Thursday, October 23, 2014

More Books

Much like The Handmaid's Tale, I have no idea how it took me so long to read The Bell Jar. It gets semi-regular shout outs in general pop culture, as well as deeper feminist discussions, but it hadn't made my list. It was good, but frustrating to read since the main character has so little control over her life.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran was 95% a perfect and relatable description of what it means to be a woman, and it mostly did a good job of representing the variety of things that that can mean to different people. 5% of the time I felt like she was undermining women's role in history or could have explained things in a more inclusive way. It's been described as a crasser version of Tina Fey's Bossypants, which makes sense, but I think Tina Fey had a better story, and Caitlin Moran did a better job of articulating her story in the context of a growing understanding of feminism.

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard is pretty lovely. I put it on my list after hearing her speak at the TX Book Festival this time last year, and I almost took it off when I saw the movie and it seemed cheesy and over the top. The movie is actually a pretty faithful adaptation of the book with a lot of the lines coming directly from the text, but the book is a million times better because you get more of the emotions that might make someone decide to harbor a fugitive over Labor Day weekend.

The Witches by Roald Dahl is delightful. I've tentatively joined a Book/Movie Club where we read books that get turned into movies, and this is the first book. It's a quick read, and I was once again impressed at how Dahl can write dark stories (about witches trying to kill all the children of the world) in such a whimsical way. Have we discussed how great this quote is?

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.”

I'm giving up on Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II for the second time. The info is fascinating and totally new to me about how post-Civil War labor laws allowed white Southerners to refuse to hire African Americans, and then have them arrested for vagrancy and take advantage of their free labor as prisoners. Unfortunately, the book is terribly dense and, although it tries to follow the story of one family to provide a real-life example, I find it impossible. If anyone knows of another book on this subject, let me know.

Shot All to Hell: Jesse James, the Northfield Raid, and the Wild West's Greatest Escape, on the other hand, is a great story from one of my favorite parts of history. I can't say whether or not it's good enough to speak to those who aren't already somewhat familiar with the James-Younger gang, but I loved bit of it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Photo Post

From the last month or so: 

 I made my radio debut talking about food waste.
 I hosted a "welcome back" party for myself with Spanish food. 
 I grew eggplant. 
 I made red beans and rice.
 I saw a pretty mosaic. 
 I re-purposed leftover risotto into patties with an egg + breadcrumbs.
 I went hiking on a day off work.
 At two different places because we got lost at the first one.
 I wandered around Hill Country during an all-day staff retreat.
I helped assemble these for dinner at the staff retreat: bread, basil, tomato, bread, basil, tomato, blue cheese, bacon, bacon vinaigrette. 

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