Monthly Archives: December 2007

Several things

Standard

Why did I think I would get back here during the holiday season? I have been busy, busy, busy. On the bright side, I have done a lot of good cooking, but almost no writing. Here are some updates on the many topics I have thought about blogging in the past few weeks.

Having Friends Over for a Thanksgiving Meal

This is the meal with 3 other vegetarians sitting at the table, plus two friends who were just along for the totally vegetarian meal. We had a great time, and ate way too much food!

First, the appetizers–I made the dill dip I referenced in my last post, and my friend Tracey brought over olives cooked in crescent roll dough. These were SO GOOD! It may be a very 70’s dish, but who cares? While we munched and I finished other things, I instructed Tracey in the making of the cranberry upside down cake from Urban Vegan. She did a great job! That was one of the best cakes I have ever had, just the right amount of sweetness without being too much.

I made:

A Tofurkey roast with carrots and onions
The gravy that came with the roast
My veggie sausage stuffing
Cranberry orange sauce
Pecan pie

My friend Andrea brought:

Nut loaf (pecans and sunflowers seeds, with rice and other yummy stuff)
Red potatoes
Mashed potatoes
Sweet potatoes
roasted Brussels sprouts with lots of pepper (so I didn’t steam the broccoli and cauliflower that I had purchased for the meal)
Some spiced apples that we forgot to get out of the microwave until after everyone was totally stuffed

We had some wine, and we played Boggle after we ate. I loved having my friends from different spheres over–one couple who have a daughter in S’s class, two moms of boys in M’s class, and Mandy, my friend from high school. Everyone got along and I had a great time.

An Update on the Egg Thing

I had some eggs for breakfast the other morning, and they tasted kind of yucky. That was partly because the egg whites were still a little runny (shudder), but also, I think I am getting over the weird craving, whatever that was all about. I don’t fantasize about eating eggs anymore, and I can easily look past the eggs in the morning to grab something else for breakfast. I don’t know what that whole thing was all about, but I am glad it is over. I am still not cutting eggs out entirely, but I am making it a much more occasional thing.

Christmas cooking

I had friends over for Christmas Eve, and I made Snobby Joes, from the teaser recipes on the Veganomican page over on The PPK. I also made a bunch of Herb Roasted Potatoes from Vegan with a Vengeance, because I wanted them for Christmas breakfast, but I didn’t want to get up over an hour early to get them ready. I thought both recipes were delicious, but the kids thought the joes were a bit too spicy. Next time I will tone down the chili powder, because I want this to be a kid-friendly recipe.

I did get up a little early on Christmas morning to make the asparagus and tomato fritatta, also from Vegan with a Vengeance. Wow, was that so good! After my mother ate a serving and talked about how good it was, I told her that it was a tofu fritatta, and she was surprised. She asked, “There’s no egg in this at all?” Nope, and it was extremely yummy. I think it would have been even yummier with the sun-dried tomatoes that the recipe called for, but my mom doesn’t like those, so I used fresh. I have enough trouble getting her to eat my “weird” vegetarian food, I don’t need to start on a bad note with something she doesn’t even like. I heated up the potatoes in the oven right after I pulled out the fritatta, and they were great.

New Cookbook

No one gave me a cookbook for Chirstmas, but my brother gave me a gift card to Border’s, and Veganomican was the first book I picked up. I have been drooling over that book since it came out, but I was holding off and spending my money on gifts for other people. I went right to Border’s the day after Christmas though and picked up the book first thing! I cannot wait to start cooking from that book!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

That’s all the news that’s fit to print for now. Have a happy new year, everyone!

87-91, plus the new goal

Standard

I have really fallen behind here!

87. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am not sure how I missed this book before now. This was incredibly well-written, and the topics that it covers, class divides and class mobility, are some in which I am particularly interested. I liked the detached narrator who frames the story. Gatsby, of course, was a very flawed person, but his flaws were much more appealling that Daisy’s and Tom’s flaws. His flaws stemmed from a yearning to improve his life, and be with someone that he loves, whereas Daisy and Tom only care about their own comfort and feelings. This was a very thought-provoking book.

88. Original Sin by P.D. James

This one made me cry. The story was absolutely tragic, and it very, very sad. James really works at her craft, exploring interesting questions, and transcending the mystery genre. Her characters are fully realized people, not stock characters that just move the puzzle along.

89. A Certain Justice by P.D. James

I enjoyed this one, as I do all of James’ books, but I am not sure it was as good as Original Sin. Still, the story was intriguing, and the characters were fascinating, as always.

90. Have You Found Her by Janice Erlbaum

This was an Early Reviewer’s book.

This was a fantastic book, for many reasons. First, Erlbaum is a great storyteller, keeping me turning pages all the way through. She is also very honest. As she describes her efforts to help Sam, a homeless junkie, and other girls at the same homeless shelter that she used when she was a teenage runaway, she reveals a lot about her own personality and life, not all of it flattering. Since she describes her behavior with a great deal of insight, she clearly learned a lot and grew as a person due to the experience, but it still must have been difficult to describe herself, flaws and all, so candidly. At times I wanted to shake her–how could she not realize that these girls were so damaged? Sure, she had gone through a similar experience and emerged successful and relatively stable, but she must have known many other street kids who did not have such good outcomes. When she describes her friends and family, none of them seem to have pasts that encompass street living. Yet, she seems to think that a little bit of care and listening from her will turn these kids around.

To be fair, she really does do a lot to help these girls, especially Sam, and she obviously does really care for them and want them to have better lives, from the very beginning. Also, she learns a lot from her experiences, obviously becoming a stronger person and more clear-headed about this all as the story progresses.

Most people who want to help those less fortunate themselves have this idealistic view of what helping others means. Even with a background that should help them to know better, they think they can just give a little and make a big difference. It also seems easy to compartmentalize this kind of giving—it’s something that a person does at certain specific times, and it doesn’t encroach on normal life, except for short anecdotes at parties to show how caring and noble the volunteer is. But when you work with damaged people, it isn’t that simple. These people have enormous needs that can’t be covered from 6:00 until 9:00 on Wednesday evenings, and they demand more than a casual volunteer with a life elsewhere is comfortable giving. Erlbaum does a great job of describing how she struggled with the desire to do more, help more, and still live her hard-won normal life.

91. Solar Lottery by Philip K. Dick

Even in a world that seems to be governed by totally random forces, people struggle to impose meaning and control on their lives. Or, some people do, at least. This was a short book that managed to get in some very interesting discussions about the nature of free will and the laws that govern our universe.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

So, what kind of goal am I going to do for next year? I am thinking about aiming for 100–I don’t know if I will make it, but it seems like a good goal. It wouldn’t even get through my tbr list, and you KNOW I am going to buy even more books. I just got 5 or 6 books yesterday with the gift card my brother gave me for Christmas (he was going to get me these cool shelves from Ikea, but they wouldn’t accept a different ship to address than the billing address :-(), although one of them was cookbook, so I don’t need to add it to the list. I am thinking that aiming to read more is a really good idea, because, as always, there is so much out there that I want to read! 100 it is.

I don’t think I am done with this year, yet, though. There are still 4 whole days this year, plus tonight, and the kids are at their dad’s until 12/31. I am sure I will get at least one more book on the list.

The To-Be-Read List

Standard

At the beginning of November, I made a vow that I would not buy any more books until I made a dent in my TBR list. I have made this particular vow many times before, so I did not hold out a lot of hope that I would succeed, but I did have good intentions.

The first thing I did to try to keep my vow was to cheat. I bought two Bibles. These books would not be added to my TBR list, so they didn’t count. I used the same technique recently, when I purchased The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge at Costco.

I also tried staying out of the bookstore. This was, obviously, a much more successful (and ethical!) technique. The entire time I stayed out of bookstores, I managed to not buy any books! Unfortunately, this was not a technique I could sustain indefinitely. On Black Friday, after a marathon morning of shopping with my mother and aunt, I ended up meeting my friend Mandy and taking the kids to the mall for dinner. I was too tired to cook. But, the mall is dangerous, because there is a Waldenbooks there. Of course, Mandy* wanted to go to the bookstore. Of course, I agreed, but I told myself I wouldn’t buy anything. Ha! I did manage to make it out of there with only one book, though (The Truth (with jokes), by Al Franken; it was on the bargain table, I had to buy it!).

So, I was not terribly successful, but still, I was feeling pretty good about this. I finished 7 books in November, and I only added 1 book to the list. It seems like I added a lot more, because I made a real effort to go through my LibraryThing catalog and mark everything unread, so I could get an idea of what I was working with, but I already had all those books, so they don’t count.

This past Monday, though, I found myself with an hour to kill while my daughter went to basketball practice. And do you know what is less than a half a mile from the community center where basketball practice takes place? A Barnes & Noble store, that’s what. And I had been wanting to read The Great Gatsby for some time. And, I was finished with all the PD James books I owned. And, what else would conveniently fill that hour of time? (Don’t mention working out, I know that would have been the wise choice. But, I didn’t feel all that well on Monday. And, I am good at rationalization.)

The boy and I dropped the girl off at practice and we were off to the bookstore! First, I have to say that I told the boy, who is only 5, that he would have to wait until I picked out my books before we headed to the children’s section, and he was very good about it. He did ask me a few times if I was done yet, but he stayed by me and did not yell or run around, so I was thrilled. Of course, when we did make it back to the children’s section, he was much more interested in all the toys they have back there than the books, but still.

I ended up with 4 books for me, 2 P.D. James, Atonement, by Ian McEwan, and the aforementioned The Great Gatsby, plus How the Grinch Stole Christmas for the boy, and The Giver for the new read-aloud with the girl. She was so excited, too, yelling and actually jumping up and down. Apparently Mrs. H, her teacher, had recommended the book, which is the highest accolade a book can get in S’s opinion.

By my count, that is 6 books that I added to my TBR list** since the beginning of November, but if I add the 4 books I have already completed in December to my 7 from November, 11 books to take off the list, putting me 5 books ahead. If I didn’t manage to actually refrain from buying books while making a dent in the list, at least I was able to buy less than I was reading.

* Poor Mandy gets blamed for this a lot. She really does entice me to go to the bookstore a lot, but I do the same to her. We are probably equally to blame here, but it is more fun to blame it all on her. She doesn’t read my blog anyway.

** According to my LibraryThing tags, my I have 104 unread books, but I need to do some updating with that. First, I have not completely catalogued my list, although I think I do have most of the unreads in there. Secondly, I need to make sure I have distinguished between reference books that I do not really intend to read cover to cover and books that really should be on the TBR list. This is one of those projects for a block of time on some weekend when I am not trying to run around and get ready for the holidays.

The Paradox of Choice

Standard

86. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz

This was a very interesting look at how, while no choice is definitely bad, too much choice can almost as detrimental to our psychological well-being. Schwartz examines the differences between maximizers, who attempt to get the absolute best of everything, and satisficers, who are willing to settle for good enough. Good enough could very well be high quality, but satisficers are all right with the idea that there may still be something out there that is even better. Maximizers are bothered by this, and have difficulty making choices, since there are always more options available that might be better.

I tend to fall on the satificer end of the scale for most things, but there are some exceptions. I have a hard time picking a meal in a restaurant, for instance, because I can’t decide which one will be the best experience. This book was an interesting look at how unlimited choice can make us less happy with what we have, and I picked up some good tips for being satisfied with my life, even though the tips themselves weren’t anything I hadn’t heard before. Having more of an explanation behind them makes it easier to apply these ideas to my life.

Interestingly enough, one place where I notice a tendency to maximize is choosing a book to read. Sometimes I go right from one book to the next, but I often find myself, at the end of one book, staring at my bookshelves, trying to pick the perfect book that I will enjoy the most at that particular time. Usually, if I just can’t choose, I decide it is a sign that I am simply ready for a break from reading (!), but more often I have to remind myself that I bought these books because they looked good to me, and force myself to take the leap into one of those books. And, when I do, it usually turns out well–I may buy a lot of books, but I am fairly discerning. It’s not my fault that there are so many good books out there!

Boxes, boxes everywhere (and not a shelf with space)

Standard

Despite the mountain of unpacked boxes in my front room, I am nowhere near done unpacking from my June move. This move was by far the most organized of any move I have ever done before, with much unpacking and putting away during the move itself so that I could re-use boxes, but when you are dealing with as much stuff as I had, heroic efforts are necessary. And even then, there are still more boxes to unpack.

I worked on it on and off all summer, unpacking, making a monster stack of good will donations by the front door, and organizing my stuff. I tried to unpack at least one box every day, although I didn’t always make it. I did get a lot done, and I was feeling pretty good about it, so I was resisting the urge to put all my yet-to-be-unpacked boxes in closets, out of sight. I was afraid I would never take them out again. I wanted to keep the unpacking momentum going.

But then, school started. My little one started Kindergarten this year, so now I have two backpacks to inspect every day, two sets of papers to fill out for everything, two lunches to make, etc., etc., etc. It is always amazing to me how far we fall out of the school routine in 3 brief months, and what a shock it is to start back up again. I was too tired from all the changes to unpack anything at the end of the day. All those unpacked boxes were mocking me. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore—I started to put them into closets. I did unpack a few boxes as I went, but mostly I just went through the living room, bedrooms and kitchen, reclaiming floor space, and making my apartment look more like a home than a storage unit.

I have to say that it is still appalling to me how much stuff we have. I have about 30 unpacked boxes in my front room, but I was still able to load up all of our closets with unpacked boxes—and these are fairly large closets. I probably have 40 or more boxes left. Where did all this stuff come from? How is it possible to make 6 trips to Good Will, car brimming, and still have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF? The mind boggles.

When I talk to people at work about how I am still unpacking stuff, 5 months after the move, they laugh at me. They say if I want the stuff unpacked, I should just unpack it. But I find going through these boxes exhausting. All the decisions! Everything has to be evaluated—do we need this? Do we love it? Can I get rid of it without the kids complaining? If we are going to keep it, where will it go? Do I have something else like it that I can get rid of since I found this one?

I am currently reading The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz, and he addresses this kind of decision overload in shopping. I am not too far into the book, but I won’t be surprised if he makes this connection, too—all the decisions that come with owning so much stuff.

One nice thing about de-cluttering—when I went shopping the day after Thanksgiving, I kept looking at all of the stuff in those crowded stores and thinking, “Ugh, more stuff.” Not, “Hey, that’s neat, I should buy that!” Really thinking about all the stuff I already have makes the thought of adding even more stuff so much less appealing. I hope this will be a long-term trend in my thoughts.

84, 85

Standard

84. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

This was an odd book. Blue, the main character, is a very gifted girl with an interesting past that involves much travelling around with her Dad. The mystery of her life, and her Dad, is at once more thrilling and more mundane than she expects. At first, she seemed overly melodramatic to me, but after a while, I realized that it was just the way she spoke; she actually had a fairly realistic view of what was happening to her. I really enjoyed this book, but I understand why I have seen people both praise it and pan it. It can be a bit difficult to access.

85. Post Secret by Frank Warren

Warren asked people to send him secrets via postcard, to participate in a public art project. The only requirements were that they be true, and something the sender had never told anyone else. Also, they were told to send the secrets anonymously. Apparently he did exhibit many of these secrets, and I think he still is, but he also has a series of books. I think I will buy more–it is fascinating to see what people send. Some of the secrets are truly horrible, some are the kind of thing you recognize.

All the Thanksgiving meals

Standard

November was definitely a month for eating too much food. I have a lot more difficulty eating moderately around Thanksgiving than Christmas, because Thanksgiving food is real food, not junk. Well, except for the pie and cake, but it’s still not an endless supply of cookies and candy like Christmas food is.

The first Thanksgiving meal was about a week before the actual holiday, at work. We do a big potluck for all the people on my floor. Okay, not all, but a lot of people participate. Of course, these meals generally have a lot of meat, and I don’t even want to think about the dairy involved, but there is generally enough food available for me to eat far too much anyway. This year I brought my favorite stuffing, made with veggie sausage:

Sausage Apple Stuffing

~6 cups bread crumbs (I use whole wheat bread, cut into cubes and toasted a bit in the oven)
1 pkg. Lightlife Gimme Lean sausage
1 apple, diced
1 onion, diced
¼ cup raisins
1 TBSP poultry seasoning
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 ¼ cup apple juice (or, in my case, 2 6.75 ounce juice boxes, because that’s what I had on hand)

Gimme Lean sausage is very low fat, so I find it difficult to just crumble it in the skillet and cook it like normal sausage. So, I spray some cooking spray in the skillet, slice the sausage, fry until done, and then chop it into small pieces. Remove to a large bowl. Saute the apple, onion and raisins (the original recipe called for celery, too, but you will never find that stringy vegetable in any of my recipes!) with a little more cooking spray, then add to the bowl with the sausage. Mix in the poultry seasoning and walnuts, then stir in the breadcrumbs. Finally, pour the juice over the top and mix one more time.

Don’t do like I do every time, and put it straight into an unprepared baking dish. This stuffing is too good to be missing all the stuff that sticks to the dish. Spray the pan down well, then throw in the stuffing and bake at whatever temperature all your other dishes are cooking, generally 350. I bake it until it smells great in my kitchen and looks done, which is not a scientific measurement. I know it when I see it, but I can’t tell you how. I think it is about 30-40 minutes, though.

I am also lucky in this sort of potluck in that we have a fair contingent of Indians on my floor, so I am not the only vegetarian. This year, though, there weren’t any good veggie curries. Still, I had a good salad, lots of my stuffing, veggies, cranberry sauce, fruit, pumpkin pie, cherry cobbler and peppermint patties. I am sure the pie was not dairy-free, but overall, it was a fairly successful meal.

On Thanksgiving day, we went to my parents’ house. I didn’t cook as much as I intended to make originally, because I knew that most of the stuff I was making would not be appreciated by my family, and I would be having friends over the following weekend that would appreciate it all. I did make a pecan pie, cranberry sauce, mashed candied sweet potatoes, nutmeg mushrooms, steamed green beans and this great dill dip:

Dill Dip in a Round Rye bread
1 cup Tofutti Better Than Sour Cream
2/3 cup Nayonnaise
1 tsp dill seeds
1 tsp English Prime Rib seasoning (the original recipe calls for Beau Monde, but Penzey’s doesn’t carry that—I am only a little freaked out at all these “meat seasonings” I am using; first poultry seasoning and now this ;-))
1 TBSP dried onion flakes
1 TBSP dried parsley
1 large round loaf of rye bread

Mix the first 6 ingredients well. Cut a bowl into the top of the rye loaf, tearing up the cut out bread for dipping. Place the dip in the bowl and eat with the rye bread chunks, tearing up the bowl when the chunks are gone.

This is insanely good. My family devoured this in about 20 minutes, just me, my mom, my dad and my brother. The kids did eat a little of the bread, but they aren’t much for dip.

I still have one more meal to describe, but that will have to wait for another time. It was delicious, though! And, of the 5 people I had over, 3 of them were actually vegetarians, so I wasn’t outnumbered in my non-meat-eating ways for a change. Not that I mind cooking for anyone, it was just a nice change.