Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Pineapple Jalapeño Margaritas

Tonight is our annual Cinco de Mayo bash. I sure wish I could have you all over, but I thought I'd do the next best thing and share the recipe for our signature drink. We mix this up in a sports jug (it's a big group) and then the bartender just has to put them over ice!

Col's Pineapple Jalapeño Margaritas

2-3 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
64 oz pineapple juice
1 1/2 cups lime juice
1 1/2 cups simple syrup
2 cups tequila
1 cup triple sec (or another orange liqueur)
8 cups ice cubes
Additional ice for serving
Lime or orange triangles for garnish

1. In a blender, mix 1 cup pineapple juice with the jalapenos. Puree completely.

2. Pour the puree along with all remaining ingredients, including the 8 cups of ice, into a large jug with a dispenser at the bottom.

3. Serve over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with lime or orange slices, if desired.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. Thanks to Beth Fish Reads for hosting!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saturday Snapshot: Balloon in the Backyard

We are spending the holiday weekend with my mom and dad in Tucson. Their home is on the edge of the Saguaro National Forest, near Sombrero Peak, which lots of balloonists use as a destination for tourists. There were three balloons out there this morning, including this lovely Moon Balloon.

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme, bloggers are asked to post a photo that they (or a friend or family member) have taken, then leave a direct link to your post on the Saturday Snapshot site. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. All she asks is that you don't post random photos that you find online. Thanks to Alyce at At Home With Books for hosting!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Audiobook Review: The Namesake

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake felt like two different stories to me. The first one is the immigrant story of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, a story I found beautiful, compelling and warm. The book begins with the recently married Ashima in the delivery room of a Massachusetts hospital, thinking about what the experience would be like if she were at home with her family –the traditions, the help, the familiarity. She struggles through the American way, though, and delivers the boy they call “Gogol,” after the Russian author, until they can find out the name bestowed upon him by Ashima’s grandmother in India. Unfortunately, the letter never arrives, Ashima’s dear grandmother dies, and Gogol the little boy remains.

The first story is driven by Ashima’s strong desire to succeed, despite the unfamiliar situation in which she finds herself. Lahiri paints a wonderful character – you love her from the moment she impetuously slips her feet in to Ashoke’s American-style shoes when the families meet to arrange the marriage. Like so many immigrants, she is torn – missing her old life desperately, but finally thriving in the new one. Ashima builds a family of sorts from the Bengali immigrant community, doing her best to recreate the huge, extended family that her children would have had in India.

Gogol’s lifelong attempt to define himself drives the second story – a story that was far less satisfying for me than the first one. Frankly, Gogol struck me as a bit of a brat, but I wasn’t sure if that’s what Lahiri intended. He’s smart and privileged (his father is an engineering professor, so he flouts family tradition by going to Yale rather than MIT, oh the horror) and not even bad looking, and yet he seems to be obsessed by the fact that his name is weird. Or at least it’s weird for a Bengali-American kid.

Perhaps Lahiri was trying to underscore the differences between the immigrant generation and their children – differences that seem to be exacerbated by our hyper-mediated society, which thrusts even first generation Americans into the mainstream far faster than in previous migrations. But in the end Gogol seemed like a whiner to me – by the time the book got to its climax, I wasn’t too worried about what would happen to Gogol. In fact, I liked the women in his life better than him, and was pretty sure that moving on would be the right move for them.

That’s not to say the book wasn’t enjoyable though. I listened to the audio version, read beautifully by Sarita Choudhury. She has a truly lovely voice, and mixed Indian and American accents well. And she had a lot to work with – Lahiri truly has a gift for language. I loved how most of her narrative kept you constantly aware of where the characters were – place, especially unfamiliar places, are so much a part of the immigrant experience. Maybe that’s why I was disappointed by Lahiri’s ending – arguably the most important incident in Gogol’s life gets related in a flashback: the reader has been present for so much of Gogol’s story, and it felt like Lahiri shut us out of a critical episode. It was a strange choice.

Still, this is a fantastic audiobook, easy to follow and a pleasure to hear. I recommend it highly for those who like contemporary literary fiction, immigrant fiction, and fiction featuring characters from South Asia. The story is both entertaining and wise, and the characters are very real – real enough to annoy me in one case, true, but that’s still pretty real!

This book was a triple threat – it counts for the Book Bloggers Abroad, Immigrant Stories, and South Asia Reading Challenges. That’s a good thing, since the end-of-semester crush has seriously cut into my reviewing time! Thanks to Judith at Leeswammes, Colleen at Books in the City, and Swapna at S.Krishna’s Books for hosting! And don’t forget to check out Audiobook Jukebox for audiobook recommendations – I’ll be posting a link to this review there!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saturday Snapshot: Dipping Sauce Bowls

I was setting the table for an Asian Veggie Pancake feast, and I realized how much I loved the contrast of the Fiestaware dipping sauce bowls on the black and white striped table cloth. (My mother would remind me that I should have ironed the tablecloth, but I'd rather spend my time cooking the food! Sorry, Mom.)

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme, bloggers are asked to post a photo that they (or a friend or family member) have taken, then leave a direct link to your post on the Saturday Snapshot site. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. All she asks is that you don't post random photos that you find online. Thanks to Alyce at At Home With Books for hosting!!

Vintage Sleuth Reviews: Lord Peter Wimsey and Hercule Poirot


For the past two weeks, my real life has gotten in the way of my virtual life. It’s understandable, of course, but I’ve really missed having the time to write and to read what everyone else is writing. My reading didn’t stop though, so clearly I’ve got some catching up to do, review-wise. That’s why I’m pairing up two of crime-writing’s greatest detectives in today’s post.

I’m looking forward to stopping by and seeing what everyone’s been up to lately!

Whose Body?

I had so much fun with my first title for My Reader’s Block’s Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge that I decided to find the next “Golden Girl” title available on Kindle and have it on my device before I could say “Whodunnit?” Luckily, a couple of Dorothy L. Sayers’ titles are now available for e-readers, and since I’m that person who likes to start at the beginning of a series, I ordered the book that introduced Lord Peter Wimsey to the mystery-loving world: Whose Body?.

I’d read mixed reviews about the book, most from people who seemed to love the series, but thought that the first book was a kind of “trial run” for Sayers. Well, if it gets better from here, that’s great, because I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The mystery is intriguing. A naked – well, naked aside from a pince-nez, that is –and completely unfamiliar body is found in the bathtub of a London architect. At the same time, a wealthy Jewish businessman disappears. Both men are known to Lord Peter Wimsey’s darling mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, so the amateur detective is dragged into the investigations.

I guessed the murderer early in this one, but not the means, so I can see why some people might call the book clumsy. But it’s the characters that make the book so memorable: the affable, disarming Wimsey; his faithful and multitalented servant, Bunter; the earnest Scotland Yard investigator, Charles Parker. I was a bit distracted by Sayers’ rendering of Wimsey’s accented English – I really couldn’t imagine what it was supposed to sound like, it appeared more Cockney than upper-crusty to me. Still, I’m looking forward to following Wimsey and his colleagues through more marvelous murder and mayhem.
Taken at the Flood

So while I was on a mystery roll, I turned to an unfamiliar title by a familiar “Golden Girl”: Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood. In this book, Hercule Poirot must solve a mystery that he unknowingly saw set in motion two years before, during a World War II air raid.

The Cloade family has always lived under the protection of their fabulously successful brother, Gordon Cloade. When Gordon is killed during the London blitz, his brand new wife Rosaleen inherits his entire estate, since he has not had time to modify his will. She and her antagonistic brother, David Hunter, take up residence in the Cloade’s hometown, Warmsley Vale, and the relationship between the newcomers and the Cloade Clan is uneasy – Rosaleen’s life is all that stands between Gordon’s extended family and their financial security. However it isn’t Rosaleen’s death, but the death of an unknown, blackmailing drifter who called himself Enoch Arden, that brings Poirot to town.

The mystery is particularly interesting for the specific time and place it evokes, England immediately after World War II. It’s easy to forget how long it took for England to recover after the war, and the vagaries of the unstable phone system and the stresses of the post-War economy figure heavily in the plot of the novel. Characteristic of Christie’s more popular titles, there is a large cast of potential murderers, but they aren’t as fully developed as in her other books. The victims are not as colorful as they might have been either. The solution is ingenious, though, and I hadn’t guessed it, so I’d call the book enjoyable – just not one of Poirot’s best outings.

Both of these books are for the Vintage Mystery Challenge. Thanks to My Reader’s Block for hosting!