Sunday, January 31, 2010

Book Review: "The Cry of the Sloth"

As I mentioned before, upon finishing Salman Rushdie's "The Enchantress of Florence," I had several books to look forward to. The first one I picked up was "The Cry of the Sloth," by Sam Savage. Unlike "Enchantress," less than a week later I turned the last page to find there was no more. And it's taken me this long to write a post on it because I've spent the last week soaking it up from my memory of it. That's how I read, though I'm not sure why. Some people move right on to the next book when done reading a previous book. It takes me a bit to fully digest that book enough to move on to the next. And so it was with "The Cry of the Sloth."

"The Cry of the Sloth" is a collection of a man's writings. From grocery lists to letters to signs he posts on the apartments he owns, Savage slowly, but surely, leads us into the life of a down-on-his-luck author/literary magazine publisher/reluctant landlord named Andrew Whittaker. These glimpses into his divorce, his growing disillusionment with the his literary magazine called "Soap" and his inability to succeed as a writer grow more and more depressing as the novel continues.

Gut feelings
There is something in Andrew that is quite possibly a mirror of us all. His faults mirroring our own faults, and that also creates quite a bit of food for thought. As Andrew gets more and more wrapped up in himself and hides from the world in his dark, empty house, you can almost feel the despair seething from the pages as Andrew attempts to fake a cheery outlook on life to his ex-wife. And perhaps the most haunting passage is the book's namesake, when he explains how the cry of the sloth would sound if naturalists actually understood that lonely creature. Savage sneaks this metaphor in until suddenly you realize that this is really Andrew, a sloth at the end of his age crying out in despair over the lonely, sedentary life nature has forced him to have (again, the fact that he blames nature for all the sloth's troubles also helps remind the reader how Andrew got where he is today).
And it was the growing detachment and desperation is really what made it so difficult to get over this book. There are moments when you feel as though Andrew is just a victim of circumstance and then there are times when you know that he has brought this all on himself, in fact he deserves his fate for all that he has done. And perhaps the most thought-provoking part of Savage's story is that you aren't quite sure what his fate was. To that question I dedicated several days, reading my most recent issue of National Geographic to distract myself when it all got too much to comprehend. I'm still not quite sure what his fate was, but it was definitely a speedy read, due partly to the content and partly to the fact that it is often much easier and quicker to read separate letters in first-person than to slog through long chapters of third-person prose.

Bottom line
It's worth reading, but not if you're looking for the next beach read, or even, a drink-hot-chocolate-as-the-snow-falls-outside-read. It also made me want to pick up Savage's other book, which he published before "Cry." I'm told that "Fermin" is about a rat who not only learns to read, but also likes to. Sounds intriguing, no?

Saturday, January 30, 2010


It's funny how the area where it never snows, it's snowed twice this year. So here are some pictures to give you an idea of our winter wonderland.

The view from our porch.

The postman really does make it through, no matter what.

Here's our parking lot. The road looks like snow over a thick layer of ice.

There's a lake behind my apartment that looks cool covered with snow.

This poor tree tried to bud even though it's covered in snow.

Friday, January 29, 2010


For Christmas I received an Origami day-by-day calendar. At first I was super excited.

When I was a kid I enjoyed origami. But on Jan. 1, I sat down to do my first day's lesson. And that's as far as I got. Apparently, I am not so good at this origami. I tried several more today and managed to just barely make a passable canoe.

I'm gonna say that any preconceived notion I might have had about how easy origami was and how it was a viable option for a fun wedding decoration might have gone out the window today.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thursday's tips: Reducing food waste to save money

Alright, so I've been experimenting with weekly theme posts, even if you haven't noticed. That's right, those lovely finds on Flickr? You can expect that every week because I plan to bring you weekly inspiration every Monday with my Flickr Finds posts. But that's not all folks. I'm hoping to bring you weekly tips on Thursdays with a new feature called Thursday's Tips (oh, hello Mr. Alliteration, so nice to see you again.)
Everyone is trying to save money these days, even if you aren't planning to fund a wedding in the near future. For someone like me, who loves buying and cooking food, it can be difficult to save money when there are so many amazing recipes out there just begging to be tried. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to buy all the ingredients and only using a portion. Or buying the ingredients and forgetting to make the recipe until some of the ingredients have spoiled.
Alejandra Ramos, who writes a fun blog called "Always Order Dessert," has this to say about food waste: "Americans throw away 50% more food today than they did back in 1974. How awful is that? Not only is 50% more food going to waste, a lot of money is also being tossed away along with the slimy parsley and shriveled carrots."
Having just thrown away a bag of potatoes attempting to colonize the bottom shelf of my pantry and about half a bag of slimy spinach, I see where she's coming from. And it times like these, when there are people all over the world who would kill to eat that rotting spinach and lack of money is glaring even well-off individuals in the face, it's even more important to cut down on food waste.
Alejandra offers 10 tips to help you on the way to cutting your food waste. If you're like me, the thought of implementing so many new behaviors at once is a little daunting. So I suggest going to her post and picking two or three (or just one - every bit counts) that you can start doing right now. Then slowly working the rest in.

The easiest tip for me, and her number one recommendation, is "To become a Grocery Day Prep Cook." When you buy fresh food, part of what you should do you do when you get home is to prepare those foods to last as long as possible and to prep them so it is easier to eat them when you're busy. Like cutting up an onion so you don't have to do it later. Or wash your lettuce, dry it and then store it in a sealed container with paper towel. The number one enemy of most fresh produce is moisture. Drying your fruits and veggies thoroughly and then storing them with a paper towel to absorb the natural moisture that they release is the best way to keep them around for days and even weeks.

I happen to have a bunch of Tupperware's FridgeSmart line because my mother is a huge fan and a Tupperware consultant.

Last night, the fiance bought grapes and spinach. Both were washed and patted dry.

Both went into their own FridgeSmart containers lined with paper towels.

But, you don't need FridgeSmart to have healthy and happy veggies last in your fridge. Wrapping leaves in paper towel and then stowing them in a gallon-sized resealable bag will do the trick just as well.

My second tip that I'm trying to do is Alejandra's number 8: "Keep a Reverse Grocery List." Basically, you should just keep track of what you have instead of what you don't have. That way, you obviously will know what you need, but also not forget that there is oatmeal hiding on a top shelf or carrots tucked behind the beer (this happened once to me and created some creepy looking carrots). It's actually been pretty helpful, and has caused me to become a better menu planner. It's much easier to just look at a list to see what I have (and imagine new meals to make with those available foods) then to root around the fridge and pantry looking for something that might not be there or just going to the store and buying something when you had a perfectly good meal waiting for you to put together from what you had at home.

Good luck with saving money and reducing food waste, my faithful readers!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Less than a week left

I have bad news, dear readers. National Blog Posting Month is nearing its end. There is less than a week left of this exercise in wordiness, and I admit I feel accomplished. The first week, I had to remind myself (almost hourly, as I often put it off most of the day) to remember to write a post every day. But now, as I surf the Web in my downtime, I am constantly coming up with new ideas for posts. I've even found myself remembering to take a camera places so that I can write about that experience later on.
I set out in this endeavor with no clear goals, except the whole one-post-a-day-every-day-for-a-month thing. As I went along, in the back of my mind, I began coming up with what I hoped would come out of this experience. Here's what I've been thinking:

  • Write something REAL in every post. Whether I am pointing you to new Web sites, showcasing inspiring photos from Flickr or sharing my review of a book, I decided almost at the beginning to make sure I wouldn't disrespect you by offering a lame post.

  • Make regular posting a habit, so that I end up wanting to post and share my thoughts. In essence, I'm trying to train myself up for my other (more professional) blog.

  • Come up with a theme or at least a general idea of what the point of this blog is. If I want to grow my reader base beyond my friends and family (and I would like to, one day), I have to come up with a "brand". Essentially a brand (a very popular term when it comes to blogging) is what you, as a blogger, are all about. Maybe your brand is sharing recipes and photos of healthy and organic meals, or your brand is showing your picks of the best new interior design finds in the Internet (both are brands of blogs I currently follow). In any case, brands are meant to not only attract readers with the same interests, but to also give them structure, so they won't be unpleasantly surprised when you start blogging about something that they have no interest in at all.

  • Connect with people. I am a self-professed loner. But I do enjoy debating with people, sharing in a worldwide conversation about this book, or this food. I want people to comment on my blog, to respond to the crazy (or boring) things I have to say.

I haven't accomplished all of these goals. I have definitely passed even my own expectations on number one and two. I haven't quite accomplished number three, but I admit I have discovered that there are certain subjects that I enjoy posting about more often than others. The comments they generate are also more interesting. Maybe that's the first step in figuring out what this blog will become? And, slowly, I am getting you all, my faithful readers, to join the conversation that I hope this blog will become. So thanks for helping me get closer to that goal.

As we enter a new month, I can't promise that I will have a new post every day, but right now I can see myself posting three or four times a week with regularity. From food to Web sites to photography, know that I will continue to share my finds on the Internet. Please stay with me on this journey.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wedding venue: Possibility #1

In my experience, it is always better to start with the bad news, so that good news can then immediately cheer you up. Well today I only really have bad news, and that being that one of our possible wedding venues likely won't work for us. As I mentioned before, the fiance and I headed to the Boxwood Inn in the Lee Hall area of Newport News (on Warwick Blvd. just past Ft. Eustis).
To be honest there are many things I like about the place, but unfortunately the things we don't like outweigh the things we do. I love the low-key, calm and joyful people that would be helping us plan/set up the wedding (i.e. the innkeeper and her family). At the Boxwood Inn, you get pretty much the whole venue. So, while we would like to be outdoors, it would be just as easy to move it inside because it's not like someone else would have rented the room. And one of those rooms I absolutely LOVE! It's the space that originally served as the general store and post office for the area. The wood is all original and gorgeous. And, judging by the plants they mentioned they have around the house, it would be very beautiful in the fall since most are late summer/early fall bloomers. And they have a large hedge surrounding the property and a few trees.
Unfortunately, these aspects don't outweigh (at least for the fiance and I) the fact that it is literally right on top of a commercial train track and across a two-lane road from an unfinished (and unfunded so not likely to ever be finished) historic train depot that is basically an eyesore. Add in the random car repair shop behind the building and the general rundown look to the area, and I doubt hedges will be enough to block it all out (especially noises that we would not be able to control).
Here are a few pictures:

View from the parking lot, which is rather large and free to park in. Even in the winter the hedge is thick enough to block a lot of the bad stuff around the house, but it's unlikely noises would be blocked out.

The view as you approach the inn. It's a fairly large yard all the way around and outdoor weddings can be held on whatever side of the house you wish. They are pretty flexible.

Above is a chunk of the yard that faces Warwick and the train tracks. You can see the awning which they can move around depending on where you want the wedding to be held. You can also see the lovely Warwick Boulevard traffic lights and the railway crossing sign in the background.

Here is a nice view of the house. This is the side that is apparently used less by wedding parties.

And this is my absolute favorite room. The photo does not give it justice and it is really long and has the bar on both sides. They are well set up for catering as well (as you can see) and this would be a great room for hanging out between wedding and reception.

But alas, the venue is just not what the fiance or I had envisioned when we began talking about the wedding. It will work in a pinch, I suppose, and they do have openings in September. I just wish I could find an apple orchard that had this lovely room but was more out of the way (i.e. NOT on a railroad track) and all would be well.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Flickr Finds: "Street Life"

As a people, we all take to the streets. We drive, we bike, we run, we walk the streets of our own cities and cities that are not our own. But we sometimes forget to see the streets for the lively colonies that they are. The photographers who contribute to today's Flickr group strive to do just that.

In Street Life you can see...

A city's young workers (SHOESHINE BOY 01) by Tran Duc Tai

But, no matter what city, you should always see its streets. (Photo by Dom Cruz)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Location, Location, Location

Until recently, our venue requirements were basically outdoors and maybe in the vicinity of trees. Finding specific venues has involved a slightly larger challenge. Eventually I settled on three venues in this area that have weddings often. They are: Williamsburg Winery, Boxwood Inn in Newport News and the Chrysler Museum's Moses Myers House in Norfolk. We've only toured one of these places and unfortunately it wasn't quite what we were hoping for when we envisioned our wedding (There will be photos to come soon I hope. They are currently in the fiance's camera in his car.) Then the fiance pointed out that when we first started out, we wanted to be nontraditional and close to nature.

That's when I began thinking about more off-the-beaten-path places. And it dawned on me a few nights ago, why not a local farm/orchard/berry patch? I mean we both like to support local farming and they could have the right mix of nature and infrastructure (bathrooms/maybe buildings). And, since these places don't tend to be the first places people think about when planning a wedding, they could be really cheap.

Could you imagine a September wedding in an apple orchard? The trees? The colors?? The fresh apple smell???

Maybe I could go all out and honor one of my favorite fruits and design the wedding around it.

I was already thinking of offering caramel apples as a party favor. Maybe having a Make-your-own Caramel Apple bar would be fun.

Bags of apples make me think of childhood and fresh-from-the-farm fruit and apple pies. And those bags would make a fun twist on a party favor bag. Add your caramel apple and few fresh apples and take them home to enjoy later.

And apple cider is one of my absolute FAVORITE things about fall, my favorite season. The first place I had apple cider was at an apple orchard somewhere near Virginia Beach (when I was going to elementary school down there). Why not make it a drink offering (especially if it is a little chilly by then)?

Apparently, apples make great candid photos for weddings?

They can even act as a cake decoration. What can't apples do?

Now to find an apple orchard in this area that would not only allow a wedding, but have enough "infrastructure" (bathrooms, running water, electricity, etc.) to actually support a wedding. Then compare that to the first three ideas and see how it goes.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I've been thinking a lot lately. About my wedding and my relationships with my friends, and yes, even about how hilarious the new Big Bang Theory is. But what is ALWAYS in the back of my mind, simmering back there with the money issues and how much I want a dog, is what I want to do with my life. Every once in a while, it boils over and floods my brain with such extreme worry that it borders on anxiety, my shoulders tense up without me realizing it and suddenly I can't sleep at night, whether I'm being kept up by my thoughts or having vivid, distracting and disturbing dreams.
That's how my week has been.
It's not that I hate my job. If I get right down to it, I am thankful for my job. My schedule is such that I never rush to work. I work during the hours that I am naturally most awake and I get to flex creative muscles by designing pages and writing headlines. And I get paid and have benefits. I think I'd be in worse shape if I didn't have these factors in my favor.
But I still feel lost. I'm not doing what I always thought I'd be doing (writing) and I just feel like something is missing. I don't dislike my coworkers, but I'm not friends with any of them. And, I suppose, I don't feel like what I'm doing makes any meaningful difference.
All this comes together to make me consider abandoning journalism for a different field. I discovered a Web site where you can search for openings at nonprofits, and many of these organizations need people with my set of skills to come and widen their exposure to the public. I am beginning to feel that old excitement, of contemplating the possibility of changing my life for the better. I spend 8 hours a day at the workplace, I need to justify those hours doing something that I believe in. It's sad, but I have finally admitted to myself that I just don't believe in journalism anymore.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Asian food without the delivery

One of my favorite things to do on a day off is to order Chinese food and veg in front of the television with the fiance. Unfortunately, ordering out is getting expensive, so last night I decided to make chicken teriyaki. Sadly, I had no teriyaki sauce, but never fear good readers - food blogs to the rescue. Apparently you can make your own teriyaki sauce with a few basic ingredients that most home cooks have on hand. Deborah Harroun at Taste and Tell shows you (and me) how.

Teriyaki Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
5 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1-2 tablespoons honey
Chicken (or other protein)
Vegetables (whatever you want, but onions, carrots, peppers, broccoli and water chestnuts are a good mix)

First begin making your rice. As the rice is cooking, mix the first five ingredients together in a saucepan and bring to a boil. As the sauce is boiling, begin cooking chicken (or beef or pork or any other protein) with whatever mix of vegetables you prefer. Once sauce is at your desired thickness, bring heat down and cover. When the chicken is halfway done, add the half of the sauce. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked. When finished, spoon chicken-veggie mixture over rice and then pour a little of the reserved sauce on top.

*A few tips: The thing I hate most about teriyaki is how sickeningly sweet it tends to be. I cut that by halving the amount of brown sugar and adding a splash of vinegar and a few dashes of basic hot sauce (I have Cholula) into the mix. Deborah recommends thickening your sauce with cornstarch. I like a thinner sauce so I didn't bother with that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An answer only future me has

I bet you didn't think I would post today, making all the previous posts pointless since the whole idea of NaBloPoMo is to make it all the way through no matter what; to keep putting up posts, real ones that have a purpose not fake last minutes ones that are really a waste. Last time I did this, I did a lot of those pointless posts and in the end, I didn't feel nearly as accomplished as I do right now.
I am way more than halfway done and I am actually happy with what I've put out so far. All my posts are ones that interest me, that I have actually gone back and read over a few times.
For me, this NaBloPoMo was going to have a bigger purpose. With my job, there is a serious lack of real writing. Some say that the craft of headline writing is the biggest writing challenge there is. To not only convey meaning but to also entice the reader, all in generally less than ten words is a massive undertaking. But, it's still not real writing for me. Crafting words and organizing them into sentences, paragraphs and articles that come together to serve some higher purpose, that's what writing is for me. For one article I wrote for the Captain's Log it was to expose the purpose (and failures) of the teacher evaluation system. For an opinion piece I wrote I was finally writing about something I felt passionately about and in fact got the most feedback on. That was fun.
Headline writing, editing, even designing wasn't nearly as fun or satisfying as those few articles I wrote.
So, I was hoping, in this month, to inspire myself to come up with a higher purpose for this blog. I was hoping to come up with a theme, or overarching mission that would give me and readers a reason to keep coming back. Alas, with only days left and little inspiration for the rest of my posts, I still have no idea what this blog could be. And, therefore, what reason would I have to return and update it? Maybe all it really can be is just a public diary for me. Or maybe I will turn it into something else. Only future me knows that, and I am content to let her deal with that question when this month is over.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Introducing some friends

Can a I take a moment to introduce you to some people? These people are funny and dreamy and creative and stunning in their ability to update their blog daily, or at least often enough to make me jealous.
So I guess I should admit that I don't personally know any of the people I'm about to tell you about, but through their blogs I've gotten an idea of them, and I'd like, at the very least, to support their endeavors by asking you to take a second to look at their work.

Holly Becker is a writer and interior design consultant. Her blog was the very first blog that I discovered when I discovered the world of semi-professional blogging (by this I mean people who use their blog not to talk about every tiny thing they did that day or as a personal diary, but to share some of their expertise and experience with the world). decor8 is a blog about "fresh finds for hip spaces." For example, her Etsy Take Five Tuesday series is where she shares her discoveries of handmade objects from the people over at Etsy.

Pretty Good
Mary Swenson is a "self-taught photographer" who shares dreamy and fun photos of what she sees around her. Then she puts a message on the photo to describe it or her mood when taking that photo. I love this site because the photos are so lovely.

Smitten Kitchen
Deb is a New Yorker offering up "fearless cooking from a tiny kitchen in New York City." She's full of humor, fun recipes and gorgeous photos of food. Her's was the first food blog that I began to follow, and since then I've become slightly obsessed with the genre. My favorite recipe that I've attempted from her vast collection: Strawberry-rhubarb crumble. What I can't wait to try: Baked chicken meatballs, along with just about every recipe in her recipe index.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blogging: A conversation

Short and sweet, that's what today's post is, considering that I was super busy today and I'm currently at work.
But I think today's post is kind of important to me. See, I'm first and foremost a writer, despite my current job description. I enjoy crafting words together into something extraordinary, or at the very least interesting. But my favorite part of writing is sharing what I've written. Hence the appeal of blogging, since there is a factor of immediate sharing. I enjoy feedback. I want to know what people think of my writing, because in the reactions, opinions and critiques is where we learn and grow.
And so my dear readers, yes all 7 of you if my Followers list is to be believed, I ask that if you have any response to my posts, please join the conversation and leave a comment. For really, what is blogging but a long distance conversation? The lovely thing about Blogger is that you don't need a blog to comment on a blog. So, react, opine and critique away (Bet you didn't know there was verb form of "opinion" did you?).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Flickr finds: Abandoned

I love browsing through photos uploaded on Flickr. They are great when you find your creativity drying up and you need an inspirational boost to get out there and make your own art. Recently I discovered a group on Flickr called Abandoned, which is a group for people to upload photos of "places or things that have been abandoned." Here are some recent shots that I'm in love with:

Chai a vin by Guillaume Linard

Two Worlds by cwachtel

Abandoned Fire Truck by lovelifewinepictures

Pyestock flower by Bousure

Textile-033 by JAhNoszh

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A promise (but no pictures)

I recently promised to make canadian bacon-wrapped tilapia and share the recipe. I did manage to make it before my BJ's pack of tilapia went bad (I also did white wine braised tilapia and cumin-seared tilapia with that package of fresh filets).
Well, because I wanted to try something new and I had sort of ran out of ideas, I turned to the rich blogosphere and its wealth of food blogs. I found this recipe on Hope in the Kitchen. Her recipe for Bacon-wrapped Halibut comes from Rachael Ray, but she adapted almost as much as I did, based on the ingredients she had on hand.

Bacon-wrapped Halibut
4 6-ounce halibut fillets (I used tilapia)
salt and pepper
8 bacon slices (I used Canadian bacon, and I doubled the amount of meat)
3 tablespoons EVOO
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 10-ounce boxes frozen peas
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, a generous handful (I used dried)
Zest of one lemon (I used a few splashes of lemon juice)
3 tablespoons half and half or heavy cream (I used soy milk)
1 pint cherry tomatoes (I used 14 ounces of crushed tomatoes)
1 large garlis clove, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock, plus another 1/4 cup to reheat peas if necessary
1/2 cup fresh basil, about 10 leaves, chopped or torn

(1) Season the halibut fillets with the salt and pepper, going easy on the salt. Arrange 2 bacon slices side by side, overlapping slightly. Place one end of a halibut fillet on the edge of the bacon slices. Working a spiral fashion, wrap and roll the bacon around the fish, pulling gently on the bacon to make both ends up on the same side of the fillet. (This is prevent the bacon from unraveling as it cooks.) ***(My problem is that Canadian bacon comes in rounds, so I just did my best to wrap the four peices of canadian bacon around each fillet, and then securing with toothpicks)***

(2) Reserve the fish in the fridge while you get the smashed peas working.

(3) To a medium saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the EVOO, once around the pan, then 1 tablespoon of the butter and the onions. Saute the onions for 2 minutes, then add the frozen peas, and raise the heat a bit. Stir the peas to heat them through and allow the liquid to evaporate. When the peas are heated through, add half of the parsley, the lemon zest, half and half or cream (or soy milk), salt, and pepper to the pan and smash all together using a potato masher or fork. Turn the heat off and cover the peas with a lid or some foil to keep them warm.

(3) Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of the EVOO. Add the bacon-wrapped halibut to the hot skilelt, bacon-end side down first, and cook them for 2 or 3 minutes on each of the 4 sides. Don't turn the fillets until the bacon is crispy looking on each side.
(4) While the halibut cooks, start the seared cherry tomato sauce. Preheat a small skillet over high heat with the remaining tablespoon of EVOO; once it is screaming hot add the cherry tomatoes, season them with the salt and pepper, and sear them for 1 minute without moving them.

(5)Turn the heat down to medium and shake the pan, add the garlic, and continue to cook for 1 minute. Next, add the white wine and cook until it has almost completely evaporated, then add 1/4 cup chicken stock. Bring the sauce to a bubble and remove it from the heat. Add the basil and the remaining tablespoon of butter and stir them to combine and melt the butter.

(6) If the smashed peas need to be reheated, put the pot over medium heat, add 1/4 cup of chicken stock, and stir until the peas are steaming.

(7) To serve, spoon a portion of the smashed peas in the center of a dinner place, arrange a bacon-wrapped halibut fillet on top of the peas, and top it with some of the seared cherry tomato sauce and the remaining parsley.

Sorry about the lack of photos. If you go to Hope's site, you can find an approximate of what mine looked like. BUT, trust me when I say they were super delicious.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A lesson in (NOT) fear-mongering

So, one of the first wedding blogs I discovered after I got engaged was an entertaining and innovative site called The Offbeat Bride, which centers around breaking down the silly traditions that no one wants or remembers why they became traditions. It's about proving that your wedding CAN be what YOU want it to be, instead of what your mom wants or your overbearing grandmother wants, or what have you. Not that the blog dismisses people doing the normal wedding thing, as long as that's what the bride and groom wanted to begin with, it's all good with them.
I have had a lot of fun seeing other people have a lot of fun on their wedding day, on this blog and on other blogs. But once I got engaged, I also got hit with all the negative stereotypes about weddings and marriage from my friends, family and even just acquantances; everyone seems to want to share and become your sister (or brother) in the most terrible time of your life (that is wedding planning and your wedding day and even your basic life as a married individual).
Apparently I'm not the only one who has been victim of this fear-mongering, as Ariel, the author of Offbeat Bride, calls it. As she says in her witty analysis of this phenomenom of the Oh-you'll-seeeeee, when people constantly project their challenges on others and get angry when you don't get worried or decide just to not bother with that aspect all, "I think what goes unsaid (by the fear-mongers) is You HAVE to worry! It's what we're going to bond over, because bonding over hardship is awesome!"
I have to admit it's great to hear from someone who has been there that "it just doesn't have to be that way." I've heard so many negative things from so many other people, not just about the planning or the day, but about how love dies when you get married, or you get old and boring when you get married, or you will have kids when you get married (uh, not likely?). In any case, for everyone in any situation I think Ariel imparts a great truth in this part of her post:
"It seem that in our effort to find shared experiences, we turn to each other and tell awful stories about how hard it all is. And you know what? Sometimes it IS hard. Sometimes the wedding plans fall apart and relationships fall apart and it feels like our life is falling apart. But rather than tell the horror stories, why not share the lessons? Learn as much as you can and share the positivity of what you learned, rather than the shared grumping about didn't work."

Friday, January 15, 2010

A few flowers to get over this silly wintertime

Oh, if only spring would arrive and snap us all out of this sadness.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Movie review: "Wendy and Lucy"

For Christmas, my dad bought me "Wendy and Lucy." Little did he know I had been eyeing this film for months after seeing a trailer and reading a fairly positive review. His reason for purchasing it: "It's a girl and a dog on the cover. I figured, Beth will like this, right?"
I must admit, I decided to write a review of the film for today's post without watching it first, thinking it'd be a cinch. I've spent the last several hours trying to come up with the best way to adequately describe the film.

A gritty portrayal of a young person down on her luck, "Wendy and Lucy" is an independent film from Kelly Reichardt, starring Michelle Williams as Wendy and a gorgeous mutt as Lucy. But this movie was so much more than a film about hard times. It was a portrayal of life in small-town Oregon, as well as how humans react in the face of poverty. It is also, at it's very core, about a girl and her dog.
The film opens as train clacks by in the seeming wilderness. Our introduction to Wendy and Lucy is one of them at play, Wendy throwing a stick and Lucy romping around after it. It seems very innocent, until Lucy wanders off into a bunch of rough, outsiders around a bonfire. That's when you get your first close-up glimpse at the dirty face and worn clothes that Wendy is wearing. And so, in the first five minutes, Reichardt is able to easily and poetically put Wendy and Lucy's life of general poverty into a visual nutshell.
Wandering from town to town in search of work, the two have only each other when confronted by strangers and meager times.

Gut reactions
This, to me, seemed like the essence of the story: As Wendy and Lucy fall asleep in Wendy's broken down car, Wendy whispers, "Night, baby girl."
As I said, the film is first and foremost a poignant look at the love between a girl and her dog. Reichardt then steers it toward darker landscapes, as we are confronted with a grocery store clerk so set on doing right and following rules that he breaks the best friends apart, setting the real story in motion. You also glimpse the townfolk's reaction to this rough young woman sleeping in her car, the car repairman who is woefully ignorant of Wendy's troubles, the shifty homeless population that accosts the newcomer and (thankfully for the redemption of the human race) the congenial night guard who aids Wendy in her time of need.
In the end, if you're anything like me, you'll cry at the heartbreak, rage at the hypocrisy and smile at the small token of friendship that gives you the tiniest glimpse of the goodness we wish all people were capable of.
I think the beauty of the film lies in the grittiness of Reichardt's videography and lighting and in the gentle lesson that she lays out for the viewer, without shoving it down your throat. There's also a lovely circularity to the progression of the story, where the beginning is darkly mirrored by the events of the ending.

Bottom line
Watch it, but be prepared that it is not a happy-go-lucky film. And that is what's great about it, I think, that it's not the same old movie fodder we've been force-fed recently. But please soak up and enjoy the beginning. Because, even if you're nothing like me, I bet that when the film ends, you'll wish you could actually go back to the first five minutes of the movie, where a content Wendy is humming softly to her happy-go-lucky dog as they play fetch in the woods.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Enchantress of Florence: Less than enchanting

On several strong recommendations, I purchased the Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie back in July. By all accounts, this book would provide an engrossing escape with a thoroughly enchanting world and many engaging characters. I admit the world was beautifully described by Rushdie, not to the point that you felt you were in it, but his words left you with a sense that you were at a glorious art museum and had just fell into a bright, impressionist painting. Unfortunately, it took me four months to get past the first chapter, which I read several times simply because I would put it down and not want to pick it back up until I accidentally found it hiding under the bed in a layer of dust.

As a side note, this generally does not happen to me. With most books that I read, I find myself thinking about the book even when I'm not reading it, the realistic settings, the enchanting characters, and generally I can't wait to get home and fall back into that story again. Not so with "Enchantress."

In his latest novel, Salman Rushdie creates a world that connects disparate times, locales and infamous figures in a web that has the potential to be a great read. Admittedly, there are moments when you can lose yourself in the book, namely when you are finally privileged to hear the main character's tale that he has crossed oceans and continents to tell (the tale is the source of the title of the book, the so-called Enchantress of Florence).

Gut reactions

Unfortunately for Rushdie, he spends far too much time on trying to develop his frame story about a man who travels from America to Hindustan (India) to tell the king an important tale. Indeed, he spends far too much time on these secondary (in my mind) characters (the king and the traveller), while still failing to develop them as much as the characters we are allowed to glimpse in the book's inner tale (the enchantress, her companion and mirror and the men who love them).
I managed to begin reading "Enchantress" in earnest in mid-December. Now that it is mid-January, I am disappointed to say I finally finished it, and only because I needed something to do between loads of laundry. I would have much rather spent the whole time exploring the world of the Enchantress than to be rushed through it between descriptions of the traveller and the king.

Bottom Line
In the end, it will take a very positive review from a trusted individual to get me to pick up another Rushdie tale. Until then, I have several more promising books on my shelf waiting for my attention, including Sam Savage's "The Cry of the Sloth" and Dave Eggers' "The Wild Things."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Language skills

I don't really make New Year's Resolutions. I make to-do lists, or really, what-I-hope-to-do-this-year lists. That way, I can cross something off said list if I feel like I don't have time to accomplish it. Lists are a little more fast and loose than resolutions.
Unfortunately this had led me to put off one pretty major task on my rolling to-do list. This one has been on there since I was a junior in college.
I took one semester of Italian. I would have taken more, but I had a minor to think about and I didn't feel like I was learning much from the professor. So I didn't finish out the series, and instead recieved an Italian (Levels 1 and 2) Rosetta Stone set.

I was excited. I set out right away on lesson 1. Then I stopped for a year. A new year rolled around and it was time to update my to-do list. Again I restarted the program with lesson 1. Again I stopped. The pattern continued.
But this year might have changed that. I've finally moved on to lesson 2!. It might not seem like much to you guys, but it's a massive accomplishment for me. And I'm enjoying the program enough, and how much it's making sense to me, that I plan to finish it up. I hope that I will be partially fluent by the time I go to grad school, and that I will be able to fulfill the inevitable language requirements with a simple test. Here's hoping!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Eat your heart out Auntie Annie's!

I love nights off with the fiance, especially nights off when it's just the two of us being together. Usually we end up cooking something on said nights, and then curling up to watch a movie/or play the Wii. Saturday night was just such a night. We made Chicken scallopini with a spinach, ricotta and Canadian bacon (it's what we had) filling. We served it over whole wheat angel hair with a homemade zucchini-tomato pasta sauce. Then we took a nap. THEN the fun started.

In an attempt to make something dessert-like, I suggested making the box of pretzel mix that had been gifted to us for Christmas. We pulled out our new bread machine for it's inaugural use because we were both a little tired and lazy for the necessary kneading. So we dumped the ingredients in the bread maker, set it for dough and let it go.

After playing through several more worlds of Super Mario Bros. for Wii (soooo awesome), the dough had finished kneading and risen for 30 minutes. It was time to get our hands dirty.

The fiance divided the dough into 8 chunks while I mixed water and baking soda, and then we set about rolling out long tubes.

This turned out to be a pretty arduous process after we realized we didn't really have a clean space to roll them out and parchment paper was too darn slippery to offer the right surface. Alas, we rolled all 8 pieces in the air, which took a LOT of arm work. My muscles are still tired from the work.

But we eventually go to the part where we twist the dough tubes into pretty pretzel shapes. Which is more difficult than it looks. Mine all ended up with an extra twist in the twist part, and the fiance insisted on putting little nubs on the bottom of his (which bothered me, even though that's how pretzels are supposed to look). After dipping the shapes into the water/baking soda mixture (as per the instructions), we laid them out on baking sheets and tossed them into the oven.

Now, the fiance wanted plain salt pretzels and I wanted cinnamon sugar, but I also considered garlic and Parmesan cheese ones before settling on just cinnamon sugar (which were AWESOME). After they were done baking, we brushed them with melted butter and then sprinkled our preferred topping.

Then we chowed down with sparkling white grape juice (another Christmas gift) and episodes of The Big Bang Theory (hilarious).