Archive for February, 2010

Juicing My Way to a Balanced Diet

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , on February 24, 2010 by Jessica Lada

I have a confession: I always have been and I probably always will be a picky eater.  And to make matters worse, I have a ton of food allergies.  So between my eternal pickiness and my loathsome allergies, it’s difficult for me to have a well-balanced diet.  I may have a novelty tee with the food pyramid on it, but it’s for decoration only.

Pretty much every meal I eat is an act of defiance against my allergies.  It’s a game of Russian roulette.  How many of these foods can I eat before I start to itch or cough?  As an example: I like to eat Kung Pao chicken at some Asian restaurants.  It generally contains snow peas, carrots, rice, peanuts, and chicken (with some yummy soy-chili type sauce).  I’m allergic to peas, carrots, rice, and peanuts.  That’s everything but the chicken.  Except technically I’m allergic to feathers, so even the chicken is questionable.  So, you say, perhaps I should order a beer with dinner?  Fantastic!  How about a nice unfiltered wheat beer?  It’s made with wheat, oats, and yeast.  Guess how many of those things I’m allergic to.  If you said “every damn one of them,” you’re correct!  And how about strawberry shortcake for dessert?  Only if I want to turn into a giant strawberry-colored hive.

Allergies aside, when I say I’m picky I don’t just mean a little bit.  Let’s use green as an example.  In almost all cases, green is bad.  It tastes like heartburn.

I will eat spinach raw or sautéed, occasionally in queso, but never creamed.  Dark greens like arugula, watercress, or romaine lettuce are good, but never iceberg lettuce.  I’d rather eat a sock.  Avocados and limes are tasty (especially together with some garlic and cilantro—also allowed) but don’t really count because they’re fruits.  Green beans are tolerable when sautéed with bacon and lots of garlic, but only then.  Zucchini is only good in two recipes, but unfortunately I don’t know either of them.  Leeks are fine in the form of leek and potato soup.  Cucumbers are okay only in the form of tzatziki sauce when eating authentic Greek food.   Green tomatillos in the form of salsa verde are pretty tasty.  Those are the only green exceptions.   Green bell peppers are never okay.  Not even a tiny sliver on the opposite side of a huge pizza.  For your information, NO, I can’t just take a slice without green peppers on it.  One piece anywhere in the vicinity taints the entire pizza and renders it inedible.

I’m well aware this is a lot to process and to deal with, especially at mealtime.  (Did I mention I eat every three hours?  I either have a hollow leg or a tapeworm.)    But my fiancé and I have struck a deal.  I will taste any food once, as long as I’m not allergic to it, and in return he will not be offended if I don’t like it, never eat it again, and complain loudly whenever it gets mentioned.

Recently he brought home Jack LaLanne’s JLSS Power Juicer Deluxe Stainless-Steel Electric Juicer and as I made my fresh orange+apple juice, convinced me to add a carrot.  Just for fun.


Carrots aren’t on the no-fly list, so I agreed.  Shockingly, it was good.  I enjoyed the orange+apple+carrot juice so much that I made a second glass later that evening.  In one evening I consumed four oranges, three apples, and two carrots.  Normally I’d be lucky if I had that many fruits and veggies over the span of two or three weeks.  It’s incredible.  I’ve been on the juice so much this week, the citric acid has actually made the inside of my mouth a little sore.

I feel healthier, I have more energy, and it’s not even costing me $6 per 20 oz. corn syrup laden smoothie, either.  I’m starting to think those dietary guidelines aren’t just a load of BS after all.  Together with his buddy Jack LaLanne, my fiancé managed to do what my mother couldn’t in 24 years.  For the first time in my life, I’m eating right.  Screw you, Allergies!  I’m making juice.

Left: two small apples, two oranges, two carrots, a handful of grapes.

Right: three carrots, two stalks of celery, two handfuls of grapes, one small apple.

–Originally posted at blogcritics.org

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull Leaves No Fantasy Stone Unturned

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2010 by Jessica Lada

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull is a young adult fantasy novel about every child’s dream and nightmare at the same time.   Siblings Kendra and Seth get dropped off at their grandfather’s house while their parents go on a 17-day cruise and they discover he’s the caretaker of Fablehaven, a mystical land hidden in the forest beyond his yard.  It’s a wildlife preserve for the magical creatures, good and evil, to protect them from extinction.

Brandon Mull’s bestselling series is up to four books and the fifth, Fablehaven: Keys to the Demon Prison, comes out March 23rd, 2010.  The first book in the series establishes the storyline for the whole set.  Fablehaven is one of the last strongholds for magic in the world and it’s being threatened by the Society of the Evening Star.

Kendra and Seth are fascinated by their Grandpa’s house and spend their days exploring within the bounds of Grandpa’s rules.  Unfortunately, the fascination lasted longer for the kids than it did for me.   The book was easy to put down during the first seventy-some pages and I kept wondering when the cool stuff was going to happen.  Luckily, Mull amps up the story just in time to salvage the novel and the rest of the story keeps good pace.  The thing that saved the story through the slow start was a nasty witch named Muriel tied up in the woods by a frayed rope.  She gnaws at a knot in the rope and as soon as she appears, I knew she had to get loose at some point in the story.  It creatsa lot of suspense and anticipation, especially with mischievous rule-breaker Seth running around.

The big theme of the novel is that you reap what you sow.  Kendra is the good girl and her brother Seth is the well-intentioned rascal.  Seth and Kendra are nice foils for the moral lesson–sort of a fantasy version of “Goofus and Gallant”–but at times it seemed like everything wrapped up too tidily for them.

But despite a few flaws (and a slightly off-putting scene involving a giant cow named Viola and her giant udders) Mull created a truly creepy antagonist in Muriel.  The story world and the series concept are engaging and vivid, but it isn’t a knockoff of its predecessors.  There’s a lot of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowling inspiration showing through in Fablehaven, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.  This is a great series for anyone who likes fantasy where the magical realm overlaps with the modern world.  I’ll be excited to see how the series wraps up in the final book this March.

–originally posted on http://blogcritics.org/

Valentine’s Day suggestion? Homemade Cookies

Posted in Recipes, Stuff with tags , , , on February 13, 2010 by Jessica Lada
Mmmmmcookies...

Get originality points for Valentine’s Day this year. Instead of generic chocolates, go for a different kind of edible heart attack.

I love to bake.  And I had a great reason to bake things this past year because (up until January 16th) my fiancé was living in Brooklyn, NY, about 1500 miles away from me.  NYC is an expensive place, especially for an opera singer, so every couple of weeks I’d make a big batch of cookies and send them in a USPS Flat Rate shipping box (pretty much the best way to ship things ever).

In addition to baking, I also love bacon.  It’s always on my grocery list and my fridge is never without it.  I honestly think it’s one of the greatest foods ever.  Bless the pig, for he is tasty and delicious.

My fiancé, good country boy that he is, also loves bacon.   But his roommate in Brooklyn was a vegan who very strongly discouraged any bacon in the apartment.  He said it made his clothes smell.   But as much as he hated bacon, he loved my homemade cookies.

One weekend I decided to create my own cookie recipe by combining two of my favorite things.  I took my mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe and made a few substitutions.  In place of part of the shortening, I used bacon drippings.  I added a third cup of maple syrup and some molasses.  And instead of chocolate chips, I fried a pound of bacon and crumbled it up.   (Needless to say, the bacon-hating roommate was not impressed.)  I know it sounds bizarre, but the combination of crunchy golden cookie, little salty morsels of bacon, and just a hint of maple syrup is absolutely divine.

If love was a cookie, this would be it.

I Can Has Bacon Cookiez? Recipe:

1 1/2 c. butter
1/4 c. crisco
1 Tbsp. bacon drippings
1/2 c. powdered sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. molasses
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 lb. bacon, fried crispy and crumbled
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder

Cream together everything but the bacon, flour, and baking powder, then gradually stir in the dry ingredients.

Globs the size of ping pong balls, squished to about 1/4″. Bake 14-16 minutes, 350 degrees. Makes 4-5 dozen.

Looking forward to Eon: Part II

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on February 11, 2010 by Jessica Lada

I didn’t know anything about Eon: Dragoneye Reborn or author Alison Goodman when I picked up the novel, but it surprised me in a good way.  Instead of the typical European feudal system, Goodman looks to the Chinese Zodiac to shape her story world.  Each year, one of twelve dragons comes to power and chooses a new apprentice who will become Dragoneye and harness the dragon’s magical power.  Title character Eon is actually Eona, disguising herself as a boy in hopes of becoming the next Dragoneye.   In addition to her gender standing in the way, Eona is also crippled.  It is the Rat Dragon’s turn to choose an apprentice but, in a surprising turn, he isn’t the only dragon who appears to choose an apprentice at the ceremony.

Author Alison Goodman lives in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia and teaches writing at the postgraduate level.  Eon was first published in Australia under the title The Two Pearls of Wisdom.  In the US it took the title Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, and then Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye in the UK.  It has been published in thirteen countries and ten languages, so far.

Whatever the title, Goodman’s story world is vivid and engaging.  I couldn’t put the book down and when I turned the final page I wanted more.  The title character had more depth than I usually find in young adult novels.  Her physical, emotional, and external conflicts paralleled and complimented each other seamlessly.  Even though the story focuses primarily on the identity struggle of a young woman, the external plot has plenty of big-picture consequences that up the stakes.   In addition, Goodman deserves praise for two of her supporting characters.   Eon’s friend Chart is endearing, devious, and also handicapped.  Lady Dela is tenacious, brave in more ways than one, and also transgendered.   Both characters contributed to the plot as more than mere gimmick or novelty.  I’m sure the inclusion of these characters will draw criticism from some, but I think this is the kind of writing that helps to break down stereotypes, promotes tolerance, and teaches open minded thinking.   Thumbs up for Goodman on this one.

Fans of Tamora Pierce should dig Goodman’s story world.  Eon: Dragoneye Reborn appeals to teens and adults alike.  READERS BEWARE: this is part one of two and the second part isn’t out yet.  I don’t say this to dissuade you from reading but to save you a frustrating and futile rush to the book store when you finish reading Eon.  Goodman is on the verge of leaving too many threads dangling, but fortunately for her the threads are rich and captivating.    If rumors are to be believed, the sequel is coming out this year.  So if you want to avoid frustration, wait to pick up both volumes at the same time.   Or you can be like me and wait eagerly on the preorder list.

Perfectly Bewitching — Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2010 by Jessica Lada

Joseph Delaney’s The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch was exactly what I needed during Ice Storm 2010 last weekend.  Delaney submerged me immediately into fantastical 16th-17th Century England.  His hero, Thomas Ward, is the seventh son of a seventh son and he’s apprenticing with Old Gregory the Spook.  Old Gregory deals with any erstwhile witches, boggarts, and other such ghastly creatures that put County residents in peril.   Gregory’s time as Spook won’t last forever.   Now the big question is, how long will Thomas last as his apprentice?

Joseph Delaney taught English before beginning his career as a novelist.   Revenge of the Witch is his first children’s novel and he wastes no time proving that he can tell a great story.  The world is rich and vivid, and it’s no surprise that Delaney based the setting on the area in England where he lives.  From the very first page of the story, I was hooked.   Delaney speaks through his thirteen year old protagonist without sounding forced.  As a graduate student in my (hopefully) final semester of college, I thought that a spooky fantasy novel aimed for a younger audience would be simplistic and somehow beneath me.  But somewhere between the ghast (a ghostlike remainder of a departed soul) of a murderous miner and the witch Bony Lizzie’s manky breath, I remembered that deep down I’m a complete coward.

I loved that Thomas stuck to his own sense of right and wrong even though in several instances he contradicted his Master’s opinion.  If somebody told me not to go into the forest because there’s a witch locked up alive in a hole in the ground, I wouldn’t be tempted to go there for any reason.  Not even on a bet.  And I definitely wouldn’t feel sorry for the old hag.  But that’s why Thomas is the Spook’s apprentice and I’m the one sitting up at three in the morning reading about him.

I’m glad I came to this series when six books are already in print.  If I had to wait for the next book to come out, it would be an impatient wait.  Delaney tied up the main story questions, but he also planted the seeds for a great series.  Thomas, his mother, Old Gregory, and Alice are all characters I want to know more about.

For fans of spooky witch and ghoul fantasy novels, this is a great series.  It would also satisfy any fans of master/apprentice stories who might want a change from the page/squire/knight/wizard blueprint.  My fiancé even picked the book up, and he’s usually not much of a fiction reader unless it’s something post-apocalyptic and utterly depressing.   Revenge of the Witch has definitely earned its place on my shelf.  I can’t wait to plug in a couple of night lights and pick up the next volume of the series.

Hrrrk! Blarrrgh…

Posted in About Me with tags on February 9, 2010 by Jessica Lada

That’s the sound of character death in the online web series Red vs. Blue.  It’s also the sound of a graduate student slogging through the trials of academia toward the prospect of employment in the real world.

I’m a grad student at the University of Oklahoma finishing up a Masters of Professional Writing.  I’m marrying a devastatingly handsome opera singer in October on his family’s cattle ranch.

I love fantasy novels, movies of all sorts, and I have a weakness for sci-fi tv shows.  In this blog I’ll give my thoughts, opinions, and recommendations on all of the above.

I read.  I write.  I blargh.