30 April 2009

What I am reading: April 2009

  1. Your Hate Mail will be Graded by John Scalzi: A compendium of selection's from 10 year's of Whatever. Amusing.
  2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby: Already discussed. Wonderfully moving.
  3. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova: Very interesting and intricate vampire story, harking back to the original archetype and Vlad Tepes. Mukti-layered and well-written, both epistolary and dramatic, moving back and forth through history with the overriding theme being research and puzzle solving. So much better than Dan Brown's tripe that they can't really be mentioned together.
  4. Zen and the Art of Vampires by Katie MacAlister: with the sequel (in May) being Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang. Looks like a duology, which is always annoying- I like my frothy paranormal romances to be stand alone. But it was fast and funny, as I find all of MacAlister's work.
  5. The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop: I loved her Black Jewels series and I always enjoy other novels set in that world.
  6. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama: What a well-written book. I continue to be overjoyed that in this time, our President is an intelligent, well-read and thoughtful person. He has clearly read all the original works that I have, and far more. When he quoted from The Two-Income Trap (which quite clearly explains why we decided to move to Germany for a job) I felt as if someone finally understood what a trap America has become for the middle-class.
  7. Red Thunder by John Varley: I really enjoy Varley's work. Like Scalzi, he reminds me of updated Heinlein juvenilia. I am only sorry that his output is so sparse: every few years is not enough.
  8. March by Geraldine Brooks: for my book club. What a wonderful book. Well researched and well-written. I have Brooks' other works waiting on my TBR shelf, Little Women will be read tomorrow to help me fill in some of the background. (This novel is the story of Mr. March while he was at war, while Little Women was taking place, and March is based on Bronson Alcott- a fascinating man- as Jo and her family were based on LMA and her family).
  9. The Last Frontier by Alistair MacLean: One can always rely on finding Bagley and MacLean in European used bookstores. This was an oldie and although not in MacLean's best period, at its cusp. I wonder if Americans without my background can actually understand the feelings were, if my age or younger? I also noted how lightly touched upon was the immediate past, with the emphasis being on current events in Prague and the repressed satellites.
  10. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler: Well, it's a charming book but in my opinion a slight one. The most amazing thing was that Thomas M. Disch, a fascinating and interesting writer (just deceased) wrote a blurb for this novel: KJF should be immensely proud that her found her work worthy of his encomium.
  11. A Bite to Remember by Lynsay Sands: Another paranormal romance. The Argenaus are a family of vampires, remembering that vampires were created by a nanotechnology experiment gone awry before the fall of Atlantis. Always a fun and frothy read and my goodness, what a contrast to The Historian above.

16 April 2009

The TBR 2009 Challenge: April 2009

Although I am always reading a book, and generally one off my To Be Read list, I have missed posting in the past few months, I'm not quite certain why.

In this case, I am back from Holland, the girls are watching Sponge-Bob, I see that I should be posting today, and luckily I have just finished a book that I have been waiting and wanting to read for a while:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

I am certain that everyone has either heard of the story, or seen ads for the movie. I bought the book a while ago but loaned it to my mother and when she shipped it over to me here in Germany it did not make the top of my list, for some reason.
It's a very moving novel. Not just for the intrinsic story, which is heart-breaking, but the absolute and stark baeuty and clarity of the narration is astonishing. That this was composed and polished and created all in  Bauby's head, dictated letter by letter, tells one what an absolutely marvelous talent he was. It's a very simple story but the lucidity of the narration. the simple beauty, and the pathos, is what makes the reading worthwhile. I'm not certain that I will ever have the heart to see the movie, though: I find it easier to handle tragedy when I can lay it down and go away between chapters, to allow the sorrow to disperse.

07 April 2009

Tuesday's with Dorie: Banana Cream Pie

I was certain that I would not make Tuesdays with Dorie this week. It's the week before Passover, life is crazy, and I have already removed all the chometz from the house. So there's now way that I could make a pie crust (no flour), nor did I want to make it a few days earlier (no time and didn't want to have it hanging around the house). Amy of Sing for your Supper chose Banana Cream Pie and the recipe is here.

Tonight I was looking through the TwD blogroll and started to feel bad about not being a functional part of the group, particularly as I won't be able to bake the next recipe (no flour allowed until eight days from Wednesday night, during the eight Paschal days). Also, I saw that some folks had made their pies as parfaits and thought: I can do that!

So I whipped out my potato starch and the other ingredients (white not brown sugar, powdered, not fresh nutmeg) and put together a half batch of the pastry cream. Because I read the P&Q, I put in 1/2 the amount of starch called for and I was also able to whip the pot off the stove almost as soon as I returned it (after tempering the mixture): it turned "solid" almost immediately and without coming to the boil. So far, great.

Then I gathered the ingredients for the topping. Because I so rarely use heavy cream, I keep H-Schlagsahne in the cupboard. I whipped it out and started beating. And beating. And beating. It didn't whip! Instead, it seemed to separate and curdle. After a while I just gave up. Luckily, I had three egg whites from the pastry cream and I beat those add, added a tbl. of powdered sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, and then as I continued to beat, a judicious dollop of Kahlua and a few more tbl. of granulated sugar.Looked great.

I spread the cream in a pastry dish, layered slice bananas on top, and attempted to pipe the meringue on top. Err. My plastic baggie didn't work very well. Threw a few more banana slices on top, sprinkled some sugar on, then put it in my 225C pre-heated oven to brown. As warned, I waited and about three minutes later it came out looking great.

The German had two bowls full, I had a taste: the cream is too sweet for me, even though I cut back on the sugar. This seems to be a regular problem for me with Dorie's recipes and I need to more proactively reduce the sugar in her recipes. Spouse gives it two thumbs up, we will see how the girls feel tomorrow.

06 April 2009

The week before Pesach

and all through the house, Mama goes crazy and the kids run amok.

This weekend I have been doing a generally spring-cleaning and a Pesach cleaning. Why do I do them together? Because as I pull all the chometz out of the house, wiping down shelves and trying to make the apartment Pesach clean, we are also in our first real week of Spring. Day after day of sun (so far 5 in a row!), temperatures in the mid-60's (17C and up), the children demanding skirts with no strumpfhose (so far I have persuaded them that leggings are summer stockings:)).

Last night until after midnight I was emptying shelves, cleaning them thoroughly after loading all food products into boxes (two medium U-haul, 1 small). Then we taped the boxes up and put them in the kellar.

The week continues.

03 April 2009

Proximate vacation: Are we becoming European?

Although I still haven't uploaded our photos from the trip to NY, Mass and Florida, we are making our plans for our next trip. After the German being on a project for the last 20 months, we have some time "on the bench" from a major project coming up and I want to take advantage of it.
In addition, it is finally Spring!
We plan on spending a few days during Pesach (through Easter weekend) in the Netherlands. Perhaps this is becoming a tradition because we also spent part of Passover week last year at the Keukenhof, as we plan to do again. We liked it so much, though, that this time we will make a 4 day weekend out of it, stopping at the in-laws in NRW to pick up our bicycles and then going on to Leiden, which looks like an adorable little city not far from the Gardens. I will be bringing my 24 mm lens with me:).
We plan to add some time to stop at our friend A's and see her brand new and adorable baby.

Afterward it's back to Berlin for a few days, hopefully sunny ones where the girls can play outside as it is still school break.
Then it's off to Paris. The German has a training session and I am coming along. We are driving there and will pass through the in-law's first as they have (oh so kindly) offered to take care of the girls while we enjoy the life in gay Paree (oh, that's me- the German will be in training all day). The hotel the firm is putting us in is a little out of the center, but at 1/4 mi from the subway stop, I think I can handle it.

Anyone have any suggestions for what I should scope out during my unplanned Monday through Friday days in Paris? I have seen most of the major museums in relatively great depth and I think I want to spend more time walking around than inside. I'm thinking the Catacombs, which were closed last time I was there, Shakespeare and Co, a department store, a good cooking shop, window licking (as the French would say) just to gawk? Any recommendations for interesting restaurants (not too expensive, but fun?).

I don't think that we are reaching the level of real Germans, who spend 50% of their income on leisure time activities, but even though the German is only taking 1 day off for these two "vacations", from my point of view this is what life in Europe is supposed to be like.