Monday, March 31, 2014

Recipe Poetry

How do we say goodbye to Nutrition Month and hello to Poetry Month? With some rhyming recipes, of course. Unfortunately, the only example I could find of an actual recipe for food that rhymes was on this Wikipedia page. There are also a couple here, in this article about "food laureates" (aka, How Do I Get That Job?). If you Google "rhyming recipe," most of what you find will be for "Friendship" or "A Happy Family" or some other non-food item. Apparently, though, rhyming recipes used to be all the rage for housewives who had lots to remember. Good thing we have Pinterest now!

My last foodie endeavor was a bbq chicken, bacon, and pineapple pizza last night. While that may not sound "nutritious," let me just remind you that chicken and bacon = protein, pineapple = vitamins C, B-6, and A, and barbecue sauce = happy endorphins. I consider pretty much anything made at home from scratch to be good for you, in a body/mind/soul kind of way. I controlled all the ingredients, spent quality time preparing a meal with my boyfriend, and we enjoyed the fruits of our labor together. Also, just look at that thing. Wowza.

If food doesn't inspire you to write poetry, I don't know what would.

Order Up

"Do you want cilantro?"
I bent down into the fridge
to pull out toppings.
You kept at your tasks:
chop veggies,
shred cheese,
slice bacon.
I paced around the kitchen,
going from one odd job
to the next
like a short order chef trying to keep up
with the lunchtime rush.
When our shift finished,
we ate in the living room,
leaving the dishes for later.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Be the Good You Want to See

It's crazy to think we had a Simple Living Challenge every week during MercyWorks. The weeks go by so quickly and I barely have a handle on the challenge before it switches. Last week was a little easier. Be nice to myself: eat right (already do that), get enough sleep (not a problem), and exercise (I can manage that for a week). This week, we're turning that goodwill outward and doing something nice for someone else.

So far, my random acts of kindness have been geared towards spring cleaning--both at home and at work. My roommates were/are on spring break (along with M), so I've had a lot of time to myself to sweep, dust, wash, and organize. Other things I can do: smile, say thank you, share, help--all just to be nice, not because I'm expecting anything in return. This week is about doing what Jesus would do.

This week is also the end of the month. Soon we'll switch gears from nutrition to poetry--more on that tomorrow. For today, let's be grateful for the sunshine and pay our gratitude forward. I for one have a sun-filled porch and a stack of books calling my name.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Chocolat (Chocolat, #1)Chocolat by Joanne Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a strange book to read during Lent. Written from the perspective of Vianne Rocher, chocolatier and single mother, and Pere Reynaud, priest of the small French town where Vianne recently set up shop, Chocolat is a story of temptation and pleasure set against restriction and temperance.

I enjoyed reading this along with the timeline of the story--when the cold wind sweeps through Lansquenet, Chicago's cold winds were blowing as well. I have my own Lenten vows to think about, and even though they didn't include giving up chocolate, there were times when just the description of the candies, drinks, and indulgences in Vianne's shop were too rich for me.

Yes, the church-vs-pagan thing was a bit overplayed, and while I think Vianne and Pere would contrast each other nicely in person (or in a movie), in ink, Pere is much duller than Vianne. I found myself skimming his chapters to get back to Vianne's point of view. I thought Vianne's daughter, Anouk, was adorable, and the many customers to Vianne's shop (most of whom are also parish members) ranged from charming to conniving.

Again, the gypsy storyline played out better in the movie, but I liked how the book tied things up at the end. I like my chocolate sweet, but not too sweet. Altogether, this was a "treat" book, a nice escape to my own bookshelf while I wait for the weather to improve so I can visit the library again.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring Flex

Here we are, week three of Lent. We survived St. Patrick's Day/Purim, we're nearing the end of March/Nutrition Month, and warm weather is slowly becoming the norm rather than a blue moon occurrence. What's that, you say? It snowed last night? Oh. Okay, so warm weather is still a little spotty around these parts. Doesn't matter--the calendar says SPRING, so spring it is.

With spring comes outdoor activities, spring cleaning, and more seasonal food options. Now is the time to think about your body--is it beach ready, summer ready, day-to-day activity ready? This week, let's be kind to our bodies. More than just forgiving ourselves, let's feed ourselves and keep ourselves fit. If you've been following along, you know that I'm eating well this month (whole instead of processed foods, mostly). Now I want to add another element to my well-being: exercise.

Hold the phone, did I just write that?? Me, the one who won't join a gym out of principal, the one who complains when she has to exert more energy than it takes to get from her bedroom to the kitchen, that person now wants to exercise? Yes. BUT: only in the sense that I want to be active. I want to take advantage of the increased daylight and decreased snow cover. I'm not going to introduce a strict exercise regimen to my life because I know that's not sustainable for me. What is sustainable is biking to work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and allowing my boyfriend to drag me along to his gym so I can join him for a workout here and there.

Just like fad diets, fad workout routines don't help in the long run. My fitness goal isn't a specific weight or dress size; it's not 22" arms or washboard abs. I only want to be healthy. Energetic. Fit enough to keep up with my life, to be comfortable in my skin, to know I can rely on my body to do what it needs to do.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Divergent: The Movie

It's strange to think that just over a year ago, I was skimming through Divergent, wondering if it would become the next big dystopian trilogy of our time and if my boyfriend or I would somehow end up in the movie version, set and filmed in Chicago. Jesus would later be cast as an extra, setting up a summer full of early morning calls and late night wraps. Last night, we saw the final product along with a theater full of the other extras.

I'm sure our theater companions will affect my review. Much like a funny movie is made funnier when you watch with a group of friends, watching a movie while the people around you cheer for things like the opening credits, the first wide shot of your city (overgrown with marshy plant life), the first time a group of people appears on screen, or cheeky one-liners just makes it seem all the more monumental. Spotting your boyfriend in several scenes (even if you only recognize him because of his mustache) probably helps up the enjoyment factor as well.

The thing is, I think I would have liked this movie no matter where or with whom I watched it. That's saying a lot for a series I haven't been generous towards, but I genuinely enjoyed Divergent. I laughed, I cried, I held my breath, and I got angry. The soundtrack amped up the drama while the visuals showed me what Chicago could look like in a distant future. I'll be honest, I was doubtful that Shailene Woodley could pull off a dauntless Tris, but she proved to be even better than the original book's weak and whiny portrayal of a "tough" girl--the Tris I grew to hate while reading the series, I clapped and cheered out loud for in the theater. I'm gonna go ahead and jump on her bandwagon now.

Besides Woodley, Divergent features plenty of solid actors. Her co-star and romantic interest, Theo James (as Four), was manly without being overbearing. Their chemistry was apparent from their very first meeting. What felt like unnatural attraction and awkward PDA in the book translated to a simmering tension and meaningful hand grazes in the movie. This story has so much emotion at its core, and thanks to the actors, I finally experienced that on the big screen.

My biggest issue with the book was how whiny the main characters were, and how I could never tell anyone apart because they all sounded the same when they talked: boring, flat, full of crappy jokes. The screenwriters and actors of Divergent did what Veronica Roth couldn't/didn't do. They brought her story to life with honest (and entertaining) dialogue, distinct personalities, and a badass attitude well-suited to their post-war faction-survival lives. I didn't care so much that the story was at times implausible, the characters carried this film for me.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

March. Music. Madness.

Happy Spring, and Happy Madness! My bracket is locked in and already upset, and I'm back to riding my bike to work semi-regularly, so it feels like the season is changing. With leftover piles of icy snow and freezing precipitation in the forecast, though, I need a little help to get all the way out of winter. That's where music comes in. Here are several of my recent go-tos when I need a pick me up (and coincidentally, the soundtrack to my room rearranging tonight--a new season calls for a new bed placement!):

Ingrid Michaelson - Girls Chase Boys
This song is fun, plain and simple. If the video looks familiar, you may have seen this already. It may have its roots in breakup music, but boiled down it's a song about being human. "All the broken hearts in the world still beat/Let's not make this harder than it has to be." Yes. Let's not do that. Let's sing and dance instead.

Pharrell - Happy
Like Ingrid's song, this one is light, whimsical, and one heck of a fun song to sing along to. Out of all the songs on constant replay on the radio right now, this is the only one that makes me keep the station where it's at. The video is joyful and I could see myself dancing around like that. It's also the perfect song for an International Day of Happiness.

Lady Gaga - Gypsy
Look at how much fun Lady Gaga has while performing this song! And look at how much fun her audience is having as well! I think we all see the theme emerging here: good, clean fun. I may not want to be alone forever, but I can be tonight...when I've got this tune to rotate my bed to.

Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto (entire album)
In my recent Coldplay re-discovery, I've started listening to Coldplay's albums straight through when I'm chilling at home. Mylo Xyloto especially lends itself well to this, as the full album tells a story about two people, Mylo and Xyloto. While some songs are sadder than others, overall the vibe this album gives off is positive.

Justin Timberlake - Not a Bad Thing
This song. It just gets me, and I like to keep it on repeat. I don't think I'll get sick of it anytime soon, especially considering I haven't gotten sick of the guy who this song makes me think of, the one who I swore to my roommates I wouldn't date, until five months later, when we started dating. Three years later, we share a phone bill and a crush on Mr. Timberlake himself.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spinach Pancakes & Shepherd's Pie

I'm not Irish, nor do I plan on becoming Irish ever in my life, but if there's a holiday with food attached to it, you can bet I'll celebrate. This weekend the Naw hosted Quinn, and because he's a college kid and I'm his older sister, we ate like kings. Irish kings.

First, brunch. Besides our usual egg scramble, we stepped up our game with spinach pancakes. We put spinach in everything else around this house, so why not? It was a great way to get some green into our breakfast. I adapted this recipe to fit what we had for ingredients. Since we usually make pancakes from scratch, this was a fun way to keep up the tradition while trying something new. It's also nice that the green color comes from real food, not food coloring.

Spinach Pancakes

1 c raw spinach, packed
1 banana
1 c almond milk
1 tbsp syrup (I used blueberry, the original recipe calls for maple.)
1 egg, whisked (We've also tried these eggless, with success.)
1 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Puree the spinach, banana, milk, vanilla, and syrup in a blender.
Pour into a medium-sized bowl and stir in the egg.
In a small bowl, mix the dry ingredients together.
Pour dry ingredients into the wet mixture, mixing until just combined.
Place a skillet over medium heat.
Drop 1/4 cup of the batter on the pan per pancake. Cook until tops bubble, then flip to continue cooking until golden brown.

Green pancakes are all well and fine, but they're not exactly Irish. For something a bit more culturally relevant, we decided to make shepherd's pie. I used Martha's recipe, which calls for beef, not lamb, so maybe this is a farmer's pie instead? Quinn suggested "cow pie," but we all decided maybe that wasn't what we were looking for.

Shepherd's Pie

1 lb ground beef chuck
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp flour
1 box/bag (10-12 ounces) frozen mixed vegetables (no need to thaw)
salt and pepper
3 c mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 425.
Cut, boil, and mash potatoes.
While potatoes are cooking, brown the meat in a large skillet.
Add onions and garlic, cook until soft.
Add thyme, ketchup, and flour. Stir until combined.
Add vegetables, along with 1/2 c water, cook until vegetables are warmed through and liquid thickens.
Season with salt and pepper.
Spread mixture into baking dish.
Spread mashed potatoes evenly over beef and veggie mixture.
Place dish on a baking sheet and place in oven.
Bake until potatoes are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. (Our pie took longer; our oven is slow.)

Two years ago when Quinn visited for St. Patrick's Day weekend, we napped on the lakefront, got sunburns, and then returned home to make the biggest batch of mac & cheese we could manage. This year we stepped up our game with two successful meals, not to mention the pizza(s), popcorn, ice cream, tacos, tater tots, wings, and curry we also consumed. Is St. Patrick the patron saint of heartburn, by chance?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

St. Purim's Day

Before you google that holiday, let me be honest and tell you it doesn't exactly exist, and I wasn't the one to coin the phrase. The Jewish holiday of Purim and the Irish holiday of St. Patrick's Day are on the same weekend this year, and because both festivals feature a hero/heroine (Queen Esther and St. Patrick), food, drink, and public revelry, they compliment each other well. Since I'm neither Jewish nor Irish, I figure I can take the parts of both holidays that resonate with me and celebrate how I want.

It's also still Lent, which doesn't quite jibe with the atmosphere of St. Purim's Day. These holidays celebrate through indulgence. They are a kind of Mardi Gras for each culture, complete with costumes, parades, and alcohol. Lent, on the other hand, is about moderation and purification. (Although I guess if you celebrate St. Patrick's Day and Purim well enough, moderation and purification will start to look pretty good, so maybe there is a connection.)

So far, I've celebrated these holidays through food, drink, and music. Yesterday, Quinn and I made an awesome pizza, and we had some green beer while watching the Badger game at a Wisconsin bar near my apartment. Later, we went out dancing with friends, and ended the night with tacos and tortas from our favorite taqueria. This morning, we made brunch--green pancakes and eggs. Tonight, we made shepherd's pie.

Finally, Purim is also about giving back, something that I want to incorporate into my Lenten observances this week. The word charity can have a negative connotation, but I want to think about it as a foil to consumerism. When I think about my spending, I realize I'd rather buy a hungry person a sandwich than buy myself another pair of shoes. I've already started by cleaning out my closets and donating clothes and shoes I don't wear. Instead of buying new things, I'll check out thrift stores, or go without--I certainly don't need anything new right now. (I do want new's wedding season!)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1)A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This hefty novel took me over a year to complete. Mostly because I own it, so when I got books from the library this past year, I'd move on to those before returning to where I left off in the saga of Diana the witch/historian and Matthew vampire/scientist. It also took so long because it is...long. And the words are very small. I know, I know, that doesn't change the actual substance of the story...but it changes how I read it.

A Discovery of Witches drew me in because, on the surface, it's not like a lot of other supernatural stories--the main characters aren't in high school and they aren't trying to be sexy. Diana eats on basically every other page, and I like that in a heroine. Much like my last fantasy read, I could get on board with the world's rules: witches, vampires, and daemons are species that exist, plain and simple. I learned the practical definitions of words like "spellbound" (literally, bound by a spell) and "enthralled" (to be in thrall of someone, like say a vampire). There was so much history and research in the book, reading it felt like a workout.

There were points where I saw similarities to Twilight, to this book's downfall. (Similarities to the movies, at least. I've not read the books.) It's almost as if one is the fan fiction of the other, though I can't say for certain which came first. Diana, though she is independent, a scholar, and an active woman, still goes weak in the knees for Matthew, our hunky, broody vampire who also has an affinity for wine and yoga. These two "modern" adults fall in love in a month. Fantasy and vampire attraction aside, that's just not necessary. I also thought it funny how quickly the love story progressed while the actual story took forever to get through.

All of this is not to say I didn't enjoy it; I did. I liked dipping into a different world (not only are supernaturals a thing, but most of the story takes place in the UK, France, or New England). I liked Diana's aunt and her partner, who reminded me of Sabrina's (of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch) aunts with their contrasting yet complimentary personalities. I thought Matthew's mother, Ysabeau, was a riot.

Hopefully I stick with the next books in the series, instead of setting them to the side when other (quicker) reads come along--I think if I had read this all in one shot I'd appreciate it more (and remember more details). I do want to continue the story of Matthew and Diana's star-crossed love, and I want to know more about Matthew's history (which is long...the dude has been a vampire for hundreds of years). Whenever I get to the rest of the All Souls Trilogy (I have a long to-read list), I'll make sure I have plenty of tea brewed for the occasion. Diana would approve.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Pi(e) Day

I make pizzas pretty much every Friday, but on this Friday I wanted to make a different kind of pie to celebrate Pi Day. For those of you who forgot what pi is, or never cared to begin with, it's a magical number that helps people measure circles (or circle shaped objects, like pie). It goes on forever, but it's commonly truncated to 3.14. As in 3/14. As in March 14th.

While I wanted to bake a dessert pie, I didn't want to go wild and have to make a crust. It's still a Friday--no hard work allowed. Enter Crustless Coconut Pie, also known as Impossible Pie (because it makes its own crust as it bakes). I took and adapted my recipe from fellow blogger Stacie. I pretty much followed her recipe (which follows), except I used olive oil spray. I'm also a bad measure-er, so I think I ended up with more sugar than necessary. Oh well.

My batter ended up filling my pie tin right to the lip, so I put a baking sheet underneath it in the oven in case of spillage. I didn't have to worry--the pie baked firm and held itself in the tin. In about an hour (our oven is s-l-o-w), I had my pie and ate it too.

nonstick spray
2 c milk (I used Silk coconut milk)
¾ c sugar
½ c flour
4 eggs
¼ c butter, melted
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 ⅓ c sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350.
Spray glass pie dish with oil spray. (I used a metal dish, because that's what we have.)
Put all ingredients except coconut in a bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth.
Add coconut and mix thoroughly.
Bake 40 minutes, or until center of pie is set and top is golden brown.
Let cool, uncovered.
Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

I'll Be Fine Once I Get It

My traditional blog post didn't make it to the official yeah write moderated grid this week. The editor suggested that I take my last three lines and go from there, truly getting at the heart of what I'm feeling this spring: something not as depressing as Depression, but not carefree either. A bittersweet unease of the unknown. A changing season, changing weather, changing daylight resistance to too much change. Melancholy.
The thing is, I don't want to write about that. I don't want to write about how in that brief moment after I wake up, but before I remember what day it is, I'm blissful. I don't want to write about how it feels to lose that feeling to the day and its responsibilities. I don't want to write about the cool, sweet scent of spring and how that takes me back to springs past: dreams deferred, insecurities bubbling, and uncertainties looming. I don't even want to discuss the silver linings and rosy sunsets: plans falling into place, the reasons for which everything happens.
No, Monday’s post had to be about what I want for myself, for the future. I had to get it down, get it out, let it exist outside of my head, and look at it from several steps away. The day after I wrote it, the cold returned, followed by another dumping of snow. My mood stayed upbeat, and I experienced a small victory: the weather doesn't control my every swing. I can feel positive in the chill when I have loved ones to look forward to, recipes begging to be cooked and tasted, and immersive books drawing me in. I can even have fulfilling days at work, days that remind me why I used to--and sometimes still--love this job, and why I’m not ready to go at right this moment.
Maybe I have a touch of the Fever, something a lot of us are experiencing right now. Maybe it has nothing to do with the feeling that I’m growing out of my job. Maybe I need a vacation, or a day off, or just a new pair of shoes. Maybe there is no explanation, except my insistence on over-analyzing every thought and feeling that filters through my brain.

Whatever this feeling is, I don't want to write about it. I just want to sit with it, like the clumpy snow that stuck to the tree branches on Wednesday. I want it to plop its wet self down, then melt away like it was never there at all.



Monday, March 10, 2014

I Believe in Flowers

Me: I’m in a good mood today, but I'm also anxious, like I forgot something important, or like something bad is going to happen.

Boyfriend: That's called Depression.

But I don't feel depressed. Coming off a winter funk, yes. Anxious about the future, yes. Not depressed. This is work-related restlessness, a sign it's time to seek out something different.

Tomorrow I have an informational interview with a former MercyWorker who works in higher education. No, interview is too strong a word--I'm getting coffee with someone to learn about a field I might be interested in. I say might because I don't know--hence the meet-up.

Even with this uncertainty, there are a few things I do know.

I miss co-workers. Besides craving professional development, this is the biggest reason to transition. I want supervision that an agency's structure provides. As much as I enjoy doing my own thing, I go too much into my own head when I'm alone. I need people who aren't teenagers or grocery store clerks, people to joke with, people to share responsibility with, people I can go to when I need advice or a restaurant recommendation.

I want training and traditional benefits and paperwork--yes, paperwork! The flexibility of a nanny job is hard to match, but it has trade-offs. People don't take you as seriously when you are "just" a nanny. (Not that anyone takes me seriously otherwise--have you seen me put an outfit together?) I'd like the security and variety of working at an agency with room for me to grow, options for me to pursue, and some basic dental coverage wouldn't hurt either.

I can make people happy. I want to fulfill while being fulfilled. I'm not sure what exactly my career will be, but I don't want to focus too much on the specifics of the job title. I'm more interested in working for an agency whose mission lines up with mine than in compromising my values for a dream job--I'm researching employers rather than searching for jobs, if you will.

I hesitated before publishing this post, my Work Manifesto. It had to be written, has been written, over and over in various pages of my journal, but I didn’t know if I wanted to share it publicly. I want to be honest, though, and I express myself better through writing than other forms of communication. If a future (or past) employer reads this, I stand by my words.

Even so, this isn't something I post lightly. I practice interview questions with myself when I can't sleep. What are my strengths? Numerous. Creativity, adaptability, an introversion that gives me a nuanced perspective of the world, and I make a mean granola. Weaknesses? Nothing that I’m not currently thinking about, reflecting on, and working through.

I walked home from work today, taking time with nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other. At one point, the skyline was mostly visible, partially blocked by the Vienna Beef factory. I stopped to take it in: my adopted city. While my walk was puddle-filled, smelled of stinky-sweet rotting vegetation from fall, and the view wasn't perfect, it was still comforting. I love living here. I love having work that allows me to live here.

Now is a time for growth, a time for believing that seeds buried in dirt will sprout and flower. This isn't Depression: it’s Dormancy. Sometimes our location doesn't provide us with the best view, but that doesn't mean the view isn't there.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Taking Time

Today marks the first Sunday of Lent, which traditionally means all bets are off--Sundays aren't technically a part of Lent, so they don't count towards the 40 days. They're cheat days. As a kid, I loved when Lent Sundays rolled around. I could eat chocolate, drink soda, watch TV, and take part in whatever I had given up, guilt-free...well, with only minor guilt. I was convinced the "good" Catholics didn't take Sundays off.

Now, Sundays are a day to reflect on what went well the past week and what I can work on in the week ahead:
  • Because it's Nutrition Month, my mindless snacking has been almost under control. My snacks are better for me, at least, and I've been making a lot of meals at home which cuts down on convenience store junk.
  • While I make my meals, I clean up after myself. I've also gotten into the habit of doing any leftover dishes in the mornings while I wait for my coffee/tea to cool.
  • I haven't been writing fiction lately, but I am writing more traditional blog posts, which I wanted to get back into, and I'm doing a lot of behind the scenes work on this baby.
  • It could just be the weather, but I'm in a much better mental place than I have been the past few weeks. I'm hoping for big changes in the next year, but with change comes anxiety and ups and downs, so I'm riding out this high as long as I can and trying to turn it into positive action.
  • Forgiveness is difficult. It's also a nebulous concept--so simple, yet so strange. I went to Apartment Yoga yesterday (it's exactly what it sounds like, yoga at a friend's apartment), and the nugget I walked away with was "Forgive yourself." It's okay if you can't get to the full expression of every pose, because sometimes our bodies just aren't there yet. I had to do a lot of forgiving. It got easier (the forgiving part, not the yoga part), and I hope that generosity continues this week.
Today also marks the beginning of Daylight Saving Time--I'm sure even if you didn't have to consciously change a clock, your body clock noticed--and while I'm excited for it to be light out when I leave work, I know it'll take my body a bit to get used to the change. Losing an hour is never fun, even when we hide that hour in the middle of the night in the middle of the weekend. I'm a person who needs a lot of time (to fall asleep, to wake up, to make decisions, to adjust, to reflect, to not get overwhelmed...), so this week I really want to be intentional with how I use my time. I want to focus more on the important things: cooking awesome meals for myself and whoever is at my apartment, reading works by authors I want to emulate, being present at work, and investing in myself by taking care of my body and my mind.

I'll start by making a giant pot of wild rice soup, continuing my yoga practice from the comfort of my own apartment, turning off my devices, and getting lost in a book.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Ettiquette & Espionage

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My boyfriend and I liked Gail Carriger's earlier adult series (The Parasol Protectorate), and when I found this book at work (and "borrowed" it for a few days), I remembered why. Carriger is a fun and funny writer and her stories are imaginative and engrossing.

Etiquette & Espionage is geared towards a younger audience, so I didn't take it super seriously. It was fun for what it was--a tale about a finishing school that defines both "finishing" and "school" rather loosely. Sophronia Temminnick, a new recruit, learns this quickly as she boards the continuously floating dirigible that serves as the school building.

As a somewhat "prequel" to The Parasol Protectorate (the Finishing School series is in the same world, but follows different characters), it does a good job of giving backstory on familiar characters while creating a unique story with new characters. I always enjoyed Carriger's descriptions of vampires and werewolves, so I wish supernaturals would have made more of an appearance, but the non-supernatural humans were interesting as well.

This was another quick read, like most of Carriger's other books. I'm not really into steampunk as a genre, but her take on it keeps my attention. I'll stick around for the rest of the series.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

This Woman Makes Her Own Pizza

I've only got about 40 more minutes until it's not technically Friday anymore, so real quick: Happy International Women's Day!

I spent mine...working. Doing nothing of real interest, besides the things that many women do all around the world, probably: laundry, dishes, food prep, driving around children, and reading articles about the possibility of a future female president.

Then I came home and made myself dinner. I shared it with no one, and enjoyed every bite. Fridays mean pizza, and a Friday in March means I'm trying out a more vegetable-inspired pizza. This one comes with a cauliflower crust and minimal toppings. may not look appetizing, but don't count it out yet.
Cauliflower Pizza Crust (recipe from my mom...unsure of her source, though I did find this and this)

½ large head of cauliflower, grated (just over 2 cups)
1 large egg
¾ c finely shredded mozzarella
1 tsp dried oregano
1 clove fresh garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 450
Grate cauliflower into small crumbles (or chop or put in a food processor)
Boil cauliflower “rice” in a medium pot for 4-5 minutes
Drain, let cool, then squeeze out ALL remaining moisture (use a clean dish towel)
Mix crumbles (about 1 ½ c) with remaining ingredients
Pat into pan (I used a baking sheet, was afraid to use pizza stone...also, fingers work better than spoons)
Drizzle top with olive oil
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown
Remove from oven and switch setting to broil
Spread sauce on crust, add toppings and cheese
Broil 3-4 minutes or until toppings are hot and cheese is melted

  • I made my sauce by combining one can (8 oz) of tomato sauce with one can (14.5 oz) of diced tomatoes...add a little basil and oregano, stir in a pan over medium heat until the crust is ready to go.
  • My crust seemed a little soggy when finished, but once it sat and settled, it held much better. I didn't do the draining of the moisture step, but upon reflection, that's a necessary if you want a crispier/crunchier/more pizza-like crust. Mine was a little casserole-y until it solidified more.
  • Toppings I used: green pepper, more mozzarella cheese, feta, and spinach. It's just what was in the fridge. I wish I had mushrooms and olives, those would have went nicely with everything else.
  • Pairs well with cheap wine, like all of my pizzas. ;)
Today wasn't the best Friday I've ever had (I actually woke up feeling a strange sort of spring sadness--almost nostalgia/homesickness, but different...bittersweet is the word I'm coming up with), but I couldn't deny my upbeat mood once the day got going. The snow is melting (for now), the sun was out, and my bus routes are both under construction which somehow gets me dropped off closer to my destinations. To top it off, I made myself a great pizza for dinner and enjoyed Me time: catching up with shows and blogs, starting a new book or two, and getting my weekend laundry started early.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Feasting, Fasting, Forgiving

Yesterday was hit and miss on the Lenten challenge front. It was easy enough to feel solemn and repentant with the snow falling again--Mother Nature's punishments were motivation to be a better person, if she would only let us have spring. And yet, forgiveness came slowly while irritation flashed.

There were only several occasions where forgiveness would have been the right course of action, but each time my instinct was to get annoyed. Traffic, unreasonable requests, bus schedules...these are the things that irked me most yesterday. As the day went on, I recognized my anger quicker and could then rein it in, but forgiveness is still something I need to practice.

I also did a modified fast yesterday, which for me meant no snacking. This was extremely hard because there's a lot of snack foods at work. Instead, I focused on the tasks at hand, and when those were done, I created more tasks for myself. I found that if I kept myself busy I didn't think so much about how hungry I was. Even without snacks, I still ate four times: three small meals throughout the day and one huge meal at night when I got home. I'm a grazer at heart, but hopefully I can keep my snacking to a minimum and put my energy into complete meals.

Today is already more spring-like: the sun is out, I can hear birds, and it might reach 30 degrees. I'm going to hold fast to those things to keep me in a cheerier, more forgivable mood.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

When the Dust Settles

Humans are living and breathing piles of dirt. It doesn't matter what you believe about the afterlife: your body is biodegradable. I say this not to bum you out, but to make you feel better. Stop taking yourself so seriously and remember this. That's what Ash Wednesday is for--to remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Knowing that, it's much easier to forgive--others, for wronging you, and yourself, for whatever it is you've done or not done. Forgiveness is my first Lenten observance--one of six that my MercyWorks community hopes to challenge ourselves with this season. I know the whole point of a Lenten challenge is to do it in private, just for the sake of doing it and not for any outside glory, but I'm not blogging about it for attention. Hopefully, by sharing each week's simple living challenge/Lenten observance, I'll have a certain amount of accountability.

Forgiveness is cleansing, and I'm glad we're starting Lent free from grudges and anger that bogs us down. The ashes are cleansing too. For once, dirt makes you feel clean. Today is a new day, a new season, and a chance to prepare for the new life of spring.

I'm going to start by forgiving Mother Nature for being a relentless annoyance. It's a challenge because she's not sorry, and she won't stop. (It's snowing again is what I'm trying to say.) Good luck with your own personal Lenten observances. I'll be back on Sunday for my next seasonal reflection.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Guilty Pleasures

Full Disclosure: I've already had more than my share of Mardi Gras treats...starting last Friday. The housekeeper at my job brought in paczki...and gave me my own box. Those Polish pastries were gone even before I started laundry or dishes or checked my email. Chicago's large Polish population means we get Fat Thursday and Fat Tuesday, and I'm not complaining.

Today I made sure to indulge again. I love getting in the true spirit of the season. How did I indulge? Why, in all my guilty pleasures of course.

Mindless Snacking

Is that a bag of chips I see? Are there bowls of candy on the counter? How did this box of cookies get in my room? I snack. All. Day. Long. Somewhere there's a happy medium between a strict 3-meal-a-day policy and my preference for grazing. This Lent, I'm searching for a sweet spot of intentional eating. (It helps that March is Nutrition Month.) Traditionally, Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting. I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, but I personally want to mark the beginning of Lent with a fast. Then I'll be eating intentionally until Easter.


This is a writing guilty pleasure. I lean on adverbs a lot. Usually there's a more concise verb I could use rather than modifying the one I first think of. I'm trying to tighten up my creative writing, and adverbs (along with unnecessary adjectives--think "green grass" or "hot sun") should be the first to go. It's just, adverbs can be so fun! My fiction writing is taking a rest this month thanks to all the other activities I have planned, but I'm still blog writing, and practice makes better!


There's nothing I love more than making food and letting my dishes sit unwashed. I'm pretty sure this comes from the fact I have to wash dishes (sometimes a LOT of dishes) every day at work (although last year I had a different excuse...), so the last thing I want to do is come home and wash more. I want to eat and veg and not clean up after myself after a day of cleaning up after other people. That attitude isn't fair to my roommates, though, so I try to do them as soon as I can, or at the very least rinse them and organize them so they are easy to do the next morning.


I love to whine. And complain. And be snarky. My goal is to do so without being a Debbie Downer. I like to think my whining is funny. It's probably not, at least not all the time, but people who are in constant good moods unsettle me. I don't trust them. Today I'm getting out all my whine, and starting tomorrow I'm going to keep my snark to myself. I won't become Little Miss Sunshine, but I want to be more genuine. I will have bad days, but I don't have to complain about them. I can just let them be what they are. This will be my toughest challenge, and one that might take more than six weeks of Lent to work through.


What are your guilty pleasures? Are you giving up anything for Lent (or are you still working on New Year's Resolutions)?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Oscars 2014

We've arrived at the end of the 2014 Awards Season. As always, my only qualifications for live-blogging the Oscars are my TV, my blog, and my snarky opinions. Join me at 7:30 for the madness!

11:02: Good Night!

Thanks, readers.

10:41: Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Movie

Daniel Day Lewis: seems like a cool guy.

Cate Blanchett (Best Actress, Blue Jasmine): really surprised by this one, considering her competition and all. Another ice skating dress?

Jennifer Lawrence: already fell once tonight, over a traffic cone.

Matthew McConaughey (Best Actor, Dallas Buyers Club): ooh, burned again, Leo. As a first time nominee, he said he wants to breathe the whole experience in. Good advice for our daily lives. Alright, alright, alright indeed.

Will Smith: has he been working out?

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave. So Gravity can have all its other awards, 12 Years walks away with the big one.

10:31: Directing

Angelina Jolie: her dress could be worn for ice skating.
Sidney Poitier: checking twitter again, apologies Sir.

Alfonso Cuaron (Best Director, Gravity): I don't know if I can get behind this choice.

10:22: Writing

Robert DeNiro: "The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing" --don't I know that. ;)
Penelope Cruz: Sorry I'm not quite paying attention...checking out what twitter had to say about what just happened. I'm sure she's gorgeous. Wait. Why is her dress wrapped around her arm?

John Ridley (Best Adapted Screenplay, 12 Years a Slave): cheers to the writers.

Spike Jonze (Best Original Screenplay, Her): what do I know this guy from? Probably a Kanye West video.

10:04: Nominees, Winners

Another costume change, and Ellen still looks great. Like a fancy punk rocker.

Goldie Hawn: wow, she looks like her daughter (or vice versa). I wonder how heavy those "sleeves" are.

John Travolta: Jesus and I just watched Grease. He was better there than he is tonight. He just butchered Idina's name.

Idina Menzel: Here's what we've been waiting for all night, right? This seems fast. Like she is singing too fast for the music? But still with a great voice. Except maybe that last note? Okay, not sure how I feel. Weird. I feel weird.

Jamie Foxx: I saw him earlier with his daughter. It was touching to see him in that, his actual role. He was all concerned about her showing leg on the red carpet. And now we see his comedic chops.
Jessica Biel: can handle her own with Jamie.

Steven Price (Best Original Score, Gravity): this movie. I really didn't think it would win so much.

Best Original Song: "Let it Go", Frozen. Oh. After that performance, I don't know. I think U2 topped them. This speech though. Tears.

9:53: In Memoriam

I like that--"most of all, we thank you"--to those in show business who died this year, all we can do is be grateful for the talent they gave to the world.

Bette Midler: not what I expected to come after that. Was a little cheesy for my tastes. A LOT cheesy, if I'm being honest.

9:42: Production Design and more Heroes

Jennifer Garner: oooh, another flapper-inspired dress?
Benedict Cumberbatch: I don't understand the obsession people have with him.

Production Design: The Great Gatsby. Should I see that movie? I don't know, I always though Robert Redford and Mia Farrow did such a good job. Don't want to ruin that memory of high school English class.

Chris Evans: aka, Captain America. Ask my boyfriend about the time he translated that movie for his mom and she fell in love with it. :)

9:21: Gravity wins some more!

Pizza's here! I wonder who that guy is. Clearly the popular kids are all seated right down in front...sorry everyone else.

Madam President: dressed like the mother of the bride (yes, that's a compliment).

Amy Adams: lovely dress, lovely hair.
Bill Murray: oof, he is looking his age. He needs to let go of his not so lovely hair.

Best Cinematography: Gravity. Man, those behind the scenes guys are scoring big tonight.

Anna Kendrick: always with bold language.
Gabourey Sidibe: always in bold colors.

Film Editing: Gravity. Okay, we get it, Academy, you like space.

Whoopi Goldberg: nice beads, lady! She looks like a pirate/flapper hybrid. Plus Dorothy.

Pink: remember how she did aerial acrobatics at the Grammys? Even land-bound, she's a great performer.

9:00: Sound, Supporting Actress

Michael B. Jordan: hey! Not a bow tie! Cool stars.
Kristen Bell: channeling her Frozen character with that icy dress.

Chris Hemsworth: I'm getting a James Bond vibe from this guy.
Charlize Theron: interesting straps. More interesting flub.

Sound Mixing: Gravity. Hmmm...but there is no sound in space?

Sound Editing: Gravity. Again. No sound in space, and also how is editing different than mixing?

Christoph Waltz: oh gosh, he is so cute. The accent, the glasses, the sparkle in his eye.

Lupita Nyong'o (Best Supporting Actress, 12 Years a Slave): Okay. I love that dress, please don't misunderstand me. I just want to tug those straps up because a wardrobe malfunction looks inevitable. Her headband, her ear cuffs, though--flawless--along with her face. Beautiful. And her speech. Touching.

8:48: Foreign Movie, Foreign Band

Ewan McGregor: hair not as pretty as Jared Leto's, pants far to skinny for his age and build.
Viola Davis: LOVE that color. Deep turquoise. Great on almost any skin tone.

Foreign Language Film: The Great Beauty. Go Italy! Such a musical accent.

Tyler Perry: changing it up with a white bow tie.

Ellen now looks like my dad on his wedding day. Still adorable.

Brad Pitt: I prefer his voice to his face, but I get the attraction.

U2: "Ordinary Love"--I like this stripped down version of the song. These guys just proved why they are the biggest. No gimmicks, just music.

8:30: Shorts, Documentaries, Short Documentaries, more Heroes

Kate Hudson: knows how to rock a deep plunge.
Jason Sudeikis: dapper dapper dapper. So many bow ties tonight.

Best Live Action Short: Helium.

Best Documentary Short: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life. Where does one watch a short? I've not heard of any of these.

Bradley Cooper: Bow tie and a gleam in his eye.

Best Documentary Feature: 20 Feet From Stardom. A film about back-up singers, I believe. And I am so glad they didn't just play one of the "stars" of the movie off. Whew, that would've been awkward.

Kevin Spacey: I've heard nothing but good things about House of Cards. I guess that's next after I finish Breaking Bad?

8:12: Animation, Heroes, Visuals

Best Animated Short: Mr. Hublot "I have to take a paper." Merci indeed.

Best Animated Feature: Frozen. I think we all saw that one coming.

Sally Field: black vines on a sheer black dress. Appropriate cut, wish there was some color.

Emma Watson: very pretty. I would wear that dress. And that makeup. And that hair.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt: very pretty. Very funny. I would present an award at the Oscars with him.

Best Visual Effects: Gravity. I would hope a movie in space has some good effects.

Zac Efron: oh how far you've come since High School Musical...but not really.

Karen O: sincere. That performance wasn't perfect, and that made it better.

7:56: Costumes, Makeup, Hair, Team Oscar

Naomi Watts: simple, safe dress.
Samuel L. Jackson: needs bigger glasses for his head size.

Catherine Martin (Costume Design, The Great Gatsby): great dress. The coral color looks good with the embellishments.

Adruitha Lee, Robin Matthews (Makeup and Hair, Dallas Buyers Club): both have a lot of hair.

Harrison Ford: another bow tie. This time with a small stud earring.

Channing Tatum: slow down! Sounds like he doesn't like reading out loud.

7:30: Ellen! And Others.

Look at Ellen's wonderful floppy bow tie and sparkly suit jacket! She looks like a chic newsie.

"Heroes in Hollywood" ...okay...I guess I'll take it. Movies are important. Well, stories are important.

Ellen's monologue is why she's a great talk show host. She know just how to make fun of people without making them feel bad.

Anne Hathaway: wearing sparkly body armor?

Jared Leto (Best Supporting Actor, Dallas Buyers Club): absolutely the prettiest one at the Oscars. He gets his gorgeous hair from his gorgeous mother. Not many people (women) can pull off the long and gray, but she does it elegantly. Back to Jared: the over-sized bow tie, the sparkly shirt buttons...and those eyes. He is like Jesus (from Nazareth, not my boyfriend)...I just don't want him to blink! Not to take away from his eloquent acceptance speech, but that man is beautiful.

Jim Carrey: looks good in shiny blue. Also, for his age.

Kerry Washington: glowing. Beach wave hair, dark lips, and a stunning purple dress. Love the slit.

Pharrell: another beautiful man. I see he hasn't changed his from his Grammy outfit. Sparkly shoes are a nice touch. They've been playing "Happy" on the radio for a few weeks now, and it got me through the end of February and into March. I love when it comes on when I'm in the car.

Homemade Granola + Creamsicle Smoothie = Off to a Good Start

Let's start things off with the most important meal of the day. Breakfast should be enjoyed, not hastily crammed in our mouths as we rush out the door, or worse, skipped entirely in favor of more sleep. I like a strong cup of coffee when I wake up, or at the very least some black tea, but if I don't get some solid food in before I head to work I might as well stay in bed.

While the creation of this breakfast isn't as important as the digestion of it, it's still about as simple as they come. These recipes are both extremely flexible--changes, additions, substitutions, and subtractions to suit taste are all fair game.

I'm guilty of going the lazy/convenient route and buying granola, but now that I've finally made a batch for myself (I make it bi-weekly at work), I don't think I'll go back to store bought any time soon. The entire process took me 40 minutes, tops (including eating the finished product), and required minimal dishes. The basics of granola are dry ingredients [oats + nuts/seeds] + wet ingredients [sweetener + fat]. Yes, fat! It makes things taste good, people. And we need it--in moderation. Without further ado, here's my take on it:

Weekday Granola (I made it on a Thursday morning! Before work!)

2 c old fashioned oats
1 c mixed chopped nuts/seeds/coconut (I used walnuts, pecans, and coconut flakes.)
¼ c oil (I used sunflower, but use what you prefer. My next batch might use butter instead, why not.)
⅓ c honey
⅓ c brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp salt (I like my granola sweet, so I didn't use much salt. Some recipes call for more.)
1 c chopped dried fruit (I used apricots, blueberries, cranberries, and cherries.)

Preheat oven to 300
Mix oats, nuts, seeds, coconut, and salt in a large bowl
Mix oil, honey, and sugar in smaller bowl until sugar dissolves
Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients and stir until fully coated
Spread onto baking sheet (if you have parchment paper it comes in handy here)
Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes
Add dried fruit after baking
Enjoy...on some yogurt, added to your cereal, with fresh fruit, or straight from the pan...

I've been a smoothie maker for a while now (ever since I commandeered Bailey's blender a few summers ago), and I don't think it's possible to mess them up. Smoothies are like mature slushies or responsible milkshakes. Maybe it's not wise to drink our calories, but smoothies let us drink our vitamin C, protein, calcium, and fiber. Again, this recipe isn't set in stone. You do you. Here's what I did:

Orange Creamsicle Smoothie

1 c plain yogurt (I used Greek.)
1 c orange juice
1 banana, cup up
1 handful of spinach (Yep, for real.)
Honey to taste (I usually blend it all first, taste test, then add honey if I want it sweeter.)

Throw it all in a blender
Sip through a straw and pretend it's March 2012.

And there you go. Breakfast is fun. And cheap. And simple. And healthy.