Friday, August 29, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Chocolate!

This summer, one of my sisters has been sending me monthly installments of coffee and chocolate from Seattle (Kevin drinks the coffee, I eat the chocolate.) Is she a good sister or what?

Some of the flavors have been *so* interesting, I had to share them here. Check it out:

First came the Cowgirl Chocolates.
Spicy Dark Lime Tequila, and Spicy Milk Chocolate Mint. And they aren't joking when they say "spicy." Whew!

Then came a couple installments of 3400 Phinney Bars.

Coconut Curry (yowza!)

Chai (yummy with tea or coffee)

Bread & Chocolate (this dark chocolate bar actually has tiny toasted pieces of salted french bread in it...deeelicious)

And I'm usually more of a dark chocolate than milk chocolate kind of girl, and hazelnut is not my favorite flavoring, but the Hazelnut Crunch is ridiculously good. It's like the hazelnut bits have been dipped in toffee and toasted to perfection. Mmmm.

Now don't you wish your sister lived in Seattle, too?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Airborne Toxic Event: Sometime Around Midnight

I guess I haven't been over to KCRW in a long while, because they have a brand new In Studio on Morning Becomes Eclectic page that I didn't even know about. You can watch videos of "the best of the best" live moments from Morning Becomes Eclectic. Pretty cool.

While there, I came across a great live performance of "Sometime Around Midnight" by The Airborne Toxic Event. I love the lush texture of the violins and the way the song slowly builds itself into a controlled frenzy.

I can't find a way to post that particular KCRW video here, but if you go to the In Studio page, it should be 2nd or so on the list (at least it is today).

I did find a way cool acoustic version on YouTube, though.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Brothers in Hope: Mary Williams

I cannot imagine a more difficult subject for a children's book than the current genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. But in Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, author Mary Williams and illustrator R. Gregory Christie manage to tackle the difficult subject with grace, poignancy, and hope.

In the late 1980's, over 40,000 boys from the ages of 4-15 were orphaned by the civil war that is still going on in Sudan. These boys banded together, organized themselves into groups, and walked 1000 miles to a refugee camp in Kenya. Over 3000 of them now live in the United States.

It's a story that is almost too much to bear, but Mary Williams and R. Gregory Christie do a beautiful job of focusing on themes of strength and hope without diminishing the intensity and gravity of the situation.

It's the details in this book that bring the story to life. The toys the Lost Boys made out of mud to amuse themselves. The urine they had to drink to stay alive. There is a page that talks about how the boys held hands at night to make sure they didn't lose anyone. The illustration shows an endless line of boys, each holding one hand in front of them and one hand behind them. It took my breath away.

Brothers in Hope is the kind of book that will generate lots of interesting, difficult, and rewarding discussion. It deals with war, losing your family, starvation, struggle. But it also deals with strength, hope, determination, and love. With a caring adult willing to answer questions, I think most children will find this book fascinating and inspiring.

For more information on Darfur and what you can do to help, please visit:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Flowers for the Florist

I wanted a chuckle this morning, so I went to my old standby. I have to say, this one has a bit of a cruel tinge to it, but it cracked me up nonetheless. I liked the first guy's reaction best.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Robert Plant: A Birthday Trio

Today is Robert Plant's 60th birthday! And since his is one of my favorite voices of the last century, I couldn't resist posting a few fun videos.

First, a pretty hilarious British TV interview with Robert Plant and John Bonham from 1970, documenting the monumental moment when Led Zeppelin knocked The Beatles out of the number one spot on the charts:

Here is Robert Plant singing one of my very favorite Led Zeppelin songs, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You. I love the way that band took the blues and just went nuts with it, and the vocals on this song are just gut wrenching:

Flashing forward to the new millenium and switching one or two gears, here is Robert Plant and Alison Krauss singing Please Read the Letter:

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cynthia Lord's Summer Blog Reruns

This summer, author Cynthia Lord has been going through some of the blog posts she wrote back when she was in the process of writing Rules. Before it was published. Before it won the Newbery Honor. Before it swept reader's choice awards across the country.

If you have ever been curious about how a writer's mind works while working on a novel, these "summer reruns" are fascinating reading.

If you are a writer, you're bound to pick up some tips and inspiration.

And, most especially, if you're a fan of Rules, it's a real treat to get a special in-the-moment glimpse of Ms. Lord's processes, struggles, and triumphs during the book's creation.

Here are some of the recent highlights:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Sarvodaya

My friend Michael has done something extraordinary: he's committed himself to traveling around the world for nine months, "visualizing social change." And, happily for the rest of us, he's started a blog where he will post pictures and thoughts during the journey.

His first few posts have been about Sri Lanka, where he is documenting the work of Dr. Ariyaratne, the founder of Sarvodaya.

Sarvodaya began 50 years ago as a small group of volunteers dedicated to helping rural villages organize and work together to improve their living conditions. They helped communities join together to build roads and dig wells. And through the hard work and collaboration, the communities and individuals themselves grew stronger. Today, Sarvodaya has served over 15,000 villages, helping them create and bring improvements like clean water, libraries, health centers, and peace into their lives.

In his blog, Michael writes,
As I travel and work with Sarvodaya, I am blown away by the scale of what they have been able to achieve with modest means...I am humbled by how comprehensive, how holistic, Sarvodaya's approach is to their work. They create a family where those who otherwise fall through cracks of society find a home.
To learn more about Sarvodaya, or to find out how you can get involved, please visit their website.

Here is a video about Sarvodaya's work (8 minutes):

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Clare and the Reasons: Pluto

Over at The Cinnamon Rabbit last week, talented illustrator Julia Denos recommended some music. And whenever Julia Denos recommends music, I listen. It's certain to be something charming and ethereal.

And of course, I wasn't let down. Clare and the Reasons are the epitome of charming and ethereal. Especially Pluto, the first song off their debut album, The Movie.

I listened to this song the first time, and was taken with the playful arrangement and Clare Muldaur's light, mischievous voice. It's similar in tone and style to Nina Persson from The Cardigans (which, if you ask me, is *always* a good thing).

Then I listened to the lyrics. Who would have thought someone could (or would) write a smart, witty, and truly catchy song about Pluto losing it's planet status? (Ok, They Might Be Giants could do it in their sleep, but who else?)

I'm in love with the line, "Cheer up, Pluto, the stars still want you and we down here do too."

Then I saw the video. Quirky, goofy, and ridiculously fun. And that's when I got addicted. I've had the song in my head for a week. Thanks, Cinnamon Rabbit!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Eudora Welty on Charlotte's Web

I'm reading a book right now called The Eye of the Story, a collection of essays and reviews by the master short story writer, Eudora Welty.

Because of the title, I expected the book to be mostly about writing, but I was surprised and pleased to find a whole section of Eudora Welty's reviews of books that were popular or new at the time. Including books by Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and the most pleasant surprise (for me, anyway), a review of E. B. White's Charlotte's Web, the year it came out. She says:
"What the book is about is friendship on earth, love and affection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, night and day and the seasons. As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and perfectly effortless and magical, as far as I can see, in the doing."
Classic works like Charlotte's Web are such an ingrained part of our literature and culture, that we almost take them for granted. I can sometimes forget that a book like that was actually created by someone, published by someone, and reviewed by someone in real-time. It can seem like it just popped right out of thin air, fully formed and beautiful.

So I had a lot of fun reading this review and imagining what it might have been like opening the book for the very first time, before you had seen the movie (animated or live action), or heard the story, or seen the book on somebody else's shelf.

And it makes you think...what is coming out now, this very moment, that will someday be treated as an old classic that has been around forever, well-loved, and taken for granted?

You can read a short version of Eudora Welty's review of Charlotte's Web at the New York Times (includes an audio clip of E. B. White reading from the book).

You can read all kinds of interesting articles and reviews on Eudora Welty's Featured Author Page also at the New York Times (includes audio of Ms. Welty reading some of her short stories).

Friday, August 8, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Broken Angels

Ok, at the risk of being a total fangirl I'm posting two So You Think You Can Dance posts in one week. The finale was last night, it was spectacular, my favorite dancer won, so a little celebration/indulgence of sorts is in order, right? Hey, what else are obsessions for? Or blogs, for that matter.

So this is the first season of So You Think that I've watched, and one of my favorite things about the show was the group performances. The diversity of choreography on the show is unreal and so much fun. It's hard to say, but I think the Broken Angels piece by Mia Michaels was my very favorite.

So here's a behind-the-scenes interview with Mia Michaels about the piece:

Here's the piece:

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Season Finale!

So remember how I have these wicked Ticketmaster gift cards burning a hole in my pocket? Well, Kevin and I finally made our decision. Turns out, I had enough for two shows. So first, we're going to see my girl Sam Phillips.

And then...we're going to see our latest obsession live...woohoo!

Don't judge, ok? :) Season finale tonight!

I loved this one:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Michael Pollan: The Omnivore's Dilemma

On our recent road trip, Kevin and I listened to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma on audiobook. Our farmer friends recommended it, oh, two whole years ago, so we finally decided to pick it up.

Now, this is a long audiobook for a single car trip. 13 discs. 15 hours and 58 minutes of super-detailed nonfiction. I wasn't sure I could handle it. But Michael Pollan's prose is engaging, and his subject matter completely absorbing. I was hooked.

Essentially, The Omnivore's Dilemma is about food. More specifically, about how the food we eat ends up on our plate. As omnivores, Pollan argues, we can eat anything we want (not, say, like a Koala who only eats eucalyptus leaves). So how do we decide what we eat? Or do we think about it at all?

What follows is an in-depth exploration of our major food systems: industrial agriculture, organic industrial agriculture, sustainable "beyond-organic" agriculture, and traditional hunting and gathering. Pollan somehow manages to engage the topic of food production in a manner that is page-turning, riveting, non-judgmental, and at the risk of sounding too dramatic, potentially life-changing.

Kevin and I had the added benefit of live illustrations, of course. For the entire first quarter of the book, as Pollan writes about the subsidized, overblown, unsustainable process of creating cheap, plentiful corn, we were driving past miles and miles of lush, green cornfields. During the hunting and gathering section, we had just driven through wooded areas filled with deer and fox and mushrooms. It was a pretty stunning experience all around.

I will admit, Michael Pollan ruined some things for me. I had (mostly) given up industrial meat after Fast Food Nation, so that wasn't a big surprise. The Omnivore's Dilemma just confirmed the fact I'll be eating meat from places like our local Wolfe's Neck Farm or none at all. But I will never be able to look at a cornfield the same way again. Or a box of breakfast cereal. I'm sure that I will still eat cereal (maybe). But at least now I will know how it's made. And that it's pretty much just made of corn, corn oil, corn syrup, corn starch. Corn from fields that are overproduced, overfertilized, and oversubsidized by farmers who are, quite simply, underpaid.

Michael Pollan suggests that it will take nothing less than a grass-roots revolution to change some of the disastrous ways we are producing food. And that can be a daunting, depressing thought. To think of the ways that in the current system the economically poor often only have access to the most unhealthy, most industrially produced food; to think of the big-money corporations who are pushing systems that are of great expense to the land, animals, and the people. It's depressing.

But, strangely, I didn't come away from The Omnivores Dilemma depressed. Instead, I even felt a little empowered. There are things I can do. I can support local agriculture. I can vote with my dollars. I can buy fewer items in those center (corn-filled) aisles of my grocery store. Sure, I'm just one person. And sure, those are small acts. But revolutions begin with individuals and small acts. That's why they work.

Here are some interesting links:

Read the introduction and first chapter (.pdf) of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Find local, sustainable, organic food in your area.

Read the New York Times Review of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Read Michael Pollan's articles on related topics (from New York Times Magazine):
The Modern Hunter-Gatherer
Power Steer
An Animal's Place

Friday, August 1, 2008

Grab Bag Friday: Fresh Tomato and Zucchini Tart with Mozzarella and Basil

Photo by jpmatth.

Looking for something new to do with all the fresh summer squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and basil that are starting to brighten up gardens, farmer's markets, farm shares, and grocery stores this summer? Well, at least in New England they're "starting"...I'm sure in other places you're way ahead of us. :)

I found this great recipe in Cooking Light a couple years back, and it's great for a summer evening when you don't really feel like cooking. All you have to do is chop, arrange, and drizzle. It's kind of like a pizza, but fancier.

Fresh Tomato and Zucchini Tart with Mozzarella and Basil

1 tb. cornmeal
1 (10-ounce) can refrigerated pizza crust dough (choose whole wheat to make a really healthy meal, or make your own if you like!)
1 cup (1/8 inch thick) diagonally sliced zucchini (and/or summer squash)
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch-thick slices (or use baby tomatoes, sliced in half & seeded)
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
4 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced (or the pre-shredded bag of mozzarella works just fine)
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup torn fresh basil leaves (this makes it!)

Preheat oven to 400.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use a pizza stone). Sprinkle the paper or stone with cornmeal. Unroll dough onto paper; let stand 5 minutes. Pat dough into a 12-inch square. Arrange vegetables (except basil) over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper. Fold edges of dough over zucchini and tomato (dough won't completely cover the veggies).

Bake at 400 for 15 minutes or until the dough is lightly browned. Top with cheese; bake 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with basil. Cool on baking sheet 10 minutes on a wire rack.

Yield: 4 servings