Monday, May 31, 2010

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

This was a childhood favorite of mine. There were a lot of things for me to identify with in this book.  I liked "imagining games better than anything," as Melanie says in the book, and I remember being very interested in ancient Egypt, so I loved their Egypt game.  The main characters are Melanie, her precocious, tag-along younger brother Marshall, and her new friend April. I identified with Melanie because I also have a younger brother who I was very close to growing up, and with April because I moved all the time as a kid, so I had a lot of sympathy for her as the new kid going through a rough transition.

In the story Melanie, April, and Marshall play an elaborate, imaginative game where they are ancient Egyptians in the unused backyard and shed of a curio shop in their neighborhood. As the story progresses, they bring more children into the game. Then something happens that halts their game. It's a pretty suspenseful mystery, as a matter of fact, and I had completely forgotten about that part. Another thing I had forgotten about is that it's beautifully illustrated by Alton Raible. Looking at the pictures again, I'm pretty sure I really liked them as a kid, too, because they're enchanting. They're clearly contemporaneous with the story which was originally published in 1967,  unlike the cover of my 1986 Scholastic copy. Other things worth noting are that it has a quite racially diverse cast of characters, and is set in a university town. I'm not sure if I realized as a kid that the book wasn't written at that time, but now I can see it's pretty emblematic of it's time. 

Upon re-reading I was surprised to realize I'm not sure if I've read any other works by Snyder. This is odd since as I kid if I found a book I liked, I'd usually read everything else I could find by that author. There's now a sequel to The Egypt Game that I'm curious to check out as well. Any recommendations for Snyder books I should read immediately?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

5. Make cheese--Check

For my first-ever venture into cheese-making, I decided to try one of the most simple cheeses. I made paneer. It has only two ingredients. Milk and some kind of acid with which to curdle it. Following this recipe, I used lime juice. I was amazed at how easy it was. You bring the milk to a boil, add the lime juice, stir and cook for about 5 minutes, strain out the curds, press them into a ball, drain it for an hour, and then chill it. I will definitely make this again, and I think after the Apostle's Fast, I will try my hand at some other cheeses as well.

The only downside was that it was that it took a long time! I knew it would, and I planned for the draining and chilling, but I didn't take into account how long it would take to bring a half-gallon of milk to a boil. I did it over medium heat because I didn't want to scorch it or let it boil over, and it took about 45 minutes!  Other than that the several hours were no big deal, since they weren't hands on. I didn't have to be around for the draining or chilling.

I used the cheese to make palak paneer, (spinach curry with cheese) which is one of my favorite foods. You can see the chunks of cheese in the curry above. I love Indian food, but I for some reason I don't cook it all that often.  The palak paneer was delicious, and I was so proud of making it totally from scratch. I kind of melded a few different recipes on the fly, so I'm not sure how authentic it was, but no matter since it was yummy. I didn't take notes, so I don't really have a recipe to share. Next time I make it I'll try to pay attention to how I'm doing it. I actually used chard instead of spinach, because that's what they had at the farmer's market. The milk for the cheese came from the local dairy, so the two main ingredients for this international dish were locally produced. I'm excited that we're coming into the time of year when we have an abundance of fresh local vegetables.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

24. Get some glass dishes for taking my lunch--Check

So, it may seem that I am failing miserably with goals 32 (Continue posting at least once a week on average) and 33 (Track my progress with this list) from my Birthday List, but I'm actually making some progress with some of the other goals. And in order to live up to goal number 33 (and help fulfill goal 32), I'm posting my first update.

I got some glass dishes to take my lunch to work in. Two of them are pictured above. I actually got them over a month ago--my mom gave four to me as a birthday gift. I'm loving them so far. One of my favorite things about them is that it's so easy to see what's in them. They look really pretty in the refrigerator, and I can tell at a glance what leftovers they contain. I think they'll really help prevent food waste. I actually now want to get some more, but this is a great start.  It's nice to know I'm not imbibing plastic with my lunch.

I've been trying to reduce the amount of plastic I bring into my life for a long time now, because of concerns about how it may affect our health, the effects of all the waste plastic on animals and the ecosystem, and the depletion of petroleum resources from its production. I go through periods where I'm more successful at keeping it at bay, and then I tend to backslide as I find myself busy and seduced by the convenience of plastic. I like to read  Fake Plastic Fish when I need some inspiration in this area.

I'm working on making bulk buying an ingrained habit so that I won't be so likely to slide back into buying packaged things, and I'm just generally trying to be more aware about the plastic I'm buying.  I've just started really trying to reduce the existing plastic in my house, especially in my kitchen. Michelle mentioned recently how frustrating it is that plastic is so pervasive, and I definitely know what she means.  My glass containers even have plastic lids, but plastic lidded glass seems like the best option for me. I need dishes with leak-proof lids that I can use for transporting, heating and serving my lunch. Bringing my lunch in stainless steel containers would mean transferring the food to other dishes to heat them in the microwave at work. I know myself well enough to know that would mean that I'm less likely to use them than the glass dishes I'm so enjoying.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Books I Read in April

Middlemarch by George Eliot
I started reading this lo, these many months ago, and finally finished it at the very, very, tail end of April. I read it for Mimi's Lenten read-along, and I so enjoyed it. It was a really dense read, and is rather long. So be forewarned, this is not a book you can just flirt with, it requires a serious commitment.  It was thought provoking with interesting characters and a historical backdrop that taught me a few things. Fiction is my favorite way to learn!

This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson
I really loved this book, but the topic is pretty close to my heart. I just think libraries and librarians are so important, and even more so in this age of information overload. I enjoyed the stories about the various libraries and librarians. I liked reading about the cool things different librarians are doing. It was fun to read about other aspects of librarianship, and also to see some familiar names crop up from my own field. It's mostly a pretty rah-rah book about librarians, but it also depicts us as humans with real flaws, and not cookie-cutter stereotypes.

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
I come from a family of political junkies, so this book was fascinating to me. It was pretty intriguing to see the process of the presidential campaigns behind-the-scenes. This book was somewhat controversial because the authors chose to leave there sources anonymous, so take it with that grain of salt. It's not a book everyone would enjoy as it's certainly not an uplifting read, but I found it to be pretty engrossing.

Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
I read this book after I cataloged it because the premise was so wacky, I just couldn't resist. An amusement park on an island in the Ohio River is a prison for five ancient Etruscan demons, and there are five guardians who have to make sure they stay trapped.  Wow, talk about suspension of disbelief. I was somewhat intrigued because I've read most of Crusie's other books, and this seemed nothing like her usual work. Most of her novels are really funny, character based romances. Her collaborations with Mayer have been more plot based, but this is a even a departure from those. I can't say I really cared for it, and it doesn't seem like it would appeal to her fan base. It was just pretty out-there. And shockingly, (I say with tongue somewhat in cheek) despite people being possessed by pesky demons left and right, none of them had to be cast out with prayer and fasting. 

Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces by Gayla Trail
This book is beautiful! I love the pictures. And that's really what gardening books are all about, right? The pictures? Considering I'm pretty much totally inexperienced as a gardener myself, they're one of my favorite things about gardening books, anyway. It seemed to have lots of cool, practical advice for growing vegetables in small spaces. I actually have a reasonably good sized yard, but most of it's shady so we don't have a lot of prime vegetable growing space, so I think a lot of these tips will be know, when I plant a garden. 

One Magic Square: One magic square : the easy, organic way to grow your own food on a 3-foot square by Lolo Houbein
Not so many color photos as the book above, but lots of different charts for 3 foot square gardens vegetable gardens, which sounds like a totally reasonable size for a complete garden neophyte. It also has recipes and all sorts of stories from an experienced gardener.