Finished Fledgling [12/22/2009]

Fledgling sucked me in and I cared about the characters right away. The plot moved along very quickly, and I even felt it was a bit rushed. (I know that's weird for me to complain about, as I normally always want fast moving plots.) It ended abruptly and I felt like there should have been more. I find it interesting all of the twists and variations that people come up with on the vampire myth. Listen to Margot Adler's npr story for one take on the popularity of vampires.

Oran's White Asparagus and Mushroom Soup [12/16/2009]

Oran's White Asparagus and Mushroom Soup

1 med onion
1 bunch white asparagus
8 oz crimini or baby bella mushrooms
3 cloves of garlic
3.5 oz oyster mushrooms
6 c broth
2 sprigs fresh thyme
~1/2 tsp salt
~1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 c cream
~2 tbsp butter
[option 1]* 1 med potato
[option 2]* 1/4 c light roux
* Two options to thicken soup.

In a large pot, simmer the broth.
[If using option 1] Dice potato, saute in butter [2 min] and add to soup.
Rough chop onions, saute in butter for [2 min] and add to soup.
Peel white asparagus. Chop the bottom half, saute in butter [2 min] and add to soup.
Finely chop mushrooms and reserve half. With half, saute in butter [2 min] and add to soup.
Add salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.
Simmer soup for 20 minutes then turn off heat.
Finely dice garlic and add half to the soup, letting the soup sit for five more minutes.
Lightly saute in butter the remaining mushrooms, finely chopped asparagus tips, and garlic. Do not let these get too soft as these provide texture to the soup. Set aside.
If needed, put the soup pot in an inch or two of water to cool before blending.
In batches, blend soup in a blender until smooth. Return puréed soup to the pot and lightly simmer.
[If using option 2] Whisk roux into soup to thicken.
Stir in cream.
Shortly before serving, add the remaining asparagus and mushrooms and stir to equilibrate temperature.

Cheese Souffle [12/16/2009]

Cheese Souffle

2 eggs
2/3 cup cream
3/4 cup cheddar cheese grated
3/4 cup romano cheese grated

Beat eggs with cream.
Mix in cheeses.
Pour into 3 cup baking dish.
Cook at 450 degrees for 25 minutes.

Finished The Reader [12/16/2009]

The first half of the book keeps you reading out of curiosity because you want to know Hanna's secret. Something is strange about her and her past. The relationship between her and Michael (the narrator) is difficult to believe. Both of them are somewhat unlikeable. Their fights are annoying and don't make sense. After you find out about her involvement in the Nazi concentration camps half way through, there is little reason to finish the story. I wonder if some poetic elements were lost in translation, or if the original was as bleak and stark as this version. I know this was very popular book, but, I don't understand why.

Finished In Defense of Food [12/10/2009]

This follow up to The Omnivore's Dilemma is lacking in all of the statistics and details that made its successor so powerful. It is a much shorter and easier read though. The tone is positive, with much less of the doomsday quality. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in eating healthy and living sustainably.

Kale Salad [12/05/2009]

Kale Salad

2 bunches of Lacinato/Tuscan kale
2-3 tablespoons red bell pepper chopped
1 shallot or small onion chopped
2/3 cup shredded Parmesan or Parmesan/Romano mix
3 medium sized garlic cloves toasted and chopped
1/2 cup crushed bread crumbs

6 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Optional Addition:
1/2 cup pine nuts

In a small bowl combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Fully submerge the kale in water and rinse several times.
Cut out the tough middle stalk.
Slice the leaves into very small strips.
Mix the kale strips with the rest of the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
Toss with the dressing until it is all thoroughly covered.

This salad will keep in the fridge for several days.

Fun Variation: Use one bunch of kale and one bunch of rainbow chard.

Adapted from various recipes online.

Finished the Lilith's Brood/Xenogenesis Trilogy [12/05/2009]

This was my first encounter with Octavia Butler. She impressed me right away, and I was kept captivated throughout the whole trilogy. These books were written in the late 80's and very little of it seemed dated. Butler's themes are still very relevant today. I am now hooked, and can't wait to read more. For anyone who enjoys science fiction, I'd highly recommend these books.

Mayan Sweet Potatoes [11/26/2009]

Mayan Sweet Potatoes

2 sweet potatoes
1/3 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoons coconut oil
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Sift the brown sugar, cinnamon, and cayenne.
Warm the coconut milk and coconut oil.
Combine the warm milk with half of the sugar/spice mix.
Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Then cut them into half inch slices.
In a 8"x8" glass pan toss the potatoes and milk.
Stir in the pecans.

Bake for 40 minutes at 400 degrees.
Stir at the 20 minute mark.
Stir again at the 35 min mark and sprinkle the top with the remaining sugar/spice mix.

Finished The Year of the Flood [11/04/2009]

This book should get an award for being a long awaited sequel that did not disappoint. At first I found it a little difficult to understand because the narrators change from chapter to chapter as well as the time line. I also didn't really care for the hymns in between each chapter. However, after you get settled in, this ends up giving the reader a much fuller picture of the reality that was hinted at in Oryx and Crake. It is gripping, emotional, and in-your-face. Are all Atwood books like this? I would not recommend reading this unless you have already read Oryx and Crake.

Chicken Chili [11/03/2009]

Chicken Chili

1 jar Trader Joe's salsa verde
1 4 oz can green chili chopped
1 pkg (approx. 5 to 6) boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs
1 14 oz can white beans drained
1 fresh jalapeno chopped
1 medium white onion chopped
1 fresh anaheim chili chopped

Fill a large stock pot with water and chicken thighs. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a strong simmer for 1/2 hour. Remove chicken and let it cool for 5 minutes while you rinse the pot. Cut the chicken into bite size pieces. Add it back into the pot along with all the other ingredients except for the beans. Cook on medium heat until the onions and peppers are soft. Add the beans and continue heating for another 5 or 10 minutes. Serve over rice.

(I altered a recipe by Fluttering in Fremont, CA)

Finished The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty First Century [10/27/2009]

I find speculating on the future to be at times fun, terrifying, worrisome, hopeful, inspiring, and sometimes even funny. This book contains only 25 essays. I wished it was like some of the other ones with more entries. Most of the topics covered are physics, technology, biology, and psychology. There wasn't any discussion of government, politics, ecology, social trends, or economics. I'd like to see Brockman do another book on the future, incorporating a wider range of subjects.

Finished What Have You Changed Your Mind About? Today's Leading Minds Rethink Everything [9/17/2009]

This is another interesting compilation of essays by scientists across several disciplines. I think it's cool to see so many people demonstrating their open-mindedness and willingness to change their mind. It makes me wish I wasn't always so stubborn.

Finished What's Your Dangerous Idea? Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable [9/11/2009]

This compilation is much longer than previous books, and includes over 80 different essays. While I enjoyed the breadth of topics covered here, a would have liked if some of them were longer and more detailed. It's pretty interesting to see how varied people's ideas are about what is and isn't dangerous. I respect these contributors for being willing to publicly voice their dangerous ideas, knowing that they might stir up controversy and un-wanted attention. One of my personal favorites from this book was Daniel Dennett's "There Aren't Enough Minds to House the Population Explosion of Memes".

Finished The Extended Phenotype [9/03/2009]

I found The Extended Phenotype to be a very enjoyable and thought provoking read. Some of the arguments presented in it are difficult, especially if you are not well versed in evolutionary biology. It is definitely the most technical book Dawkins has written for the general public. The Selfish Gene is required reading prior to tackling this one, as it is pretty much a sequel. The small print also makes it slow going.

This book inspired me to think about the evolution of consciousness. More on that later..

Finished Shaman Winter [8/22/2009]

This is more of a shaman themed novel than a mystery. I liked it a little bit better than Zia Summer. It has all the same nice desert imagery, plus some new and interesting characters. Sonny and Raven are both still annoying, but, Sonny's mentor don Eliseo is a believable and inspiring character. I also liked the genealogy and historical episodes. It doesn't seem like this series is improving much though, and I don't know if I'll bother reading the other two books.

Finished Zia Summer [8/17/2009]

Zia Summer is a fast paced murder mystery. I enjoyed Anaya's descriptions of Albuquerque. He makes me want to spend more time in New Mexico. However, I was somewhat disappointed overall with this book. The main character Sonny Baca can be annoying at times, especially when he is both bragging and guilty about his womanizing. Also, a lot of the secondary characters felt hollow. Despite the problems, I'll probably read the other three books in the series anyway.

Finished What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty [8/10/2009]

This is the second John Brockman edited, collection that I've read. It was much easier to get through than The Third Culture, because most of the essays are very short. The range of topics was also much broader, including psychology and sociology as well as physics and math. Two of the entries that most interested me were those by Alex Pentland and Robert R Provine. Alex Pentland believes, "A very large part of our behavior is determined by mainly unconscious social signaling, which sets the context, risk, and reward structure within which traditional cognitive processes proceed." [pg 156] Similarly, Robert Provine believes that "we overestimate the conscious control of behavior" and "we vastly overestimate the amount of time that we are aware of our actions, whatever their cause." [pg 145] Their essays were interesting enough that I might attempt to overcome my fear of psychology research and go out and read their recent books: Provine's Laughter: A Scientific Investigation and Pentland's Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World.

Anejo Sampling Part 1 [8/08/2009]

Cazadoresfruity, sweetsmokey, fruityoily94
Patronsalty, peatyherbal, veggie, fruitypeppery, spicy, sweet88
El Mayorsweetspicy, pepperytangy, a bit rough85
Don Juliofruityrich, caramelsmooth, buttery96
Tres Mujeressweetherbal, veggielight, fresh94
Sol de Mexicospicypepperysmooth, light92
El Amo Special Edition Premiumfruitywine-likea bit sharp94

Images from, a great resource for Anejo reviews.

Finished Dragonharper [7/31/2009]

After reading Dragon's Fire, I wasn't expecting that much from this book. It is another Todd and Anne McCaffrey collaboration. This one is a lot darker, full of death and doom. So, I can't really justify calling it cutesy. Unfortunately, I didn't like the characters much at all. Kindan, Koriana, and Vaxoram were all annoying to me. I think I may have grown to like Nonala and Kelsa had they been given more time.

Finished Dragon's Fire [7/23/2009]

This book was a collaboration between mother and son, and predictably did not live up to Anne's earlier solo works. I still love the world of pern, and enjoy reading stories set there. I was disappointed that the characters and plot both seemed so cutesy and childish. In the end, I was unhappy with Pellar's decision to stay at the mine. It didn't seem the right place for him.

Oran's Spicy Indian Cabbage [7/20/2009]

1 head cabbage chopped
1 large onion chopped
1 can peas
3 tablespoons oil
3-8 garlic cloves chopped (depending on how big they are)
1 tablespoon cumin seed
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon hot madras curry powder
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Put the oil and cumin in large pot and heat on high. Add in the onion and cabbage and stir for 5 minutes. Cover for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic. Add a little water if the cabbage or onions are sticking to the bottom. Add the salt and the remaining spices. Stir in the peas and serve.

Maiyui is 80 [7/17/2009]

On my third span of WoW playing, for the first time, I've finally reached the current level cap. (I hit 60 during BC and 70 during WOTLK.) I can start raiding now! Yay! : )

Here's Maiyui with one of her pets behind

Chili Con Carne [7/15/2009]

1/2 onion diced
1/2 bell pepper diced
1/2 jalapeno diced
1 lb ground beef
1/2 can roasted tomatoes
3 cloves garlic chopped
1 teaspoon cumin seed slightly crushed
3 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
3 dashes cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons salt

Mix the beef, onion, bell pepper, jalapeno, and tomato in a small saucepan over high heat. Add 1/4 cup water and cover for 10 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, and spices. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Top with a dollop of sour cream.

Finished The Third Culture [7/01/2009]

I had very mixed feelings about this book. The concept of short essays by scientists is great, and I definitely plan to read more of the collections. This one is quite outdated having been written in 1995, as a lot of the issues on the forefront of science have changed significantly since then. It was nevertheless interesting and thought-provoking.

In some cases, I wished there was more meat to the arguments and less pretty floweriness. Not having read their research papers, and with little background especially in the physics sections, I had a lot of difficulty judging what was reasonable and what wasn't. Depending on my mood at the time cynical/argumentative, or relaxed/happy I found myself much more or less receptive to the ideas presented. I often found myself switching between thinking, "He might really be on to something here." and "This is complete and total BS."

This got me thinking about a general but important problem, how are the laypeople supposed to recognize the true masters among the quacks? The language used to describe the theories is often very philosophical and obscure, and it changes dramatically between people. Almost everyone seems to invent their own strange terms. Unfortunately, it seems this makes it easy for charlatans or sub-par theorists to slip into the mix. If we flock around these esteemed professors as if they were preachers, following them based only on what appeals to our personal aesthetic, we are probably missing out on something big. They can't all be right, right?

The conversational tone of the essays made them easy to read. I was quite surprised though, by the amount of emotion and personality that came through. At times, the defensiveness and/or overconfidence was a bit much for me. I am encouraged though to try to branch out and read more popular science books, even if it is frustrating in parts.

Here are the scientists included in this first book:

George C. Williams

Stephen Jay Gould
Richard Dawkins
Brian Goodwin
Steve Jones
Niles Eldredge
Lynn Margulis
Marvin Minsky
Roger Schank
Daniel C Dennett
Nicholas Humphrey
Francisco Varela
Steven Pinker
Roger Penrose
Martin Rees
Alan Guth
Lee Smolin
Paul Davies
Murray Gell-Mann
Stuart Kauffman
Christopher G. Langton
J. Doyne Farmer
W. Daniel Hillis

Draft Magazine Craft Brewing Festival 2009 [6/20/2009]

My first ever brewfest was totally awesome. The only disappointment was that I didn't get to try as many different beers as I would have liked. Apparently 4 hours isn't enough sampling time for someone who is a very slow drinker and lightweight like me. They practically had to kick us out and I wished I had kept better track of the time.

Everything tasted pretty good, although once inebriated I think it's harder to be a good judge. I took a few sporadic notes, not really rating anything thoroughly.

Stone - Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout - very syrupy, better than their smoked porter or imperial
Dupont - Farmhouse Ale - interesting
Sun Up - Hefeweizen - grapefruity
Sun Up - Red Ale - citrus tones
Dogfish - Sah'tea - curious
Dogfish - Palo Santo Marron - nice and dark
San Tan - Strawberry Wit - not at all subtle strawberry flavor
Papago - Coconut Joe - coffee overpowered any coconut in there

One of the highlights was a quick chat with the brewer for Sun Up Brewing/Sonora Brewhouse one of my favorite local eats. We were able to complement him on the recent excellent small batch Triple Blonde, and his consistently good Midnight Porter.

Thanks so much to Draft Magazine for creating the best PBS benefit I've heard of, and thanks to PBS for providing well researched science and political coverage like Nova, the News Hour, and Frontline.

Finished The Difference Engine [6/15/2009]

This is the first book I've read in the "alternative history" or "steampunk" genre. I enjoyed it of course, because it's Gibson, and I love his style of mystery where nothing gets answered. Not having read anything by Sterling before, I can't say how much of the style was his. The description of the Central Statistics Bureau had a scifi quality to it, despite being in London in 1885. I discovered how little I know about late 19th century English history. I ended up looking up a lot of articles on wikipedia about people mentioned in the book. I loved the description of London falling into anarchy, it just builds and builds into an almost dream.

Nut Crusted Pork Piccatta [6/02/2009]

4 pork chops
1 cup chopped nuts (should have a large percentage of either pecans or almonds, plus whatever else is available thrown in: brazil, macadamia, walnuts, pine nuts)
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
enough olive oil to fill the frying pan about 1/4 inch deep

heat oil very high
add salt and pepper to nut mixture in one bowl
put flour in a separate bowl
beat eggs in a third bowl
dip pork chops so they are covered first in flour, then eggs, then nuts
fry in pan using a splatter screen

Piccatta topping ingredients:
juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon parsley chopped
3 heaping teaspoons capers
1 teaspoon caper juice
dash garlic salt
dash pepper

mix topping ingredients together and heat
spoon on top of the pork chops

Porter Sampling No. 5 [6/01/2009]

BreweryNameLocationShort DescriptionRating
Prescott Brewing CoRaven Maniac StoutPrescott, AZYummy94
Prescott Brewing CoPetrified PorterPrescott, AZFlavorful, Rich94
Lost Coast BreweryEight-Ball StoutEureka, CAHoppy, Flavorful89
Left Coast BreweryBlack Magic StoutEureka, CAHoppy, Decent86
Samuel SmithOatmeal StoutEnglandRich, Tasty94
Avery Brewing Co.The Czar Imperial StoutBoulder, COStrong Alcohol 11.73%, Hoppy, Heavy89
Rogue AlesImperial StoutNewport, ORStrong Alcohol 11%, Hoppy, Too Bitter85
Brouwerij SterkensHoogstraten PoorterMeer, BelgiumWine-Like, more dark ale than porter, Smooth90
Port Brewing Co.Old Viscosity AleSan Marcos, CAThick, Molasses flavor, strange tasting Hops90
Stone Brewing CompanyStone Imperial Russian StoutEscondido, CA10.8%, Thick, Rich91

See Also:
Porter Sampling No. 7
Porter Sampling No. 6
Porter Sampling No. 4
Porter Sampling No. 3
Porter Sampling No. 2
Porter Sampling No. 1

Finished The Selfish Gene [5/30/2009]

I enjoyed reading Dawkins' classic, The Selfish Gene. I especially liked the descriptions of various symbiotic relationships. I found the speculation about how symbiosis might have contributed to early life evolving into complex forms to be interesting and I wish that part was expanded more.

I'm not sure exactly why, but, while reading the book, I was reminded of a print we had up in our family room when I was a kid. It's Dwarf Caiman and False Coral Snake (from The Insects of Suriname, 1719) by the botanical artist, Maria Sibylla Merian.

Yummy New Potatoes [5/28/2009]

18-24 small new red potatoes quartered
6 cloves garlic chopped
1 small onion chopped
2-3 tablespoons rosemary chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Coat bottom of casserole dish with half of the oil
Add remaining ingredients
Drizzle with the rest of the oil

Bake 30-40 min at 450 until edges are crispy/slightly browned

Pea Soup [5/28/2009]

16 ounce dried split pea package (cleaned and washed)
8 cups/64 oz chicken broth
1 bunch very small carrots chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 onion chopped
1.5 tablespoons garlic minced
1 teaspoon hot madras curry powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 jalapeno
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
dash of cayenne pepper

melt butter
sweat onion, garlic, salt, pepper
add peas, broth, carrots
bring to a boil
add jalapeno, cayenne, and curry powders
reduce heat to a simmer
cook 1 hour
let cool
add 2 handfuls of ice to help speed along cooling
blend until smooth

(This is my alteration of Alton Brown's recipe that was recommended by Aaron)

Finished After Dark [4/28/2009]

The narrative style of After Dark is a very weird, it reads more like a play than a novel and it kind of bothered me. As usual for Murakami the characters are little off and sort of social outcasts. However, these characters were also a lot more lovable and easier to start caring about.

I like the fact that this book didn't have the foreshadowing that seemed to heavy in both Kafka on the Shore and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. But, it was also a lot shorter, and I would have liked it to go on for longer.

I would have liked to learn more about Kaoru and her past. I loved the scene between her and the pimp. I would like to know what continued to happen later between them. Overall, it was quite enjoyable and I'm now fully hooked on Murakami and plan to read all the rest of his books.

Here is a great review of After Dark: