Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tomato Pesto Tart

This is a tart but it’s not dessert. I KNOW. Rumor has it this is a thing people do – put thought and effort and planning into making non-dessert food. 

I wanted to make something seasonal and pretty for my party a couple weekends ago, so I put on my thinking hat and meandered over to my farmer’s market. The tomatoes at Eastern Market are ridiculously delicious, which I know thanks to the fantastic farmer’s market free samples. Tomato slices with a sprinkling of salt = summertime swoon

As I paced past the stalls, my mind ran through some appetizer options -- Pizzas? Crostini? Quiche? Kebabs? Something not toooooo time/effort-intensive, that would be good at room temperature...hmmmm. 

I bought four big heirloom tomatoes (two red and two yellow), along with a clove of garlic, bunch of basil, and a bag of walnuts. Tomato Pesto Tart. Whole Wheat Olive Oil Crust. And a little bit of egg and parmesan to hold it all together. YES. 

I usually make walnut pesto because a) I like it, and b) walnuts are significantly cheaper than pine nuts. My recipe (below) makes enough pesto to have some extra (super-easy dip: ¼ cup pesto + 1 cup Greek yogurt = serve with beet chips!). But you could definitely make things easier on yourself and use jarred pesto instead.

Tomato Pesto Tart

Olive Oil Tart Crust
Adapted from Pastry Affair.
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour 
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt 
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil (optional)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil 
  • 1/3 cup cold water, plus extra if necessary
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (175 degrees C). Spray or butter a 10-inch tart pan.
  2. In a medium bowl or food processor, mix the flours, salt, and basil. Add the olive oil and water and use your hands to mix until it comes together (or if you’re using a food processor, pulse with a regular blade until begins to come together.) If it’s not coming together, add more water in teaspoon increments until it forms a ball. The dough should not be sticky and wet.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to form a 12 inch circle. [Turns out I don’t have a rolling pin, so I used a bottle of wine to make a rough circle-ish, then transferred it into the tart pan and just kind of pressed it into shape. Rustic. #win] Transfer to tart pan, and press into the sides. Prick the dough with a fork before baking. Bake for 20 minutes before removing and allow to cool slightly before filling.
Walnut Pesto
Yield: ¾ cup
  • 2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic (peeled and coarsely chopped)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Toast walnuts either on the stove or in the oven until they start to smell nutty (pay attention -- the line between deliciously toasted and burnt is very fine! This is not the time to get sidetracked!).
  2. In a food processor or blender, process all the ingredients until smooth. (You can make the pesto in advance - just keep it sealed and refrigerated.)
For the filling:
  • 4 medium or large-sized tomatoes, sliced (I used red and yellow)
  • ½ cup Walnut Pesto (recipe above)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, plus a bit more to sprinkle on top
  1. Spread pesto evenly in the bottom of the slightly cooled tart crust.
  2. Arrange tomato slices on top of the pesto.
  3. Whisk together eggs, milk, and parmesan, and pour over tomatoes. 
  4. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the eggs set. 
  5. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan on top for serving.

Isn't it beautiful!?! Also, this tart, re-heated in a toaster oven, makes excellent lunchtime leftovers!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Weekend Report: Opening Ceremonies and Smithsonian Art Museums

As expected, Friday night’s Opening Ceremonies were kinda confusing, totally bizarre, a little bit boring, but also completely fantastic. The best part was the Chariots of Fire/Mr. Bean montage (which you can watch here) – it was the perfect mix of the most inspirational with the most ridiculous. And we ate themed food: UKsadillas! (I apologize for that.)

After our Sunday morning runs, SpeedyKate and decided not to O.D. on Olympics, and instead meandered down to the Mall for some much-needed museum time.

We started with a Joan Miró exhibit in the Modern Art Wing of the National Gallery of Art. It was so interesting!  Miró’s is mostly the kind of art I can appreciate after reading about his life experiences and objectives, but not the kind of art I particularly enjoy. Except the Constellations Series – I really liked those.

Up we went to the modern art tower, which tends to be very hit-or-miss; last time it was a hit, but this time Barnett Newman was definitely a miss. Color me ignorant, but vertical black lines on white do not communicate Christ on the Cross…sorry.

We moseyed via the Space Mountain-esque underground walkway over to the main gallery to see a huge George Bellows exhibit. You’d probably recognize Bellow’s boxing paintings, and his works mostly focus on “the urban landscape of New York.”

After the National Gallery, we swung by the National Museum of African Art. Though so-called “traditional” African art really isn’t my jam (masks just don’t do it for me), this small museum tends to have excellent modern art exhibits. Yesterday did not disappoint – we saw Lalla Essaydi Revisions.

  • Moroccan-born, Essaydi became an artist after relocating from Saudi Arabia to the United States. She believes her work, with its intimate portrayal of Moroccan women, would not have been possible without distance from her homeland.

  • Revisions brings together, for the first time, selections from each photographic series, rarely exhibited paintings, and a multimedia installation. While each work and genre speaks volumes on their own, from the ensemble emerges Essaydi's personal narrative and critical reflection on her experience as a liberal Moroccan, Arab, African, and Muslim woman living across cultures.

After the museums we continued on our walk – all the way to Fro Zen Yo at Farragut (oh hey Cinnamon Roll flavor!!!), and then to Foggy Bottom to buy groceries. Cookie butter and coconut milk and cashews…get excited!

After hours away, clearly it was Olympics time again. I consider this time period as my Olympics warm-up – I enjoy watching swimming and gymnastics and all the other stuff, but really (well duh) I’m excited for Track and Field. Go USA!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Best of the Week #69

Happy Olympics Opening Ceremonies Friday!

My week took a turn for the crazy yesterday (which included a 4 hour meeting in which my job may have been redefined – in a good way). I have also run 41.5 miles in the past 7 days and not slept much more than 6 hours per night…so I'm wearing my sleepy-pants (or skirt, as the case may be), but currently enjoying oatmeal with apricots ginger and cinnamon, and totally psyched it’s Friday!

My most popular post this week was the truly epic Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars (I challenge you to make these and not eat them all!), and the friend I first made them for is having her baby shower tomorrow – congrats to Salamah and Seth and there soon-to-be born baby boy!

Now onto more important things: who’s excited to watch all the sports, get inspired, cry during the national anthem, and just generally think all things Olympics for the next two weeks? THIS GIRL.

This is a pretty Olympics-heavy Best of the Week, since that’s what I’ve been reading about…

Looking forward to this tonight: “London Olympics Opening Ceremony to Feature Long-Awaited Battle Between Mary Poppins and Voldemort.”
  • Olympic ceremonies are always weird, in a big budget pagan Mentos commercial directed by Baz Luhrmann sort of way — interactions are exaggerated, characters behave in bizarre ways while donning costuming designed by drunken sewing prodigies.
  • According to reports from people who have seen Opening Ceremony rehearsals, Friday night's spectacle will involve famous British literary characters kicking the everyloving Olympic shit out of each other, finally culminating in an epic battle between Mary Poppins and Voldemort. Probably don't drop acid before you watch the London opening ceremonies.
I totally agree: “The Best Race in the Olympics.” All my running friends will love the article, even if you don’t agree that the 5K is the best race.
  • And, in fact, it’s one of the themes I want to chat with you about—particularly concerning my favorite event, the five thousand metres race. It’s one of the most fun to run, and it’s certainly the most fun to watch. It’s long enough that there’s time for real strategy, but it’s not so long that you get bored. The last mile is often amazing. (Here’s Kenenisa Bekele in the 2008 Olympics, which he finished with a final mile of about 3:58; here’s Lasse Viren outkicking Steve Prefontaine in 1972.)

"Don’t Even Consider Talking About the Olympics: What’s behind the shocking suppression of free speech at U.S. political conventions and the London Games?"
  • Know that wherever you go and whatever you do, you will enjoy, at the Olympics “the biggest mobilization of military and security forces seen in the UK since the Second World War.” According to a report by Stephen Graham in the Guardian, “More troops—around 13,500—will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure.” There will be an aircraft carrier docked on the Thames, surface-to-air missile systems, and a “thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence.” Throw in the new scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, and disease-tracking systems that will long outlast the games, and you have a sense of what’s to come in terms of big public events.
And finally, Swimmer Ryan Lochte is “a scalding hot goon.” AND looks like a puppy. (source)

Not Olympics related at all: I went to this event on Tuesday at the Holocaust Museum -- sat in the 10th row and saw Hillary speak up-close!
  • Two thirds of Americans believe that genocide is preventable, and almost 70 percent think the United States should act to prevent or stop genocide and mass atrocities in other parts of the world, according to a new poll commissioned by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (more detailed findings here: http://psbresearch.com/endinggenocide/appendixforushmm-120723220156-phpapp02.pdf)
  • The poll on American attitudes towards genocide was conducted by the polling firm Penn Schoen Berland on the basis of a telephone survey of more than 1,000 Americans between June 30 and July 10, 2012.

Another read-out on the event: "Foreign Policy Experts Discuss Ways to Avert Future Genocide"
  • She and others who appeared at the symposium focused on the practical steps that might be taken to identify places where genocide can occur and to pre-empt it. The risk of mass killings goes up in nations where resources are scarce and governments are fragile or autocratic, they agreed.
  • No one minimized the challenge. “We must remain open to the possibility that the past is not necessarily a predictor of where and when mass atrocities will occur, or the means by which they will,” said Chris Kojm, chairman of the National Intelligence Council, a government agency, which will release its first estimate on the threat of genocide and mass killings later this year.
  • But he said that there were certain reliable indicators that genocide or mass killing would occur, including unmet demand for food, water and energy, and that the report would look at those factors in assessing risk.
This is a great chart on Storing Fruits and Vegetables (PDF). Did you know you should store basil at room temperature in water????

Best read of my week, about the running of the bulls in Spain – “The Bull Passes Through.”
  • We don’t try to convince him to reconsider because this is not the kind of thing you can fault someone for skipping. And if we convince him to do it and he gets hurt, we have to pay a doctor to fix him and a therapist to fix us.
  • This is not a race. No one is PR-ing today. No one is qualifying for Boston. Speed doesn’t much matter because something like a dozen bulls are being released at the sound of a rocket, and they are going to catch whomever they want.
  • The bulls come next to me, not at me, and their momentum carries them left, and they are the biggest mass of living matter I have ever seen…
This is intense and interesting (don't be scared, the photos aren't bad at all): "I took secret photos of my abortion to empower and educate women."
  • Experiencing my own abortion and photographing the result was a sobering experience. As a woman, I reckon with the power of images every day. But after my abortion, I realised images are literally being used as a weapon to petrify and assault viewers into fear, shame, and isolation. The protesters' heartless use of lifeless foetus images made me feel cheated, lied to and manipulated. It was just propaganda: intended to shake the core of my deepest biological, intellectual and emotional foundation.
This NYT Style article about a polo player and model is super-silly. “Galloping Into a World That Stretches Beyond Polo.”
  • ‘Hey, this is what I do. I’m in one place for a couple months, and then I leave. I’m really a modern-day gypsy.’ ”

And finally, one more running picture from Wednesday night's time trial - SpeedyKate and Mollie - someone is going the wrong way!!!

That is all. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Race Report: 1 Mile Time Trial

Yesterday my plan was to get off work, metro over to Washington Lee High School, and cheer for my teammates running the mile and 3K in the DC Road Runners Track Championships. My whole team was supposed to do at least the mile. We rarely race short distances, so Coach George saw this as a good opportunity for everyone to race for time and get a mid-summer gauge of fitness.   

Warming up with SpeedyKate and Cris.
So as yesterday afternoon dragged along I started thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know) – maybe I should run the mile? I gchatted SpeedyKate and emailed Coach George, half-hoping they would convince me that racing a mile off of 4 months of absolutely no speed-work was a terrible idea.

BUT both gave me the green light, so at 7 pm I found myself lining up on a waterfall start, getting ready to race 1600 meters (4 laps = 1 mile) for the first time since college. I was uncharacteristically not nervous -- all I had to lose was my dignity, and Lord knows I have precious little of that. But that’s not to say that I didn’t care or wasn’t going to try -- as in every race I run, I always try. (I strongly believe that if you choose to put yourself on a start line there, are no excuses.)

CAR girls running the mile.
The original plan for the mile was to have an Open Women’s race for those running under 6:30-pace, and then two subsequent heats for under-7:00, and under-8:00. But as the starter looked at the sea of CAR red approaching the line he decided to split us into two heats – under-6:30 and under-6:00.

The last speed workout I did was waaaay back in March, right before I injured myself, so I had no idea what kind of time I would run. I put myself in the slower heat (under-6:30), since I was hoping to run around 6:00, but I didn’t really know.

The gun (or in this case the horn) sounded and off we went. I took off at what felt like track-pace to me (I never race with a watch), and panic-face looked at George about 100m in – is this ok??? It was! 

Unfortunately I ran alone for the entire race, which makes running fast a lot harder. But I did run very evenly – I think I did about 1:23 for the first lap, around 2:50-ish for the half-mile, and then finished in 5:47. (Results are here - I am listed as "Hollie.")

(To Coach George’s chagrin, I did not wear a CAR uniform, nor did I wear flats or spikes…this is the downside of making 4 pm raceday decisions. BUT yes, those are CAR ribbons in my hair.)

Cheryl took awesome pictures (I count any running picture in which I do not look like a 400-lb man as a win), and they're all posted here.

I think that by now you’re all pretty aware of how much I love track and running and cheering. I spent the rest of the evening running a loooooong cool-down and cheering for my teammates in their respective races (GO CAR!!!). 

The track was selling itself quite well – great weather, nice people, a fun low-key event…yep I think it’s time for me to return to team workouts.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Literary Bite: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I love this book. I started reading The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach on a Friday at the pool after work, and could not put it down! By Saturday afternoon I’d already read a solid couple hundred pages.

It’s well-written and engaging and interesting and *gasp* makes me like baseball! When I started reading, The Art of Fielding seemed like it would be a classic underdog sports story – Henry Skrimshander the undersized phenom shortstop, making it in baseball at a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin. But Henry turned into a lesser character in comparison with Guert Affenlight, the college’s Moby Dick-obsessed president, Mike Schwartz, Henry’s best friend and pseudo-coach, and Pella, Affenlight’s estranged but returned daughter.

The NYT characterized it not as a baseball novel, but as “a campus novel and a bromance (and for that matter a full-fledged gay romance), a comedy of manners and a tragicomedy of errors…”

But it begins and ends with baseball, and the sport is used as a metaphor for the pursuit of truth and beauty.

  • “For Schwartz this formed the paradox at the heart of baseball, or football, or any other sport. You loved it because you considered it an art: an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about The Human Condition. The Human Condition being, basically, that we're alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not. Baseball was an art, but to excel at it you had to become a machine. It didn't matter how beautifully you performed SOMETIMES, what you did on your best day, how many spectacular plays you made. You weren't a painter or a writer--you didn't work in private and discard your mistakes, and it wasn't just your masterpieces that counted.”

I on-and-off loved and hated all the characters. None are perfect, and all, at one point or another, I just wanted to shake. The novel builds up to everything going well – Henry is about to go pro, Schwartz is dating Pella – until things go dramatically wrong. Suddenly Henry becomes paralyzed by overthinking and loses his touch (nothing gets me like someone failing at a sport they love). When things go wrong with Henry, they begin to go wrong for everyone else as well, and through a series of events everyone makes mistakes and everything falls apart.

The story's events and relationships don’t always seem very plausible to me, but then I didn’t go to a small college in the Midwest. And really, plausible or not, it doesn’t matter because the story is great. This is Harbach’s first novel. He’s a Jonathan Franzen-like writer – modern American fiction that particularly appeals to people of my generation.

I have been recommending The Art of Fielding right and left – seriously, you should read it!

And now, much like this reviewer, I want to read Moby Dick.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Cake of the Week: Pistachio Apricot Cake with Mascarpone Filling and Whipped Cream Frosting

Want to hear some crazy news? Yesterday was Eat Run Read’s birthday!!! 

3 years.
690 posts.
311,620 pageviews.

I started this little project the summer after I graduated college and who knows how long it will continue? (If my blog were a person it would be a toddler by now!) At first my family wondered if I’d run out of things to blog about. I wondered if eventually I would lose interest. But I’m happy to report that has yet to happen – 1,095 days later and Eat Run Read is still going strong! 

Major lesson learned? Well I already knew that I liked baking and running and reading, but turns out I like to write. A lot. Before starting this blog, my writing experience was 100% academic. But here I am, three years after my first post I still look forward to writing every day. 

So THANK YOU for reading. Seriously, anyone who knows me knows that I get excited when people read and like what I write. And thank you for commenting – thank you for your oohs and awws over my prettiest baking creations, thank you for your love and support through my running shenanigans, and thank you for sharing your own tips and feedback and fun links on my posts!

I asked you this Eat Run Read's first birthday, and I'll ask it again -- what do you like about this blog? What is your favorite part? What should there be more of? What should I shut up about? I'm curious what people like, so let me know!

It is fitting that I celebrate this great occasion with a cake of the epic variety. I made this Pistachio Apricot Cake with Mascarpone Filling and Whipped Cream Frosting for our housewarming party this weekend and not to toot my own horn, but toot! it was pretty freaking delicious.

The cake has 5 eggs, giving it just the right balance of lightness but also satisfyingly cakey, and was very pistachio tasting.  The mascarpone filling is swoonable – think of it as a cross between the flavor of whipped cream and the texture of cream cheese. And the final (tricky but totally worth it) component is the stabilized whipped cream frosting around the outside. The gelatin and cream of tartar stabilizes the cream, so it behaves like a super-light frosting and won’t melt. And it tastes awesome. It’s kind of like I died and went to heaven…in cake form.

Pistachio Apricot Cake with Mascarpone Filling and Whipped Cream Frosting

For the Pistachio Cake (from Smitten Kitchen):
  • 3/4 cup skinned pistachio nuts
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten

For the Mascarpone Filling:
  • 16 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 5 Tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 ripe apricots, sliced

For the Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting:
Yield: about 3-4 cups frosting. Enough to generously frost one cake and have leftovers.
  • 1 teaspoon gelatin powder
  • 4 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 speck of salt
  • 8 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar (I don’t know how absolutely necessary this is, but it can’t hurt and I’m paranoid about my whipped cream melting.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Make the cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter three 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
  2. Spread out the pistachios in a baking pan and toast in the oven for 7 to 10 minutes, or until lightly colored. Transfer to a dish and let cool completely. Finely chop the pistachios and set 1/4 cup aside for decoration.
  3. Put the remaining 1/2 cup pistachios in a food processor. Add the sugar and pulse just enough to grind them finely.
  4. Pour into a large mixing bowl and add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Blend with the mixer on low for 30 seconds. Add the butter, milk, and vanilla and, with the mixer on low, beat until completely incorporated.
  5. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beaten eggs in 2 or 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and mixing only long enough to blend after each addition. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared pans.
  6. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the layers to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely.
Make the Mascarpone Filling:
  1. Beat cheese, cream, sugar, and vanilla with a mixer until smooth.
Make the Whipped Cream Frosting:
  1. Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small bowl to soften (about 5 minutes). 
  2. Scald 4 tablespoon cream; pour over gelatin, stirring till dissolved. 
  3. Refrigerate until consistency of unbeaten egg white (about 30 minutes, but check it so it doesn’t become too firm.) 
  4. Using a hand-mixer, beat until smooth.  (If you accidently let it get too firm in the fridge, just beat it for longer, it should loosen up). 
  5. Whip remaining cream. Add salt, sugar, vanilla, and cream of tartar; beat in gelatin mixture. 
  1. Once the cake is completely cool, make the Mascarpone Filling. Spread a little less than 1/3 of the mascarpone filling on your first layer. Arrange apricot slices. 
  2. Spread a very thin layer of mascarpone filling on the underside of the next layer and place it on top of the apricots (so it goes mascarpone-apricots-mascarpone, and keeps the cake from getting soggy from the fruit). Repeat for the next two layers, and if you have any leftover mascarpone, spread it around the outsides of the cake as a “crumb layer.” 
  3. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours. (At this point, don’t worry about how it looks because it will all be covered in whipped cream soon!)
  4. Make the whipped cream frosting and cover the whole cake. Decorate with a few slices of apricot and pistachio pieces. 
  5. Invite friends over and serve at room temperature.

Printable recipe.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Weekend Report: Housewarming and Baseball

As you may recall, SpeedyKate and I moved into our new apartment back in May. It took us a few months, but we’re finally settled in – furniture is in the rooms and pictures are on the walls – so this past Saturday we threw a housewarming party! 

We wanted it to be semi-classy, with good finger food and fancy drinks. The menu was elaborate – the two of us went on our respective Saturday morning runs,  then literally cooked all afternoon.

SpeedyKate made:

I made:

(I'll be posting my recipes this week.)

There was one hiccough in the preparation – a minor cake disaster required a last-minute grocery store trip (the party started at 7 and I was sprinting the aisles of Safeway at 6:35). I may have been panic-face-in-apron as the first guests arrived, but hey, they’re my friends, they’ve all seen the Mollie-panic-face before…

Lots of friends came, I’m pretty sure everyone had fun, and all enjoyed the food and cake -- so I officially declare our house WARM and our party a win!

On Sunday, after picking up all the party pieces and eating leftover cake for breakfast, I made my way down to Nationals Park for a 1:30 baseball game.

Thanks to reading The Art of Fielding, I’ve been in a baseball-watching mood recently (weird, I know). The weather was really nice and the game was super-fun! The score was 9-2, and the Nats hit two home runs. In true baseball spirit I ate a hot dog (duh) and put in some solid effort into paying attention. I guess now that I’ve lived in DC for 3 years I’m officially a Nats fan, so yay!

I got home exhausted and thirsty and joined SpeedyKate on the couch until we could talk ourselves into running. Uuugggghhhhhhhhhhhhhbllleerrggghhhhhhaaaaaaa. (My I-don’t-feel-like-running faces and noises may or may not be mildly disturbing.) But our run was pleasantly surprisingly great! At 6:30 pm we left the house for an 8-mile out-and-back to Arlington Cemetery. The Mall at sunset is soooo nice.

And that my friends, is that. Hope you had a good weekend too!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Best of the Week #68

I have been getting things done this week. Namely, a brand spanking new Satellite Sentinel Project report. BAM.  I worked a ton on all of the aspects of this report, so read the blog post: "Satellite Sentinel Project Solves Mystery of Sudan Cellphone Video." 

I may be biased, but I really think this is a legitimately cool project – satellite imagery, eyewitness reports, videos, photos, oh my!
  • Few have ever heard of the Nuba Mountains village of Um Bartumbu, and fewer still have been there. It is located in the conflict-torn state of South Kordofan, Sudan, where troops fighting for the government of Sudan, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North, or SPLM/A-N, have been fighting since June 2011. Um Bartumbu Village does not appear on most maps, but it hosts a clinic, a mosque, Sudanese Church of Christ, several storerooms, a communal grinding mill, and copses of desert date trees. But for new eyewitness reports obtained by citizen journalists, the recent discovery and release of a cellphone video, and new confirmation from DigitalGlobe and Landsat satellite imagery, the world would never know of the razing of the village and the forced flight of its inhabitants. (read more)
My most popular post this week was the Zucchini Apricot Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Glaze, and it was picked up by the Christian Science Monitor! :)

I’m hopping on the apricot train and planning to make something truly epic this weekend – a mash-up of this pistachio cake, and this peach cake, but with apricots. Yummmmmm.

And now for the Best of the Week!

Probably one of the better uses of a law degree – “Is Jay-Z’s ‘99 Problems’ Legally Accurate? A Law Professor Explains in Line-by-Line Reading.

I’ve read 46 out of the “101 Books We Can’t Live Without.” And another book list - I've read 16 of these: “88 books that shaped America, at the Library of Congress.”

I don’t love the caption, but I want to find a way to work this image into my daily life.


Word of the week, brought to you by LOTR-Emily:
  • Empyrean – n. – The highest heaven or ultimate bliss. "The new espresso machine in the office made Emily feel like she had reached a state of empyrean."  
Things I’ve never thought about: “How the Gorgeous, Sometimes Fictional Sound of the Olympics Gets Made”  It’s a mix of microphones in crazy places and faking it!
  • "But, it probably goes back to the movie Robin Hood, I have a memory of the sound and I have an expectation. So I was going, 'What would be really really cool in archery to take it up a notch?' And the obvious thing was the sound of the arrow going through the air to the target. The pfft-pfft-pfft type of sound. So we looked at this little thing, a boundary microphone, that would lay flat, it was flatter than a pack of cigarettes, and I put a little windshield on it, and I put it on the ground between the athlete and the target and it completely opened up the sound to something completely different." 
  • Just to walk through the logic: based on the sound of arrows in a fictional Kevin Costner movie, Baxter created the sonic experience of sitting between the archer and the target, something no live spectator could do. 
  • "That afternoon we went out on a canoe with a couple of rowers recorded stereo samples of the different type of effects that would be somewhat typical of an event," Baxter recalls. "And then we loaded those recordings into a sampler and played them back to cover the shots of the boats."
  • The real sound, of course, would have included engine noises and a helicopter whirring overhead. The fake sound seemed normal, just oars sliding into water. In a sense, the real sound was as much of a human creation as the fake sound, and probably a lot less pleasant to listen to.
You thought we were done with this whole “Call Me Maybe” thing…but oh wow I love this on 3 levels: 1) It’s “Call Me Maybe;” 2) “Pamplemousse” means grapefruit in French and is one of my all-time favorite words (just behind “murmur”); and 3) I really like Pamplemousse the band in general.

Hallelujah  - because a world without bras would be a sad world indeed. “World’s Oldest Known Bra Found.”

An interesting paragraph in this interview with Junot Diaz (author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao):
  • Another reason for the fiancée’s absence, of course, has to do with one of the story’s Big Themes. A large part of Yunior’s problem as a character is that he suffers from that most typical of masculine deficiencies: an inability or unwillingness to imagine the women in his life as fully human. He really can’t see the woman he messes with, not really. I don’t present the fiancée because Yunior never really saw her in the first place. Part of what happens to Yunior in this story is that by the end he begins to address that socially acquired deficiency—he actually starts to gain the ability to see women. Perhaps now, for the first time, he can cohere an authentically human self—but only future tales will tell.
I think I'm a mix of "optimist" and "realist."

Awesome infographic/video: "Lolo Jones, Cleared for Takeoff."

What would you do: Run in the Olympics for a country that killed 28 members of your family? Or NOT run in the Olympics at all? Read about it
  • Marial is also a refugee from Unity State, in what is now South Sudan - and therein lies the problem. Because South Sudan has no National Olympic Committee, and because Marial has chosen not to run for Sudan (whose security forces killed 28 members of his family), he has been left without a national Olympic sponsor.
Einstein gets yarn-bombed in DC!

  • People headed into the National Academy of Sciences this morning passed by a curious sight: The institution's memorial of Albert Einstein was covered in yarn from head to toe, resulting in a colorful oddity that greeted researchers and other staffers on their way into the office.

Awesome (but not in a good way) photos: “Colorado Wildfires Photos: The Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs.”

Interview with an author: “Caitlin Moran on How to Be a Woman, How to Be a Feminist.”
  • Unless you’re gone and handed back your vote to Parliament or wherever, all women in the first world are feminist by default.
  • "Because the purpose of feminism isn't to make a particular type of woman. The idea that there are inherently wrong and inherently right 'types' of women is what's screwed feminism for so long ... What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy, and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are."
  • Absolutely shaggy macaroons. [Editor's note: Ok so that’s not particularly relevant – just an awesome phrase.]
Good adulting advice:
  • Monologues about your stress level are right up there with discussing how your urinary tract is feeling. OK, it’s not nearly that bad, but both are topics best reserved for people who really, really love you or people who are being paid to help you solve this particular problem.
And finally, this article reminds me of my own brush with a wild alligator. “IN CASE OF ALLIGATOR ATTACK...” (Yes, this is a picture of me.)

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Literary Bite: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Way back in 2009, on my Mama’s first visit to DC, I showed off my oh-so-cultured new city by taking her to a talk by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver (who is best known for The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) was on a book tour to promote her newest novel, The Lacuna.  

Having not read The Lacuna at the time of the talk, I didn’t follow all points of the discussion…but I do remember being very impressed by her research and writing process. I feel like there is this illusion with writers that they sit down and imagine and words magically appear (I’m sure some authors do write like that), but Kingsolver talked about how much she loves research and how much work (research, travel, time, interviews) she put into writing this novel.

The Lacuna is about mostly fictional characters, but centered around real events and people and places. It covers Mexico, Washington, DC, and North Carolina from 1929 to 1951. The main character, Harrison Shepherd, is born to an American father and Mexican mother, and spends his life between the two countries. In Mexico he works as a plaster-mixer, cook, and typist for Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera, and later as a secretary for exiled Communist leader Leon Trotsky in the Rivera’s home. (Crazy, but totally realistic.) When Trotsky is assassinated, Shepherd flees to America and becomes a successful author of romantic adventure novels until he is investigated by the FBI and House Un-American Activities Committee for his ties to Communism.

NPR criticized the novel for its super-passive main character, who is “so pallid, so retiring that it's very hard to stay for extended periods in his company.” I disagree entirely -- a “lacuna” is a gap, or something that is missing. I felt like Shepherd himself is the lacuna. Shepherd’s character is shown through his interactions with other characters, and through their representations of him.
  • Nevertheless, this rich novel is certainly bigger than its politics. It resurrects several dramatic events of the early 20th century that have fallen out of public consciousness, brings alive the forgotten details of everyday life in the 1940s, and illustrates how attitudes and prejudices are shaped by political opportunism and the rapacious media. But despite this large, colorful canvas, ultimately "The Lacuna" is a tender story about a thoughtful man who just wanted to enjoy that basic American right: the right to be left alone. As he was fond of saying, "The most important part of the story is the piece of it you don't know." (WaPo)

The book started a bit slow, but definitely grew on me. I was very impressed by Kingsolver’s ability to cover so many topics so well – politics and McCarthyism and art and feminism and relationships and families, spanning two countries and 20 years. The Lacuna is definitely worth reading.