Read in January.

Seven books read this month, with one of them being 800+ pages. It was a good reading month. I didn’t get a chance to publish these individually, so here is a long entry.

Read.
The Gum Thief
Douglas Coupland
Roger, early forties, alcoholic, works at Staples. Bethany, early twenties, goth girl, works at Staples. Bethany finds Roger’s writings one day, including a short piece Roger wrote about Bethany’s view of the world. They begin writing back and forth to each other and Roger shares his novel, Glove Pond with Bethany, who really loves it.

I liked the relationship between the two characters, which was the rarely depicted between-sexes-friendship. I liked how badly written Glove Pond was. I liked that the story captured the numbness of working at a major chain store. I was confused about the ending. Overall, I enjoyed the book.

Motherless Brooklyn
Johnathan Lethem
What if your main character was an orphan (favorite tv plot device of the 1980s) and suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome? And what if he worked as a quasi-detective/driver for a small time mafia guy in Brooklyn? And what if that small time mafia guy got killed and the main character tried to solve the case?

If you put all those things together, you get this book. I liked the writing style and how I gradually adjusted to Lional’s Tourettic outbursts. I liked that it was essentially a mystery, but not as formulaic and more interesting. I especially liked understanding how Tourette’s Syndrome manifested itself in this character, and it cleared up for me why all people with Tourette’s don’t just take medication, something I’ve often wondered. This was a nice escape-type read.

Dr. Gott’s No Flour, No Sugar Diet
Peter H. Gott
I’ve been not eating gluten and sugar among other things anyway, so I figured I would check out to see what Dr. Gott says about the whole thing. Dr Gott thinks that you just need to eliminate all flour from your diet (so no bread, or pasta or tortillas, etc.) and all sugar and voila! No more excess weight. According to him, once you reach your goal weight, you can start eating bread products again, but not sugar. He does, however, think sugar substitutes are fine, something I find not fine.

It was a pretty simple diet plan and it did inspire me to stop eating what were my calorie bombs of honey, coconut and peanut butter. If you aren’t too attached to flour and sugar anyway, this might be the book for you.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters
Charlotte Mosley, Ed.

I got this book because it sounded interesting. Not interesting like, “I want to read that,” but interesting like “I should read that.” When I got it, I groaned. It was huge, 834 pages, and I figured I would start it and wander off about a quarter of the way through.

Boy howdy was I wrong. It was an incredibly engrossing book and I loved every minute of it. The six Mitford sisters, born between 1904 and 1920 started writing to each other in their 20’s and continued throughout their lives. Four of them became authors, one moved to Germany and fell in love with Hitler and his party, one married the leader of the pre-WWII fascist party in England, one moved to the United States and became a communist and one ended up the Duchess of Devonshire. It was fascinating reading their views of history as it happened. The 1930’s correspondence between Unity and Diana was particularly eye opening. I enjoyed this book so much and recommend it for anyone who likes history and reading other people’s letters.

Love in the Time of Taffeta
Eugenie Olson
After finishing The Mitfords: letters between six sisters, I needed something light. This fit the bill. Partway through, I found myself in familiar territory. The main character:

  • Lives in Boston
  • Rides a bike
  • Has a dead-end job
  • Smokes
  • Makes poor choices in men
  • Is generally unhappy.

It was as if the author knew me when I lived in Boston.
Aside from the strange sense of deja vu, I enjoyed this book, particularly the main character’s roommate and her “secret” career.

Whale season: a novel
N.M. Kelby
Another good, light novel to read in a day. I picked this one up when I was near the end of Henry and Clara and things were getting ominous. This was set in a small Florida town and is peopled with a lot of quirky characters. Not overly quirky, so they are annoying, but just unique. Jesus comes to town at Christmas time in a fancy RV. His method of bringing salvation is a bit suspect and the people in the town deal with Jesus and their own problems.

Henry & Clara
Thomas Mallon

I’ve read this before and remember enjoying it and so I picked it up again. It’s the story, based on true events, of Henry Rathborn & Clara Harris, the engaged couple who were the other two people in Abraham Lincoln’s box. The book begins with John Wilks Booth making his escape from Ford’s Theater and then flashes back to Henry & Clara’s first meeting, when Clara was ten and Henry seven. Clara’s father married Henry’s mother three years later and the children were raised as step-siblings. The book follows their lives from that time, through the Civil War, the assassination and it’s aftermath, as well as their married life. Those looking for a happy ending won’t find it, but it is a well written book with an engrossing story.

Started but didn’t finish.
The complete Travel Detective Bible

Peter Greenburg

I didn’t read the whole thing, but I did pick up some good tips from this tome.

Cooking from the Garden: Original and Unusual recipes to enhance your garden harvest.
Margaret Leibenstein
This doesn’t have very many recipes and most of them have too many ingredients for me.

The Structure House Weight Loss Plan.
Gerard L. Musante

I started this, but The Mitfords were distracting me and I never got through the first quiz.

Bandbox.

Thomas Mallon
I couldn’t get into this book set in a magazine publishing office in the 1920s. I may have not given it the proper attention in the first 50 pages.

Checked out and didn’t even read.
I at least started everything I read this month.

Read in December.

There was this holiday this month, you might have heard of it. It’s called Christmas? It cramped my reading style. I only read six books, but I was busy. I think I was sleeping better, too, which is nice, but means less reading time. Also, post Christmas I built shelves, and when I wasn’t doing that I was watching season one of The West Wing. So, not as much reading for me.

I’m pretty happy with Goodreads, though. Not the least because I have a place to put a permanent “to read” list that I won’t use. Thanks for recommending it, Sara. And thanks for the recommendations, April. Keep them coming.


Read this month:

Mrs. Mike
Benedict & Nancy Freedman
Hideous Kinky
Esther Freud

The Year of Living Biblically.
A.J. Jacobs.

The story of General Dann & Mara’s daughter, Griot and the snow dog: a novel.
Doris Lessing.

Accidental Happiness: a novel

Jean Reynolds Page

The Wishbones
Tom Perrotta

Started but didn’t finish:

As cool as I am.
Pete Fromm

I got the feeling things weren’t going to go well for the protagonist. I put down the book and didn’t every pick it up again.

Men’s Health ultimate dumbbell guide: more than 21,000 moves designed to build muscle and increase strength.

I’ve been flirting with the idea of starting a weight training program again and this was the perfect book. Imagine, doing a whole workout at home with just dumbbells. I’ll probably buy this book.

Low-Carbon Diet: a 30 day program to lose 5,000 pounds
David Gershon

I liked this book, it is very slender compared to many “save the earth” tomes. It’s a step-by-step book to reduce your carbon footprint. I’ll revisit this when I have more time.

The Pirate’s Daughter

Margaret Cezair-Thompson

I was really into this book for about half of it. It is a very interesting “suppose if” book. Suppose if Erroll Flynn fathered a child with a 16 year old Jamaican girl. Then suppose that girl grows up during the independence movement. I loved the writing style and the twisty and turn-y details. I just didn’t finish it and back it went to the library. Someday.

Legends of the Fall
Jim Harrison
I hated this movie when it came out so I decided to see if the book was any better. I started reading and became very confused because I was in Mexico, not Montana. I eventually figured out that there were three short stories within the book. I started reading “Legends” on the day it was due as I was taking it to the library and it did seem good. Maybe I’ll get it again soon.

Checked out and didn’t even read:
The Rising Sun.
Douglas Galbraith.

The Colony
John Tayman

Jokeman 8
Richard Melo
Flipped through it and saw some weird font, things going on. Ran out of time and decided to send this back.

New Luck for the New Year.

Did you eat your black-eyed peas and greens yet today? Better get them cooking. They bring good luck for the new year.
This recipe is from “Still Life With Menu” by Mollie Katzen. It’s easy, but the original makes a ton, so I halved it.

Black-Eyed Peas and Greens

  • 1.5 c black-eyed peas, soaked for 8 hours or so.
  • 3 c water
  • 3 medium-sized cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 t salt
  • 3-4 c. (packed) chopped mixed greens
  • 1 medium-sized leek, cleaned well and chopped.
  1. Place the black-eyed peas and water in a soup pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and mostly cover. Cook gently until tender, checking the water level every now and then. If it appears to be getting dry, add water, 1/2 cup at a time. About 15 minutes into the cooking, add the garlic. The peas will take 30-35 minutes to cook
  2. When the black-eyed peas are just about tender, stir in the salt, greens and leeks. Cover, and continue to simmer just a few more minutes. The greens and leeks will cook very quickly.
  3. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and serve hot.

Chopping the collards.
Prepping the leeks.
Chopping the leeks.
Sirring it all together.
Mmmmm. Good luck and good food.

Christmas Squash Wreathes

Tara told me a recipe for squash and goat cheese and basil. This was the result and looked great on the Christmas dinner table. It tasted good too. Now you can make your own!
Behold, delicata squash. I happened to have a bigger one and a smaller one and they combined nicely to make thicker wreathes.
Peel using the technique explained here. This picture gets the gist of it, though.
Slice into rounds and pull the gunk out of the center. I had an apple corer that worked great for the small size, but I used a small knife for the bigger rounds.
I was supposed to use goat cheese, but Fred Meyer was out of it. So I substituted cream cheese. I put mine in a pastry bag with a star tip to make those lovely stars, but you could just plop some in the center.
Toss the squash with some oil, salt and pepper in a bowl and then lay your Squash out on a baking sheet. Cook at 425 for 10 minutes, then flip over. Cook for 10 minutes more (or less, if they look like they are getting done.)
I let mine cool to room temperature, then stacked the smaller rings inside of the bigger ones. Then I took basil and chiffinad-ed it which I have no picture of, but this video nicely explains it. Use your star tip to make a few stars per wreath, sprinkle your basil over the top and enjoy.

Note, if your squash is too hot, the cheese will melt and ruin your lovely star effect.

Next time I will get a butternut squash with a very long neck, peel it, cut the neck into slices and then quarters, then cook as above and top with goat cheese and basil. I think it will also be yummy.

The Wishbones. Tom Perrotta.

Engrossing story of a man over the age of 30 who learns to grow up. He loves playing in a wedding band, and has been dating the same girl for 15 years, “off and on” as he likes to say, but when he accidentally proposes to her, and the wedding is suddenly on, he has to come to terms with real life. How he does it isn’t necessarily the textbook way, and I don’t think his marriage will last long, but the story was very real and understandable. I enjoyed this book.

Accidental Happiness: a novel. Jean Reynolds Page

April Harris heard my plea for book recommendations and told me about this one. I read it in one day.

I think that fiction books can go one of two ways. One is to put people in weird situations and see how they react to them. The other is to put people in very normal situations and see how they react to them. I think the former is the plot device of the majority of books written today, and the latter is much less used but equally welcome, as long as the author can write well.

This is one of those people-in-weird-situation books. Gina is a 33 year old widow, too stunned by grief and living on her husband’s boat. Late one night she hears someone board the boat and in a panic, fires her gun. The “intruders” turn out to be Reese, her husband’s ex-wife and Angel, an Reese’s 8 year old daughter. Angel takes a bullet in the shoulder and suddenly the widow’s and the ex-wife’s lives become entwined.

This was a very gripping book, and I didn’t see coming the even weirder situation that develops at the end of the story. It was well written and had sympathetic characters all around.

Peeling a winter squash.

Occasionally, Matthew Card will contribute to the Oregonian’s FoodDay section. I really like his features, because they are about eating economically and produce some yummy food. This week, though, in his feature about winter squash, he said he likes the taste of winter squash but “most varieties have crenelated exteriors that make it nearly impossible to peel them while raw, so they must first be roasted, and then the soft flesh scraped free of the skin and pureed.”

To which I say, “Piffle.” Winter squash can be peeled. Is it an athletic event? Yep. Are you sometimes in danger of slicing your hand open? Sure, if you aren’t careful, but the danger can fulfill your sense of adventure. Is it a bit time consuming? A bit, but roasted cubes of squash sans peel are one of my favorite things, and I’m not going to let a little time get in the way of that. Plus, peeling winter squash is something that leaves me with a feeling of great accomplishment. Before there was a hard round object, now, bite-sized pieces of soon to be delicious food.

Here is your step-by-step illustrated process for peeling winter squash. *Note, the steps for butternut squash are a bit different, but I didn’t have one on hand to take a picture of. I’ll go through those verbally at the bottom. Special thanks to my old roommate Mary Kistinger, who saw me about to massacre my own self while peeling a butternut squash and walked me through her technique.

Start with a squash. This Long Island Cheese that I grew is ideal to peel because of it’s smooth surface. Acorn squash is the biggest pain, especially if it has deep ridges. This is a huge squash so the scale is off, but you will get the idea.
Sharpen your knife. Firmly and carefully plunge the knife into the top of the squash and cut as far down on one side as you can. Rotate the squash around and cut the opposite side the same way. This is one of the steps where you can slice your hand open if you aren’t careful as the skin is a bit thick and sometimes resistant to being cut. Sometimes rocking the knife a bit up and down helps, but keep your other hand out of the way. There aren’t too many times in modern life that you can plunge a knife into something, so enjoy this.
Flip the squash upside down and plunge the knife in again, pulling it as far down as you can, ideally joining up with the cut you made above. Rotate and do the other side.
If your lines join up, you shouldn’t have much trouble separating the two halves. In this case, mine didn’t, as evidenced by the ridge on the right-hand side of the picture. The stem was also particularly difficult to crack open. I ended up flipping the whole thing upside down and using the knife as a sort of pry bar to split the two sides from one another. This is also another hand slicing opportunity, so be careful.
Scoop out the seeds and other gunky part with a big spoon. This always brings back happy memories of carving pumpkins. Interesting side note. Though we carved pumpkins every year I don’t think I had winter squash in an edible form until I went off to college. I wasn’t a pumpkin pie fan and I think that was the squash-i-est my family got.
You are left with the flesh of the squash and, of course, the skin which you now have to remove. This was the first time carving into one of my own squash and I can say that it really does sort of look like cheese.
Set the squash on it’s bottom and carve a wedge off of the half. The size of this squash mandated big slices, but the smaller you cut your slices, the less waste there is.
At this point, you can cut the whole half into wedges, or do the rest of these steps and then cut another wedge and repeat from here.
Set you wedge on its side and use your knife to slice off a bit of the skin. I took this photo from the side, but I do this by standing in front of the wedge and leaning over the slice. I always start in the middle and work outward, but I don’t see a reason why you couldn’t start from a side and work around. Keep slicing until you remove all skin. I flip over the squash and get the tiny bits on the other side the knife missed.
Once the skin is gone, slice the wedge into slices.
Then take your slices and chop them into the appropriate sized chunks for your recipe.
The first time you do this, it might take a long time and you will be very sweaty, but ideally emerge unsliced by a knife. After that, you will become much quicker.

For butternut squash: Cut off the bulbous end. You now have the straight “top”side. Cut off the stem end. Stand this end upright (it will look like Devils Tower) and slice off the skin around the tower. You can then slice this tower of squash into what every you would like. Then cut the bulbous part in half and continue as above.

Easy roasted winter squash recipe gleaned from the FoodDay’s feature on roasting winter vegetables:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Throw 2.5 lbs of squash [this is flexible, don’t stress if you have a bit more or less] cut into two-inch pieces in a bowl. Drizzle in 2 T olive oil, salt and pepper and toss. Put on baking sheet or in 9X13 pan. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme over the top. Roast for 40 minutes, stirring a bit halfway through.

The Year of Living Biblically. A.J. Jacobs.

Based on the author’s own reporting in this book, I would guess that, of all the authors I read A.J. Jacobs would be most likely to Google himself and find this review. If he is reading this, let him rest assured that I enjoyed this book, the story of—as the subtitle informs us—“One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.”

Parts of this books are laugh-out-loud funny, as when Jacobs describes boning up for an interview with Rosario Dawson by watching two of her movies rented from CleanFlicks or describing how his refusal to tell a lie by calling an English muffin a bagel results in the temper tantrum of his three-year-old son.

The book was also thought provoking, I especially enjoyed the part about not using the Bible as a self-help book, which is the opposite message I’ve heard over and over again. Other parts are sweet, such as his dealings with his neighbor and newborn twins. Jacobs is obsessive about his subject, devouring not just several versions of the bible, but many, many books about the Bible. Overall, an entertaining read.

One note. It used to be books had footnotes. You would read until you got to the little superscripted number sign and then shift your eyes down to the bottom of the page to read the little footnote. Somewhere along the line, we lost the footnotes. There seems to still be end notes in academia, resulting in a grumbled flip to the back of the book only to see “Ibid.” The nonfiction world seems to have embraced an even more annoying version. They let the author write the notes, and put them at the end of the book, and make no mention of them throughout the book. More than once after I’ve finished a book I’ve come upon several pages of end notes that I had no idea were there. Then I read some disjointed notes that would have been much more interesting if I had been able to read them while I was reading the chapter in question. How is the reader even supposed to know to go to the back of the book at that point? “Bring back the footnote!” Don’t let David Foster Wallace be the only one to indulge. Let our eyes jump around the page again. It would be like a video game. Or a web page. I beg you nonfiction book manufactures, bring back the footnote. Or at the very least the endnote. Footnote! Footnote! Footnote!

The story of General Dann & Mara’s daughter, Griot and the snow dog: a novel. Doris Lessing.

This is the sequel to Maura & Dann which I read in 2001 or so. I liked the book, though it was long and I wandered off in the middle and then returned later to finish it. I didn’t like this one, so much though.

Both books take place in the far future where the ice caps have covered Yerrup and the south of Ifrick is a vast desert. In Maura & Dann, they walk and walk and try to survive for many hundreds of pages. For me, the most memorable thing I remember about their adventure is their clothing. It is some indestructible fabric that they wear for, no foolin’, ten years! They are trying to get to the North, where there is not as much drought.

This book takes place with Maura and Dann grown up. Maura dies (off camera) in the first 10 pages. Dann is General Dann and he lives in the Centre where many refugees come, fleeing wars and drought. Griot, his friend, manages everything while Dann wanders off on a journey. When he wanders back, Griot has a whole army ready for General Dann to command. Does Dann do that? No he mopes about.

Do you ever read a book and it just goes on and on and you wait for the big thing to happen and you realize that there are only about 30 pages left and the big thing isn’t in fact going to happen? This is one of those books. Sadly, it wasn’t that great.