Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recipe of the Week 2011 #13: Crisp Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies

Yeah, yeah. Another post about baking cookies (next week's will be, too. I'm trying out a new madeleines recipe that doesn't involve me trying to scoop honey into and out of a 1/3 measuring cup). Cookies are a big thing around here; Matt and his friends are always asking for them. I usually make my old standby, chocolate chip with toffee bits, but I sometimes like to mix it up a little. Since I love salty sweets (my current chocolate obsession is the Sea Salt Lindt bars), this recipe from Smitten Kitchen was quite appealing. The cookies turned out great, but I am pretty sure next time I will increase their crispiness by making them smaller. I did use more salt than called for, though.

Also, I still have hair. It's in a ponytail in this picture because I went to the gym today. Self-Defeat in Motion, they name is Lauren.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I finally got a chance to read this book yesterday/today, after over a month of waiting my turn in the library's hold queue! It nearly killed me.

As usual, later books in a series will be discussed behind a pagebreak. If you haven't read The Hunger Games and don't want to be spoiled, don't click it! I won't be spoiling the end of Catching Fire, though, so if you haven't read it yet, you can still read my review.










Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sideways!

Remember that scarf I swatched for a long time ago? I've finally made some decent progress on it:


I'm going to call it the Idiot-Proof Sideways Scarf. I'm going to knit two more, and then post the pattern.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Shortest Chart is Chart C

It's not much different from the last picture I posted, but yay for 3/4 charts being finished!


I suspect that Chart D will take forever. Lots of bobbles, and I'm fast approaching Critical Stitchcount, in which each row seems like an eternity

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book Review: The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I started The Sign of Four immediately after I finished A Study in Scarlet. It was pretty much more of the same: a typical Sherlock Homes mystery, but novel length. I enjoyed this one slightly more than A Study in Scarlet as the narrative unfolded in a more cogent, organized fashion, and the introduction of relevant characters was less haphazard and confusing.

The reader also gets a better idea of the nature of Holmes' and Watson's characters, including Holmes' coke habit, which definitely did not appear in the version of this novel I read when I was nine. One thing that never fails to tickle me about nineteenth century literature is the casual way in which doing cocaine and heroin derivatives (opium, laudanum, morphine, etc.) is treated. It's like a Brett Easton Ellis novel, but with less sex and swearing.

Anyway. This time, Holmes and Watson are tasked with finding a missing Indian treasure and returning it to its rightful owner, a young women with whom Watson falls in love with in short order. Doyle introduces a few new figures, including a florid detective and a passel of street children who run errands for him in addition to Watson's new love. I liked watching the world of Holmes and Watson expand, and the action was far more interesting. The characters are actually out doing things, rather than musing in a study.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I've been looking forward to reading Delirium ever since I read Before I Fall, which is written by the same author. The two books turned out to be very different; Delirium is a dystopian novel set in the possibly-distant, possibly-sooner-than-we-realize future, while Before I Fall takes place in the present day. While both feature teenage girls as protagonists, the characters and their struggles are dramatically different, as are the love stories that figure prominently in the respective novels' plots. Both books, however, are about freedom. Before I Fall is about the freedom to be who you are and the importance of treating others well, while Delirium is about having the freedom to feel.

Imagine a world in which there is no love or hate, and love has been pathologized into a disease: Amor deliria nervosa, symptoms of which include the expected fevers and sweaty palms as well as delusions, fits, and even death. The United States, in an effort to rid its population of the disease, has closed its borders, ordered citizens into cities, and either killed or imprisoned those who refused to undergo the mysterious Cure (as well as those for whom the Cure does not "take," and continue to experience the deliria anyway).

Lena, the seventeen-year-old protagonist, is only a few months away from her Cure, which is to take place on her eighteenth birthday, at the outset of the novel, and she eagerly looks forward to it. Her entire life, she has been emotionally and socially haunted by her mother's suicide, and believes that the Cure will ensure that she will be safe-- safe from her mother's untimely fate, and safe from the judgment of those who believe that her mother's actions have contaminated her. The Cure, as it turns out, (when it works, which isn't always) renders those who have had it immune to passion: they are incapable of love and hate, and drift through life in a contented haze. Lena desperately wants this, believing it will fix her conflicted feelings regarding her mother and enable her to lead a happy, normal life.

Lena's careful, safe world begins to fall apart on the day of her evaluation, in which she was to be interviewed by the scientists and bureaucrats responsible for both administering the Cure, assigning her to her higher educational path, and selecting her husband. Needless to say, they are all too aware of Lena's familial background, and the pressure both her family and Lena herself place on her is extreme. Her aunt drills her for hours, so that Lena will answer the questions as normally and inoffensively as possible. During the evaluation (which Lena is in the process of flubbing), a herd of painted cows stampedes through the facility. In the chaos, Lena sees a young man on a walkway above, laughing at the spectacle. She later encounters him while on a run with her best friend, Hana, and he confirms that the incident was the work of Invalids, un-Cured people who live outside of the electrical walls of the city and its laws. Soon, Lena has to decide between learning the dangerous truth and living out the rest of her life in a sanitized, safe lie, and must deal with the ramifications of her choice.

Delirium was really, really good. Oliver's knack for characterization is evident here as well as in Before I Fall. Even though I initially found Lena to be an irritating fraidy-cat, I grew to sympathize and love her over the course of the narrative, and enjoyed the way in which her character and her relationships with her family, Hana, and Alex played out. Beyond that, I found the idea of a world in which love is considered a serious disease to be intriguing, and especially appreciated Alex's take on things: that love and hate are not the most dangerous feelings: indifference is, as that is what causes people to lose their humanity and to treat one another terribly. Oliver does an excellent job depicting the callous brutality that underpins the safety of Lena's world.

Obviously, I'm looking forward to the sequel. 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

FO: A Pogona for me!

After finishing the one I made for Abby, I decided to make one for myself:


I used Sanguine Gryphon Little Traveller yarn in the Valparaiso colorway. Since it has more yardage than the purple mystery yarn, it turned out a little bit bigger.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Recipe of the Week 2011 #12: Pimiento-Style Mac&Cheese

Yet another Bon Appetit baked pasta recipe from the March 2011 issue. The cover promised that it's the BEST MAC AND CHEESE EVAR, and while I liked it quite a bit, there are a few things I'd do differently next time:

  1. Not blend the Peppadew peppers. I like my flavored macaroni with a little more texture.
  2. Use a full-sized box of pasta, and increase the sauce slightly by adding 30% more cheese and maybe some milk. 
  3. Skip the breadcrumbs. I know some people think they're critical on mac and cheese, but I'm not a fan. Mine always seem to get overly hard and crusty.
In better news, you can see the new spice rack Matt made me in the background.I am very enthused about finally having some counter space, even though it didn't earn Matt any points from my dad. Apparently, any sixth-grader can put in a wall spice rack (except for me when I was that age. I would have nailed my fingers together). Fortunately for Matt's Boyfriend Score, he successfully wired and programmed a digital thermostat last night. 

I am hereby finally caught up with my recipe of the week endeavor! Sadly, I'm about eight book reviews behind. Remember how I was going to read nothing but Vanity Fair until I got caught up? I had a seizure in the New Books section of the library and checked out five more. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review: Naughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

I picked up Naughts and Crosses at the library a few weeks ago after reading positive reviews of it on amazon.com. I think it's safe to say the 2011, in addition to being the year in which I read a bunch of Victorian literature and classic feminist works, is the year where I read a whole bunch of dystopian young adult novels. So far, I'm enjoying the trend, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time before I tire of them and seek out something a touch more "serious."

Naughts and Crosses is typical of the genre in many respects. It tells of a friendship that blossoms into love between two members of opposing castes: Sephy (short for Persephone) is a Cross, while Callum is a Naught. Brought together by happenstance (Callum is the son of Sephy's nanny), their friendship endures after Callum's mother is unfairly fired by Sephy's family. As a member of the uppercrust of Crosses, Sephy isn't supposed to associate with Callum, but she can't seem to stop herself. Callum faces similar social pressures; his father and older brother have joined a militant group of Naughts who engage in domestic terrorism against the oppressive Cross regime, and they dislike his desire to attend a Cross school and remain friends with Sephy. Sephy and Callum find themselves caught in the middle of a violent social struggle.

The interesting thing about Naughts and Crosses is that its dystopia is racially inversed: Crosses, who rule the world, are black, while Naughts, who are only fifty years out from being slaves, are white. Visualizing the characters was sort of weirdly difficult for me; I had to keep reminding myself that Sephy was black and Callum was white, not the other way around. It's a sad commentary on the pervasiveness of racism in the human consciousness (and literary mind): no matter how progressive my politics may be, the idea of black people oppressing white people, even in a fictional context, kind of breaks my brain.

It was disorienting, but in a good way: band-aids are "flesh-colored"-- darkly, and stand out in stark contrast against the Naughts' skin, fashion magazines feature only black women, and Naughts are considered soulless because of their lack of color, or skin pigmentation. Religious texts and history books downplay the significance of Noughts and their contributions to society, and they are continually subjected to economic and social oppression. It was really interesting to see what a racist society in which whiteness is discriminated against might look like, and what being on the receiving end of it might be like. In light of the brain-twistiness that reading this book caused me (and, apparently, a lot of other people), I think it would make a really good movie.

3.5 out of 5 stars. There are apparently a few sequels, but I don't think I'm going to read them. I liked the way Noughts and Crosses ended so much that I'll pretend like it's a stand-alone novel.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review: Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein

One of my facebook friends recommended this book a couple of weeks ago. I'd purchased Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine back in December and had been intending to read it for a while, but Cinderella Ate My Daughter proved slightly more appealing: it's much shorter and focuses heavily on pop culture analysis, both of which are qualities I like to see in books. Don't get me wrong, I fully intend on reading Delusions of Gender, but it's three hundred pages of theory. WAAAAH.

Anyway. I liked this book quite a bit, as it confirmed some things that the cynical part of me had been suspecting for a while (mainly, it doesn't matter how gender-progressive your house is. Your son can play with Barbies, your daughter can play with dump trucks, but it will all go out the window the second they start school or daycare and encounter the children of less enlightened parents, who will inevitably bully and shame them into adopting traditionally gendered behavior. It has happened to my friends, it happened to Orenstein despite her best efforts, and if I have kids, it will almost certainly happen to me. Sigh) as well as providing a lot of valuable information about Princess Culture. I was born in 1984, so I was sixteen and well past the age of being obsessed with Disney cartoons when the Princesses line launched in 2000, which meant I dodged that particular bullet.

I use that language deliberately. As a child, I always felt like an outcast because I didn't really like to play with dolls (I had an American Girl doll that I loved, but Kirsten came with books). I preferred reading, playing with stuffed animals, and exploring outside to dressing up, having tea parties, or pretending that I was a character in Disney movie playground re-enactments (especially since all the "good" characters were boys). My little sister (Hi, Linds!), on the other hand, was a permanent resident of PrincessLand and loved all of the things I hated. I am very, very thankful that we were born in 1984 and 1986 rather than 1994 and 1996, because I surely would have had to deal with way more princess-related games, tea parties, movies, and costumes than I did (with god as my witness, I will never play Pretty Pretty Princess again). I'm also glad that I didn't have to deal with all the extra imposed femininity that would have been thrust upon me by friends and classmates had the Princesses been a thing back then.

Orenstein's journey into the Land of Princesses began when her daughter, Daisy, started preschool and all of her carefully constructed gender neutrality was laid to waste by one kid telling her daughter that, "Girls don't like trains!" when she showed up on her first day of pre-school with a Thomas the Tank Engine lunchbox. There commenced Orenstein's off-and-on conflict with girlie-girl culture, punctuated by skirmishes over lunchboxes, fairy Barbie dolls, and, of course, Princesses. Many of the issues that Orenstein has with the Princess phenomenon reflect thoughts I've had on the subject while babysitting and shopping for friends' children. Beyond the fact that gender stereotyping of children is inevitable unless you're willing to raise them in a remote cave, Princesses appear to be the gateway drug of the more sinister girlie culture of tweendom and adolescence (she also discusses Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, and other "princesses" who are geared towards older girls), which encourages young women to predicate their value upon their relative hotness factor, which, in turn, leads to the anti-aging neuroses of adulthood.

Orenstein does a really great job examining the pop cultural appeal of Princess culture as well as delineating its potential negative effects on the self-esteem of young women. I enjoyed her down-to-earth, anecdote-laced style quite a bit. Despite being obviously passionate about the issue as well as something of an expert on the habits of girls, Orenstein manages to convey a great deal of sympathy towards more Princess-friendly parents as well as her own fallibility where raising her daughter is concerned (as it turns out, Wonder Woman is also a princess). Cinderella Ate My Daughter, while heavy at times, isn't preachy or sanctimonious. Ultimately, Orenstein argues that using media savvy, conversations, and teachable moments can help to counteract prevailing influences.

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It occasionally occurs to me...

...that I am pretty much destined to be awkward and not fit for polite company.

Case in point: this morning, at work, when I made (to my mind, anyway) a truly hilarious joke about Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and my sad inability to be two places simultaneously, and was rewarded with a blank stare. Call that one an epic human interaction fail.

I don't like to talk about this much, because most people's response to "Man, being smart sucks" is usually "Cry me a damn river," and I can understand that. It's kind of insensitive to complain about being smarter than everyone when said everyone would really like to be able to read at a rate of one hundred-plus pages an hour (and still be able to retain everything), not have to study, and to *get* things faster. At the same time, though, being able to do these things is pretty damn overrated.

Especially if you're a girl.

Even more so if you're a physically attractive girl.

It's like the whole world expects you to be a moron, and is stunned into silence when you can string a compound-complex sentence with multiple three-syllable words together. Sure, it's fun to make people look like jackasses the first hundred or so times, but over the course of months, years, decades, it really starts to wear thin. The expectations of idiocy bring you down, and you tire of constantly having to prove yourself to people. Once, in college, someone referred to me as a "nerd groupie" because I had gone out with a series of engineering students.

I was smarter than all of them.

I made better grades than they did, in a harder major.

Without studying at all.

I graduated with double honors (Latin and Departmental).

None of them did.

But since I was a girl and a humanities major (Oh, no! A stereotypically feminine discipline!), I was deemed a groupie.

Insulting, yeah? Imagine a lifetime of that. Of being expected to underperform, to be less than, to be a "hard worker" (I am many things. This is not one of them), to be something just below truly brilliant, all because of some idiotic interpretation of biology. Throw in my religious upbringing (women are inferior to men, you're worthless if you're not a virgin when you get married, blah blah blah), and it's pretty obvious why I wound up becoming a feminist and an atheist. I didn't have much of a choice in the matter; it was either deny who I was, or reject everything I was raised to believe. I chose the latter.

It wasn't much of a choice, honestly.

I know that many choose the misery they know over the unguaranteed shot at happiness, but I guess I'm not wired that way.

Either way, choosing to be myself has brought both happiness and sadness, in the long run. I've been dumped or not-asked-on-a-second-date by guys who were intimidated by my education and intelligence more times than I can count (when men say they want a smart girl, they are lying 90% of the time. What they want is someone who is juuuuuuust quick enough to keep up with them, to get their jokes, but not someone who is their superior in any way). I've probably unintentionally alienated a similar number of people (and been alienated by even more. I hate reality TV!). At the same time, I have my freedom, and I'm not voluntarily crushing myself under the weight of what other people think I should be-- and, despite all apparent odds, I've managed to find a number of friends (and a certain guy I'm dating) who love me for who I am. Weirdnesss, strange humor, philosophizing, and all.

Nevertheless, I don't relate well to most people, and that causes me a lot of angst most days. Which is what it all comes back to, my inability to have a normal conversation in which I don't say or do something that makes me look like a jackass who lords how smart they are over others. I don't do it on purpose, I really don't. It just doesn't always occur to me that not everyone has read Copenhagen, or sees the conflict in the notion that pleasant sounds connote a pleasant meaning in the context of the word "pulchritude" (sounds awful, yeah? It means beauty), or spends their free time contemplating the relative merits of existentialism and pragmatism. I don't even know what regular people think about. No clue. Seriously. So there's this giant cognitive and experiential gap that I have no way of bridging, and it invariably leads to me feeling like a giant douche.

And that's why I'm shy and don't like to talk to new people. Here endeth the lesson.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

VICTORY!

I got into grad school! I'll be starting in August.

Can't wait.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

I'm sort of annoyed with myself for checking the second installment of Scott Westerfeld's new series, Behemoth, out of the library so quickly. I had other stuff to read (mainly from certain neglected challenges) and the final novel, Goliath, won't be published until October, and depending on how long it takes the library to obtain a copy, I may or may not be reading it until November or December. Meanwhile, I'm sort of dying to know how it ends.

I was torn on how to review this book, as the series is relatively new and I can't talk about the second book without spoiling the ending of the first (and I don't like doing that). So, in the interest of not being That Jackass who posts spoilers of new-ish books in their review, I'm going to use blogger's handy page-break feature to hide the rest of this review. Spoilers behind it, click at your own risk.

(I intend on doing this when I review the next installments in The Hunger Games series and for any other books in a series.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Recipe of the Week 2011 #10: Matt's Mom's Casserole Thing

I occasionally do the unthinkable.

I listen to pop radio.

I drink out of season wine.

I wear clothes that don't match (okay, I actually do this a lot).

Yesterday, I made dinner from a recipe I got from Matt's mother.

I generally have a strict policy with regards to recipes from my significant others' parents, and it goes something like this:
NO.
I have my reasons. First, no matter how exactly you follow the directions, it's never going to taste the same, or as good. The not-the-same factor multiplies exponentially with the parent in question's tendency to "just throw some things together" in unquantifiable amounts or to use the low-fat version of things (I refuse on principle, and it usually doesn't even occur to me that that's what was used originally until after my recreation has been pronounced "richer or something"), particularly if the recipe involves a lot of dairy products. This inevitably leads to fear of culinary inadequacy or resentment (especially of the low-fat icky dairy version "tastes better").

My second and third reasons are that I am a fairly picky eater, despite my culinary adventurousness, and therefore will not make a number of recipes on principle. I tend to be sort of self-conscious about this, so it's a lot easier on me to say no to making mom's recipes than it is for me to admit that I refuse to eat meatloaf, peas, or carrots. Then there's the matter of food I find repugnant for other reasons. Case in point: the hamburger soup my most recent ex suggested I make, which featured undrained ground beef, canned tomatoes in water, a few pasta shells, and a whole block of Velveeta. "You can add ketchup to make it thicker." I'm pretty sure that counts as an abomination to god and man, and I don't even believe in god.

Much like there's no nice way to ask someone if they're high, there's no way to inform a dude that his mother's cooking skills are obviously lacking without landing yourself in some kind of trouble, either immediately (he gets mad because you think fake cheeze steeped in beef grease and tomato water is the most revolting soup base ever) or on down the line (when he decides to apprise his mother of your opinions concerning her cooking abilities). Unwise.

Anyway. I made a recipe from Matt's mom. It had noodles, cheese, cream of mushroom soup, morningstar patties, onions, and breadcrumbs. He said he liked it. I said that I hated cream of mushroom soup. And that was that.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

I've been meaning to read The Devil in the White City for about six years. One of my ex-boyfriends (the first and last time I dated a fellow English major) from (another) college had to read it for a class, and he raved about how good it was. While I didn't generally cotton to his taste in literature, the fact that he was reading non-fiction was remarkable enough to where I figured it had to be good. I was going to borrow it from the library at my university, but then I became an upperclassman and stopped having anything that remotely resembled free time. No pleasure-reading for me. After graduating, I was so burned out that I didn't read anything at all for about two years. Now that I've gotten back on track, though, I've finally been able to read this book.

In a way, I'm glad it took me this long to get to it. I didn't read a lot of literary non-fiction back in the day, so I'm not sure I would have appreciated it as much. It's funny; in college and high school, all I read was canon and almost-canon and canon-critique-of-canon (and so on and so forth; literary criticism on the subject makes meta seem like an extreme sport). All literature, all the time, and now I mostly read non-fiction and YA novels, and not because I've run out of serious literature to read Trufax: I've never read a Jane Austen novel. Blame Elizabeth Barrett Browning: I hated Aurora Leigh with the fire of a thousand suns, and every. single. person. in that class who loved it went on and on about how much it was like Austen novels, which they also adored.

I'll get over it and read one eventually. Maybe.

As for The Devil in the White City, there was a lot to enjoy about it. This sort of surprised me, as I tend to not be a fan of the true crime genre (I tend to encounter enough awful things and people in real life, thanks) or carnivals or books about architecture (Thanks, Ayn Rand), so I didn't think an interwoven tale of a serial killer, a madman, and the Chicago World Fair, Larson does an amazing job keeping all of his plates spinning, as it were: the book involves three major simultaneous narratives and several smaller concurrent narratives, along with a multitude of references to other bits of history playing out at that point of time. He weaves them together in a highly organized and cogent, yet organic manner. His descriptions are vivid without becoming lurid, and the same can be said for his depiction of the personalities involved. It's obvious Larsen went to great lengths to keep his work as historically accurate as possible; people speak only in attributable quotations, and his footnotes are meticulous. All of these contributed to a positive reading experience.

5 out of 5 stars. Yeah, I liked it that much.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Neglect.

In the last few weeks, I've been spending so much time reading that I haven't gotten much knitting. Part of that is due to a certain lack of new episodes of my favorite TV shows (and the fact that you can only watch old episodes of Daria so many times), and the rest of it is that my motivation to make warm things kind of goes out the window when the weather finally starts to warm up again. I've been working on a second Pogona for weeks now, and I still have a fair amount of yarn left:

I will try to be finish it. And will work on it while watching old episodes of Arrested Development.



"I thought he just really liked cutoffs."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Buried!

It has officially gotten to the point where I am five books behind in writing my reviews in addition to having enough completed reviews to last until April. To remedy this situation by giving myself enough time to catch up, I have started reading Vanity Fair by Thackeray. It's 672 pages of Victorian novel, so it should take at least five days for me to complete (reading ninety minutes at a time at the gym), starting on Monday.

I need to either acquire more motivation for finishing books reviews or get a life. Either way.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

When I was reading reviews of Before I Fall (by Lauren Oliver, reviewed by me here), If I Stay cropped up a lot. It seemed that many people who liked one enjoyed the other, so I decided to check it out of the library. It was a very quick read, as it's only 208 pages long. I finished it in under two hours.

The story is quite simple: on a snowy day, Mia goes on a drive with her family to visit their friends. On the way there, their dilapidated station wagon is involved in a crash with a much larger vehicle. Mia's mother, father, and younger brother are killed, and she goes into a coma. While comatose, Mia has an out-of-body experience that enables her to watch her friends and family as they come and go through her hospital room. She realizes that it is up to her to decide whether to stay on earth with them or to join her family in death. The novel revolves around her considerations; scenes from her hospital room are interspersed with flashbacks in which she weighs what she'd rather have: her life, or a shot at being with her beloved family.

While If I Stay was enjoyable and well-written, I didn't like it as much as Before I Fall. I think a lot of my reasons for being sort of "eh" about it boil down to my delicate sensibilities. While Forman is sex-positive and portrays feminism in a positive light throughout the book, Mia reminded me overly much of Bella from Twilight. She's sort of pitifully obsessed with her boyfriend, and after about fifty or so pages, it becomes really grating. I also had a hard time relating to him as a character; he consistently seems too good to be true. Other characters were far more well-rendered and three-dimensional, so the whole teen dream post-punk grunge rock star thing was jarringly flat. I also feel that If I Stay, while complex, lacked a lot of the depth that made Before I Fall so great. Also, the ending was really predictable and verged on being cheesy and saccharine.

All told, I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Recipe of the Week 2011 #9: Lasagna with Turkey Sausage Bolognese

Lasagna is one of my favorite foods. It's hard to go wrong with cheese-layered pasta with a nice red sauce. I've made several over the years using various ingredient and cheese combinations, but I've never achieved lasagna nirvana-- until yesterday. The March 2011 Bon Appetit has an entire section on baked pastas, which I'm a total sucker for, and I've been working my way through them. I made a parsnip tortellini thingamawhatter last week that turned out okay (but not as good as I'd hoped). This recipe, however, made up for all the tortellini dish lacked. I liked it so much, I'm re-posting it (with the few alterations I made).

 Lasagna with Turkey Sausage Bolognese


Ingredients


Olive oil
1/2 cup dry, white wine
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes in heavy puree
2 cups diced onions
minced garlic to taste
1 cup chopped fresh basil, OR four tablespoons dry basil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano, OR 1 tablespoon dry oregano
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 pound turkey sausages, spicy Italian style
2 large eggs
1 15-oz container ricotta cheese
4 cups mozzarella cheese, divided
1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese, divided

Directions

  1. Place noodles in a large bowl. Cover with hot water. Soak for 20-30 minutes, or until floppy. Drain.
  2. Heat oil over medium heat. Saute onions and fennel until soft.
  3. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage and garlic. Saute until sausage is cooked through, breaking it up into small pieces.
  4. Add wine. Boil 1-3 minutes, or until alcohol has evaporated off.
  5. Add tomatoes, half of the basil, and oregano. Bring sauce to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Allow the sauce to simmer until it thickens to desired consistency.
  6. In a large bowl, mix ricotta, three cups of mozzarella, one cup of parmesan, two eggs, and the rest of the basil. Divide into three portions.
  7. Assemble lasagna: in a 9x13" casserole dish, spread 1.5 cups of sauce on the bottom. Place four noodles on top of sauce. Carefully spoon one portion of ricotta mix onto noodles. Spread 1.5 cups sauce on top of the cheese mixture. Place four noodles on top of sauce. Repeat italicized instructions twice. Pour any remaining sauce on top of the last layer of noodles, then cover with leftover mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
  8. Bake at 375F for 40-50 minutes, or until the cheese on top is bubbly. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I read the entirety of this novel on the elliptical machine at the Y. Sure, I was there a while, but A Study in Scarlet is only one hundred or so pages, and is very easy to read (despite the prevalence of GRE words. Good thing I remember those). And yes, I read while I'm working out. It's the only way I can handle the monotony of standing on a machine and moving my legs for any length of time, especially since the machines at the Y do not have individual television sets on them. I learned the fine art of reading on exercise equipment when I was in college. It was either read on the elliptical, or not exercise at all. My nook really helps with this; I can make the font size larger so I can still read the text even if I'm moving. Look, Ma! No headaches!

I selected A Study in Scarlet because, despite having read a lot of the shorter Sherlock Holmes mysteries as a kid, I'd never read any of the novels. The 2011 Victorian Literature Challenge I'm participating in has given me the opportunity to go back and read Doyle's longer works, and I'm probably going to re-read some of the shorter ones as well. I'm not 100% sure I read the originals or the censored, watered-down kiddie editions when I was younger (I was sort of astonished by the unedited Huck Finn I read in high school), either.

A Study in Scarlet is the first Sherlock Holmes mystery. So, much of it is devoted to introducing the main characters, Holmes and Watson, and detailing their backgrounds, how they come to meet, and laying the framework for their interactions with one another as well as how future adventures will unfold. For those familiar with Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet unfolds in the usual way; it's simply a novel-length version of the shorter mysteries. After introductions are made an backgrounds are elucidated, Holmes and Watson find themselves recruited by the police to solve two perplexing murders involving a poisoned man, a German revenge note, and a woman's wedding ring. Once Holmes apprehends the culprit, he launches into an extended narrative of why and how he committed the murders. I liked the narrative within a narrative format, even though it was a little confusing in the way it was presented.

We'll give this one 3 out of 5 stars. Enjoyable, but sort of shallow.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Book Review: Broke, USA by Gary Rivlin

Reading books about the working poor tends to have a negative effect on my headspace. Reading Nickel and Dimed sent me into a state of simmering righteous anger that lasted...oh, five years and counting, occasionally boiling over whenever I happened to be in the presence of people who insist that the poor "just need to work harder." It's also why I think everyone in the United States should be forced to spend six months either waiting tables or working a minimum-wage retail job and have to live off their income. It's an attitude adjustment I think a lot of people could use.

I learned a lot at Vanderbilt, but what I consider the most important lesson I received took place in Dining Services, where I worked part-time in exchange for $6 an hour and a free meal plan. Most, if not all, of my co-workers were solidly working-class, and often worked two jobs to support themselves and their families (unsurprisingly, Vanderbilt didn't, and, to my knowledge, still doesn't, pay low-level employees a living wage). My involvement in the living wage campaign on campus was the inevitable result of a number of conversations with my coworkers, who couldn't make ends meet no matter how hard they worked. It was there that I learned about how things like pawnshops, cash advances, payday loans, instant tax refunds, and auto title loans worked: my coworkers would mention in passing, "Oh, I have to run by Charlotte after work to pick up my TV," or "I need to stop by the check cashing place to pay my loan back."

It's a sign of my middle class background that I didn't know what these institutions were or how they operated. Because while my family was definitely broke when I was growing up, my parents were of a social status to where they had access to banks and bank loans, and didn't use payday loans or pawnshops to make up the difference. So while I'd seen check cashing places and pawn shops dotting the strip mall landscape of South Knoxville, I'd never been in one or really knew how they worked. It wasn't until I actually knew people who used these services that I realized how prevalent and how exploitative they were.

Broke, USA supplemented my knowledge on this subject greatly. Rivlin depicts the rise of the so-called poverty industry: pawn shops, check advance companies, car title loaners, rent-to-own furniture and appliance centers, and, of course, subprime mortgage lenders. Tracing the roots of these industries to the individuals who founded them, Rivlin reveals the corrupt, exploitative nature of the industry that held state legislatures in their back pockets for far too long, ultimately detailing the numerous ways in which the poverty industry has harmed all of society, not just the working and lower-middle classes. Rivlin excels at putting human faces on the main players in the war over Big Poverty, and provides a cogent narrative of what caused the economic meltdown of 2008.

4 out of 5 stars. I highly recommend this book for those looking for an understanding of the subject matter.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Recipe of the Week 2011 #8: Tortellini Gratinata with Mushrooms and Parsnip "Bechamel"

I got this recipe from the March 2011 Bon Appetit. I didn't recall having ever eaten parsnips, so I was pretty excited to try this recipe. I didn't modify anything, but I'm pretty sure that if I make it again, I'll mix the faux-bechamel sauce into the pasta before baking it. The recipe said to spoon in on top, but it didn't migrate its way downward the way I would have preferred. It still tasted pretty good, though!

(I need to figure out more creative ways to photograph my casserole dish.)

(Oh, and I also got busted for melting the spoon mentioned here. I didn't toss it fast enough.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

In Which I Knit with Worsted Weight Yarn

I don't do a lot of that (knitting with needles bigger than US 7-8 makes my hands hurt), but I was recently gifted a giant box o'yarn by a local knitter who was downsizing her stash (thanks again, Emily!) that contained five skeins of Jamieson's Soft Shetland in a light mossy green. I had no idea what I was going to do with it until I saw Jared Flood's Juneberry Triangle design, which can be knitted with both light and heavyweight yarn.

I'm using size 8 needles, and though this yarn is more aran than worsted, I still think it will block out nicely once it's finished. So far, I have completed Chart A (leaving B, C, D, and the edging). The way the charts are written, however, I will need to have a printed hard copy in order to knit them without losing my mind. So it's going on hold until tomorrow, or whenever I can get Matt to print it for me. It's looking like it will knit up fairly quickly, which is exciting, even though I likely won't be able to wear it for a while. It seems that spring has arrived early this year (*knock on wood*).

Friday, March 4, 2011

Book Review: A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen

A Doll's House is the fourth book of the Classic Feminist Literature Challenge I've been working my way through. I wasn't initially sure what to expect from it, given that I don't read a whole lot of plays (I'm a high school theatre survivor) these days, and I had never heard of it before. The copy I checked out from the library had a plain, off-white cover with no description or pictures on it, so I took the plunge and started reading.

I wound up enjoying it quite a bit! It only took me about thirty to forty-five minutes to get through, since it's only fifty-four pages long. It is a little dense in spots, though, but that's typical of plays. It actually reminded me of The Importance of Being Earnest, though it was more social commentary and less satire. Both Wilde and Ibsen highlight the inequalities of marriage and other social relationships between the sexes masterfully. That's where the similarities end; The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy, while A Doll's House is very much not. Wilde conveys his opinions through mocking, irony, and sarcasm, whereas Ibsen reveals a handful of truly crappy scenarios which are the direct result of women being legally under the control of men.

I was strongly reminded of The Subjection of Women as I read A Doll's House, as well. Mill went into great deal detailing the number of ways in which the marriage contract could hurt or damage women, and the reader sees two of them play out in A Doll's House. Christine, the friend of Nora, the protagonist, has been left destitute as a direct result of her husband and father's deaths. Her father died young, leaving Christine's ill mother and two younger brothers with little support, a situation that necessitated Christine marrying for money, rather than love. Unfortunately, Christine's husband's money virtually evaporates, and while she was able to care for her mother until her death and her brothers until they were old enough to make their own way in the world, she ultimately was left penniless with no source of income and forced to work a series of odd jobs that were not enough to live off of, which leads her to beg a job from Nora's husband, Torvald. Her experiences exemplify the precarious nature of women's social and economic status at that point in time.

Nora, on the other hand, experiences Wollstonecraft's gilded cage: she is continually condescended to by her narcissistic husband, who confines her to the domestic sphere. As I read, I couldn't help but note that Nora was probably exactly the sort of woman Wollstonecraft detested: superficial, flighty, uneducated, and perennially self-absorbed-- and made such by the men in her life, who refused to educate her or allow her any real agency. That's what gets her into trouble: since she is unable to take out a loan in her own name, she is forced to forge a bond-note using her father's information when the family fell on rough economic times some years ago. When the man who loaned her the money threatens to rat her out to her husband, her entire world unravels. It doesn't matter that her circumstances were patently unfair or that she had only the best of intentions; her actions left her wide open to blackmail.

Apparently, this play generated so much controversy that Ibsen was pressured into changing the ending to be more palatable. Commenting on the negative aspects of marriage was evidently not something that went over well with polite society. Interestingly, Ibsen based the play off of an incident in the life of a friend, Laura Kieler, who reportedly did not appreciate being known as "The woman from A Doll's House." While she eventually became a fairly well-known author in her own right, the play continued (and clearly continues) to overshadow her work. Ibsen appropriating her experiences seems sort of sketchy to me. On the one hand, he felt it was important to underscore the injustices women face. On the other hand, did it justify him invading Kieler's privacy and airing her family's dirty laundry for all the world to see? The conflict of where the line between one's personal life and the social politics of feminism ought to be drawn pervades feminist literature. I imagine I'll be seeing more of it as this challenge continues.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Recipe of the Week 2011 #7: Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats

I'm a few weeks behind on the recipe-attempting front, thanks to a combination of vacations, volunteer training, and a certain amount of failure of the imagination. Now that my vacations and training are over and I have a docket full of recipes I'd like to attempt, I'm ready to resume my challenge.

A few nights ago, I prepared this adaptation of the classic Rice Krispie treats recipe. The treats came out really well, but next time, I intend on:

  1. Making a single batch, or inviting friends over. I made a double batch because I didn't want the cereal to go stale but, in retrospect, it was a little excessive, filling a 9" x 13" casserole dish up to the top. It also made the stirring and mixing a lot more difficult.
  2. Using a wooden spoon. I melted one of Matt's plastic spoons (he won't notice, but still...).
  3. Letting the butter get a little bit browner. I was so paranoid about burning it that I added the marshmallows a little too soon.
  4. Adding more sea salt. I like my salty-sweet treats to be a little crunchier for that.
All in all, though, I'm definitely making this one again!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Current Book Docket

Here's what I am reading now, courtesy of the library and my e-reader:

  • Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
  • Broke, USA by Gary Rivlin
  • Naughts and Crosses by Marjorie Blackman
  • Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington
  • Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  • Promises I Can Keep by Kathryn Edin
  • If On a Winter Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  • A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
  • Poems and Ballads by Charles Algernon Swinburne

Book Review: On the Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill

It turns out that my memory is correct: I have read The Subjection of Women before. It was a long time ago, back when I was a college freshman, circa September 2003. The college I attended at the time required that all freshmen take a series of Core seminars, which were supposedly intended to help us think critically. Having already conquered most of the curriculum in high school, I was unenthused about having to re-cover enlightenment philosophy, re-read The Communist Manifesto, and have inane discussions which would doubtless fulfill a certain sense of deja vu.

I got all of that and more: a throughly inane argument with my classmates about the proper pronunciation of the word "Appalachian" (hint: there are no shhh sounds or long a vowel sounds) and the relative merits of bluegrass. Nobody understood my culture. Or something. I was a square peg there because I didn't believe that the West Coast, southern California specifically, was the center of the universe.

Anyway, one of the few books we read that I actually enjoyed (because it was one of the two that I hadn't read previously) was The Subjection of Women. In retrospect, I can see why it was assigned over, say, Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Mill's analysis is far more friendly to the modern reader, primarily because he is not an essentialist in terms of gender roles. In fact, he outright rejects the notion that men and women are intrinsically different, arguing that these differences likely arise from socialization, not nature, and that in light of the way society functions, it is impossible to know whether or not men and women are different at all, much less whether one is inferior to the other. This is a much more palatable idea than Wollstonecraft's assertion that masculine women are the result of a man's brain inhabiting a woman's body!

Much of Mill's thesis, that men and women should be equal (which, again, is not something Wollstonecraft endorses), flows from the idea that women are full of unrealized potential. Since nobody knows what they are capable of, why not let them try? As a result, Mill argues that women should not only be educated in the same way that men are, that they should be allowed to pursue the same professions as well. Furthermore, he argues, full equality is necessary if women are to realize their potential. He vehemently denounces the legal practices which cause a woman's legal identity to be subsumed into her husband's, as well as the notion that women's sole purpose in life is marriage. He couches his language in terms of what is good for society and individuals, not morality and religion, which is another departure from Wollstonecraft that I find refreshing. I've always been a fan of the way that utilitarianism finally enabled a modern shift between religious and secular philosophy, and opened the door to a more rational way of framing social issues.

4.5 out of 5 stars. I really enjoyed this book, even though it's quite dense.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Back to the Daily Whatever

I had a really good time in Nashville. I stayed with my role model, and got a chance to visit some of my favorite places. It was great, but now I'm kind of bummed out that all of my friends live varying degrees of far away: Boston, Miami, Nashville, Chattanooga, Baltimore, New Orleans, Seattle, Austin, New York, and so on. It goes with the territory of attending a private college that attracts a lot of out-of-state students, having high-achieving friends who do things like go to law or medical school, and moving around a lot oneself. It's nice to go on trips to see them because I love to travel, but I think it would be better if I could see them more often.

Now that I am home, feeling nice and refreshed, it's back to the daily grind of working, volunteering, freaking out because I still haven't heard whether or not I got into the graduate program I applied to, and negotiating with Matt about the proper distribution of coathangers (I am hogging them, but I know that if I put my sweaters away, it will get cold again). The usual.

As far as this blog goes, I have a lot of catching up to do. Most of that's writing book reviews; I've got five books that I have finished that need a post and another two or three that are pretty close to being done. I'm probably going to keep some of them in draft form as a reserve for when I (inevitably) get busy later this year, so I'll still have content. Beyond that, I'm really far behind on the posting about cooking front. I'll be catching up later this week and early next week, as I have just acquired the new Bon Appetit and there are several recipes I'd like to make from it. Last, March is Women's History Month, so I'll try to write about that, as well.

That's about it for now. Off to start working on those book reviews and compose a gigantic grocery list (I leave town for three days and come back to no food in the house)!