Monday, January 09, 2012

Good Eats of 2011

One of my 2011 resolutions was to cook something new every week. I can't say with certainty that I met this goal literally (okay, I can definitely say I didn't meet it...I'm pretty sure I didn't cook anything new while on vacation), but I did uphold the spirit of the resolution, and we tried a lot of new recipes this year. Some were from cookbooks (new and old), and others were found on the web. Most of the recipes we gave a try turned out to be winners and have shown up on our plates more than once.

Although I haven't made this a 2012 resolution (okay, I haven't yet made any real 2012 resolutions), I do intend to keep trying new foods. Fortunately, we both enjoy cooking (most of the time), and we have adventurous palates, so trying new foods is fun and not a chore.

For my own reference and in case you're wanting to give some new recipes a try, I'm including links to a few of our favorites from 2011. (Some of the recipes listed below were first tried in 2010, but they were favorites of 2011, so I'm including them.) Let me know if you give any of them a try.

Butter Chicken
A very simple recipe for a very tasty Indian dish. I can't vouch for the authenticity of the recipe, but I can say that it tastes delicious. 

Sweet Potato Ravioli
Making your own ravioli can seem daunting until you've given it a try. This recipe makes it so simple. We usually use butternut squash instead of sweet potato, but it's delicious both ways.

Shrimp Curry
We both love curry of all varieties, and this is a quick, easy, and hearty one with good flavor.

Coconut Curried Fried Rice
The coconut and curry flavors really take this fried rice to the next level. After eating so much nasi goreng (fried rice) in Southeast Asia during our travels that we thought we might never want to eat it again, this recipe brought us back to this easy (one pot!) and tasty meal.

Couscous and Feta Stuffed Peppers
We love stuffed peppers, and this recipe is our new favorite way to make them. The filling is so delicious, and if you make too much, it makes a great dish on its own.

Risotto with Mozzarella, Grape Tomatoes, and Basil
This is summer in your mouth. It's so good, especially at the height of summer when we could pick the tomatoes and basil straight from the garden.

Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Chorizo and Manchego Cheese
We made this appetizer for our holiday party, and it might have been my favorite dish we made. In addition to piquillos, we also used sweet cherry peppers, which make for a more bite-sized appetizer.

Light and Fresh Potato Salad
This is one of our standby summer sides. With no mayonnaise and some vegetable additions, it's really fresh and scrumptious.

Zesty Three Bean and Roasted Corn Salad
Another summer favorite, this salad is great for cookouts. It has a little kick, which raises it far beyond the typical bean salad in my opinion.

Crap. Now I'm hungry.

If you've got any great recipes to share, please leave them in the comments. I love having new things to cook up in the kitchen.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Books: 2011 in Review

A Few Statistics
  • Number of Books Read: 39
  • Number of Books That Were Fiction: 35
  • Number of Books Written by a Woman: 24
  • Number of Books That Were at Least Partially Set Outside the United States: 18
A Full Listing of the Books I Read (in the order I read them):
  • Take Me Home by Brian Leung
  • Displaced Persons by Ghita Schwarz
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Tinkers by Paul Harding
  • The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard
  • The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
  • The Age of Orphans by Laleh Khadivi
  • What is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman
  • Dear Husband by Joyce Carol Oates
  • You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed
  • The Gendarme by Mark Mustian
  • Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
  • Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
  • Solo by Rana Dasgupta
  • The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  • The Personal History of Rachel Dupree by Ann Weisgarber
  • A Gate at the Stairs by Laurie Moore
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
  • Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
  • The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
  • Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
  • Accordian Crimes by Annie Proulx
  • Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier
  • Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones
  • Jim the Boy by Tony Earley
  • The First Desire by Nancy Reisman
  • The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  • The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht
  • Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My Top Books of 2011
(This is hard. Very hard. But there are the six books I awarded 5 stars on Goodreads. An additional sixteen books received 4 stars, fourteen received 3 stars, three received 2 stars, and one received 1 star.)
  • Tinkers
  • Age of Orphans
  • The Invisible Bridge
  • The Personal History of Rachel Dupree
  • Once Upon a River
  • Unbroken

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Resolution Update: October, November, and December

Resolution One: Write or Edit Creative Works for at Least One Hour Five Days a Week
November was a very productive month for me writing-wise, as I really focused on writing every day. This fell off in December with the holidays and all the hub-bub that goes with them. I'm going to refocus on writing in the New Year and hopefully come up with some sort of "schedule" that works for me.

Resolution Two: Get a Story Published
I didn't succeed here. I did send one story out, however, to two different places, one a contest and one a very top journal. It was rejected by the top journal. It didn't win the contest, but it was a finalist.

Resolution Three: Submit Chapter Book to Agent/Publisher
As I noted before, I decided to call this one off. Maybe I'll revive it one day.

Resolution Four: Get Two New Freelance ClientsAlready accomplished. October was a very productive month for me, and November and December continued on that trend.

Resolution Five: Reenvision, Relaunch, and Maintain Blog
I'm still completely up in the air as to how I want to handle this. Some days I want to invest more in it; other days I want to say forget it.

Resolution Six: Ride a Century
Accomplished! On October 29, we completed the Durham Habitat for Humanity Century Ride. It was the nastiest day we've had all year, I think. Temperature in the low 40s, rain, and wind strong enough that I thought I might fall off my bike at points. Definitely not the day I would have picked, but we biked anyway and were 2 of only 15 people to finish the century. (All other people, being apparently saner than us, opted for the 31 mile or 62 mile routes.)

Resolution Seven: Cook One New Thing Each Week     
We continued adding new food to our repertoire, welcoming back fall favorites such as butternut squash and sweet potatoes. We also prepared a slew of new things for our holiday party: chorizo and manchego stuffed piquillo peppers, sundried tomato stuffed mushrooms, beef en croute with bernaise sauce, smoked salmon tartlets, two types of mini quiches, and more.

Resolution Eight: Sew a Piece of Clothing to Wear 
Fail! My sewing machine continued to be put to use for repairs but did not create anything new. I still might get a pillow sewn before the New Year. Maybe? Maybe? But using my sewing machine more will have to be a goal for next year.

Resolution Nine: Take a Class to Learn Something New 
Already accomplished.

Resolution Ten: Read a Minimum of 25 Books
Already accomplished. Over the past three months, I read an additional 10 books, and I'm halfway through one more, which I hope to finish before 2011 departs.

Resolution Eleven: Have an Adventure Every Month    
Our adventures continued through the end of the year, but they were much more low key. In October, we didn't actually leave North Carolina, but we spent a lot of time exploring parts of it we hadn't been to before--both on our bikes and during a visit from Jeff's parents. In November, we made our annual pilgrimage to Seattle for Thanksgiving, and in December, we traveled to Louisville for Christmas celebrations. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gay Rights are Human Rights

Last month, just three days before we headed to Spain and amidst a frenzy of laundry, packing, collations, and copyedits, I put everything on hold and drove to the North Carolina state capitol in the middle of the day. My purpose was to join the rally in support of gay marriage/in opposition to a proposed state constitutional amendment banning it. It was time for me to put actions with my words. It was time to add my voice to the chorus, to speak for myself rather than hope or expect that someone else will do it for me.

While we rallied on the lawn outside the chambers, where inside the Senate was voting whether to put said constitutional amendment on the ballot in May, speakers took to the stage to denounce not only the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage but also the fact of allowing a majority to vote on a minority's rights. The speakers represented a range of faiths, races, social classes, occupations, ages, and sexual orientations. Some spoke angrily; others spoke eloquently. In-between, the crowd cheered, waved their homemade signs, and yelled "Shame on you" at the chambers and the few lawmakers that gathered on its balcony after the Senate voted in favor of putting the amendment on the ballot.

I heard a lot of arguments that afternoon about why the ban was bad news. They ranged from it being bad for business, to there not being a need for a ban because NC law already prevents gay marriage, to there being bigger and more important things for the NC legislature to worry about. All of these are true. And I'm in favor of any argument that will get people to come out in May and vote against the amendment (or stay home in May if they planned to vote for it). However, I find all of these arguments to be superfluous. As far as I'm concerned there is only one argument, and it is spelled out in the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Denying homosexual, bisexual, and transgendered people the right to marry the person of their choosing is a declaration that they are, in fact, not equal. It is a denial of their right to Liberty and  their right to pursue Happiness. Because we live in a secular country, it is as simple as that.

Today is National Coming Out Day. Next week is Ally Week. The fight for equal rights in this country is not one that should be fought alone by those whose rights have been denied but one that should be fought by all people who believe in a just world, who believe in that second sentence of our Constitution. It is our job to speak out not because we are gay or know someone who is, but because we are human and because this is an issue of human rights.

Please take the time to stand up and make your voice heard. Even if this isn't an issue on the docket in your state right now, it is a pressing issue nonetheless. Our voices need to be heard constantly and consistently until all people in this country, regardless of sexual orientation, have full and equal rights. Don't say this isn't your fight. You are human, aren't you?

Comments, as always, are welcome, even those with conflicting viewpoints, so long as those views are presented in an inoffensive and rational manner. Any comments I deem to be inflammatory or hateful will, however, be immediately deleted. It's my blog, and I believe in civility. If you don't, please go away.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Resolution Update: August and September

Resolution One: Write or Edit Creative Works for at Least One Hour Five Days a Week
Basically, this isn't going to happen as spelled out here. The one hour a day five days a week thing doesn't work for me. I've tried and I keep trying, and I want it to work, but it doesn't. And I've decided I'm okay with that. I can't write on a schedule. Creativity doesn't work for me like that. But I am writing, sometimes multiple hours in one day and sometimes no hours at all. I think I need a goal that is more accomplishment/final project oriented. I'll have to think more about this, but in the meantime I'll keep writing and keep trying to find some sort of "program" that works for me.

Resolution Two: Get a Story Published
Well, I've got three stories I plan to send out. I'm almost finished with revises on one (I need to get rid of a pesky 120 words or so that just won't go), and the other two are in progress in terms of revises. I have a couple of contests I want to enter in October, so I'm hoping to do a mass send out this month and see what happens. I'm starting at the top with the places I'd most want to be published, so I don't expect success this round, but I figure why not start at the top.

Resolution Three: Submit Chapter Book to Agent/Publisher
See last update. On hold indefinitely.

Resolution Four: Get Two New Freelance Clients
While having already achieved this goal for the year, I'm always working on evaluating and improving my freelance business. In the past two months, I haven't gotten any new clients per se, but I have picked up some new long-term work from some of my clients. I've also been recommended by one of my clients to another potential client, so I'm waiting to see if that goes anywhere.
Resolution Five: Reenvision, Relaunch, and Maintain Blog
This continues to be an epic fail. I don't really have any more to say about it than I did last time, but you may be seeing some new action from me in the next month, so check in both here and at Lives of Wander.

Resolution Six: Ride a Century
This is the goal I've probably made the most progress on. We've been going on long rides every weekend with some shorter rides thrown in on weekends and we're now up to 60+ miles of riding. We're also officially signed up for the event on October 29, so basically I have one more month of training left. Unfortunately, it's also a busy month with some weekends already spoken for. I am, however, only planning to train up to 75 miles or so. I've found that it hasn't been that hard to increase our distance each week. Sure, it takes more time and I'm good and tired afterwards, but I'm pretty sure that even if the event were this weekend, we'd be able to pull it off. As long as I keep myself fed (I eat a ton while riding!), then most of riding long distance is mental for me, and since I'll be riding with Jeff and our neighbors Carl and Kristen (who we also train with on occasion), I think I'll have the support I need to finish it.

Resolution Seven: Cook One New Thing Each Week
Though I haven't been keeping track of this, I think we do pretty well on this front. It doesn't hurt that I very easily get tired of eating the same things, so I'm always looking for something new to try.

Resolution Eight: Sew a Piece of Clothing to Wear  
Looks like it's going to have to be a fall or winter piece or maybe even something for next year, since this hasn't happened yet. I don't do very well at indoor projects in the summer. As the sun sets earlier and earlier each night, I think the chances for this goal being achieved increase.

Resolution Nine: Take a Class to Learn Something New 
I've already checked this goal off the list. Hooray. No overachieving to report.

Resolution Ten: Read a Minimum of 25 Books
Completed! Woohoo! I have now read 27 books this year. In the last two months, I read A Gate at the Stairs by Laurie Moore, Room by Emma Donoghue, Going after Cacciato by Tim O'Brien, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander Smith McCall, Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones, Accordian Crimes by Annie Proulx, and Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson. Of these, I would most recommend Room and Silver Sparrow.

Resolution Eleven: Have an Adventure Every Month  
Our adventures continued in August with a weekend trip to Chicago to visit my brother Gregory. We ate a lot of good food (Xoco and Little India being my favorites), took an Art Deco architecture walking tour, and went to an art fair. We were also able to visit my cousin Elizabeth and her awesome kiddo Jack and see their new home. In September, we headed off to Spain for a combined business/pleasure trip (well combined for Jeff, all pleasure for me.) We started out in Barcelona, where Jeff had a conference. I then headed south during the conference to visit Ronda and Cordoba. After the conference, Jeff met up with me and we traveled to Sevilla and Granada. It was a great trip. We loved the Alhambra, the entirety of Sevilla, and all the good food to be had. We don't yet have an adventure lined up for October (that century ride is taking precedence), so we're taking suggestions. We might have to opt for a micro-adventure this month.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

On Politics, Lost Hope, and Feeling Duped

I remember what HOPE felt like. I remember feeling it in Nicaragua, sitting on a hostel couch as election night results poured in, and in Africa, where Obama adorned everything from shop walls to wrap skirts. I remember it from before then, from standing in a parking lot outside my office with a coworker, listening to Obama give a speech in the months before the primaries were decided. I remember that feeling....but I don't feel it anymore. Now all I feel is disappointment.

Politics are ugly. Politicians are never who they seem to be (unless they're members of the Tea Party, and they are exactly who they seem to be). To be a politician, you have to have a huge ego, to believe yourself capable of things that no human is capable of, to be certain that you---yes, you---are the change this world needs. I know that the person who will be president will not be the same person we see as candidate for president, but I expect that they will at least maintain the outline of that person, that the shadow they cast will fill roughly the same space. With President Obama, I feel, however, as though I've been duped.

Is it me? Did I expect too much? Did I fall too easily for words? Did I overlook hints, clues, signs, messages from beyond that said that as president, Obama would fail to lead, that he would throw his own party under the bus, that he would not stand up for the things that he, as a supposed liberal, believes in. Did I fail to recognize that he is, at best, a moderate conservative with a weak spine? Was I that easily tricked?

I believe in compromise. In general, I think it's a good thing. But I don't believe that compromise and lying down and playing dead are the same thing. I don't believe that allowing radicals to hold you and a country hostage has anything to do with compromise. I don't believe that throwing away your principles can count as victory, no matter what it says on paper. I don't believe in giving and giving and giving without ever demanding one thing in return when we're talking about the game called politics. I believe that when the other side isn't willing to do their part you have to stand up and lead, compromise be damned. The Republicans don't seem to have trouble understanding that.  So why, why, why do you Mr. Obama, the man we elected to be president, the man we elected to lead?

I'm not saying that if it were November 2008 all over again, I wouldn't vote for Obama. You better believe I'd vote for him over McCain and the crazy woman he partnered with. But if I, if this country, could go back to the primaries, would I still want to see him chosen as the Democratic nominee, knowing what I know now (and I'm not just speaking in relation to this debt ceiling debacle but in relation to the sum of his presidency thus far)? I don't think I would. Hope, it's been said, is a good thing, maybe even the best thing, but as it turns out, that's not applicable in the world of politics. In politics, it's not hope that counts, it's action. And that just doesn't seem to be something our president has in him.

I'm not looking forward to the 2012 elections. Surely, I'll be voting Democrat (have you seen the crazy lady leading the Republican field this time around???) but I'll be doing it with a heavy heart, wishing that I had the option of choosing a true liberal, not a moderate conservative who, in the era before the Tea Party, would have made a damn fine Republican.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Resolution Update: April, May, June, and July

Good thing I didn't make a resolution to actually make monthly updates about my resolutions. I managed to only do that once. Next time it was a two month update. This time it's a four month update. It seems you shouldn't expect the next one until the end of the year, considering the pattern I've established. Or maybe I'll change and become a diligent monthly updater. Guess we'll just have to wait and see. But without further ado, here's wehre I stand on my resolutions with 7/12 of the years behind us.

Resolution One: Write or Edit Creative Works for at Least One Hour Five Days a Week
April-July: This was an overall fail. I'm not really sure this is a good goal for me. I've honestly been trying to do this for years, but I've never been able to. I write in spurts, which works to an extent, especially if I'm content to write short stories, but I'll never be prolific or be able to turn out a novel with the sporadic writing schedule I maintain. My other problem is that I've been swamped with paying work. I know you have to "pay yourself first," but when I have paid work hanging over my head, I find it really hard to put my creative work first. For the month of August, I'm going to make a concerted effort to actually stick to this goal and thus have a better idea of how I feel about the concept of writing for one hour every day.

Resolution Two: Get a Story Published
April-July: No success of this front either, though I have decided on three stories I plan to submit to journals come fall, and I've had two of the three reviewed by fellow writers. I need to make some final revises this month and then send them out in September.

Resolution Three: Submit Chapter Book to Agent/Publisher
April-July: I may be throwing the towel in on this one, and I'm going to do it without guilt. I'm just not into this goal right now. With the limited amount of time I have for creative writing, this isn't my highest priority. It will remain living on my hard drive, and I may one day bring it back out, but for now, it's in hibernation.

Resolution Four: Get Two New Freelance Clients
April-July: Technically, I already achieved this goal, but I like to overachieve (and there' s the other matter of never knowing when you might lose a client). In this period, I did both---gained and lost. On the success front, I won a bid for a job from the Freer & Sackler galleries that involves editing an entire catalogue. On loss front, I am no longer freelancing from Groupon. They decided to end their entire freelance program, which was, honestly, a relief as that company is one hot mess and they were not paying me anywhere near what I'm worth (and I'm not even valuing myself that highly at this point!). Overall, the freelancing is going quite well, keeping me busy on a full-time basis these days.

Resolution Five: Reenvision, Relaunch, and Maintain Blog
April-July: My enthusiasm for blogging has definitely waned. After busy days of work (some stretching late into the night these days), it's just not what I want to do. I also haven't been reading too many other blogs. I keep up with friends and pop in on favorite blogs every now and then, but I've found myself disconnecting from the online world lately and feeling rather fantastic about it. To put it simply, I've been more interested in living and enjoying my own real life rather than reading about the adventures (or more often the banalities) of people that I don't really know. That's not to say I'm going to become an online hermit. There are blogs I get enjoyment from reading. I do love to read about what my friends have been up to. But I've given up on keeping up with the masses online. It's just not me, and I like me the way I and in person and, when I feel like it, online.

Resolution Six: Ride a Century
April-July: There's definitely been progress on this front. Most importantly, I've finally gotten a road bike. Hooray! I've also been doing some riding, both short little trips during the week and longer weekend rides, and I'm on track with the training plan I have for the October 30 event I plan to ride. Progress. Good stuff.

Resolution Seven: Cook One New Thing Each Week
April-July: I don't know if we've literally cooked one new thing each week, but we are regularly cooking new things, so I consider this goal a success. Our menu for this upcoming week is loaded with new items, all making meals out of our garden abundance, particularly in regards to tomatoes.

Resolution Eight: Sew a Piece of Clothing to Wear  
April-July: I'm not going to be wearing a new piece of clothing sewed by myself this summer, but I did use my sewing machine to fix a bag, and I'm working on altering a dress I bought on clearance, so, again, progress.

Resolution Nine: Take a Class to Learn Something New 
April-July: I've already checked this goal off the list. Hooray. No overachieving to report.

Resolution Ten: Read a Minimum of 25 Books
April-July: I put the hurt on this goal over the last few months, and I'm already at a total of 20 books read for the year. I have all confidence that I will surpass this goal. Books I've read in the past four months include: The Age of Orphans by Laleh Khadevi, What is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman, Dear Husband by Joyce Carol Oates, You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed, The Gendarme by Mark Mustian, Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat, Solo by Rana Dasgupta, The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, and The Personal History of Rachel DuPress by Ann Weisgarber.

Resolution Eleven: Have an Adventure Every Month  
April-July: We kept the adventures rolling over the past few months. April was busy with a trip to Houston for Cristina's wedding and then a spur-of-the-moment roadtrip to Florida. We hoped to see the launch of the space shuttle Endeavor, the second to last NASA launch, but technical difficulties kept the launch from happening. Instead, we met up with friends Taylor & Courtney in Daytona, toured St. Augustine, and wandered Savannah all in one weekend. It was great fun, though I really wish we could have seen the shuttle launch. In May, we drove to Louisville for the Derby, Jeff's first. It was fun, maybe a bit too much for one person in this partnership, his name to be withheld :-) Our other May adventure was a weeklong trip to the Litchfield Beach in South Carolina with my family, which was relaxing and fun per usual. In June, we actually kept our adventures in state, enjoying our own town. We did, however, make it to the beach, checking out North Carolina's Kure Beach for the first time. In July, we headed out to Seattle for the Fourth of July. While there, we made it to the Olympics (my first time), saw the Mariners, and took part in a lot of Bainbridge traditions. It was an adventuresome first seven months. Hopefully the next five prove to be so as well.