Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Plenty

Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi
Chronicle Books, 2011 (originally published 2010); 288 pages

I always feel a bit weird writing cookbook reviews when I haven't made any of the recipes. Considering how messy a cook I am, I don't like to cook from borrowed cookbooks.

The number one thing I noticed about Plenty is the sense of joy that pervades the entire book. Every couple of pages, I kept turning back to the picture of some sort of uncooked greens on the title page, because the picture was so beautiful and just made me so happy (I'm a sucker for photographs of green plants... don't ask). There's just such a sense that food is meant to be enjoyed with all the senses, that beautiful, good-tasting foods provide a sustenance beyond mere nourishment, that makes this such a brilliant cookbook.

As I took notes for this review, I think I used up my entire quota of exclamation points for the next three months. A brief sample looks something like this:

Garlic and goat cheese tart!
Harissa! Not since that little Middle Eastern restaurant in Paris!
And a whole section on mushrooms!

I also like that the recipes don't look overly difficult, although some reviewers said they did look difficult, so I guess everyone should judge for themselves. Personally, I emulate Julia Child, who said "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a 'What the hell?' attitude." I'm really quite fearless in the kitchen, which is funny, because I'm not at all a risk-taker in any other aspect of life. But when it comes to food and cooking, I'll try anything once.

In one of the recipes in the book, I saw a vinaigrette that called for capers and maple syrup. I have no idea what that vinaigrette tastes like, but I love capers and I love maple syrup, and I really want to try that recipe. Ottolenghi does a lot of "odd" combinations in the book; pairing foods and spices from different cultures that seem strange, but grow on one. He even makes eggplant, zucchini, and sweet potatoes look appetizing (and I don't really care for the last two, and I HATE eggplant with an unspeakable passion). There's this recipe where an eggplant is broiled, and in the picture it looks more like fresh beef liver than anything else, and that intrigues me, because (like I said) I hate eggplant, but I love beef liver, and I love working with raw liver (I don't eat it raw--too bloody--but I like cutting it up because it's so smooth and shiny and smells funny... and is rambling on about raw meat weird? Because I like raw meat. I promise I'm not a psychopath and I'm not going to move on from cutting up chickens to cutting up people...

Okay, so that got a bit off topic. Anyhow, Plenty went on my Wishlist, because it is just that good, and I'm picky about cookbooks, so that's saying something. I guess I should also note that it's a vegetarian cookbook. I'm not vegetarian, and neither is Ottolenghi, but I really think if I were vegetarian I would have gone online and ordered the cookbook the minute I got done reading it. It's seriously that good, and books are one of the few things I don't impulse buy (which is weird, but good for my budget).

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Calvin's Institutes, Chapter Three

The Knowledge of God Naturally Implanted in the Human Mind

Section One

- Everyone is endowed by God with the idea that there is a God and He is his [man's] maker [This explains false religions, but not atheism]

Section Two

- While there are certainly false religions and practices intended to give power over many to a devious few, the idea of religion was created because there is a God, not because of crafty men

- False beliefs "work" because people already believe there is a God and they are looking for Him

There are atheists, but even they feel that there actually is a God [Calvin does not explain how he knows this of every atheist--he says it's because atheists are fearful, whatever that means]

Section Three

- "All men of sound judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of deity is indelibly engraved on the human heart." [I happen to agree that if one honestly examines the evidence, one will conclude that there is a supreme being of some sort. But there's no reason to be so uppity about it.]

- Our whole purpose in life is to know God, so those who don't know God don't fulfill their purpose on earth

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Arts Feature: "No One" by Stefanie Heinzmann

I love all the random places I find new music, like movie previews, TV commercials, and even computer games. Stefanie Heinzmann is a blues and pop artist from Switzerland. I first discovered her through The Sims 3: World Adventures, as she recorded one of her songs in the fictional language Simlish. The first video, however, is an acoustic version of her song "No One."

The Simlish (and non-acoustic) version:

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Goals for 2013

Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

1. Read at least 60 books

2. Read more nineteenth century novels to fill in the gaps in my "Read at least one work of fiction from each year, 1800-2013" project: I've actually already read at least one book 1900-2013, so really I just need to read fiction 1800-1899.

3. Finish Institutes of the Christian Religion: It's long and dense and difficult and I'm not sure I've got the clearest translation, although it's likely the most literal. But it's a good exercise in thinking and I agree with a good portion of Calvin's theology, so I am enjoying myself, after I figure out what exactly he's saying in a given passage.

4. Reread some childhood favorites: Mostly stuff by L. M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Elizabeth Enright, Elizabeth George Speare, and Jules Verne

5. Read some of the books I own but have never read: According to my catalog on LibraryThing, I own 83 unread books.

6. Post something about every book I read: I may not post a review of every book (some books are too meaningful for one of my simple reviews while others are over-written-about already--I love Harry Potter, but does the world really need another Sorcerer's Stone review?), but I would like to say something about each book, even if it's just "Hey world, I read this book."

7. Read more often: I tend to read in fits and starts, reading three books in one day and then not reading anything for two weeks. But I've found my brain runs more smoothly when I spend more time reading quality literature and less time piddling around the internet, so I need to read more... and somehow make this work with Goal #6.

8. Read more non-fiction: (including cookbooks)

9. Read more poetry: For years I thought I didn't like poetry; it turned out I just didn't like the poetry I was reading. I'd like to read more T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden in particular, although I may pick up some Edgar Lee Masters, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and William Stafford along the way.

10. Read the six books assigned to me by my best friend in our "must-read book list exhange": Essentially, we each picked six books we'd read that the other hadn't that we each thought the other would like. I'm to read the following:
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Descent into Hell by Charles Williams
The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
Adam and Eve after the Pill by Mary Eberstadt

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Book Review: Equal Rites

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
HarperTorch, 2000 (originally published 1987); 213 pages

High in the Ramtop Mountains of Discworld, a dying wizard seeks out the eighth son of an eighth son upon whom he can bestow his power before he dies. Unfortunately, the son turns out to be a daughter, and women can't be wizards; the Lore of the Unseen University forbids it. So what's a girl with magical power to do? Travel across the Discworld and demand entry to the University, of course!

Plot-wise, Equal Rites is my favorite Discworld novel yet (mind you, I've read only three of them). I like Esk (the female wizard) well enough, but Granny Weatherwax steals the show. She's a witch (certain types of minor household magic are all that women are supposed to do) and she's hysterical, although she's certainly not trying to be, and she would probably be horribly offended if she knew I was laughing at her. I loved the story of Granny and Esk's travels to Ankh-Morpork and all the trouble they got into along the way.

However, the timing of the plot rather overshadows some of the events. There were multiple times where time jumped forward several months or years or the location of the story changed within the course of two paragraphs without any indication that this was the case. Since there are no chapters in the book, not even a chapter break gave any indication of changes in time or place. It did make the book a bit confusing and made it feel a bit rushed in certain sections.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Calvin's Institutes, Chapter Two

What It Is to Know God---Tendency of This Knowledge

Section One

- Knowledge of God = not just knowledge that there is a God, but what we can know of (concerning) God

- Does not mean knowledge of God as Redeemer through Christ, but knowledge of God as Adam knew Him before the fall

- Without Christ, man sees only God as Creator

- All goodness comes from God, so we must ask all things from Him and give thanks for what we have

- Piety = reverence and love for God inspired by knowledge of His goodness

- People will not willingly follow God until they realize that they owe everything to Him

Section Two

- It is in our best interest to know what sort of person God is and what makes Him happy

- Because of knowledge of God, we should learn reverence and fear, ask every good thing from Him, and ascribe all to Him
It is not clear whether Calvin means that we should ascribe all good things to God, or all things period

- Knowledge of God must lead to the idea that because He made us, He is our authority by the laws of creation, and by the same laws our lives are His and He should be central to all that we do
cf. C. S. Lewis, Perelandra: "'I am His beast, and all His biddings are joys.'"

- It is our depravity that keeps us from perfectly following God once we understand the goodness of His nature

- The pious person has no idols, nor does he give God any false attributes. He diligently avoids leaving the path of God. He trusts God implicitly in all situations. He fears God as Judge, loves God as Father, and honors and obeys God as Master

Quotes from the Chapter

"... your life is sadly corrupted, if it is not framed in obedience to him..."