Monday, March 24, 2014

The 2014 Goodreads Challenge: Ahead of Schedule

Goodreads:  Do you use it?  Do you like it?  I think it was the lovely brains behind My Adorable Smalltown Life who let me in on this way to get book recommendations and track what you are reading.
As someone who enjoys reading, and reads a lot (thank you public library!),  I've found it really great to track what books I've started, but had to return because I couldn't renew them again, in addition to keeping on top of all the interesting books I want to read . . . someday.  When I have time.
Fortunately, I use public transit, so I get to read at least once a day on my way home from work (I'm not gonna lie, I usually nap/meditate on my way *to* work).
The downside to this is that sometimes, my 'currently reading' list gets really long, since it includes not only the books that I've actually got going, but the books I started but had to return AND the books that I've picked up from the library but haven't started yet.  Seriously, Goodreads needs to get on top of some sort of better tracking for library users.

In any event, I was updating my Goodreads lists after picking up my holds at the library on the weekend, and I've noticed that I'm way ahead of schedule on this year's reading challenge!  I set a challenge of 30 books, since that is about what Goodreads thinks I read last year.  Apparently, I've already read 14 books, and I'm not sure how that happened!

Here's a little breakdown of what I've completed, in no particular order, in case you are looking for new reading material:

     This book was a really fun read.  The author travelled around the USA and looks in depth at some of the foodie culture - especially some of the ones that are a little more out there.  I would definitely read this again

    Also pretty awesome, even to my vegetarian self.  It is an actual historical look at livestock farming in the USA, mostly concentrating on the late 1800s through the present day.  It was really interesting to see how and why factory farming evolved, and then the development of organic farming in the 1980s and 1990s.

The XX Factor by Alison Wolf
     This book gave me some issues.  The author talks about how gender equality in the work world has led to greater social inequality among women.  From my perspective, what she really was talking about was how rich people have used gender equality to stay rich or increase their wealth, not that feminism has inadvertently created a greater income gap.

     The introduction to this book was a little rough, since I am of a younger generation than the author, and she talks about some cultural things that are very specific to growing up when she did.  However, most of the book is an interesting look at how the feminist movement has been sidelined and appropriated by culture to promote the image of a woman who does everything and does it perfectly.

     This was alright.  It was clearly aimed at kids in their early twenties who are still figuring this grown-up business out, but it was filled with practical advice on a lot of different topics.  Also, the author has a pretty good sense of humour.

    Another social studies book on female parenting in the Western world.  I gave it four out of five stars because the author uses her personal story of burning out as a great backdrop to discuss serious issues like family/parental leave, etc.

     I had a lot of high hopes for interesting projects and gardening advice out of this one and was kind of let down.  A lot of the gardening projects are not really useful outside of the warmer climes of California, and much of it is kinda basic in some ways.  The book is organized really well, and it is a nice read if you are just starting out with these sort of things though.

     This one by the same author as above was much more interesting for me.  Lots of neat things you can make yourself.  If I can find a used copy to buy (cheap) I think this book would come in super-handy in case of zombie apocalypse.  They even made their own wood ash lye so they could make soap from all non-purchased ingredients!

     The power of intuition.  Not a bad read.

     Short stories from a Russian author translated into English.  I don't know if it was the translation, but a lot of the stories, while interesting, felt rough and unfinished. 

The Circle by Dave Eggers
     Holy crap was this an awesome read of fiction.  Go to the library right now and borrow it. Go!

     Pretty good.  Amazing one line quotes, good overall story, but I didn't realize that it was the start of a series (I think it might end up being a trilogy) when I picked it up.  

     Overall, I liked this book.  It is filled with examples of families who made their schedules work in order to share as equally as possible in raising their children.  Unfortunately, 98% of the examples are in the kinds of employment that are already well known for their flexibility (freelance graphic designers, etc).  The ideas are sound though - just needed more diversity in the actual examples I think.

     This whole thing read like a promo for the author's own website, and is advice for entrepeneurs that has been around forever.

Feel free to leave me new book recommendations!  My list is not overly large - yet!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Happy Belated Pi Day!

Yesterday was Pi Day (March 14 aka 3/14 which, of course is the first three digits of the mathematical Pi 3.14159 . . . ).  I did not have time to do any baking yesterday, so I did my Pi day baking earlier today. 
As our produce delivery box recently came with a beautiful looking lemon, it was easy to decide on baking a lemon meringue pie.

I used this recipe from Canadian Living as my basis - I did not alter it too much.  I used a premade Tenderflake pie crust instead of making my own, I zested one entire lemon instead of only zesting a tablespoon of rind, icing sugar in the meringue instead of fruit sugar, and I added a splash of vanilla to the meringue.  I think it came out pretty well.

All the ingredients, ready to go

 The yellow bowl contains the lemon zest & cubed butter, the measuring cup is the fresh squeezed lemon juice, and the black bowl contains the egg yolks.

Here is my prepared pie crust, ready & waiting for the lemon curd.

This part of the process is a little tiring.  The below is the water, cornstarch, salt & sugar mixture.  You need to bring it to a boil, while continuously whisking.  If you stop whisking, you end up with a blob of burnt cornstarch & sugar at the bottom of your saucepan, instead of a thickened gel-like substance.  Then you temper the eggs by pouring a little bit of this into the yolks (while whisking, of course) and then pouring the whole kit-and-caboodle back into the saucepan for a little more cooking.  If you don't temper the eggs, you end up with scrambled egg yolks instead of curd.  It isn't as hard as it sounds, but your arms sure get tired!

Ah, here is my completed lemon curd, cooling down on the kitchen table.  I put plastic wrap over it so that it wouldn't form a skin while it cooled.

Here is my beautiful curd, resting in the pie shell.

Meringue time!  I like making meringue - for some reason, watching the booger-y egg whites turn into delicious sugary topping is weirdly appealing to me.

Here we have finished meringue, with lovely stiff peaks.

So much meringue on top of this pie!  I admit, I got lazy and didn't feel like busting out the piping bags, and just blobbed it on with a spoon, but I don't think it is a terrible aesthetic.

Finished pie!  At this point, I had just taken it out of the oven, and partner was desperate to cut into it.  I'm mean and made him wait until after supper.

So, partner cut the pie, and butchered it a little bit (he insisted that he could do it neatly with just the pie lifter and no knife.  I think we can all see how that turned out).  However, I think this clearly shows the lovely, yellow lemon curd layer beneath the giant heaping layer of meringue.  

Please ignore the fact that we are weak in the face of pie and ate half of it in the first go.
Have you made a pie in celebration of Pi Day? 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Note to Self: Next Summer, Make More Pesto!

My belly will be very sad when it realizes that the last of the pesto I made from my basil harvest in the garden this summer was part of tonight's (delicious) dinner.  The pesto was really tasty, and I am very sad there will be no more until the next harvest of basil comes in.  I am especially sad because the current weather reminds me that this is going to be months & months away!

Tonight's dinner was inspired by receiving this week's produce delivery box, and realizing that we had to use up some of last week's delivery so we could fit everything in the fridge!  I ended up making a quick & easy pasta with the pesto, tomatoes, mushrooms & spinach, and then a quick little salad.

Here's what you will need to make it yourself:

Squiggly pasta shapes (I used a combo of fusilli and scooby doo/cavatappi noodles, since they were open)
1/2 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
2 cremini mushrooms, sliced
a large handful of spinach, washed & sliced thinly
1/2 small zucchini, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 small red onion, diced
olives - the black, wrinkly kind (optional) - as many as you like, because this one is really subjective
olive oil for frying
4 ice cubes worth of pesto (or about 4 tablespoons)

Start cooking your pasta as per package directions.
Heat up the olive oil over medium heat in a frying pan or large saucepan.  When the oil is warm, add your onion, and cook, stirring occasionally until starting to soften.  Add the garlic and spinach and cook another two minutes.  Dump in your cherry tomatoes, zucchini and mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until everything is warmed through and the tomatoes start to wrinkle a little.  Then add your pesto and olives (if using).
At this point, your pasta should be cooked.  Drain off most of the water, and then add the pasta & remaining water to to your pan of sauce and stir/toss so the pasta gets completely coated.  Leave on low heat if you think it needs a little more cooking time, or you haven't started the salad yet because there is a toddler demanding your attention by holding onto your knee and yelling.

If you choose not to use olives in the pasta, I would recommend maybe adding some chili flakes, or some parmesan or other stronger, salty cheese, just to give it that little extra kick.

The salad I made was just a quick toss of romaine lettuce, two small, sliced carrots, orange bell pepper and avocado, since those were the quick veggies to hand.

I hope this is something you can use during your hectic days, since it comes together in just over the time it takes for the pasta to cook.