Friday, June 27, 2014

Disaster Chef: Beef Stroganoff with Wine Sauce

For my very first post on my new blog, it's back to Pinterest for some recipes.

This week I had some ground beef defrosted, and I went looking on Pinterest, the old stand-by when I can't decide what to cook. I realized that I don't think I've ever had stroganoff before, although it is apparently a staple. My family was never into the whole noodly-meat thing. They all had memories of eating it in the school cafeteria, and everyone agreed it tasted like dog food.

Nevertheless, I forged onward with my search for a recipe. I found two I wanted to try, and of course I chose the easier one first (easier for me, since I had all the ingredients).

Here's the link to it on Pinterest, and on the website Manila Spoon. Here is My Take on it:

Olive Oil for frying
1 lb ground Beef
 5 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium/small Onion, chopped
1 teaspoons Salt
Ground pepper
2 teaspoons ground Paprika
2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 cup red wine (I used sweet, because that's what I had)
 8 oz Mushrooms, sliced
1 c. frozen peas
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning blend
1/2 - cup water for cooking (I didn't have beef broth)
1/2 cup Sour Cream
2-3 cups brown rice


Put the rice on to cook first. It took me just as long to make this dish as the rice took, so it all came out at the same time. Brown rice does take about 40 minutes to cook, so if you use white, adjust accordingly. While the rice is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onions for about 3-5 minutes until they are translucent, then add garlic and cook for a minute. Crumble the beef and cook until it's fully browned. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir occasionally.

Pour in the red wine. Let it boil until it has evaporated.

Add the Italian seasoning, frozen peas and chopped mushrooms and cook until the juices/liquid of the mushrooms have been released. Pour in the water or broth and stir in the sour cream. Simmer, while occasionally stirring, until the mixture thickens slightly roughly 5-7 minutes.

Remove the rice and stroganoff from heat. Top rice with stroganoff and a dollop of sour cream.

I did vary the recipe a bit, adding peas so it would have a little more vegetables, adding extra garlic and leaving out the garlic powder, etc, from the original recipe. But I stayed pretty close, and it turned out well. It isn't my favorite food, but it was certainly better than dog food! I am going to try the ole cream of mushroom soup variety next time, as I think I would have liked it a little more creamy. The source recipe was good, though, and the wine adds a bit of a twist. Even my son ate his whole plate of it, once he got past the less than lovely appearance. He promised to try it to be polite, and then ate up the whole thing. Around here, that qualifies as a success!

Recipe: 5 spoons of goodness
Product: 3.5 spoons of goodness

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and DivorcedI Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not very experienced with writing reviews for nonfiction, but I'll do my best.

So, I don't know how to review this book without doing a summary first, which probably spoils the book. But since it's nonfiction, I figure everyone pretty much knows the story anyway.

I first noticed this book on Goodreads in an ad. Then it was mentioned in a National Geographic article I read. So I thought I'd see what it was all about. It was one of the most depressing books I've ever read, partly because it was true, partly because there are so many stories like it and so little that can be done to stop it.

The book is about Nujood, a 10-ish girl in poor, rural Yemen. Her father decides to marry her off to a 30-something year old neighbor with the promise that the man won't 'touch her until puberty.' Of course that doesn't happen. Nujood's husband, who basically bought her for $750, beats her with a stick, slaps and punches her, and rapes her repeatedly for a few months until she runs away and goes to the court. Miraculously, they agree to help her even though this is apparently a common practice among rural communities. Nujood's mother-in-law and sister-in-law, who live with her and her husband during all this, congratulate her after her wedding night and also contribute to her beatings. However, no one helps the girl, including her parents, since this is not an uncommon situation. In fact, when she tells her family about the situation, her father says she has to stick with her husband so as not to bring shame on the family, and her mother basically says it sucks but that's life.

Eventually, Nujood gets her divorce and goes home. She starts school again but drops out. Her family lets her come home, although they resent her disobedience and the media circus caused by her divorce.

This book was pretty horrifying to read, even though everything was very, very subtle and discrete. It didnt have to be graphic to be gruesome though. You knew this thirty-year-old guy was raping a ten-year-old and that everyone just looked the other way--that was more than enough to make you want to barf/scream/shudder/cry. I can't remember ever tearing up more while reading a book--I was pretty much a mess. Even looking at the cover made me cry at some point!

This is an eye-opening book, but do not read it unless you can bear to have your eyes opened to something very disturubing. I know some people like to read that kind of fiction books, about little-girl sex slaves, but I just can't stand that sort of thing. And the non-fiction version, while not going into all the graphic descriptions, was more than I wanted to know. I'm glad I read this book, despite the depressing aspect. It's definitely an issue that deserves attention. I'd recommend this book to anyone with a strong stomach for stories about child abuse/rape/mistreatment.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

YA Wednesday: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

This book has gotten so much hype that I was prepared to hate it. Somewhat because the last John Green book I read was, quite frankly, "not for me." I know, I know, everyone on earth seems to bow down at the mention of his name. And that's part of what's kept me from reading more of his--the holier-than-thou attitude of *some* of his fans I've encountered. I see nothing wrong at all with being a passionate, even rabid, fan of an author. I troll my library website waiting for the audio edition of the latest books by Courtney Summers, Laurie Halse Anderson, Sara Zarr, etc. But I also don't think that anyone who doesn't like their books is some kind of micro-brained moron who obviously just doesn't 'get it'. Otherwise, of course I'd fall to my knees upon the mention of his name. I'm not saying all JG's fans are like this--my sister is a huge fan of his, and both my other sisters have read some of his books and liked them. I'm not a moron, and I get it. Trust me, I do. I just don't have to like it.

That said, TFIOS has been on my tentative list for a long time. I was just afraid to read it, because I was afraid I'd hate it, and then everyone would hate me. When I got the book and found out it was told from a female POV, I was almost sure I'd never make it past the first disc (audio edition). But, I was pleasantly surprised.

First off, the protagonist was pretty snarky, which can get old fast, but she walked that line just right, so she didn't get annoying (Bonus: the audio reader just rocks). I read a lot of reviews for this after reading it, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to say. A lot of them said Hazel was a flat character, though I can't say she ever felt flat to me. So she didn't have hobbies. Hello, she has cancer! I'm guessing that takes up a lot of time. Hobbies don't make a person have personality. I liked Hazel. And Gus. Sure, he was one more impossibly good-looking love interests in YA. But the missing leg kind of evens things out, so he didn't feel too perfect. Also, the fact that he tried so hard to be romantic that it felt scripted, and the fact that Hazel didn't fall all over herself when he went into unrealistic-for-a-seventeen-year-old romantic mode, made it bearable. I liked that his corny gestures made her uncomfortable. Sometimes I read romance novels (yes, this is a romance novel, whatever anyone may say) where the guy is so completely cheesy it's obvious that he's someone's fantasy of the perfect guy. I was glad that when Gus acted that way, Hazel didn't think he was being the perfect guy--she thought he was overdoing it (probably my own shortcoming that I roll my eyes at overdone romance, but it was nice to find someone else with the same lack of sentimentality in a book). Other characters: parents were nothing more than side notes, friends were pretty much nonexistent, Peter VH--wonderful, flawed, and the best character in the book, as well as the most real and realistic in my mind.

Which brings me round to my quarrel with the book--the unrealistic dialogue. To listen to these two talk--I'm a grown woman, and I'm fairly certain I have never in my life said the word "naught." As in, "It is all for naught!" So to hear a couple of teenagers speaking so gallantly was one of two things--completely ridiculous, if they just talked that way on a daily basis, or the basis for a completely unreal relationship. The way I saw this, the two of them spoke this way to put on airs. To amuse each other by waxing philosophical with over-the-top language. In which case, about 90% of their conversations were nothing but a mockery. I'm not saying people don't talk to each other this way, but when they do, it's in jest. ("My dear friend, your chariot awaits," I might say to my best friend, if I'm feeling goofy, while I open the door of my crappy old car. But that is a kind of joke, that makes up about 1% of our conversations. Not the basis of our relationship). For Hazel and Gus, it felt like most of their relationship was made up of this kind of goofy, meaningless conversation, even though they may have been talking about the meaning of life at the time--they did it in such a way that it seemed all their words were in jest, like they never got to know each other at all, certainly not well enough to love each other. The only other option, which I didn't even think up myself but read in several reviews, is that the characters themselves were just the author musing on deep thoughts behind the thin veneer of two sick kids, which is just a shameful thing to do. So I choose to believe it's the second option--the characters never really knew each other, because they were too busy being jokey about themselves and their cancerous lives.

I did feel a bit like the author was talking down to me, showing how clever he was, in this book, but not as much as in Looking for Alaska. Maybe he's matured and doesn't feel the need to parade his cleverness through each sentence, or maybe it's just because I listened to this instead of reading it so I didn't notice. Whatever the reason, I didn't feel like the author was showing off, which allowed me to pay attention to the characters instead. I enjoyed it more and actually felt the sadness of the characters (I felt nothing but relief to be through with such an unlikeable character after the death in LFA). So, at least I was able to feel what the author intended me to feel in this book. Whether this book portrays cancer correctly, I can't say, and I'm thankful for that. I'm sure it's an uglier thing than a romance novel is allowed to show. But my heart broke for these two kids, however unreal, both in their lives and deaths. My heart broke for them because there are real kids out there with cancer, and however they deal with it, they don't deserve such a fate in their stars.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd (Book Review)

The Invention of WingsThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that I want to review, but a review can never do it justice. I know this one is touted by the Oprah-reading crowd, and hugely acclaimed. For the most part, I cannot disagree. I loved it.

I've read several of Sue Monk Kidd's books, and this one is my favorite since The Secret Life of Bees. It's a great read that spans many years. About 2/3 of the way through, I thought it sounded like it may have been based on real events. A quick search told me that it was. That made me enjoy the book even more. I loved the historical aspects about the lives of the abolitionist/women's rights activists. I also enjoyed Handful's story, and that of her mother.

I can't really point to anything I didn't like about this book. It just didn't have that something extra that makes me fall in swooning love with the book. That is all that keeps it from getting 5 stars in my book. But it's a wonderful, engaging read and well worth the time.

Audio edition: Great. Loved the readers for both Sarah and Handful.

Content rating: Some disturbing parts, but not too bad. Recommended age: 14+ for violence/disturbing treatment of slaves.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

YA Wednesday: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars

This was one of those books I picked up solely because it had been recommended and because it's popular. I'd never read a review for it, a synopsis, or even the back of the book. So when I started listening and found the book was about college students, I was surprised, as most YA ends at the end of high school. I guess it would fit into the New Adult genre, but it was probably rejected because it didn't have any explicit sex scenes.

However, it was a romance, which isn't really my cup o' tea. I guess Eleanor and Park was too, but somehow there was enough other stuff going on in that one that I was never getting that squicky feeling I get when I read romance. The romance in this was more predictable for me. I realized way before Cath that Levi liked her. He was an okay character, but just kind of eh. I would have liked the book much more if it had kept the focus on Cather's relationship with her sister and father. Those parts of the book came alive and just sang. I was left with a few unresolved questions about those relationships (like why Wren and Courtney had a falling-out, and what happened in Wren's relationship with Alejandro, what happened with her dad's mental state, etc). Instead, the book took a downturn and suddenly became all about the romance.

Okay, here's the thing. Unless you love someone, beyond-the-norm makeout scenes are just gross. And I sort of loved Levi, but not enough to think making out with his chin was sexy. To me, it was just kind of icky and funny at once. Levi was once said to be exploring her throat with his tongue or something like that--automatic gag reflex. I kept thinking--Eewww. These people do not know how to kiss! At first, the Simon Snow snippets were so boring I zoned out on them, but during the obsessive love stuff, I was glad for a moment of relief. It bordered on Twilight-esque at times.

Overall, I did like this book. I loved most of the characters, especially the dad. He was so true and sensitively portrayed. I also loved the relationships and dynamics between all the characters in the family, including the mother. My other favorite character was Reagan, so I was disappointed that she never got much of a story herself. She was just there to drive Cath around and be her friend. Which was fine, except that she never had any backstory or a life of her own beyond being Cath's friend.

I'm still sort of torn on the number of stars. May upgrade to 4 at some point if the book sticks with me for a long time.

View all my reviews