Friday, February 12, 2016

Making Me Happy, 2/12/16

Happiness Friday!

First off, I'm happy that I get Presidents Day off work, so this will be a long weekend for me. (The last one till Memorial Day...oh, wait, can't let any sadness into this post.)

Speaking of not allowing sadness into this post, Super Bowl? What Super Bowl? I did, however, see an awesome though too-brief concert with Beyonce and Bruno Mars.

Also, though I discovered it months ago, one thing that's consistently making me happy is the Hamilton soundtrack. Just in case any of you haven't heard about it yet, Hamilton is a hip-hop infused musical about the life, accomplishments, and ultimate downfall of Ten-Dollar Founding Father and first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. It sounds crazy, but most people I've met with even the slightest receptivity to musicals or history fall hard the moment they hear the soundtrack.

So if you haven't heard it yet, here's a taste. "Yorktown" gives a good feel for the overall sound and style:

Here's Aaron Burr's big Act I number, "Wait For It," the most gorgeous villain song I've ever heard:

Trust me. Hamilton. It is made of awesomeness. I'm jealous of all my friends who have seen or will soon see it on Broadway, and I'm already plotting how to see it when it comes to San Francisco a year from now (not with the original cast, though...oh wait, HAPPINESS POST...must stop with the sadness).

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wednesday Recipe - Old-Fashioned Bread Omelet

So, I'm going vegetarian for Lent. (Well, mostly vegetarian. Per Lenten tradition, I can have fish on Friday, and since Sunday is always a feast day even during a fasting season, I get meat on Sundays.) My goal is to be more mindful about how I treat my body, both as a spiritual discipline and to kickstart my health goals for the next year or so.

Therefore for the next seven weeks, my recipes of the week will be vegetarian. I'll start off with one of my go-to comfort meals from the More With Less Cookbook:

Old-Fashioned Bread Omelet
(4 servings)

Combine and soak 15 minutes:
- 1 c. bread cubes
- 1/2 c. milk

(The recipe doesn't specify a type of bread, but I like to use a firm white bread, like day-old French bread. Basically, anything that would work well for French toast, though since this is a savory recipe you probably wouldn't want to go with brioche or challah.)

Preheat oven to 325F.

Combine in bowl:
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 c. grated cheese
- 1/2 tsp salt
- bread and milk mixture

(The recipe doesn't call for pepper. I always give it a few healthy grinds' worth anyway. It also doesn't specify a type of cheese. I use whatever I have on hand, usually cheddar or a Mexican blend, though the time I started the recipe before realizing all I had was parmesan turned out just fine too.)

Heat in oven-proof skillet:

- 1 T. butter

Pour in egg mixture and cook over medium heat without stirring, about 5 minutes. When set and beginning to lightly brown underneath, place pan in oven for 10 minutes to finish cooking on top. Turn out onto hot platter, folding omelet in half. (Or, if you're me, just dish it straight onto your serving plates.)


Simple, comforting, and hearty. The bread gives the omelet a certain extra robustness that's nice if you have texture issues with the squishiness of eggs. (I do--I'm adventurous with trying new flavors, but I have Texture Issues.) Outside of Lent, there's a good chance I'd go full-on breakfast for dinner and serve bacon, sausage, or ham with this. And it's equally good with a savory vegetable side--I like to quick-cook some kale or spinach in a little olive oil with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and some cider vinegar and/or lemon juice--or with whatever fruit suits your fancy.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Making Me Happy, 2/5/16

Happiness Friday!

Sleepy Hollow is back tonight. Sure, I angst over this show way too much at times. That's life if you're watching a show as a dedicated shipper of a pairing that isn't (yet) canon. (Ichabbie 4EVA!) But the previews for tonight's midseason premiere look really good, so set your DVRs.

Cam Newton in the Super Bowl. As long-time followers of my blog or Twitter feed know, I've been a big fan of Cam Newton since he led Auburn to the national championship in 2010, and I'm rooting for him to achieve the rare (possibly unique?) combination of Heisman Trophy, Lombardi Trophy, and collegiate national championship. I'm sad my Seahawks aren't back again this year (I was hoping for the revenge/grudge match against Brady and the Patriots), but while the Hawks are my team, Cam is my player. And all the kerfuffle over his personality, celebrations, etc. only makes me root harder for him. So....War Cam Eagle!

Last but far from least, I'm SO happy the days are finally getting noticeably longer. I always get the winter blues with the short, gloomy Seattle days six weeks to a month on either side of the solstice. This week was the first in ages where I neither arrived at work nor left it in the dark, and I can already feel my mood and energy levels starting to pick up.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wednesday Recipe: Kid-Tastic Pizzadillas

This recipe is definitely a quick and easy dinner recipe whether than one where I show off my mad cooking skills--in fact, it's the easiest recipe in my repertoire outside of hot dogs or adding some cooked chicken to a salad kit and warming up a loaf of French bread to dip in olive oil and balsamic. But I figure most of us need more quick and easy ideas, so at least half of my recipe posts will fall into that category.

Since the recipe is available on the MyRecipes website, I am linking to it rather than copying and pasting here.

As you'll see, it's ridiculously easy. I usually modify it by using regular tortillas and pepperoni rather than fat-free tortillas and turkey pepperoni. And, of course, you don't have to make it pizza-flavored. I'm just as likely to use a Cheddar Jack blend and cooked chicken and salsa for the dipping sauce--the recipe's virtue is in being a quick, idiot-proof way to make a quesadilla. At least, it's about 99% idiot-proof--be sure to check before the stated time to make sure your tortillas aren't burning. With my oven/baking sheet combo it takes closer to six minutes than ten to brown them once you fold them over.

Anyway, it's that easy. Add a salad on the side, and you've got a nice, fairly light weeknight dinner that will leave you with plenty of time to write, binge watch your latest favorite TV show, get more sleep, or whatever your heart desires.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Recommended Reads, January 2016

Jumping right back into the blogosphere with my recommended reads from this month, in the order I read them. (Note that only one is actually a January 2016 release--I'm rarely quite that timely in my reading. But in a world of ebooks and libraries, all of these should still be readily available for your reading pleasure.)

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu.

Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys epic fantasy about the fall and rise of kingdoms, especially if they like settings outside the standard medieval European-ish swords & sorcery. (Which, thankfully, is becoming less standard. Though I enjoy a good faux-Western medieval fantasy as much as the next reader, I also enjoy variety in the genre.)

While this isn't an all-time favorite for me--I tend to prefer a somewhat tighter POV approach, either first-person narration or a limited third person with an intimate focus on just a few characters (think Jacqueline Carey, Lois McMaster Bujold, or Naomi Novik), I loved the world-building and setting, which is based on the rise of the Han dynasty and China with elements of other cultures, including Japan and Polynesia, and I plan to read more in the series as it comes out.

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Recommended for: Readers of YA and fantasy who like strong world-building, strong women and girls, and fairytale and legend retellings. (And also beautiful covers. Isn't that just gorgeous?)

I noticed a couple chapters in that I didn't know the first person narrator's name, nor that of most of the other characters--it was all my sister, my mother, my great-grandmother, etc. You'd think that would make it hard to keep track of characters or feel connected to them, but it didn't at all.

I enjoyed the heroine and her sister's resilience and determination. And the part of the world-building that stood out most to me was the character's form of ancestor worship where notable ancestors were set up as "smallgods," who both answered their family's prayers and drew power from being worshipped.

Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin

Because of the subject matter, I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book, exactly, but I found it readable and engrossing, and alternately encouraging and infuriating.

I followed Hurricane Katrina and its immediate aftermath as closely as anyone living far away from New Orleans, and I thought I knew a decent amount about the recovery and the current state of the city. This book showed me how much I didn't know, and made me think long and hard about how we as a nation handle disaster and recovery--and how our culture's biases with respect to race and class come out all the more strongly in the face of disaster. Have we learned anything that will make us better prepared the next time a major hurricane or big earthquake hits the US? I'd like to think so, but I have my doubts.

New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (And Everyone Else) by Fay Wolf

I heard about this book on a recent DBSA podcast. Since I am eternally looking to improve my level of organization and time management, I decided to give it a try, especially given that bringing my house's chaos level down to something more manageable is one of my chief goals for 2016. (So far my clothes, bookshelves, and pantry have been decluttered, and it really does make me feel better about life.) This book gave me some great new ideas as I start to tackle some of the tougher projects, like kitchen tools, all the stuff we've shoved into our closets, the piles and boxes of papers, most of which are probably past their retention periods, etc.

Why, hello, cobwebby blog!

I hadn't realized it had been quite THIS long since I'd updated this blog. I somehow never got up the time and energy to do an update of everything I'd read on the Europe trip, including ALL the Amazon  buy links...and since I've been reassessing my writing career and goals, it didn't seem as critical to be putting fresh content online every single week.

But now I'm writing with the intent to publish again (as opposed to writing with the intention to entertain with fanfic, which I did while reassessing my career goals and will probably continue to do on a small scale, because it's so fun to participate in fandom, not to mention put up a piece of writing and get near-instant feedback). I'm just starting one new project with another further down the pipeline, both in new-to-me genres--contemporary romance and urban fantasy. It may be a year or more before I have a new release to talk about, but I wanted to go ahead and revive this blog.

I won't be logging every book I read, however. I already do that over at LibraryThing, and I don't want to fuss around copying and pasting and looking for Amazon links instead of LibraryThing ones to put the exact same content here. But if you're interested, please do check it out! I enjoy the LibraryThing community and taking part in some of their reading challenges.

What I'm going to do instead is a monthly post recommending whatever I read in the past month that I think is especially notable. There won't be a set number of books, though I can't imagine going a whole month without reading ANYTHING that makes me think, "Hey, some of my friends/readers would think this was awesome, too."

I'm also going to shoot for two weekly posts: 1) a Wednesday recipe post, since I love cooking, talking about food, and finding/helping others find good recipes, whether they're elaborate weekend productions or quick work night dinners; and 2) a Friday "What's Making Me Happy This Week" post, inspired by the good people at Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Beyond that, maybe I'll find time to write occasional commentary on how my writing is going, what's going on in the writing world, etc. Or I may not! Because while I enjoy blogging, it's a lower priority than writing, reading, cooking, or, you know, family, friends, and the job that pays the bills.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

2015 Reading catch-up post, books 46-54

So, getting ready for the Europe trip, along with some personal writing projects, has taken over my life for the past month. My reading pace has slowed down, way down, though I'm hoping to be able to make up some time what with all the hours I'll be spending on airplanes and the occasional train in June and July!

46. The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

With this book I ventured into the rare-for-me genre of literary fiction as part of a recent commitment of mine to seek out more books by nonwhite authors. As part of a discussion about people trying to read more books by women, I reflected that that wasn't an issue for me, given that almost all of the fiction I read is woman-authored, along with maybe half the nonfiction. But I could easily go months without ever reading a nonwhite author and not even notice I'm doing it.

So, at least once a month, I plan to read a book by an author of color. And I can't count the same author more than once a year, since it would kind of defeat the purpose of exposing myself to a broader range of voices if I find an author with, say, a nice long mystery series and read one per month.

Anyway, while this was a fascinating book, it was also dark and depressing enough to remind me why I generally prefer genre to literary fiction. I am glad I read it, though.

47. The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale

The latest in Nathan Hale's series of graphic novels for upper elementary readers about American history looks at Harriet Tubman's childhood and youth, her escape from slavery, and her work on the Underground Railroad. This wasn't my favorite in the series--Donner Dinner Party has a tighter narrative arc (probably because it covers a shorter time period and was just a more linear historical incident), and Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood impressed me by actually making WWI comprehensible to young readers like my daughter without trivializing it. But an average Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tale is still an awesome book, and I learned quite a bit from it, since I didn't know much about Harriet Tubman beyond her name and the fact she was involved with the Underground Railroad.

48. How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

A quick, fascinating read looking at how innovations in six different areas have built on each other in unexpected ways over the past few centuries. Definitely recommended for those who like history of science books.

(As a side note, I'm way too prone to describing books as "fascinating." Memo to self: find new adjectives for "this book was cool and really held my attention.")

49. In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

Another graphic novel read to be shared with my daughter, though this one was a Message Book, and one that was too heavy-handed for my taste despite my agreeing with its views.

50. The Dirt on Clean by Katherine Ashenburg

An interesting, readable social history on the history of cleanliness in the western world from ancient Greek days to the present.

51. Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire

Fourth in the InCryptid series. I haven't liked the last two books as much as the first two--I enjoyed Verity Price's New York adventures more than her brother Alex's role as zookeeper to creatures both ordinary and paranormal--but this one did have a good bit of the family's Aeslin Mice, which are my favorite magical creatures EVER.

52. Cheated by Jay Smith and Mary Willingham

A detailed account of a long-running academic scandal at the University of North Carolina involving the funneling of academically ill-prepared athletes, especially in the "money" sports of football and men's basketball, into courses whose requirements were basically nonexistent. Basically, it's the kind of thing I always kinda assumed was going on with elite collegiate sports programs, but it's depressing to see it spelled out.

I love football especially so much, but lately between the head injury issues, the stunted educations of young men who are unlikely to ever see the NFL (or play long enough to amass a fortune to last them their lifetimes if they do), and the fact the sport's powers that be seem to think I should be happy to ignore rampant domestic violence and sexual assault issues, I'm finding it harder and harder to justify that love.

53. Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms by Gerard Russell

What with how busy and travel-focused I've been, it took me two weeks to finish this book, though it's fascinating--an account of the (mostly) obscure minority religions of the Middle East--Druze, Samaritans, Yazidi, Zoroastrians, etc.

54. Dead Wake by Erik Larson

An account of the last Atlantic crossing and sinking of the Lusitania. A good read if you like historical disaster tales, and IMHO Larson's best work to date. It's remarkable in a way that the loss of so many American civilian lives didn't expedite our entry into WWI--and, I have to admit, it speaks well of Woodrow Wilson, who isn't my favorite of the well-known POTUSes for several reasons. But the book's focus, and where it shines, is in the stories of all the individuals aboard the ship (mostly the survivors, though in some cases I guessed wrong about who was going to survive because some particularly vivid account turned out to be from a survivor's memory of a dead companion or from papers recovered from a body).