Friday, 31 December 2010

New Year's Resolutions

I've written about The Happiness Project before. It's a project created by Gretchen Rubin to mark her progress through a resolution to bring happiness into her life. From this project she's written a book by the same name, as well as created a website also called the Happiness Project.


I've included a recent post she's made on her site, about New Year's Resolutions. If you ever read her materials, you'll see that she knows a lot about keeping resolutions. Along with the copy of her post, if you click on the title it will direct you to her site.

5 Questions To Help You Make Effective New Year's Resolutions.



Forty-four percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and I know I always do. I’m more inclined to make resolutions than ever, in fact, because if my happiness project has convinced me of anything, it has convinced me that resolutions – made right – can make a huge difference in boosting happiness.
So how do you resolve well? This is trickier than it sounds. Here are some tips for making your resolutions as effective as possible. Remember, right now, you’re in the planning stage. Don’t feel like you have to do anything yet! Just start thinking about what would make 2011 a happier year.


1. Ask: “What would make me happier?” It might having more of something good – more fun with friends, more time for a hobby. It might be less of something bad – less yelling at your kids, less nagging of your spouse. It might be fixing something that doesn’t feel right – more time spent volunteering, more time doing something to make someone else happier. Or maybe you need to get an atmosphere of growth in your life by learning something new. (These questions relate to the First Splendid Truth.)



2. Ask: “What is a concrete action that would bring about change?” One common problem is that people make abstract resolutions, which are hard to keep. “Be more optimistic,” “Find more joy in life,” “Enjoy now,” are resolutions that are hard to measure and therefore difficult to keep. Instead, look for a specific, measurable action. “Distract myself with fun music when I’m feeling gloomy,” “Watch at least one movie each week,” “Buy a lovely plant for my desk” are resolutions that will carry you toward those abstract goals.


3. Ask: “Am I a ‘yes’ resolver or a ‘no’ resolver?” Some people resent negative resolutions. They dislike hearing “don’t” or “stop” (even from themselves) or adding to their list of chores. If this describes you, try to find positive resolutions: “Take that dance class,” “Have lunch with a friend once a week.” Or maybe you respond well to “no.” I actually do better with "no" resolutions; this may be related to the abstainer/moderator split. A lot of my resolutions are aimed at getting me to stop doing something, or to do something I don’t really want to do -- such as Don't expect gold stars. There’s no right way to make a resolution, but it’s important to know what works for you. As always, the secret is to know your own nature.


4. Ask: “Am I starting small enough?” Many people make super-ambitious resolutions and then drop them, feeling defeated, before January is over. Start small! We tend to over-estimate what we can do over a short time and under-estimate what we can do over a long time, if we make consistent, small steps. If you’re going to resolve to start exercising (one of the most popular resolutions), don’t resolve to go to the gym for an hour every day before work. Start by going for a ten-minute walk at lunch or marching in place once a day during the commercial breaks in your favorite TV show. Little accomplishments provide energy for bigger challenges. Push yourself too hard and you may screech to a halt.


5. Ask: “How am I going to hold myself accountable?” Accountability is the secret to sticking to resolutions. That’s why groups like AA and Weight Watchers are effective. There are many ways to hold yourself accountable; for example, I keep my Resolutions Chart (if you’d like to see my chart, for inspiration, email me at gretchenrubin1 [at] gmail.com--don't forget the "1"). Accountability is why #2 is so important. If your resolution is too vague, it’s hard to measure whether you’ve been keeping it. A resolution to “Eat healthier” is harder to track than “Eat salad for lunch three times a week.”

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Character

"You don't have to blow out the other person's light to let your own shine." ~ Bernard M. Baruch

Monday, 27 December 2010

Winter Skin

My skin has some difficulties in winter. Normally dry, it really gets itchy and flaky in the winter. I was online looking for some winter skin tips and fopund these nice and easy ones on the Canadian Living website.
Enjoy!

10 fall and winter skin-care secrets
from Canadian Living by Jessica Padykula
The days are cold, and we're going to start seeing snow. Unfortunately for some of us, we'll be experiencing a completely different kind of flake -- flaky, lacklustre skin that has replaced that dewy glow of summer.

Kristen Ma, aesthetician and co-owner of Pure + Simple spa in Toronto, offers 10 insider tips for maintaining healthy, flake-free, supple skin -- all winter long

1. Get a facial
Ma explains that getting a facial is a great way to clear out your skin and start a new season with a clean slate. As the climate changes, so does our skin, and an aesthetician can help ease the transition. Starting with healthier, cleaner skin allows your cold weather skin-care routine to be more effective, Ma says.

2. Drink water
Remembering to stay hydrated in the summer is a no-brainer, but as it gets colder, getting your daily dose of water isn't always a top priority -- but it should be, Ma says. “We all get more dehydrated in the winter, so it's important to drink more water,” she explains. “This is a very simple, but beneficial tip for people wanting to maintain healthy skin.”


3. Protect your face from the elements
We wrap ourselves in heavy jackets and clothing during the winter, and it shouldn't be any different with our skin, Ma says. She suggests using a heavier cream versus a lighter moisturizer to keep skin hydrated. “Skin gets more sensitive in the winter so think of a heavier cream as an extra layer of protection -- like a warm sweater,” she says.

4. Avoid petroleum
Don't neglect your lips, which have a tendency to dry out in the winter. Keep balm with you and apply often as the temperature drops. Ma suggests avoiding products that contain petroleum as it can clog the pores in your lips, making it hard for the moisture to get where it needs to be. “You can't properly moisturize skin that is congested,” she explains.

5. Don't put away the sunscreen
Just because you're shivering doesn't mean the sun's rays go on vacation. Sunscreen is still important, Ma says. Remember to put it on 30 minutes before you leave the house so your skin is protected.
6. Take care of your body, too “Skin is the largest organ in your body, so you must moisturize all if it, not just from the shoulders up,” Ma says. The same goes for exfoliation, she explains. Whatever you do for your face, you should also be doing for your body, especially in frosty.

7. Try a hydrating serum
Ma suggests adding a hydrating serum to your skin-care routine, to be applied under your regular moisturizer. There is so much humidity in the summer, you don't need one, she says. But winter's dry air means we need an extra layer of moisture, which a serum can provide. Like layering a favourite fitted T-shirt under your cardigan, a hydrating serum seals in the comfort -- not to mention helps provide dewy-looking skin despite dry air and frigid temperatures.


8. Use a cream cleanser
Switch from a gel to a cream cleanser for the winter. Because skin is more sensitive in cold weather, gel cleansers, which are often astringent, can further dry out and irritate winter skin, Ma explains. A quality cream cleanser will remove makeup and debris without depleting skin's precious moisture.

9. Exfoliate regularly
Dull, lacklustre skin is an unfortunate winter trademark. This is caused by a buildup of dead skin, Ma explains. To give those dry, flaky cheeks a boost, exfoliate regularly. You need to do this more often in winter than you do in summer, she says. “Three times a week is a great way to ensure you're always showcasing your freshest, healthiest skin."

10. Try oils
A great -- and comforting -- way to provide your whole body with much-needed hydration during the winter is with bath oils. Your skin absorbs the moisture from the oils, leaving your skin silky soft every time you step out of the tub.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Balance

"To keep the lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it." ~ Mother Teresa

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Vitamin D and Health in the Winter

In a previous post I mentioned that the naturopaths I've seen this year now have a newsletter. Here is another article from them. Their website is: Head to Heal


The Sunshine Vitamin – the Benefits of Vitamin D

Naturally, we get our Vitamin D from the sun. The only food sources with considerable amounts of Vitamin D are fatty fish and egg yolks. In Canada, some products have been fortified with Vitamin D, however, it’s impossible to get the levels of Vitamin D which have been proven to be protective from food alone. This is why it is especially important to supplement during our long prairie winters. In sunnier months, we need 20 minutes (four times a week on our face, chest, arms and back) to obtain enough Vitamin D.
The Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND), recommends 2000-4000 IU of Vitamin D every day. Breast-fed infants need to be supplemented with 400-1000 IU of Vitamin D every day. Those with darker skin might need to supplement with more Vitamin D, since darker skin is less able to make Vitamin D from the sun.
There are many studies that document vitamin D’s benefits including:
  • Reduction of risk of cancer, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and Type 2 diabetes
  • Adequate levels of vitamin D increase survival rates of women with breast cancer
  • Beneficial for preventing Seasonal Affective Disorder as vitamin D increases brain serotonin levels (the feel-good hormone)
  • Supports proper bone and skin health
  • Improves overall immune function - adequate levels of Vitamin D ensure that T cells (that develop in the thymus gland) properly recognize self antigens and react against non-self or dangerous antigens – Vitamin D boosts the immune system to fight infections
If you are curious about your Vitamin D level, ask you MD for a simple blood test. The 25-Hydroxy-Vitamin D Test is used to determine your status. If you are deficient, you should supplement throughout the winter months and, remember, Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, and, as such, it is important to take with food. 

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Since cold season has hit we've been eating even more soup than usual.


One favourite is Chicken Noodle Soup. It's not too salty and definitely not spicy, but it still warms you up; it's comforting and yummy.


The following recipe is one that I've put together over the last few years. I tend to make a huge pot so that I can freeze some for later.


Chicken Noodle Soup:


Cooking the chicken and preparing the broth:


Place 2 stewing or frying chickens in a large pot and add enough water to cover them. Add large chunks of carrot, celery, onion and garlic. If necessary add some more water to cover.


Allow to cook on medium heat until the chicken has cooked.


Reserve the broth, discard the vegetables and allow the chicken to cool. 

Making the Soup:

Debone the chicken and cut it up. Put the cut up chicken into the broth.

Add newly diced carrots, onions, celery (about 2 cups each) and minced garlic (I add about 4 large cloves)

Add more water to cover the vegetables and chicken. I like a hearty soup, so I don't measure the water. I add according to the pot, with a bit extra for cooking the noodles and to factor in the water that will evaporate.

Add about 1 - 2 tbsp chopped parsley, 2 tsp chopped basil, 1 tsp tarragon. Stir in 3 - 4 tbsp pesto sauce

Cook on medium heat for at least 1 hour, until vegetables are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Add 1 pkg fine egg noodles or thin egg noodles that look like angel hair pasta. Allow to cook until al dente.


Serve with crusty buns, or on its own.

This soup freezes and reheats well.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Trust

"Always deliver what you say you will. Never make a promise you can't follow through on. The way you really build trust, in a sense, is through crucibles. You have to show that you will do your part, even if it is difficult." ~ Dennis Ross, Former U. S. Ambassador

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Holiday Stress Busters

I've seen a couple of naturopaths this last year. They now send a monthly newsletter and I got the following from it. Their website is: Head to Heal

Holiday Stress Busters
The holidays: fun for some, nerve-wracking for others. Last minute shopping, wrapping gifts, cooking, socializing, eating, family get-togethers, all on top of our regular routines and responsibilities can take their toll. It's no wonder people find the holidays exhausting, to say the least. Stress is no joke. Physicians have long known that unmitigated stress lowers immune function, triggers inflammation, increases the risk for chronic health concerns such as cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases and can lead to depression.
Most people take this time to let loose and enjoy. However, it's especially important to give your body some added support to weather the demands of the season and ring in a healthy new year. Here are some simple tools that you can use to help lessen the strain that often comes with celebrating the holidays.

Sleep: sleep deprivation is a well-known contributing factor in obesity as well as other chronic health conditions. However, over-sleeping is just as unhealthy as lack of sleep. Try to make sure you get to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning, even on the weekends. This helps establish a natural sleep pattern. Sleep in a dark room to maximize melatonin production.
Delegate: remember that stress sets in when you try and do it all. Ask for help and prioritize.
Avoid 'stress eating': our brains require more energy when stressed. When you're pressed for time, it's easy to forget what your naturopathic doctor told you about reaching for convenience foods. Processed and sugary foods cause insulin levels to spike which compounds your body's perception of stress. Choose foods that lower the Glycemic Index of your meals and snacks. These are foods high in fiber, protein and good fats. They will stabilize your energy levels, your mood and support immune function.

Breathe: what's the first thing we do when we're distracted? We stop breathing! Well, not quite, but our breathing becomes significantly more shallow. When this happens, our blood is not getting fully oxygenated, compromising our body's ability to get the energy it needs to carry out its basic functions. Taking slow deep breaths is the quickest and easiest way to engage the 'rest and digest' branch of our nervous system. When you think of it or notice the signs of stress take a deep breath in while counting to six. Then slowly exhale through pursed lips, again, while counting to six, better yet, ten. At some point, during this exhalation you will notice that your shoulders drop and release their tension. Your body will thank you.
End your shower with a blast of cold water: we know it’s last thing you want to do on a cold, wintery, Saskatchewan morning. However, this simple trick can go a long way to improving the quality of your blood, your circulation and mental alertness.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Character

"Our first energies should go to our own character development, which is often invisible to others, like the roots that sustain great trees. As we cultivate the roots, we will begin to see the fruits." ~ Stephen R. Covey

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Traditions

Most families have traditions, whether they are created around the holidays, birthdays, or other special events. In some ways I am not actually all that big on traditions...at least that is what I've always thought.

Now that my own children are in their 20s, I think I am singing a different tune. There is one "tradition"....having the kids home for Christmas....that I can't imagine missing.
Last Christmas, for instance, we had our first ever holdiday where we had to share our daughter with her boyfriend's family....and it seemed like they had her with them A LOT. (Although I could be biased.)

What I really want is to have my kids nearby, for at least some of the holiday. AND, that I want those who are important in their lives to join in our festivities just as much as I want my own kids to be around.

I don't seem to have a problem letting them go the other 364 days of the year...

Maybe it's because I've only had one Christmas without my own parents? Yep, I'm a big baby; unapologetically so!

(Pictures are Thomas Kinkade paintings)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Success

"You can't have success without trust. The word trust embodies almost everything you can strive for that will help you to succeed. You tell me any human relationship that works without trust, whether it is a marriage or a friendship or a social interaction; in the long run, the smae thing is true about business, especially businesses that deal with the public." ~ Jim Burke, Former Chairman and CEO, Johnson & Johnson

Room, by Emma Donoghue

"Emma Donoghue's writing is superb alchemy, changing innocence into horror and horror into tenderness. Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it's over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days." --Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry.

Harper Collins Canada has written this about Room:
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It’s where he was born and where he and his Ma eat and play and learn. At night, Ma puts him safely to sleep in the wardrobe, in case Old Nick comes.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it’s the prison where Old Nick has kept her for seven years, since she was nineteen. Through ingenuity and determination, Ma has created a life for herself and her son, but she knows it’s not enough for either of them. Jack’s curiosity is building alongside Ma’s desperation -- and Room can’t contain either of them for much longer...
Told entirely in the inventive, often funny voice of Jack, Room is a celebration of the resilient bond between parent and child, and a brilliantly executed novel about a journey from one world to another.
Donoghue states:

ROOM, by Emma Donoghue from era404 creative on Vimeo.

From her website:
Born in Dublin in 1969, Emma Donoghue is a writer of contemporary and historical fiction whose novels include the bestselling Slammerkin, The Sealed Letter, Landing, Life Mask, Hood, and Stirfry. Her story collections are The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, Kissing the Witch, and Touchy Subjects. She also writes literary history, and plays for stage and radio. She lives in London, Ontario, with her partner and their two small children. For more information, go to: www.emmadonoghue.com.
Our culture is constantly telling stories about psychos who capture women. I deliberately kept my kidnapper out of the spotlight. The more I read and thought about it, the more it seemed to me that there is no comfortably fixed moral distance between a kidnapper and the rest of us. (The existence of entire slave-owning societies reminded me that humans often find it both convenient and pleasurable to own others.) It was not Old Nick’s evil that fascinated me, but the resilience of Ma and Jack: the nitty-gritties of their survival, their trick of more or less thriving under apparently unbearable conditions.
Room is the WINNER of the 2010 Rogers Writers' Trust Award for Fiction. It was also shortlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize and the 2010 Governor General's Award.
 
I read Room this summer. It was such a different book from any other I've ever read. Truthfully, if someone had told me what the story was all about I would never have read it. A story with the underlying premise of an abducted woman living in a tiny room with her 5 year old son is not one I'd normally pick up. However, the story of Jack, how he sees his world, and his relationship to his mother creates a compelling tale, which Donoghue has executed masterfully.


It is a story that has stayed with me, months later, one that keeps me thinking about rereading it!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Trust

"For some people, becoming a leader can be a real power trip. They relish the feeling of control over both people and information. And so they keep secrets, reveal little of their thinking about people and their performance, and hoard what they know about the business and its future. This kind of behavior certainly establishes the leader as boss, but it drains trust right out of a team." ~ Jack Welch

Quick Baked Beans with Apples

This recipe has been adapted from a recent Best Recipes show. (The show's picture is featured here)

Ingredients

1 cup apple cider
4 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of  crushed garlic
2 Tbsp molasses
1 Tbsp dry mustard
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of pepper

Cook ingredients on medium in saucepan to combine the flavours and cook down the onions and garlic

Add:
2 cans Navy Beans that have been rinsed (until there are no more bubbles coming off of the beans) and drained
2 large apples cut into 1" chunks (they'll cook down)
Place in a casserole baking dish.
Place the slices of 2 large apples over the top of the beans mixture, overlap slightly.
Bake for 2 hours at 300 degrees

This recipe is called "Quick" because it uses canned beans. You can replace the canned beans with beans that have been soaked overnight.

Optional:
Some people prefer to have ham, bacon, or another type of pork in their beans. You can add chopped up meat in this dish, but there is also lots of protein in the beans.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

E-Readers: Kobo, Sony, Kindle, Nook and iPads


The premise of the e-readers is fairly simple: you buy electronic books and download them from your computer on to the reader. Most formats are Adobe PDF and can also be read on a Blackberry, iPhone, or your desktop computer. Some booksellers sell the books in a differing format, so the e-readers are not necessarily interchangable, nor do all e-books work on all e-readers.


Some e-readers have wireless capabilities, others do not. There are also different generations of these e-readers, with each version having more capabilities. For instance, there are some that also give you daily access to newspapers and magazines.


Some things to consider when deciding what to buy:
When comparing eBook readers, these are some of the most critical considerations:
Content: An eReader is of little to no good if you can't, well, use it to read what you want. In this regard, it's important to pay attention to the specs of any eBook reader you are interested in. Many eReaders can display the ePub open e-book format, while some eReaders (including the Amazon Kindle can't). Instead, the Kindle has a proprietary format, but has a vast content library compatible with the device as well as support for PDFs and Word DOCs. It's also important to consider how much content costs.


Display: How big is the device's display? What display technology does the device use? While a small screen may make a device that much more convenient, it may -- of couse -- make it more difficult to read. Displays using e-ink technology make text look just like it would on paper, and is often the preferred technology for eReaders.


Performance: For your basic eReader, performance is important -- but not hugely important. In the eBook reader world, performance often boils down to how fast a screen can refresh (effectively, how fast a page can turn and how quickly you can access menus) and how long it takes to power up. For eReaders built into more advanced devices like the iPad, performance becomes important in the sense that it is important to computers.
Wireless: Many eReaders offer 3G connectivity for downloading content wherever you are, and some eBook readers are also equipped with WiFi. Wireless connectivity is important for eReaders as it is a convenient way to get content on your device. The Amazon Kindle and B&N Nook, for example, offer free 3G wireless -- allowing users to download books, newspapers, blogs and more form virtually anywhere.


Storage space: The storage space, or capacity for content on an eBook reader, is important for obvious reasons. Of course, storage space determines how many eBooks you can store on your eReader simultaneously. It also determines capacity for other files, including music, pictures, and even in some cases (e.g. Apple iPad), movies.


Multimedia: As just alluded to, many eBook readers can display multimedia content beyond just eBooks. Many higher-end eReaders offer a built-in digital music player, and some even offer external speakers in addition to a standard headphone jack. Some eBook readers even offer the ability to store and display pictures, while the iPad (and surely other tablet computers) offer video playback.
Advanced features: Of course, every eReader can display eBooks. Yet, there are a number of other features that some eReaders do offer. Some eBook readers, including the Kindle, offer a basic, built-in web browsers that allows users to browse the web for free over the 3G network. Other advanced features includes music players, the ability to digitally lend books to friends, text-to-speech capabilities and more.


Battery life: Another important factor to consider when buying and eBook reader is the battery life of the device. Thanks to e-ink display technology that only consumer battery life when changing what's displayed on the screen (e.g. turning a page), many eReaders can provide up to an incredible 2 weeks of reading. In most ways, battery life depends on whether wireless is on or off, as well as display technology.
Price: Price is the most obvious factor when considering an eReader. Of course, price is directly related to features offer and the brand recognition of any given device. For a device with advanced features (like the Apple iPad that is more closely related to a computer than an eReader), buyers can expect to pay proportionally more. Source: EReader Leader
As a big fan of books, there are also questions as to whether or not this is the type of tool for you. Certainly some people love new gadgets and that is enough for them. However, if you are a reader of many books, the above factors and others are extremely important.

The Amazon Kindle is probably the best of the e-readers in that it has the wireless capabilities, plays music, and of course accesses the electronic books. Its downfall is that it will only use Kindle specific formats. Therefore there are certain e-books that are not accessible. As well, you can only buy most books that can be used on the Kindle from Amazon.

The Kobo reader, from Chapters (and Barnes and Noble) is a basic model. It does, however, allow access to many formats, not just from Chapters. Having used a Kobo for a number of months its limitations, for a reader such as myself, actually make it a bit of a waste of money. I read a lot, re-read many books and often refer back to them. The Kobo does not allow me to check back into books in an easy way. Page numbers displayed on the Kobo are not the same as in the actual book, you can't highlight or make notes.

The newest versions of the Kindle and Sony E-readers do allow you to highlight text on the screen and to make notes, which make these great devices for students, those who read more than fiction, and those who want to re-read or refer back to the books. I'd like to know more about them, though, to see if they'd really work for me.


For a heaftier price, there is the Apple iPad. Some advantages are that along with being a great e-reader, it has computer functions and the display is in colour. You can highlight, make sticky notes on the page you're reading, the page numbers reflect the book's, making it for easy reference.

I guess that this also means that you get what you pay for.

The smell and feel of a book is something I love, too, however. The crisp cover and uncracked spine of a paperback is enticing. A brand new text is amazing. The well-worn hard cover of a childhood book, read many times over, is just as wonderful. Each new book represents new ideas, ways of looking at the world, and possibility. Each previously cherished book represents lessons learned, history, and discovery. Well, at least that is how it is for me.

So, the question is, do I read enough that owning such a tool would allow me to 'be greener'? When I look at the shelves of books within our house, the answer becomes fairly obvious. I read an average of 3 books a week. Some weeks I read as many as about 5, but other weeks I only get through 1. The books I read are non fiction, fiction, texts...the list goes on. I am also one who re-reads all sorts of books.

Will I also be able to allow a thin piece of plastic and metal, that covers computer chips and data, to take the place of a book.

My Kobo isn't doing 'it' for me. Do I upgrade and continue purchasing e-books? Or, do I revert back to paper only? I need to do some more thinking.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Motivation

Daniel Pink has written Drive, a great look at motivating and engaging employees.

There's also a great video on YouTube that is based on some of his work.

Consider watching it.


Friday, 26 November 2010

The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins

I recently found a trilogy that was of particular interest. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games Trilogy is fascinating and well-written.

These books tell the story of Katniss, a 16 year old girl whose father has died in a coal mine explosion. She spends most of her waking moments hunting in the forest, beyond the electrified fence that 'imprisons' her and the District 12 residents. She hunts to feed her family and to stay alive.

The time is the distant future. Their country is called Panem: the residents live in poverty. Panem (North America) is divided into 13 districts that surround the Capitol. Once a year, the leaders of the Capitol hold the Hunger Games. Two children from each district are chosen to compete to the death. The winner's district will receive more food; the winner will receive a new home and wealth.

The children are brought up in a propogandized world so that many look forward to the "honour" of competing in the games. Katniss, however, recognizes the brutal truth of the games and when her younger sisters' name is chosen, she steps up to volunteer.

The three books tell the story of the games and their aftermath.
Marketed as a YA series, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay appeal to a much broader audience than young teens with an interest in science fiction. The plot moves quickly, keeping readers turning pages and drawing them along with the suspense of the story. The central characters are well developed – flawed yet likeable, determined, resourceful, intelligent and passionate.

The deeper themes ensure that older readers and teens looking for more substance will find plenty to sink their teeth into. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire offer numerous opportunities to consider the influence of propaganda and political manipulation, the complex nature of trust and loyalty and the limits of human endurance (physical, emotional and mental) in a manner reminiscent of George Orwell's classic 1984.

There are elements of violence, as can hardly be surprising when the first novel is a description of a gladiator-like battle between children between the aged of 12 and 18. While descriptions of violent acts are never graphic, the underlying menace and brutality of The Hunger Games themselves has a significant emotional impact and will perhaps make these stories unsuitable for sensitive readers or those under the age of 13.
The science fiction aspects of the novels are evident in the futuristic setting and some technological advancement, but the characters could easily have been set in a more familiar modern setting and those readers who usually avoid science fiction should find the sci-fi aspects of these novels reasonably unobtrusive. Source
This trilogy is dystopian in nature. While it does evoke Orwellian comparisons as the reviewer, above, suggests; it also brings Huxley's Brave New World and other dystopias to mind.

I really like reading this sort of book. I find the author's ability to create a completely different world that is both believable and haunting to be a wonderful craft. I like how it makes me question humanity and makes me think about our very own world.

The books are 'page turners,' keeping the reader enthralled from beginning to end. That they have been written for young adults does not make them any less enjoyable for the adult reader. Perhaps the writing isn't as challenging, but the themes and story itself are definitely adult worthy. The only reason adults wouldn't enjoy these books is because they are not fans of sci-fi, not because they aren't quality works.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Character

"You can judge a person's character by the way he treats people who can't help him or hurt him." ~ Anonymous

Mini Almond Cakes - Jacques Pépin

On Saturdays I usually catch a couple of cooking shows on PBS. I've seen Jacques Pépin cooking with Julia Child in reruns, but he has also had his own show for a number of years.

This week the show began with mini almond cakes. Talk about easy and fast! I made a couple of tiny changes to the recipe and made some for our dessert.

Mini Almond Cakes
¼ cup flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup whole almonds
1 egg
¼ tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons butter
1 tsp almond extract or a dash of rum

Put the flour, sugar, and almonds in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the egg, butter (melted), and almond extract. Blend until mixed.

Pour mixture into muffin/cupcake papers. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes at 350. (toothpick should come out clean)

Topping:
Fresh berries
Or
1 cup frozen berries and 2 tbsp sugar. Place in sauce pan and bring to a boil. Let cool. It can be spooned on to the cakes when serving as is, or puréed first. (or watch the video below and follow Jacques' directions
Or
Any type of frosting that you'd like

(makes about 6)

It was a quick recipe and the size of the cakes was perfect.

Here's a link to the show:

Dinner Party Special (219): Jacques Pépin: More Fast Food My Way

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Cooking Sites and Funny Recipes


I like to check out various cooking web sites to find good recipe and ideas.

I happened upon a site recently: Serious Eats. Serious Eats has lots of different recipes and they seem pretty good. I guess the people who run this site also have a great sense of humour. One recipe I found was for Boiled Water. Yep, that's right, BOILED WATER

I don't know what is funnier, the instructions or the readers' comments.
Here's a copy of the post: (The title will link you directly to the site)

Boiled Water Recipe
Posted by Adam Kuban, July 28, 2010 at 11:17 AM
Boiling water is essential to many recipes. If you have never cooked before, don't worry. It is not as difficult as it may appear. This recipe will guide you through the process, even if you have never set foot in a kitchen.
Special equipment: 12-quart stockpot. Serves 48, cooking time 5 minutes, total time varies
Ingredients
Water
Procedure:
Open your cupboard or wherever it is you store your cookware.
Locate a 12-quart stockpot. If you do not have a 12-quart stockpot, you may use whatever size pot you have; in that event, keep in mind that serving size here is 1 cup and there are 4 cups in a quart. Do the math.
Place your pot in the sink under the tap. If you have never used a sink before, it is the large depression in your counter top. (If you live with someone else, they may have filled it with dirty dishes; in this case, wash them or simply remove them from the sink and place them in the oven — someone else will eventually discover them there and wash them.)
Turn the cold-water knob to the "on" position. Some people (like my dad) prefer to let the water run a little bit. This is optional but encouraged — if it's a hot day or someone has previously used the "hot" water knob, the warmer water will eventually be replaced by truly cold water.
Fill stockpot to within a couple inches of the rim.
Lift stockpot from sink and transfer to stove. (Although appearances may vary, the stove is the thing with 4 or more circular metal bands on top of it; alternately, it may be a completely flat black glass surface. If you are unsure, ask your family, roommate, or neighbor for guidance.)
Find knob on stove that corresponds to the "burner" you have placed your pot on. In addition to words like "Right Front" or "Left Rear," there are usually little pictures near the knobs to indicate position.
Turn knob to "High" and wait until water boils. Depending on strength of your stove and amount of water, the boiling time may vary.
Note: DO NOT WATCH THE POT; it will never boil in the event that you do.
Boiled water may be used for any number of applications. Serve hot, but do not drink.


Alternate methods:

Depending on water application, you may want to salt the water. Do this after the water has come to a boil.
Placing a lid on the pot will help it boil faster, with the additional benefit of blocking water from your line of sight, which, as stated above, inhibits the boiling process.

As I mentioned, above, some of the comments are priceless. I've copied a couple, but really you need to read the post and comments on Serious Eats to truly get the whole picture!
I do a gourmet version of this recipe, with filtered water.
This sounds like too much work. Where can I find some that has already been prepared and packaged?
I have a question: I was making this recipe when the power went out. The water was steaming but not yet "boiling". It's been two hours now; how long will it keep out of the fridge? Do I have to throw this water away and start all over, or do I risk poisoning my guests/family?
I accidentally dropped a tea bag into the water as it "boiled", and immediately it turned the water dark amber! On a whim I poured some into a mug, and tasted it. OMG, it's amazing! It was so good it should be, like, a country's national drink. My mom, a great cook, suggested I try it another time with honey and lemon, I am SO going to try that.
I'm intrigued by the esoteric "lid on the pot" variation as a means to avoid the "watching" phenomenon. I never realized that was a valid workaround! I always thought the prohibition was against watching the POT itself. I guess I took the old saw too literally. This tip really saves prep time; I don't have to keep leaving the kitchen to avoid accidental glances at the pot... Thanks!
Well, I followed the reciped exactly, but, after the water started boiling, I got confused! It wasn't until then that I noticed there was a time listed for how long you let it boil. I thought, "better safe than sorry", so I boiled it for approx.6 hours. Now it's GONE--HELP! What did I do? Was that too long to boil it? Where did it go?
I made this a week ago and put the leftovers in the freezer. It made it very tough and stale... I think I broke a tooth trying to eat it!!
This is a great recipe! Since I have high blood pressure I made it without salt and it was still very good. I am going to add this to my recipe file as I don't want to forget how to do it. Can you saute with it?
Can't I just buy it frozen and cook in the microwave? I think that would be so much more convenient than all that complicated stuff with water faucets, cookware and stoves.
 I see that the lid should be added to prevent seeing the water, and it will speed up prep time. However, my lids are glass. HELP!!!