Thursday Thoughts 37.0: June Recap

Is it Mid-July already? Sounds like the perfect time to recap the things that happened in my life during the month of June! Or something like that…

It’s getting harder and harder to stick to any sort of regular posting schedule. Lately I have been successful at getting one post a week out, and that’s good enough for right now. Life as a graduate student is very busy, and as I enter the homestretch (or rather the pre-homestretch) I only expect it to get more crazy. But I enjoy blogging so I’ll keep at it, even if it’s at a slower pace then I would like.

***

[1]

I read 6 books in June and am very satisfied with that number! In fact, I’m doing so well this year that I will probably exceed my yearly goal of reading 35 books in a month of so. What I REALLY need to work on is actually reviewing books.

Books read:

1. My Antonia by Willa Cather

2. Divergent by Veronica Roth

3. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

4. The Longest Road by Philip Caputo

5. Allegiant by Veronica Roth

6. World War Z by Max Brooks

[2]

Remember in my May recap I said “any miles are better than no miles?” Let’s pretend I said that for the first time this month.

June

49 miles isn’t too shabby really. Especially when you consider I was a) traveling for the first week of the month, b) hosting my sister for the some of the second week of the month, and c) “down-for-the-count” due to my allergies for the last week of the month. When I look at it that way, I’m actually surprised I got as many in as I did!

[3]

Fun things I did in June:

*Note: I did A LOT of fun things in June. However, I did not take take a lot of pictures (other than the Canada trip). Alas.

1) Traveled to beautiful British Columbia, CA:

K and I traveled to Kelowna, BC for both vacation and the opportunity for me to meet his extended family. After a tense trip in (thanks a lot thunderstorms!), we were greeted at the airport by K’s grandparents. They hosted us the whole week we were there and we are so grateful for the wonderful hospitality.

We spent most of the first day relaxing…and with this wonderful view of the Okanagan valley how could we not?!

IMG_1499

The next day cousin Cathy arrived, and a group of us decided to tour a few (of the many) wineries in the area. Our first stop was Mission Hill Winery. We stopped here first because all of K’s relatives told us we had to visit this winery for the view and the architecture. It definitely lived up to all the hype!

IMG_1501

IMG_1502

IMG_1504

We also took a guided tour of the winery, which included a trip down to the barrel cellar.

IMG_1509

IMG_1515-edited

After Mission Hill, we also stopped at Quail’s Gate winery for some tastings (sorry no pictures from this one).

The next day, we took a day trip up to the Mica Dam. The drive up to the dam was so beautiful, and we had good time stopping along the road for pictures and short side trips. The first stop on our journey was a visit to The Last Spike, which is the location where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was placed in 1885.

IMG_1523

SONY DSC

Since the actual spike isn’t marked (and according to Wikipedia isn’t actually there anymore 😦 ) I don’t have a picture of it.

Our next stop was in the beautiful town of Revelstoke for lunch. It is a very cute town, and we had a nice time walking around and checking out all the shops.

IMG_1528

IMG_1530

After leaving Revelstoke, we did the rest of the drive up to the Mica dam. The journey up to the dam is one of the most beautiful and most isolated trips I’ve ever taken. When I’ve done other “scenic” drives, it seems as though everyone else has the same idea and there is lots of traffic. Not the case with this drive. As you can see in the pictures below you could stand out in the middle of the road and take pictures without fearing you would be mowed over by traffic.

SONY DSC

The road up to the dam winds along the Columbia river. As if the mountains weren’t pretty enough on their own, the addition of the river lead to some fabulous views.

SONY DSC

IMG_1574

Eventually we made it to the Dam. What a view!

IMG_1563

On the way home, we stopped in Revelstoke again for dinner. If you are ever in the area and are in the mood for a restaurant that features both German and Indian cuisine (I know, I never thought I’d see those two paired together either) then you should check out the restaurant we ate at: Paramjit’s Kitchen.

The next day, more extended family arrived in town. So, we spent the next few days catching up (or getting to know them in my case):

SONY DSC

I spent most of my time losing at card games

SONY DSC

The whole gang

On our last night in Canada, we took a trip down to the waterfront in downtown Kelowna. As is evident by now, the whole region is very scenic (mountains! water!), and the city of Kelowna has definitely made the most of this in their downtown waterfront. It features a nice walking path, beautiful flower gardens, and some interesting sculpture art. We arrived just before sunset, and enjoyed a nice, leisurely walk.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Along our walk we came upon a sculpture for Lake Okanagan’s very own sea monster: Ogopogo.

SONY DSC

Nessie’s got nothing on you, Ogopogo!

Sadly, we didn’t have any sightings of the actual Ogopogo. But as everyone knows, sea monsters are notoriously fickle.

Overall, we had a great trip. Thanks for being an awesome travel partner K!

 SONY DSC

2) Had a visit from my favorite (and only) sister:

Right after I got back from Canada, I had a visit from my sister, Jen. We had a nice (but too short) visit. On her last full day in Chicago, we met up with Tanya to take the River North Food Tour. The tour features five tastings at local eateries, and short walking tour.

We began the tour at the historic Merchandise Mart, and then walked to Doughnut Vault for our first tasting.

 photo

photo(1)

mmmmm

I can honestly say this is one of the best doughnuts I’ve ever had. I’d definitely recommend checking this place out if you are ever in the Chicago-land area. However, they are cash only and are only open until they sell out. Get there early!

The next two stops on the tour were Lou Malnati’s pizza (a Chicago-area staple), and Rick Bayless’s Xoco. Lou Malnati’s was delicious as always, and I LOVED the tasting we had at Xoco. Admittedly I had never heard of Rick Bayless before moving to Chicago, but I’ve been a fan of his food (or specifically Tortas Frontera…the only one I’ve been to) since my first torta.

After Xoco, we walked to Carson’s for some Ribs:

photo(2)

While I will always probably be partial to Kansas City barbeque, I must say these were pretty darn good! Plus, we got to wear these super snazzy bibs:

photo(3)

Aren’t those bibs attractive? 😉

The final stop on the tour was Fabcakes. I don’t have a picture, but I also loved the cookies we had there. Overall, we had a great time on the food tour and definately did not go home hungry!

Thanks for coming to visit me J! We don’t get to see each other as often as I’d like, so it was awesome to spend a few days with you!

***

Whew! This was a long post–congratulations if you made it all the way here! Hope you have a great weekend!

Easy Yeast Bread

Happy Friday everyone! I’m back today with another recipe!

A few months ago I decided I wanted to start baking bread (’cause why not!?!). I started simple by using recipes that didn’t require yeast (and therefore rising, kneading, rolling etc), but felt it was time to challenge myself with a yeast bread recipe. Since I was a beginner, I wanted something that was simple to make but still delicious to eat. After trolling the internet for awhile, I decided this recipe fit the bill. I made a few changes to the original recipe after reading reviewer comments, and I think it really helped with the end result. Enjoy!

***

Easy Yeast Bread

Adapted from: About.com

Easy Yeast Bread

Ingredients:

3/4 cup warm water

1 package active dry yeast

1 tsp salt

1-1/2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup milk

3 cups all-purpose flour, approximately

Instructions:

In medium bowl, mix 2 cups of flour with the salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, add the warm water. Slowly stir in dry yeast. Continue to stir until yeast is dissolved. Add the sugar and stir.

Next, add olive oil and milk to bowl and mix well. Then, add in the flour/salt mixture and stir.

If needed, begin adding more flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough chases the spoon around the bowl. I added an extra 1/2 – 3/4 cup of flour, but this number will vary depending on factors such as the weather.

Turn dough out onto floured board and knead, adding small spoonfuls of flour as needed, until the dough is soft and smooth, not sticky to the touch.

Put the dough in buttered bowl, and turn dough over so that the top of dough is greased. Cover and let rise in warm spot for 1 hour.

After the dough has risen, punch down dough. Then, turn out onto floured board and knead. Meanwhile, preheat oven at 375 degrees F.

Form dough into loaf and set in buttered bread pan. Cover and let rise on top of the oven for about 30-60 minutes.

Score dough by cutting three slashes across the top with a sharp knife. Put in oven and bake for about 30-45 minutes, or until golden brown. Important note: my oven runs hot so I end up baking the bread for only about 25-30 minutes. Many other reviewers have also noted that 45 minutes was too long for them as well. Therefore, I recommend starting the baking time at 30 minutes and working your way up from there.

Turn out bread and let cool on a rack or clean dishtowel.

Notes:

If you’ve never kneaded dough before, this is a good tutorial video: How To Knead

If you’ve never “punched down the dough” before, here is a good tutorial video: Punching Down the Dough

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

MissPeregrineCover

“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.” –Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Title: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Author: Ransom Riggs
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Quirk
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Source: Personal Collection

Synopsis:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

–From Goodreads

My Thoughts:

I started reading this book while sitting on an airplane that was “overweight” and was consequently delayed for an hour and half. In spite of (or maybe because of) the “will we or won’t we ever leave the ground” drama playing out in the background, I found myself getting surprisingly sucked into this novel. I had previously held out on reading Miss. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children because I had been run over by the “hype train” one too many times (i.e. The Hunger Games trilogy, Water for Elephants, etc), and I learned it was part of a series (groan). However, I kept hearing about how “unique” the book is, and that it was going to be made into a movie. So I caved.

As I alluded to above, the novel starts off really strong. I enjoyed following Jacob, the protagonist, as he navigated the often tricky teenage existence. He has a job he hates (and doesn’t try very hard at), his parents don’t understand him, and he doesn’t fit in very well with people his own age. Jacob is however very close with his grandfather, Abraham, who shows him pictures of children he knew on an island in Wales. Riggs’s prose is sharp and witty in these early pages, and I found myself nearly laughing out loud (on a crowded plane full of cranky passengers nonetheless). The vintage photographs were also fascinating, and I liked how they were tied into the story.

However, after Jacob sets off in search of the children in the photographs my enthusiasm for the story began to wane.  The prose became much more sloppy, and the photographs come so quickly at parts that they seem to detract from the story rather than add to it. This is especially true with regard to the peculiar children themselves–I had to keep flipping back and forth because I couldn’t keep them all straight. I also had a hard time accepting the world Riggs created since it wasn’t well explained and there were many plot holes in the explanation. Hopefully, some of these will be cleared up in the next book in the series.

What I think this book is really lacking (or at least lacking for me) is character development. Aside from Jacob, most of the other characters are so flat and underdeveloped that they are forgettable. There are a few who stood out (Emma, Abraham, Miss Peregrine), but they were in the minority. I especially do not understand why more time wasn’t devoted to Jacob’s parents. Clearly, Riggs is trying to paint them as the stereotypically “absent and vapid” parents, but they were almost comically unbelievable to me. Why not just have Jacob be raised by his grandfather? Not only would little have been lost from the plot by omitting Jacob’s parents, but I think the narrative would have felt more genuine.

And one other thing: the love story? No. Just no. I can’t say anymore without giving away spoilers, but if you’ve read it I’m sure you understand what I’m getting at.

Overall, I really like the premise of this novel and am curious enough after reading the ending to give the second book in the series, Hollow City, a try. The best parts of the book–the beginning, the atmospheric setting of Wales, and the peculiar children–offset the bad parts enough to make the reading experience enjoyable. So in the end, while this book didn’t live up to its initial promise for me, I still think it was pretty good.

What Others Had To Say:

*Let me know if you have a review published and I’ll add a link to it!

My Review In Four Lines:

  1. Rating: 3/5 stars
  2. What I liked: The visually stunning photographs, the overall premise of the novel
  3. What I didn’t like: Lack of character development, the bad romance, and slow second half of the book
  4. I would recommend this book for: People who like vintage photographs and/or enjoy young adult books

***

Note: I did not receive any compensation whatsoever for this book review. All opinions expressed are my own.