25 August 2013

Book hunting in the e-world

I was shuffling papers on a desk I only store things on since I carry the laptop around and slouch on the sofas these days. I noticed a pile of bookmarks and flyers about books in one of my cubbyholes. They are from a mystery convention I went to years ago, a mystery book store I frequented in the USA when I lived there, and maybe a couple that were direct marketing pieces from Sisters In Crime, a group I belong to, as well.

I realized I don't think I've ever gone to that pile of papers to look for a book title to read. Despite having kept these and toted them between two or three residences, I don't think to go look there. And despite having read the cards and kept them because they seemed interesting to me.

This got me thinking about how finding books has changed. I blogged a year ago about this a little bit too.

Now, I'm involved with Mystery Readers Corner on Facebook. It's a private group and for a good reason - though if you're a mystery reader you can ask to be a part. I was involved with two other groups on Facebook that turned into marketing blitzes by authors who didn't realize a little decorum might be called for. Posting about your book and it alone every day is a turn off. Those of you who follow me know I try to keep it fun, light, hopefully interesting and occasionally I mention my book stuff.

Anyway - on Mystery Readers Corner I hear about books everyday. Often I don't have time to pursue it but when I do and I like the way something sounds I try to put it on my GoodReads list. (Me on GoodReads) This way I maintain a digital list that doesn't accumulate papers in a cubbyhole in my house. By far this is not all the books I'm interested in but it gives me a place to start.

Though many of my GoodReads list are also ones I saw on GoodReads when I was shopping for a specific destination book and now that I'm not going to that city they don't hold as much appeal. They have a page of Around the World in 80 books that has a page listing books by place, for me the challenge is they are not all mysteries and it just depends on my mood. It's a fun list to look at though. They also do a challenge of reading around the world in a year or countries that touch each other etc. I have never taken the challenge but it's fun to see the suggestions. This too is a place I find books.

One of the most helpful things for choosing a book or adding it to my wishlist on these page feeds is when someone describes the tone of a book. I don't always want too much of a plot summary, but I do want to know if they liked it and if it was dark, light, serious, police procedural, historical, cozy etc. These words help me know according to my mood if that is a direction I'm ready to go on my next read. I don't always get to maintain that little tone-tidbit when I put it on GoodReads but I at least know it appealed to me on a specific day.

One thing I've noticed on various list feeds is that I feel like a very slow reader comparatively and a very behind the times reader. I grew up scavenging books not getting them new, so I wasn't one to rush out and buy new until I got an ereader. I'm very rarely on the latest of anyone's series and as there are so many good books in the world I'm often picking up ones from a few years ago that aren't so expensive. So I guess even as an ereader, I'm still scavenging rather than looking at the latest and greatest, but hearing what people like in the latest and greatest gives me something to look forward to, maybe in a couple years.

Are you finding books differently and keeping track of them differently than you used to?

18 August 2013

The art of procrastinating on food

Does everyone have major grocery purchasing aversions like I do? I've become the queen of substitutions for recipes -- assuming I even bother with a recipe for dinner -- in order to avoid stopping by a store.

In the last month, my significant other and I have achieved a new all time high or would it be stooped to a low(?) in avoiding food shopping. Today we had a conversation that went something like this:
I could eat a spoonful of peanut butter for breakfast.
Oh, you're out of cereal? Don't we have bread?
Hey -- we have tostas. (Spanish pre-toasted crunchy bread slices. Think melba toast.)
Perfect, peanut butter, jelly, and tostas.
I've still got cereal.

This conversation took place on the way to get something out to eat for lunch, so the leftovers in the fridge could be lunch tomorrow.

Everyone does avoid the store on occasion (don't they?)  but we've really turned it into a game the last few weeks. I find great satisfaction in raiding a kitchen that seems to have nothing in it and coming up with dinner. Granted it's going to be dinner with not all the ingredients but dinner it will be.

It's funny there have been times in my life when this substitution or avoidance was due to financial constraints, but this time it's just shear stubbornness or laziness. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it's "vacation" month in Spain and everyone is either at the beach or wishing they were, so my own personal take is avoiding the reality of grocery carts.

Now, if I'm honest this month of avoiding the store has had to necessarily require visits to the corner shop in our village. It tries to do an impression of a grocery story but it really only has two aisles and a VERY limited selection. I would say most US convenience stores are probably on par with the selection. So we have picked up a couple more liters of shelf milk there, a couple lemons, some lunch meat and bread when we decided to have sandwiches all last weekend, uh toilet paper, and a few odds and ends. We also buy a lot of random things that just accumulate in the cabinets that have aided this creative non-food-buying marathon.

I know we are probably spending too much buying the odds and ends like this rather than breaking down and going to the big store, but we've been one-upping the sensation  that you need to go to the store for a couple weeks now.

So last Monday we were going to grill and had thawed all the meat in the freezer. A freak storm came up that was glorious and humid for a few hours of relief in in our high desert, but no grilling. Hmm, but we do need to eat. So eggs to the rescue -- we had a revuelto frozen package and voila dinner. Revuelto is a veg mix of some sort that you mix with eggs in Spain. Tuesday we grilled all the thawed meat and proceeded to eat it for the next couple days. Thursday on the way to work with the last two burgers in a bag for lunch we laughed and said okay we have to go tonight that was all fun but time is up.

Oops. It's a holiday and the grocery store near us is closed. Now we could have driven 30 minutes and shopped elsewhere, but not us. We decided to push it further. We discovered some forgotten fish fillets in the freezer which my hubby creatively turned into fish curry with some also forgotten cranberries.

Enough fish curry for lunch on Friday! I had a revelation that I still had a lemon and could reproduce that lemon pasta dish minus the chicken. I mean really if there's rice and pasta in the house, you can keep the game going awhile, right?

Saturday we walked to the corner pastelleria (pastry shop) and got goodies and a liter of milk for breakfast and we're (eureka!) invited to a barbecue for dinner. So we have not achieved this non-shopping streak without the help of others and restaurants to be fair.

Breakfast is going to be our undoing I think. It's going to have to be this week. Or we could make a couple more stops in the corner store to make it to a full month of non-shopping. Like I said, we've still got rice.

11 August 2013

Self discovery oddly enough via Pinterest

I'm not an avid pinner. I have a few boards. One is for characters in my books, one is for books I like. One I called "Food I Will Likely Never Make" because I'm a big one for looking but not actually doing -- as I suspect a lot of pinterest is.

The food page is where I made my self discovery. I opened the board for the first time looking for something I thought I'd put there that maybe I would consider making depending on the ingredients. What I discovered is that I am obsessed by the same basic foods.

I have pinned several versions of macaroni and cheese. I know, what am I 12?! Oh comfort food, I love you.

I would have admitted before looking at this that I like cinnamon rolls. Based on the board, I have to say I REALLY like cinnamon rolls. The shameful revelation is that I've never made them and my vehement pinning of cinnamon rolls is the hunt for a recipe that will finally be easy enough that I will actually try. I often eat cinnamon rolls and think I want MORE cinnamon. It seems that I secretly dream of a day when I find a recipe that doesn't involve raising, waiting two hours and kneading etc. but allows for easy mix up dough and LOTS of cinnamon. Disclaimer: I'm living in a country that doesn't have cinnamon rolls (except for Starbucks) so this may be part of my obsession. 

I pin a lot of enchilada related things. Enchilada soup, avocado enchiladas, chicken for enchiladas in the crockpot. If I go to a Mexican restaurant, I often order burritos so this is intriguing that I pin enchilada related things. I do love anything in the Mexican/tex-mex genre. On a side note: I have NOT pinned the four billion versions of adding things to guacamole. Why mess with something that is pretty much perfect? Corn and goat cheese in my guac? No, thanks. But I digress.

I have pinned frozen desserts that don't require an ice cream maker. Granted I've at least chosen two different flavors but I see a pattern again. Few ingredients and a pan in the freezer. I'm looking for the easy dessert fix apparently.

Overnight French Toast is another biggie with me I hadn't realized. Not sure I'm a fan of french toast to the point of obsession and repeated pinning, but I think the truth is, I love the idea of breakfast just being there when I get up on weekends. So the idea of french toast in a crock pot that would be all gooey and ready is appealing. I tried a breakfast egg casserole in the crock pot a few months ago for dinner. Turns out my crock pot here in Spain cooks super hot and scorched the heck out of those eggs in about 6 hours instead of 8. So much for the overnight idea. Scorched french toast just isn't as appealing, nor is getting up at, say, 3 am to turn it on so it's not scorched by morning. This is probably not going to happen. Ever. Thanks goodness for my significant other making muffins, smoothies and such! whew.

A lot of my recipe pins are crock pot ones, as I'm apparently on the trail of homemade food that I don't have to spend much time making happen. I want to eat well I just don't want to participate much. It's another pattern I didn't know was there.

The one trait I'm a bit horrified to admit that the pattern shows is I want it easy and effortless. I wish I was one of those people that enjoys the process and the art. That would seem more noble. I just like to eat yummy-ness but prefer minimal effort which doesn't always go together I find.

I wonder if everyone could go to wherever they hoard recipes and find a pattern? Do you have any food obsessions that you KNOW about or will it come out in some public forum someday?

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04 August 2013

Cruise Quick stop wrap up: Estonia, Finland, Sweden

Talinn, Estonia
The old city stop off was near the port. A medieval colorful city with a crafts/trinkets market going in the main square even though it was a Wednesday. Not sure if it was a holiday or just a matter of the tourist part of town and summer catering to tourists. They were doing a good business so it was paying off whatever the cause.

We went into a lovely old church near the main square that was intimate, whitewashed and held ancient well used pews. Nothing fancy and they were putting up songbook numbers for a service later.  Another church more of a grand cathedral had been turned into a museum that was mostly empty but had the Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) panel paintings that remain from the medieval times by an unknown artist. Death in skeletal form but different costumes "danced" with people in all different walks of life and all different ages. It was an odd panel the full length of one of the chapels and had apparently been larger at one time.

We mostly wandered and shopped. The city was very colorful. and while medieval very different looking than what I might expect. Perhaps it was all the yellow paint and the ornate carvings on buildings that surprised me.

We got blueberry ice cream and lingonberry sorbet on the way back on purpose choosing something we hadn't seen elsewhere. It was just right and no stress kind of day. Perhaps we should have been more into the history but I  just didn't have the energy. Linen goods (ie my sweater and a tablecloth) and Russian style paintings, dolls, hats etc seemed to be the things to buy.

Helsinki, Finland
We took a 10 euro shuttle to and from the center from the port which was a good move. it was a very boutique store city that looks like it'd be fun to do home decorating shopping in but I didn't what with flying with suitcases and walking around a city all day.

We walked down to a market along the water that had people selling fruit, Finnish meals on paper plates, and homemade goods. This was really delightful and while I'm sure kept up for tourists felt like locals were there too. We talked to girls who tried to get us to buy Spanish blueberries that were on sale which is funny since we traveling away from Spain. My man bought a winter hat from a lady who knitted it. The market had lots of heavy winter linens and knifes. I'm guessing summer is short there.

We walked on to an Orthodox church that was colorfull and then to what seemed to be the main square. It was dominated by an enormous Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral inside and outside it was airy and light gray indoors. The massive steps created a seating area to listen to the music festival and for the seagulls to swoop down to try to steal whatever you were eating. It was a local festival of music and crafts and food. The significant other being the brave eater that he is bought a paper bowl of minirit (sp?) a little white fried fish you eat whole (head, fins, tale) with a sort of hollandaise sauce drizzled on too if you wished. I think it is like smelt. Fried with a cornmeal type batter or something coarser anyway  than the fried boquerones version in Spain. A band did some folk music and folk dancing going while we sat on the steps.

We shopped the little booths and  I bought a little ceramic dish from the artist. I got in a long line for some pastry looking things and asked the ladies ahead of me what I was in line for! They explained it was a traditional pastry of rice, a savory thing. One lady remembered her grandmother making them. I didn't catch the name. They wanted to know all about my trip and were delightful to talk to. A rock band started then which they confirmed were singing in Finnish but were "too loud". The pastry was artistically folded dough around a middle of rice mush then it was fried, and then it appeared to be rolled in melted butter. It was tasty but not a dramatic flavor. It made me think of survival food that needed to fill you up. While I was eating it, I got pooped on by a seagull. Someone told me that is good luck.

Stockholm, Sweden
We walked about a mile to the Gamla Stan "remarkably preserved" Old Town. It was windy, cold (in June!) with small pretty streets and loads of shops but not all open since it was Sunday. Lots of ice cream shops making their waffle cones and it smelled so good. Lots of artsy boutiques again and fun felted hats and paintings and such. We had to get money at an ATM as they are EU but not on the Euro. Kroners. It is really hard to estimate how much you need of currency when you are only there for a few hours. Every place took credit cards too.

We ended up wandering into the royal palace in the Gamla Stan and went in for 150K each, not a cheap ticket but you do get to see a lot of rooms. Most of the upholstered furniture is covered with ticking type covers, probably for protection, so the impression is not as grand as it could be. It felt like a much more subdued palace especially after Russia. It had gone thru several phases of people, royals actually living in it and what is now a cabinet meeting room was once a royal dining room. A modern room done in 1998 for the king's jubilee was all retro and 1950s expensive looking. The palace was just more used and somehow friendlier than the big shiny palaces though there were some lovely rooms. The white sea room and a dining room based on the Versailles mirror room were some of the blinged rooms. Parts of the palace had a little of an early American feel to me probably because it was moved into in 1740 or thereabouts.

A military band started playing while we were inside which was interesting and there were still ceremonies going when we came out and we imagined what if it was for you all that ceremony. The Swedes wore imposing military pickle hats at least ceremonially. It was and interesting changing of the guard.

We had a huge slice of apple strudel from a quaint coffee shop that the prince and or his wife had been to  - at least  I think that's why they can display the photograph but not sure... then we got ice cream.  What decadence. We took advantage of our time away from the ship to eat random local things rather than try to squeeze in another meal. We used the stairs on the 10 story ship a lot and the weight gain for me was only 2 pounds (1 kilo) whew!