I’m Still Alive!!!!!!

Tap, tap…is thing on?! I know it has been quite some time since I last posted, but I’m finally breaking radio silence to share some good news with you all–I’m still here!!!! SO MANY LIFE THINGS have happened since I last posted…in June. In fact, I was in the process of finishing a post for one of those things in August when Wilhelm broke my laptop. I wish I was kidding…he’s lucky he’s so gosh darn cute!

He's lucky he's so gosh darn cute!

I hope to update soon on some of these life events that have been keeping me busy: my PhD defense, my engagement, a trip to Germany, a cross country move, and a new job (!)…to name a few. It’s been fabulous. It’s been incredible. It’s been exhausting.

I’ve been keeping up with all your blogs (even if I’ve been terrible about commenting) and am excited to be back!

Greek-Lemon Chicken Soup

Hello World!!!!  I’m in the middle of writing my Ph.D. thesis, and fully expect the sporadic posting schedule to continue. However, I have grown to enjoy the convenience of having my favorite recipes available to me in one location whenever I want them (or whenever I have WiFi access), so I’m popping in quickly on this Friday to add another entry in my online recipe book.

This soup, which is known as Avgolemono in Greek, has quickly become a new favorite lunch dish. I adapted this recipe from a couple of sources, and finally have it just the way I like it. I love that this soup is very similar to chicken noodle soup (which I love), but has orzo pasta and a nice tang from the lemon juice to give some variety!  Enjoy!

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Greek-Lemon Chicken Soup

Adapted from: Food Network & Good Housekeeping (February 2015)

Lemony-Greek Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

Base:

2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 qt. water

½ teaspoon poultry seasoning

2 large carrots, sliced

2 teaspoons salt (optional)

1 teaspoon ground pepper

Soup:

1 bunch green onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2/3 cup orzo pasta

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

2 large eggs

Instructions:

In a stock pot, boil base ingredients for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a separate pan over medium heat and add the onions. Cook the onions about 5 minutes, and then set aside.

When chicken is tender and cooked through, remove from broth and cut into 1 inch pieces and set aside. If the liquid has reduced too much you should add some more water at this point (I usually add about 1 quart of water).

After the chicken has been removed from the broth (and additional water added), set aside 2 cups of broth. Then, add the orzo pasta to the gently boiling broth and cook to al dente. Note: my box of orzo recommends under-cooking the orzo by 1-3 minutes since it will continue to cook in the soup after its “cooking” time.

While the orzo is cooking, beat the lemon juice and eggs together in a bowl. Pour the 2 cups of broth slowly into the bowl, whisking continuously. Once all the broth is incorporated, add the mixture into the pot. Finally, return the chicken to the pot and stir to blend well throughout. Serve hot.

 

Meet Wilhelm!

The time has come to reveal my best kept blog secret (not that its been difficult to keep since I have such a sporadic posting schedule)…I got a dog!!!!! Meet Wilhelm everyone!

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Wilhelm (we decided to keep the name his former owners had given him) is an almost 3 year old standard poodle. We adopted him from a couple who took new jobs and could no longer care for him, and he arrived the first week of March.

The first few days were exciting and surreal–I’ve always wanted a dog and couldn’t believe I finally had one (after all those years of waiting…thanks Dad! :P). It was strange and a little scary at first to realize that I was in charge of a living being. I got over that pretty quickly, but it was weird for a few days!

In the first few days that we had him, we got to experience lots of pet-parent “firsts,” such as the realization that the puppy needed to be groomed.

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However, he also had to be up-to-date on all of his shots before the groomer would accept him, so we took a trip to the vet!

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It was sort of weird to let them take my puppy away to go do all the medical things, but he was a such a trooper. After getting his shots (and some medicine for some other health issues), he was finally ready to head to the groomers!

Before (i.e. clueless, happy, no idea of what’s to come):

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After (i.e. “why did you leave me there?” and “I’m too pretty now to smile”):

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I loved the new look–he was so pretty and glossy and he smelled like a tangerine. And he was SO soft.🙂

Other than the grooming and health issues, we’ve been having a blast getting to know our new dog! We spend lots of time playing fetch:

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He also loved playing in the snow (although I for one am glad it’s gone!):

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Wilhelm is also always willing to “help” me exercise…

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…and take a nap with him when we are pooped at the end of the day!

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In general, Wilhelm is a super easy-going dog and as my sister says “always looks ready for anything.” He even takes baths somewhat willingly (although there is some initial hesitation when the water turns on). Bath time before:

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Bath time after:

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Clearly, we’ve learned a lot in the past two months. One thing we are still working on is how to photograph our really black dog with our crappy apartment lighting. Case in point:

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Upon viewing this picture my friend Kayla remarked: “It looks like he’s hugging a shadow!” Too true Kayla, too true.

Wilhelm, we love having you in our family now. You have so much energy and are so enthuastic–every day is an adventure!

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I couldn’t ask for a better first dog!

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Pumpkin Chili

So I know April is a little past prime pumpkin season for most people, but I like to eat it all year. I found this recipe a couple of months ago, and it has quickly become one of my favorite lunch go-to’s. It’s simple, tasty, and if you invest the 30 or so minutes it takes to make you will eat great for days!

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Pumpkin Chili

Adapted from: Fitness Magazine (January 2015)

Pumpkin Chili

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes

1 can of pure (100%) pumpkin

1 can of black beans

1/2 cup uncooked bulgur wheat

1 teaspoon dried chipotle pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tablespoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

2 1/2 cups water

Instructions:

In a large soup pot (or Dutch oven), heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Then, add the onion, garlic, and salt (optional). Stir occasionally and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft and translucent.

Next, add the tomatoes, pumpkin, beans, chipotle pepper, bulgur, cumin, black pepper, and water to the pot. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and stir again. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the bulgur is soft.

Notes:

Ideas for garnishing: avocado slices, plain greek yogurt, tortilla chips, and/or cilantro sprigs.

My 2015 Reading Challenges-Introduction and 1st Quarter Progress!

I usually like to publish this post in late December or early January, but that just didn’t happen this year. I’d considered scrapping it altogether (since this post is probably really only important to me) but decided against it since I like seeing the rationale behind each challenge I chose to tackle at the end of the year. So for 2015 I’m combining the “beginning of the year” post with a “first quarter” update. Better late than never!

Note: you can click here to track my progress toward these challenges throughout the year.

My 2015 Reading Challenges:

Challenge #1Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Books and Chocolate

backtotheclassics2015BUTTON

Why I’m joining:

A consistent reading goal of mine is to read more classic literature. I’ve participated in this challenge for the past two years now, and I’ve found it helps me hone and prioritize the classic literature I read every year. Obviously I’m not off to a great start in 2015, but I have plans to read a few good classic books soon!

Requirements to complete the challenge:

1.  A 19th Century Classic — any book published between 1800 and 1899.

2.  A 20th Century Classic — any book published between 1900 and 1965. 

3.  A Classic by a Woman Author.

4.  A Classic in Translation.

5.  A Very Long Classic Novel — a single work of 500 pages or longer, regular-sized print.  This does not include omnibus editions combined into one book, or short story collections. 

6.  A Classic Novella — any work shorter than 250 pages.  For a list of suggestions, check out this list of World’s Greatest Novellas from Goodreads.

7.  A Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title.

8.  A Humorous or Satirical Classic.

9.  A Forgotten Classic.  This could be a lesser-known work by a famous author, or a classic that nobody reads any more.  If you look on Goodreads, this book will most likely have less than 1000 ratings.

10.  A Nonfiction Classic.  A memoir, biography, essays, travel, this can be any nonfiction work that’s considered a classic, or a nonfiction work by a classic author.

11.  A Classic Children’s Book.

12.  A Classic Play.  Your choice, any classic play, as long as it was published or performed before 1965.

Challenge #2What’s in a Name, hosted by The Worm Hole

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Why I’m joining:

This will be my third time participating in this challenge. I love the idea of trying to plan my reading around words in the book’s title. It’s been fun the past two years, and I don’t expect this year to be any different!

Requirements to complete the challenge:

1. A word including ‘ing’ in it (The Time Of Singing, Dancing To The Flute, Lex Trent Fighting With Fire) My examples are verbs but you can of course use other words.

2. A color (The Red Queen, White Truffles In Winter, On Gold Mountain)

3. A familial relation (Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, Dombey And Son, My Cousin Rachel) By all means include in-laws, step, and halves.

4. A body of water (The River Of No Return, Black Lake, Beside The Sea)

5. A city (Barcelona Shadows, Shanghai Girls, Under The Tripoli Sky)

6. An animal: The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

Challenge #3Around the World in 12 Books, hosted by Giraffe Days

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Why I’m joining:

One reason I started this blog (nearly 3 years ago!) was to become a more well-rounded reader. I think reading books set in locations very different from my own is a large part of this package. Plus, I love “arm-chair traveling”–it’s a cheap and fascinating way to learn about the world!

Requirements to complete the challenge:

I am signing up for the “Seasoned Traveler” level, or I hope to read at least 12 books set in a different country (excluding the United States).

1. The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann (Sweden)

2. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (South Africa)

3. Three Junes by Julia Glass (Greece, Scotland, US)

4. The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness (England)

5. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (Italy, US, Scotland, England)

6. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (England)

7. Rick Steves’ Germany 2015 by Rick Steves (Germany)

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Challenge #4Books in Translation, hosted by The Introverted Reader

2015 Translation

Why I’m joining:

I read somewhere recently that only a small portion of books are translated into English and sold in the United States. Then, I looked through my own collection and was startled to realize how few of my books were actually translations to English–I always thought I had a pretty well-rounded collection! Therefore, I decided to make a concerted effort this year to read more books that were translated to English from the author’s native tongue.

Requirements to complete the challenge:

I am signing up for the “bilingual” level, or I hope to read 7-9 books translated to English from another language.

1. Ripper by Isabel Allende (translated from Spanish)

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Challenge #5The Eclectic Reader, hosted by Book’d Out

eclecticreader15

Why I’m joining:

I had a good time working through this challenge in 2014 and I came super close to completing it (if only I had found a graphic novel I wanted to read). I have high hopes for this year, and have a good idea of what I want to read for each category!

Requirements to complete the challenge:

1. Retellings The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

2. A book set in a country starting with the letter S: The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann (Sweden), Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (South Africa), Three Junes by Julia Glass (Scotland)

3. PI Crime (fiction featuring a private investigator)

4. A novel published before you were born

5. Contemporary romance

6. Fiction for foodies (fiction featuring food/food related business)

7. Microhistory (Non Fiction)

8. Science Fiction set in space

9. Sports (Fiction or Non fiction)

10. Featuring diversity: See Challenge #6 below!

11. Epistolary Fiction: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

12. Middle Grade/YA Adventure

Challenge #6Diversity on the Shelf, hosted by My Little Pocketbooks

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Why I’m joining:

I was looking for new challenges to try and this one quickly caught my eye. This is a statistic I’ve never tracked in my reading before, and I’m curious to see how many books featuring a person of color I will read this year!

Requirements to complete the challenge:

I am signing up for the “3rd shelf” level, or I hope to read 13-18 books that are written by or are about a person of color.

1. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

2. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

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Challenge #7Chunkster Challenge, hosted by Chunkster Reading Challenge

2015 Chunkster Challenge 2

Why I’m joining:

Two years ago I noticed I was shying away from long books in the pursuit of reading a larger number of books. This sort of made me sad because I had always prided myself on reading any book that interested me regardless of how long it was. So I joined this challenge last year, and ended up reading 13 “chunky” books! I have set my sights a bit lower this year since 2015 will likely be a busy year for me, but I’m still looking forward to reading some great long books!

Requirements to complete the challenge:

In this challenge, the goal is to read a book that is 450 pages or more. I will attempt to read 10 chunksters in 2015.

1. Ripper by Isabel Allende (496 pages)

2. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela (625 pages)

3. Rick Steves’ Germany 2015 by Rick Steves (1040 pages)

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Personal Reading Goals:

I will try to read 52 books in 2015. Of these 52 books, I’d like at least 10 to count toward finishing The Big Read List and/or 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.

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Well, there you have it! Hopefully I didn’t set my sights too high this year!!!!

Sesame Peanut Noodles

Woo–my first recipe post of 2015!!!! I actually hadn’t planned to do a recipe post this week, but I’ve fallen into some bad habits with my recipe posting cycle. It usually goes a little something like this: 1) make a new dish, usually add a few tweaks, 2) take picture of said creation and make big plans for a forthcoming post, and finally 3) get busy/lazy and forget the tweaks I made to the recipe when (or if) I finally finish the post. In short, it’s not a very efficient system.

I was reminded of this cycle of inefficiency as I was making this noodle dish the past weekend. I’ve made it a couple of times before and decided to tweak the original recipe. I really liked the changes I made and didn’t want to forget them, so I decided to get this post done ASAP! So here it is world!

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Sesame Peanut Noodles

Adapted from: Good Housekeeping

Sesame Peanut Noodles

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked chicken

*~1 pound Rice Noodles (I used a 14 oz box)

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced.

1 large Kirby cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into half-moons (optional)

peanut sauce

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1/4 cup lower-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Dash of crushed red pepper (optional)

~1/2 cup water

garnish

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Sriracha (hot chili sauce)

*See notes at the end of the recipe

Instructions:

Heat large covered pot of salted water to boiling on high. Cook pasta as label directs.

In a large bowl, whisk together peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, a dash of crushed red pepper (if desired), and about 1/2 cup of water. Note: To avoid making the sauce too thin, I add the water in stages to achieve the desired viscosity level. The exact amount of water I use varies–sometimes more, sometimes less than 1/2 cup. The result should be a smooth, easily stir-able sauce that is not too thin or too viscous. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet. Add garlic, onion, and red pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft. Stir in the cooked chicken and warm for 3-5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and add the peanut sauce. Warm for about 5 minutes.

Finally, the add pasta and cucumber to the skillet. Toss until well coated. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with Sriracha, if desired.

Notes:

1) The original recipe calls for spaghetti noodles, but I prefer rice noodles in this dish. Obviously this is a personal preference, so use whatever noodles make you happy.🙂  

2) We only had an orange bell pepper on hand the day I took this picture. It works just as well as a red one!

2014: A Year in Reading

I’ve finally finished my yearly reading stats post! As I’ve done in previous years, I also attempted to choose my favorite books from the year (it’s always so hard!)! Overall, I’m really pleased with the amount and variety of books I read in 2014. I’ve made an increasing effort over the past several years to diversify my reading selections, and I think the reading stats are starting to show that.

If you’re curious, you can click the following links to see how 2014 compares to previous years: 2012 & 2013.

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Reading Stats for 2014:

Number of books read: 59

Number of paperback/hardcover: 29

Number of e-books: 1

Number of audiobooks: 30

Number of fiction: 47

Number of non-fiction: 12

Average Rating (out of 5 points): 3.78

Most books read in one month: 7 books in January, May and August

Longest book read: A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin at 784 e-book pages (1060 paperback)

Longest audio book listened to:  Dangerous Women edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois: 32 hours and 49 minutes (800 hardcover pages)

Female author : male author: 35 : 24 (note I have left off an anthology which featured selections from both male and female authors)

Total number of books read that were NOT set in the United States: 25

Total number of unique countries read: 11 (United States, Canada, Spain, Chile, United Kingdom, Nigeria, India, Australia, China, France, and Democratic Republic of the Congo)

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I still can’t believe I read 59 books last year…that just doesn’t seem possible! I’m also very happy with the number of non-fiction books I read (12!?)…I think this is the most I’ve ever read in one year. In 2015 I will be participating in challenges that will encourage me to read both books in translation and books set in countries that are not the US, so hopefully I’ll have more than 11 different countries to report!

In addition to collecting the stats, I also reflected on all the books I read and attempted to choose some favorites. It’s always hard to pick the absolute favorite, so I listed some runners up as well.

Best Fiction Book: Middlemarch by George Eliot

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Choosing a fiction book was so, so hard this year, but this epic, wise, and very entertaining novel is the clear winner in my mind. I definitely plan to re-read this novel and more George Eliot in general in the future.

Runners up: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Best Non-Fiction Book: Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

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Just ask my (long-suffering) boyfriend…I’m STILL talking about this book. I was already familiar with some of the facts Moss described in this book, but learning more about the science of taste (and how much time and money the processed food industry has invested to both acquire and exploit this knowledge) has forever changed the way I eat and think about eating in general. It’s not that I think the giant food companies are inherently evil or that I will never eat processed food again…but lets just say I go much farther out of my way to find an alternative than I did before reading this book.

This book is eye-opening, interesting, and totally worth your time if you have access to a copy.

Runners up: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Best Audio Book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

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I absolutely loved this book, and the fact that it was read by Cheryl Strayed herself.

Runners up: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

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Next up will be my 2015 reading challenges…and then I’ll be all caught up(ish)!!!

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