A Book I Read, A Book I Dropped, and a Book I am Dying for You to Read

26 Apr

You can check out the first two books I’ve read this year here.

What I Read: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

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If you haven’t read anything by Murakami before, I suggest starting with his shorter fiction (you can start with his not-at-all-shabby number of New Yorker contributions)– his books often have long asides that are immensely enjoyable but don’t necessarily contribute to the narrative arc, and  his take on magic realism is what I imagine an LSD trip would feel like. In general I am not into anything even remotely fantastical, but Murakami’s command of readers is unmatched: he envelopes us in a world we can swallow, one where words and symbols are both plain and profound, then inverts it just enough to remind readers that he is in the driver’s seat–and we WILL be enjoying this ride.

Anyway, if The Interestings is about a group of childhood friends who stuck together through life even when they shouldn’t have, CTTAHYOP is a mediation on what happens when that group of friends is gone.We meet our protagonist in his mid-30s, an engineer with a lifelong self-prescription for colorlessness struggling to connect to a world of whose hues remain apparent-but-out-of-reach to him thanks to an abrupt and traumatic transition from the comfort of childhood to the confusion of early adulthood. Murakami gives us a few foils to Tsukuru, who guide him (and readers) through flashbacks and side stories in exploration of why he can never quite cross out of black and white Kansas to find the brilliant shades of Oz. If that synopsis is oblique, I’m glad– I love not knowing what Murakami’s books are “about” and just letting the familiar-yet-foreign world he creates unfold before me.

What I Dropped: Outline

I almost never don’t finish books–but when the pie chart of your time has only the teensiest sliver for leisure reading, there’s no time for words that don’t blow your hair back. I wanted so much to like this book: it’s about a British woman who goes to Greece to teach writing after a divorce… writing, Greece, and reinvention are pretty much my favorite themes. But the structure of the book made it difficult for me– the narrator actually has no narrative at all, rather she merely moves us from person to person as the characters she meets tell their stories rather than hers.

It is likely that I will go back and try this book again–the writing is compelling and there were some spot-on and hilarious depictions of Greeks–but I just never cared enough to keep moving through the book. Cusk was able to carry each story on its own, but failed to compel readers (or at least this reader) to continue from one to the next. Anyone read this? Should I keep going?

What I’m Dying For You to Read: Consequence: A Memoir

Holy moly. I’m about 1/2 way through this book right now and am not ready to wax poetic, so I’m just going to make the case for you to read this book so I can talk about it with you. On its face, Consequence is Eric Fair’s account of his time as an interrogator at Abu Graib–but truly, it is an indictment of the many, many systems that created conditions ripe for the abuse and horror of the prison. Fair takes his time getting there–as I said, I’m about half way through and we’ve only just gotten to Iraq– but no words are wasted. The writing is sparse and plain, and Fair moves us from his early childhood to his decision to deploy as a contractor to Iraq with only as much attention as a particular phase of life requires. He is objectively critical, and lays out events with only as much edification as he thinks is required to make a point. There are no tirades, no rants, no pontificating–just the facts as this conservative Christian man from Pennsylvania saw them. Most impressive is the way Fair does not shield himself from the light of his own investigation: he indicts himself and his own moments of cowardice just as searingly as his cavalier colleagues, indifferent supervisors, and clueless community members.

I’ll write again when I finish it. Please please let me know if you read this, too!

The Honeymoon is Over: ManSpreading and Moonshine

22 Apr

There’s a test on Monday, which means, of course, that there’s a long post today. A friend reminded me that I never actually told the story of how my dear husband manspreaded his way through Montenegro, which is not actually that much of a story… but in the interest of not leaving my readers hanging (and of delaying studying just as long as humanly possible), I figured I’d wrap up this honeymoon run down.

At last update we were in Dubrovnik, Croatia enjoying the good life of dapper cats and pizza-only diets. We decided to take a day trip to Montenegro, and dutifully got up early to meet the bus. The next ~2 hous looked like this:

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Which is to say that MrKef spent the bus ride pleased as punch, talking about what a great ride this was… while my American-sized  self squeezed into the half of my already-too-small seat that he wasn’t occupying. For those not familiar with manspreading, a word from the Metropolitan Transit Authority:

When I suggested that he was taking up way more space than was allotted to him he simply got a wry smile and said, “What? I’m a big African man. I need to spread out.” This is when I wondered whether I could get an annulment in Montenegro.

I decided to take a little nap, and when I woke up, we were in Montenegro! Our day trip started with a tour of the Bay of Kotor, which was about as stunning as can be:IMG_4723

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We had a quick stop for lunch, where the sun was shining and the shitznel was huge.

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IMG_4689The server absolutely judged us when MrKef finished his plate, but no one gave one bit of mind to it–MrKef was in his happy place (and I was sitting safely ACROSS the bench from him, so I had all the space I wanted).

Next, we headed over to the Old City of Kotor. It was supercute and full of charm:

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There was the option to climb up two miles of stairs (no…really) in the 98 degree heat, but we opted against it. But if you’re headed there and want a preview, follow the stairs alllll the way up the mountain to the top fort in this picture below– definitely a hike meant for the early morning.

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Here we are, unhiked and unsweaty:IMG_4714

And, apparently, it was Shark Week in Kodor:

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After an hours-long wait at the border (and a harrowing drive down a very narrow one-way street that left MrKef in awe of European bus drivers), we were back. We made reservations at one of the nicer restaurants for our last night (which had a beautiful view and ambiance, but didn’t change anyone’s life), then headed back over to Buzzabar and — of course– Bodega to wind down the night.

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We were so sad to wake up and know it was the last morning– we had been having so much fun just hanging out, seeing the sights, and soaking up the sun. We decided to ferry over to Lokrum for our last day–it’s a teeny island ~500 meters from the Dubrovnik port, so we could spend most of the day on the island and still make our evening flight.

There’s a rumor that the island is haunted because some monks cursed it after being evicted by Italian royalty (#squadgoals). We didn’t see any ghosts, but we did see just about everything else– for being pretty small island, there’s an amazing amount of diversity: cliffs, botanical gardens, succulents, and tons of peacocks!

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Eventually, it was time to trek back up alllllllllllll of them stairs and make our way to the airport. Now, before I continue with this story I want to acknowledge one point: MrKef is an infinitely better human than I am, and he exercises more patience, temperance, and good naturedness in any given minute than I have in my whole life combined.

HOWEVER.

After a long, hot week of trekking up 379 stairs each way to and from our AirBnB, MrKef was DONE. He did NOT want to climb up every mountain, take a shower, and then get sweaty 2.5 seconds later in the clothes he was going to have to fly in. Having dated him for 5 years, I had barely even seen him peeved and suddenly, we were in Terrible Twos Tantrum mode. Thank god I had the good sense not to go TMZ on him and film the whole thing, as we might have had a very short marriage… but I did really think about it.

Our sweet AirBnB host must have known something was afoot, because once we got up there she rushed to get us a beverage. I, on the other hand, rushed to get into the shower first so MrKef could have a cool drink and a time out. Here’s me, in the makeshift bathroom our host graciously fashioned for us because the next guests had already arrived:

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Unbeknownst to me, our host was winning MrKef’s heart in the while I tried to find the modest way to shower outside. She brought over some water and a Sprite bottle. MrKef started drinking the water and was interrupted by our host, who picked up the Sprite bottle, poured a swig into his glass and said, “This is how men drink water.” Turns out, it was moonshine she had made herself!

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I, of course, came out of the shower and took a HUGE gulp of what I thought was water, and watched as MrKef giggled through my choking and spattering. That ish will put hair on your chest.

Two minibreakdowns later (one from MrKef about waiting for the bus and the other from me about paying an airport check-in fee), and we were up in the air. Bye bye, Dubrovnik!

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For the final stop of our honeymoon, we did a grand tour of our families in England. We left sunny, 75-degree Dubrovnik and landed in 45-degree Manchester (where all the freakish Brits exclaimed upon exiting the plane, “Thank god it’s cold again!”). But while the weather wasn’t ideal, the company was– MrKef’s Aunt and Uncle took us right to the center of all things wonderful: an all you can eat Indian buffet.

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MrKef and his uncle stayed up all night drinking whiskey, and I went directly to bed after all those samosas. The next morning I woke up early to get in a great run on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, which is even cuter than this picture would suggest:

We did some social sightseeing, and even got to see the famous cliffs!

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Of course, we made great use of the selfie stick:

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Even though it was a way, way , way too-short visit, it was great to finally meet MrKef’s favorite uncle and his family. We can’t wait to get back soon!

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Next, a bus trip to London to spend time with my brilliant cousin and HER family, which sadly I have no pictures of because we came very late and left awfully early… but know I am related to Britain’s most beautiful baby.

…and then, it was really over. We had to head back to reality. But not before I finally convinced MrKef to take a duck-face selfie… or maybe that’s just our “so sad it’s over” face–I can’t quite now recall.

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A final note–  can I say for the record that I think I looked kind of cute in my traveling clothes for once? I had to complete my selfie education and take a bathroom shot.

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And that, my friends, finally brings the Ndjatou World Tour blogging series to a close. We LOVED Dubrovnik and would pick it again for our honeymoon spot in a heartbeat!

Soy-Sesame Broccoli with Carrot Noodles

12 Apr

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The moment pretty much everyone has been predicting for two years has come to pass: work + grad school +triathlon/running training has finally cut into my cooking time–majorly. I used to try and find a recipe that included a ton of home-made components and hard-to-find ingredients and now… my search for recipes has been limited to the following queries:

  • Can I find all the ingredients in one store, in one trip?
  • Can I just add meat (and/or rice) to it so MrKef will eat it?
  • Is stirring the most difficult part of the recipe?

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, well… you might not be seeing it on CuK until June 2017 when Chef Kefi, RN becomes Chef Kefi, PNP-BC and never has to take another friggin final again.

ANYWAY, here’s a veggie dish I made on Sunday and have been enjoying throughout the week. I love how colorful it is, but mostly I love how easy it is.

Soy-Sesame Broccoli with Carrot Noodles

Ingredients

–For the sauce

  • 4 TBS coconut aminos
  • 3 TBS water
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 1 TBS vinegar (rice or white)
  • 1 TBS Sesame oil
  • 2 tsp Chili-garlic sauce (or any hot sauce)

–For the noodles

  • 1-2 lbs carrots, washed and ends chopped off
  • olive oil

— For everything else

  • 10 oz broccoli (or more if you’re a broccoli monster like me–but if you add more broccoli, make a bigger batch of sauce)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 7 oz cole slaw mix or shredded cabbage
  • 1/2 c toasted cashews
  • 1 package tofu, drained (optional)


Assembly

  1. Mix together sauce ingredients. Pour over tofu and broccoli and mix well. Set aside.
  2. Use a spiralizer or a peeler to make very thin “noodles” out of carrots.
  3. Heat a drizzle of olive oil over med-high heat. Add carrot noodles to pan and cook until desired tenderness (I do ~ 4 minutes). Remove carrots from pan and set aside.
  4. Regrease pan with ~1 TBS olive oil and add garlic over med-high heat. Saute for about 1 minute, until garlic is fragrant. Add broccoli/tofu, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until desired tenderness. Add carrot noodles and cole slaw/cabbage, and saute until heated through. Toss with cashews and serve warm.

Vegan Chocolate Frosting Pudding

5 Apr

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So many good fats, so little time… this has been my life’s mantra these days. As I mentioned the other day, I have been eating salmon like it’s my job lately, and I’ve been pairing it with nuts, avocado, coconut, eggs, and ALLLLL the olive oil my big, fat, Greek palate can handle.

Some kind soul sent me a subscription to Bon Appetit (but hasn’t ‘fessed up yet, so if you want to claim my undying love and affection, now’s your chance!), and they published this almost-healthy vegan chocolate pudding whose “secret ingredient” is avocado! I’ve done the whole avocado-as-baking-fat thing before (see also: chocolate peanut butter poppers and this chocolate cake), but I have to say that I think I like this one the most.

This was as easy as making a smoothie, and I swear it tasted like the store-bought chocolate frosting. Another day, I will see if I can make a healthy-fat cake and will slather this all over it to see if it holds up like frosting. But for today… I will just eat one of these a night for the rest of my life and die happily.

I greatly reduced the sweetener and nixed the whipped cream from the original recipe, and these changes are reflected below  (for the BA version, click here)

Vegan Chocolate Frosting Pudding

Ingredients

  • 2 large avocados, pits removed
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup
  • ¼ cup (or more) fresh orange juice
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 c hot (but not boiling) water

Assembly

  1. Combine all ingredients except the water in a blender.
  2. Once smooth, gradually add the hot water while blending.
  3. Separate into 4-6 ramekins (I got 6 ~1/4c servings) and chill for at least two hours. It’s best to cover them, but mine made it a week in the fridge uncovered without tasting like onions.

 

 

Listening While I Run

9 Mar

When I was busy training for my last half last summer/fall, I really got out of the habit of listening to music while I run–pretty much everyone says it’s important for runners to be able to pace themselves without relying on beats per minute, and I found that to be very true. But, I’m not really training for anything right now, so… who really cares what prety much everyone says? I’ve come back to rocking out during runs– we’ll see if I’m able to wean myself from the tunes whenever I get around to really solidifying my 2016 race plans (suggestions for awesome 10k/10M/halfs welcome!).

Anyway, these are some things I’ve been loving for running/spinning lately (check out previous playlists here and here… oh, and here but only if you’re feeling nostalgic):

Spotify Stations:

  • Big Game Workout
  • Mood Boosters
  • Feel Good Indie Rock

Songs

And in a real pinch… it’s all about watching the Underwoods undercut one another like petulant children who just happen to have the nuclear codes. That’ll get you through an indoor ride.

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Two Quickie Salmon Preps

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I have been eating salmon like a daggone fiend recently. I have also been avoiding my homework like someone who doesn’t have a final next week, so I’m just gonna get right to these two couldn’t-be-easier, certified-delicious ways to dress that delicious fish!

Feta, Lemon, and Dill-Crusted Salmon

The best of the Mediterranean, all on one salmon fillet!

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Combine

  • 1/4 c dill
  • 1/4-1/2 cup feta cheese
  • zest of 1/2 lemon

Split between two salmon fillets and cook at 400F for ~15 minutes, or until fish is at your desired doneness.

Maple, Dijon, and Almond-Crusted Salmon

I know this picture doesn’t make this look like much (and that SummitKef is clutching her pearls at how BEIGE the whole thing is), but I made four servings of this and ate it for four consecutive meals–including breakfast. That’s how much I loved this!

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Combine

  • 1.5 TBS butter
  • 1.25 TBS Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 TBS Maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp Bragg’s / Coconut aminos (just buy it, it’s worth it)
  • 1/4 c almond meal/ ground almonds
  • 1/2 TBS olive oil

Spoon over 2-4 salmon fillets (I made my crusts a little thinner to stretch it– you do you). Cook at 425F for 12-16 minutes, or until doneness of the fish floats your boat.

Five Days in Croatia Part II: Something For Everyone

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After all that indulging on our first day of our honeymoon, I was ready for a run. I went through the Old City and followed the main road around the coast, which mostly was filled with very beautiful views, like this one:

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But when I got to the end of the road, I found myself in the opening scenes of The Walking Dead:

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Apparently, this is the old Hotel Bellevue. Prior to the war, it had been the grandest hotel in Dubrovnik. During the war, it acted as a main battlement due to its strategic location on the cliffs of the Adriatic. After the war, it was closed and a rebuilt a few kilometers away. I’m not quite sure why the building pictured above hasn’t either been remodeled or leveled, but I was glad for the natural turnaround point… I wasn’t getting any closer to this creepy site!

Moving right along, we spent our second full day on the island of Mlijet, which is a large island National Park about 2 hours from Dubrovnik. Of course, we took a ship named after MamaKef:

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There’s all kinds of stuff to do  on the island– a few villages, two saltwater lakes, and a bunch of opportunities for tanning and swimming. In other news, it has lots of nicely-graveled paths, so don’t do what I did and waste a perfectly beautiful run on the Walking Dead when you could be running with this as your view:

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We opted to head to the Isle of St Mary for a chance to visit one of Europe’s oldest monasteries… plus it’s an island ON an island, which was too meta to miss.

… but not before we found a snack that would suit MrKef’s needs (“All Cameroonian men love peanuts when they travel,” quoth he. Good to know.).

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Once we were properly fueled, we set sail–and were immediately rewarded with more incredible views. Can I say without being obnoxious that, while this scenery was obviously amazing, it was made much moreso because I was with my incredible husband? Time with someone who makes your heart sing is truly one of life’s experiences to be treasured.

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The parts of the monastery available for touring are small, but man–the details are impressive:IMG_4590

After we got some history, it was time for some swimming, sun and (more) selfies!

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MrKef was ALL about the salinity, and eagerly waited for me to be finished with my swim to take advantage of the goggles I brought along (a triathlete is always prepared for an Open Water Swim!):

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The vegetation on the island was really interesting, and included these cute little bananas AND BabyKef’s favorite plant, aloe!

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After a swim, we headed over to the only restaurant on the island for some lunch. MrKef was ready to buy the island when he realized it was totally acceptable to drink a liter of beer for lunch while on a European honeymoon. We took this to be Croatia’s homage to HomeBrewKef.

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I couldn’t decide whether to be in heaven or hell when I realized the only vegetarian option on the menu was ALL THE GLUTEN (not even a salad…talk about insular parts of the world). And then my pizza came and it became clear that the Kingdom of Heaven was mine:

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The trip back was even more spectacular than the one coming. First of all, we came across this dapper gent along the way:

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And then we were met with this sunset as we pulled back into the port:

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Pas mal, no?

This is likely the night when we were too tired to trek up the stairs to change for dinner and then trek back down again, so we sat down at a yummy-sounding restaurant only to realize that entrees were ~$45 each, and then told the waiter we forgot our wallets and ended up slinking around the corner to Buffet Zvonik, where we gorged ourselves with all this food for a quarter of the price. Mmhhhmmm. IMG_4618

Then we headed to what would become our Croatian Cheers– La Bodega.The nightlife scene in Dubrovnik consisted of a European MegaClub filled with British teenagers or hotel bars with older Germans just off their River Cruise… neither were quite our speed. And then we found La Bodega in the main square, a perfect blend of lounge and bar with great music and people watching for the ages.

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Sooner than we wanted, it was the next day and we were off to the very top of Dubrovnik, via the Funicular!

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So far in this post we’ve seen a boat named after MamaKef, a national endorsement of HomeBrewKef’s favorite past time, and BabyKef’s favorite plant… in the mountaintop museum we stumbled across a photo of what JetSet would look like if he were ever unfortunate enough to find himself in a war zone (may God forbid it)– blazer on and wine bottle in hand (NB: this is not a photo of someone suffering that I am making light of– this was in the happy part of the museum).IMG_4634

In addition to the stunning views, I FINALLY found just a plate of vegetables up on that mountain. Food in Croatia is good, but not varied– pretty much everywhere had some iteration of a sign that un-ironically read, “Light Lunch: Risotto, Pizza, Cheeseburgers.” It felt fun to be forced into junk food for about a day, but by the time the third day rolled around I was more than willing to pay $8 for these 8 slices of vegetables (not kidding).IMG_4640

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We headed back down the mountain, and took a walking tour of Dubrovnik, where we learned the hilarious story of this graffiti from 1597 that reads, “Peace be with you, but know that you must die, you who play ball here.” Apparently, a curmudgeonly priest was none too pleased that the alley outside his bedroom was a makeshift soccer field, and took the time to etch his grievances into the wall. College ChefKef is jealous of that guy’s gumption. Yikes.

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After the tour, we split ways– MrKef went off to do a Game of Thrones tour, and I headed to over to Buza Bar which puts the term “hole in the wall” to new meaning

It’s nearly impossible to find, but I knew I was onto something when I saw this:

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Needless to say, I strongly preferred the words on this wall to those scrawled by Father McMeanie. Twice as needless to say, the views did not disappoint.

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I met back up with MrKef, who was grinning from ear to ear like a Lannister who, um … does whatever Lannisters do… after his GoT tour, and we enjoyed some scenes of Dubrovnik by night :

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And soon enough, it was time for a nightcap at La Bodega for me and some ice cream for MrKef!

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Next time on the Ndjatou World Tour, we head off to Montenegro (which is where the previously-promised manspreading adventure came to pass) and then to a haunted island… oo la la.

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