Friday, February 29, 2008

Reading Update: 2-29

I'm not feeling especially inspired today to write about what I've been reading lately, but I feel like if I don't get 'em down now, they'll just be lost in the ether that is my head lately. So, here it is, with very brief reactions:

Sarah Dunant -- Mapping the Edge

Interesting book. Two parallel stories: That of a woman who has disappeared (possibly of her own accord, possibly under more sinister circumstances) and that of her family left behind. Lovely writing, interesting characters. I really enjoyed it.

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu -- The Shadow Speaker

This one was for my book group. Didn't much like it, but made myself finish it and then didn't end up being able to go to the meeting, anyway. Grr. As it turns out, I actually went to grad school with the author, and I really did WANT to like the book, partly out of alma mater loyalty and partly because it has a strong female role model for teen girls. But something the writing just kept on jarring me out of the story -- too many grad schoolish references to critics and authors, which were meant, I think, to give the story heft, but instead just felt like the author was trying to show off. Oh well.

Tana French -- Into the Woods

This one was a surprise to me. I'm not normally into murder-mysteries. In fact, I usually make fun of my mom for devouring lots of trashy murder mystery-thriller type books. But this one was very well written, both in literature terms and it's plot. Liked the characters, though I've been watching Dexter lately, and so the only image I could get in my head of the female cop in the book was that of the sister cop, Deb, on Dexter. Probably not true to the author's vision, but I like the character in both cases, so not so terrible. My mom saw this on my kitchen table when she was here for a visit and said "I can't believe you're reading a book that I would like instead of all that literary crap." I think that's her way of calling me a book snob. :-)

Radio Silence

Sorry for the radio silence of late. Mom and Dad were in town for a week and just left a couple days ago. Add that to busy-ness at work and general mild malaise from not going to the gym even close to enough, and I haven't much had the time or inclination to post.

Note to Self: Gym = Your version of Prozac. You MUST MUST MUST get your ass there pretty much every day. If you don't, you will get excessively short-tempered, have trouble sleeping, and leave weepy voicemail messages for most everyone you know. Not necessarily in that order. Plus, you actually like the gym, remember?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reasons Indiana is Scary, Part 1

So there was a massive 20-car pileup on I-94 near Michigan City, IN this morning. I've driven through there dozens of times, traveling between Michigan and Chicago and it is a crazy stretch of road when the weather's bad. It's pretty flat and in good condition, but because it runs right along the edge of Lake Michigan, when it's snowing, it progresses to white-out conditions ridiculously fast. When I lived in Chicago, I always hated doing the drive home to Michigan in the winter for that very reason. Amazingly enough, though a few people went to the hospital, there don't appear to have been any major injuries or deaths in the crash. Just one more reason to avoid Indiana like the plague, if you ask me! Nothing good has ever happened to me in that state :-)

Monday, February 11, 2008

In Which I Wax Poetic About Lemons

Yesterday morning, I went to the San Rafael Civic Center Farmer's Market. Though I love this market, I haven't gone more than a few times in the past several months, because it took about 45 minutes to get there from my old apartment. Yesterday, though, I realized that it's actually only 20 or 25 from my new place. This is thrilling, as it's the most amazing farmer's market I've ever been to. Whatever image you may have in your head of a farmer's market, this one probably blows it out of the water. It certainly did for me.

Before I moved to California, I frequented the tiny Bethesda, MD farmer's market near my office, for fresh lettuce and raspberries and peaches in the summer, Winesap apples and glossy green acorn squash in the fall. Sometimes, I went to the slightly larger weekend farmer's market in Rockville, in the parking lot of the Montgomery County Courthouse. Both were good for the basics at the height of summer, and I enjoyed going, but they weren't anything spectacular. And both shut down as the last of the October leaves fell, once pumpkin season was over.

The San Rafael market, though, is open year round, and has nearly 200 vendors at its peak, including places to get locally raised meat and fish, 13 bakeries, artists peddling their wares, and a lot more. It's a little overwhelming, in fact. I always find that I have to do a full "window shopping" loop before I can even think about what to buy. And even after that loop, I still always seem to end up with too much, my arms overfull of everything I was unable to resist. This week, I resisted more than usual, as I was on my way to go hiking and didn't want to leave too much in the car. I did end up with a fabulous loaf of whole wheat walnut bread, which we ate halfway through our hike, with a sun-dried tomato spread and goat brie that also came from the market. I also got this absolutely lovely kale -- it was minty green and lilac, very frilly. I don't even know the name of the particular variety, actually, and I was afraid that it would look prettier than it tasted. But it turned out to be delicious when I steamed some to eat with my dinner tonight.

The picture at the top of the page is some more of my bounty from the market this week -- Lovely blood oranges and lemons. I have been on a citrus kick lately, actually, since it's so delicious this time of year, and it's easily available from local growers, to boot. In fact, most folks I know have friends who have backyard trees just overflowing with lemons and oranges they can't make use of. (I need to make me some of those friends!). I am particularly enamored this year with blood oranges, which have a delightful fruit-punchy flavor and lovely rusty peels. And I'm also pretty in love with Meyer lemons. I'd never even heard of a Meyer lemon before I moved to California, but they're like ordinary lemons in Technicolor. Their skins are brighter, more orange-y, and they are just like little globes of sunshine. They're a touch sweeter than regular lemons, and a bit softer and juicier. I guess the best way I can describe them is as a cross between a lemon and an orange, but that doesn't quite do them justice. (BTW, those are not Meyer's in the picture above -- I used all the Meyers to make lemon curd, which I have been eating by the spoonful for days!)

Here's a pic of the lemon curd:

Lemon curd is a custardy fruit spread made with lots of butter, eggs, lemon juice and zest. You have to cook it over very low heat, with constant stirring, to keep the eggs from scrambling, but it's worth the effort. It's actually a bit more of a pale yellow in person, and you can't really see the lovely orangey slivers of zest in it in this pic, but you get the idea. In addition to being pretty damn good right out of the jar, this stuff is heaven spooned on top of Strauss Organic Vanilla ice cream.

And last night, I made what might be the best meal I've ever made. An organic chicken stuffed with garlic and a bunch of lemon and orange halves, with salt, fresh rosemary and butter rubbed under its skin. I tossed some tiny red and purple and yellow potatoes from the farmers market with a bit of olive oil and more fresh rosemary, then dropped them in the pan around the chicken. Basted the whole mess with a little more butter and extra juice squeezed right from the orange as it roasted. The potatoes carmelized beautifully, and the chicken turned deep golden brown, with perfectly crispy skin and a nice, juicy inside. SO. GOOD. I served it with simple steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon and a decent glass of pinot noir and I was in foodie heaven.

Jeez, now I've gone and made myself hungry! I'm off to raid the fridge for leftover chicken and lemon curd.

It's about freakin' time

So Starbucks has finally seen the light and will be offering free wifi in their stores starting this spring. It's only 2 hours per day, so you can't plunk yourself down and leech off their internet from morning 'till night, but it's a helluva lot better than the $10 minimum you used to have to pay to get internet access at a Starbucks store. I guess they finally realized that if customers have to pay for internet (and they don't think the coffee is all that great, either), they're just going to go to the little local place around the corner. I guess now I have an excuse to go sit in the lovely burnt-orange velvet chairs at the Starbucks around the corner from my house :-)

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Reading Update 2/9/08

Louise Murphy -- The True Story of Hansel and Gretel
Lovely and heartbreaking. This book was suggested by a woman in my book group for us to read. It got outvoted by the group, but I decided to read it anyway. It's set in Poland during WWII, and the Hansel and Gretel of this story are a young Jewish brother and sister who are abandoned in the woods by their father and stepmother. They wander through the woods, leaving the futile trail of bread crumbs, and are taken in by Magda, an old Polish healer called "witch" by the townspeople. The witch here is not evil, though. Instead, she sacrifices her own peaceful life to protect Hansel and Gretel. I'm always interested in books that tell an old story in a new way, and this doesn't disappoint. Murphy gently weaves the threads of the fairytale into her Holocaust story, and finds a way to make both the familiar fairy tale and the familiar, dark story of the Holocaust new again.

Alicia Erian -- Towelhead
Still thinking about this one. It's the story of Jasira, a 13-year-old girl sent to live with her extremely conservative and sometimes abusive Lebanese father in Texas during the first Gulf War. The book explores both Jasira's relationship with her father, and her relationship with the often racist folks around her, including an Army Reservist neighbor who alternately makes her feel good and absolutely awful. The book was really disturbing in a lot of ways, but I think that's a sign of how well-written it is. Erian really probes the places we don't normally go as a society, and makes you cringe, not in a gratuitous way, but because she forces you to look at things you'd rather not see. I tore through the book, in fact, despite the disturbing subject matter. Not sure how I feel about the ending. It felt, maybe, a bit too simple. This was Erian's first book. I'll be really curious to see what she does in the future.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Welcome to Walmart. What ailment can I help you with today?

Slightly disturbing news of the day:

Walmart is adding medical clinics to more of its stores.

Apparently, this is actually something they've been doing for a while, but it's the first I've heard of it. Walmart already has 78 medical clinics in stores, and now they're adding 200 more. This fascinates me. I mean, I know that Americans really, really love superstores. I mean, God forbid we have to walk ALL THE WAY from our car into MULTIPLE stores get our shopping done! But, really -- medical care at the store you go to to pay ridiculously low prices for made-in-China crap that is guaranteed to fall apart in less than 6 months? REALLY? I mean, am I the only one who feels a little dirty (and not in the good way) just setting foot in Walmart? I cringe a little even walking in there to buy toilet paper and I don't care if the same socks are 50 cents cheaper at Walmart than at Target -- I'm going to Target. Plus (and I know this is a terrible, awful thing to say), I swear that every time I've ever been in Walmart, at least 85% of the shoppers are seriously overweight, panting with the exertion as they push around full-to-the brim carts of industrial-size Gatorades and Chips-A-Hoy. And they look all squirrely-eyed, like they're afraid that someone will snatch that GREAT DEAL on Bratz Dolls, Coca-Cola, Lays Potato chips out from under them. Really, Walmart is the epitomy of everything that I hate about America, all in one place. In fact, last time I went in, I couldn't get out fast enough. SCARE-Y

And, on a more serious note, what the hell does it say about the state of the American health care system that 55% of people who shop at Walmart don't have health insurance and so they really need clinics like this.

Now if Target added medical clinics, on the other hand, I'd totally go for that. :-) I just KNOW you'd get totally adorable Jonathan Adler bandages whenever they had to take blood!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

There's no use crying over spilt . . . coffee?

So this morning I stopped for coffee on my way into the office. There aren't a lot of coffee shops I really like around here (especially not after spending so much time in Portland the past few months), but my "good enough" choice, La Coppa, is at least local (read: not Starbucks) and near the office. Their coffee's not great, but it's drinkable, and this morning, they made my Americano perfectly, for once. Just the right amount of pale brown froth, not too full or not full enough. And I doctored it up just the way I liked it, with a little splash of half and half. It was so pretty. So when I got to the office, I set the cup on top of the car so I could get my laptop bag out of the backseat, and I think you can guess where this is going. . . Yep, I somehow managed to jostle the car and dumped the entire cup of coffee, before I even got to drink a single sip. It poured down the back of the car in a perfectly half-and-halfed rush and I just stood there and watched. So sad. . .

Luckily, I went to the gym last night after work, which means that I'm in a good mood, so I didn't start crying. (Yes, I've cried over spilt coffee before. Oh, c'mon, you've never cried over something dumb???) I WAS too embarrassed, though, to go back for a new cup.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

All 5 signs of clean, my ass

So the old apartment is clean and I am officially all moved out.

However, I would just like to say that Swiffer is full of hooey when they say on their website that you know your floors are clean after you've used their fake mop because you get "all 5 signs of clean." Unless, of course, the 5 signs of clean include nasty gobs of dirt and lint stuck to the floor after you've mopped. Yuck. (And yes, I did sweep the floors first. Multiple times. And I STILL had to do a go-over with a paper towel to get up the ick.)

Apparently, according to my friend K., to get your floors really clean, you actually have to get down on your hands and knees and scrub. This is what her mom taught her as a child. My mom, on the other hand, taught me . . . um . . . nothing about cleaning. And I'm okay with that. I like clean floors and all, but I'm not sure I like them anywhere near enough to crawl around on my hands and knees to get them. I guess it's a damn good thing I wasn't alive in the 50s, eh? I would have made a lousy June Cleaver.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Moving Bites

What Violet is thinking in this picture: Why the eff do you keep on DOING this to us, lady?

What I'm thinking right now, after movers who were three hours late, tracked mud all over BOTH houses, and overcharged me, to boot: Why the eff do I keep on DOING this to us?

So the move is done. Sort of. Friday night, I started getting wicked chills and body aches. By Saturday, it was so bad, I could barely stand up. My misguided attempt to go back over to the old house and finish cleaning Saturday afternoon led to me curled up in the corner sobbing on the phone to my parents because I was shaking so hard with chills I didn't know if I could even drive home. Fun. I did make it back to the new house and slept away the rest of Saturday and a good chunk of Sunday.

Number of boxes unpacked over the course of three days: 10, maybe.

Number of boxes remaining to be unpacked: Approximately 3 trillion

Number of muddy footprints and dust dinosaurs still needing to be swept up at the old apartment: 387

Approximate amount of energy I'm going to have left to do that cleaning after working a full day today: none

Why oh why didn't I remember to get a flu shot this year???

And you know what the worst of it is? I'd like to say, OK, that's it. This is the last move for a good long time. But history tells me that this is unlikely to be the case (to say the least). Do you know how many houses I've lived in since I graduated from college almost 10 years ago? 12. TWELVE! And that doesn't even include the places where I've lived for a month or 6 weeks for work. if you count those, I'm up to 16! So, yeah, I suspect that I'm going to be doing this whole move thing again sooner than not. ugh.