Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I know what I'll recommend for Christmas...

For girls ages 7-12, I just read the perfect gift book! Classic, sweet, inspiring, delightful, it's the kind of novel I would have read and reread as a girl, and it's just the kind of book I like to give as a special gift. It's Betty MacDonald's Nancy and Plum. Random House is republishing it for the fall with illustrations by Mary Grand Pre (of Harry Potter illustration fame).
I can't believe I hadn't read this!!! I am a big Mrs. Piggle -Wiggle fan, but I hadn't discovered Nancy and Plum until now.
The two loving, smart, imaginative sisters remind me of Meg and Jo March-- Nancy is 10 and a very capable seamstress and cook; Plum (Pamela) is 8 and a tomboy who dreams of becoming a cowgirl. They are orphans living with the dreadful Mrs. Monday and her horridly spoiled niece Marybelle at a boarding house for unwanted children. (Their rich bachelor Uncle John is quite oblivious.)
The book takes place over the course of a year, stretching from a Christmas Eve alone in the cheerless boarding house (and then locked out-- so the girls hunker down in the barn), through a year of little triumphs and disappointments, to a very happy, better-than-they-ever-imagined Christmas Eve in a loving home with dear Mr. and Mrs. Campbell.
Bibliophile bonus: the girls talk about their love for some of my favorite novels, including The Secret Garden, Sara Crewe (aka A Little Princess), Anne of Green Gables, and more!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What to read after "Riding with Reindeer"?

I finished Bob Goldstein's "Riding with Reindeer," and enjoyed it throughout. His light tone, epic bike ride, and fascination with Finland and its history kept me happy for the whole ride. It also made me really appreciate our Seattle summers-- Finland's summer storms sound awful!
Now I'm super-excited for our slide show and signing with Bob on Friday. I think I'll have to serve some donuts in honor of Bob's appreciation for Finland's gas stations' breakfast treats.

I started Sebastian Faulks' "A Week in December." After 15 pages, I knew it wasn't the right time to read this; my mind was drifting, and I couldn't keep track of the characters I was meeting. Jenni Fortune, the London Tube driver, is the only one who piqued my interest. I'll try it again later.

In contrast, I picked up a copy of "The Bolter" by Frances Osborne at my lunch break, and I almost couldn't bear to put it down when it was time to go back to work. Now I'm trying to figure out how much work from home I need to do before I let myself read a chapter. Reading treat, here I come!

Vegan pizza at Via Tribunali (I think)

We made an exciting discovery the other night: Via Tribunali's Marinara pizza doesn't have cheese! The authentic Italian crust, flavorful tomato sauce, fresh oregano, and garlic gave all the pizza satisfaction without the animal protein. I didn't verify that the pizza was vegan, so there might be some secret ingredient ground up unicorns or anchovy oil to make it taste so good without the cheese, but methinks this was a truly delicious, on-menu vegan pizza at one of our favorite local chains. Hoorah!
(The happy hour deals after 10 pm add to the excitement.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A reason to love being vegan

... not having to worry about cleaning meat-contaminated cutting boards!

Vegetarian Mexican at Tenoch, QA

We're thrilled to have a new, family-run restaurant just blocks away: Tenoch Mexican Grill. The best part? Several options on the menu for vegetarians, and some (like the enchiladas verdes with potatoes) can even be made vegan, I think. Hoorah!

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Finland, Finland, Finland..." hmm hmm hmmm

"... your mountains so lofty, your treetops so tall! Finland, Finland, Finland... Finland has it all. All together Finn-ophiles!"- Monty Python
Yes, I am reading "Riding with Reindeer" by Robert Goldstein, about his bike excursion through Finland! On a folding bike! With a little cart that's made out of the carrying case for his bike! And maybe reindeer! (But we haven't gotten there, yet.)
Bob won me over when he described Finland as the quiet, mysterious girl in sensible shoes. Need I say that I identified with Finland immediately?
On his book tour for "The Gentleman from Finland" (actually about the Trans-Siberian railroad, not Finland at all) the author blurted to a Finn that his next book will be a travelogue about Finland because she seemed disappointed that no one writes about Finland. Then Bob followed up and did it. Now that's an author who really loves his fans! (He did have a lifelong fascination with Finland and its quiet, strong, debt-paying nature... but he also really seemed to feel an obligation to be true to his book tour promise.)
So far, the book does not disappoint. Bob weaves history, self-deprecating humor, and quiet adventure into a very entertaining travelogue. I'm just a few chapters in, and already I feel like I know more about Finland-- and Bob. Best of all, I want to know more.
First impression: More fun than a platter of reindeer jerky!

Who knew cauliflower curry would smell so good the morning after?

The house is fragrant with Indian spices this morning. Last night's dinner was homemade vegan curry with cauliflower and chick peas, so we woke up to cardamom, ginger, cumin, turmeric, garlic-- and sunshine. What a great way to start the day!
I think I'm still salivating over our amazing dinner at Vij's in Vancouver, so yesterday I felt the need to try my hand at curry again, even though it meant we waited until almost 10:00 to eat.
I've found the secret to a tasty curry at home is to toast my spices in a dry, hot pan first thing. Last night I ground up some mustard seed, fennel and sichuan pepper(!) in the ol' mortar and pestle, then toasted them in a hot wok. (Does this count as fusion cuisine?) Then I added diced garlic, onions, ginger, and green peppers. Then came the cauliflower and chick peas. (I've been trying to use dried beans rather than canned lately, but I really think I need to plan ahead more-- the chick peas could have used more soaking/precooking time.) Then lots of simmering time (adding water, stirring, sniffing, adding more water, fussing with the gas...), splashes of coconut milk (and more simmering), a garnish of cilantro, et voila! Curry! Plus a house that smells like our favorite parts of India.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Vancouver restaurant round-up: The Naam

We were in Vancouver, B.C. this weekend for the Vancouver marathon. (Yay, Jordan, Danielle, and Joel!) Food as fuel was a bit of a theme, but we were trying to find vegetarian food/fuel that would delight the tastebuds as it nourished the muscles.
Our first meal in Vancouver was lunch at The Naam. It was a beautiful day, so if we had known to request it, we would have asked to be seated in their charming courtyard/patio. We didn't know the oasis of green existed, though, so we were seated promptly at an indoor table for two. The restaurant smelled good and had a great, fun mix of diners. Something about the artsy vibe reminded me of Vermont. But on our way to our table, The Naam had its first strike: newspapers strewn on the floor. And the hostess just stepped over them-- twice. I wondered if this was some proto-compost sort of ritual, or if it was meant to indicate an extreme hospitality, as in, "Go ahead! Make yourselves at home! Leave your papers on the floor like you did in college-- it's OK! We want you to feel comfortable!"
Alas, the mysterious something floating in my water glass just made me think that the newspapers on the floor were an indication that hygiene was not a priority.
I chose a veggie burrito (the vegan option), and J. chose the Dragon Bowl. My veggie burrito was good, but it was less Mexican than I expected-- oddly, more Italian in flavor. I loved that the menu offered vegan cheese (and labeled items clearly so it was easy to see what was vegan, what had eggs, what had dairy), and it wasn't too weird, but as usual, it's best not to try to think of vegan cheese as cheese, more as just a special topping. I wish there had been some sort of bean in the burrito-- black, pinto, refried-- to give more protein and substance. The salad on the side was a bit too sprout-filled for my taste, but the green dressing and shredded beats were delightful. I ordered a fresh apple and strawberry juice, but it never materialized (except on the bill). J. was disappointed with the dragon bowl because there was no fire in it at all-- but lots and lots of sprouts. We thought this might not have been the best choice for a pre-marathon meal...
I think maybe this would be a fun, safe vegetarian restaurant for those times when you just want a meal in a quirky place. I would be interested in tasting their soups and their desserts, and live music seems like a good fit for the space. All in all, it felt a little too out-there-vegetarian for me; I think I was expecting something more mainstream, something with fewer bean sprouts and less Maude Lebowski-inspired art on the walls.

Finished "Family Man"

Lipman's latest turned out just as fun and entertaining as it started. I enjoyed it and recommend it for a good light read.
Now I'm finishing up the teen werewolf novel "Nightshade" by Andrea Cremer. It will be out in October, and it is a perfect blend of romance and paranormal. The main character, Calla, is the up-and-coming alpha to a to-be-formed pack of werewolves. She and her destined alpha male, Ren, are on track to be mated, take over a pack of their own, and continue their inherited role as Guardians... but then sweet, mysterious, gorgeous boy Shay comes into their lives. Confusion ensues. So far it's a page-turner, with some of the club-going exclusivity of the Bluebloods series or other popular elite urban teen series (Gossip Girl, A-List), but none of the random hook-ups or crass commercialism. I like that Calla is a warrior primarily, but her heart sure does go pitter-pat. The mythology might be a bit too intentionally enigmatic so far (Calla and the other Guardians only know the Keeper-approved stories of their origins and purpose), but I'm zipping through it and having a good time. I'm really looking forward to meeting the author later this month when she comes through Seattle for her pre-pub dinner tour, and I think this will be a great book to recommend to teens and others who enjoyed "Graceling," "Shiver," "Twilight," and "Rampant."