Archive for October, 2009

30th October
2009
written by Steph

This dish may not look all that pretty, but I promise it tastes good!

This dish may not look all that pretty, but I promise it tastes good!

When the weather starts getting cold, I start craving comfort food – generally one pot dishes that you can fling together and let the magic happen without doing all that much to them.  The funny thing is that most of the traditional comfort foods (like mac & cheese, meatloaf, or yes, tuna noodle casserole), I never got to eat growing up!  My mom made meatloaf maybe once or twice, but the only mac and cheese I ever got was Kraft Dinner.  It was good – don’t get me wrong – but it was straight out of a box.  Don’t go thinking my mom didn’t like to cook or anything like that.  Far from it.  My mom’s a wonderful cook, but those kinds of foods just aren’t on her radar.  Growing up in Trinidad, her idea of comfort foods are things like cookup, curries, and maybe even blood sausage (but we won’t talk about that last one, that’s for sure.).  So for me, casseroles and the like are still kind of a novelty dish, as they didn’t make up the bulk of my childhood eating. Now, I don’t consider myself to be a picky eater, but one thing I really don’t like is tuna from a can.  It just really grosses me out; just thinking about its flaky texture makes me want to lie down.  I don’t think Tony’s aversion is quite as strong as mine, but he’s no fan either (isn’t it nice when your food likes and dislikes so neatly coincide with your significant other’s?), so while I can get behind the general notion of the tuna noodle casserole, I had to swap out that first ingredient with chicken breast (in theory I could have probably used that canned chicken you can buy, but when possible, I choose to not use canned meats… 😉 ).  But other than that, I stuck pretty closely to this recipe, which allowed me to circumvent using a can of condensed soup.  Don’t worry if you choose to make things easier on yourself and use this one as your basis instead – I promise not to judge! (more…)
29th October
2009
written by Steph
Someone's gotta do it!

Someone's gotta do it!

I still consider this little blog to be a fringe element when it comes to the world of blogging in general, and book blogging in particular, so it really was a flattering surprise when Trish from Hey Lady! Watcha Readin’? contacted me regarding reviewing something for TLC Tours.   Having never been part of such a thing, I thought it would be fun to try something new, so after perusing the selections for October/November, I signed up to read Looking After Pigeon by Maud Carol Markson. Looking After Pigeon is a thin novel, one easily read in a single afternoon (which is what I did).  It is a story told in retrospect – Pigeon as a grown woman has some serious scars and issues related to her past, and in an effort to move past them, she has undertaken the task of writing down the events of one summer, which she attributes as the source of all her relationship/commitment/general anxiety woes.  We learn that during the summer in question, Pigeon was just five years old, and it was this summer that her father up and abandons the family with no warning.  Consequently, Pigeon, her two siblings (Dove and Robin), and their mother move to a beach house on the Jersey shore.  This summer marks upheaval and dramatic change for the entire family, but ostensibly it is Pigeon who is affected most by the various events. (more…)
27th October
2009
written by Steph
Prepare to be astounded...

Prepare to be astounded...

After reading Nanny Returns in its entirety so that I could review it for the December issue of BookPage, I was in the mood for something a little less fluffy and a lot more substantial.  I guess as I’ve been working on bulking up my brain to deal with Classics and other meaty novels, I’ve kind of lost my tolerance for the chick lit genre.  I used to devour those books when I was a teenager, but now I find them fairly predictable with underwhelming writing.  I guess my recent trend has been to turn towards a new genre – specifically mysteries – when I am in hot pursuit of plot-driven stories, and feel the need to put my brain on cruise control (a plan which Dorothy L. Sayers soundly thwarted!). Well, for those of you who are similarly inclined, I warn you that The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster is anything but a passive read.  This was my first Auster and pretty much my mind was exploding and combusting throughout the entire thing, while I was frantically scrabbling about trying to pick up the pieces and get back on the narrative train.  I have pretty much decided that there’s no way for me to summarize any of the three novellas/short stories that make up this work, as a plot summary would fall so ridiculously short of capturing the heart of any of these pieces of fiction.   Also, it would probably be misleading to talk about the things that happen in these stories, because I kind of got the feeling that the plots (such as they were), were really just excuses for Auster to write about… non-plot things. Ostensibly they are detective stories, only they are driven by internal struggles and contemplations far more than they are by external factors.  Anything that happens in any of them does so merely to act as a catalayst to murky pontification on a myriad of subjects.  These are stories in which the things that happen are often confusing and befuddling, and maybe only important insofar as they illuminate and shed light on other things. Within The New York Trilogy, I would say Auster touches on topics of language, authors and authorship, identity, religion, solitude, and in the process manages to toss everything you thought you knew about fiction and narratives on its ear.  There is tons of metafiction going on here, which can be discombobulating, but also really illuminating.  This is the kind of book that while I read it, I wasn’t convinced that I fully got what was going on, but I still felt like my mind was expanding and that I was certainly gleaning something, however intangible and elusive it might be, from it. (more…)
25th October
2009
written by Steph

Spinach and Leek White Bean Soup... my way!

Spinach and Leek White Bean Soup... my way!

Until I started planning out our meals in detail, and vowed to cut out leftover dinners as lunches, I wasn’t a huge fan of soups.  They just never came across as very filling or very interesting to me, so I never really thought to make them.  BUT, I have since done a 180, and have come to see that soups can make a hearty and satisfying meal.  AND they’re cheap!  So cheap, I don’t have to feel bad about not getting up early to make sandwiches… I try to mix it up each week as to whether I’m making a thick, creamy soup, a lighter, brothy soup, or a soup with meat (or without).  To kick off the weekly cookalong, I decided to go with this spinach, leek and white bean soup, as it had relatively simple ingredients and managed to seem both light and hearty.  Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t deviate from the recipe, so here’s what I actually did: (more…)

24th October
2009
written by Steph
[Note: For those interested in skipping all this preamble and going directly to the mealplan, click here!] The Background When Tony and I got married, I went into overdrive when it came to our finances.  We sat down and tried to streamline everything and figure out what our basic required costs were (e.g., rent, car insurance, food, etc.,) as well as all the other little “extras” we indulge in (e.g., Netflix, phone, internet, gym memberships, etc.,), so that we could have a good working estimate of how much we have going out versus what we have coming in each month.  Even though it was stressful to sit down and talk money, it ultimately wound up being really good because it meant we could know without reservations or guilt how much we could spend on frivolous things, while still meeting our other financial obligations AND still putting some money away in savings each month. The one thing that threw a wrench in the works when it came to outlining our finances was our monthly grocery bill.  We had rough estimates, but we had no real sense of how much we spent each month on food.  Our estimates were roughly $400, but we had no idea.  So I decided to start logging each of our weekly grocery bills so that we could know for certain exactly how much we spend on food. (more…)
23rd October
2009
written by Steph
Today Tony turns... another year older! (I will leave it to him to share the not at all old number that he is turning, should he care to!)  To celebrate, we have orchestrated a weekend of extravagant proportions.  We started celebrating early last night by heading out to see a double header of Toy Story 1 & 2 in 3D at the Theater that Time Forgot (seriously, we were the ONLY people there... I get that it was a Thursday, but come on!).  We'd both seen the two movies before, but never in 3D, and having the theater all to ourselves meant we could do running commentary, which was actually a lot of fun.  We also got to see the trailer for Toy Story 3, and, well... I hope it is better than what was shown!  In my mind, Toy Story 2 is a lovely way to cap off the franchise and completes the full story arc that the movies aim to tell, but I will try to have faith in Pixar and assume they know what they're doing.  But here's the thing: remember in Toy Story 2 when Jessie is sharing her story (via the montage accompanied by Sarah McLaughlan warbling When Somebody Loved Me) about her time with her previous owner Emily and it was SO SAD? (As in, every time I see that scene, I possibly tear up!)  And the whole point there is that kids grow up and leave for college and their old toys get left behind and given away and that is sad?  But then Jessie gets saved because Andy always can do with new toys, and then we are happy!  But now in Toy Story 3, Andy is leaving for college and so the toys are given away to a day care!  Is this the story we really want to see?  OK, and even if that premise isn't somehow sad (I guess the upside is the toys are now making other children happy...), the jokes in the trailer are just not very funny, and that is a shame because generally speaking the Toy Story flicks are both heartwarming AND amusing.  See for yourself: (more…)
22nd October
2009
written by Steph
A long while back, a friend forwarded me a link to a page on Zappos where you could watch in real-time what shoes people across the United States were buying.  It was pretty fun to watch as I am a self-confessed shoe addict (I love shoes almost as much as I love books, and have lamented on several occasions that you can only wear one pair at a time), and it was also kind of amusing to watch how buying trends for certain parts of the country aligned with my preconceived notions about that region (e.g., lots of Birkenstocks being bought in California, snakeskin cowboy boots in Texas, pumas and adidas and similar track shoes in NYC, etc.,).  I believe the friend who sent it to me referred to it as "my kind of tv", and well, he wasn't wrong. Until now that is! Because now, The Book Depository is offering a similar peek into the lives of its patrons.  For me, this is pretty awesome since it revolves around books (duh!), but also because it's a globally accessed site, and so you can see what people ALL OVER THE WORLD are intending to read, all from the comfort of your own home.  In the brief time I've been watching, someone from Spain has purchased a book on Gymnastics, someone from Italy bought Beloved, someone from New Zealand bought Interpreting Contemporary Christianity, and someone else from Italy (I presume) bought Complete Chinese Knotting (I don't even know what that is).  I love the real-time updates and zooming all over the map as someone from some corner of the globe buys something new. Sigh.  And people wonder how I get by without cable. [For all your book voyeurism (or vicarious book buying) needs, check out The Book Depository Live.]
21st October
2009
written by Steph

Is it still bad if most of these were free?

Is it still bad if most of these were free?

Now before y’all go calling me on the fact that I’ve fallen of the wagon yet AGAIN, I’m going to point out that this month, I’ve only gone book shopping at the shelves at work.  Which means I didn’t pay money for most of the books I’m showing you here today, so don’t get all up in arms! (I say “most” because Tony was away on business and bought a book or two as a gift for me/us, which doesn’t really count, does it?  I was hundreds of miles away and had nothing to do with it!!!)  While I admit that I still have a problem when it comes to acquiring books – seriously, I’m reading as fast as I can in an attempt to make a dent in our stacks - doing so when they’re free is far less worrisome than when they’re not, right? So, as we’re almost done with October, this meant that the September shelves at BookPage needed culling to make room for new stock (I believe I replenished those barren shelves with February books), and I nabbed two books from there, but my big jackpot this month was the “finished books” shelves down in the foyer, where we display all the books that are sent to us in finished form that were not reviewed in the magazine.  These are free for anyone to take and ultimately get donated to a library every few months.  Normally a steer clear of these as I have my arms laden down as it is, but I stopped to snag a copy of Long Past Stopping by Oran Canfield as a gift for a friend who was down visiting us this weekend (said friend is a fan of Augusten Burrows, and when I paged through LPS a few months ago I immediately thought of him, and her!).  Since I was already there at the shelves, I did a quick perusal and consequently managed to find another seven books to bring home…  Here’s how it all broke down: (more…)
20th October
2009
written by Steph
Sing it with me: Start at the very beginning...

Sing it with me: Start at the very beginning...

When it comes to selecting our next reads, Tony and I are VERY different.  I suppose you could call me an intuitive reader – I get a strong sense of the type of book I would like to read next, and select a book I feel will best mesh with those feelings and desires.  Sometimes I want a sad book, other times a lighthearted one.  Sometimes I really want to challenge myself and slowly push my way through a tricky read, while other times I need something fun or straightforward.  For me, there is nothing worse than reading the right book at the wrong time.  For Tony, there is no such thing.  The right book is always the right book; he can make a mental list of the books he wants to read, and then steadfastly make his way through it in order with little concern for whether the tone of what he just read might complement or detract from his next read.  Perhaps it’s a function of having so many books, but sometimes the choices overwhelm me and I agonize over what to read next, but Tony can always happily pluck something from a pile and begin to read with a breezy sense of laissez faire.  I hate that! 😉 Anyway, my point is that for me, context is key, and I think Gaudy Night exemplifies this in a lot of interesting ways.  I was in the mood for something fun, and I haven’t read a fullblown mystery novel in a while, so I decided to give my first Sayers novel a whirl.  I can’t remember exactly where I first heard of her, but I do know that this particular novel is recommended in Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust and I also remember reading somewhere at some time that it is not necessary to read these novels in any specific order.  I’ve spoken before at length about how I’m particular about my detective fiction – I like novels from the Golden Age, and I really like my mysteries to be set in England – so really, Gaudy Night (which takes place at Oxford University in the 1930s) should have been just the ticket. (more…)
16th October
2009
written by Steph
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Ooooh... spooky!

After finishing Jane Eyre, I found my appetite whet for more gothic novels.  I’ve also been in the mood to read more female authors lately, as I realized that I have had a slight bias towards male authors this year.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I sometimes feel like female authors will write a gentler or more soothing novel, perhaps more emotional focusing on the inner life.  A broad brush for both sexes, I realize, but one of the reasons I picked up Jane Eyre is because I was feeling testosterone overload in my reading.  The issues in the books I was reading weren’t specifically male or anything like that, there was just something about the style and the slant that was mentally wearing me down.  I am probably not expressing this experience very eloquently or coherently, and I fully admit that I am perhaps more sensitive in my reading whims than others so I may be the only one who feels this way and picks up on the subtle nuances between male and female writers, but I guess all of this is to say that Dracula was out when it came to picking a spooky book!  But the immortal prince’s loss was Shirley Jackson’s gain, as this finally gave me the push I needed to pick up We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I realize this book has pretty much exploded around the book blogging stratosphere of late, especially with the R.I.P challenge in progress, so at this point I suspect there are few if any of you who are not at least aware of its existence.  I can’t say much about the plot of the book since this is one of those books where it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible, as Jackson slowly reveals information to you at just the right pace.  But the basic idea is that the Blackwood family has always been social outcasts amongst the small village in which they live, but this has only increased since the majority of them were mysteriously poisoned with arsenic one night, leaving behind young Mary Katherine (Merricat), her sister Constance (who was charged and acquitted for the murder of her family), and their ailing Uncle Julian.  Through Merricat’s eyes, we learn of how the two Blackwood sisters live an extremely isolated life, cut off from almost everyone except out of necessity.  Then one day, their cousin Charles shows up quite unexpectedly, and for one of the sisters, quite undesirably, and all of a sudden, the fraying threads that have been keeping their life in tact begin to break apart and everything begins to crumble… (more…)
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