Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Hunger Games

"The Hunger Games" may be sold in the Teen Favorites section of Barnes & Noble, but it is definitely adult fare. It is set in a post-apocalyptic, reborn future where two children from each district (think, state) are selected annually to fight to the death in a vicious arena while being televised for national entertainment. The fights to the death are brutal, graphic, and oftentimes, nauseating. Author Suzanne Collins spares no detail as knives slash foreheads, rocks crush skulls, and spears impale 12 year old girls. There is blood, there is ooze, there are poison-induced hallucinations, and there are vicious animals that shred a boys face agonizingly slowly as he moans and cries out for death. And, of course, the entire premise of the book is that the people are so oppressed by their government and live in such fear that they must willingly let their children die in this bloodbath each year.

I heard about "The Hunger Games" when a book editor told Kurt to read it, mentioning that it was to become a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) next year. Just the fact that Lawrence will be playing the books's heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is clue enough as the book's general mood. Bleak. Hopeless. Gritty.  So far, only two other parts have been cast: Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth as Katniss's fellow District 12 competitor and as her faithful hunting partner from her normal life, respectively. Kurt fears that the movie will not carry its seemingly necessary R rating because that would restrict its audience to greatly, so we are expecting a watered down, PG-13 version. Just as bad, Kurt predicts voiceover narration as the majority of the writing takes place in Katniss's head. If either of these two potential pitfalls materialize, there will be no denying that, in this case, the book is definitely better than the movie. 

"The Hunger Games" takes place far in the future, giving it that comfort of "this could never really happen," but the truth is that we are not far from it now, and that adds tremendously to the draw of its premise. The outrageous nature of entertainment today and the ways in which we exploit children do not seem so very contradictory to a world where kids slaughter each other for fun; we already have it in virtual versions.

Katniss is just a kid, but she lives in a world where she illegally hunts for food each day to provide for her mentally absent mother and needy, younger sister. She knows an adult life and she is ripped away from a family that needs her and forced to kill others lest her own family be annihilated as a repercussion.  These are not the typical rites of passage of teenagers, and these are not the themes common to teen literature. I assure you, any adult will relate to Katniss's internal conflicts and turn the pages rapidly to see how she confronts them.

You only have a year until the movie comes out, so read the book now. This way, you will have enough time to read the other two books in the trilogy, too: "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay." I have not read them yet, but I am going to buy them today.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Soupy Sunday: Vegetable and Herb Chowder

This week, as Kurt browsed the soup bible, his heart settled on Vegetable and Herb Chowder, starring, mainly potatoes, red peppers (though the recipe called for yellow) green beans (which the bible called runner beans) and leeks, glorious leeks! My favorite part of preparing soups is, hands down, the softening of the leeks. I love the way my food processor slices them into perfect little ringlets and, even more, I love the way look in the bottom of a pan, sliding around in melted butter. Because I doubled this recipe, there is an unusually large amount of leek in this picture, but it still represents the image I love so much (here, combined with onion, celery, and red pepper).

I also love a recipe that calls for fresh herbs, and this one required two: parsley and thyme. Chopping herbs is delightful, and so is seeing them in the refrigerator every time I open it for the following week!

At the end of cooking, a little milk is supposed to be added, but I had some heavy whipping cream left over from last week's soup and I have very few uses for it otherwise, so I added that instead. It was either the heavy cream or fat free milk, and what flavor does fat free milk add to anything...none. Of course, this changed the appearance of the final product from a clear, yellowy broth to a rich, white broth. I hate white sauces on pasta, but this tasted nothing like that. It was hearty and beautiful, but there was not taste of milk/cream at all. It was perfect.

A little salt and cracked black pepper (does anyone even use ground pepper anymore?!), some parsley on top for good measure, and voila! Fabulous, fabulous soup!

Vegetable and Herb Chowder: A+

PS - Want to know what I was listening to while I prepared this amazing dish? Between Rachmaninoff's Concerto #2 and Paradisi's most famous toccata, I indulged in a few plays of The Gummy Bear song!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Johnny Weir

Every Monday night, after "RuPaul's Drag Race" (one of three shows I watch, not counting "Jeopardy" or "Wheel of Fortune"), "Be Good Johnny Weir" came on and reminded me how much I loved that little diva. 11:30 was past my bedtime so I rarely got to see it but, once or twice, I snuck an extra half hour of wakefulness to indulge in some figure skating fun. These late night reruns are no longer aired on Monday, so the temptation to stay up too late is an issue no more. Tonight, though, Johnny was brought back to my week through an appearance on Drag Race - hoorah!

I remember hating Johnny Weir when I first heard of him because he was too flamboyant for my comfort level. Who the hell was I kidding? That is why I love him now. He does not force flamboyancy for attention, he just is who he is and makes no apologies for himself. He says what he thinks and he wears what he wants. Even when he is being judged (like, in his profession...where the opinions of others actually matter) he still breaks away from traditions and crosses boundaries. Seriously, who else employs this type of costuming and choreography?! Bravo, Johnny - I wish I were as true to myself as you. For now, I will just have to live that part of my life vicariously through you until I regain my inexplicably lost flair.

PS - Awesome job guest judging on Drag Race tonight, Johnny. Way to tell it like it is. I hope you become more of a media personality in the near future. You rock my socks...or....skates.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Soupy Sunday - Carrot Soup with Ginger

1. I am obsessed with my awesome Cuisinart food processor.
2. I love soup.

Taking these important facts into consideration, I recently decided to use my wonderful soup Bible, "400 Soups" that I found on the clearance cart of Borders (I am partial to Barnes & Noble, but I happened to be in Borders one day and there it was...) to make a different soup every Sunday...or at least on as many Sundays as I could.

So far, so good!

Today, as I was garnishing my third Soupy Sunday creation, I decided to document the endeavor. So, I present to you, my Soup #3, Carrot Soup with Ginger!

I forget the location of my first encounter with carrot soup, but I have never forgotten how delicious it was. If only I had known how easy it was to prepare, I would have started making it a long time ago! All it takes is a potato, an onion, a celery stick, lots of carrots, ginger root, some chicken broth, heavy whipping cream, and a pinch of nutmeg. And the entire operation takes less than 40 minutes if you are a proficient chopper or use the food processor to do all the initial chopping!

I added some basil to the garnish just for color. I know a soup garnish is often a presentation of the main ingredients, but not this time. There is, however, some sliced ginger in the garnish, but it wanted to sink into the soup rather quickly so I had to convince it to lay on the basil without drowning that along with it. A little sprinkling of coarsely cracked black pepper and voila! Carrot Soup with Ginger is ready to eat!

Carrot Soup with Ginger: A

Monday, August 31, 2009

Firetrucks, Firetrucks, Firetrucks!

This was the scene in front of my house this evening:

Have the California wildfires spread to North Wales? Were ninety kittens stuck in the trees in my front yard? Was it the National Firetruck Festival?

I walked up to the end of the firetruck assembly to find another of people rallied around the firehouse:

Yes, that is a circle of bagpipe blowers and drum bangers, who were performing song after song of Scottish wonder, surrounded by police, council members, and, seemingly, everyone in the borough. As I joined the crowd, wearing no shoes and eating my dinner out of a square bowl in public (much to Kurt's dismay), I learned (from Kurt) that this entire hullaballo was...get dedicate a new firetruck! Wooohooooo!

Are you serious? There was more pomp for this new truck than there was for the July 4th parade this summer. Apparently, this new truck wanted to have a play date with all the other trucks in the county, because every fire copmany for miles was represented. Wow. Who knew our new little firetruck had so much sway in the community? I think the message is clear: my fire truck is more popular than yours.

Oh, and one last question: why was this event Scottish themed? Is my town secretly Scottish? I know we were founded a couple of hundred years ago, and our name is North Wales, and Wales is in the UK with Scotland, but are bagpipes also Welsh?! I dunno. I guess my firetruck requested bagpipes for its coming out party and, by now, we all know - my firetruck gets what it wants.

Happy Birthday, North Wales Firetruck! Now I know why the guys were powerwashing the firehouse sidewalks this morning.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Swedish Fish Water Ice

Rita's is currently selling Swedish Fish flavorerd water ice and this is what I think...

A few weeks ago, I took my residents to Rita's to get water ice for our scenic bus trip. Along with my 13 cups of cherry water ice came 13 miniature bags of Swedish Fish, advertising the limited edition flavor that was soon to come the following Saturday. Since that day, I had been dying for Swedish Fish water ice but, every time I planned to go to Rita's, something else came up.

About 3 weeks later (two days ago), I finally had the chance to go to Rita's. Admittedly, I had just eaten three soft pretzels and a significantly sized hot lunch, so I was not exactly hungry; Kurtis, however, was, so we ended up at Rita's. I was full, but secretly excited.

I waited in the blisteringly hot car, refusing to turn on the air conditioner and waste the overpriced gas. I sat, melting in the heat, for 7 or 8 hours before Kurt finally returned with my oh-so-long-awaited, kids' sized, Swedish Fish water ice. Fine, it was probably more like 7 or 8 minutes, but it was really, really hot, and heat makes time crawl.

I am going to skip the build-up and jump straight to the bottom line of my review: EW.

To be honest, I think it may have been the fault of the Rita's employee who may not have pumped the buckets frequently enough (yes, Rita's people call it "pumping"), but I felt like I was eating spoonfuls of sappy, sugar-syrup with the occasional chunk of ice. Disgust.

Now, listen: I am the biggest fan of overly sweet sweetness, but this syrupy sugar soup was not in the least bit welcome after my time in the I do have one compliment for the flavor for which I had such high hopes: it tasted exactly like Swedish Fish...only, melted in Death Valley, mixed with sugar crystals, and turned to sap.

Dear Rita's,

I once was devastated to hear that Swedish Fish was going to be a limited-time-only flavor. I now am relieved.



Thursday, August 6, 2009


I had a staring contest with an owl tonight and this is what I think...

I think owls are awesome. They are fierce creatures with sharp features and mad hunting skills. For these same reasons, I also think owls are a little bit scary! Tonight, after our screening of Julie & Julia, I was driving home from Kurt's parents' house when I spotted something tiny on the road. I stopped suddenly and saw what had appeared, at first, to be a bird or small rodent, but never moved no matter how close my car got to it. As I waited just a few feet from the object, I finally decided it must be a toy. Since, at this point, I was too close to see it any longer, I backed up my car so I coudl decide exactly where it was before I drove over it, planning to cause the least possible damage to my car. When I backed up, it moved! Its head turned toward my car, and I entered my staring match with an eastern screech owl!

I am sure, by looking at this image, you can understand why I thought I may have been looking at a toy. Not only is it so cartoonish in nature (hello eyes!), but it was staring off into the distance, never flinching as my car came within feet of its tiny little existence! When it finally did look at me, I was overcome with a mixed sensation of excitement and woe. Part gremlin, part bird, the owl was not even slightly afraid of my car, and when its giant eyes were staring me down, I was a bit taken back by this ten inch creature.

All in all, it was a pretty sweet experience. I never saw an owl in the wild before, and I do not imagine one will ever stop my car again. And Kurt was driving in the car behind me, while I was on the phone with him, so I sort of shared the experience with him and he got to see it when it finally succumbed to me in our staring match and flew away.