Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Book: Re-read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil for December's book club and it was just as good as I remembered it. Makes you want to go to Savannah and makes you wonder all sorts of things about the legal system (in case you aren't already listening to the Serial podcast and having doubts from that:

Music: Vitamin String Quartet's version of Ray LaMontagne's Shelter

Food: brisket + thanksgiving leftovers for days

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vegan Pumpkin Cookies

Book: Technically, I finished our last book club book through a process that involved looking at every page and turning them until I got to the end, but I don't think I actually read much of it. I was reading in small doses and often at times when I was actually thinking about other things. From the limited discussion, I think it's probably the sort of book that you should read in one sitting on a super cold day in your bed, so you should try that and let me know how it goes. Apparently it's a beautifully crafted story of sisters coming of age, and it's called Housekeeping.

Music: I've been doing a lot of yoga because running on these 40 degree mornings sounds absolutely terrible, and they've been playing the song Bloodstream by Stateless. It is beautiful.

Food: For someone who claims to gravitate towards the savory end of the good food spectrum, I make a lot of cookies. And as someone who makes a lot of cookies, I have a great appreciation for butter and eggs. I decided to make these cookies vegan because I didn't have quite enough butter for my favorite cookie recipes and I didn't want to go to the store, and because I needed a potluck dish that could sit in my car for 8-10 hours before serving. Especially with our cooler temperatures, many things would probably have been fine, but with coconut oil as the fat and pumpkin to hold things together, these seem especially safe.

I followed this recipe, which I'd adapted before, but I used 3/4 cup white sugar + molasses instead of the full 1 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 a can of pumpkin instead of the egg, whole wheat flour, and pumpkin pie spices (nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, cloves).
Caution: usually the threat of illness from raw eggs is the only thing that keeps my consumption of raw cookie dough under control, but with these, there's no such threat. If you have similar levels of self-control and know you need the full batch of cookies, you should make extra dough. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

May You Be Free from Danger

I wrote my college application essay about how I don't believe in prayer in the traditional sense. I acknowledged that it has value to remind us to be grateful and to be concerned about the well-being of others, but the magical "ask and it shall be given" idea was pretty clearly wrong for me.

In college, our advisor for Methodist Fellowship clarified that the verse about asking and seeking is actually referring specifically to asking for a relationship with God, which made a lot more sense to me, but also left me even more confused about what prayer is actually supposed to do.

I thought I gave up on prayer completely for a while, but I've realized that it was basically a continued engagement in prayer-like activities without articulating them as such.

November is off to a rough start for a lot of people (and, if you're similarly politically inclined, for the state of the country), so it seemed appropriate to remember one of my favorite prayer-like activities.

It's a loving kindness meditation, and in traditional practice, you'd spend several months saying it for yourself, then several months saying it for someone you love, then someone neutral, then someone you resent. When we say it in church, we go ahead and make that leap and say it for someone we resent. The resentment doesn't go away, but it's a helpful reminder of the humanness of even our least favorite people. This is it:

May you be free from danger.
May you be mentally happy.
May you be physically happy.
May you have ease of well-being.

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.