Thursday, March 31, 2011

Strawberries and (Almost) Cream

I'm in the middle of my sweet tooth's least favorite time of year- the weeks when I give up desserts for Lent. I've been trying to find non-dessert substitutes that will satisfy my cravings for sweet, and I have to say, I hit the jackpot with my recent strawberries-and-cream-like creation.

I picked up a carton of strawberries that just happened to be perfectly sweet and delicious. To go with them, I mixed plain Greek yogurt with some honey and cinnamon. It turned out to be an amazingly decadent dip, and got even better once some of the strawberry juice got into the mix.

Now I may not choose to eat this in the face of a cupcake, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I'll look forward to making this even once the dessert ban is lifted.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The House on Fortune Street

One of the characters in The House on Fortune Street by Margot Livesy believes that "everyone has a book or a writer who's the key to their life". Isn't that an interesting idea? I know who my writer would be, and so do the four main characters in this book. Each section is told from a different one of their viewpoints and somehow ties in to the books and writers that are the keys to their stories- Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, Charles Dickens, and the poems of Keats.

This book was not what I had expected it to be, and not what the synopsis leads you to believe it will be. It's about the tangled lives of four people, but their lives aren't entangled in the obvious way that you'd expect. There's a strong sense of the key to the story being revealed bit by bit as the novel progresses. There are quite a few instances where the author leads you to unravel the next piece of the puzzle just by dropping a word as a hint, or conjuring up a vague feeling of suspicion about a character. It's a subtle and impressive feat of writing to be able to pull that off, and it made me really, really like this book.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Boy Bloggers and Walmart Wardrobes

My daily web surfing includes stops at quite a few fashion blogs. I always love discovering new ones and two that I recently found out about put their own unique twists on the genre.

The Midwestyle covers clothes, style inspiration, and even a bit of thrifting. It's written by a few recent college grads living in the Midwest...who just happen to be guys. It's an interesting change to pace to see the male perspective on fashion blogging and the writing has just enough snark to make it entertaining to read about things like belts and messenger bags.

Penny Chic features an outfit today designed around a specific theme- Architect Chic, Museum Docent Chic, Secret Agent Chic. The caveat is that every item in the outfit is something from Walmart. Now I'll admit to being a little skeptical about a few of the outfits. In my mind, Walmart clothing is often cut skimpy and made of strange fabric, and some of the items shown seem to fall into that category. But I do really like the idea behind the blog. It may even inspire me to give the clothing department another look the next time I'm at a Walmart.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Two Young Adults

I've come to the conclusion that the reason I still enjoy an occasional foray into the young adult genre is because I didn't actually read too many of them back when I was in their target demographic. Once seventh grade hit, I seemed to jump right into all the classics by Jane Austen and the Brontes. Now that I've read all of those a million times over, I have to go back to see what I was missing back then.

(That, and the fact that I get so many for free from working in publishing!)

Two came my way recently, the first being Delirium by Lauren Oliver. It's set in a dystopian world, similar to the lately successful Hunger Games series (and that old book The Giver by Lois Lowry- did anyone else have to read that in school?).

The second was Abandon by Meg Cabot. She's written lots of adult chick-lit, as well as The Princess Diaries, but this is the first book of hers I've ever read. It's a modern retelling of the myth of Hades and Persephone. I've never liked Greek mythology that much, but thought it was a fresh and interesting scenario here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pretty Delicious

A few posts back, when I was singing the praises of quinoa, I alluded to having a new favorite cookbook. That cookbook is Pretty Delicious by Candace Kumai. This was a total impulse purchase for me, as I had never heard of either the book or the author (apparently a former Top Chef contestant). The pretty, Anthropologie-like design made the book jump off the shelf at me. Once I did a quick flip-through and saw the interesting recipes inside, I was sold.

It wasn't until I started reading the book more closely that I realized it's actually a cookbook with a health-conscious spin. It's not about any kind of specific diet, but instead about recipes built around wholesome, nutritious ingredients. For each recipe, the author highlights the key nutritional ingredient used. Besides the two qunioa dishes, so far I've tried making:

Pad Thai

I'd never tried any Asian dishes at home before, but it was easier than expected and tasted just about as good as what I've had out.

Black Bean and Banana Empanadas

Apologies for the uninspiring picture of these. I had forgotten to take one until the leftovers were already packed up in tupperware. These are a new favorite of mine. They're a bit labor intensive, but well worth it. The book has a delicious guacamole recipe that goes well with these, and uses Greek yogurt and soy sauce as secret (and surprising) ingredients.

The book also hase some nice ideas for entertaining, like having a breakfast burrito brunch or setting up a make-your-own spring roll bar, and some easy yet unusual ideas for wraps that I plan to use to spice up my lunch routine.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Top O' The Morning

Look who got dressed up for St. Patrick's Day.

Then she made me put it on her kerchief-style so that she'd look like a real Irish lass.

Then she started thinking about eating corned beef and Irish soda bread.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife tells the story of Hemingway's first wife, Hadley. Told in her voice, it chronicles their meeting, their time in Paris, and their ultimate breakup. Like any good historical fiction, it covers the ground you already know, but paints the scene so vividly that it makes you want to run out and read all you can about the subject. For that reason, I'd highly recommend this book for anyone who's a huge nerd for all things related to the artists and writers of Paris in the 1920's.

Even though you can't help but know how the story will end, it's still fascinating and heartbreaking to watch the demise of the Hemingway's and Hadley's marriage. His depiction is right in line with his misogynistic reputation, and hers is of a woman who, somewhat surprisingly, didn't completely fit into the Bohemian Parisian lifestyle. You get the sense that she stayed in the relationship beyond the point of no return not because of a free-thinking marriage philosophy, but because she was playing a more traditional, submissive role, putting Hemingway's needs, even for affairs with other women, before her own.

My one complaint relates to the dialogue in the novel. Although Hadley as the narrator has a very fresh, direct voice, the conversations between her and Hemingway didn't quite ring true. I got the sense that the author was trying to capture something of the real Hemingway's sparse writing style. Though he pulls that off wonderfully in his own works, it didn't work for me in this novel. A small criticism, though, for an otherwise interesting novel.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tea Time

I'm a big fan of Harney & Sons teas, particularly their hot cinnamon spice flavor. I've generally picked up tins of their teabags sold at Barnes & Noble cafes, but this weekend I finally stopped by their SoHo store. Besides having a cute tea cafe, it offers a much wider selection of teas, including loose teas. I picked up some of their French Super Blue Lavender variety.

The dry tea looks like it's made up of pure lavender buds and it brews up a pot that has the perfect lavender flavor- not too delicate but not too strong. Now I have another item to add to my list of lavender-infused treats.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Blessing

Continuing on with my recent Nancy Mitford kick, I read The Blessing, another one of her novels reissued with a really pretty cover.

It's the story of a young British woman who marries a Frenchman during World War II. After the war, and with a young son in tow (a.k.a. their little "blessing"), they move to Paris where she is confronted with her husband's philandering and their French social circle's acceptance of it. She leaves him to return to England and her son, now old enough to realize that his parents spoil and dote on him more when they're apart than when they're together, mischievously plays them against each other to try to prevent a reconciliation. It's all written with a very light touch and, although not as funny as Wigs on the Green, was a lively and entertaining read.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I recently discovered quinoa and it's quickly become one of my favorite go-to foods. Simple to prepare and versatile, it cooks up similar to cous cous, but with a slightly crunchier texture. Here are a few of the recipes I've tried so far (two of the three are from my new favorite cook book- more on that coming soon).

Lime and Black Bean Quinoa

This is a mixture of quinoa (I used the red variety here), black beans, scallions, lime juice, and feta cheese. This recipe couldn't be easier- basically just boiling water and mixing ingredients together.

Cranberry Quinoa Plate

This is definitely not the most photogenic of dishes, but I promise that it was really very tasty. A mixture of quinoa, tofu, dried cranberries, basil, and toasted almonds with a balsamic dressing, it's an unexpected combination of ingredients that actually work really well together. It would be great as a cold salad in the summer.

Mushroom and Quinoa Burgers

Poor planning on my part left me without any kind of buns, rolls, or even bread in the house when I made these, so just photoshop one in with your mind. The burgers are made form a mixture of quinoa, chopped mushrooms, onion, bread crumbs, dijon mustard, and soy sauce. When they cook up, they have a consistency similar to a falafel. I served them with homemade sweet potato fries with a barbecue dipping sauce.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Modern Aesop

It turns out I was a bit misinformed going into Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris. I knew it was a collection of stories involving animals, but I thought the would be about a squirrel that followed his sister home, or his French neighbor's annoying chicken. Instead, the animals were the main characters, taking on human characteristics in fable-like stories that mimicked some of the quirks of modern social life.

The stories were interesting enough, but a little on the dark side and not as funny as a typical Sedaris story. The illustrations (by the author of those Olivia children's books) were a cute and clever touch. I would have been happy reading just one or two of these, though, instead of an entire collection all at once.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sea Urchins

I tend to be the opposite of a fair-weather knitter. I pick up my needles in the winter, when the cold weather makes it cozy to stay inside with a project, and then cast them aside when the weather gets warm. I need to work on being more consistent throughout the year, but since spring's approaching, I figured that I should probably share what could potentially be my last project of the season.

This is the Sea Urchin cowl, made from a pattern I found on Ravelry and likely named for the way it looks like a little rounded sea creature when stood up on one end. I made the cream one first and liked it so much that, despite not having quite enough yarn, I managed to reduce the size a bit and eek out the green one. It has flecks of navy and yellow running through the dark green that remind me of the colors in a tartan plaid.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Water for Elephants

I'm giving my book club's latest pick, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, the rating of a "hearty OK". I can't in good conscience give it any less since I may or may not have been the one who threw it out as a suggestion after seeing the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation.
This was an easy read with an entertaining story. The setting of a 1930's travelling circus was vividly depicted and seems like it will translate well on screen. I also enjoyed the descriptions of the animals in the circus- sometimes more than the descriptions of the humans! My main criticism of the characters is that they all felt a little bit one-note. It seemed like the author got so wrapped up in trying to write descriptively that she ended up going over the top in detailing their actions. The characters constantly had their mouths forming an "O" in surprise, or were clapping their hands over their mouths to contain laughter. Does anyone actually do those actions in real life?
In the end, I can see why this book was a really popular bestseller, but didn't necessarily win any critical awards. I"m glad I read it and still have high hopes for the movie.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Amuse Bouche

The teeny-tiny cupcakes from Baked by Melissa are truly the hor d'oeuvres of the dessert world. They just about fit on one fingertip.

I picked up a box for my Oscar-watching party on Sunday. And by party, I mean Millie and me. She graciously passed on hers, so I got to have six little bites of coconut cream, cookie dough, and chocolate peanut butter.

The verdict: I'm glad I tried them, but was a bit let down. They were almost too small (about the equivalent of the muffin top on an average mini cupcake) and had a slightly commercial taste that made me miss the fresh baked flavor of the cupcakes from some of my other favorite shops.


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