Friday, September 30, 2011

Best of the Week #34

It’s the last day of September, can you believe it? Tomorrow is October and that means fall is fully underway…yay!

I’m totally psyched about fall, looking forward to the weekend, happy about the carrot muffin I’m eating, please the humidity has finally broken, and delighted with my run around the Monument this morning! (So many positives this lovely Friday!)

My most popular post this week was The Pudgy Cake. Oof.

Jess got to go to an amazing dinner and write it up for FinanceFoodie in Boston. Sooo jealous! (And this girl is the only person I’ve encountered who might abuse alliteration and figurative language more than I do…). (Read the full post here.)

Lydia Shire and Jasper White are kind of like the Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn of the Boston restaurant scene – no matter the space, no matter the cuisine or no matter the clientele, they just make it work. Upon entering their year-old Towne Stove and Spirits nestled next to Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay, it was pretty obvious that Shire and White could keep this valiant venture working for many more to come. The warm, relaxing décor washed everyone and everything aglow, while despite the menu’s inherent pricey-ness, it was obvious that Towne already touted a healthy round of regulars– a true testament to the high-end, but low-maintenance restaurant’s staying power.

AKA Darkwave published a Pool Etiquette article for pool runners. This one was particularly amusing to me…I hope I’ve never done this to anyone (SpeedyKate? 6x6? Let me know next time)!
If you're running with a buddy, you're going to be chit chatting face to face for a while.  Brush your teeth!  Mouthwash! (fortunately, I've never had this issue with any of my pool-running buddies). 
Flashback to the World Track and Field Championships…this video is a Claymation of Usain Bolt’s false start in the 100m. Hilarious.

Stop motion Usain Bolt from Kimmel Carole on Vimeo.

Did you hear that “Coffee Cuts Women’s Depression Risk”? Yup, no wonder I’m so happy this morning! 

Also, yesterday was National Coffee Day. I celebrated by drinking coffee. (As I do every day…but yesterday I drank with purpose!)

I could never work somewhere like this

Yesterday I chatted on the phone with my dad. He had no idea that there is a horrendous famine going on in Somalia right now. Seriously. VOA created this awesome infographic - learn more about it!

SpeedyKate says I should read this book – The Last Resort. I will once I finish The Three Musketeers.

When all the new tablets and kindles came out earlier this week I saw this tweet and was amused: @markhachman My consumption of books is not really limited by features but rather available time... If Amazon could work on that now, that would be swell

The Sweet Details posted my Lemon Filled Cupcakes as a "Baking Goal." Yummm! This weekend I'm going to make a raspberry version - has anyone heard of raspberry curd? Stay tuned! 

Two awesome things from Runners World Daily this week:
1. rogue gourd (that phrase just makes me giggle) 
2. This quote: "To quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride: 'You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.'"

Discovery announced the discovery of an orange crocodile. Weird. 

In China, business travelers take extreme precautions to avoid cyber-espionage. (source)
Other travelers hide files on thumb drives, which they carry at all times and use only on off-line computers. One security expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid drawing scrutiny from the Chinese government, buys a new iPad for each visit, then never uses it again.
This Slate piece is weird and hilarious: “The Joy of Unicorns, The real reason you never see the mythical one-horned beasts.” (It feels like taking a bubble bath full of giggling puppies!)

And new life-goal: to pool run in all these places - 10 Amazing Public Pools.

Have a great weekend, and Happy October!!!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Literary Bite: Three Dollars

Three Dollars, by Eliot Perlman, starts off clever, ironic, and a little depressing. Perlman’s writing continues to be clever throughout, but as the story continues this very good book just gets more and more depressing.

Amazon tells me it is a “deft, passionate portrait of a man coming to terms with his place in an increasingly hostile and corporate world, while struggling to retain his humanity, his heart, and his sense of humor.”

Eddie, the main character, starts telling his story from high school as he and his girlfriend, Tanya, are preparing for college. Though the two are over-the-top ironic pretentious pre-hipster-age hipsters, I have to admit that I kind of identified with them. Smart kids, heading to college, with all this potential but no idea what to do with themselves reeks of 21st century WPP. "Whatever we chose to study at university and however intensely we studied it, we would still be the same middle class, socially-concerned, politically-inactive, foreign-film going wine and cheese tasters."

This book is worth the read, if only for Perlman’s writing. He’s great at really capturing things in a heartbreakingly amusing way. (I tried to google some example quotes, but am failing…so you’ll just have to trust me on this.)

Like Freedom, Three Dollars is very post-modern and liberal-leaning. It takes place in Australia -- a country whose politics I know absolutely nothing about – but the themes of materialism and environmental degradation and the rise and fall of the middle class are all there.  Towards the end Eddie philosophizes a bit too much, which can feel tedious.

Though the book is depressing, I think that Perlman is actually an optimist. He chooses to focus on the good in individuals (while vilifying corporate and government structures), and his characters are all likable. Random acts of kindness seem to be his thing – Eddie meets an alcoholic and helps him with his dog, and later the alcoholic helps Eddie when he is in need.  

I just hope real life isn’t as much of a bummer as Perlman makes it out to be…

A movie of the book was released in 2005 to pretty good reviews. 

Perlman is more famous for his second book, Seven Types of Ambiguity

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cake of the Week: Pudgy Cake

This is not a cake for the faint of heart. Luckily I associate with only the most courageous of dessert eaters.

Dessert eaters who think nothing of taking their taste-buds in their hands, wearing their sugar tolerance on their sleeves, and selflessly sacrificing themselves for the sweet cause.

I put their fortitude to the test last week. A sky-rocketing sugar high, followed by a bit of a tummy-ache later, we all survived The Pudgy Cake and lived to tell the tale. And what a tale it was. One layer of brownie, one layer of cookie dough, one layer of funfetti cake, and all covered in chocolate/vanilla swirled frosting.

I brought a tupperware-full to work the next day, sending out an email begging my co-workers to save me from myself and take this cake off my hands. Clearly, they were happy to oblige. 

Co-worker testimonial via email: "Wow, delicious! It's like three desserts in one. This is the most insane cake I have ever eaten. I want to inject this into my arm and listen to jazz."

Unfortunately it was only 3pm, so going on a cake-trip was not an option...

But anywho, making this cake definitely is an option. It's surprisingly super-easy. The recipe comes from Cookies and Cups. I changed her recipe slightly in that I halved the cookie dough component. (Trust me, even the halved amount is enough to send you spinning in a sugar high like you've never seen before!)

The Pudgy Cake

Bake a “Family Size” Fudge Brownie mix in a sprayed 8″ round pan.

Let it cool completely. I actually baked both the brownie and Funfetti at the same time - they both require a 350* oven. 

Bake Funfetti cake in 8″ round pans.  Cool completely.
(You will use only one of these for this cake…freeze the other layer or make cakeballs or do cupcakes, whatever.)

Make your egg-free cookie dough:
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 t. salt
1 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine first 5 ingredients in a mixing bowl and cream together. Add flour and stir until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Plop it on top of your brownie and spread it evenly. 

Top your cookie dough with your funfetti layer.
Now stand back and smile lovingly at what you have just created. That’s an important step.

Frost the entire cake. I made half vanilla half chocolate frosting and swirled them together. Just for fun.

Make sure you bring the cake to room temperature before serving so the cookie dough is soft and gooey and delicious!


Monday, September 26, 2011

Weekend Report: Mollie's Museum Tour

It always shocks me to learn that some of my DC friends have not been to the Smithsonians. I know that museum visiting is a very cliché touristy thing to do...but the museums are touristy for a reason - they're awesome

This Saturday I originally planned to hike Old Rag with one of my college ski team friends, but ominous weather reports deterred us and we opted to hit up the National Mall instead.

This friend sheepishly admitted that she had never been to the National Gallery before.  

What??? I was shocked. (Shocked!

What about the Freer-Sackler? The African Art Museum? No and no. 

My taxes may not get me voting rights or representation in Congress, but the Smithsonians are free for a reason and I do take full advantage of that!

So the afternoon quickly turned into a Mollie's-all-time-favorite-museums-and-exhibits tour. 

We started at the Chester Dale exhibit in the National Gallery. Love. (I've blogged about it before.) The museum store was also having a great sale on prints, so I bought a few Matisses to decorate my depressingly sterile white new office.

Next we went to the African Art Museum. It's permanent collection is meh, but the coming and going modern African art exhibits are always amazing!

Artists in Dialogue 2: Sandile Zulu and Henrique Oliveira is the second in a series of exhibitions in which the National Museum of African Art has invited two artists to create new works of art in response to one another...Sandile Zulu of South Africa and Brazilian artist Henrique Oliveira have exchanged ideas and techniques to explore their mutual interest in visual themes and intellectual concerns relating to the manipulability of a painting's surface, the workings of the inner body and the inspirational power of elements like fire and water. Henrique Oliveira has shared his trademark woods with Sandile Zulu; Zulu, in turn, inspired Oliveira to work with fire for the first time.

Then we took the winding stairs down into the maze of depths beneath the Smithsonian Castle Garden. This 3-floor hanging sculpture is called "Monkeys Grasping for the Moon" and intertwines the word "monkey" in a 21 different languages. 

You never really know what you're going to find down there...this time it was an exhibition on Latino music and dance in America called America Sabor. We rumba'ed, salsa'ed, and cha-cha-cha'ed through the colorful exhibit, too lazy to really read much but happy to appreciate. 

We came out the other side via the Freer-Sackler Asian Art Museum.  We saw a special exhibit, Cixi: The Woman Behind the Throne, that's a series of pictures of the last empress of China. 

By the time we emerged from the cultural depths, my friend and I were museum'ed out. We didn't do them all (the Peacock Room! The Portrait Gallery!), but now at least she's seen some of the Smithsonian highlights. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Best of the Week #33

Hello Crazy-Face-Busy,
Thank you for inviting yourself to my Friday.


But there are so many Best of the Week links I want to share with you! So I’m taking a brief break from reporting on a state of emergency situation to bring you your favorite Friday distraction!

My most popular post this week was Remember to Enjoy Your Workouts. I got some great feedback on this post – please comment if you have ideas on how to focus on the fun parts of training when the going gets tough! 

Also, luckily AKA Darkwave offered to pool with me Thursday morning. I can hear all about Ad-Mo-Pool-Lady-Judy's sex life once...but twice might kill me. 

Guess what I made last night? Yup, you’ll read all about it on Tuesday.

I know that not everyone finds McSweeny’s fall-out-of-your-chair amusing…but I do.

My Facebook status from noon to 2:00 pm yesterday, and a mnemonic for the twelve months in the Julian calendar (January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December).

How much 'forced labor' fuels your lifestyle? Take the test to find out your slavery footprint.

Created by the U.S. State Department and a watchdog group, the free app and website will make consumers aware of their "slavery footprint."
"This is a new way to create awareness about the issue of modern slavery and empower consumers," said Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, director of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. "If we can do carbon footprints, why not slavery footprints?"

Love this image: Raindrops on Road

This post on the McGurk Effect shows a video on how your mind tells you what to hear - basically how seeing is believing.  

I don’t speak Mandarin…but: 10 extraordinarily useful Mandarin Chinese phrases
7. Zhēnde! Wǒ yìdiǎn dōu búkèqile! “Really! I’m not being polite at all!” 
Perfect for when people keep piling kung pao chicken into your bowl long after you’re full, or pouring you glass after drunken glass of baijiu — and think you’re just saying “búyào” (“I don’t want it”) to be polite. 
Once, when a Chinese friend insisted I drink another round of Tsingdao, I had to repeat this phrase over and over while shielding my glass from his swinging beer bottle. Be ready to battle for your stomach and sobriety.
And another wee bit of shameless self-promotion: Will Japan Re-Build Abyei's Banton Bridge? Love me some satellite evidence.

From 1000 Awesome Things: Reading an Actual Newspaper. I actually do read a paper newspaper still...but I'm one of few. 
Do you remember waking up on Saturday morning and tiptoeing onto the ice cold porch to grab that tightly wound paper in the plastic bag?After tossing it on the kitchen table you’d tear it open and fill the air with the stale stench of newspaper ink, hot plastic bag, and morning dew. Next you peeled off thatdisgusting black rubber band and unroll it till you had a bumpy beautiful stack of crisp fresh news. 
This post is a bit grim, but interesting and timely - Death penalty: Top 5 countries toexecute the most people
1. China is far and away the global leader in terms of the number of people executed: It executed at least 470 people in 2007 and at least 1,718 in 2008. For 2009 and 2010, Amnesty's report only lists “thousands” because of the Chinese government’s stance that such statistics are state secrets. In 2010, China executed more people than the rest of the world combined, according to Amnesty International.
According to the Death Sentences and Executions report, a large number of China’s death sentences are for drug-related offenses.
I don’t know if you know this, but yesterday, September 22, marked Bilbo Baggins’ (and Frodo’s) birthday! My friends and I are doing our LOTR nerd-fest again…and to kick it off, you must watch this video: Gollum sings I Will Survive. This will kill you. Seriously. I can’t stop laughing. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Literary Bite: Freedom

In an uncharacteristic venture into the modern, my bookclub recently opted to read the 2010 it-book, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.

I never read Franzen’s breakout book, The Corrections, because my mama didn’t like it and I trust her judgment in everything. Freedom, however, is called a stand-alone “masterpiece of American fiction” and I totally agree.

At our discussion (for which I provided Lemon Bars as brain-fuel), we mused over the question – does Freedom really define our generation/the current age? Is this book to the early 2000’s as Tender Is the Night is to the 1920s?

I think my friends and I have a pretty good perspective on this. To a degree, we are the characters of the story – middle-class white Americans. Our parents are the same ages as Patty and Walter, and we’re the same ages as Joey and Jessica.

Franzen’s strength lies in his ability to succinctly describe inter-personal relationships. And since there are so many relationships in the book (husband-wife, child-parent, sibling-sibling, spouse-lover, friend-friend, etc.), it’s hard not to see yourself reflected in their actions and emotions.

This narrative takes things to the extreme – I like to think that not everyone struggles with depression and alcoholism as much as Franzen’s characters…but maybe they do? It’s hard to give a good summary, the story is really complex. But basically, it’s told from the perspective of Patty, and former All-American basketball player who marries the “safe” guy (Walter) and has a family.

The individual struggles and personal relationships are timeless, but the context is spot-on. The book starts in the late-1980s/early 90s, with back-story going back to the 1970s when Patty was growing up. The time-period themes are interesting and relevant – feminism/anti-feminism, gentrification, suburbanization, environmentalism, and the politics of the Clinton and Bush administrations.  

The title has layered meanings. Freedom as a theme is central to Freedom the book. Individuals strive for personal freedom (i.e. Joey from Patty), while the story is set in a time where then entire society is re-defining what freedom means (post-9/11 America).

The book is underhandedly political. I would say liberal, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if Franzen actually believes in American liberalism, or if all 576 pages are a critique of it. The NYT review put it well:
Franzen grasps that the central paradox of modern American liberalism inheres not in its doctrines but in the unstated presumptions that govern its daily habits. Liberals, no less than conservatives — and for that matter revolutionaries and reactionaries; in other words, all of us — believe some modes of existence are superior to others. But only the liberal, committed to a vision of harmonious communal pluralism, is unsettled by this truth.
This book is definitely worth the read. It’s long, but I couldn’t put it down!