/4 inch wide slices. Place the slices in a colander and salt them to draw out their moisture. Let them set out for 30 minutes, then rinse with water and pat dry with paper towels. Brush the slices with 4 Tbs of the olive oil and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Place them on the grill, turning occasionally, until they are tender (about 10-12 minutes). If you're using a George Foreman, you don't need to turn them and the grilling time is cut by half.

While the eggplant is grilling, stir the garlic, remaining 2 Tbs of olive oil, and vinegar in a small bowl. Place the grilled eggplant slices in a serving bowl and drizzle the garlic-oil mixture over the top. Sprinkle with the red pepper flakes and parsley.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mini-Review: Audrey, Wait!

Audrey, Wait! is a YA novel by Robin Benway. I picked up my copy in a Borders bin for about $4, and it was one of the best deals I've ever gotten. Poor Audrey recently broke up with her rock star-wannabe boyfriend, and he's gone and written a song about it that's quickly becoming the most popular tune of the year. Now she's dealing with paparazzi, jealous groupies, and out-of-control rumors. Audrey, Wait! is Audrey's side of the story, and it's a light, fluffy, and hugely enjoyable read. Audrey is a lovable character, and her relationships (even with her sucky ex) are relateable and real. I loved reading about her dealing with her unexpected fame and the perks and problems that come along with it. Be sure to check out the website - there's even a link to download the book's soundtrack from iTunes!

Other Reviews:
bookshelves of doom
Pop Culture Junkie
Presenting Lenore

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Review: Drawers & Booths

Title: Drawers and Booths
Author: Ara 13
Genre: Meta-Fiction
Published: 2007
Pages: 215
Rating: 8 / 10
Challenges: Dewey's Books Mini-Challenge, My Year of Reading Dangerously, A to Z Reading Challenge

Synopsis: (from the back cover)
Beginning as a modern military civil affairs action, Drawers & Booths spirals into a metafictional journey, testing the boundaries of reader and author, narrative voice, and characterization - the wrapping for Ara 13's satirical analysis of morality in light of evolutionary psychology.
My review: Hoo, boy. This book was something else. I read it as part of Nymeth's "Try Something New" mini-challenge for the Dewey's Books Reading Challenge. Dawn at She is Too Fond of Books, my partner, suggested it. I've read some meta-fiction thanks to a graduate course on Modernism (and it's delightful younger sibling, Post-Modernism), but this was my first time reading a meta-fiction novel (which is way I'm also counting it for the My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge, too). It was interesting, to say the least. Dawn and I decided to read the book, write separate reviews, and then switch and add our own comments to the other's review. My original review is in black; Dawn's comments are in red.

Drawers & Booths opens on a military base in an unnamed country. To be honest, I found this part pretty boring and can't really remember much about it.

I was frustrated with the outer layer of the story – characters without names, acronyms and abbreviations that looked like alphabet soup to me! I probably would've gotten more out of it if I had more knowledge of the military...oh, well. I don't think it detracted too much from the story - it just made me read through the boring stuff to get to the meat of the novel!

I think there was some sort of problem with the locals, and the narrator (third-person, at this point in the novel) gets a bike from someone. It was all pretty boring...until:
Kick approached the church and stepped over the entryway. It was dark to his immediate sides, and the sunlit sanctuary made it harder for Kick's eyes to adjust to the shadows in his periphery.
'Father Atkinson?' he called.
'No,' I reply, emerging from the dark.
BAM! Instant change. My eyes had been skimming somewhat, but at that point I felt a mental jolt and began paying attention.

Yep, me too! Did you pick up on the switch to present tense before the characters did? It jumped right out at me and I re-read the passage. Same here - I hadn't really been following that closely, so I had to read it a couple of times before I caught on.

And thus we are introduced to Hattie Shore, first-person, present-tense narrator. Hattie screws up the narrative a bit, changing the p.o.v. and confusing poor Kick, but never really revealing his intentions. He also doesn't stick around for too long this first time, but it was enough to keep me interested through the boring military stuff. When he does come back, though, he takes over the novel and completely changes it up.

Hattie definitely handles the reins … or does the author? I kept switching bets as the novel progressed. Interesting...my thought is, does Hattie realize he's a character and (in a way) a part of Ara? I really liked Hattie and wish he had stuck around more.

We go from jungle conflict to chasing a criminal mastermind through history. I'm reluctant to name this particular adversary, because I'd hate to spoil the surprise for anyone else who might want to read it, but it's definitely not someone I had expected. Unfortunately, Hattie disappears from the story after catching his man and helping to bring him to justice; fortunately, the novel itself becomes less a fictionalized account of Ara's own Marine Corps experience and more a meditation on writing, social responsibility, and what it means to be human. One of my favorite passages came towards the end, when Ara becomes a character in the book and gives some insight into his writing process:
'But let's not lose sight of this book's purpose - to entertain. After all, it is fiction. Yes, there can be a moral, but I really don't want this story to be mired down in theology. I am more concerned with character dynamics and the writing process. I enjoy having characters like the Corporal behave one way in the story and another when it is interrupted, as if he were an actor whose body of work we like but personal conduct we deplore. I enjoy having minor characters abruptly demand attention. I like having you all talk with the author and behave as haphazard devil's advocates, challenging my own personal belief system - an exercise everyone should undertake, at least in spirit. I hope to create an enjoyable read that encourages others to think outside the box, shake some trees - not merely for dissident value, but with the mind of a skeptic, ready to embrace the accepted belief system, but only after holding it up to the light at all different angles. I want to evoke thinking for the fun of it.'
This is a great quote! There were several I had marked; my slips of paper danced to the ground like confetti when I shook them out of the book after writing my review. I still have little slips of paper tucked in there; I enjoyed all the quotes about writing that you mentioned, as well.

I love the idea of characters having a personal life (an idea also mentioned in The Jane Austen Book Club) and of creating characters simply to have them disagree with you. It's ambitious and ingenious, and Ara pulls it off.

I have never read anything remotely like this. You’ve got me curious with your reference to Modernism and Post-Modernism; I’ll have to seek out other titles in those broad genres to really understand where this fits in. I'm thinking Drawers & Booths is Post-Modernism. You should check out The Crying of Lot 49. It's not Meta-Fiction, but it's definitely Post-Modern. It's also not for everyone; my friend Ashley threw it across the room after she finished it.

This review probably makes no sense, but for what it's worth, I really enjoyed this book. It's a mind-bender of a read, but it brought up some interesting ideas. I had to plod through the military jargon of the frame narrative, but I'm glad I did because the surrealism of the rest of the book was completely worth it.

Surreal is an apt description!

I'd like to thank Nymeth for hosting this mini-challenge (and for giving us an extra week to get it together!) and Dawn for being such a great partner. When we switched reviews, she observed that this sort of meta-reviewing was a really apt way to discuss this particular book, and she's right! Ara's next book, Fiction, will be released soon. I have to admit, I'm curious and will probably pick up a copy.

Other Reviews:
Dawn at She is Too Fond of Books