Thursday, June 30, 2011

Literary Bite: When the Stars Fall to Earth

When the Stars Fall to Earth by Rebecca Tinsley follows five young Darfuri refugees as they run from their villages to escape certain death from the Sudanese militia. It’s an adventure/survival/story of inner strength that is engaging and heartbreaking.

As an accomplished BBC journalist with experience in the Sudan, Tinsley clearly knows her stuff…so why a novel? At the book talk I attended she explained that she wanted to make the story of Darfur more accessible. She cited Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns as her inspiration – a novel draws in readers who may not be interested in the policy aspect and inspires them to care about a subject they might otherwise overlook. (Hosseini’s books were about Afghanistan, for Tinsley it’s the Sudan.)

I think she did a great job – the story is engaging and makes the very complex Darfur genocide understandable. The story serves as a reminder of the humanity behind relentless statistics and casualty estimates in Sudan.

My only critique is that sometimes the story felt too intense. Tinsley makes you care about her characters (which is definitely a good thing), and then…well…it is Darfur…bad things happen and I get upset. At times Tinsley is boarder-line sententious* – I know she wants to communicate a human rights message and I commend her for it – but occasionally characters jump into a voice that seems a bit unrealistic.

I need another perspective on this book. Someone who doesn’t spend 9+ hours per day reading about mass atrocities in East Africa…because clearly my viewpoint is skewed. Any takers? Please read and get back to me!

Also, part of the book talks about a journalist who travels to Darfur and has children in refugee camps draw pictures of their experiences (umm is this character Tinsley? I think so…). Pretty crazy stuff – the kids’ pictures have been used as evidence in the International Criminal Court because they show the kinds of aircraft and artillery used by the Government of Sudan. 

According to this interview, Tinsley “started a charity that helps survivors of war and genocide rebuild their lives. The profits from my novel go to our projects in Africa, giving a helping hand to survivors who are already making an enormous effort to give their children options they never had.” So that’s a win.

(Sidenote: Darfur is in the western region of Sudan, a country in East Africa. I don't like excessive use of "Africa" to specify place. Africa is a continent not a country.) (Sorry, that was a mini-Mollie-rant. I can't control it.)

*Sententious - given to excessive moralizing; self-righteous.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Garlic Scape Pesto Pasta

Hello Readers, allow me to introduce you to Garlic Scape. Have you met before? Garlic Scape just entered my life and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long-term relationship.


 Garlic scapes are the curly shoots that spring from the tops of garlic plants. Garlic is a bulb, so the “scape” is the plant that shoots out of that bulb. According to Dorrie Greenspan, “They're brilliantly green, can be thick or thin, curved or corkscrewed, and, depending on how they're cut, just long or very long. They've got a mild garlic fragrance and a mellow garlic flavor. Smell the cut end or snap one and the scent will be a cross between garlic and summer grass. It's got a freshness that garlic loses as it develops.”

LOTR-Emily and I bought into a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) this summer. CSA's are quite the trendy locovore thing. How it works: We paid in advance, so every week a local farm delivers a bag, or “share,” of fresh produce to Emily’s office. The fun part is, you never know what you’re going to get!

Some veggies are obvious – Swiss chard, zucchini, lettuce. But others are completely unfamiliar. For example, in my second bag of leafy greens I pulled out something that looks like a chive or green onion…but isn’t. Time to don my detective hat! I went to the farmer’s market and snooped around, eyeing the local veggies. And lo and behold, a sign labeling my long U.G.V. (unidentified green vegetable): “garlic scape.”

And now for the more important introduction: Garlic Scape, meet Basil. Oh, and Basil brought her friends Parmesan and Walnut. You guys are going to be bffs. I promise. 

Because the food blogger world seems to agree that the epitome of garlic scape cooking is to make pesto.

Garlic Scape Walnut Pesto
(Makes about 1 cup pesto)
3 tablespoons walnut pieces
1 cup garlic scapes, washed and roughly chopped
1 cup basil leaves (tightly packed)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus additional if necessary)
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  1. Toast the walnut pieces: in a small, dry skillet, add the walnut pieces and toast over medium heat until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool.
  2. In the bowl of the food processor, combine the cooled walnut pieces, the garlic scapes, the basil, a pinch of salt, a grinding of black pepper, and the olive oil. Pulse until a rough paste forms. Add additional olive oil if the mixture is too dense.
  3. Scrape the mixture into a bowl. Stir in the parmesan. Taste and correct for salt.

This pesto is pleasantly mild, subtle enough to spread on toast, or to toss with pasta. Here’s what I did:

Mollie’s Garlic Scape Pesto Pasta Veggie Bowl
(makes 2 servings…dinner and lunch the next day!)
1 medium-sized shallot, chopped
1 yellow squash, sliced
Splash olive oil
2 servings whole wheat spaghetti
2-3 cups greens (any kind works, whatever you have)
Salt and pepper
1 cup water or chicken broth
3 Trader Joe's Cooked and Frozen Turkey Meatballs, diced (optional)
1/2 cup pesto
  1. Start boiling water for your pasta.
  2. Heat a medium-sized skillet. Add a splash of olive oil and swirl to coat the pan.
  3. Spread the squash slices in the pan and don’t move them. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until they begin to brown.
  4. Flip the squash and equally brown the other side.
  5. Remove from pan and set aside.
  6. If your water is boiling, add the spaghetti and cook according to box instructions for al dente.
  7. In the same pan you used for the squash, add another splash of olive oil and the shallot. Cook for 1-2 minutes over medium heat.
  8. Add your greens, salt and pepper, and toss with the shallots.

  9. Add 1 cup water or broth and simmer until greens are tender. You may need to add more liquid if they’re particularly tough greens.
  10. Once they’re cooked, add the pesto, squash, meatballs, and drained spaghetti. Toss them all together and enjoy!

(You’ll notice I mixed fresh lettuce into my bowl o’pasta. It’s a thing I do called hot salad…I’ll tell you about it sometime.)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Weekend Report: Driver's License and Pooling

People are always telling horror stories about the DMV, but I’m here to say it’s actually not that bad! I entered the District DMV office at 11:15 Saturday morning, passport, phone bill with the mail-in stub that has my address still attached (fyi that little detail is key), CA driver’s license, and credit card in hand, totally prepared to abnegate* my CA statehood and 17-year-old picture in exchange for a summer of free public pool access.

Done and done. The worst thing about the whole experience was listening to the incredibly racist people next to me complain about DMV employees.

I read a Harper’s Magazine as I waited my turn, which is officially my new favorite thing. I realize it’s incredibly pretentious, but sooooo good! The articles are interesting and thought-provoking, and there are many many GRE words. I especially enjoyed an article on “The Language of Work.” The whole thing isn’t online without a subscription, but here’s an excerpt I found: Awesome, right?
Jargon, slogans, euphemisms, and terms of art are all weapons in the upgrade/downgrade tradition. We might class them together under the technical term bullshit, set out by philosopher Harry Frankfurt. The routine refusal to speak with regard to the truth is called bullshit because evasion of normativity--correctness being, after all, a standard external to one's personal desires--produces a kind of ordure, a dissemination of garbage, the scattering of shit. This is why, Frankfurt argues, bullshit is far more threatening, and politically evil, than lying. The bullshitter "does not reject the authority of truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are."
Anywho, by noon my CA license was put through the shredder and I had a shiny new DC card in hand – two years after moving here I can finally prove I’m a resident!

And I put that proof to good use. Sunday afternoon I donned a swim suit and walked to the Francis Pool in Foggy Bottom to pool run. (Shin splints as of Friday. Booooo! Am I in high school??? Apparently.)

Despite my annoyance at missing my Sunday long run, there are some benefits to pool running in an outdoor pool:
  1. You can tan and exercise at the same time.
  2. People watching is endlessly entertaining. I’ve decided there are 3 main demographics at the Foggy Bottom Pool: gay men, European couples, and people with kids. All equally annoy me when they get in my way, but amuse me as I observe their antics.
  3. The pool is open until 8pm on pooling anyone?
  4. No lanes, so I can free-form circumnavigate the deep end, circles, X'es, U-shaped routes are all acceptable.
Sunday afternoon I metro’ed to Arlington to meet my teammates for a happy hour and celebrate our coach’s birthday. (Happy Birthday George!) It’s weird to see running friends outside their natural habitat (the track). Like, makeup? Skirts? Straightened hair? Who are all these people? Turns out we look better when we're not running workouts at 6am...shocking! 

 Hope you had a good weekend too!

*Abnegate – v. reject, renounce

Friday, June 24, 2011

Best of the Week #25

I’ve had one of those busy weeks where I feel like I accomplished nothing…so TGIF!

My most popular post this week was the Root Beer Float Cake with Root Beer Fudge Frosting. Looks like people are in the mood for summery desserts!

And now for the weekly round-up of silliness....

Fried Kool-Aid? Weird. It’s Kool-Aid, water, and flour fried, so I imagine it’s like a very red sweet fruit punch doughnut? Not necessarily a bad thing… (source)

The glasses! The hoodies! The sweater vests! Hipsters are ridiculous but somehow ubiquitous….this is a music video/add/hipster display made for Lockheed Martin: F-35: Stealth Fighter Jet of Discerning Hipsters. Because clearly plaid and skinny jeans scream fighter jets? I have to admit...I still don't get it.

This video will make you cry in a good/inspirational way. (source)


These are silly. I’d rather eat healthy cereal, and then a cupcake. (source)

Interesting graph: "What % of PhDs go to women in your discipline?" Women get over 70% of psychology PhDs, and less than 20% of physics.

Baby animal alert! “This adorable ball of spotted fluff is one of five baby cheetah cubs born on May 28, 2011 at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va. The cubs are the only litter of cheetah cubs born in a North American zoo this year.” (source)

Spongiforma squarepantsii This is not a joke. It’s a mushroom named after Spongebob Squarepants. For serious. (source)

I want to go to NYC and eat this pizza. (Again, why can’t I teleport???) (source)

Hope you have a great weekend!!!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Raspberry Cupcakes

This is a guest post by Sister1.

Rain in June! Come on! It’s the time of year for bbqs, baseball games and swimming...not sitting inside watching Mad Men episodes one after the other while baking way more than two people could possibly need. Thank goodness for mamas who complain when their dessert supply gets low!

[Editor’s Note: Sister1 lives 5 minutes from my parents, so she is the official dessert supplier for the family. I only wish I could teleport home to eat some of her cupcakes on a regular basis!]

While on a post-yoga shopping trip yesterday, I picked up blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. I wanted to make something delicious and summery, hoping to influence the weather gods to change their weekend forecast. Unfortunately their predictions were correct (Rain! Cold! It’s June!) but I decided to make something bright and friuty anyways to cheer myself up.

These cupcakes were so delicious and light. I especially loved the buttercream - because it wasn’t too sugary and had an almost whipped creamy texture. They were so good that when I delivered them to the Mama she instantly ate two in a row!

Raspberry Cupcakes
(Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart’s Blueberries and Cream Cupcakes)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self rising), sifted
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pints fresh raspberries
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line standard paper liners. Whisk together both flours, baking powder, and salt.
2. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla.
3. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until combined after each. Fold in raspberries by hand.
4. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until pale golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes. Cupcakes can be stored up to 3 days at room temperature in airtight containers.

Fluffy Vanilla Bean Buttercream
1 ½ cups unsalted butter, room temperature
7 cups powdered sugar
3 vanilla beans, insides scrapped out
1/3 cup milk

Beat butter and vanilla bean until smooth and creamy. Add powdered sugar and milk and whip until fluffy and smooth. Depending on how you like your frosting, add more powdered sugar or milk.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hill Repeats at Iwo Jima

Yesterday I celebrated the longest day of the year by being awake for all of it. That means I saw the sunrise at 5:43am as I arrived at the Iwo Jima Memorial (U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial) for a pre-work hill repeat workout.

Yep, I hope you’re impressed.

Most people hear “hill repeats” and shudder in dread and horror. Hills are a bit horrifying, but worse in theory than in practice. I hate racing up hills, but running them in workouts is surprisingly fun-ish (until two hours later when I’m sitting at my desk, feeling like I just got hit by a bus).

And if you’re going to be gasping for breath on a leg-burning uphill, it may as well be somewhere with a view, right? Coach George has devised a great workout around the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington. It’s about a 1K (.67 miles exactly) lollypop-shaped loop, starting at the intersection of Iwo Jima Memorial Access Road and N. Marshall Drive. You run up the access road, around the Memorial, and back down the way you came. The hill isn’t too steep (about a 4% grade), so the challenge comes with repetition and duration.

The Workout:
  1. Run hard (but not an all-out sprint) up the hill to the top (middle of the parking lot).
  2. Jog a recovery to complete the loop.
  3. Stride 100m downhill.
  4. Jog the last hundred meters back to the start.
Yesterday I did 6 loops, so about 4-ish miles total, plus a long warm up and cool down.

Last Tuesday night we attempted this workout, but were majorly obstructed by the Marine Band Tuesday night concert (I'm struggling to find a link to more info...but I can't, so fyi there's a parade/concert at 7pm every Tuesday in the summer).

Running hills while a marching band plays You’re A Grand Old Flag is great. Running hills when Marines are doing a completely silent honoring-something drill is awkward (and boarder-line disrespectful? We were completely outside the performance area…but still).

Thus the Tuesday morning (instead of evening) workout time.

Yesterday morning the Marine bus rolled in when I was at hill #3, and inadvertently provided some much-needed inspiration. I was at that point where the hills were feeling hard and I was getting cranky about the morning/the running/life in general.

One side of the Marine bus says: “Earned. Never given.” Awesome. That phrase gave me a much needed kick in the mental whiny-pants. Obviously they’re talking about much more important things than my race-day fitness, but the idea helped me finish the workout strong.

We'll be doing hill workouts for the next couple weeks, so look forward to more hill obloquies* and ecominums*!

*obloquy - n. abusive language aimed at a person or thing.
*ecominum - glowing and warmly enthusiastic praise

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cake of the Week: Pistachio Pudding Chocolate Chip Cookies

Thanks to the magical science of web analytics, I know what people search to get to Eat Run Read. And you know what warms my heart? This week, not one but two people asked the Google "is it ok to eat two or three cookies a day?" and found their way to my small corner of the interwebs.

(And the answer, of course, is YES!) 


If that was you, I'm so glad you're here today! Because I have another great cookie recipe to share: Pistachio Pudding Chocolate Chip Cookies. Don't be put off by the grassy color, many great foods are green (pesto, peas, mint chip ice cream, and green m&m's to name a few). These cookies would be perfect for St. Patrick's Day, or Earth Day...but really they're delish any day.


The addition of pudding powder makes the cookies light and a bit cakey. You can make pudding cookies with any flavor, most people usually use vanilla. The pistachio-ness is very faint, so I suggest adding chopped pistachios (and chocolate chips) to enhance the nuttiness. 

Pistachio Pudding Chocolate Chip Cookies (inspired by Two Peas and their Pod)
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3.4 oz. package vanilla instant pudding mix
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped pistachios


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat and set aside.
2. Using a mixer, beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Add in pudding mix, eggs, and vanilla extract. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
3. Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoons onto prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until slight golden and set. Remove cookies from oven and let cool on baking sheet for two minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Weekend Report: Happy Father's Day!

He's a running dad, a shoe aficionado, an all-sports enthusiast, a 2:24 marathoner, and Mt. Tam's resident expert. I haven't been home for Father's Day in years, but that doesn't mean I can't give him a shout-out: LOVE YOU DAD!

If I were home I'd make you some oatmeal cookies and a chocolate cake, but alas, the virtual version will have to do for now...

Anywho, I wasn't at home running with mi padre, so here's my weekend report:
I after a few weeks and weekends of extreme activity, I took some much-needed down time. I did what felt like a whole lot of nothing this weekend...but clearly I am completely incapable of actually doing here's the run-down.

I was surprisingly tired after a completely uneventful Friday night. I read the paper and puttered around my apartment until 11, when I psyched myself up to go to the gym. (After Friday's terrible workout I decided to take a weekend off idea ever!) I biked for 70 minutes and did some abs, Ex-Co-Worker Stefanie joined me for the second half, making the gym a "social event" of some sort...

Then I met LOTR-Emily at the Shaw Library to take a GRE practice test. Yup, that's about as much fun as it sounds. Two hours later we left the library feeling accomplished, if not dumber than we went in (nothing destroys your soul like a standardized math test...oof).

We peregrinated* homewards, loosely considering going out that evening. LOTR-Emily did, but I was completely happy when my friend texted me to cancel (who's kinda lame? I am!). Instead I stayed in, finished my book (Crime and Punishment...I know, I blogged early), watched a movie (Shrek 4, judge accordingly), and went to bed.

Sunday was no more eventful. I went to church, studied for a bit, then met Stefanie again at the gym. This time we elliptical'ed, worked our abs, then spent some time in the pool. (My legs are tired from all this uncharacteristically resistance-focused training!)

We were in Columbia Heights, so clearly some post-workout fro-yo was in order (Pistachio, Blueberry Tart, and Raspberry with pecans, fresh raspberries, and hot fudge...yup, I'm pretty much the fro-zen-yo master).

My weekend culminated in a book club meeting...turns out one of my club members has the best roof ever! He lives in Glover Park, and from his 9th floor roof you can see everything - all of DC, the Capitol, the Mall, the monuments, Arlington, the National Cathedral. Pretty impressive!

And that, my friends is that. Not an epically memorable weekend, but a good one nonetheless!

*Peregrinated - v. - to travel or journey, especially to walk on foot.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Best of the Week #24

Happy Friday!

The bad news is: my supposed 3-2-1 mile tempo this morning was an execrable* epic fail. (Me to coach: I’m supposed to be getting better, but I think I’m getting worse? George: Yeah, you’re definitely getting worse.)

The good news is: I remembered everything I needed for the day – shampoo, makeup, clothing, etc. - Work gym shower win!

My most popular post this week was A Saga of the Unprepared. Ah the benefits of being a complete spazzy-pants…readership! :)

I’m now two weeks into my new job. So far it’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes strategic planning sort of stuff, but hey-o! check out the Satellite Sentinel Project Blog today!

And along the lines of serious-face news, please read this Nicholas Kristof post “A Plea From South Kordofan State, Sudan.”
One very wise commenter adds, “Dear Editors, Given the readership and influence of the New York Times, I would imagine that replacing the front-page story of Representative Weiner's 'chaotic final scene' with a headline linking to this email would be a prudent decision.” Agreed dear sir.

But you all don’t come here for Africa news, so let’s make a subscribe to my Satellite Sentinel Blog, and I’ll minimize my Eat Run Read coverage of dire humanitarian situations. Ok? Ok.

Also, the views expressed on this blog do not reflect those of my employer. No duh.

Wthat out of the way, shall we proceed with the Best of the Week?

Forbidden in France: the words 'Twitter' and 'Facebook'
A new French law forbids domestic TV and radio broadcasters from using the names of the two American social media giants in an attempt to prevent 'clandestine advertising.' But media experts and commentators call the ban 'chauvinist,' 'out of touch,' and 'stupid.' (source)

This video is hilarious. Tibetian monks crack me up in the best way possible…they’re just so happy! TV Anchor’s Dalai Lama Joke Goes Wrong.
Recently on Australia's version of the Today show, anchor Karl Stefanovic sat down for an interview with the Dalai Lama, during which he attempted a joke about the religious leader going into a pizza shop. That's when things got really awkward. (source)

Awesome pictures of supposed bridesmaids gowns. (source)

(Last Africa reference this post, I swear!) I really want to see this movie. Viva Riva! is the first dramatic feature made in Congo by a Congolese director. It is also the first feature that is mostly in the local language, Lingala.

The Russian Military admits feeding dog food to soldiers. That is disgusting.

I'm not sure exactly what kind of attack these South Korean special-ops soldiers are preparing for, but this picture comes from the Foreign Policy Blog and depicts “military training.” I guess you never know… (source)

This is really scary – DC local runners be careful! Tell someone when/where you’re running (and that includes me…). (source)
Just got back [12pm Tuesday] from a jog on the trail between the zoo & Pierce Mill in Rock Creek Park. A man who appeared to be homeless grabbed my hand as I jogged past him but I got away from his grip. He laughed as I ran off. I went to the police station and reported it.
The story is scary, but it’s the comments that kill me! Like actual extreme fire-breathing rage. No one deserves to be attacked. EVER.

Finally, in the wise words of Blattman..."Just in case you happen to hate your job today..."

It's probably not that bad!

*Execrable – adj. utterly detestable; abominable; abhorrent. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Literary Bite: Crime and Punishment

If you have a challenge-loving book club like mine, you may want to consider reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It’s one of those impressive books to have read, and really isn’t as punishing as it sounds. At about 600 pages (depending on your translation) it’s long, but the story miraculously sucks you in and moves along, despite the fact that nothing really happens.

I’m presenting Crime and Punishment at my book club meeting this weekend, so here’s my discussion guide for your enjoyment…

"Can evil means justify honorable ends?"

Crime and Punishment is Dostoyevsky’s second full-length novel, and the first thing he published after his time in a Siberian prison camp (his name is pronounced dahs-tuh-YEF-skee). It was originally supposed to be about drunkenness (titled The Drunkards), but Dostoyevsky decided to focus instead on a murderer's first-person confession, making his original theme ancillary*.

It was originally published over the course of a year in 1886 as a series in The Russian Messenger.
About Dostoyevsky:

Dostoyevsky grew up in a middle-class family in Moscow. His father, a doctor, was a tyrant toward his family, and his mother was a mild, pious woman who died before Dostoyevsky was sixteen. At his father's insistence, Dostoyevsky trained as an engineer in St. Petersburg. While the youth was at school, his father was murdered by his own serfs at the family's small country estate. Dostoyevsky rarely mentioned his father's murder, but Oedipal themes are recurrent in his work, and Sigmund Freud suggested that the novelist's epilepsy was a manifestation of guilt over his repressed wish for his father's death.

Dostoyevsky graduated from engineering school but chose a literary career. In 1848 Dostoyevsky joined a group of young intellectuals, led by Mikhail Petrashevsky, which met to discuss literary and political issues. In the reactionary political climate of mid-nineteenth-century Russia, such groups were illegal, and in 1849 the members of the so-called Petrashevsky Circle were arrested and charged with subversion. Dostoyevsky and several of his associates were imprisoned and sentenced to death. As they were facing the firing squad, an imperial messenger arrived with the announcement that the Czar had commuted the death sentences to hard labor in Siberia for ten years. This scene was to haunt the novelist the rest of his life. His intense study of the New Testament, the only book the prisoners were allowed to read, contributed to his rejection of his earlier liberal political views and led him to the conviction that redemption is possible only through suffering and faith, a belief which informed his later work.

Crime and Punishment is the novel in which Dostoyevsky first develops the theme of redemption through suffering.
Russian names are notoriously tricky, everyone has at least two, and they are used interchangeable, often making Russian literature difficult to follow (remember Anna K.? And The Master and Margarita? That book nearly killed LLC.)

Name Word Meaning (in Russian)
  • Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov - raskol - a schism, or split; "raskolnik" is "one who splits" or "dissenter"; the verb raskalyvat' means "to cleave", "to chop","to crack","to split" or "to break"
  • Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin - luzha - a puddle
  • Dmitri Prokofich Razumikhin - razum - rationality, mind, intelligence
  • Alexander Grigorievich Zamyotov - zametit - to notice, to realize
  • Andrey Semyenovich Lebezyatnikov - lebezit - to fawn on somebody, to cringe
  • Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov - marmelad - marmalade/jam
  • Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov - Svidrigailo - a Lithuanian duke of the fifteenth century
  • Porfiry Petrovich - Porphyry - (perhaps) named after the Neoplatonic philosopher
Discussion Questions:
  1. For more than a century, critics have argued about the book's message: Is it a political novel? A tale of morality? A psychological study? A religious epic?
  2. The crime itself is only given a few pages, and the actual punishment isn’t addressed until the epilogue…so what is the novel about?
  3. Who is the real criminal? Marmeladov, for abandoning his family? Luzhin for exploiting Dunya? Svidrigailov for murdering his wife? Sonya for prostituting herself? The greedy pawnbroker whom Roskolnikov murdered?
  4. Who among us is not a criminal? Who among us has not attempted to impose his or her will on the natural order?
  5. The novel was originally written in first person, why do you think Dostoyevsky decided to change it into third? How did the POV affect the telling of the story?
  6. Sonya and Raskolnikov have one thing in common – they share the same feelings of shame and alienation. Compare and contrast their circumstances that lead them to this shared feeling. How does this bring them together? Why does Raskolnikov confess to her?
  7. Raskolnikov wavers between wanting to confess his crime, and desperately hoping to get away with it. Why?
  8. Raskolnikov has a theory that some people have a right to commit crimes, and are somehow above the law. He argues that with the pawnbroker's money he can perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while ridding the world of a worthless parasite. He also commits this murder test his own hypothesis that some people are naturally capable of, and even have the right to, do such things. Can you think of any modern-day examples of this attitude?
  9. Discuss Roskolnikov's theory of the ordinary versus the extraordinary man.
  10. Compare the characters of Roskolnikov, Luzhin, and Svidrigailov. How is each of these men a "villain," and to what extent are they guilty? How does each man face his guilt, and how does each suffer for it?
  11. Compare the major female characters: Sonya, Dunya, Katerina Ivanovna. Do you think they are well-rounded characters or stereotypes? How does each figure in Roskolnikov's actions?
  12. Later, in confessing the murder to Sonya, Roskolnikov claims, "Did I really kill the old woman? No, it was myself I killed.... And as for the old woman, it was the Devil who killed her, not I." (p. 488) What does he mean by this? Why doesn't the confession ease him of his inner torment?
  13. Does the fact that Roskolnikov never uses the money he stole from the pawnbroker make him less-or more-guilty? Why do you think he never recovers the stolen items or cash?

*Ancillary - ajd. auxiliary; assisting.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Saga of the Unprepared

Ok, so can we talk about last Friday? Because I have some serious emotions about that traumatizing morning and I think some blog therapy might help.

DC was ridiculously hot last week, so I started doing early morning workouts because the evenings were unbearable (turns out I can run at 6:15 am – shocking!). Plus I recently started a new job (so far, so good!). Basically, big life changes on the Mollie front…and these facts are relevant because a) I’m not quite into the routine of pre-work running, and b) I’m on new job best behavior, and therefore can’t be late to work.

Anywho, back to Friday. I got up at the crack of dawn (i.e. 5:18 am – and yes, I do set my alarm to that exact number) to catch a ride to the Ballston track with my teammate for our weekly tempo run. I was tired, it was humid, but workouts must be worked out. Unfortunately Friday’s workout ended after just one 2-mile interval. Because it was bad out there - “air quality” never concerned me so much as it does here!

I got in about 6 miles total running, and left the workout feeling slightly bummed but not terrible. I metro’ed to my new office location and headed to the basement locker room, looking forward to being at my desk bright and early.

But no. The key fob they promised me would work in the basement office gym was not working. I couldn’t get in. I went up to my office and grabbed the intern bathroom key to try it in the door.

Back to the basement – key fail. Ugh, what next? My sweat had long cooled and I needed a shower STAT. I went to the security guard and explained my predicament. He made a few calls, wrote down my name and key number, and said that just this once he’d let me in. (My undying gratitude to you sir!) We went to the basement together, he opened the door, and thought I was on my way to cleanliness and breakfast.

But again, I was mistaken. Inside the gym, the womens’ locker room had a key code on the door! GAH. Noooooo I whined to no one at all. Back up the elevator to ask the guard for the code (for those of you keeping track, this was my 6th time on the elevator that morning). Luckily I jammed my newspaper in the fitness room door to prevent the guard from needing let in again. He gave me a code and back down I went (elevator ride #7). It took a few tries and some strategically articulated Noooowwaaahhhhhaaaaaaa groans of rage and frustration on my part, but finally I got in.

Only to realize that I forgot: 1) my shampoo, 2) my makeup, 3) a bra and 4) a towel. Seriously. W…T…F! I panicked momentarily, but knew I had no choice but to suck it up, shower with the crappy public bathroom soap, and wear my sweat-soaked sports bra.

Shower complete, it was only 8:30 (ah the benefits of working out early). I pried on my disgusting sports bra and headed out to find a store. I wandered the streets of DC, hangry and stressed. Turns out clothing stores aren’t open that early. I even called 6x6 to see if she could help (but mostly just to whine). Luckily CVS’s are ubiquitous*, so the makeup part was easy. I bought some mascara and returned to work, resigning myself to a seriously uncomfortable morning.

This diatribe* has gone on long enough – thank you for your patience.

The bottom line is: Way to go me, showing up to the first all-staff meeting uni-boobed and with a neon green sweat-soaked sports bra peeping out the shoulder of my professional-ish top. Jeesh.

Note to self: Be better prepared. Because the worst half of this saga was entirely my fault.

*Ubiquitous - adj. existing everywhere at the same time, constantly encountered; widespread
*Diatribe - n. an angry speech

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cake of the Week: Root Beer Cake with Root Beer Fudge Frosting

In the summer I dream about floating in an inner tube in Lake Tahoe. Bobbing with the waves in the middle of a clear cold lake sounds like absolute bliss to me right now. Alas, instead I am adrift in DC’s concrete sea, struggling not to drown in my own sweat...

But just because I can’t be mid-lake doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t be! And by “people,” I mean my ice cream. If the closest I come to ‘cold and bobbing’ is a root beer float, then I guess I can be ok with that! (Bear with me here, I realize this segue is a stretch…I promise it’ll all make sense!)

Odds are you haven’t had a root beer float in a while – they tend to fall in the domain of elementary school parties and summer ice cream stands. But I strongly encourage you to re-visit this classic summer treat. My family always did Coke floats, just because that was my Dad’s soda of choice, but there’s something irresistibly sassafras-y about root beer that I love.

And when I love something, I add chocolate and put it into cake form. Obviously. This cake is a Chocolate Root Beer Cake with Root Beer Fudge Frosting. With a scoop of ice cream of course (we did cookies and cream)!

It’s not super root beer-y, but there’s enough flavor that you can tell it’s not a normal chocolate cake. The texture is very moist and spongy, and the frosting is intense. The recipe made way more frosting than I needed; I had about ¾ of a cup leftover. (Though extra frosting is rarely a bad thing!)

Root Beer Bundt Cake (Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking on Playing House)
2 cups root beer (do not use diet)
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

Root Beer Fudge Frosting:
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly (I used unsweetened chocolate)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup root beer
2/3 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 325F. Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a medium saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder, and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten, then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Gently fold the cocoa mixture into the flour mixture. The batter will be slightly lumpy. Do not overbeat, as it could cause the cake to be tough.

4. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minute, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and turn it out onto the rack.

5. Put all the frosting ingredients into a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until the frosting is shiny and smooth. Or use a hand held-mixer to beat all ingredients until smooth. Use a spatula to spread the frosting over the crown of the bundt in a thick layer. Let the frosting set before serving, with the ice cream on the side.

Feel free to serve this cake with a side of root beer float...Yummmhmmmmm! :)