Monday, August 29, 2011

What I've Been Reading

I've been reading so many books lately that I thought I'd talk about a few of them in one post rather than reviewing each one individually. All of these books were good in different ways as you can see by their ratings.

1. Married with Zombies (Living with the Dead #1) by Jesse Petersen
A heartwarming tale of terror in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Meet Sarah and David.

Once upon a time they met and fell in love. But now they're on the verge of divorce and going to couples' counseling. On a routine trip to their counselor, they notice a few odd things - the lack of cars on the highway, the missing security guard, and the fact that their counselor, Dr. Kelly, is ripping out her previous client's throat.

Meet the Zombies.

Now, Sarah and David are fighting for survival in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. But, just because there are zombies, doesn't mean your other problems go away. If the zombies don't eat their brains, they might just kill each other.
This is the type of book people love to hate, but I really enjoyed it. I like the way it was written and found it to be quite funny. I also really enjoyed Sarah and David's relationship. I don't know if I'll read any of the other books, but this is a prime example of how to write a humorous zombie book without being trite.

Rating: 6. Good, but might not be for everyone

2. Bumped (Bumped #1) by Megan McCafferty
When a virus makes everyone over the age of eighteen infertile, would-be parents pay teen girls to conceive and give birth to their children, making teens the most prized members of society. Girls sport fake baby bumps and the school cafeteria stocks folic-acid-infused food.

Sixteen-year-old identical twins Melody and Harmony were separated at birth and have never met until the day Harmony shows up on Melody’s doorstep. Up to now, the twins have followed completely opposite paths. Melody has scored an enviable conception contract with a couple called the Jaydens. While they are searching for the perfect partner for Melody to bump with, she is fighting her attraction to her best friend, Zen, who is way too short for the job.

Harmony has spent her whole life in Goodside, a religious community, preparing to be a wife and mother. She believes her calling is to convince Melody that pregging for profit is a sin. But Harmony has secrets of her own that she is running from.

When Melody is finally matched with the world-famous, genetically flawless Jondoe, both girls’ lives are changed forever. A case of mistaken identity takes them on a journey neither could have ever imagined, one that makes Melody and Harmony realize they have so much more than just DNA in common.
This book had everything that Wither was missing. The biggest and most obvious being a reasonable explanation for why young people are so obsessed with having children (the biggest problem with Wither for me). McCafferty did a good job with world building and creating something I could easily imagine myself. I also thought she did a good job of giving both sisters different voices. Too often books with multiple POVs sound too alike, but this book handled it well. For me Melody's story was actually the most interesting of the two sisters. Even though it may seem like the less...flashy of the two journeys, it felt more authentic. Harmony was really hard for me to connect to and I have to admit I was happy when she was suffering. My biggest complaint is was the ending. I thought the story could be better tied together and I'm not sure I'm sold on what McCafferty seems to be planning for Harmony. Still, Bumped is one of the more interesting YA dystopias I've read lately.

Rating: 7. Very good

3. Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan
Judy and Kyle Renneker are sixteen-year-old fraternal twins in a rambling family of nine. They have a prickly history with each other and are, at least from Judy's perspective, constantly in fierce competition. Kyle has recently come out of the closet to his family and feels he might never know what it's like to date a guy. Judy, who has a history of pretending to be something she isn't in order to get what she wants, is pretending to be born-again in order to land a boyfriend who heads his own bible study.

When their parents announce that the family is going to be taking in a fellow student for a month so that he can finish the school year before moving away, both Kyle and Judy can't help but sit up and take notice. Garret Johnson, who is taking temporary residence in the newly finished attic, is a young man who moved into town less than a year ago and who is a mysterious, goth loner . . . and claims to be a vampire. He's not an easy person to get to know by any means, but the twins find him (to varying degrees) both strange and alluring.

Gemini Bites explores what it means to pretend to be something you aren't, what happens when that backfires, and how in-your-face honesty is almost always the best course of action.
I just HAD to check out this book after reading The Book Smuggler's review. I'm always on the lookout for books with LGBT protagonists and even though I don't generally like contemporary fiction, this book seemed quirky enough for me. And boy did Ryan deliver. Though this book was fairly short and straightforward, Ryan's writing was wonderful to read. Kyle was by far my favorite twin and I found him surprisingly funny and honest. While Judy is the one who really shows the most growth, Kyle stole my heart. This is the kind of book you can turn to when other books let you down or you just need something enjoyable to read.

Rating: 8. Excellent – some laughing and/or crying involved

4. In The Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip
In the tales of World Fantasy Award-winning author Patricia McKillip, nothing is ever as it seems. A mirror is never just a mirror; a forest is never just a forest. Here, it is a place where a witch can hide in her house of bones and a prince can bargain with his heart...where good and evil entwine and wear each others' faces... and where a bird with feathers of fire can quench the fiercest longing...
If you're looking for a book that's straightforward then this is not the book for you. I always get the impression when reading McKillip that she's weaving a story just for me. This isn't to say that this book is tailored to me likes, it's just that her books have a singular quality about them. While her books won't be for everyone, anyone who wants to get lost in a fantasy book that reads like an old fairy tale will enjoy this book.

Rating: 6. Good, but might not be for everyone

5. Tomorrow, When the War Began (Tomorrow #1) by John Marsden
When Ellie and her friends go camping, they have no idea they're leaving their old lives behind forever. Despite a less-than-tragic food shortage and a secret crush or two, everything goes as planned. But a week later, they return home to find their houses empty and their pets starving. Something has gone wrong--horribly wrong. Before long, they realize the country has been invaded, and the entire town has been captured--including their families and all their friends. Ellie and the other survivors face an impossible decision: They can flee for the mountains or surrender. Or they can fight.
Can you believe it took me this long to get around to reading this book? This book is often mentioned as one of the better YA dystopia books and I can see why now. The story was interesting without being moralizing and it was easy to sympathize with the characters. My only real complaint is that Marsden didn't explain things nearly as clearly as he should have. And after discovering there are seven books in this series I understand why he held so much back. But rather then making me want to read the next book, I've decided one is quite enough. I mean seven books? Harry Potter you are not.

Rating: 6. Good, but might not be for everyone

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back to School

This was my first week back at school and it went pretty smoothly (except the time I wanted to ram my car into someone for stealing my spot). The only class I haven't gone to yet is Sewing since it's only on Mondays and we start school on Wednesday for some strange reason at my campus. Holden also got tested for kindergarten this week and he's already where he needs to be by the end of the year. I chalk this up to chance more than any random parenting on my part, but it's still nice to see how bright Holden is. Last year he had some problems socially in preschool, but he's always learned things quickly.

For the first day of Spinning we just learned about the bikes and went over the syllabus. The teacher was really cool and said we should give it at least five rides before we quit. I thought that was kind of amusing, but I'm hoping that isn't that case for me. Even though I love working on with my friends, the elliptical is like mental torture. I just can't over the tedium.

My journalism class also seems really interesting. I was worried there would be a lot of younger people in my class since it's in the morning, but I was pleasantly surprised. The class also seemed ready to participate. The people were eager to contribute and I love that. The only downside is this class will require a lot of work. We have to turn in a story every week and do weekly group workshops. There are quite a few people who like to write sports so I hope I don't get paired with any of them.

The only class that was disappointing was my Audio Production class. I'm hoping it gets better but the first day was boring as hell. We basically talked about the science of sound and it's not as interesting as you might think it is. (Actually, does that sound interesting at all?) First days can be random though so we'll see.

All in all is was a good, if stressful, week. Holden starts kindergarten tomorrow so I'm looking forward to that. Hope everyone had a good week!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mariano Vivanco for Hurcules #9

I instantly fell in love with these images by Mariano Vivanco for Hurcules magazine so I was excited to find out there's also a "behind the scenes" video of the shoot.

Doesn't that first photo just scream to be blown up? I simple adore it.


Hercules Magazine from Luca Finotti on Vimeo.

You can see more images from the shoot here. Some are NSFW.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Music Thursday


New Music Thursday is an attempt to keep my goal of listening to some new music alive and kicking. Not all of these bands/artists are new to me, but all of the songs are. Also, I've decided I'm gonna start adding an old favorite to the mix since old loves are just as important as new passions.

These are the songs I'm diggin this week:

Serenade by The Naked And Famous:



Ghost by Kid Cudi:



Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People:



This song has been all over the radio lately, but I love it so much I had to include it.

Forever by Wolfgang Gartner (ft. Will.I.Am):



Old Love:

Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger:

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thai Basil Chicken

I've been dreaming of making Thai Basil Chicken forever but I had a hard time tracking down fish sauce. It was definitely worth the wait though. If you like basil and chicken, then this is the dish for you. It's flavorful and simple and utterly perfect.

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I didn't change a thing about this recipe except substitute two jalapenos for the peppers. Using a food processor is a brilliant way to get the perfect texture for this recipe and I plan on using the technique for other dishes as well. Just make sure the chicken is still chunky. No one wants to eat chicken paste. Also, you can watch the America's Test Kitchen video of this recipe here.

Would I make this again? For sure. The only bad thing about this dish is the smell of the chicken and the fish sauce when it hits the pan. Yuck. But it tastes amazing.

Thai Basil Chicken

Note: This is a mild version of the Thai stir fry. It is a slow Thai stir-fry contrary to the super hot Chinese version.


Ingredients:

2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
2 green Serrano chilies or 6 Red Thai chilies, stemmed (cut out seeds)
1 TB fish sauce
1 tsp white rice vinegar
1 TB oyster sauce
1 TB sugar
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast , cut into 2-inch pieces
3 medium Shallots, peeled and thinly sliced (about 3/4 cups)
2 TB vegetable oil

Directions:

1. Process 1 cup basil leaves, garlic, and chiles in food processor until finely chopped, 6 to 10 one-second pulses, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula once during processing. Transfer 1 tablespoon basil mixture to small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon fish sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, and sugar; set aside. Transfer remaining basil mixture to 12-inch heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet. Do not wash food processor bowl.

2. Pulse chicken and 1 tablespoon fish sauce in food processor until meat is chopped into -approximate 1/4-inch pieces, six to eight 1-second pulses. Transfer to medium bowl and refrigerate 15 minutes.

3. Stir shallots and oil into basil mixture in skillet. Heat over medium-low heat (mixture should start to sizzle after about 11/2 minutes; if it doesn’t, adjust heat accordingly), stirring constantly, until garlic and shallots are golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes.

4. Add chicken, increase heat to medium, and cook, stirring and breaking up chicken with potato masher or rubber spatula, until only traces of pink remain, 2 to 4 minutes. Add reserved basil-fish sauce mixture and continue to cook, stirring constantly until chicken is no longer pink, about 1 minute. Stir in remaining cup basil leaves and cook, stirring constantly, until basil is wilted, 30 to 60 seconds.

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Source:
Cook's Illustrated

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: YA, Dystopia

Publisher: Harper Collins
Publishing Date: May 3rd 2011
Hardback: 396 pages

Stand Alone or series: Book one in a planned trilogy

Summary:
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
Review:

First of all, must everything be compared to the Hunger Games? Some people act like Collins created the genre and it's really starting to annoy me. Guess what, she didn't. Just because the Hunger Games was widely popular doesn't mean it's the be-all end-all of dystopia. In fact, Collin's books borrow heavily from others. Has the popularity of her books led to influx of YA dystopia novels lately? Most likely. But this doesn't mean anything about individual books. Some of the books that have come out have been good. Some bad. Yeah, it's unfortunate that there seems to be more of the latter rather than the former, but people need to get over it. The Hunger Games itself had major world building issues and fell into cliched characterizations (I loved the books but talk about major fail when it came to the socio-political aspects). I don't mean to be all ranty, but it's starting to annoy me how Collin's books are treated like the New Testament of dystopia and how dare anyone dare to write a book that deals with similar tropes.

Now that that's out of the way, I do have to admit that this book had major issues. For one, the entire structure of the world Roth created fails for me. Society is divided into five factions that cultivate five virtues? While it's a really interesting idea, Roth doesn't come close to giving readers any of the information needed to buy into this concept. I need to know why society became this way for me to find it believable (beyond "there was a war"). I need to know how it was formed as well. Who decided? How were the virtues selected? Why haven't other virtues been added to the mix? And most importantly, who enforced this strange new caste system? If the idea to form these factions was to avoid war, then how does a system that inherently pits factions against one another by reinforcing an exclusionary group mentality do this? How does tearing families apart help? If there was a strong central state power then I could see the benefit because it would replace loyalty to family with loyalty to state, but since the factions are distinct and separate this loyalty ends up spread all over the place. It just seems like a rather silly way to avoid conflict if you ask me.

Secondly, this story tends to focus on action at the sake of character development. I actually started to get the impression that Tris didn't really have the capacity to genuinely care for other people. She'll ditch her friends in a heartbeat, put them in danger without second thought, and then actually think it'd be better for them to die then to have to face up to the repercussions of her actions. Even Tris' love interest is really just there to stroke her ego and tell her (and the reader) exactly what they need to know in order to further the plot. Don't get me wrong, there were a lot of things to like about Tris. She was conflicted and flawed and I love that in my characters. But sometimes I got the impression that Roth didn't mean for Tris to be so flawed. As the reader it seemed obvious that Tris didn't always rise above the ugliness, but Roth gave Tris so much righteous indignation that it was hard to know whether Tris' shortcoming were on purpose or not. This tends to happen when characters are allowed to win every argument and always have a justification for their failures (god forbid you disagree with her about how the government is run). And while Tris started out weak and had to work hard at training, she ended up being a little too good at everything. The whole divergent aspect was largely ignored, expect when needed to add some false sense of danger and immediacy to the plot, and some things just didn't make sense for me. If being able to change your dreams is something that "the powers that be" look for, then would Tris' antics in the last part of her initiation mean she pretty much gave up the hooch? I may have misunderstood this part, but it highlights the way the reader was told Tris had to be careful, but she never really had to act carefully. (She also seems to be a bit anti-intellectual which is amusing.)

I had more issues with the story, but I do have to say that I enjoyed the book overall. Maybe that's why I'm so critical of what I see as shortcomings in the story. Either way, this is one of the more interesting YA dystopias I've read and I do plan on reading the sequel. Maybe some of the unresolved issues I had with this book will be resolved in the next (though I hate when authors assume that I should accept that sort of ambiguity). Even though though Tris was a bit too much of a bad ass for my taste, she was still someone you could root for. I hope we get to see more of some of her friends and brother in the next book, since they're what really gave Tris any kind of warmth or personality.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

Browse Inside this book
Get this for your site

Verdict:

Good but not great.

Rating: 6. Good, but might not be for everyone

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hello Strangers

I feel like I've been gone forever. It's silly how blogging can throw your perspective off about a lot of things. If I went four days without talking to someone I wouldn't feel like I was neglecting them, but four days on a blog? That's forever and a day! It's crazy when you really think about it. Sometimes I just need a little time to myself though. With school starting this week I felt like I needed some time with good friends and good books. Summer feels like it's winding down and even though autumn is definitely my favorite season, the end of summer always feels like lost opportunities and I wanted to make sure I spent my time wisely.

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I'm one of those people who spends an embarrassing amount of time online, but lately I've felt the need to unplug and just hang out. I've been watching a lot of movies and listening to a lot of music too. (I'm a total media junkie.) In a lot of ways I'm looking forward to school starting, but it was nice to spend the last few days just enjoying things the way they are.

Contentment quickly turns to boredom though so here's to new adventures!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Vietnamese-Style Beef with Garlic, Black Pepper and Lime

I'm always on the lookout for simple beef dishes. As you may have noticed I love chicken, but I like to mix it up every once an a while. This dish is the epitome of what I look for. It has interesting flavors and it comes together quick. Can't really ask for more.

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Tenderloin is too expensive so I used sirloin instead. I bet tenderloin would be wonderful though. I also had a hard time finding fish sauce. I ended up getting it from a Filipino market by my house.

Would I make this again? Yes, but I did think it needed something to kick it up just a notch. Maybe some jalapenos?

Vietnamese-Style Beef with Garlic, Black Pepper and Lime

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1-1/2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons peanut or canola oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1-1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, cut into 3/4" pieces
1 medium yellow onion, sliced into 1/4" thick wedges
3 Tablespoons chopped salted peanuts, toasted
2 scallions, both green and white parts, thinly sliced

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce; stir until the sugar dissolves. In another small bowl, stir the garlic, 1-1/2 teaspoons of the oil, and 1-1/2 teaspoons pepper.

2. Season the beef with salt and pepper. In a 12" nonstick skillet, heat 1-1/2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Swirl to coat the skillet. Add half of the beef in a single layer and cook, without stirring, until well browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Using tongs, turn the pieces over and brown on the other side, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining beef, adding to the bowl with the first batch when done.

3. Put the remaining 1-1/2 Tablespoons oil in the skillet and heat until shimmering hot. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, mixture and cook stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Return the beef and any accumulated juices to the pan and stir to combine. Add the soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the beef and onions are coated and the sauce thickens slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Serve sprinkled with peanuts and scallions.

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Source: Noble Pig

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: A Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

Title: A Map of Time
Author: Felix J. Palma
Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Atria
Publishing Date: June 28th 2011
Hardcover: 611 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone

Where did I get this book: I won this book from Goodreads actually

Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time boasts a triple-play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and thereby save the lives of an aristocrat in love with a murdered prostitute from the past; of a woman bent on fleeing the strictures of Victorian society; and of his very own wife, who may have become a pawn in a 4th-dimensional plot to murder the authors of Dracula, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, in order to alter their identities and steal their fictional creations.

But, what happens if we change history? Felix J. Palma raises such questions in The Map of Time. Mingling fictional characters with real ones, Palma weaves a historical fantasy as imaginative as it is exciting, a story full of love and adventure that also pays homage to the roots of science fiction while transporting its readers to a fascinating Victorian London for their own taste of time travel.
Review:

Broken up into three different parts, A Map of Time is about love, time travel, and all the craziness these two things can create. The first part follows Andrew Harrington as he plans to commit suicide after living in depression since his love was murdered. Author H.G. Wells assists Harrington in traveling to the past to prevent a murder and therefor hopefully saving both Andrew and his love's life. In the second part, H.G Wells helps two lovers, Clair Haggerty and Captain Shackleton, bridge the gap between the present and the future. And in the third part, H.G. Wells questions the ramifications of time travel and attempts to save the books we love so much today.

Since the story is broken up into three different parts, it was easy to see that some parts were more enjoyable than others. In fact, I think I liked the first part the least so I had a hard time initially getting into the book. By the end though, I was pretty enamored with the story. For one, the ending was just perfect in my view. Second, I loved the feel of whimsy the story had. It reminded me of The Good Mayor and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Maybe it was the narrator that makes me think of these two things, but A Map of Time is something special and hard to describe. Palam often allows the narrator to address the reader and I love when authors take that risk.

This is not to say the book didn't have it's faults. One of the best things about the books is the writing itself. I don't know if Palma or the translator should get most of the credit, but every phrase felt like it was carefully selected and polished a thousand times before given to the reader like a gift. On the flip side, every passage and explanation was painstakingly long. This book is 611 pages and by the end I felt like I'd read hundreds more. I love long books, but this book felt long and that's not a plus. If the book had been parred down then it would have been much better. As it stand now, it seems a bit self-indulgent. When Palma writes about Wells considering the difference between good authors and bad authors, I felt like he was talking about himself. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I like my books without the extra ego stroking.

I think some people will go into this book expected something different from what it really is. I know I did and that's actually my biggest complaint about the book. The blurb made me think the story would be similar to the Thursday Next series, but the book turned out to be a lot less detective time traveling and a lot more confusion about time travel. This book is really three independent stories loosely tied together by Wells and I'm not sure it worked as well as it could have. Of course I don't envy the person who had to summarize such a unique and strange story in a paragraph either.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:
ANDREW HARRINGTON WOULD HAVE GLADLY died several times over if that meant not having to choose just one pistol from among his father’s vast collection in the living room cabinet. Decisions had never been Andrew’s strong point. On close examination, his life had been a series of mistaken choices, the last of them threatening to cast its lengthy shadow over the future. But that life of unedifying blunders was about to end. This time he was sure he had made the right decision, because he had decided not to decide. There would be no more mistakes in the future because there would be no more future. He was going to destroy it completely by putting one of those guns to his right temple. He could see no other solution: obliterating the future was the only way for him to eradicate the past.

He scanned the contents of the cabinet, the lethal assortment his father had lovingly set about assembling after his return from the war. He was fanatical about these weapons, though Andrew suspected it was not so much nostalgia that drove him to collect them as his desire to contemplate the novel ways mankind kept coming up with for taking one’s own life outside the law. In stark contrast to his father’s devotion, Andrew was impassive as he surveyed the apparently docile, almost humdrum implements that had brought thunder down to men’s fingertips and freed war from the unpleasantness of hand-to-hand combat. Andrew tried to imagine what kind of death might be lurking inside each of them, lying in wait like some predator. Which would his father have recommended he blow his brains out with? He calculated that death from one of those antiquated muzzle-loading flintlocks, which had to be refilled with gunpowder and a ball, then tamped down with a paper plug each time they were fired, would be a noble but drawn-out, tedious affair. He preferred the swift death guaranteed by one of the more modern revolvers nestling in their luxurious velvet-lined wooden cases. He considered a Colt Single Action revolver, which looked easy to handle and reliable, but discarded it when he remembered he had seen Buffalo Bill brandishing one in his Wild West Shows. A pitiful attempt to reenact his transoceanic exploits with a handful of imported Red Indians and a dozen lethargic, apparently opium-drugged buffalo. Death for him was not just another adventure. He also rejected a fine Smith & Wesson: that was the gun that had killed the outlaw Jesse James, of whom he considered himself unworthy, as well as a Webley revolver, specially designed to hold back the charging hordes in Britain’s colonial wars, which he thought looked too cumbersome. His attention turned next to his father’s favorite, a fine pepperbox with rotating barrels, but he seriously doubted whether this ridiculous, ostentatious-looking weapon would be capable of firing a bullet with enough force. Finally, he settled on an elegant 1870 Colt with mother-of-pearl inlays that would take his life with all the delicacy of a woman’s caress.

He smiled defiantly as he plucked it from the cabinet, remembering how often his father had forbidden him to meddle with his pistols. But the illustrious William Harrington was in Italy at that moment, no doubt reducing the Fontana de Trevi to a quivering wreck with his critical gaze. His parents’ decision to leave on their trip to Europe the very day he had chosen to kill himself had also been a happy coincidence. He doubted whether either of them would ever decipher the true message concealed in his gesture (that he had preferred to die as he had lived—alone), but for Andrew it was enough to imagine the inevitable look of disgust on his father’s face when he discovered his son had killed himself behind his back, without his permission.
You can read the rest here.

Verdict:

I'm torn between a six and a seven, but at the end of the day the writing is just too special to ignore. Honestly, this book seems like the type of story I imagine an old story teller would tell. Compared with the mediocre books I've read lately, A Map of Time was refreshingly singular.

Rating: 7. Very good

Monday, August 15, 2011

Craft/DIY Roundup

Here's a roundup of some interesting craft projects I've come across lately. I haven't made anything in a while and I need to get my creative juices flowing.


1. Stenciled Animal Mugs
2. Light Bulb Sculpture
3. Hanging Coat Rack
4. Knock off Burberry Tribal High Heels
5. DIY Cupcake Carrier
6. No-Carve Stamps
7. Bubble gum machine
8. DIY: Wrap-turned-Scarf

Isn't that vest/wrap/scarf thing brilliant? I love no-sew projects. I want to make one out of animal print or even fur. Also, I can't wait to put that cupcake holder to good use.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Photography Cheat Sheet

A lot of people are intimidated by the idea of using their camera in manual mode. Well, this cheat sheet by Miguel Gantioqui should make things a little easier.

Peruvian Roast Chicken with Garlic and Lime

I've never made a beer can chicken before, but I knew I had to make this dish as soon as I came across it in Cook’s Illustrated magazine. Garlic and lime are two of my favorite flavors and the recipe looked so incredibly flavorful I couldn't pass it up. I'm glad I didn't because this chicken was amazing. There's just no other way to describe it. The flavors really complimented each other perfectly (even the mint and mint tends to ruin a lot of dishes for me). The chicken skin was also wonderful. I don't even like to eat the skin, but it was so crunchy and tasty I couldn't stop myself. I can't wait to use this marinade on drumsticks the next time I have people over. Yum.

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The original recipe recommended serving the chicken with a spicy mayonnaise. I included the recipe since I heard it was super tasty, but I didn't make it myself (just used prepared mayo for a shortcut). I don't like mayonnaise and the chicken was so juicy it didn't need anything else in my opinion. Also, I used a jalapeno instead of a serrano since that's what I had on hand.

Would I make this again? Oh my god yes. Next time I'll probably use chicken pieces and skip the beer can though cause I'm lazy.

Peruvian Roast Chicken with Garlic and Lime

This recipe calls for a vertical poultry roaster. If you don’t have one, substitute a 12-ounce can of beer. Open the beer and pour out (or drink) about half of the liquid. Spray the can lightly with nonstick cooking spray and proceed with the recipe. If the top of the chicken is becoming too dark during the second roasting, place a 7-inch-square piece of foil over the neck and wingtips. If habanero chiles are unavailable, 1 tablespoon of minced serrano chile can be substituted. Wear gloves when working with hot chiles.

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 medium garlic cloves , peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons finely grated zest and 1/4 cup juice from 2 limes
1 teaspoon minced habanero chile (see note)
1 (3 1/2-to 4-pound) whole chicken

Directions:

1. Process all ingredients except chicken in blender until smooth paste forms, 10 to 20 seconds. Using fingers or handle of wooden spoon, carefully loosen skin over thighs and breast and remove any excess fat. Rub half of paste beneath skin of chicken. Spread entire exterior surface of chicken with remaining paste. Tuck wingtips underneath chicken. Place chicken in gallon-size zipper-lock bag and refrigerate at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours.

2. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Place vertical roaster on rimmed baking sheet. Slide chicken onto vertical roaster so chicken stands upright and breast is perpendicular to bottom of pan. Roast until skin just begins to turn golden and instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast registers 140 degrees, 45 to 55 minutes. Carefully remove chicken and pan from oven and increase oven temperature to 500 degrees.

3. When oven is heated to 500 degrees, place 1 cup water in bottom of pan and return pan to oven. Roast until entire skin is browned and crisp and instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees inserted in thickest part of breast and 175 degrees in thickest part of thigh, about 20 minutes (replenish water as necessary to keep pan from smoking), rotating bird 180 degrees halfway through cooking.

4. Carefully remove chicken from oven and let rest, still on vertical roaster, 20 minutes. Using kitchen towel, carefully lift chicken off vertical roaster and onto platter or cutting board. Carve chicken and serve, passing Spicy Mayonnaise separately.

Spicy Mayonnaise

If you have concerns about consuming raw eggs, 1/4 cup of an egg substitute can be used in place of the egg.

Ingredients:

1 large egg (see note)
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lime
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon canned pickled jalapeño pepper, minced
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup vegetable oil

Directions:

Process all ingredients except oil in food processor until finely chopped, about 5 seconds. With machine running, slowly drizzle in oil in steady stream until mayonnaise-like consistency is reached, scraping down bowl as necessary.

Source:
Cook’s Illustrated

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Zoo Trip

We went to the zoo a couple weeks ago with Ryan's work and I thought I'd post some pictures from the trip. We actually went to the zoo last year too so I didn't go as picture crazy. You can see last years post for even more pictures though.

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As you can see they had a dinosaur thing going on this year. It's fun to see how much Holden has grown in between the two trips.

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They sure do grow up fast.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Banana Republic’s Mad Men Collection

Banana Republic’s Mad Men Collection went on sale yesterday. While most of the focus seems to be on the women's line, it's the men's line that really does it for me.


I can just imagine Ryan looking all sharp and wonderful. Even though this is nothing like his style (if jeans and a t-shirt can be called "style"), one day he'll wear a suit like this.

Movie Lust: In Time

Is it just me but does this movie look awesome? I know there's a huge chance it'll fall flat, but I just love the idea. It's got the dystopian vibe I'm always looking for in books.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

New Music Thursday


New Music Thursday is an attempt to keep my goal of listening to some new music alive and kicking. Not all of these bands/artists are new to me, but all of the songs are. Also, I've decided I'm gonna start adding an old favorite to the mix since old loves are just as important as new passions.

These are the songs I'm diggin this week:

Hold It Kid (Your Heart Just Skipped a Beat) by the Weeks:



Johnny is Dead by Q-Tip:



Lust For Life by Girls:



Dance The Way I Feel by Ou Est Le Swimming Pool:



Old Love:

Re-Arranged by Limp Bizkit:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Baked Manicotti with Meat Sauce

I know the photos of this dish are a little lackluster, but damn this is some good manicotti. It comes from the people of America's Test Kitchen so you know it's gonna be special. This particular recipe mixes pepperoni and ground beef to give the dish the most flavorful meat flavor ever. Seriously, it's amazing. Using no-boil noodles also avoids the hassle of trying to fill the manicotti perfectly as well. While some people may look at this recipe and think it's too much effort, it actually comes together quicker than you think. Add a simple salad and a hunk of French bread and you'll have a night of food bliss. You can even watch a video of the recipe being made here.

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I love the idea of using the no boil noodles. I can just envision all kinds of fillings and I bet you could use them for raviolis as well. The only change I made to the recipe was dividing the dish in half. I baked half and saved the other half for later in the week (I assembled it in one of those disposable foil brownie pans). This recipe is perfect as it is and I'll be using the sauce regularly from now on.

Would I make this again? This is definitely a sometimes dish, but when I want manicotti I'll use this recipe. No doubt about it.

Baked Manicotti with Meat Sauce

You will need 16 no-boil lasagna noodles. The test kitchen’s preferred brand, Barilla, comes 16 to a box, but other brands contain only 12. It is important to let the dish cool for 15 minutes after baking.

Ingredients:

Meat Sauce:

1 onion, chopped
6 ounces sliced deli pepperoni
1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 garlic cloves , minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper

Manicotti:

3 cups ricotta cheese
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded provolone cheese
1 large egg , lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
16 no-boil lasagna noodles (see note)

Directions:

1. GRIND MEAT Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Pulse onion and pepperoni in food processor until coarsely ground. Add beef and pulse until thoroughly combined.

2. MAKE SAUCE Transfer beef mixture to large saucepan and cook over medium heat, breaking up mixture with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer 1 cup beef mixture to paper towel-lined plate and reserve. Add tomato paste, garlic, and pepper flakes to pot with remaining meat mixture and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes and simmer until sauce is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (At this point, sauce can be refrigerated in airtight container for 3 days.)

3. PREPARE FILLING Combine ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella, 1 cup provolone, egg, salt, pepper, basil, and reserved meat mixture in large bowl. Pour 2 quarts boiling water into 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Soak noodles until pliable, about 5 minutes. Drain noodles on kitchen towel. Pour off water and dry baking dish.


4. ASSEMBLE DISH Spread half of meat sauce over bottom of baking dish. Following photos below, top each soaked noodle with 1/4 cup cheese filling, roll, and arrange, seam-side down, over sauce in baking dish. Spread remaining sauce over manicotti. Cover with foil and bake until bubbling around edges, about 40 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and provolone. Bake until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes. Serve.

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Source: Cook's Country

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review: Enclave by Ann Aguirre

Title: Enclave
Author: Ann Aguirre
Genre: YA, Dystopia, Zombies, Post-Apocalyptic

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publishing Date: April 12th 2011
Hardcover: 259 pages

Stand Alone or series: Book one of the Razorland trilogy

Summary:
In Deuce’s world, people earn the right to a name only if they survive their first fifteen years. By that point, each unnamed ‘brat’ has trained into one of three groups–Breeders, Builders, or Hunters, identifiable by the number of scars they bear on their arms. Deuce has wanted to be a Huntress for as long as she can remember.

As a Huntress, her purpose is clear—to brave the dangerous tunnels outside the enclave and bring back meat to feed the group while evading ferocious monsters known as Freaks. She’s worked toward this goal her whole life, and nothing’s going to stop her, not even a beautiful, brooding Hunter named Fade. When the mysterious boy becomes her partner, Deuce’s troubles are just beginning.

Down below, deviation from the rules is punished swiftly and harshly, and Fade doesn’t like following orders. At first she thinks he’s crazy, but as death stalks their sanctuary, and it becomes clear the elders don’t always know best, Deuce wonders if Fade might be telling the truth. Her partner confuses her; she’s never known a boy like him before, as prone to touching her gently as using his knives with feral grace.

As Deuce’s perception shifts, so does the balance in the constant battle for survival. The mindless Freaks, once considered a threat only due to their sheer numbers, show signs of cunning and strategy… but the elders refuse to heed any warnings. Despite imminent disaster, the enclave puts their faith in strictures and sacrifice instead. No matter how she tries, Deuce cannot stem the dark tide that carries her far from the only world she’s ever known.
Review:

Deuce has spent her whole life underground. Living with her enclave in the old subway tunnels, Deuce and her people fight every day just to survive. Separated into three professions, breeders, builders, and hunters, Deuce spent her whole life preparing to be a huntress. She dreamed of risking her life fighting "Freaks" (zombie like creatures) in order to provide for her clan and protect her people. When she gets her wish though, Deuce is about to learn that sometimes getting what you want is not all sunshine and roses (not that she would know what either of those things were of course). First she's given a strange partner Fade, then she's punished harshly for something she didn't do, and then she's forced to face her biggest challenge yet: going topside. Once there, Deuce is about to learn that not everything she was taught about the world is correct and that there are worse monsters than Freaks.

This review jumped the line because I needed to rant about it. This review may be triggering for sexual violence. While the book does not depict any non-consensual acts, it and this review talk about rape and children.

Even though this book had a lot of things going for it, at the end it felt incomplete. It just lacked...something. The first third of the book started off well and the characters were well fleshed out for the most part. Yeah the "bad" guys were completely one dimensional, but things were interesting. The reader gets to learn about Deuce and her strange world and the zombie like creatures that threaten everything. I never felt like Aguirre was info-dumping either which I enjoyed. As the story moved on though, I found myself less and less enthralled with the story.

I really noticed I was less inclined to want to finish the book when Deuce and Fade traveled topside. For one, I just couldn't buy into the gang clans Aguirre created. Not only is it hard for me to accept that women would be so completely subjected by a bunch of children, but I also have a hard time believing kids who die so young would be so obsessed with "breeders." Maybe I'm just being difficult, but it seemed like laziness on Aguirre's part. I'm really supposed to believe Deuce is the only girl capable of fighting the gangs? While this may be one of those weird "this is the way it seems but later I'll reveal it's all a LIE!" techniques, I just didn't buy this scenario. In response to the gangs there should have been...something to counteract their power. Maybe a crazy nunnery? Or some modern Amazons or something. I don't know. Maybe it's the humorless feminist in me, but I have a hard time accepting stories where women are so easily reduced to powerless children. Then there's the gang leader, Stalker, who kidnaps Deuce and Fade with the intention of raping and breeding one and hunting the other. Except instead of being treated with disgust and contempt, Deuce actually tells a child who was raped by Stalker's gang, repeatedly for two years with his permission, that she needs to get over it because he has to travel with them now. The girl, Tegan, is also repeatedly called weak throughout the story and it really rubbed me the wrong way. While Deuce does eventually have some pseudo-empathy near the end of the story, her apathy made me disconnect with her as a character and I wasn't able to really root for her anymore. As if that was enough of a slap in the face, Stalker then gets into some weird love triangle with Deuce and Fade.

Yes really.

Ann Aguirre, just in case you ever come across this I would like to speak to you directly for a moment if I could. This little Stalker-Deuce-Fade thing is not okay. Hopefully this situation will be laid to rest in the next book, but I'm tired of books that say it doesn't matter how bad he is because all people can be redeemed. I'm sorry, but no. Redemption does not come before healing and Tegan's treatment was horrendous. In fact, I'd love to know if you think all rape victims should put it behind them. Today's a new day right? The more I think about this in fact, the more it enrages me. I kind of want to just yell "SCREW YOU," but I'll try to show a little more restraint than that. Also, I'll let you in a little secret: we're all around you. With rape statistics as high as they are, there's a very good chance a lot of your readers will be sexual assault survivors. (If someone is assaulted every two minutes in America and 44% of those victims are under eighteen, there's a pretty damn good chance.) While the scene made some sense in relation to the story, did it never occur to you that it seemed callous of rape victims in general? I just can't get over this. Part of me feels like I'm overreacting, but the other part thinks this is another way rape victims are told to remain silent. Telling people to put things behind them and not get too upset when it makes things difficult for the people around them is another way of erasing their experiences. And it's wrong. Period.

Alright that's enough about that.

Basically, the book goes on with a lot of rambling and ends with a non-ending. Oh but I can't forget about the strange turn to the supernatural, the brief work of a rebel group, and the deus ex machina ending. At the end of the book I felt like this was a another trilogy that didn't need to be a trilogy. While Enclave is filled with lots of stuff, nothing really happens and the reader walks away without knowing any of the big questions a story like this creates.It felt like Aguirre never really extrapolated any of the themes in her book. The zombie like creatures getting smarter, the child gangs, the degradation of women, the insistence fighting is the only type of strength,  how sometimes people do the right thing for the wrong reasons, etc. There were so many missed opportunities in this book. There were also some inconsistencies that bothered me throughout the story (like Deuce not being able to read well but easily reading the beginning of a book). While I wish more authors would write about boys and girls who remain friends, rather than throwing a love story in every book, I did think Aguirre wrote Deuce and Fade's relationship pretty well. I just can't get over the Stalker thing. Seriously, it's insulting to the reader to assume we have the memory capacity of a gold fish or that we're incapable of feeling any empathy for rape victims. This book has been compared to The Hunger Games (shocking), but the only thing they really have in common is that both heroines have a serious lack of depth when it comes to emotions.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

The book did have a lot of lovely little passages. For example:
Doors blocked off tiny rooms, except for the one, where the metal hung askew, revealing a squat chair with a hole in it. Curiosity got the best of me, then overwhelming disgust.
And:
A good huntress respected her partners instincts, even if he was socially ignorant.
And I mustn't forget Deuce's big epiphany:
There were different kinds of strength. I knew that now. It didn't always come from a knife or a willingness to fight. Sometimes it came from endurance, where the well ran deep and quiet. Sometimes it came from compassion and forgiveness.
Verdict:

First half was much stronger than the second. This was made worse by the fact the two characters the reader connects most with barely talk to one another in the second half. This book would have easily been a six based on the first half (and I still feel generous with a four rating). Too bad it ends with a fizzle and showed a serious lack of respect for the victims of sexual violence. Especially children.

Rating: 4. Bad, but for some reason I still needed to know what happens in the end

Friday, August 5, 2011

August Goals

Sonya over at Fishnets and Hip Checks did a post about her August goals that I thought I would steal copy. August always feels like a month for opportunities. It's both the end of summer and the beginning on school and I like that. I've recently made a few changes and I think monthly goal posts will be a good way to write out exactly what I want and hold myself accountable.


1. Drink more water and less soda

I love soda and I refuse to give it up. I went a few years, in high school no less, without drinking soda and I just don't think it's worth the hype. I know this is something a lot of people do, but I instead want to limit my soda intake to one can a day. I can live with that without feeling like I'm denying myself something I want. Other than that, I want to make sure I'm drinking plenty of water.

2. Go to the gym three times a week

Last week I decided I wanted to get in shape. I feel silly admitting this since it's on pretty much every goal list ever, but it's kind of a big deal for me. I haven't worked out in years and I felt like I needed to change something. This is not about losing weight. I'm sure that will be a bonus, but really I just want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without being winded. I'm lucky that I have two awesome friends that are happy to join me and access to the college's gym for free. I also want to get in shape for number three...

3. Take a spinning class

Does this strike anyone else as insane? Me too. I signed up for a spinning class this fall and I'm both thrilled and terrified. I'm hoping if I work out all month I'll be at least partially prepared for the class at the end of month. I don't know if you know this about me, but I'm obsessed with getting good grades. The first time I went to college I had a .8 (that's right...a point eight) so I'm extra proud of the 3.8 I've been babying. This goes into my next goal, but I'm hoping my academic neurosis will help keep me motivated to embrace spinning and not drop the class.

4. Get accepted to the University of Utah

I applied. We'll see what happens.

5. Finish a few paintings

There's a few paintings I've abandoned lately that I need to finish. I will finish them this month.

6. Sign Holden up for kindergarten 

I know I know. I need to get on this. I'm going to call and make Holden an appointment with the doctor this week and finally get him enrolled. I'm not sure the school office is open yet though. I need to drive by and see what the sign says.

7. Ride my bike

Ryan got me a bike for my birthday but I haven't used it all summer. I want to go on bike rides at least once a week for the rest of the month though. Maybe I'll even start riding my bike to the campus (which is just across the street).

8. Build a lightbox

There are so many tutorials for this online, but I keep putting it off. Since summer is almost over though, now is definitely the time to finally make one. As the days get shorter it gets a lot harder to take pictures of dinner to share.

9. Blog more at Random Thoughts

I've been neglecting my other blog lately. I just haven't cared about politics and August is often a slow month.

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I feel like there should be ten goals, but I guess nine will do. Nine is a good number anyways. So, you got any goals for this month?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New Music Thursday


New Music Thursday is an attempt to keep my goal of listening to some new music alive and kicking. Not all of these bands/artists are new to me, but all of the songs are. Also, I've decided I'm gonna start adding an old favorite to the mix since old loves are just as important as new passions.

These are the songs I'm diggin this week:

Cold Rain Falls by Tiger Army:



All of This by The Naked And Famous:



Love this song. Kind of reminds me of LCD Soundsystem and the Silversun Pickups.

In Stereo by Fort Minor:



Full Moon by The Black Ghosts:



Old Love:

Delicate by Damian Rice:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Patrick Rothfuss Interviews Jim Butcher

Can there be any more awesome in video? Butcher is one of my favorite urban fantasy writers and Name of the Wind was golden. FYI: There is a spoiler for the Dresden book Changes around 10:50.



Another reason Goodreads kicks ass.

Book Review: The Unidentified by Rae Mariz

Title: The Unidentified
Author: Rae Mariz
Genre: YA, Dystopia

Publisher: Harper Collins
Publishing Date: October 5th 2010
Hardcover: 336 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone

Summary:
Fifteen-year-old Katey (aka Kid) goes to school in the Game—a mall converted into a “school” run by corporate sponsors. As the students play their way through the levels, they are also creating products and being used for market research by the sponsors, who are watching them 24/7 on video cameras.

Kid has a vague sense of unease but doesn’t question this existence until one day she witnesses a shocking anti-corporate prank. She follows the clues to uncover the identities of the people behind it and discovers an anonymous group that calls itself the Unidentified. Intrigued by their counter culture ideas and enigmatic leader, Kid is drawn into the group. But when the Unidentified’s pranks and even Kid’s own identity are co-opted by the sponsors, Kid decides to do something bigger—something that could change the Game forever.
Review:

When America can no longer afford to pay for public schooling, corporate sponsors are quick to pick up the tag. Sponsors get to try out new products and get gullible kids to buy their stuff while the students get to stay up to date with the latest technology and play video games during school hours. Seems like a win-win for everyone but when Kid comes across a group of students who don't think it's great that they're being tracked by corporations and refuse to compete against their schoolmates for prizes and recognition, she's forced to reconsider everything she's casually accepted.

The strongest thing about this story is the idea itself. It is really easy for me to accept the reality Mariz has envisioned. With the hyper consumerism of our culture already and the vast privatization that's happening on all fronts, corporate run schools seems completely believable. More than that though, it actually seems inevitably. Kid is a nice enough protagonist. She's interested in this mysterious group, the Unidentified, but she's also quick to fall into the sponsor's traps and do exactly what's expected of her. This made her character fairly believable since she wasn't too much of anything. I even liked the nice romantic twist Mariz worked into the book. Talk about major eye-rolling when a certain boy came onto the scene, but I was pleasantly surprised by the way the story progressed on that front.

But while the book's main concept is completely believable, its execution is problematic. The main problem is that this story essentially felt...meh. It takes a long time for anything to happen and when it does I couldn't help but feel apathetic about it all. The ending felt like a non-ending and the central themes of the book felt watered down. Basically, the story had no meat on its bones. Or teeth. A book like this should have teeth.

Mariz built an interesting world, but it kind of felt like she just stopped there. So while I wouldn't say this book was bad, I can't really say it was good either. It was just meh. Plus, this is another one of those books where the rules are so easily broken and the "mysteries" so easily solved that it feels a bit silly. At no point did I ever feel any any immediacy or that Kid was in danger. And that kind of defeats the point doesn't it?

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

You can read the first 60 pages here.

Verdict:

Another book that doesn't live up to its potential. Completely unfortunate.

Rating: 5. Blah – essentially neutral

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Stuffed Chicken Marsala

I know the Olive Garden gets made fun of a lot, but I adore their stuffed chicken Marsala. I order it every time we eat there and I'm never disappointed. When I saw this recipe was on the Olive Garden website I totally did my happy dance. While it's virtually impossible to replicate a restaurant dish perfectly in my experience there's (something about a chef and dish washer that makes the food that much better), this recipe is as close as I've ever gotten. The cheese filling was spot on and instantly recognizable. I know the ingredient list is long, but damn it's worth it.

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I found it difficult to pound the chicken thin after I butterflied it. It make it easier for my chicken to rip so next time I'll pound first. I also scaled the cheese filling way back since there are only three of us and there's always leftovers of filling it seems (though I bet it would taste wonderful melted on some french bread). I used smoked gouda since that's what I was able to find and it was delicious. I had never had it before, but it tasted wonderful.

Would I make this again? Oh yes. This is perfect date-night food.

Stuffed Chicken Marsala

Ingredients:

1 small onion, cut in half and thinly sliced lengthwise
24 fl oz Marsala wine
8 fl oz heavy cream
2 small containers button mushrooms, thinly sliced (6 cups)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts
4 fl oz olive oil
2 cups all-purpose flour

Cheese Stuffing:

1/2 cup smoked shredded cheese (provolone or gouda)
8-oz package mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp fresh garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, crushed
2 Tbsp sun-dried tomato flakes (drain first if in oil)
1/3 cup green onions, thinly sliced

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

1. Combine all cheese stuffing ingredients in a mixing bowl.

2. Butterfly thickest section of chicken breasts to create 2 lobes. Pound each breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap until 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick.

3. Place flattened chicken breasts on a plate and place desired amount of stuffing on one lobe of each chicken breast. Gently press stuffing down so it resembles a hockey puck. Fold over other lobe of chicken breast; does not have to seal.

4. Heat large sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and heat until shimmering.

5. Place flour in a shallow pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Dredge stuffed chicken breasts in flour, shaking off excess. Saute chicken breasts with preheated oil, cooking until each side is golden brown.

6. Remove chicken from pan and place in a baking dish. Bake for 10-20 minutes, or until juices run clean and center of chicken reaches 165°F.

7. Add onions to sauté pan, and stir to loosen chicken drippings. After 2 minutes, add mushrooms and sauté until onions are translucent. Deglaze pan with Marsala wine – make sure to incorporate drippings from bottom of pan. Heat wine to a simmer and add heavy cream. Simmer on low heat until reduced by half.

8. Place cooked chicken breasts on a plate and top each with onions, mushrooms and sauce. Serve with your favorite garlic mashed potato recipe.

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Source: Olive Garden

The Truth Hurts

"There are a billion people in China. It's not easy to be an individual in a crowd of more than a billion people. Think of it. More than a BILLION people. That means even if you're a one-in-a-million type of guy, there are still a thousand guys exactly like you."
-A. Whitney Brown, The Big Picture