Monthly Archives: March 2013

Healthy meets delicious: black bean hummus

I would like to thank whoever got me a mini food processor for our wedding (Mary and Eric, I think?). They gave me so much more than a food processor. They gave me a new hobby. God knows I need more hobbies than reading and conversing with my cat.

And that new hobby is making hummus on a weekly basis.

So I’m sharing my favorite recipe thus far, a twist on the classic chickpea/garbanzo bean-based recipe, replacing the traditional beans with an ingredient I am currently obsessed with: black beans.

Seriously, I think I’m determined to use black beans in a recipe every week. Roasted red pepper and black bean soup. Veggie quesadillas. Southwestern eggrolls that turned into Southwestern mini burritos because I couldn’t find eggroll wrappers anywhere. You name it.

Here is our simple family of ingredients for black bean hummus:

Hummus 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 15-oz. can black beans (preferably low-sodium), drained and rinsed; reserve excess liquid
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 T tahini
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime (see how exact I am)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. paprika, to taste
  • normal-sized pinch of cumin to generous amounts of cumin, to taste (cumin is like a comfort-taste to me)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1-3 T reserved bean liquid (ew)

Before we begin, let me tell you a story about buying tahini at my neighborhood grocery. Our grocery store is always stocked with the most eclectic of things, from dandelion and red quinoa to kosher almonds and frozen vegan TV dinners. You will never see a shortage of challah, and this time of year, you can buy matzah in 5-lb. boxes on clearance. But sometimes it is near impossible to find seemingly simple things: a normal block of mozzarella (as opposed to the authentic, gooey, pricey stuff)  or a can of Rotel.

Once I asked a salesperson where they moved the cans of green chiles, and he told me they didn’t have them any more. I found them in another aisle — next to the Rotel! — amid pickled eggs and pickled radishes. Uh, OK. To this day, I don’t know where the non-gourmet, non-deli-counter lunch meat is located. This probably explains the hummus obsession. No matter. I’m sure I’ll stumble across it one day when fruitlessly searching for the skim milk.

Thus, when I went to look for tahini, I was not hoping for much when I approached an associate stocking up on canned tomatoes. “Excuse me, where is the tahini?” I held my breath. Immediately he answered, “Tahini? Aisle 4.” And sure enough, there it was, right next to the imported English “biscuits.” Go figure. What else should I expect from the place that shelves the tortillas, not in a logical spot next to the pita breads and wraps and other breads, but in the middle of the organic dairy section?

(Also, I am not being so discrete about my grocer, due to pictorial evidence of their spices in the above photograph.)

Anyway. Back to the “recipe.”

Hummus 2

Black Bean Hummus:

1. Add all ingredients, except reserved bean liquid, to food processor/blender.

2. Press “blend” or “grind” until smooth.

3. Add reserved liquid, in very small amounts at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

4. Taste-test with cracker.

5. Adjust spices accordingly.

6. Taste-test with cracker again.

7. Consume an entire box of Triscuits with “taste tests.”

You see, cooking is both an art and a science.

Hummus 3

(I like how there is a dirty wine glass creeping in this last photo. It adds an extra Mediterranean touch, don’t you think?)

Black bean hummus is delicious when enjoyed with a cracker, as seen above, but is also great with a selection of fresh, raw veggies. I have been enjoying hummus for lunch this week with red and green bell pepper slices and baby carrots. OK, and a few crackers, too.

I’m sure it goes great with tortilla chips, but I’m scared to try that. It could only result in endless “taste tests.”

This recipe is vegetarian-, vegan- and Lenten Friday-friendly. I would say with matzoh, it’s also Passover-friendly, depending on what branch of Judaism you follow. (For some, beans during this religious observance are not kosher. For other segments of Judaism, they’re just fine.) In short, hummus is for everyone who loves deliciousness!

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How can you tell when an introvert likes you?

When you see her looking at YOUR shoes instead of her own! 🙂 (This joke also works with accountants and engineers.)

Last night I finished reading yet another non-fiction book, one that really struck a chord with me, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

hbz-winter-2013-books-quiet-deI know it sounds really self-helpy, but this book has gotten a lot of hype and praise lately, and as an introvert myself, I couldn’t help but want to check it out. The book does offer some advice for introverts — and the extroverts that live with, work with, and love them — but it is primarily a wealth of knowledge on the psychology and even the physiology — neuroscience, you know? — behind introversion.

For instance, researchers in a scientific study were able to accurately predict whether infants would grow up to be introverted or extroverted based on their reactions to various stimuli, like the sound of popping balloons or photos of strangers’ faces. The loud, whiny, flailing babies? Those were your future classic introverted cases. The calm, smiling babies would grow up to be your stereotypical class clowns, jocks, and cheerleaders. It sounds counter-intuitive, but as it turns out that those of us who are introverted have brains wired in such a way that they are easily overstimulated. That’s why new experiences, especially meeting new people, can be very overwhelming to introverts.

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Sounds like my kind of party.

Learning more about why I am introverted and how much of it is actually in my control was so empowering. I loved learning about how different cultures, and even our own American culture of the past, value the ideals associated with introversion, like reflection and focus. Anyway, I won’t go into too much detail because you should really read the book yourself, but I think the best piece of advice Cain offers is to introverts is to basically, embrace who you are and stop trying to change yourself to fit others expectations. But more concretely, set a number of social gatherings you’re willing to attend, whether that be one or two a week or just one a month, and then NOT feel guilty about turning others down for a quiet evening on your couch unwinding with a book.

Extroverts energize and thrive off social gatherings; for introverts, these gatherings can be enjoyable, but are very draining. I wish someone had told me it was OK not to feel guilty about wanting to be alone rather than around other people years ago. (This is not to say I don’t love making new friends and value the relationships in my life. It’s just I am much, much more of a one-on-one conversation, warm-up-to-you-slowly-after-I-test-the-waters kind of girl.)

I also thought it was interesting how Cain puts up a critical mirror to contemporary work life, specifically how common open floor plans are in office areas. Research has shown these open formats can cause stress and decrease work productivity in employees, especially the introverts. People become paranoid about making phone calls when everyone can hear them, and what people are seeing on their clearly visible computer screen — even if they are hardworking employees doing no wrong.

tom-cheney-office-workers-peeking-over-their-cubicles-at-each-other-new-yorker-cartoon

totally get this. I mean, I share a giant cubicle with TWO other people. I rarely EVER have a private moment at work. We have all been praised and scolded by our boss in front of one another, so at this point, it’s all been a bit of a bonding experience. We also share a communal chocolate drawer, so there’s that little perk, too.

At least I genuinely enjoy the company of my two cubicle-mates and the nature of our work is often collaborative. We also have an unspoken rule that if you need to get a lot done individually or just need some “space” (however metaphorical that term might be in actuality), you just pop in your ear buds and listen to some music. It’s kind of like the avoiding eye contact on the crowded subway trick. You know everyone is still there, but they don’t seem quite so present.

2011-06-02-our-world-our-cubicleBut there are some things I’ll never fully get over about the open format of an office: you always know what everyone else is having for lunch (and vice versa), you can hear people getting fussed at by their superiors, you can hear a salesperson anxiously making a pitch on the phone, you know when such-and-such is NOT happy with their nanny. You always, always have the sense someone is looking over your shoulder, monitoring your every move. You learn to tolerate it, but who dictated that work has to be this way? And why did they think it was a good or fair idea? Cain explores the answer to this very question.

All in all, I hope that everyone who reads this book, introverts and extroverts alike, walks away with a greater appreciation for the fact that this world is made up of a whole lot of very different individuals. We all work and think and feel a little differently, but we all have something worthwhile to bring to the table. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

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Rory Gilmore, a champion for introverted, bookish girls everywhere.

My personal advice to fellow introverts is to practice striking up conversations with new individuals you meet. You might not ever be the life of the party — at least, not without sweating through your shirt and your sweater first — but you can learn how to be the one to initiate a relationship. I personally challenged myself to make at least one new friend in every class I took in college. I found it a lot easier to meet people one-on-one, so I never felt overwhelmed or like I was competing to participate. I met so many interesting, wonderful people by this random process, and I never had to worry about registering for courses just to have it with a friend. I even made a friend on my bus route this way! (Technically, he was my downstairs neighbor, and he later came forward as a “secret admirer” type, but whatever. I still count our briefly lived friendship as an introvert-success.) I was able to hold several leadership positions by my senior year. When people recognized my picture in the college newspaper, I was able to resist the urge to crawl under my desk, and rock back-and-forth while assuming the fetal position.

I used to get super-nervous just ordering food at restaurants or making customer service calls without writing down or rehearsing in my head exactly what I wanted to say. I used to turn beet red every time I answered a question in class (which was a lot, weirdly enough). But after working really hard at learning not to be so intimidated by strangers in college, I was able to work as a local newspaper reporter for a year after graduating. I made cold calls every single day and met with strangers for long conversations in coffee shops. It helped to have a real reason for talking to them, but GUYS. I DID IT!!! So you can, too.

(P.S. Participating in public performance-like activities, like playing the clarinet and ballet, helped me too. Sometimes you need something that involves a lot of behind-the-scenes repetition before you “go public” with it to make you learn how to handle putting yourself in front of crowds.)

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Let’s go on a virtual wild cat safari!

This is going to be the dumbest blog post ever, but today I discovered the most adorable wild cats ever and I can’t help but share a few photos.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you sand kittens!

6a010535647bf3970b0133f48030d8970b-800wiGah.

sand catI want to squish it with cuddles.

So then I just fell down a rabbit hole of reading about and discovering these crazy- yet adorable-looking wild cat species. But I’m just going to share the photos here because that’s all that’s really important. Here are a few of my favorites.

Pallas’s Cat (what I believe to be an Ewok bred with a cross between a normal cat and a yeti):

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Caracal kittens (no words needed):

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Not quite  a cat, but still squish-able, the fennec fox:

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Not a wild cat, but still cute, munchkin cat (an actual genetic deviation in domestic cats in which they have short, stubby legs but long bodies, like dachshunds):

tumblr_lgoyd0GPvE1qaj3gnAnd for anyone that makes fun of you for blogging about or reading a post entirely of random cat pictures:

Lion-roar

This blog post is my new happy place.

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Facebook-stalking my cat

Yes, this is possible.

As part of my work with Anjellicle Cats Rescue, I started posting new photos of cats from weekend adoption events to the cat listings on AdoptaPet.com. As I was looking through the Facebook album from this past weekend (where we pull the photos from for the other website listings), I thought, “Hmmm, I wonder if there are any pics of Ali on here from when she was up for adoption?!?”

And guys, there were total professional-quality glamour shots of her!

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*model face*

574883_10150816322395240_307771983_n

601401_10150988281280240_487408735_nWould it be weird if I got these printed and framed and hung one in a giant blown-up version above my fireplace? How come people can have paintings of their DOGS displayed in their homes, and this is very regal and aristocratic, but if you did it with your cats, it’s just plain weird?

OK, so on Saturday night I did see a man walking his cat on a leash in our neighborhood. And I feel so bad because the words, “Oh. My. God.” escaped from my mouth before I could stop them, and the man kind of gave me a look like, “What is your problem?!?” And I wanted to tell him, “Oh, no, this is amazing. I LOVE cats! My cat won’t even let me hug her properly, and your cat is outside! That is wonderful. What a feat.”

But I mean, if you are walking your cat on a leash in a very public place on a Saturday night, you’ve gotta know you’re going to get some funny looks. Especially if your cat wanders off into the doorway of a bar, as this cat was doing, getting laughter from a lot of drunk people stepping out for a cigarette break.

The cat seemed quite content and unphased by the whole ordeal, by the way.

Anyway, cats are awesome — on leashes or off of them. And I am so glad to have Ali-girl/Miss Kitty/Cuddlebug/other-embarrassing-names-I-call-my-cat-when-no-one-is-around in my life!

I’d adopt you again in a heartbeat, cat-daughter.

OK. I’ll stop.

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Turkish books and food

First off, I changed the header image on the blog! (Finally!) I also added the Goodreads widget to the sidebar so everyone can stalk what I am currently reading.

Secondly, I am sad to announce for the first time in years, I couldn’t finish a book. That book was The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk.

It won the Nobel Prize in Literature. And I couldn’t finish it.

urlI was reading this book for my book club, and while I still will go to the meeting on Monday night (maybe others’ praises for it will change my opinion), I guess just wasn’t in the right mood for it.

The Museum of Innocence is the story of a 30-year-old Turkish man’s obsessive love for the young shopgirl Fusun. The two begin a love affair when she is only 18, but she disappears in envy when the man becomes officially engaged to his long-term socialite girlfriend. Eventually, our protagonist, Kemal, finds her again — and surprise! She’s married. Then there are 500 drawn-out pages in which Kemal dines regularly with Fusun, her new husband, and her parents, eager to resume their romance but hopelessly separated from her. All the while, he collects small trinkets that remind him of her and their relationship in some way, for his museum about their romance.

I read three-fourths of this book thoroughly, but then I was just painfully bored, so I started skimming until there was some semblance of a plot again. It was just. So. Melancholy. It was like being trapped in a room for hours and hours with a very lonely person who could not stop talking, in painful detail, about every minuscule detail of their sad, sad life.

I will say the first third of the novel — which chronicles how Kemal crosses path with Fusun, a long-lost distant cousin of his, and falls madly in love with her while concealing this secret from the rest of the world — was wonderful. Pamuk writes lovely prose. What he does not write, in my opinion, is an engaging story.

The Museum of Innocence is set against the backdrop of Istanbul, beginning in the 1970s. It’s embarrassing, but when I think of Istanbul, the only things that come mind are the Hagia Sophia and that song, “So if you’ve got a date in Istanbul, she’ll be waiting in Constantinople.”

So yeah. Basically nothing.

And this is so silly of me, but I have SO much trouble reading novels when I can’t pronounce even the main characters’ names. This is my main gripe about Anna Karenina, as it is. And when the book isn’t already engaging, I become frustrated with trivial things like name pronunciations.

And the thing is I’ve already read and loved two other acclaimed novels with similar themes about obsessive love. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is one of my favorite books of all time. (Interestingly enough, the NY Times’ book review of The Museum of Innocence is titled “Lolita on the Bosphorus”.) When I took a whole senior seminar on Nabokov and found out we’d be studying Lolita for weeks, I thought my heart would explode with happiness. Lolita is the seductively told tale of the aging European Humbert Humbert and his doomed love for the 12-year-old American “nymphet” Dolores Haze. I cannot even tell you how beautifully written this novel is. And what a haunting confessional tale of a man pleading, hopelessly, for redemption. Yes, it is disturbing, as it in essence a tale of pedophilia, told by the pedophile himself. But no, it is not graphic. And yes, it is much more than a book about pedophilia. It also asks big questions about What is love, and what is obsession? Can you be in love with a fantasy? Can art be a form of redemption? And on broader, more metaphorical levels, it speaks of a sophisticated, aging Europe colliding with brash, young America.

Here is a depiction of the first chapter’s text. If that doesn’t make you both extremely creeped out and want to keep reading, I don’t know what will.

tumblr_lpqafpp9fM1qze3z3o1_400The other novel The Museum of Innocence reminded me of is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in Time of Cholera. This is the story of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, who fall passionately in love in their innocent youth. Fermina eventually marries a doctor, and Florentino is tragically devastated. While he passes his years with 622 love affairs, as a hopeless romantic, he “reserves his heart” for only Fermina. As the book jackets says, “Fifty-nine years, nine months and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.”

I love love LOVE Marquez’ magical realism style. I’ve read his other major novel (A Hundred Years of Solitude) as well and a couple of his novellas. When you read his writing, you feel like you are sitting on the front porch of a couple of village elders, somewhere in the depths of Colombia. His stories comes across as part factual, part personal tall tale, part oral folklore, and part the “weirder” beliefs of Catholicism (like the Assumption of the Virgin Mary). It’s absolutely glorious and breathtaking to read. I’ve heard from some Spanish-speaking friends back in Texas that his prose is even more enchanting in the original language. I can only imagine.

One praiseful thing I will say about The Museum of Innocence is that the author opened an actual museum based on the book in Istanbul. This sort of blurs the line between reality and fiction, and I love quirky, imaginative things like that. I found a few photos of the exhibits online, and they eerily imitate the exhibits listed in the book. For example, Kemal spends years collecting thousands of Fusun’s used cigarettes for his museum. And there is an exhibit of used cigarettes in the actual museum in Istanbul.

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Anyway, after seeing reference after reference to the Istanbul neighborhood of Beyoglu in the book, I couldn’t help but want to go to the Turkish restaurant in our neighborhood of the same name.

This was our second visit. We got the large meze platter and another plate of the Mediterranean crab cakes, to share.

lThe meze platter includes hummus, Greek yogurt & cucumber salad, smashed eggplant salad, some sort of spinach concoction, something that looks like couscous or quinoa, and what I call “Greek salsa.” Everything has authentic names that I can’t pronounce or spell. Most importantly, it is all delicious and must be eaten with bits of bread. Anything that I 1) can eat with bread, and 2) fulfills my Meatless Lenten Fridays requirements is good in my book.

And you know what? I know it’s quite a generalization, but based on first impressions, I think I’m more partial to Turkish food than to Turkish books.

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The Happiest Place on Earth

No, I’m not talking about Disneyland.

I’m talking about this place, The Strand Bookstore, right off of Union Square.

The-Strand-1-610x325The Strand’s slogan is either “18 miles of books” or “Where books are loved,” I can’t really tell, as they have both phrases plastered across coffee mugs and book totes, but either way…you can tell this place is amazing.

Seriously, if someone was only in Manhattan for an afternoon, I’d say go to Central Park and go to this place. And you’ll have had a pleasant NYC visit. I saw on a sign outside The Strand that you can rent out the place for events — birthday parties, fundraisers, even weddings. Personally, if they started renting out aisles between the rows of books for you to set up an air mattress, I’d be interested in signing a lease.

Kidding.

Only sort of.

strand

If you want to see me sublimely, transcendentally, euphorically happy, take me to The Strand.

If you want to see me deeply frustrated and ruffled, tell me I’m only allowed to buy one thing at The Strand today.

The Strand is a wonderful hodgepodge of new, used, and rare titles. They also have some of the most thoughtfully curated table selections, from “Best of Underground” to “Cult Classics.” There are handwritten notes sprinkled out of volumes here and there, detailing why this sales associate or that one suggests this read. Everyone who works there lives and breathes books.

It’s no Barnes & Noble. (And I love B&N.)

I paid a visit here last night to kill some time while waiting to meet up with a friend-of-a-friend (Caitlin, if you’re reading this, I have helped advance the cause for Post-Grad Employment of Minnesotan English Majors). I don’t need any more new books, but I was so tempted by a $7 copy of Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, which is on my non-fiction to-read list.

But, guys. I didn’t buy anything.

Not a thing.

And for that, I think I deserve a new book as a reward.

I did, however, add two more books to my to-read list: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, and Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places by Sharon Zukin. So that only makes my to-read list, like, what? 2,948,204,982 gazillion books?

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They have all sorts of cool book reading/discussion events every month, and I would love to attend one eventually. There’s this really awesome one next Thursday about the Beatnik movement — Kerouac, Ginsberg, Borroughs, and the whole gang — but alas, it’s on a Thursday.

Thursdays are my rescue cat volunteer days.

Don’t you hate it when your crazy cat lady side interferes with your introverted bibliophile side?

Seriously though, go to The Strand! Even if you aren’t a reader, it’d be hard not to find the perfect book for you in there, even if that means a colorful cookbook of 500 cookies recipes.

There’s nothing wrong with that AT ALL. In fact, I saw this, and I wanted it.

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Scene from the NYC Subway.

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The scene: Grand Central Station, downtown 4/5/6 platform. 5:20 p.m. Friday.

The 6 train pulls into Grand Central. A number of people hurriedly exit the train.

Man exiting train: Watch it, guys.

Me (thinking): What? I’m standing to the side. What does it mean?!?

Three or four people enter the train car. We all immediately notice that the small handful of other passengers — a shockingly small number for this bustling time of day, just post-work on a Friday evening — are all holding their scarves to their noses. The train car smells like rotten eggs or a dirty diaper or intense body odor. Or some putrid combination of the three. Also like used kitty litter and a filthy public restroom. And rotting garbage on the street in the July sun. All of the worst smells you can think of, combined and intensified.

A homeless man is laying down in one corner of the train, sleeping. Sleeping, or perhaps dead. Perhaps this is the smell of death. It is hard to tell from this distance if he is still breathing. He is not moving otherwise, and no one wants to move closer. What does death smell like?

Me (thinking): That is a horrifying thought. Oh, God. Why?

Everyone moves to the end of the car as far away from the homeless, possibly sleeping, maybe dead guy as possible. The train slows to a screeching halt.

Young Man: No. No, this can’t be happening. We can’t get stuck on this train. Oh, no. Oh, God.

Young Woman: (buries her nose deeper into her scarf, scowls)

The train begins moving again, for what seems like an eternity, before stopping at the next station. Everyone bolts from the train car, except the possibly sleeping, maybe dead homeless man. A few others attempt to board the vacated train car.

Young Man: You do NOT want to get on that train.

Everyone runs hurriedly to other cars, cramming themselves among the other people, inhaling great, painful gulps of “fresh” airAll wonder, “How long will the possibly sleeping, maybe dead homeless man ride the 6 train before someone removes him?”

Seriously, the weirdest subway event I’ve ever encountered. Runner-up goes to the time there appeared to be a dried blood stain on a seat and no one would let anyone else sit there.

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