Tag Archives: review

The Return of Reading!

Okay, so reading itself isn’t returning (cause y’all know I’m addicted). Instead, this is the return of book reviews! I’ve been reading up a storm this month — you can keep tabs on what pages I’m turning on the right hand side of the page. I should also really clean up/update my “books” page. (I need to get my laptop working again so I can use my delightful publishing software…) Onto the books!

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

This was my wonderful friend Blair’s pick for our book club. I’d been secretly eyeing in on Amazon and I was thrilled when she picked it (thus forcing me to buy it). The author, Erik Larson, also wrote Devil in the White City which is about the Chicago World’s Fair and a serial killer operating in Chicago around that time. (I know, it sounds like a weird combo but it was great!)

Larson’s newest book tells the story of the Dodd family living in Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power. The father, William Dodd, served as the United State’s ambassador to Germany at the time. Most of the story is told through the point of view of William and his daughter Martha. Martha, quite the floozy, loves the intrigue of the Nazi party and its members. Her exploits through the book, including a serious relationship with a member of the KGB’s predecessor, were quite astonishing especially given the time period.

I never really got attached to any of the characters, but I did find their lives very interesting. I also kept having to remind myself that this was non-fiction. Larson tells his stories so well that you would swear you’re reading a fictional thriller. The ending is a bit of a downer but I suppose I shouldn’t have expected rainbows and sunshine at the end of a book about the rise of Hitler. I’d definitely recommend In the Garden of Beasts to anyone who is interested in the time period, enjoys political intrigue, or enjoys very well written non-fiction.

 

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

After reading Omnivore’s Dilemma, I was curious to read more from Michael Pollan. In Defense of Food flew by for me and I felt like this book was much more relatable than Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan discusses the current obsession with “nutrients” and some interesting paradoxes in the Western world. For example, Western doctors often find obese patients with vitamin deficiencies that are normally only found in malnourished populations. Their hypothesis, and one of the largest components of Pollan’s book, is that we’ve stopped eating food.

That sounds weird, but it doesn’t seem to be too far from the truth. We’ve made eating so easy and refined food products so much, that a lot of what we put in our bodies doesn’t resemble real food — the kinds of things our grandparents ate growing up. Because of this, we put a lot of “food products” into our body but not as much nutrition. Scientists try to fill this gap by isolating nutrients (like Omega-3s or saturated fats) and painting them as good or bad. The “good” nutrients become fads and food scientists find ways to inject them into foods that they would never occur in naturally. Because it’s not a natural occurrence, we don’t reap as much of the benefits. It’s starting to become obvious that it’s not just one nutrient, but the interaction of a group of nutrients from various foods, that cause good health benefits.

With that in mind, Pollan encourages readers to Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He breaks down this (seemingly logical) advice into real world applications in the final section. Unlike Omnivore’s Dilemma, most of the information and advice given was very relatable. I finished the book and wanted to go immediately to a Farmer’s Market. I’d highly recommend this book — it’s a fast read and very informative. I think we should all know more about what and how we eat!

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Onto the next one

Better late than never! It’s time to welcome July with a quick look back at June.

1. Get my mileage up! (2/4) I did pretty well with this for most of the month. Even though my mileage wasn’t as high as it needed to be, I was pushing for long runs and running more often. The last week in June definitely suffered after Buddy’s accident. I’m looking forward to really kicking up a notch in July.
2. Weight train (at least once a week). (4/4) They may have not happened once a week as planned, but I did get (at least) four strength training sessions in. Sometimes it was just arms, sometimes it was the P90x “Ab Ripper X” dvd, sometimes it was both. I can’t wait to continue this and see my running and fitness continue to improve. 
3. Read three books that are non-fiction or classics. (4/3) I crushed this pretty much. Books: The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball, The Good Soldiers by David Finkel, Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
4. Get Laptop fixed. Seriously, Anna. I did get an external hard drive for our fading desktop computer and I got a wireless USB thinking that might fix our laptop connectivity problems. But, unfortunuately, it still doesn’t recognize our home wireless even though all our other electronics do. 
5. Make a savings plan for summer fun trips. Hubs and I knocked this out pretty quickly. We’ve been following it successfully as well. 
6. Make four new recipes. (3/4) Again, I think I could have nailed this if we hadn’t spent the past week in a daze/frenzy after Buddy’s run in with a car. Still, three new recipes isn’t shabby! Quinoa salad for lunches, pound cake, and Thai Chicken Soup — I would make all of these again!

Time to look at July!
1. Try out four new recipes. I already have at least one in mind for next week! If we’re staying in with the hound for “house arrest” we might as well eat some good things!
2. Run 45 miles in July. After my Saturday run, I “only” need 42.5 more miles!
3. Read six books, three non-fiction or classic. The Kindle has been spurring on my reading. And with “hound house arrest” I should be able to read even more.
4. Share at least two book reviews. I’ll aim for our current book club pick and something perhaps a little fluffier.
5. Complete six strength training sessions for the month. I like seeing my body get stronger and my running get better.
6. Post at least 10 times this month.

What are you up to this month? Any suggestions for books to read or recipes to try? I’m all ears!

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Restaurant Eve

Hubs was actually out of town for Valentine’s Day proper. Combine that with the fact that we don’t like battling crowds and you’ll realize that, for us, celebrating Valentine’s Day a little late was just fine.

Hubs came back on Friday with reservations for Restaurant Eve’s Bistro Room. Restaurant Eve is the brain child of Cathal Armstrong and is the sister restaurant to Eamonn’s (fish and chips), PX (speakeasy), and The Majestic (upscale casual dining). They feature a three course meal in the Bistro Room on Friday and Saturday nights as well as a Tasting Room with five, seven, and nine course tasting menus. Eve is so awesome that they will even specially make a menu for those with dietary restrictions so Vegetarians, Pescatarians, Gluten intolerants, etc. have no fear!

Hubs and I went with the three course meal in the Bistro Room. They started us out with some delicious, hot from the oven Ciabatta bread and a little Irish Butter. (I think Irish Butter is one of God’s gifts to us.) Hubs and I each got a cocktail too. At $12 or $13 each, they weren’t cheap but they sure were delicious! We each got to pick an appetizer, entree, and dessert from a list of about 8 options for each course. These were some of the hardest decisions I’ve made in a while!! 🙂

Hubs picked the beef tartare with rye bread and I went with the papri chat (an indian themed dish with chick peas, onions, and a variety of sauces). Both were delicious and sizeable servings. For our main course, I got the rib eye steak with marrow sauce and chantrelle mushrooms while Hubs opted for pork belly. My dish was one of the best things I’ve eaten. I’m not a big red meat eater (or, meat eater for that matter) but I knew this was the place to go for it if I wanted to. The steak was ENORMOUS compared to what I was expecting and the chantrelles added something special. I wanted to head into the kitchen, find Mr. Armstrong and give him a huge hug. Hubs said his pork belly was surprisingly spicy but he happens to love heat so that’s a good thing.  We also split a side of beet and bacon risotto which I could easily request as a final meal (were I on death row). Neither one of us could finish our meals, but our tummies were very happy.

We ended with fantastic desserts. I selected, on the waitress’ recommendation, a caramel-orange-chocolate tart and had to restrain myself from picking up the plate to lick afterwards. Hubs went with the creme brulee which had a side of little cookies and chocolates. I snuck a little bite of everything and his was almost as good as mine.

The verdict? Restaurant Eve was a WONDERFUL place to celebrate Valentine’s Day. The service was great, the drinks were strong, the food was impeccable. It is on the pricier side but it’s one of the only places in DC where I feel like I’m getting more than what I paid for.

Other positives: Eve uses a lot of local and organic products which I love! They also allow you to order ala carte from the Bistro menu and “bar food” menu (which serves deviled eggs)! Hubs and I went back a week later to eat in the bar and had a wonderful (much cheaper) meal. Finally, if you work in the Old Town area or are there around lunch time, they do a $15 lunch that is supposedly delicious.

Oh, and if you need an eating buddy, just let me know and I’d be happy to accompany you!

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Moved.

Sometimes, in life, we stumble upon things that move us deeply. Simplicity, kindness, beauty, size. I’ve always liked to look for inspiration and I love feeling, that stir, that comes along with being moved. It makes you want something bigger than yourself and it brings all of your issues and problems into perspective.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea at a book club book swap. It has been on my “to-read” list for about four years and I was excited at the chance to mark another book off the list. The subject matter teetered on my areas of interest (the Middle East) and I found the gist of the storyline (building schools for underprivileged children, especially girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan) intriguing.

I was expecting to enjoy the book, but I was blown away. I’m not sure if I can adequately put into words how I felt about this book.

Mortenson, a mountain climber, winds up in a poor area of Pakistan by accident after a failed climb. This series of seemingly random events transform his life and the lives of villages across Pakistan and Afghanistan. Three Cups of Tea tells the story of his mission to bring education to some of the least privileged people in the world.

His travels take him far from the “civilized” world that we are comfortable in and, toward the conclusion of the book, directly into the heart of the start of the War on Terror. He holds that the solution to the Taliban and other forms of extremism is to provide accessible education. So many children enter strictly religious madrassas that, in some cases, teach the hatred of America and terrorism that bring us extremism and violence. With more of Mortenson’s schools, more children would have the chance to receive an education without indoctrination or dogma.

These schools are not “pro-America” and they do not teach our religion or values. They provide an unbiased, fair education to children that otherwise may not receive it. Mortenson also worked to build bridges (literally), community centers for women, and medical centers to help reduce the alarmingly high numbers of preventable deaths. This is a man on a wonderful mission, and I am moved.

Please, please do not judge this book based on my review – go out and get a copy for yourself!

If you want to help in a more tangible way, visit the book’s web site or purchase the book using this link. Any purchase (of the book or otherwise) from Amazon using the link above gives Mortenson’s organization (CAI – Central Asia Institute) 7% of the proceeds.

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Snow Envy

Y’all, half my work team is in Boston where they are getting copious amounts of snow. DC has some cold misty drizzle. I would like to trade? I know they’ll probably be stuck in an airport for a while, but still… I like to read, I love magazines. I’m pretty sure I could post up fairly comfortably at an airport watching it snow (and getting paid for it) as long as I had something to read.

Okay, moving on from my serious case of snow jealousy! I had a serious reckoning moment yesterday morning with the scale. One-five-five showed up. Eeeeek! I keep writing in here about how I don’t like the number creeping up, I’m going to do something, yadda yadda yadda. But, why don’t I actually do something about it?

There was some serious grocery shopping done and I re-acquianted myself with sparkpeople. (I’m AlsoAnnaBanana if you want to look for me — my profile is super sad currently.) I adjusted my calorie intakes and work out schedule on there to realistic goals and ranges. And, taking some serious inspiration from Brie, I dove back into calorie counting and weight loss. I’m eating clean, eating less, and moving more again — and I already feel better. I’ve socked aside a little extra money for some new work clothes, so I plan to reward myself when I drop some of this pesky post wedding weight.

I also sat down with awesome co-worker Thea and started putting together a training plan for a half marathon. Since my goal race isn’t until Labor Day weekened, we’ve got some time to play with. Given my previous issues with my knees, a slow start is a good start. My current plan is to be comfortable running a 5k again by March 4th (six months from my race date). After that, for March and April I’ll be uping my runs from two a week to three a week with mileage ranging from 2-5 miles for each run. Then, come May we’ll sit down to map out my real training plan. I’m excited to enjoy running again. And, hopefully since I’ve aired all this out here, I’ll have some accountability.

I still need to talk about that awesome blogger badge that Kelly gave me, but my work computer doesn’t play as nicely with wordpress as my home computer, so that will have to wait for a few more hours. However, I did want to share with you two of my current favorite things (on my new eating plan)! They were on yesterday’s lunch menu and will feature again today – all I can say, is holy yum!

Up first: Pacific’s new “hearty carton” soups! I’ve had the Chipotle Sweet Potato and the Roasted Garlic and Mushroom Lentil, so yesterday I tried out a third new soup:


Lemongrass is one of my favorite ingredients, so I was immediately won over. The perfect amount of spicy heat, yummy flavors and little chunks of sweet potato left me very satisfied. Also awesome – these soups come in two serving cartons. They’re perfect for bringing to work. Use one serving, close it up, put it in the fridge, and use the second serving the next day. I bring my lunch to save $$$ and calories, but I hate all the prep work and hauling stuff in every day. This soup just made my life a lot easier!

My other love is something I’ve had before, but it has been a few months. Annie’s Organic Dressings are all around pretty tasty, but I have a profound affection for the Goddess Dressing.

This is definitely the perfect way to spice up a boring salad in my book. While the $3.99 price tag (for 8 servings) makes me flinch a little, I know I’ll eat my greens with this on top of it. So, I’ll pony up the money in order to keep my taste buds happy.

Okay folks, I’ve got a few clementines calling my name. I hope you’re having a snowier Tuesday than me!

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My Omnivore’s Dilemma

Ah yes, weeks later I finally have finished another book! Last night I was feeling pretty awful (let’s be honest, I still don’t feel great) so I curled up in bed to finish off Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

I definitely feel far more educated about food. Pollan takes a look at four different styles of eating: (a) traditional processed food, (b) “industrial” organic, (c) organic, and (d) hunting, gathering, and foraging. He spend some time educating you about each type (in an interesting, “holy crap I had no idea” sort of way) and then creates and eats a meal from that style. I found the book interesting, horrifying in some places (wait, I’ve been putting that into my body?!), and rather educational. (4.5/5)

It has left me thinking about what I eat and where I get it from as well. I’d like to do a little more research and perhaps read a few more books on the matter. (Perhaps: In Defense of Food and Eating Animals…) However, I could definitely see myself implementing some changes based on what I’ve learned. For instance, I want to make an effort to buy more local produce. Hubs and I strive to get organic produce – especially produce that is typically known to be highly contaminated. But now I’d really like to try and shop at Farmer’s Markets more and maybe even join a coop.

I also started thinking a lot about the meat I eat. I don’t think I’ll ever become vegetarian, I just don’t see that in the cards. I know and love many vegetarians and gave up meat twice for Lent. It’s just not in the cards for me. I don’t eat a lot of meat by any means, but I do enjoy it. Pollan presented some scary/interesting information about the meat we eat. After a little more research and some planning, I might stop eating meat unless I know how it was raised. There’s some scary information out there about non-grass fed animals (or, wild-caught in the case of seafood). Like I said, I need to do a little more research but I feel like some changes are coming down the line for me.

Has a book ever changed the way you look at food? Should I read it?

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Pizza and Pumpkins

Oh y’all, I walked into Harris Teeter this afternoon and what did I see?

Shelves and shelves right at the front! I think I actually yelled, “OH PUMPKIN!” Hubs laughed at me and we continued on our day. However, I’m stoked. The pumpkin has arrived! (More on this in a minute…)

This afternoon, Hubs and I decided to cash in one of our Social Living Coupons (like Groupon). So we headed for Georgetown and Il Canale: a little Neopolitan Pizza joint with a roof deck. Sounds good to me! We scored shady seats on the roof and ordered foccacia as a starter. Basically a pizza without toppings, just lots of herbs – it was served alongside olive oil with garlic. We devoured the foccacia. Then we waited. And waited. Our server had promised us that pizzas took five or ten minutes when the restaurant isn’t busy (like today). We waited some more and the pizza finally came.

We had two that we split: the Parmigano (bufala mozzarella, parmigana, spinach, tomato sauce) and the Georgetown (no sauce, bufala mozzarella, sausage, basil, rupini). Our favorite was definitely the Parmigano. The Georgetown was good, but the rupini was still super bitter; it tasted like they didn’t blanch it before popping it on the pizza. Because the pizza tasted like bitter greens, it was hard to taste the sausage at all. Sad.

Even sadder, the wait that came next. Our waters were empty, our forks and napkins were sitting on the table, and our waiter was NOWHERE to be found. A bus girl boxed our pizza and brought us more water. Still, no waiter. About fifteen minutes passed before he even poked his head out again. We ordered chocolate gelati to split and asked for the check (cause who knows how long that’s going to take). The gelati took about 10 minutes to come out (were they milking the cows?) but it was delicious enough to make up for it. All in all, it took Il Canale almost two hours to serve us an appetizer (basically baked bread), two pizzas (that supposedly took five minutes to make), and gelati (how hard is scooping stuff into a bowl)?

The good: delicious crust, variety of pizzas to pick from, wonderful dessert. The bad: meal took way too long when the place was dead, over powering flavors, few veggie options (aside from cheese pizzas). Would I go back? Probably not.

I decided to make some pumpkin soup to cheer myself up. After seeing pumpkin return to the shelves, I decided it was okay to break out my 29oz (big mama) can of pumpkin that I scored last year right before the shortage. After a little googling, I came up with a tasty sounding recipe for pumpkin curry soup.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds (optional)
2 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons curry powder
4 cups vegetable broth (low sodium)
1 (29 ounce) can pumpkin
1 1/2 cups half-and-half cream (organic)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 cup diced onions
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c fat free organic plain yogurt (per serving)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Arrange pumpkin seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until seeds begin to brown while you cook.
2. Dice your onion and melt butter in a large pot (we used a dutch over) over medium heat. Toss in the onions and cook until soft. Then add flour and curry powder.
3. Stir in vegetable broth slowly. Bring to a boil to let thicken. Then add Half and Half and Pumpkin. Stir until completely incorporated.
4. Season with soy sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat.
5. Serve with toasted pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top (this totally makes the dish) and, if spicy isn’t totally your thing, mix in 1/3 to 1/2 cup of fat free organic yogurt.

We had this with dinner tonight and it was delish! Hubs likes spicy, so he recommended cooking with a whole habanero pepper (seeds removed) to add more heat. Then, once you’re done cooking you can just fish out the pepper and toss it. If you like things a little less spicy (like me!) stir in the yogurt and it makes the dish creamy and savory. I see us making this a lot over the fall. Oh Pumpkin, how I love you!

Our Dawgs didn’t pull out the win last night, but they did stage an amazing come back. Next week we’ll be better! I burned off some post game steam on the elliptical — intervals for an hour. I burned 447 cals and went just under 3.75 miles. Sweaty and tired, I returned to the apartment for dinner, football, Omnivore’s Dilemma and my first pumpkin beer of the season. Love it!

Time for me to prep tomorrow’s smoothie and relax with tonight’s pumpkin beer. I hope y’all had a wonderful weekend!

What’s your favorite pumpkin recipe?

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