Monday, December 22, 2014

Year in Review: 2014 Book List



For the third year in a row, I bring you my book list of the past year!

Each year I record the approximate dates that I read a particular book, and then record my opinions on the book. I won’t share all those with you, as this year’s document was 17 pages and 9,690 words long (I think I've found the right profession).

This is the first full list that took place entirely on the East Coast. Here it is.

Fiction

Americanah ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Book Thief ~ Markus Zusak
By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept ~ Paulo Coelho
California ~ Edan Lepucki
Cloud Atlas ~ David Mitchell
Down to a Soundless Sea ~ Thomas Steinbeck
Farewell to Arms ~ Ernest Hemingway
Half of a Yellow Sun ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Hand of Thrawn Trilogy ~ Timothy Zahn
The Hound of the Baskervilles ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
In Thunder Forged ~ Ari Marmell
Longbourn ~ Jo Baker
Monstrous Regiment ~ Terry Pratchett
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower ~ C. S. Forester
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1 (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes) ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edited by Leslie Klinger
The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Volume 2 (The Return of Sherlock Holmes, His Last Bow, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes) ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edited by Leslie Klinger
Offcomer ~ Jo Baker
The Perks of Being a Wallflower ~ Stephen Chbosky
The Princess and the Queen ~ George R.R. Martin
Red Rising ~ Pierce Brown
Seize the Day ~ Saul Bellow
Shadows of the Empire ~ Steve Perry
The Thing Around Your Neck ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Tortilla Flat ~ John Steinbeck
Two From Galilee ~ Marjorie Holmes
A Walk to Remember ~ Nicholas Sparks

Nonfiction

Blink ~ Malcolm Gladwell
Daily Rituals ~ Mason Currey
David and Goliath ~ Malcolm Gladwell
Flash Boys ~ Michael Lewis
The Glass Castle ~ Jeannette Walls
How to Fight Presidents ~ Daniel O’Brien
Lawrence in Arabia ~ Scott Anderson

Reread

The Hobbit ~ J. R. R. Tolkien
Purple Hibiscus ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Red Rising ~ Pierce Brown (yes, twice in one year)

Here is my Top Ten List:

1. Red Rising
2. Daily Rituals
3. California
4. Americanah
5. By the River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept
6. David & Goliath
7. Lawrence in Arabia
8. Down to a Soundless Sea
9. The Hound of the Baskervilles
10. Two from Galilee


While writing this article, I realized that I justified my dislike of the three books mentioned below, but did not explain why I enjoyed the above ten books. That seemed rather lopsided to me, so I decided for the first time to give readers a brief reason to read the ten books I've recommended above.

1. Everyone needs to read Red Rising. Read it, people! It’s my favorite book of the year. I wrote about it here and here and here.

2. Daily Rituals impacted me in a way I did not expect. It’s a book about the habits of famous creative people, and since I've begun to work from home, I find myself continually mulling over my own daily rituals and how effective they are, or aren't.

3. California was another one of my favorite fiction novels of the year. People complain that modern writers don’t write as well as writers in the past, but they've clearly never read Edan Lepucki. I think she’s a brilliant writer and I can’t wait to read the next book she writes.

4. Americanah…it launched an obsession with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her writing is flawless and astounding. Americanah opened the door on a whole new world for me.

5. Reading By The River Piedra I Sat Down & Wept was a spiritual experience for me. Yet I need not say more here; I blogged about it several months ago.

6. Malcolm Gladwell’s writing continues to astonish me, and David & Goliath was the perfect read for where I was on my journey when I read it.

7. This was the year of nonfiction for me. I love stories and rarely read nonfiction, yet this year I read seven nonfiction books! Lawrence in Arabia was one of my favorites. It launched a mini obsession with Lawrence – Aaron can tell you that I often inadvertently interrupted his studies to start dialoguing about who Lawrence really could have been. The obsession culminated in the viewing and dissection of David Lean’s 1962 movie, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. I’d seen this movie when I was about 14, and while I was watching it, felt like it would be my all-time favorite movie. Yet I hated the ending, and essentially vowed never to watch it again. After I read the book, though, I realized that I had gained enough perspective on Lawrence’s life to possibly appreciate the film. So I watched it, and enjoyed it, and redeemed my 14-year-old self.

8. I was surprised by how precise and lovely Thomas Steinbeck’s writing was. I would almost venture to say he’s a better writer than my beloved John Steinbeck.

9. I couldn't not include a Sherlock story on this list! Aaron and I discovered the BBC series this fall, and that launched a serious literary obsession with Sherlock. I’m three novels short of completing the entire canon. What happened.

10. My grandma recommended this book to me, and I loved the new perspective it gave to the well-known Christmas story.


I've stated this before, but I try to appreciate every book I read. Having said that, there were three that I didn't enjoy this year:

1. The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling. I felt like Rowling was trying to be as shocking as possible, and while I can appreciate miserable lives and swear words in certain works, they were entirely pointless in Rowling’s disappointing novel. I had to stop this book midway or it would have ruined the Harry Potter series for me.

2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I felt like the story had so much potential, but didn't pay off in the end. I expect a character like Charlie to experience some growth or change in his life, and the ending was truly disappointing.

3. A Walk to Remember. Sparks tells but does not show. I loathed Landon in the book, but he’s a good character in the movie. A sad instance where the movie is far more powerful than the book. 


If you’re interested, follow the links to read 2012 and 2013’s lists.

What should I read in 2015? Share your favorite books with me!

Friday, December 12, 2014

ImmuniTea with Ginger, Lemon & Turmeric


Yes, it’s a horrible pun, and no, I absolutely couldn't resist.

Today I decided to test a concoction that seemed really crazy and potentially disgusting! I had read an article on making tea with fresh ginger and lemon, and wanted to try it. In college, a friend tipped me off to the idea that hot water, lemon, and honey is better than tea for sore throats when you’re sick because it coats the throat. (I’m not sure how that helps, but I can attest that it does!) After that initial cup of hot honey lemon water (not hot ham water), it’s fine to drink all the tea in the world.

I've started to cook more with ginger lately, and decided to add it to a tea brew. So I cut about a half inch cube of fresh ginger, peeled it, and put it in a mug with half of a lemon’s juice. On a whim, I decided to add turmeric, which is also great for your immune system and just a dash of cayenne pepper to add an extra punch and ensure the turmeric wasn't too strong. 


To my surprise, I found the drink was pretty tasty. I hadn’t intended to blog about it, but one taste and I changed my mind.

What we drink says a lot about us. I post this recipe with the knowledge that some will think I’m a health quack, so don’t worry, I love ice cream and chocolate as much as you do (and probably more). I’ve also been on a journey of learning how to cook and making sure my husband and I eat healthy, balanced meals. We’re not vegetarian, vegan, or paleo, although I do eat recipes from those diets and enjoy them.

We consume more tea than any other drink, probably even more than water! I usually drink a cup of English or Irish breakfast tea to start out the day. I don’t make coffee at home, but love drinking it in coffee shops.

I’ve noticed that many people define their identity by what they drink. It could be coffee, tea, kombucha, bone broth, water, cold-pressed juice, or green veggie smoothies. How often do we drink something because we’re aware that the world is looking at us – or we think they’re looking at us, when really they could care less? We often drink a certain type of drink to associate with a particular kind of lifestyle. I’m not immune to this. I enjoy reading vegetarian/vegan yoga-loving blogs. I’m drawn to that type of lifestyle, and find inspiration for the (mainly) vegetarian lunches I’ve been eating.

Yet we need to make sure we’re not missing out on hot chocolate just because we want everyone to see us drinking ginger and lemon tea. How often do we stop to truly enjoy what we’re drinking?

Now that the air is cold and the days are busy, I’m going to make an extra effort to appreciate what I put into my body – not for the sake of a particular diet or lifestyle, but for the sake of pure enjoyment. And if ginger and lemon are your thing, here’s the recipe! (Or tell me I’m crazy and go drink hot chocolate.)



ImmuniTea with Ginger, Lemon & Turmeric

Ingredients

1 cup boiling water
½ inch cube of fresh ginger
Juice of ½ a lemon
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
Dash of cayenne pepper

Directions

1. Boil the water on the stove. While it’s boiling, peel the ginger and place it in a mug with the squeezed lemon juice.

2. Pour the water into the mug, and add your spices.

3. Sit and read a book or watch rain/snow falling with your immunitea.

This recipe serves one. Enjoy!



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Eve Journal


Just like a little kid, my life revolved around the promise of snow today. Homebound, but fueled by English Breakfast Tea and Espresso Hot Chocolate, I documented the small details of the weather, as the disappointing rain transitioned into lovely snow. Here’s my photo journal of what happened today. I hope you enjoy it!

I woke up this morning to dreary rain. I had an interview to conduct in a few hours, so I made a mug of tea and ate apple slices dipped in peanut butter for breakfast. It was the first time I’d done that and it was delicious! I really should have taken a picture, but I was much too grumpy about the rain and it was super dark in the Hobbit Hole.

Later in the morning, I noticed that the water on our table out back had started to freeze.


It was still raining, but I decided to go outside to find the beauty in the rain instead of just complaining about it. 


It was clearly not snowing, but the rain made everything look pretty.


As we cycle through the seasons again, I know I'm going to enjoy realizing how different each season is from the one we experienced the year before. I had no idea each winter or fall was so distinct and unique growing up in California! I don't mean the colors of the leaves, or the snow. I mean how one year a tree turns bright red in the fall, and the next year, its leaves are more of a deep burgundy. Last year all the plants had died by the time it snowed, but this year there's still quite a bit of green left. 





Leftover lentil and tempeh lettuce wraps were consumed for lunch...I purposely planned extra healthy recipes for Aaron and I early this week because I know we'll eat a lot over Thanksgiving! It was only the second time I've made tempeh. The first time was an epic failure, but these lettuce wraps were delicious. Aaron loved them too!

Early in the afternoon, it actually started snowing! Giddy, I ran outside and took some more pictures.





We spent the rest of the afternoon indoors. Aaron has plenty of studying to do and I had a few more things to edit, ideas to research, and emails to send. I took a break to do about twenty minutes of yoga.

Since it's been cold, Hobbes has enjoyed sleeping in my lap in the afternoons, as long as I have a fuzzy blanket. During the summer and fall, most afternoons found her in the bed in the windowsill, but now that it's winter, she quickly discovered that my lap is far warmer than the window.


Since snowy days are great days for music, here's the song I've been obsessed with lately. It's We Will Become Silhouettes, originally by the Postal Service, covered by The Shins. 


As it gets dark, I'm excited for tomorrow, and grateful for days when I can work from home, cat on my lap, husband nearby.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tofu Rice Bowl


Even if you've never consumed tofu you probably have some opinions about it.

Mine was that chunks of tofu masquerading as meat sounded disgusting.

When I was growing up, we didn't eat much red meat. We weren't quite vegetarians – we ate chicken and fish – yet soy milk and ice cream sandwiches made from tofu (Cuties) were common sights in our refrigerator. We didn't eat much tofu for dinner, however.

In my quest for a healthier diet, I decided to experiment with tofu. I bought Trader Joe’s organic tofu, which is pretty soft and kept in water. Today, I created a recipe that I found surprisingly tasty. I read a comment somewhere that if an eater was wary about eating chunks of tofu, they should utilize tofu as texture in a dish, so that was my inspiration for this rice bowl.

You can cook the rice however you usually cook it. My recipe calls for vegetable broth because I made rice a few nights ago with vegetable broth for a specific dish, and it reminded me of rice I ate in India. I was itching for an opportunity to cook rice that way again! If you don’t want to use vegetable broth or don’t have any on hand, simply omit step 1 and cook rice as normal.

The Trader Joe’s tofu comes in a 19 oz. package. I didn't have a way to measure exactly how much I used, so I've approximated the amount here. 


Tofu Rice Bowl

Ingredients

For the rice

1 cup rice
2 cups vegetable broth
½ Tbsp. canola oil

For the tofu

½ Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. red curry paste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh minced ginger
6 oz. tofu (approximately)
Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
Quick drizzle of soy sauce

Directions

1. Fry the rice in the canola oil for a minute or two, and then add in the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, cover, and lower the heat to simmer until the rice is done, about twenty minutes.

2. Cut off a 6 oz. piece of tofu, and chop it into little pieces. Place them into the frying pan with the olive oil.

3. Cook the tofu over medium heat, and add in the red curry paste, garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper flakes, and a drizzle of soy sauce. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about five minutes.

4. Scoop rice into a bowl, and serve the tofu over the rice.

Serves 1-2.


I made this for lunch on my own today, and have just enough for leftovers during lunch tomorrow.

The tofu really breaks up in this recipe; it’s not meant to remain in chunks, as you can see in the pictures. It reminded me more of the eggs in egg fried rice. The softer consistency ensured that I wasn't tasting chunks of tofu, but I had sneakily added protein into my rice bowl for a healthier lunch.

The meal was tasty! I’m looking forward to experimenting with all the leftover tofu. I think it would be great in egg fried rice and in certain soups! If anyone has tips on how to cook really yummy tofu, please leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Happy Birthday, Hobbes!


Am I still allowed to call Hobbes my kitten baby?

It’s her birthday today! She’s 1! On the paperwork that came with her, her birthday is listed as November 10, which means that one year ago, she came into this world and I didn’t even know her then, or even know that I would be adopting a kitten.

In fact, I blogged a year ago on this date. Those familiar with my thus far erratic posting habits may be a little surprised by this revelation, but here’s the proof. We’d just been robbed. I was a different person then. Yes, I was strong and brave through the experience, but I look back at my past self and feel a little sorry for all that she didn’t yet know. While she was seeking to refresh her perception of home with positivity, and reclaim the space that had been violated, thousands of miles away in Virginia, a cat had just been born. My past self was strong, but she was unaware that the little creature who would open a new vulnerability in her had just entered the world.

Hobbes was about six weeks old when Aaron secretly adopted her from a pet store north of Boston. For the next five days, he took care of her, waiting until that moment when he’d give her to me as one of the best and most unexpected surprises.

She stirred up new feelings in me. I call her my kitten baby, but know I don’t know a thing about what it is to be the mother of a child. Yet caring for this little creature moved something in my heart.

For the first few months of her life, I was terrified that she would somehow accidentally kill herself. She was just so tiny. She didn’t know that refrigerators are not fun places to hang out or that power cords don’t make a tasty snack. I feared the day when she could make the jump to the oven.

Fear was not the right response, and it seems a little silly as I look at her now. She’s big and still tries to eat push pins. Yet fear is not how I want to react to her or to my future children.

Love is the easy answer for how I want to react, but love is so complicated. It comprises hope and devotion and the knowledge that your life will never be the same. When confronted with these emotions, it’s easy to respond in fear. A part of my heart has been stripped bare, and I’m not always sure how to deal with that feeling.

The opposite of fear is trust. It’s not always an emotion that comes easily. Yet I’ve learned to trust Hobbes. Trust is one of the bravest emotions, because it means letting go.

On her first birthday, it’s slightly morbid to consider her eventual death. I certainly didn’t think about that when my family first adopted Checkers. Yet I know things now that I didn’t know when I was a little girl with her first cat, and that is although this pet that I love so dearly will someday go to kitty heaven, what she teaches me while she’s on earth is so much more important than that heartbreak. The love and lessons that Hobbes has already given me make these heart-rending emotions worth every minute.

So happy birthday, dear kitten baby, and here’s to all the years you will move me to trust.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rainbow Roasted Vegetables


In keeping with my idea to eat vegetarian and vegan lunches, I made a dish of colorful roasted vegetables that I wanted to share with all of you because it was so tasty!

I have been very inspired by some gorgeous purple, yellow, and orange carrots that I purchased at Trader Joe's. They are so pretty and add a pop of color because at this point in my food journey, most of my vegetable dishes are entirely green. Long time Sputnik Prose readers can attest that broccoli and Brussels sprouts usually compose the majority of any vegetable dish we make in the Hobbit Hole, so I have been having a lot of fun, especially with the purple carrots!

To gain some extra healthy fats, fiber, and antioxidants, I decided to add nuts to the meal. I had pecans on hand, so I tossed those into the mix. They added a new dimension of flavor and I would definitely use that particular type of nut again, although pine nuts or walnuts would lend themselves well to this dish.

Of course I threw in Brussels sprouts, since they're almost always found in my fridge.

I'm excited to plan out my meals for this week and try to introduce a new vegetable or two to the menu! I'm also considering tempeh or tofu to add protein into vegetable dishes.


Below is the recipe:

Rainbow Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients

3 large carrots
8 oz. Brussels sprouts (this is half of a 16 oz. Trader Joe's bag)
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
small handful pecans
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

2. Slice the carrots into coins, and cut the Brussels sprouts in half.

3. Pour the vegetables into a baking dish (I used an 8x8 glass dish), add in the pecans, and drizzle the olive oil over the mix. Add spices to taste; you can get creative and add in whatever spices you enjoy! I love spicy food, so I added crushed red peppers.

5. Roast the vegetables for 50-60 minutes.

The dish was easy and delicious! I'd love to hear what you would add to this dish. I think potatoes or butternut squash could be really tasty. Let me know if you make it!

Hobbes wants to eat it, too!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Changes and Ideas



First off, yes, this is only my fourth blog post in October, a month that is now almost over. There’s not really much excuse for that, except that my mom visited me for a week in the middle of the month!

It was so great to see her and share our new home with her. Now that we’ve been here for well over a year, it seems strange that some people close to us still have not seen the Hobbit Hole or met Hobbes. Not that I’m blaming anyone; it’s just weird to me that this place has become a part of my identity, for better or worse, and there are still people I count among my closest of friends who only know this side of me through hearsay. It’s the feeling of an exile who has found beauty in their new home.

Of course, I walked outside today to pick up some trash and throw out the compost, and realized with a start that the temperature today (a mild 51° F) was as cold as it ever got during the day where I lived in California. I used to think that was cold. Now it almost feels good. I would sit outside with a blanket by a fire in this weather. However, gone are the stints where I would work outside for hours. In many ways, I’m still adjusting.

A lot of new things have happened this month. The leaves are almost all gone. Aaron has been considering summer internships. I had the opportunity to interview a few of my personal heroes, including new authors Pierce Brown and Edan Lepucki. I was able to show my mom one of my new favorite cities, Boston, and eat bacon grease buttered popcorn with her at J. M. Curley’s, which is still one of my favorite foods. I've also read some unexpected books, i.e., nonfiction, and have really enjoyed them. I hope to do a blog post on that topic next week!


Another of next week’s blog posts will be my new foray into vegetarian/vegan food. I did some research for an upcoming ThriveWire article (although I won’t give you any spoilers yet!) and was fascinated. I've said it many times on Sputnik Prose, whenever I modify a recipe to make it vegetarian, that I have several vegetarian friends, and a handful of vegan friends, and while Aaron and I are pretty solidly in the carnivore category, I have been incredibly fascinated by what they eat.

I had a lot of success this past week with vegetarian dishes. I was feeling a little bit sick, which I attributed mainly to the gloomy weather, and so have been extra conscious about what I've put into my body since Tuesday (other than mid-week cookies; we all need balance!). I haven’t had any caffeine, and have drunk lots of water and tea. I also made an amazing rice dish with immunity boosters such as ginger and turmeric for lunch on Wednesday, and then made a delicious caprese salad last night, which was a hit even with Aaron! I almost never cook with ingredients like ginger or turmeric, and I've never before made caprese, and cooking these new dishes was really gratifying. Today I made up a tasty vegetarian lunch which I’ll be sharing with you on Monday. The more I've written about food, the more I've realized how much I love it, and I’m really excited to experiment further!

Aaron and I will still be meat eaters (note mention of bacon grease popcorn above) but I’m hoping to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our diet, which has been something of an ongoing goal for me, but one which I've decided to make more of a priority. We’ll see how this new adventure goes!

If you have any tips or resources or web sites that you think would be valuable to my exploration of vegetarian and vegan food, please, please share them!

So, lots of changes. Not many blog posts. But I’m back with ideas, and excited to share them with you readers!

To end off, I’d like to share some of my recent ThriveWire articles…

Interview with Pierce Brown, Part 1 and Part 2.

Interview with Edan Lepucki, Part 1 and Part 2.

10 Farm-to-Table Ice Creameries around the United States.

I received my first phone call from Italy, and got to speak with Giorgia Caporuscio, an award-winning twenty-somethings pizza maker!

Thanks for reading!