Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Round Up

I've been doing more reading than music-finding or recipe-adapting lately, so here are the most recent books:

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance -- A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power is one of the best books I've read recently. I get that it's not practical to teach students every detail of every historic event, but I'm consistently frustrated about how the Civil Rights Movement is reduced to "Dr. King had a dream and Rosa Parks sat on a bus." And maybe if your teacher is progressive enough and has a spare five minutes, they'll tell you that Malcolm X was angry.

This book tells many stories from the Civil Rights Movement that you don't hear as much about--both in terms of the atrocities faced by black women, and the ways that they organized and spoke up about them, and it makes the movement even more impressive.

*which I'm always tempted to specify as the Civil Rights Movement for African Americans in the U.S. in the mid-twentieth century

Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins was a very different read, but also a good one. Even though the story didn't especially grab me, the writing was so good that I definitely had days when I would rush home to read it.

The Goldfinch had some really beautiful moments and a few really lovely characters, but by the end of the book I was tired of seeing the main character make poor choices and have to deal with the consequences. If it had been shorter, I might have been less overwhelmed by the quantity of poor choices and better able to appreciate the story, but it was a long book that followed the character through a large part of his life, so not only did I read about a lot of mistakes, but I also invested a lot of my time in reading about them and it wasn't worth it for me.

Another Country by James Baldwin was oddly similar in that I felt like I was just reading about people making poor choices over and over again. The characters were actually even less endearing, but Baldwin makes up for it by diving into concepts of race, gender, and privilege, so you have more context for how the characters end up in the way that they do.

In other news, I read some of these on a houseboat with my friend and her family and it was glorious:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Mr. Penumbra

Book: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan had the desired effect of getting me back into the habit of reading. It was mysterious enough to be a page-turner, but I realized about half-way through it that the mystery could either go in a really lovely direction about the history of literature/role of books in society/etc., or in a really disappointing way involving something obnoxiously futuristic. It didn't go all the way into the "time traveling aliens" direction that I feared, but it still could have been better.

Music: I don't feel great about this, but there is something insanely catchy about Frankie Ballard's "Sunshine and Whiskey"

Food: Roasted cherry tomatoes go with everything.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Annie John

Book: Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid was our August book club book, and it was lovely but underwhelming. It's a short, coming of age story about a young girl in Antigua, and I think it would have been better if cut shorter into a short story, or stretched out into a longer novel. The book, as is, touches on mother-daughter relationships, female friendship, family structure, sexuality, and the role of conventional medicine versus local traditions, but failed to explore any of the issues on a deeper level. It would have bothered me less if I had picked it up on my own, but I had a higher expectation since it was put forward as a book club book, so I expected that there would be a lot of themes and concepts to discuss. Instead, we mostly talked about all of the things that we wished they talked about in the book.

Music: Is it just me or is the song "Ocean Front Property" by George Strait EVERYWHERE?

Food: I threw myself a "Welcome Back" party post-Spain to celebrate Spanish food, and especially Spanish ham. I made a Spanish tortilla, which I've discussed previously, and served ham (top left), cheese with quince paste (top right), and frog skin/Santa Claus/Christmas melon (bottom right). One of the biggest hits, however, was the tinto de verano. It's red wine mixed with lemon-lime soda, and it's delicious.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Polenta Bars

Books from the Camino: El Peregrino (The Pilgrimage) and Aleph by Paulo Coelho

Music: Bad Self Portraits by Lake Street Drive

Food: Polenta Bars with Tomato Sauce

I had a lot of tomatoes in my garden, but not quite enough to make much sauce yet since they cook down so much, so I added them (plus fresh basil) to some sauce from the jar. Make sure to read the ingredients of jarred sauce--I've been very surprised by how much sugar some contain.

I made polenta according to package instructions. It's usually about 4 cups of liquid to 1 cup of polenta. I used half milk and half water for the liquid. I headed the liquid on the stove and just before it boiled, I whisked in the polenta and continued to whisk fairly constantly (with breaks to grease the cookie sheet and stir the tomatoes). Once the polenta was thick and had absorbed most of the liquid, I poured it onto the aforementioned lightly greased cookie sheet and baked til firm. My cookie sheet was large, so it was a fairly thin layer and only took about 20 minutes. I spread the sauce on top.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Daily Routines on the Camino

Just in case it wasn't clear already, I cannot recommend the Camino de Santiago highly enough. It might not be for everyone or every season, but I had beautiful weather, I met great people, and I escaped with only about 6 hours of severe knee pain. I would do it again (and for longer) in a heartbeat. I would also love it if I could adopt the lifestyle as part of my daily routine since it incorporated so many of my favorite things, including (but not limited to) long walks, big lunches, siestas, afternoon beers, and early bedtimes.

I hiked for 12 days total--11 days at 14-19 miles, and 3 miles on the last day. Here's what a typical day on the hike looked like:

 5:45-6:30 Wake up and start walking. I’d leave my backpack totally packed to try to be as quiet as possible, and my exact wake-up time would vary based on how noisy the other people in the room were when waking up. The rooms had anywhere from 3-35 other people, so it could be very noisy. I also tried to judge based on how much light I expected in the morning. Walking out of a well-lit city at 6 am was a lot easier than walking into the mountains. And one dark morning walking past a cemetery alone was enough to motivate me to wait for more light. 

6:30-1:30 Walk—some days, I took almost no stops because I carried fruit and granola bars (or breakfast cookies!) and, for me, the stops just made it harder to get going again. Most of the Spanish people that I walked with would stop for breakfast by 8, a mid-morning snack (“almuerzo”) between 10 and 11, and sometimes lunch depending on what time they had started.

1:30 Check in at albergue (special hostels just for people walking the camino).

1:45 Shower

2:00 Laundry (hand wash and hang to dry)
2:15 Lunch
3-5 Nap

5-8 Organize backpack, write in journal, drink beer, explore city

8 Dinner

9:30 Bed

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Madrid, again

My host family from when I studied abroad is usually traveling in the summer, but I happened to catch them home for a quick break between their time at the beach in Almeria and their next excursion to Vienna. They offered to meet me at the train station when I arrived at 8 am, but I was afraid that, without a phone, I wouldn't be able to let them know about any delays, and I wanted an excuse to walk through Madrid again. 
Plaza Mayor

 Catedral de la Almudena
  Catedral de la Almudena
  Catedral de la Almudena
  Catedral de la Almudena. In case it's not obvious, I'm a little bit obsessed with the Madrid Cathedral. I didn't discover it until the very end of my study abroad semester, and at that point, I'd already seen several cathedrals throughout Spain and Europe. They were all impressive, and they were also all dark, both in terms of construction materials and the lack of natural light. This cathedral is not only brighter for the light-colored stone and the natural lighting, but it has COLOR. 

Dinner with Luis and Piluca, my host parents

Monday, September 8, 2014


 I did it! And I'd like to thank my knee brace, ibuprofen, ham sandwiches, breakfast cookies, Pascual, Felipe, and Andres for their key roles in my arrival. The warnings about the anticlimactic arrival were absolutely accurate. For the last 2 miles, you walk on a sidewalk through the outskirts of town instead of on dirt paths through magical forests. And if this isn't bad enough, the way that Spanish businesses lock up for the night has always looked to me like they're closed for good, so when you arrive before things open, the city feels abandoned. Apparently if you've been walking for longer (like the 35 day route that's most common), you're so relieved to be arriving at all that this matters slightly less.
View between the Cathedral and the Pilgrim's Office after receiving my certificate

Cathedral Exterior (the side with the more traditional view was under construction)

 Cathedral Interior. The pear-shaped silver thing hanging from the ceiling in the top left quadrant of the photo is the botafumeiro. During certain services (including the one that I attended), it is filled with incense and a group of 8 men use a pulley system to swing it all around the cathedral. In addition to the role of the botafumeiro and incense as part of the service, I read that it was initially used, in part, to fumigate the dirty pilgrims who did not have access to daily showers during their Camino.
Outside the Franciscan church where I got my certificate in honor of St. Francis' Camino

View from the hostel

 Oh.my.goodness.this.hostel. It's an old seminary and there's no way in the world that it's not haunted. The shared rooms were taken by a huge group of teens, so I paid an extra $3 for a private room, and it might have been a poor choice. I have to wind around multiple poorly lit hallways to my room, where a 6 x 10 foot rectangle awaits to inspire my nightmares for years to come. It is exactly like what you see in movies (or in my case, trailers of movies) where terrible things happen in hospitals or mental institutions. There is a bed, a sink, a small closet, and a smell. Mostly it just smells old. This may be too much, but there's a good chance that if I need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I might use the sink, because there will definitely be small children that no one else can see playing in the hallway. But at least it means that I will spend a lot of time out exploring.

 Except that for the rest of my first day in Santiago, I finished exploring the city center and then purchased a bottle of cider and a wedge of brie (it was $3!) and ate and drank them alone in my room.  Please don't tell the Spanish boys. Today would have been a good day to have a traveling companion because even as a passionate cheese aficionado, a wedge of brie is a lot to eat by yourself.

 The second day, it rained, so I mostly found different places to read. Some people choose to keep walking about three more days all the way to the coast, but I didn't have that much time. A bus was an option, but I'd heard that on cloudy days, you can't see much, so I opted for churros (pictured) instead. And since churros cost about 3 euro, and I only had a 50 euro bill left, and people hate you for that, I broke the bill on some books. I had missed reading, and the churros were wonderful, so I feel great about this choice.
I also read in various plazas, a few other restaurants, and this park, until the rain started again.

And I did end up seeing the Belgian girls, Tatiana, three people from Foncebadon, the Irish couple from Gonzar, Sergio, one of the Italians in the group of five, and Felipe (for a hot second) before catching my overnight train back to Madrid.