2012 Reading in Review

I meant to post this at the beginning of the month, but life and all. I was pretty disappointed in my fewer-than-30-books reading total this year but have to remember that the biggest culprit is that I was knitting a lot, which I enjoy. So it should be a fair trade, huh? Well, it should be, but I don’t really see it that way. I’d really like to increase that number in 2013.

What I read in 2012 (roughly in order of most recently read):

  1. A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
  2. Funny Little Monkey by Andrew Auseon
  3. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
  4. A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
  5. Glass Houses by Rachel Caine
  6. The Passage by Justin Cronin
  7. The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
  8. Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr
  9. Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo
  10. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
  11. The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
  12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  13. Sabriel by Garth Nix (re-read)
  14. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  15. The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer
  16. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  17. A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  18. Bound South by Susan Rebecca White
  19. Remember Ben Clayton by Stephen Harrigan
  20. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
  21. The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
  22. Tangled by Carolyn Mackler
  23. Once by Morris Gleitzman
  24. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
  25. The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love by Jill Conner Browne
  26. The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale
  27. Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

19 Adult Books
8 YA/Kids Books
3 Nonfiction

Some reflection. First of all, as I was making the list, I kept thinking to myself, “Oh, that was good!”, so overall, while my number wasn’t high, there was some quality reading. Second, I quit thinking that about halfway through the list (so the first half of 2012, roughly). I’m not sure exactly what that means, except that the second half of the year had much less “obligation” reading. I think the biggest takeaway from this is “Read what you want, not what you’re supposed to read.”

I would also like to point out that while my total was only 27 books, I have 2 chunksters going that I’ve been working on for more than a year, so that accounted for a chunk of reading time. Also, there were a lot of books that I started and didn’t finish for whatever reason (either I didn’t like them or I was sampling them for the Dublin Award nominating committee at work).

OMG-AreYouKiddingMe-SeriouslyGood Grilled Cheese

For Christmas, I got Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making & Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are by Ed Levine & the Editors of seriouseats.com. I’ve been reading a little bit every morning over coffee, and I seriously love this book. I dare you to read it and not have your mouth start watering!

I’m working from home today, and on this rainy, dreary day, nothing sounded better than a homemade grilled cheese sandwich. I remembered seeing a recipe for The Best Grilled Cheese in Serious Eats, so I decided to try it out (or a variation of it, anyway). Oh. My. God. This was hands-down the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever made, and maybe the best I’ve ever eaten. (A couple of years ago Houston Dairymaids had a booth at the City Hall Farmers Market where they sold grilled cheese sandwiches made from their cheese, which were knock-your-socks off good, and this rivaled those.) It was so good I had to write about it immediately, before I forgot (as if!). I’m not finding a version on seriouseats.com to link to, so here is my version.

What you need: butter, bread, salt, and 2 types of cheese. One would work, but 2 is so much better. I used Muenster and Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar.

  • Heat 1/2 Tbsp butter over medium-high heat in a skillet. (I followed the butter measurements in the recipe even though I was only making one sandwich and the recipe made two – I never said this was a diet-friendly sandwich!)
  • Place one slice of bread in the pan and swirl it around until it soaks up the butter. Let it toast for about a minute, until it’s lightly toasted.
  • Place it on a plate, toasted side up, and top with a slice of one of the cheeses.
  • Repeat bullets 1-3 with the 2nd slice of bread.
  • Place the slices of bread together, cheeses facing each other.
  • Melt 1 Tbsp butter in the skillet.
  • Place the sandwich in the skillet and swirl it around until the butter soaks up and let it toast until it’s dark brown. You might want to turn down the heat at this point – I browned mine a little too long, and it almost burned.
  • Remove from skillet.
  • Melt another 1 Tbsp butter and toast the second half of the sandwich, as you did for the first side.
  • Remove from skillet and slice in half. Enjoy and then come comment on this post and thank me. And thank Serious Eats, too. I couldn’t have done it without them. 🙂

Cat toys

I made my daughter’s kitten, Oliver, a couple of cat toys this week. He loves them! However, he keeps batting them under the couch or into the closet. He is so smart, though, that when I enter the room, even if it’s been hours since the toys disappeared, Oliver will greet me with urgent “meows” and lead me to the spot where he lost the toy. Without fail, if I move the couch or open the closet door, there is a toy. I have officially become “She-who-makes-and-retrieves-toys.”

Want to make a simple toy for your cat? (and this really couldn’t be simpler) Grab some leftover yarn & the appropriately-sized needles (you want the fabric to be pretty dense). Knit a square, leaving a long tail for seaming. I like to use one of these patterns for Grandma’s Favorite Dishcloth, since you start with a corner & can start decreasing when the triangle is the size you want for your toy (I like using kfb for my increases & k2tog & ssk for my decreases so there are no holes along the edges) . Once you’ve completed your square, fold it in half, corner to corner, to make a triangle. Sew up one side using a whip stitch. Stuff with polyester filling (& catnip if you really want to make your cat happy), & sew up the 2nd side of the triangle. Voila! Almost-instant cat toy.

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Some thoughts on running

If we’re friends on Facebook, you probably know I’ve been running. I don’t remember if I’ve posted about it here in my blog before, but probably not in a long time anyway.

I’ve stopped and started running, mostly using the Couch to 5k program, a few times over the past couple of years. Last fall I even came within a week or two of completing the full 9-weeks before falling off the wagon. I started running regularly again in mid-October of this year, getting my butt out of bed before 5:00 and taking the dog with me. I’ve had my ups and downs, but when I’ve fallen down I’ve brushed myself off and gotten back up again.

I’ve been using the Runkeeper app on my phone, and for the most part it’s very reliable. The only problem I’ve noticed is that when it’s foggy (or maybe just overcast), the GPS doesn’t work too well. Since I use MapMyRun.com to map my route beforehand, this isn’t really that big a deal to me. Instead of strictly following Couch to 5k this go ’round, I chose one of the Runkeeper fitness plans for 5k training. I liked it for a while – it had more variety than Couch to 5k and was more distance-based than time-based. (The Couch to 5k plan ends with you being able to run for 30 minutes straight – that’s definitely an accomplishment, but that’s not a 5k for me at this point.) However, you lose the intervals most days, and I really need those intervals to keep me going. The days that do have intervals just increase the number of short intervals rather than having you run for longer intervals. (I’m aware that there are *tons* of training plans on Runkeeper – I can only comment on the one I’ve tried.)

So, I’ve come up with an alternative. I’m going back to the Couch to 5k model, but I’m customizing it for my needs. I don’t need to start over at the beginning, since I can already go 2-2.5 miles alternating running/walking. So I’m starting at week 3, which is: run 1.5 minutes, walk 1.5 minutes, run 3 minutes, walk 3 minutes. Instead of just doing two repeats and calling it a day, I’m going to repeat it for 2 miles (which today was 4 repeats). Instead of changing it up each week, I’m going to continue with this interval plan, increasing my distance as I feel comfortable, until I’m doing 5k. Then I’ll move to what would be the next week of Couch to 5k. At that point, I’ll reevaluate.

Today’s run was really good. I was a little wary, as it’s cold this week. When I saw that it was 33 degrees when I got up this morning, I braced myself but didn’t chicken out. It was cold (very cold!), but it felt amazing. It’s still dark when I run, and it was perfectly clear this morning. I even saw a shooting star (part of the Geminids which will peak tomorrow night, I’m sure). I was actually looking forward to running early Friday morning in hopes of catching a nice meteor shower, but the forecast is for cloudy skies. Bummer. Maybe the forecast will be wrong!

Aunt Di’s Bittersweet Chocolate Layer Caje

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Saturday was our friend Cathy’s birthday, and she requested that I bake a cake. I am to the chapter in All Cakes Considered that deals with fancier cakes, thus I need more special occasions than “It’s Friday!” to bake one of these mamas. Cathy’s birthday was the perfect opportunity to try out the first cake in the chapter, Aunt Di’s Bittersweet Chocolate Layer Cake.

The cake itself is interesting in that it is a whipped cream cake – it uses heavy whipping cream in place of butter and milk. My verdict: it tastes good but is not as moist as I would like. Probably a fault of the chef and not the recipe.

Now, the frosting. When I followed the recipe exactly, this frosting was extremely runny. I added about half a box more of powdered sugar before it was thick enough to spread. Out of curiosity, I Googled the recipe & no one else seemed to have this problem – in fact, there were stellar reviews for the frosting. I don’t know if it was something I did or if letting it sit originally would have allowed it to thicken. A little frustrating. That said, my final product did taste great.

I will slowly continue to work through this book, & hopefully my layer-cake-assembly will improve as I go. This was probably my most successfully constructed layer cake, but it still needs improvement.

Chicken Bog & Sweet Potato Biscuits

I recently bought Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible, after checking it out at the library. I can’t say I’m working my way through it, as there are quite a few recipes I don’t have any interest in cooking – for example, anything deep fried – but I did make a list (oh how I love lists) and am randomly picking recipes to try.

As you can tell by the title of this post, today I made sweet potato biscuits and chicken bog.

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What is chicken bog, you ask? Basically, it’s rice, sausage, and chicken cooked in a spicy broth. It may not be much to look at, but it was really good! Very subtly spicy and a nice consistency. It sort of reminded me of the filling in the sticky rice you get at dim sum restaurants, but not quite as sticky. Jimmy is a huge fan of all three ingredients and this was a big hit with him.

Apparently sweet potato biscuits are a well-known Southern phenomena, but I had never heard of them. Maybe a Georgia thing? These turned out so light and fluffy, and just a bit sweet. They were delicious, and I will definitely make them again!

Making an effort

I’ve started an stopped the Couch to 5 K running program a few times now. The last time I seriously did it was about a year ago, and I made it to maybe week 7 or 8 before quitting. I was so close I could taste it. But school and work schedules just got too hard to manage, and something had to give. There just wasn’t enough time at the end of the day. Jimmy and I were doing it together, and since he has to be out the door by 6:30, us doing it together in the morning wasn’t an option.

I had several people tell me I was an inspiration while I was doing this. I’m not thin, and I’ve never been active. But I was doing it. It felt like a personal failure when I started gaining weight back and lost the muscle tone I had gained.

Then the tables turned. My friend started running and blogging about it. And she was getting her butt up out of bed, grabbing her dog, and going by herself. And she looks great. And feels great. And it shows.

D is now *my* inspiration. If she, who is the mom of a 5-year-old and works her butt off every day, can do it, so can I. So on Sunday I mentioned to Jimmy that I was thinking of getting up and running in the mornings, and his response was, “You should do it.” This was not the response I was expecting, as it’s still dark at 5 AM and he can be adorably protective. And now I had no excuse.

So, Monday morning I got my own butt out of bed, grabbed my dog, and went by myself. And it was good. Oh, so good! Our neighborhood is so peaceful that early. I only saw a couple of cars in the 30 minutes I was out. And I did it again on Wednesday. And again today.

I’m using the Runkeeper app and have the first week of C25k programmed in, so I followed that (5 min warm-up, 8 repeats of 1 min running/1.5 min walking, cool down) which takes 30 minutes. I covered 1.5 miles on Monday and 1.81 miles today! Today my phone crapped out on me (I confused it by opening a couple of different running apps, trying to find the one that announces the midpoint), so the last couple of intervals I had to guesstimate, so I’m not 100% sure if I did that in 30 minutes or just over, but who cares? I went further.

I don’t know how much I will follow the official C25k program. When I get past a certain time, I have trouble focusing mentally. Physically by that time I can run the distances, but I have to fight the ADD part of my brain. So I may find that magic number and run intervals the whole time. We’ll see. But I am doing this. And I *will* run a 5k before Christmas.