Sunday, August 23, 2020

Twenty Latest Reads

COVID has meant a lot of time at home and a slower pace of life for us, which has resulted in a lot of time spent reading. The weather has been so hot this summer, and I've loved sitting in the yard with a good book.

This is my stack for the 20 weeks of time following my previous list.


1) How Not to Die by Michael Gregor.

I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was factual, to-the-point, and I appreciate how it is not-for-profit, and all proceeds go to charity. The information is well-referenced and science-based, with a major push toward a plant-based diet. 9/10

2) Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria (and Other Conversations About Race) by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD.

This was a relevant and important read.  Microaggressions are so prevalent and racism is deeply embedded in policies. As a white woman, I don't have to think about race very often, but I think that makes it even more important that I do think about it, and actively work toward being anti-racist.  I learned a lot from this book, and still have a lot more to learn. 7/10

3) The 10,000 Year Explosion by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending.

This was just okay, but not a favourite for me. It included tiny snippets of history and science, but it didn't go into any topics with enough depth. 5/10

4)  You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why it Matters by Kate Murphy.

I absolutely loved this book. How often in your daily life do you feel people actually listen to you to understand, instead of waiting for their turn to talk? When in life have you felt you were really listened to and understood? Do you take the time to listen to others to understand where they are coming from, and how they got to their level of understanding? Do you care? This book will challenge you to think about these things and to become a better listener and will help you to realize the consequences not listening attentively has on relationships with people.  It is succinct, well-written, and has short chapters, which I always like, as I find I read more this way ... Just one more chapter; it's so short. I took a lot away from this book, and I think others would too. 10/10

5)  Why: What Makes Us Curious by Mario Livio. (Not pictured).

I was drawn to this book immediately because of the title. I am fascinated by curiosity, and anyone who knows me well, knows I have always been one to ask a LOT of questions. I was a very curious child, and have never lost that insatiable curiosity, and was hoping to learn a lot from this book about what drives curiosity and how to foster it. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of research done in the area of curiosity, so the author didn't have much to say, in my opinion. There is not enough research to warrant a book yet, but it sure got my wheels turning for possible dissertation ideas for the future. This book just left me wanting more. 4/10

6)  Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life by David Perlmutter, MD.

This book shares interesting new research in an area that is exploding right now - the gut biome. Our bodies are home to trillions of organisms; in fact, we have more non-human cells in our bodies than human cells. Sit with that idea for a while. Scientists are only beginning to learn about the impact our gut biome has on our brains and other organs, and how our diet and the fuel we give these bacteria impacts our physical and mental health. It was only recently found that the majority of our serotonin is produced in our gut! The best thing about science, in my opinion, is that the learning never ends. One discovery leads to another. One question asked leads to more questions. There is so much left to be discovered, so much that is not known that we can come to know through research. I cannot wait to hear what else we'll find out about the creatures that reside within us. 7/10

7)  Every Idea is a Good Idea: Be Creative Anytime, Anywhere by Tom Sturges.

Haha, every idea is a good idea ... except for this book. Okay, I kid. Sort of. It has no substance, was repetitive, and was just passable. 5/10

8)  The Subtle Art of Not Giving an F - Mark Manson.

It seems everyone has read this, so I had to get in on the goods.  I preferred the sequel to this book (which I happened to read first, as the library had it in). I also much, much prefer his audio articles. I found them so eye-opening, logical, and immediately impactful in my daily life. He doesn't sugar-coat anything. 7/10

9)  Humanimal: How Homo Sapiens Became Nature's Most Paradoxical Creature by Adam Rutherford.

This was a very well-written, engaging, intellectual look at human beings, and what makes us special. Or not.  8/10

10)  The Happy Brain: The Science of Where Happiness Comes from and Why by Dean Burnett.

I thought it was poorly written and lacked a clear focus.  It was written by a neuroscientist who is also a stand-up comedian, but the combination doesn't work for him, and I was bored with this book. 3/10

11)  The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins.

I wasn't really a fan of the style of writing, and I found the ideas to be too much of an introduction to scientific thinking and ideas, which isn't what I was looking for. 5/10

12)  Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don't Have To by David Sinclair, PhD.

Fascinating new research coming out of Harvard's lab dedicated to aging.  I loved it, and can't wait to read more on this topic. This is breakthrough stuff, and Sinclair and his team of researchers have done enough work to warrant an entire book on the topic. 8/10

13)  Superhuman Mind: Free the Genius in Your Mind by Berit Brogaard and Kristian Marlow.

I really enjoy books about brain plasticity, and this is just another that inspires me to keep learning as an adult. Our brains continue to change, and our intelligence can continue to increase throughout our lifespans.  Intelligence is not set in stone, and our brains have a remarkable ability to rearrange themselves and to make new connections.  7/10

14)  The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientists Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults by Frances E. Jensen M.D. and Amy Ellis Nutt.

This book is practical, fact-based, well-written, and engaging to read.  I loved it. I will definitely be rereading it and designing lessons from it.  9/10

15)  Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf.

A professor in one of my neuroscience classes mentioned this book, and I remember writing the title down in the margin of my notebook. That was about nine years ago, but the title of the book stuck with me, and I finally got around to reading it. If you think about how remarkable the act of reading is, and how our brains can quickly take in symbols on a page, and convert that into words and thoughts in our mind, how knowledge can be passed down through generations through written symbols, it is really interesting and mind-bending. She goes into the history of reading and the written word, as well as the science behind how our brains tackle this very challenging feat. 6/10

16)  Walden by Henry David Thoreau.

This book is old.  Like 1800s old.  There are some words of wisdom about living simply, but mostly it is just full of lengthy, lengthy descriptions that I found incredibly boring.  I should have abandoned it as soon as I got bored, but I always feel like that will make the book sad :-( Haha. 3/10. 

17)  The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli.

I didn't get a lot of new information from this book, but if you don't have a psychology background, and are interested in decision making fallacies, then this is a great intro. If you've taken undergraduate psychology courses, I'd probably pass on this one. I did appreciate the short chapters, but a first year psych. textbook has better examples. 6/10

18)  Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths.

This one was a little bit too techy/computer-based for me (my tech. knowledge and programming knowledge is lacking), and I didn't take a lot of practical information from it, although it did pique my interest in computer algorithms a bit and didn't bore me, so I guess that's something. 6/10

19)  The Greatest Salesman in the World by OG Mandino.

I had no idea what to expect with this tiny little book that I had seen recommended so many times, but it was a delightful, super quick read. It has some excellent, life-changing messages (if put in to practice). I thought it was an absolutely beautiful story that everyone should read at least once. I'll definitely be diving into it again. At just over 100 pages, it's easy to digest in one sitting. 10/10

20)  Walden Two by B.F. Skinner.

After reading Walden (and not enjoying it), I kept thinking about how familiar the title was. Then, I came across Walden Two which had been on my bookshelf, unread for 16 years. I originally bought it because it was written by Skinner, and that was enough to grab my interest, but I forgot I had it. It was a nice surprise to come across it on my shelf after reading WaldenWalden is a true story of a guy who goes to live a simple, solitary life outside of the city for a length of time, to see the impact living this way has on him, but, as I mentioned, it was nothing but descriptive scene after descriptive scene, which isn't my bag.  Walden Two is a fictional book, written in more recent times, about a utopian society created with inspiration from the original Walden.  Skinner's writing is engaging and easy to read, although this story didn't have the greatest plot, and was more of a tour around this fictional utopia.  I have read a lot of dystopian fiction, but this might be the first utopian novel I've read, and I'd love to tackle a few more. This read was much better than Walden, although they are so, so different in basically every way other than the titles. 6/10

What is the best book you've read recently?  What are you currently reading?  Do you ever abandon books partway through, or are you like me, and you worry about the book's feelings?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Plant-Based Meals

We've been eating a lot of plant-based meals lately.  One of the easiest ones, and a new favourite, is this satisfying meal of artichoke melts and tahini spinach.


Artichoke Melts
(Makes 4 bun-halves)
  • 2 buns, sliced
  • 1 can artichokes (14 oz/398 ml), drained
  • 1-1.5 T mayo
  • 1 T minced onion
  • 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp smokey paprika
  • 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne 
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated cheese to top them with (to taste)
Chop up the artichokes well (I like to chop them similar to flaked tuna).  Add the mayo, onion, and spices (or whatever you like really).  Top the four bun halves with the mixture, top with cheese, and broil on high 3-5 minutes until the cheese is melted and golden.  Watch! 

Tahini Spinach
(Makes 2 portions)
  • 1 T tahini
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 large pack of baby spinach (312 g/11 oz)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
Mix the tahini, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl. Put the spinach into a dry, large pot, and stir and let it wilt over medium heat.  It will give off its water.  Keep stirring for 1-3 minutes until all is wilted. Remove from heat and squeeze all liquid out of the spinach. (We use a clean silicon oven mitt to really give it a good squeeze.  You want all liquid drained off, so squeeze it well.) You can let it cool if you need to, then squeeeeeeeze.  Drizzle the drained spinach with sesame oil, and toss it with the tahini sauce. Serve warm or cold.


We have the tahini spinach as a side dish multiple times per week.

On the side with daal and rice:


With a baked potato and beans:


With kimchi potatoes and roasted broccoli:


Other plant-based meals we've been enjoying include tempeh stir fry:


Borscht perogies with saurkraut:


Vegan alfredo pasta:


Tofu and veggie, rice bowls with peanut sauce:


Bean and sweet potato burritos:


So many vegetarian dishes from Caraway:


Panang vegetable curry, with Thai sticky rice:


Falafel pitas with homemade super-green falafels, and alllllll the pickled turnips:


Sushi rolls on the day we were supposed to leave for Japan 😢:


Grilled veggies with halloumi cheese:


Nachos!


And burgers made with smoked portobellos instead of beef patties:


(Note the tahini spinach on the side again.  We're hooked.)

And we even had plant-based dessert recently - mango with sticky rice.


Have you had any good plant-based meals lately?
Do you try to incorporate plant-based meals into your diet?

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Restaurants

Anyone remember restaurants?

They were places you'd go to with family or friends to order and consume food and drink.  They were great places for socializing, celebrations, meetings, and dates.

Haha!  Someday, hopefully, sooner rather than later, we can venture back out and check out the restaurant scene.  Until then, let me tell you about some of the restaurants we visited before the whole world got grounded.

For our 5th anniversary in February, Christopher and I went to Avenue, one of our favourite restaurants, in the most beautiful building downtown.


Their pork belly appetizer is a must-order each time we go, so we shared that to start:


We also ordered the perogies (large plate), and then three small plates (trout cake, beef tartare, and a vegetable dish that I can't remember) and shared all of them.

Way too much food, but worth it.
It was a nice evening out to celebrate five years of marriage.  The traditional anniversary gift for five years is something wood, and we are still on the lookout for what we will get.  We like to choose something together as a memento for each anniversary.  We don't own candlestick holders, so we are thinking of getting a pair of those.

Back in October, we got a gift card for our birthdays to Bar Willow (thank you again Mel and Steve).  We had been before when it was Willow but had not visited since they changed the concept and name.

We shared the gnocchi, scallops, coffee-roasted parsnips, and vegan ravioli.

 
 
 
 

The ravioli and gnocchi were both really good.  Unfortunately, the parsnips were undercooked, so that was our least favorite part of our meal.  I'd be interested to go back and try the breakfast at Bar Willow in the summer, as the morning view across Wascana Lake would be beautiful.

Before the pandemic hit, we took my dad out for supper to The Rotisserie, a buffet restaurant that we've been to before.  I don't know how they do it, but they manage to make really good food, perfectly cooked at this buffet, better than what we have experienced at the buffets in Vegas.  The fries and other foods that should be crispy are perfectly crisp, and their chicken, steaks, etc. are always juicy, and never overcooked.


They have a different theme each night of the week, and we went on Tropical Night.

Last time we were in Saskatoon, we went to a newer Indian restaurant near our hotel, called Angeethi Flame.

 
 

We ordered a lot because our hotel had a fridge and microwave, so we could get a couple meals out of this food.  Everything was excellent, and we will definitely go back.

Just days before quarantine started, we stopped in at a relatively new restaurant in town, Tipsy Samurai.

We started with the togarashi fries and chicken yakitori.


The yakitori was superb!  We loved the charcoal-grill taste, and the meat was tender and juicy.

I had ramen and Christopher ordered an udon noodle dish.  I loved my ramen!  It was spicy, flavourful, and it totally hit the spot.


Christopher thought his udon dish was average, but we'd go back for sure for the ramen and yakitori.

With social distancing, restaurant visits are no more, but many places in town have done an incredible job of adapting to a new way of doing things.  I am impressed with how quickly new menus popped up, as well as front-step delivery, and online ordering and payment. 

We want to help our favourite local restaurants stay afloat during this time, so we have decided to order pick-up or delivery from one local restaurant each week. (Before this we only ordered-in or got takeout about six times per year!)

So far we have had The M:eating Room twice.  Their food is so fresh, healthy, and flavourful.  The vegan pizza blew us away! 


One day we ordered from The German Club.  With this place, you call in the order and then drive up to the front doors, and they run the food out to your car.  They do different lunch specials each day, and the schnitzel is so good!  You get a massive plate of food for $13.


We also ordered from Juliana Pizza one day, but I forgot to snap a picture, as we could not wait to dive into it.  They have such a good crust and are definitely one of the top pizza places in town.  

Two of our favourite restaurants, Siam and Caraway Grill are not open during this, but we look forward to supporting them when they open back up.  For now, we'll have to decide where to order from for tomorrow evening!

Have you been ordering in or picking up food at all during the Covid-19 quarantine?

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Only 24 Hours in a Day

One of my motivations to drastically limit my Internet use for 10 weeks (from January 4th-March 14th) was a desire to make more time for other activities and hobbies.  We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and there is only so much we can do with that time.  The mindless scrolling, the checking of email, the random searches - all of these add up.  Blogging and creating blog content takes up a lot of time too, and I was finding that there weren't enough hours in the day to do all of these things, and also to take up new hobbies, and dive back into old ones that I missed.

I have always been obsessed with learning new things, and I am not afraid of being terrible at something, because I know with practice I will improve.  People have said to Christopher over the years that he is lucky that he can play drums.  He always responds that "luck" had nothing to do with it; he worked his butt off to be able to play the drums, and he experienced the blood, sweat, frustration, and blisters that come with hours upon hours of practice. 

I've been asked how I learned to cook and bake, and although I sat on the counter with my mom as a kid here and there, the real way that I learned how to cook and bake was through practice.  Lots and lots, and lots of practice.  I have thrown out cakes that I screwed up and then immediately started again from scratch.  I remember making three loaves of cornbread in a row one day because the first two weren't good enough. (Fortunately, I have a human disposal system for the second-rate versions of anything I've made.)  I wasn't born with cooking or baking skills.  I just put many hours into doing something that I enjoyed and wanted to be better at it, and with time and practice, my skills got better.

This blog was a great motivator for me to press on with cooking and baking, to try new things, to experiment and take risks.  My goal was never to become a Michelin-Stared chef or even a chef at all.  Actually, the idea of cooking or baking for a job is unappealing to me.  I like having it as a hobby, and I like being able to share my creations with friends and family when I have the time and desire.  A sense of obligation seems to kill my motivation in the kitchen.

During my 10 weeks away from my blog and other online activities, I made a lot of time for reading, which was an old favourite hobby that I was really missing in the past few years. I started doing some other writing, jotting ideas down that had been swirling around in my brain for a while.  And, as usual, I cooked with Christopher:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

On January 4th, the day I left the Internet for 10 weeks, it was +3C outside!


Christopher smoked some jerk chicken and threw it onto the BBQ, and I thought, wow, 2020 is off to an amazing start if it's January 4th and we're already BBQing.


At that time Covid-19 was barely on our radar, and we were looking forward to a trip to Japan in the Spring and many other fun activities for 2020.

I came back to the Internet on March 14th but by the end of March life changed a lot for everyone, with the announcement of Covid-19 as a global pandemic.  I started working from home, and instead of embracing some extra time to cook and bake and blog a lot, Christopher and I took advantage of the opportunity to just chill out, take care of ourselves, and to learn something new.

We didn't stock up on anything, but while grocery shopping at the start of this, we decided to eat simpler meals during this time.  We've been eating a lot of plant-based meals, with loads of beans, nuts, seeds, greens, and other veggies.  We used to cook quite elaborate recipes at times, which required trips to multiple grocery stores, and sometimes hard-to-find-ingredients.  Since we are limiting our grocery trips, we've kept our meal planning very simple, and have been winging it a lot, which is relaxing, fun, and low-pressure, but isn't really conducive to food blogging.  I don't have too much to say about our eats unless you want to see the same tahini spinach multiple times per week.

So, for a lack of blog content, I haven't been on here much lately.

Instead, I've been investing at least a half an hour a day to learning Spanish (I want to up this), and at least an hour a day to learning drums!  I have never played an instrument, but I figured my brain and coordination would benefit from the new neural connections of drumming, and it would be super fun and rewarding to be able to play something.  I could spend an hour a day scrolling through Instagram, and years later, I wouldn't have anything to show for it, or I could spend an hour a day practicing something new and the cumulative effect of that practice would be very noticeable years down the road. I am satisfied with my current cooking and baking skills and don't want to worry about finding ingredients for new recipes, and I am bored with spending all of my free time working with food, so I am putting that hobby on the back burner for a while, and I'm going to focus on learning and practicing new skills.

That being said, I do plan on checking in on here every once in a while, but I might post about what I've been reading, or how my drumming is going, or where we have traveled (when we can again), and sometimes I might post about food.  I have no rules for myself about how often I'll post, or what I will post about, I am just going to write when the mood strikes. 

How has your Covid-19, social distancing time been going? 
What is something you've always wanted to learn?  
What hobbies do you make time for?