Friday, 30 July 2010

One year of Nuts

It's been a year since I started this blog with this post. I created the blog so I could post my recipes, and eventually some book reviews. The Oat Biscuits were my new recipe back then, and my favourite procrastination method while I was writing my dissertation. Whenever I didn't feel like doing any work, I would go to the kitchen and bake cookies. At least I didn't feel like I was wasting my time.

Not that I've been posting many recipes this past year (the blog has been devoted more to the spoilers part, go figure). I posted only two recipes, but that doesn't mean I haven't been cooking (or eating, my waistline sure attests to that). It's just very hard for me to write recipes, because most of the time I don't follow them, I improvise and use no measures at all (I'm more of a pinch of this and dash of that kind of gal).

But I guess I cannot let the Nuts anniversary pass without at least some tips when it comes to cooking.

So, if I have any tip to give regarding food is to experiment: look at your spices and mix them. But careful, don't throw them all into the pot, that would be overwhelming, just 3 or 4, and see if they fit together. Take note of what works, and what doesn't, but change it from time to time. Different seasoning for the same recipe means it will feel like a different one.

There are some spices that go well with any food, like thyme and parsley. Some are a must in some types of food: Rosemary for roasts, Basil and Oregano for Italian, Cumin and Cinnamon in spicy foods. Others need to be used in moderation, like Ginger or Chilli.

Another spice that you need to pay attention to is Salt. This past year, due to my hypertension, I had to start cooking with no salt at all. It was a pain at first, but I eventually got used to it. To reduce the salt consumption is always a good idea, and not only for health reasons. A lot of people resort to salt when it comes to seasoning. Sometimes they add pepper or garlic, but that's about it. Eventually everything they cook ends up tasting the same.

Most of the food we eat has some salt naturally. If it's processed food, it has bucketloads of it. In many cases there is no need to add more. Before this imposed diet, I already cooked with less salt than most. Grilled meat or fish hardly needs it. Pepper will suffice, garlic gives it an extra kick, and if you really want something special why not add a bit a lemon or orange juice to it?

Some foods will need salt. Rice and couscous taste awful without salt. If you fry the rice, it gets better. Fry some onion and garlic in olive oil before adding the rice, and add a bit of white pepper for seasoning, and it will pass.

Vegetables are probably the easiest to cook without salt. A stir-fry hardly needs spices, but if you add them, it will still taste good. Sometimes I like them fried in olive oil with garlic. Other times I go for ginger and pepper. Add in a curry mix, and it will be very good.

The rule for cooking without salt is: avoid simply boiled food. It's tasteless even with salt. Stews can be made to taste good if you add some spices. Stir-fries and grilled food is the easiest, because it hardly needs salt.

Now, because I feel that there haven't been enough Nuts in the blog, here are some suggestions:

You can add Nuts and Seeds to most of your food - even in soup. Nuts are good for your health, they contain omega-3 and reduce cholesterol. You can make rice with pine nuts thrown in. Or add sunflowers seed into a stir-fry. I sometimes put sesame seeds and linseeds in the soup.

Muesli Cereal already has some Nuts and Seeds, but add more. Usually it is heavy on grain and there is not much variety in the nuts found in it.

Another way I like my Nuts is as a snack. Instead of going for chocolate or something equally sweet, I eat Almonds with skin. Hazelnuts and Walnuts are also very good as a snack.

With that piece of advice I end this Nuts post. And because I spent a lot of time after the first post not writing anything, my Spoilers Blogoversary will come in December.

Until then, enjoy your Nuts (and food)!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Reading Challenge - Half way done

So now that I'm half way done with this challenge, I decided to share some thoughts of what I've realised so far, as well as some statistics.

I've learnt that by reviewing each book I read, the way I rate them has changed. Now I feel like I have to justify why it is that rating, so I'm less benevolent. A book finished is not an automatic 4 out 5, I give it some thought why I liked it or not, which parts bugged me, and which parts I loved.

Also by reviewing a book right after I finish it I'm more likely to write a long review rather than a short one. With The Book of Lost Things as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories, I started by writing a short review, realizing, upon finishing it, that it was longer than I had thought to write. Guess I had more things to say than I thought.

The next challenge might be to write a proper review for every book I read. We'll see about that.

And now for some stats:

I've read 39 books so far, 1 of which was actually 4 very small books (The Catwings Set). I also read three graphic novels that didn't count toward the challenge, as they are usually much lighter and faster to read than a regular novel. They were Coraline and The sandman : preludes & nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. So in truth, I've read 45 books so far.

I tend to read long books, which makes this challenge a bit more, well, challenging. About 36% of the books I read this year had 400 or more pages. I've read 13192 pages so far. Of course this doesn't mean much, when most of the books have different page and font sizes, with some books having about 80 words per page, and others close to 600.

As for ratings:
4 books got the maximum rating (5/5), but 3 of them were re-reads of books by Juliet Marillier (an author that I love).

10 books were rated 4.5 (one of them a re-read).

The lowest ratings so far were 2 out 5, for Shadowmancer, followed by 2.5 for Secrets of Surrender.

The average rating is: 3.97 (the average rating disregarding re-reads is: 3.87)

This means I enjoyed most of the books I read. To tell the truth I read some that are on their way to become absolute favourites (to use an expression from the Percheron Series that I read this year).

What to read next
I asked what should I read next, and the responses were (3 votes, I know it's not much):
   2 votes for The Third God by Ricardo Pinto
   1 vote for Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

Because The Third God is a huge book (888 pages), I can hardly carry it around with me - it would probably dislocate my shoulder and cause severe back problems. I will start reading it, but only at home. While I'm out, I'll read Sense and Sensibility, that is of a much more sensible size, and fits perfectly in my handbag.

The poll is still open, so if anyone wants to vote, feel free to do it.

Reading Challenge - 35 to 39

35 - The Suicide Shop by Jean Teulé
The Suicide ShopThe Suicide Shop is a light and fast read.

The story is about a family that runs a shop that specializes in selling products to aide suicides: ropes, poisons, one bullet guns, among other things. Everything is fine (and by this I meaning depressing) until the third son comes along, and he is the most cheery fellow possible. Which is very bad for business. What follows is a series of shenanigans in which the family is gradually infected by the good disposition of the younger one.

It is supposed to be dark humour, but I found it merely amusing. Also, I found the writing style a bit stiff, and that stopped me from getting much into the story.


36 - Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl
Goose ChaseAfter reading a review by a friend (here, in Portuguese), I knew I had to read this one. It promised fantasy and humour, and a lot of nonsense. And it delivered.

I read it in a flash (I kept saying to myself, just one more chapter and I'll go to bed. Before I knew it it was 4:00 AM, and I had finished the book.), as it was so funny and such a delightful story. A fairytale retelling that manages to channel what Shrek tries: silliness, a certain unfairytaleness to the fairy tale and a storyline that is very much like the original and totally different at the same time.

Truly recommended.


37 - Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
Snow CountryIn Snow Country there is not much happening, and the big mystery is never solved. It follows Shimamura, a man from Tokyo that comes to the Snow Country, a region of harsh winters in Japan, and of his encounters with Komako, a geisha. In its essence it is a love story, but I found that something was missing.

Most of the the appeal of this book is the writing, with beautiful prose and amazing yet simple descriptions of places, people and sounds. This is a book that I enjoyed more for the joy of reading, for the imagery it suggests, than for the story.


38 - Emissary by Fiona McIntosh
Emissary: Book Two of The Percheron SagaA continuation to Odalisque, the second in the Percheron series. I enjoyed this book, but not as much as Odalisque, although it is a page turner. It ends in a cliffhanger, the kind that, if I hadn't the third book already, I would be rushing to buy.

It is fast paced, full of adventure. But despite this, I found there were a lot of times the author repeated herself, and it dragged the story behind.

I'll be reading the next book, hoping that the love triangle finally gets resolved, the struggle between Maliz and Lyanna meets a satisfying end, and, above all, that there will be no more cliffhangers.


39 - Goddess by Fiona McIntosh
Goddess: Book Three of The Percheron SagaThe final book in the Percheron series brings all the storylines to an end, although in most cases in a unsatisfying way. I liked the book, it kept me on my tiptoes and I really wanted to know what happened next (which kept me awake till the wee hours of the morning, reading just one more chapter, chapter after chapter).

Warning: Next paragraph will contain spoilers, steer clear of it if you don't want to read them.

What really bugged me about this book is that everyone seems to die in the end! Of the four good characters of the first book, only one survives (and I'm really glad it was Lazar, I really liked that character). I know there was a war, but surely not so many people needed to die.

***End of Spoilers***

The ending was, like I said, unsatisfying. Delivered in the epilogue, like it was an afterthought. It is an ending, and I guess that the author was trying to show that vanquishing evil is not always done with fireworks, and can go quite unnoticed to the general population. But the epilogue should be to show the happily-ever-after, not introduce a major plot twist and the resolution of the plot. 


Thursday, 15 July 2010

I write like...

I write like David Foster Wallace

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

So, I found this on a Library Thing topic: it analyses your text and, based on the words you use and the writing style, it tells you which author's your writing resembles.

I ran it through 14 reviews and this is what I got:
  • David Foster Wallace - 4
  • Vladimir Nabokov - 2
  • Jonathan Swift - 2
  • Dan Brown - 2
  • Mary Shelley - 1
  • James Joyce - 1
  • Charles Dickens - 1
  • Kurt Vonnegut - 1

    I also ran it through some original texts and I ended up with:
    (The results are ordered by age of the texts, older ones first)
    • Dan Brown (I really need to revise this one :S)
    • Vladimir Nabokov
    • Anne Rice
    • David Foster Wallace 

      Now, I never heard of David Foster Wallace, or read anything by him, but after this I will probably try it.

      You can try it for your writing here.

      Tuesday, 13 July 2010

      What should I read next?

      Because I sometimes don't know what read next, I'm leaving to the blogreaders the choice to select what I should read.

      Below is a list of choices you can select from (just a tiny bit of my huge TBR list). So, What should I read next?

      What should I read next?

      Saturday, 10 July 2010

      Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

      Kafka on the Shore

      Kafka on the ShoreAs I said before, Kafka on the Shore is a very strange book. It was loaned to me (thrust my way, that is) by a friend singing its praises and saying it was just like an anime.

      The backcover reads: Kafka on the Shore tells the adventures (and misadventures) of two strange characters, whose lives, running side by side throughout the novel, will eventually prove to be full of enigmas and mystery. These are Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home at age 15, pursued by the shadow of a dark prophecy that one day was launched by his father, and Nakata, an elderly man who has never recovers from a freak accident he suffered as a young man and who has devoted much of his life to a cause - seeking missing cats.

      This oversimplifies a lot.

      It is true that these two characters' lives run parallel to each other, almost meeting in the end. But Kafka's journey is not simply that of a runaway kid, he is running away from an Oedipal prophecy, made by his own father (who has quite a few screws loose). He will take refuge in Komura Library, where he meets Oshima with whom he has philosophical and metaphysical conversations about life, literature and music (in fact, these made me want to read more Japanese literature - I've added Akinari Ueda's Tales of Moonlight and Rain to my wishlist, and started Kawabata's Snow Country). Kafka's tale is mostly of coming of age, and becoming strong to be able to survive the world.

      Nakata's story, together with the reports of the incident that left him unable to read and write, or learn anything, but with the strange gift of talking to cats, is amusing at first, but growing more deep and poignant as the chapters advance. Nakata is responsible for most of the surreal things happening in the book, although it is not really his fault if it rains fishes, or leeches. I really liked Nakata, and his relationship with all the characters that he meets. He is really a nice old man, who isn't very bright, but is quite happy that way. But what starts with a quest to find a missing kitty, ends up being the journey of his life, setting right what was wrong.

      And between these two characters there is Miss Saeki, a connecting point between the stories, a woman for whom time has stopped, in the sense that she stopped living, only being able to exist after the death of her fiancé. She will be important to Kafka, helping him become the “world's toughest 15-year old”, and the ending point of Nakata's quest.

      When I finished the book, I wasn't sure I had liked it. I wasn't sure I disliked it either. It's the kind of read that needs digesting, that you can only know how much it touched you when, 6 months later, you still recall the story and the feelings associated with it.

      What is great about Kafka on the Shore is that I was there with the characters, in the same places they where, having the same adventures as them. It is not that I loved the book, it wasn't that great, I just didn't want to leave that world. I would love to keep going to Komura Library with Kafka, having lunch and conversations with Oshima, or walk on the forest, with trees looming over me, or even keep going west with Nakata and Hoshino, and talking with cats.

      (4/5) - for now, we'll see in 6 months how I'll feel about it

      Monday, 5 July 2010

      Reading Challenge - 30 to 34

      30 - The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

      The Book of Lost ThingsThe Book of Lost Things seemed, at first glance, exactly the right read for me: dark with fairy tales gone wrong. But it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.

      Full Review


      31 - Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
      Lord of LightLord of Light is a strange book. At first I was having trouble finding the science fiction in it: it seemed more like a religion book about the life of the Gods, the kind that is usually given away on the street. I was also constantly lost amidst the different Gods, with all the name/position changes.

      It did get better, but not by much. I was able to understand the gist of it, which lead me to believe that I would have probably loved the book if it wasn't so vague and confusing.


      32 - The Book of Imaginary Beings By Jorge Luis Borges
      The Book of Imaginary Beings (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)The book of Imaginary Beings is a bestiary of fantastical animals, from folklore, mythology and literature. It is in no way comprehensive, but it's a good reference for anyone who enjoys to read about human imagination and its history. Some of the beings are alike, as their descriptions get mixed up throughout the ages, and sometimes the same name is given to beings so different.

      I really liked the bits of imagined beings by other authors, especially the ones by Kafka.

      Not your standard literature book, more of a reference of sorts, but very enjoyable nonetheless.


      33 - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and other stories by Washington Irving
      The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories (Thrift Edition)It was an OK book: some good stories, some bad, one awful.

      Full Review


      34 - Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
      Kafka on the ShoreThis is, undoubtedly, a very strange book. Good kind of strange. At this point I'm not sure I can say much about it. I'm not even sure I liked it (or disliked it, for that matter). I will probably need time to digest the story.

      What I will say is this: There are things in the book that I loved, and that includes the characters, and most of the plot. But I'm not sure if I wanted it to end how it did, or even if I wanted it to end.

      The friend that lent me this book told me it was like an anime. It is. But not the action kind of anime. We're talking about sureal, philosophical and heavily metaphorical storylines here. But it's just like an anime.

      Full Review (written a few days later)