Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Book #7

Book #7 was Kate Elliott's In the Ruins.  I am enjoying the series, but am uncertain how the author is going to manage to wrap up the story in one more book.  Also, Hugh is just a despicable bad guy.  The existence of his character actively decreases my enjoyment of the books.  I know the bad guy has a role to play in most books, but I really want Hugh to fall off a cliff.  I don't even find him to be an interesting bad character - just evil.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Baked Brie and the Last of the Curtains

I love baked brie.  But I have a secret - I hate the rind on brie.  I can't make myself eat it.  When I order baked brie at a restaurant, I am careful to eat around the rind.  A few months ago, I tried making baked brie at home.  I carefully cut off the rind, arranged the gooey cheesy insides on sheets of puff pastry, and added dried fruit and honey.  It was a disaster.  A tasty disaster, but a disaster nonetheless.  The gooey goodness that is melted brie melted right out of the puff pastry layers I had tried to trap it in.  I did some looking on Google, sure that someone else must hate the rind as much as I do, but the internet consensus seemed to be that I would have to get over my dislike of the rind.  No way.  I had to try again.  This time, rather than making mini squares, I kept the puff pastry sheet whole, intending on wrapping the edges up around the cheese, leaving no room for it to escape.  I scooped the cheese out of the icky rind,  and added some chopped dried cherries and honey.

I wrapped it all up, and put it in the oven, hoping for the best!

20 or so minutes later, and success!  All of the gooey melty goodness that is baked brie, and it all stayed in the puff pastry.  It is possible to make a baked brie without the rind.

I finished the fat little rabbit's curtains several weeks ago, but did not have any rings to hang them up.  I finally remembered I needed them while I was at Target.  Her other nickname is "bug-bug" so I thought the print was appropriate.  And yes, I know they need to be ironed.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Six point something miles and book #6

My husband and I had Monday off of work, but school was still in session, so we enjoyed a nice adults only day!  My husband suggested we take our long run together, as we were visiting relatives over the weekend and had not had a chance to run.  He promised to stay in the same general area as me, but he runs a good 2-3 minutes per mile faster than me!  I lost him soon after we entered the park.  I was running faster than I usually do though!  I usually start at around a 10 minute mile, but by mile 2, am inching closer to the 11 minute mile pace.  Monday I was still at a sub 10 minute mile through three or so miles.  My husband had lapped me, and started running next to me for a few minutes.  Suddenly it felt like the earth tilted under me, and my vision was swimming.  I stopped to walk until it cleared.  I think I just hadn't had enough to drink all weekend (Houston tap water sucks).  We also had plans to go for Mexican or barbeque after our run, and I skipped breakfast to save room!  Bad idea, I guess.  Anyway, I walked for a hundred yards or so, then started running again, albeit much more slowly!  I think I terrified my husband though, as he stuck with me for the next three miles.  We were back in the main part of the park by then, and I stopped to use the restrooms.  I sent my husband on to finish his run, and started a run/walk rotation around one of the smaller ponds until he was done.  I got in around 2 miles.  So not the ten I had planned, but better than nothing!

We went to Houston to visit my grandmother-in-law.  She thought our boys might enjoy the Houston Children's Museum, and she was right!  When we lived in Boston, our boys had a membership to the children's museum, and we went fairly often. We haven't really found a good replacement in Dallas yet.  The Houston museum was awesome!  It had one of the multi-story climbing platforms, which I know our oldest son had missed from Boston.  The rules said you had to be at least five years old to climb though, so our youngest boy could not climb (although there were plenty of people blatantly ignoring the rule).  There was also a really awesome room called the Invention Convention.  There were stations for kids to make rockets, lego cars, and wind sails.  I loved watching the kids' imaginations at work.

I finished Catching Fire on our trip, and bought Mockingjay when we went grocery shopping Monday.  I finished it during my lunch break today.  I am very glad I read the series.  I felt the ending was a bit rushed, and though the resolution of the Gale vs. Peeta situation could have been fleshed out a bit more.  Overall, a very enjoyable series though.  I am looking forward to the movie next month.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

2012 Book Challenge #5

Unsurprisingly, book 5 is Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy.  I picked it up at Target last night, then stayed up entirely too late reading last night.  I finished it this morning during a road trip to visit family.  I should have picked up the last book in the series while I was at the store -- now I have an extra errand to add to my list for tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

2012 Book Challenge #4

Book 4 was a very quick read, and much more enjoyable than I anticipated.  I received The Hunger Games from my sister in law this Christmas.  I put it on the shelf, thinking maybe I would read it after I finished a bunch of other things on my list.  I grabbed it to take on a work trip a couple of weeks ago, because it was the only book in the immediate vicinity that would fit in my carry-on.  I never started it on that trip, as I was still finishing The Gathering Storm.  I had become intrigued, however, by the movie trailer, and bumped The Hunger Games up on my to-read list.

I started it this past weekend, and was soon hooked.  I brought the book to work with me today, and finished it during my lunch break.  I'm going to Target tonight to get the next two in the series.  I wish some of the characters had been a bit more fleshed out (e.g. Cinna, other stylists).  I'm also not convinced of the ability to have a new arena for every game, especially if each game is held in the vicinity of the capital.  The sheer size alone makes that a bit absurd.  So Katniss spends most of the first day running.  Assuming the tributes were released near the center of the arena, and she ran more or less in the same direction, she has to have gone at least 10 miles.  I am a slow runner, and can do 9 miles in under 2 hours.  Someone having all day to run, even with rougher terrain, should certainly be able to cover 10 miles.  So let's further assume that she made it to near the edge of the arena, although I recall nothing in the book that would indicate that was the case.  If the arena is a rough circle, and the radius is 10 miles, that puts the area of the arena at just over 300 square miles.  If all of the arenas are the same size, and all were maintained as tourist destinations, after 74 games, the arenas themselves would take a land mass about 1/4 the size of Colorado.

I don't mind suspending disbelief for magic in fantasy novels, or advanced technology for books like this, but the logistics should still make sense, darn it!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Raising Money and Hurting Feelings

My older son's school sent home a flyer a few weeks ago about a Valentine's Day fundraiser.  For $1, a friendship bracelet could be sent to any student at the school.  My heart sunk.  I had sort of hoped that these fundraisers had gone the way of the dodo bird.  I mean, what better way to raise money than to show elementary school kids, in a very direct visual way, who the popular kids are?  What could possibly go wrong with that?

Another mom I know once bought each and every child in her child's class one of the tokens (a rubber duck in that case), so that no child had to be the one who didn't get a single one.  We contemplated doing the same for our son's class, but in the end, decided that making the fundraiser a success probably wasn't the best way to combat it.

But then we wimped out.  We made sure one would be sent to our kid, but we also let him pick a few friends to send a bracelet to.  He chose five friends - 3 in his class, and 2 in another kindergarten class.  So we did contribute to this awful fundraiser.  And today, when my son received only the one bracelet that we sent to him, his feelings were hurt.  And I feel like a bad mom.  I wasn't brave enough to speak out to the school about what a bad idea I thought this was, and I wasn't even willing to not participate in it.  Do I complain now?  Would it matter?  Or do I just refuse to participate in the future?  When this comes up again next year, do I pay the silly $1 so my son receives at least one? Or stand firm that this is a terrible way to raise money?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

9 miles

It was 40 degrees when I went for my run today.  I know in most of the country, that it a just fine temperature for the middle of February, but I moved to Texas to get away from the cold!  I couldn't find any long running pants either.  I did find a long sleeve t-shirt.  My top was cold through mile 2, hands through mile 3, and my legs were cold the whole time.

I didn't realize before I left how many streets in our city that are not in residential areas don't have sidewalks.  A good 2/3 of my run today was done on the road, jogging over to the side when cars were coming.  Not so fun.  I ran down to one of the housing developments with a totally pretentious name, and price tags to go along, and was not very impressed.  The houses were way too close together, and there was too much variation in the styles - it was really jarring.  There were English country estate homes next to red tile Spanish haciendas.  Not for me.

I had to make a pit stop around mile 7 - was very glad there was a CVS nearby, with an open restroom!

2012 Book Challenge #2 and #3

I'm going to have to pick up the reading pace to make my 30 book goal.  We read one chapter of a book to my oldest son almost every night, and I count those books, as well as the books I read for myself.  Last night we finished his book, and I finished the one I was reading this morning.

#2 How to Break a Dragon's Heart, by Cressida Cowell.  This is book 8 of the How to Train Your Dragon series.  I've really enjoyed reading this series with my son.  This wasn't my favorite of them though.  It felt a bit rushed and disjointed to me.  The next one comes out this July (it is already out in Great Britain, but we can wait until July when it is published in the US).

I'm curious to see which book my son will want to start next.  For Christmas, we bought him the first book in The Mysterious Benedict Society, and the first of the Percy Jackson books.

#3 The Gathering Storm, by Kate Elliott.  This is book 5 of the Crown of Stars series.  I inadvertently skipped book 4.  Skipping book 4 has confirmed something I've thought about long fantasy series for a while.  I think the authors write for their first audience - the readers who will be waiting months or years between books being published.  Because of the time delay between books, each new book has to recap enough of the previous book to reorient the readers.  I've thought that these recaps probably provided enough information that you could skip entire books, and understand the story just fine.  This was definitely true here. I was amused by the different pacing in this book as compared with the third book in the series.  I almost stopped reading the series after that book, as it was just so slow.  The entire book covers something like 6 months, tops.  And covers those months in tedious slowness.  Book 5 covers several YEARS.  And we don't get a ton of details - the point of view characters will catch glimpses of other characters, and through these glimpses we get 3-4 months worth of action.  Very odd.  At least the story is moving along!

Now, to be fair, I don't pay much attention to the details in the plot lines, and while I find reading various theories regarding the details in The Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones series, I enjoy the books separately from the intricate plots.  If I miss a small detail in book 3 that ends up being hugely relevant in book 7, I don't much care.  It makes re-reads much more interesting to me too.  Once I know how things are going to turn out, I enjoy re-reading and paying attention to the little details, and love finding new significance to details overlooked the first time.  But in series that are 6 or more books long, there are simply too many details to give them all importance in my mind, and keep them in memory on the chance that it will be the key to figuring out a mystery 3 or 4 books later.   This is, I suppose, why I missed the big reveal of who killed Asmodean until I read about it on Dragonmount later.  Oh well.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dragon Cake

My oldest son's birthday is next week, and we had his party today.  He wanted the party at Chuck E Cheese, and until about two weeks ago, just wanted a plain chocolate cake from them.  Then he changed his mind and said he wanted a dragon cake.  I did some google searching, and hit the jackpot!  It is the Chinese year of the dragon, and as Chinese New Year was just a little while ago, there were tons of dragon cakes and dragon cake ideas out there.  We fell in love with this one, from a blog of a family who adopted twin girls from China.  I decided to make half the cake chocolate, and half vanilla.  I went to Smitten Kitchen to get my recipes.  One vanilla and one chocolate.

My son wanted a red dragon, but I haven't found a place here yet to buy no-taste red flavoring, and knew that the amount of red dye required to get a really red frosting tastes really bitter otherwise.  I was going to get bulk one-color M&Ms, but then my husband found cherry M&Ms at the grocery store.  Much less expensive!  I really liked the two different shades of red, and the fact that they were not all of a uniform size.  I don't know what I was thinking only getting one bag though!  One bag covered half of one bundt cake, so around 11 p.m. last night, I found myself driving around town to find more.  The CVS where my husband found them the first time was closed, the closest grocery store had only raspberry M&Ms which were more pink than red.  I found them at the third store though, and bought three more bags.

For the dorsal scales, I chose gummy butterflies, and cut them in half.  I bought a dozen of them, and ran out of them for the tail - I should have bought a few more.  They were a bit floppy, but when anchored with M&Ms on each side, held up well.

I made a cream cheese frosting (no recipe, just two blocks of cream cheese, a bit of milk, and powdered sugar to taste), and went for an orange color.  I could not believe how long it took to put all of the candies on!  The fat little rabbit kept waking up too, so there were some breaks in there.  The blog where I found this cake idea used some sort of snack cake to shape the tail.  I just cut down the end of one of the bundt cakes into the shape I wanted.  Half way there!

I used strawberry licorice swirls to make fire from the dragon's mouth, and stuck the head onto the cake with toothpicks.  Finally finished about six hours after I started!  I think it would have taken about 3 hours total, if I'd had all of the candies I needed, and had a baby who'd stay asleep!

It was a hit at the party!

Monday, February 6, 2012

4 miles and french toast

I intended to run 8-9 miles this weekend, but it didn't happen.  The run started off poorly as I was cold and hadn't waited long enough after eating breakfast.  About a mile and a half into the run, a woman with two big, poorly controlled dogs came up quickly behind me, and when I ran off the path to get out of their way, my knee twisted a bit.  I ran on a ways to see if it would work itself out, but it was still hurting.  I decided to head home, but I took a wrong turn!  I ended up doing just over 4 miles.  Once I got home, I did the elliptical for another twenty minutes.

During my wrong turn, I was amused by the placement of these light posts:

I suppose it is nice that the city added the extra pavement around the post so those with strollers or in wheelchairs have a fighting chance to get past it.  I'm just glad I didn't run right into one.  I run in a park near our house a lot of the time, and was running there this weekend.  There are a few areas where the path is a bridge over the pods or marshy areas.  One of the bridges partially collapsed, and the bridge is closed.  I didn't notice the big barrier and yellow tape until I was almost on top of it.  Clearly, I need to work on my situational awareness while out running.

I tried making baked french toast again.  The toast was only so-so.  It was too dry.  I think I needed to soak it a lot longer.  I also made a peach-raspberry sauce.  The sauce was great!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Potato Chips!

I'd been wanting to make homemade potato chips for months, but never had a good opportunity.  The other night I just decided to go ahead and make them.  My timing wasn't great, as my husband was trying to make dinner at the same time, but it worked out in the end.

After slicing the potatoes, I grated some romano cheese and dried rosemary.  After the oil heated up, I started frying!  I put too many in the pan at the same time though.  It took forever for the edges to start to turn golden brown.

After they cooled, a bunch seemed not quite crispy enough, so I put them in the oven to finish.  They were tasty!