Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday 2/26

A big thank you to Pine Cottage Books for giving me the Happy 101 Award! Jeannie called arch thinking one of her "favorite blogs that make [her] happy to go visit." Aww, shucks. That's so nice of you to say!

The award asks for ten things that make me happy:
  1. My husband. He's a wonderful man and he always knows how to brighten my day.
  2. My family, especially my nephews when they are being sweet.
  3. Sushi. Specifically really good sushi, from a very authentic Japanese restaurant that I'm not going to mention because they are already busy and I don't want any new people going there!
  4. Coffee, especially when husband is serving it to me in bed in the morning. I like it fresh brewed with lots of milk and some sugar. Oh, yum.
  5. Books. Buying books, reading books, smelling books. I love 'em. That doesn't surprise anyone, does it?
  6. Thinking of ideas for new stories to write or new paintings to paint. There's something so magical about that moment when a new creative idea is formed. I like it even more than doing the actual creative work.
  7. Getting a compliment on something I've made (anything from a painting to a plate of cookies), especially when the person doesn't know I'm the one who made it.
  8. Being at the beach, watching the ocean and waves rolling in. Doesn't matter the weather, the beach is my favorite place to be.
  9. Finding a particularly tricky cache when we're out geocaching!
  10. You guys! I love having readers and I especially love comments!

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms

I never read manga. It is, for me, hard to read a book, even a graphic novel, backwards. Its obviously a skill that one learns and perfects, the more a person does it. So I'm not sure what prompted me to grab Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno off the shelf. The cover, perhaps? I certainly had no idea that this was an acclaimed work, the recipient of multiple awards here and in Japan. Instead, I thought the cover illustration was sweet and eye catching. The illustrations, when I flipped through, were pleasant and sweet. Even when I read the back cover description, which clearly stated the book's serious subject matter, I think I expected the book to just be charming and enjoyable. It was, instead, a sock in the gut.

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is about Hiroshima and the impact that World War II and the atomic bomb had on the people of Japan. The first story, Town of Evening Calm follows a young woman in 1955, ten years after the bomb, as she tries to learn how to live - despite her guilt for being alive and despite the horrible poverty and illness her family must live in. Country of Cherry Blossoms, the second story, is told in two parts and is set in recent time. It addresses what it means to remember and to forget your past, with the shadow of the war looming over all.

This is the kind of book one can hold up when a detractor says that manga or graphic novels are "just comic books." It was a powerful work and one that I would recommend to anyone interested in learning more about Japan and her people.

Buy Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms on Amazon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 2/23

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
From On Writing by Stephen King:
I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. If one is writing for one's own pleasure, that fear may be mild - timidity is the word I've used here.
I am really enjoying this book so far, and I am by no means a King fan.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Review: Genesis

I first heard about Genesis by Bernard Beckett from the joint discussion/review held by Presenting Lenore, Pop Culture Junkie, and Sharon Loves Books and Cats. When I saw it on the shelf at a local library, I pulled it off, grabbed a seat, and started reading. About two hours later, I came up for air and realized I had just read the whole book in one sitting. Its a short book, obviously, and a compelling one.
Anax, the dedicated student historian at the center of Beckett's brutal dystopian novel, lives far in the future. The world of the 21st century, we learn, was ravaged by plague and decay, the legacy of the Last War. Only the island Republic, situated near the bottom of the globe, remained stable and ordered, but at the cost of personal freedom. Anax, hoping her scholarly achievements will gain her entrance to the Academy, which rules her society, has extensively studied Adam Forde, a brilliant and rebellious citizen of the Republic who fought for human dignity in the midst of a regimented, sterile society. To join the Academy's ranks, Anax undergoes a test before three examiners, and as the examination progresses, it becomes clear that her interpretations of Adam's life defy conventional thought and there may be more to Adam—and the Academy—than she had imagined.
I'm not sure why this book was classified as Young Adult. Anax is young, but the ideas presented were sophisticated. The structure of the book was unusual - the book is the proceedings of Anax's exam. The few other bits of action are either Anax reflecting on events that led her to this point, or the few holographic videos played during her exam. It is a book about thoughts, not of action. But I found it to be an interesting book; one that kept my attention and made me think, even after I put it down.

Buy Genesis on Amazon.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Update 2/19

Every Friday, I update my library and share what new books I bought or received during the past week.

This week, my awesome husband remembered that I wanted a book that even I hadn't remembered I wanted: Mouse Guard Volume 2: Winter 1152.

Here's my review of the first volume, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152. The mice have not, I assure you, stopped being adorable.

Husband also got himself one of Stephen King's The Stand graphic novels. I've never actually read The Stand, so maybe I'll try the graphic novel instead.

Have a good weekend, my lovelies!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway of Year of the Horse and a big thanks to author Justin Allen for providing the books. We had 15 entries and I used to pick our two winners. They are -

7. Spav
15. Ninefly

Congratulations! I've emailed the winners.

The Italian Slow Cooker Recipes

A big thank you to Michele Scicolone, author of The Italian Slow Cooker (which I reviewed Monday) for allowing me to share some of her recipes. And just look at that gorgeous photo - aren't you hungry now?

The Butcher’s Sauce

Whenever I do a lot of cooking, my freezer collects an assortment of small quantities of different meats, such as a half pound of ground beef, a pork chop, an extra sausage, or a chicken breast. I chop the meats in the food processor and make this delicious pasta sauce, which in Puglia, in southern Italy, is known as the butcher’s sauce.

Don’t hesitate to use a different combination of meats according to what you have on hand. Serve as they do in Puglia, with orecchiette, cavatelli, or another chunky pasta.

Makes about 10 cups

1 large onion, chopped
2 medium celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 28-ounce cans Italian peeled tomatoes packed in tomato puree, chopped

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the vegetables in the oil, stirring often, until tender and golden but not browned, about 10 minutes. If the onion starts to color, add a tablespoon or two of water and lower the heat slightly.

Add the meats and cook, breaking up lumps with the back of a spoon, until lightly browned. Stir in the tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste. Add the wine and bring the mixture to a simmer.

Pour the tomatoes into a large slow cooker. Scrape the meat and vegetables into the cooker and stir well. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours, or until the sauce is thick.

Lorin's note: As I mentioned in my review, I suggest adding more garlic and some other seasonings, but your tastes may vary.

Butternut Squash Soup

In the fall and winter, I make this smooth, creamy (but creamless) soup all the time. Serve it for lunch with a sandwich or for a light dinner with bread and cheese. It keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

Serves 6

1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 large butternut squash, about 11/2 pounds, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch chunks
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 fresh sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
4 cups Chicken Broth (page 46) or canned chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

In a medium skillet, cook the onion in the oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but not browned, about 10 minutes. If the onion starts to color, add a tablespoon or two of water and lower the heat slightly. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Scrape the mixture into the slow cooker. Add the squash, potatoes, sage, and broth. If necessary, add water so that the vegetables are just covered with liquid.

Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, or until the vegetables are soft when pierced with a fork. Let cool slightly, then puree the soup in a blender or food processor. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the soup is too thick, add a little more broth or water. Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil.

Lorin's note: I served mine with croutons and sour cream - and it was amazing!

For more recipes, buy The Italian Slow Cooker on Amazon.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: The Italian Slow Cooker

This is the first time I've reviewed a cookbook, and I thought it was fun. But I love cooking with our slow cooker and I absolutely love Italian food, so The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone was an easy book to start with. Plus, it was visually a great book to use. The photos (by Alan Richardson) are just lovely and made me wish every recipe had an accompanying photo.

I'm sure that some of you are poo-pooing the idea of using a slow cooker to make great meals. You've probably tried some recipe that involved frozen veggies and a can of soup and when it came out tasting like glue, you put your Crockpot back on the shelf and have ignored it ever since. Even the back of this book, with the tag line "Plug It In, Walk Away" contributes to the myth that you can just pour a bunch of stuff into a pot, leave it for 8 hours and expect a masterpiece. But Scicolone was a good job of disabusing this notion in her introduction:
Food that comes out of the pot can only be as good as the ingredients that go into it! ... Although it's tempting to just toss ingredients into the cooker and take off, browning the meats or sauteing the onions or garlic before slow cooking often means the difference between delicious and dull.
The proof of a cookbook, though, is in the tasting of the pudding, of course. So let me answer some questions:

Were the recipes easy to follow?
Yes. The photos (where available) helped, but I generally found the recipes easy to follow. Now, the caveat for me is that I tend to view recipes as guidelines rather than strict instructions. I'd rather learn a new technique or style rather than dogmatically following along. The exception to this is baking, which I view as a science more than an art, but generally I felt free to play with these recipes and make them my own.

Were the ingredients and equipment easy to find?
There were a few ingredients that I wasn't familiar with but Scicolone was pretty good about proposing alternatives. The only section that posed some difficulty was desserts, where I had a heck of a time finding cake pan small enough to fit into my slow cooker. And finding a spring form pan that small was even worse!

By the way, I used a 4-quart Cuisinart slow cooker we got from Crate & Barrel. I love it! We also own a much older 2-quart Crockpot, inherited from my in-law's. I've used both with much success. The trick, though, is in adjusting heat and cooking times, as the older pots usually cook at a much lower temperature.

If you don't already own a slow cooker, the first chapter of this book has tips on what to look for when buying one.

Okay, but the most important question of all: How was the food?
Generally good, but some misses.

Now, obviously, I didn't make every recipe in the book. I just made a few to get the feel of the book. One recipe that I was excited to try was the Butcher's Sauce, a pasta sauce made from several different kinds of meat. Sadly, mine turned out kind of bland. It had great texture and looked delicious, but the flavor was just lacking for me. But, next time I make it, I'll double the garlic, add some seasoning (the recipe only called for salt and pepper), and play with it until I get the taste I want. Because the technique for making this sauce was great, and one I will definitely use again.

I also made the very first recipe in the book, for Butternut Squash soup. Our produce CSA has been delivering at least one enormous squash every week this winter and I was running out of recipes to make them. So they started to pile up on our counter. I was thrilled to see this recipe. And the soup was delicious! It was smooth, creamy and rich - and there's no cream in it at all, using potato instead for thickener. Scicolone recommended serving with a drizzle of olive oil on top for an authentic taste. I tried it that way and it was good - but it was even better with a dollop of sour cream and some big, crispy croutons for texture. (So much for a healthy recipe!)

I didn't get the chance to make any of the desserts in this book, but the Cheesecake in particular looks amazing. I look forward to trying it.

What's the verdict?
The Italian Slow Cooker is a great cookbook for learning how to get the most out of your slow cooker. I definitely recommend it for anyone who has one, or is interested in getting one, and doesn't know what to do with it.

Buy The Italian Slow Cooker on Amazon.

Update: I've posted some recipes from The Italian Slow Cooker. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Architecture Links

The AIA announced the winners of the 2010 Honor Awards recently. Lots of usual suspects on the list (deservedly, I'm sure), including an interiors prize for the Cathedral of Christ the Light by SOM. I visited the Oakland Cathedral soon after it opened and thought it was quite lovely.

So, have you seen Unhappy Hipsters yet? For those who haven't - they post photos from Dwell magazine with commentary on how unhappy everyone looks in their modern masterpiece.

Another snooze-fest of a church at Arch Daily: Parish Church of St Luke the Evangelist by Roman Vukoja & Robert Kriznjak. Okay, okay. Its actually lovely. But why do 90% of the modern churches I see these days look the same?

This is more urban design than architecture but its cool: Dial4Light: Turning Street Lights On Via Mobile Phone.

And at the intersection of books and architecture, this structural book stack from There I Fixed It.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Art & Links

Here's some cool book art by Mike Stilkey I saw on Shelf Awareness some time ago -

More at This Blog Rules.

This calls itself a bookshelf, but I'm not really sure how well it would work. Maybe its for people who put, like, three books and a bunch of knick-knacks on their shelves. My shelves are full, y'all. No way a fishnet is going to hold my collection. [via Design Milk]

Oh, I love The Onion. This headline says it all: Watching Faces Of Students As They Finish 'The Lottery' Highlight Of English Teacher's Year

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 2/9

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
From Maynard and Jennica by Rudolph Delson:
"You can't let David be your lawyer, Arnie. Why do you think he's going to do a better job with keeping you out of jail than he did with advising you on that contract?"

Monday, February 8, 2010

Review: Hatrack River: The Tales of Alvin Maker, Part One (Seventh Son, Red Prophet, Prentice Alvin)

Hatrack River is a collection of the first three books of Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series. The series is set in an alternate Colonial-era North America, where familiar historical figures (Ben Franklin, William "Tippecanoe" Harrison, poet William Blake) show up as alternate versions of themselves. In this world, many people have a "knack," an ability to do some task beyond normal ability, and folk superstition is real.

Seventh Son: The Tales of Alvin Maker, Volume I: In this book, Alvin is born, the seventh son of a seventh son, as his family heads to the frontier (what is today Indiana). He has a great power, beyond even most knacks. He has enemies, both human - the Rev. Thrower - and the supernatural - the Unmaker, who tries to kill him at every turn. But he also has allies, including Taleswapper (William Blake) and the "torch" Peggy, who assisted at his birth.

My Thoughts
I really liked being introduced to this world. It was interesting to read about people and events that are like what I know, but not quite, and the plot was fun to read. Altogether, I really enjoyed reading Seventh Son and looked forward to reading the next chapter in Alvin's life.

Red Prophet: The Tales of Alvin Maker, Volume II: Alvin Miller heals a one-eyed "Red" of his painful memories, allowing the "Red" to become "the Prophet," Tenskwa-Tawa, who preaches pacifism and believes that "Reds" should live west of the Mississippi and "Whites" should live east of it. His brother, though, Ta-Kumsaw, rallies "Reds" behind his belief that their land should be defended violently. Alvin and his brother Measure get caught up in the middle of it when they are kidnapped by William Harrison to provoke war.

My Thoughts
As I said, I was really looking forward to this book. Unfortunately, I was somewhat disappointed by Red Prophet. I didn't mind that so much of the story focused away from Alvin or that this a serious, sad story, but I did mind how heavy-handed much of it was. It was not nearly as compelling a book to read as Seventh Son. Still, it was interesting enough to keep me wanting to read the next book in the series.

Prentice Alvin: The Tales of Alvin Maker, Volume III: Alvin has returned to the town of his birth to become the blacksmith's apprentice. But he must also learn the difficult arts of a maker and hopes that Peggy, the torch, can help him. But Peggy leaves before Alvin arrives to find her own way. Alvin, though, befriends young half-black Arthur Stuart, the son of a slave and a slave-owner, who has been adopted by the owners of the local guesthouse.

My Thoughts
This was a difficult read. The part of the story that covers Arthur's personal history is horrifying and makes for some very uncomfortable passages. But it's worth bracing yourself to read. The book is thought-provoking and powerful. Seeing Alvin come into his own was interesting and as Peggy develops into her own, the story opens up more, which I liked.

Overall, I'm glad I read these three books. Card has created a fascinating world so much like our own but yet so different. I highly recommend Seventh Son to readers of all ages, and think that teens and adults will appreciate the others.

I'm not entirely sure, though, that I feel compelled to seek out the rest of the books in the series. From what I've read about the rest of the sequels, it seems like the series devolves into a bit of a Mormon-lore inspired fantasy that verges on preachy. (Then again, would anyone say that if they didn't know about Card's faith?) If any of you have read them and think I should continue with the series, please comment - I'd love to get your opinion.

Buy Hatrack River: The Tales of Alvin Maker, Part One on Amazon. Or find the books individually:
Seventh Son
Red Prophet
Prentice Alvin

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Update 2/5

Every Friday, I update my library and share what new books I bought or received during the past week.

Last week, I received a new cookbook, The Italian Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone. It's the first cookbook I'll be reviewing, but I was really intrigued by it - two of my favorite cooking styles are slow cookers and Italian food.

I finally gave in to temptation this week and bought a book I've had my eye on since it was in hardcover: Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

On an impulse, I also bought a book that caught my eye in the bookstore, Maynard and Jennica by Rudolph Delson. When I brought it up to the counter to pay, the clerk told me he was pleased I was buying it - the author was a friend of his. I hope I end up liking it!

On a non-book note, the Oscar nominations came out this week. The Academy expanded the Best Picture list to ten films - which means that I have actually seen - and even reviewed - more than one of them! (Movies I've seen are in bold starred.)

“The Blind Side”
“District 9″*
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up in the Air”*

I honestly have no interest in seeing “Inglourious Basterds” but I'll be doing my best to see the rest before the Oscars are handed out. Which one should I start with?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Architecture Links

I'm trying to get back into the habit of writing about architecture at least once a week. I was going through a rough patch at work that not want to think any more about architecture than I had to, to be honest, but I am feeling better and have gotten back in the groove of thinking about it.

Arch Daily has started a new section of their blog devoted to architecture publications. Looks like there will be some interesting stuff going on there.

You may not be aware, but at the end of last year, Switzerland voted to ban the construction of new minarets (Wikipedia has the whole story.) The response was, as you can imagine, pretty dramatic. Here's one little story: When the Swiss Voted to Ban New Minarets, This Man Built One [Via Archinect]

Speaking of Arch Daily, I read an article about St. Benedikt Chapel by Kunze Seeholzer. I just love private little chapels. And this one is particularly lovely.

I'm posting this house - Villa Dali, by 123DV Architecture and seen on Design Milk - because I like it and I think my husband will, too.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Flashlight Worthy's Best YA of 2009

I got an email from Peter of Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations yesterday:
Hello from Flashlight Worthy Book Recommendations -- where you can find books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. ;-)

While my site has over 300 lists of great books, my collection of the Best Young Adult Books & Teen Fiction is... well, let's just say it's lacking.

So... I asked over a dozen of my favorite YA Book Bloggers to put together a collaborative list of the Best Young Adult Books of 2009. I'm happy to report that they wrote up more than a dozen excellent titles. Take a look. I hope you find some books you've never heard of and if you've read all of those books, then get in touch. You read so much that you should write a list for Flashlight Worthy!
This isn't something I'd normally post here (especially when I imagine so many other bloggers will be posting it as well), but the bloggers participating are pretty much all ones I read and trust (including Lenore, Nymeth, Doret, just to name a few) so I thought it was worth sharing.

Scene of the Blog

Today, at Kittling Books, I am the featured blogger for Cathy's Scene of the Blog series. So go on over and learn more about me and where I blog! Edited to add the link:Scene of the Blog Featuring Lorin of Arch Thinking!

For those of you visiting here from there, welcome! My name is Lorin. I'm an architect and I love to read, so I talk about both of those subjects (and more) here at arch thinking. Please look around and let me know if you have any questions. I always love to hear from readers and other bloggers.

Currently, I am running a giveaway for Year of the Horse by Justin Allen. Please enter!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Teaser Tuesday 2/2

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • Share the title & author, too, so that others can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser!
My teaser today is from the third book in Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series, Prentice Alvin. Last week, my teaser was from the first book in this series, Seventh Son. Usually I'm pretty good about following the rules and just including two sentences, but today I'm expanding my quote a little bit.
Next spring he'd be free. No slave in the South ever knew such a thing: nary such a hope would ever enter their heads. Alvin had thought on that often enough over the years, when he was feeling most put upon; he'd think, if they can keep on living and working, having no hope of freedom, then I can hold out for another five years, three years, one year, knowing that it'll come to an end someday.

Enter my current giveaway here: Year of the Horse by Justin Allen

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Unsung YA Hero Giveaway: Year of the Horse

Last week, Kelly of YAnnabe got a whole crowd of bloggers to Sing the Praises of the Unsung and blog about their favorite YA books no one has read. At the top of my list (in both obscurity and enjoyment) was The Year of the Horse by Justin Allen.

Here's what Publisher's Weekly had to say about this book:
Allen ... plots a supernatural wild west adventure in his sophomore outing that should hold appeal for younger readers. Chinese-American teenager Tzu-lu finds his life upended when his grandparents send him on an expedition west with famous gunslinger Jack Straw and his rag-tag crew of mercenaries. Exploring anew the tropes of the cowboy western—Indians, polygamous cultists, Ghost Riders and the perils of the open desert—Allen follows the gang to Silver City, the very edge of settled America, to reclaim a treasure stolen by a mysterious man known as the Yankee, and perhaps illuminate the fate of Tzu-lu's dead father. With a few playful nods to Washington Irving, Allen mixes western and fantasy into a high adventure coming-of-age, keeping his world's more outrĂ© elements grounded with a surfeit of dead-on historical details.
Even though I never read Westerns, I really liked this book. It wasn't perfect, but it was fun. I was pleasantly surprised when I read Year of the Horse that a book so far out of my comfort zone could be so enjoyable.

Since then, I've reviewed Year of the Horse and had a really, really long interview with author Justin Allen. I've lent this book out to friends and family, all of whom have enjoyed it. Sadly, though, this hasn't seemed to have made much of an impact out in the larger world. But this is one of those book I'm not just going to put up on a shelf and forget about. I want some of you to read it and find out for yourselves how much fun it is. So, thanks to Justin's generosity, I'm giving away two autographed copies of The Year of the Horse!

The contest is open worldwide. To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite book you'd never thought you'd like. You can earn an additional entry by blogging or tweeting this contest. Please let me know you have done so, by leaving a link, in a separate comment. The contest will close Friday, February 12 Monday, February 15 at 4 pm, Pacific Time. I'll announce the winners the following week. Please email me with any questions and good luck!