Monday, May 21, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Book 20 - The Only Thing Worth Dying For

The Only Thing Worth Dying For by Eric Blehm

One of the few stories my father would tell about his service in World War II was the time his outfit was strafed by “friendly fire” because they had advanced much farther and faster than had been anticipated. I remember thinking that communication must have been pretty poor in “the old days” and that that kind of horrific mistake must of course have been eradicated by the wonders of modern warfare.

Sadly, as this book relates, that is not the case. 

After reading the story of this team of Green Berets who infiltrated Afghanistan early in the War on Terror, I have a newfound respect for their bravery but also an enhanced fear of the powers-that-be who are purportedly running the show. It was shocking to read how poorly informed they were of the landscape, the people, the politics and even the man (Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s future leader) they were tasked with protecting. But even worse was the ultimate human error that led to tragedy amongst these valiant soldiers.

This is not a feel-good book. The title refers to advice given the platoon leader by his mother: “Following your ideals is the only thing worth dying for.” Perhaps the reader can take some comfort in that.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Book 19: 11/22/63

11/22/63 by Stephen King

I must admit that it crossed my mind that reading this massive tome (849 pages) might make me fall critically behind in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks quest. But the premise was just too compelling to let that stop me. As with so many of Stephen King’s books, once I got started reading, it was hard to put down, so I ended up finishing it in little over a week.

All I will reveal about this book is that, in it, a man travels back in time to try to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. From that seemingly “simple” concept, a convoluted tapestry is woven, one that leaves the reader questioning the nature of time, space and reality itself. Not to mention the impact each of us may have by performing even the simplest of actions: the “butterfly effect.” 

Ask yourself this question: If you had the chance to go back in time and prevent some awful catastrophe from happening, wouldn’t you do it? Of course you would! But I guarantee that after reading this book, you will want to rethink that response.

Friday, May 4, 2012

April REVolution: Food (Part 2)

More Fun with the Facebook Food Challenge!

Having identified 26 food items from the Facebook Food Challenge that I would be willing to try, I found recipes for several of them and added the ingredients to my weekly shopping list. I was also happy to note that I had indeed eaten Moon Pie before (in New York, we called it Scooter Pie). That brought my total to 63.

On Monday, I was ready to test my first recipe: Chicken Tikka Masala

I had found this recipe on, submitted by a person named Yakuta. That sounded like an authentic Thai name – or at least that of someone who hailed from someplace respectably close to Thailand. And the intro blurb stated that it was easy to make – an important feature since my cooking time is limited.
The first hint that something might be up with this recipe came when I started making the marinade. I didn’t have an issue with the unusually large quantities of spices – after all, that’s what Thai food is famous for. But the 4 teaspoons of salt gave me pause. Nevertheless, I reluctantly added it, dumped in the diced chicken breasts and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours before broiling it. Luckily I had the sense to taste one of the chunks before making the accompanying sauce. Ouch! 

Now I like a spicy dish, but this was bordering on painful. Seeing that the sauce I was about to make also contained vast quantities of hot pepper and another 3 teaspoons of salt, I made an executive decision to turn down the heat a bit, figuring the chicken would impart enough of the spice into the sauce to make it redundant (and unpalatable) to add even more.

My cooking instincts were right. The dish was delicious, just peppery enough to clear the sinuses but not evoke weeping. Served with some long grain and white rice, fresh blueberries and a spinach salad, it made a very tasty meal.

On Tuesday, I made Fried Plantains as a side dish to salmon, and it was a big hit! Turns out my daughter, who dined with us that night, had tried these before and gave them her seal of approval. Later she bemoaned their high calorie content, but I could have guessed they’d be pretty loaded since they were deep-fried.
I think I expected them to have a more banana-y flavor, so I was surprised that they were starchier and more like French fries than I anticipated. I served mine lightly salted, but later we broke out some Newman’s Own Hot Tomato Salsa and dipped them in that – delicious! I also read that they are good served warm as a dessert with powdered sugar. But before we had a chance to consider an after-dinner treat, we’d eaten them all!

Wednesday night it was time for Frito Pie! This was by far the simplest meal of the week to put together. Layer Fritos, chopped onion, cheddar cheese and canned chili in a casserole dish and bake for 20 minutes.
While I don’t remember ever making this before, the taste was similar to several Tex-Mex dishes I’ve cooked, so chances are it has graced my table in the past. My husband was especially fond of this one (he loves chili!) and went back for seconds. And of course that half a bag of Fritos now taking up space in the snack drawer is also calling his name!

After taking a few days off to celebrate my birthday and let other folks do the cooking, I was ready to start again on Monday with some soul food: Chicken & Waffles, to be specific. This was amazingly good, though I had to push aside the moments of doubt I had as I combined ingredients that I normally would never mix. (Mayo, maple syrup and horseradish? Really? Yes, really. Really really good!) My daughter, who’d had the “real thing” in Harlem a few years ago, announced that this was delicious, albeit presented differently than the meal she’d enjoyed. Still, she took the leftover “sandwich” with her for the next days’ lunch and I saved the extra mayo, maple and horseradish concoction for some other use. Burger sauce perhaps?

Tuesday was German Currywurst time. The recipe I found stated that this was a popular “fast food” in Berlin, often served by street vendors. And it was, in fact, quick and easy to make. The sauce (which made way too much) was a simple combo of tomato sauce, chili sauce and seasonings, which after a brief simmer was poured over broiled kielbasa. I served it with garlic potatoes and some fresh bread-and-butter pickles a friend had given me for Christmas. Wunderbar!
On Wednesday I mixed up a big batch of Strawberry Lassi, a frothy drink originally from Punjab, India, and made from yogurt, strawberries and milk. It bore more than a passing resemblance to a fruit smoothie, so I refrigerated it in the blender container and saved it for the morning when I’d have it in place of my usual container of Yoplait. The recipe said it made three servings, but I poured the whole thing into a 12-ounce cup, along with chunks of fresh strawberries. Mmm, good! As suspected, it did taste like a smoothie and was creamy and satisfying.

I had been pleasantly surprised to come across a pouch of Tom Yum in the Thai section of my local supermarket last weekend, and was happy to see that it could be used for a stir-fry as well as a traditional soup. So Thursday night I thawed out a bag of cooked shrimp, steamed a bag of frozen veggies and added the contents of the Tom Yum pouch. Voila! A tasty stir-fry!

So far my adventures in eating have been quite positive, but I still have to try seven more dishes to get into the top three of my Facebook friends list. It’s getting a bit tougher now, and April is over, but I’m going to let this challenge spill into May. Besides, it’s so much fun!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

52 Books in 52 Weeks: Book 18 The Enneagram

Book 18: The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert

For those of you who like to spend time figuring out what personality type you are, here’s a new perspective – the Christian perspective, as the subtitle suggests. Based on the ancient personality-type system of the Enneagram, the authors divide personalities into nine different types, based on the seven deadly sins plus two more character defects that apparently didn’t make the final cut. These are further segmented into three “centers”: heart, head and gut. 

To determine your type, you must take a test. However, although the book is over 250 pages long, the test is not included. I had to resort to my favorite spiritual leader, Father Google, to steer me in the right direction. Or the wrong direction … who knows? There were so many choices online, it was hard to determine which ones were authentic. But I figured the free ones were more authentic than the ones you had to pay for, so I selected one and started answering about 180 questions.

I took the Enneagram test on two separate occasions. The first time I discovered that I was a Type 1 (Need to be Perfect) with a Type 3 “wing” (Need to Succeed). That made total sense. Then I took it again when I was in a somewhat negative mood and the results showed me to be a Type 8 (Need to be Against) with a Type 1 “wing” (that perfectionist thing again). Since Type 1 seemed dominant to me, I took that to be the most accurate personality assessment. This was based on no scientific method whatsoever, just my own feelings, which I would imagine is its fatal flaw.

As with most attempts to pigeonhole personalities, this one hits some high points but falls short in other areas. For example: Yes, I’m a perfectionist and get angry when things don’t go right in the world, but I am not a serious person who seldom tells jokes. (Just read a few of my blogs and you should figure that out.) But I did have a few aha moments while reading the description of Type 1.

What to do with this knowledge? Well, the point of the book was to show how to enhance one’s spirituality based on the personality type. And quite honestly, I was looking for a little more in the way of specifics here. Instead, the direction was more along the lines of “learn that there isn’t just one right way” (duh) and “don’t take yourself so seriously” (remind me of that the next time I do something stupid). It all seemed like the usual rubric. I was hoping to be given more of a laundry list, kinda like old-school penance: Say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys and you’re cool for the rest of the week. But then that’s very Type 1 of me, isn’t it?