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I love reading challenges. Not that I need any, but I like how they tend to shuffle my reading pile. Still, after feeling overwhelmed in 2010 I decided to be very careful with challenges in 2011. So I accepted only five! #goodgrrl :)

What’s the status now that December is around the corner? Am I getting stressed like last year? Do I feel accomplished? Need to get my act together and READ?

Completed 2011 reading challenges

Before I go any further I humbly bow my head and confess that even though I’ve read all the books I commited to for the following three challenges, I reviewed hardly any. 2011 has not been a great year of blogging for me. But as we’re talking reading challenges, I’ll consider my missions accomplished!

HARUKI MURAKAMI READING CHALLENGE

Murakami Challenge 2011 cover button

For the Haruki Murakami Reading Challenge I chose level TORU (named after our dear friend from The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, the first Murakami novel I ever laid my hands on). That means reading 5 books by the master (here’s my admission post). So far I’ve read 6 (!) and I plan to read one more before the year has ended — ask Elsje if you don’t believe me. ;) If I live up to my promiss that collection of short stories will lift me to the level of Nakata (from Kafka on the Shore).

Books read:

Hear the Wind Sing
Pinball, 1973
Underground
1q84 Boek 1
1q84 Boek 2
1q84 Boek 3

And yes, the Dutch translation of 1Q84 was published in three seperate volumes, coming out in June 2010 and April 2011. Also, the title is deliberately written with a lower case ‘Q’ because it much resembles a ‘9’. I like that and have no idea why it should be different in the Japanese original and English version. Us Dutchies are pedantic. ;)

Last week Elsje and I went to a lecture about Haruki Murakami by translator Luc Van Haute in Leiden’s Sieboldhuis. He explained to us how the often stated opinion that Murakami’s novels are not typically Japanese is just plain wrong. It was fun — I have a huge reading list of Japanese authors to follow up ;) — and we also got to see the Hello Kitty exhibition and meet ennazussuzanne and Seraphine, who surprised us with the gift of an origami bookmark! Aw, that’ll come to good use when reading… JLit!

JAPANESE LITERATURE CHALLENGE #5

Japanese Literature Challenge #5 logo

The fifth Japanese Literature Challenge only started in June and runs to February, but on October 1st I had already finished the 6 books I commited to. That day I turned over the last page of 1Q84 Book 3. As I still plan to read Sōseki’s Kokoro for the Japanese Literature Book Group (I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!), and Murakami’s The Elephant Vanishes together with Elsje, I’ll probably up my level by the end of January 2012.

Books read:

The Woman in the Dunes ~ Kobo Abe
Underground ~ Haruki Murakami
Thousand Cranes ~ Yasunari Kawabata
1q84 Boek 1 ~ Haruki Murakami
1q84 Boek 2 ~ Haruki Murakami
1q84 Boek 3 ~ Haruki Murakami

FOODIES READING CHALLENGE

Foodie's Reading Challenge 2011 button

In the Foodies reading Challenge I cowardly safely labeled myself a NIBBLER, going for 1 to 3 books (admission post). So far I’ve read 5, and –YAY– even reviewed two!

Books read:

World Food Café
La Dolce Vegan!
Bento Box in the Heartland
Verraad, verleiding en verzoening
Vegan Family Meals

I hope I can find the time and energy to write some more reviews!

Unfinished business

But I’m not there yet. With only five weeks to go I need to finish two more challenges… Will I be able to do it???

CHINESE LITERATURE CHALLENGE

Chinese Literature Challenge button

I was half a year late in joining the Chinese Literature Challenge and I full-heartedly use that as an excuse for why I haven’t reached my goal of 1 book yet. ;) Here’s what I plan to read. Cheer me on and maybe I’ll be able to cross of this challenge before the year has passed!

WHAT’S IN A NAME CHALLENGE #4

What's in a Name Challenge #4 button (2011)

The What’s in a name challenge is always one of my favourites. It’s a thrill to pick your next book just based on a random word in the title. Call me crazy. ;) Alas, this year I’m having trouble finishing: even though I read several more than one fitting titles for four of the six categories, two are still open!

Books read:

Categorie NUMBERS
Pinball, 1973 ~ Haruki Murakami
2666 ~ Roberto Bolaño
1q84 ~ Haruki Murakami

Categorie TRAVEL/MOVEMENT
Travels in the Scriptorium ~ Paul Auster
I’ll Steal You Away ~ Niccolò Ammaniti
Model Flying ~ Marcel Möring

Categorie EVIL
Poelie the Terrible ~ Frans Pointl
Crime School ~ Carol O’Connell

Categorie LIFE STAGE
Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America ~ Linda Furiya

Still hoping to get around to:

Categorie JEWEL/GEM
The Moonstone ~ Wilkie Collins

Categorie SIZE
Vernon God Little ~ DBC Pierre

BTW you can always follow my progress on the special Challenge page on Graasland!

What’s new for 2012?

2012 is more than a month away but I have already lined up some reading plans. Wanna know what they are?

WHAT’S IN A NAME CHALLENGE #5

What's in a name challenge #5 button

Of course I can’t resist participating in the new What’s in a name challenge. I must say that I never buy or borrow books specifically for this challenge — picking titles that are already on Mt TBR, or have been on my wishlist for quite some time, is part of the fun. So what are the categories for 2012 and which books fit the bill?

  • A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title
    Choosing from: Last Night in Twisted River, Sunset Park, Lunar Park, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms
  • A book with something you’d see in the sky in the title
    Choosing from: The Moonstone, Sunset Park, Lunar Park, A Ride in the Neon Sun, Noorderzon (sun), Dead Air, Star of the Sea
  • A book with a creepy crawly in the title
    Choosing from: Little Bee, Een tafel vol vlinders (‘A table loaded with butterflies‘)
  • A book with a type of house in the title
    Choosing from: The Graveyard Book, Black Box, Het huis op de plantage (‘House on the plantation‘)
  • A book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title
    Choosing from: Dreaming Water, Water for ElephantsMet bonzend hart : brieven aan Hella S. Haasse (‘With a throbbing heart: letters to Hella S. Haasse‘) [open to suggestions]
  • A book with a something you’d find on a calendar in the title
    Choosing from: The Eigth Day, Silence in October, Nocturnes

Don’t you think I have a whole lot of books available just to pick from? :))

THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES GROUP READ

Let me state first that I haven’t commited to the following task yet. I’m only considering it! Caravana de Recuerdos hosts a Roberto Bolaño The Savage Detectives readalong in January. I have the book on my shelf — it was a recommendation by the great author Kazuo Ishiguro — and I guess now is as good as ever. Especially since I didn’t much appreciate Bolaño’s 2666, which I read together with Leeswammes & Co. earlier this year. I’d better say it’s now.. or never!

Are you making plans for 2012 yet?
Looking back on your accomplishments for 2011?
I’d love to know!

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of book lovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

My experience with Ann Gentry’s Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone kind of resembled a sugar-crash.

Know what that is? When you’re taking in big amounts of refined sugars at a time (like having a Mars bar or a donut), blood sugar levels spike, releasing insulin into your body which then causes your blood sugar levels to plummet. Some of you may call it an afternoon dip. ;) You experience a roller-coaster ride as the body works hard to stabilize its blood sugar levels.

Cover Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone (Ann Gentry)Reading the introduction to Vegan Family Meals got me extremely enthusiastic. Ann Gentry is the busy chef of Los Angeles’ popular vegan restaurant Real Food Daily. She wants to make plant-based cooking accessible for the time-strapped cook who craves delicious meals that are easy to prepare. By showing that the vegan cooking process isn’t so different from vegetarian cooking she specifically means to help omnivores wanting to reduce their intake of animal products, newbie vegetarians-turned-vegan like myself or even die-hard vegans. If you eat (strict) vegetarian for just one day a week, it will have a positive impact on your health and the environment. That’s why Meatless Mondays are getting more popular every day!

“If you’re intimidated by the thought of preparing plant-based foods, don’t be. A standard peanut butter and jelly sandwich is vegan. Most of the easy vegan recipes that follow have fewer than a dozen ingredients – and they’re much more delicious than a PB&J.”

YAY!

“The dishes in this books are designed for family meals. They are simple vegan recipes with approachable ingredients lists and techniques, relatively short preparation time, and, of course, wide appeal.”

Hear hear!

“For help with ingredients that might be new to you, simply turn to the Real Food Pantry listings throughout the book for extra information that will demystify the likes of spelt and umeboshi, and more plant-based staples.”

YES!

Can it get any better? Simple but yummy meals with less than twelve ingredients that do not rely heavily on unfamiliar ingredients or which components can easily be substituted. And Ann Gentry promises to do all this on an affordable budget.

So. You may understand I got a little discouraged when I discovered that the first recipe of Vegan Family Meals — Super Hippie Granola — contains 15 ingredients, among which dried Hunza mulberries (never heard of), goji berries (not in stock) and melted unrefined coconut oil (erm…). Thankfully the author suggests common substitutes like coconut flakes, cranberries or or other dried tropical fruits. And it’s a breakfast dish that you are meant to prepare in advance so maybe I should not worry too much about the long ingredients list.

On to the next breakfast recipe: Acai Granola Bowl. It consists of only 8 ingredients, but alas: one of those is the previously mentioned Super Hippie Granola and the main element is frozen acai berry bars… Can’t get those in in The Netherlands! The same goes for the following breakfast recipes: they either contain products that are ‘strange’, hard to get or need to be prepared well in advance. Also, vegan cheese substitutes are needed for several of them.

I couldn’t help feeling disappointed by this time. I guess the Vegan Family Meals cookbook isn’t really meant for the European market – and things are certainly different over here in The Netherlands. There are less vegan products and options. For example there are no vegan ‘cheeses’ that can be considered real alternatives for dairy cheese, as was recently confirmed by a test panel of Vegatopia (article in Dutch). The on the internet much appraised Daiya is not available in my country.

Still, there’s hope: on most things we’re supposed to be 5 years behind on the UK and 10 on the US. If I think back to when I stopped eating meat, there were much fewer vegetarian options as well. Ann Gentry herself writes that most products were only available in natural food stores when she started her alternative food journey. Now they’re sold in mainstream supermarkets – and being vegan is hip. :)

I was happy to find that further on in the book there were several recipes I felt I could try.

I ended up making 5 of them:

  • Ginger Miso Soup (p.98)
    Just a good miso soup recipe, flavourful but not really anything special.
  • Kombu Dashi (p.99)
    Needed for the Ginger Miso Soup.
  • Sweet Mustard Tempeh (p.116)
    Tasty. I had some of it on a sandwich and with the rest I plan to make a salad with the saffron-orange tahini dressing that accompanies this recipe in the cookbook (p.115).
  • Orange-Basil Tempeh (p.129; recipe below)
    Very flavourful: will definitely be making this again!
  • Watercress and Butter Lettuce Salad with Israeli Couscous, Orange Basil-Tempeh and Sweet Miso Dressing (p.128)
    This is a really good salad recipe, although I found that the many flavours pushed the orange-basil tempeh to the background. I will be making it again, especially for pot-lucks or a picnic, but probably without the tempeh – and with the Roasted Pistachios (p.55) that I forgot to add this time.

Still on the menu plan with pak choi from this week’s batch of organic vegetables: Szechuan Noodles with Spicy Hot Peanut Sauce (p.147).

Another positive aspect of Vegan Family meals is that it’s an easy and interesting read. It’s well-stocked with appetizing photo’s, cutting techniques, info on so-called exoctic superfoods, non-dairy milks, sweeteners, food history et cetera. Each of the sections (Breakfasts, Snacks & Sandwiches, Soups, Family-Style Salads, Simple Meals, Grains and Vegetables, Desserts) is introduced by a one page article that educates us a little more about the topic as well as the author’s life. So after plummeting from euphoric to frustrated, my end verdict for Vegan Family Meals: Real Food for Everyone is a positive one.

Thanks to Andrews McMeel Publishing I was given the opportunity to preview the e-book version of Vegan Family Meals through Netgalley. The key question is now: will I buy a paper copy when it is published on June 14th? I’m afraid not. The dishes take a little more time to prepare than expected and often times another component needs to be made first. I also felt I had to ‘tweak’ too many of the recipes because of lacking ingredients. But maybe this will change in few years from now, when we’re up to speed with the US here in The Netherlands?! ;)

To get a taste of the book yourself I’ll share the recipe for Orange-Basil Tempeh. Since Mr Gnoe and I are a family of two I just made half of it.

Salad with couscous, orang-basil tempeh and sweet miso dressing

Recipe for Orange-Basil Tempeh (salad condiment)

Ingredients
Serves 4.

  • 225 g tempeh, halved horizontally and then cut into 1 cm cubes
  • 120 ml fresh orange juice
  • zest of 1 organic orange
  • 3 tbs finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tbs agave syrup
  • 2 tbs tamari
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Preparation

  1. I immediately moved away from the recipe by steaming the tempeh for 10 minutes. I’ve read elsewhere that it improves absorbency (and alleviates the slightly bitter taste some people dislike). It’s your choice whether you do this or not.
  2. Whisk the orange juice, basil, agave nectar, tamari, garlic, olive oil and zest (= everything except tempeh ;) together in a bowl.
  3. Add the tempeh (either raw or steamed) and turn to coat.
  4. Arrange the tempeh in a single layer so it’s (partly) submerged in the marinade.
  5. Set aside to marinade for at least an hour or refrigerate overnight. I did the latter.
  6. Put in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes until tempeh is hot and the marinade has reduced.
  7. Serve the tempeh warm or at room temperature.

ENJOY!

Hop over to She Likes Bento for another review of Vegan Family Meals including the recipe for Sweet Potato Fries!

The recipe for a Spring to Summer Vegetable Dish can be found on the Real Food Daily website.

You want to have a look at the cookbook yourself? Go to the publisher’s page and check out the Google preview.

This is my first submission to Cookbook Sundays, a meme from Mom’s Sunday Café!

Button Cookbook Sundays

Post also submitted to…

Vegan Mondays button Button Whip Up Something New! Challenge Foodie's Reading Challenge 2011 button

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

- – – -

This is my first Sunday Salon of 2011 and I’m going to talk about a cookbook. As you may have noticed, food has been on my mind a lot lately! ;) For my 10-day ExtraVeganza! project I relied heavily on the World Food Café: Global Vegetarian Cooking cookbook. It is a feast for the eye — and your tummy!

Cover World Food Cafe cookbook, Chris & Carolyn CaldicottThe book was put together by Chris & Carolyn Caldicott. It contains recipes they collected, or got inspired, on the many journeys they’ve made across the globe. They did so with the aim to open their own restaurant: the World Food Café in London.

Chris Caldicott is an awesome photographer and the cookbook is littered with beautiful full-colour photos — at least one on each double page. So even if you don’t like to cook, you could display this treasure on your coffee table. ;) But that is certainly not what it’s meant for.

It really is a great collection of recipes, many dairy-free! Rather unique for a vegetarian cookbook these days… Still, it is vegetarian and not all-vegan. Especially the section on The Americas ‘regularly’ contains dairy or eggs: 5 of the 23 (disregarding butter). Now that’s not too bad, is it? Unfortunately the only dessert of the book is among those — a mouthwatering chocolate cake. I wouldn’t know how to substitute the 6 eggs needed for that, but in many cases it’s possible to omit or replace the non-vegan ingredient.

As you may have understood from the previous paragraph, the book is divided in different global regions:

  • The Middle East & Africa (p.10-57)
  • India, Nepal & Sri Lanka (p.58-111)
  • Southeast Asia & China (p.112-145)
  • The Americas (p. 146-185)

Each continent starts with a two-page photograph, followed by an introduction. And most of the recipes also have short description of where they came from. The book concludes with a short glossary of ingredients and an index.

I’m sure I made 10 dishes from this book, of which 7 got a BIG thumbs up. The other 3 were either okay or so-so and I need to stipulate that in two of the cases I didn’t use the proper ingredients… I mostly cooked from the Indian section and am still dying to try the potato bondas (fritters) from North India that seem perfect for a bento. But so far my expeditions in search for the essential ingredient ‘asefetida‘ (a.k.a. hing) were in vain.

List of recipes tried

Middle East:

  • Hummus (p.35)

India, Nepal & Sri Lanka:

Southeast Asia & China:

This book comes highly recommended! And I would like to express a huge THANK YOU to the globetrotter in-laws that gave it to me as a birthday present.

Here’s a recipe we’ve made several times. You’ll find a variation of it in tomorrow’s bento!

Spicy Bean Curd & Bean Sprout Salad from Thailand

Ingredients
Serves 4-6

  • 1 cucumber; grated
  • 1 red bell pepper; seeded, deribbed and cut into fine strips
  • 8 ounces / 225 grams of bean sprouts (I grow them myself!)
  • 1 tbs sunflower oil
  • 10 ounces / 275 grams of tofu; cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) slices and ready to fry
  • 1 garlic clove; crushed
  • 1-2 green Thai or serrano chilies; thinly sliced (red chili is fine)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbs light soy sauce
  • 2 ts packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (150 grams) skinned peanuts; toasted and crushed
  • handful of fresh cilantro leaves; chopped

Preparation

  1. Combine grated cucumber, bell pepper and bean sprouts in a salad bowl.
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and fry the tofu slices until brown and crunchy. Set aside en let cool.
  3. Using the same pan, sauté garlic and chilies for a few seconds, then add the lime juice, soy sauce and brown sugar. Stir until all ingredients are combined.
  4. Arrange tofu slices on top of the salad and sprinkle with crushed peanuts.
  5. Pour on the hot dressing and garnish with lots of cilantro.

ENJOY!

This review is my first post for the Foodie’s Reading Challenge!

Foodie's Reading Challenge 2011 button- – – – -

Join Beth Fish’s weekend cooking with a food-related post!

Beth Fish Weekend Cooking logo

Foodie's Reading Challenge 2011 buttonOf course I’ve already told you all that I joined the 2011 Foodie’s Reading Challenge — and nobody was surprised at that. But I didn’t write an actual admission post, deciding on a level of participation plus books to read. Making up for that now!

Can’t do any better than being a nibbler, meaning I’ll read 1-3 books from the world of food writing.

Proposed titles:

  • Verraad, verleiding en verzoening: de rol van eten in speelfilms, by Louise O. Fresco & Helen Westerik
    Cover 'Eten in speelfilms', Louise O. Fresco & Helen WesterikDutch non-fiction about the significance of food in film, demonstrated with the help of several well-known movies like Babette’s Feast, Big Night, Marie Antoinette, Julie & Julia, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover etc.
    Wow: my love for food, books and movies combined. :) I bought it from the authors themselves on a night about Foodies, Foodporn and Food Blogs in September, so I have a signed copy.
  • Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America, by Linda Furiya
    Cover Bento Box in the Heartland, Linda FuriyaWhile growing up in Versailles, an Indiana farm community, Furiya tried to balance the outside world of Midwestern America with the Japanese traditions of her home life. As the only Asian family in a tiny township, her life revolved around Japanese food and the extraordinary lengths her parents went to in order to gather the ingredients needed to prepare the meals. [..] Furiya’s story begins with her first memorable meal as a kindergartener and concludes when she graduated from high school. Her story revolves around food. The preparing of it, the eating, and congregation surrounding sustenance serves not only as a backdrop, but demonstrates how it comforts an immigrant’s homesickness and aids the family through their challenges.
    Sounds like another perfect book for Gnoe, right? ;)

I might add titles to this list or change my mind on what to read, so feel free to give me any suggestions you might have! For now I really feel like doing these two. :))

You've got mail: Book Blogger Holiday Swap 2010

The Day After I received my Canadian loot in the Great Grocery Bag Exchange, again a mysterious package fell into my mailbox. Hooray, a present from my Secret Santa! Of course I knew Santa lives somewhere in the Nordic hemisphere, but I never would have guessed (s)he actually lives in Sweden..! I should have know that when I visited the country in 2002! Eh, not that I have any plans about what to do with that knowledge ;)

Anyway, my present is wrapped in some cool helper-trolls paper. And I’m keeping it that way for a short while longer! Our rental Christmas tree won’t arrive until December 18th and I want it to lie under the tree like a proper x-mas gift. Even if it’s just for one day LOL! So you’ll have to be patient too. Nothing you can do about it! :)

Book Blogger Holiday Swap present 2010 (wrapped)

Thanks to helper-troll my Secret Santa ‘Zee’ from  ..?

Other bookish news

I’ve finished reading The (Temple of the) Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima and am about to start in Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil. Just like I promised last week ;)

Foodie's Reading Challenge 2011 buttonI’ve also been a baaaad grrl — again – and joined yet another challenge :\

But.. it-was-made-for-me! It’s the Foodie’s Reading Challenge, hosted by Margot of Joyfully Retired. If you’ve participated in Beth Fish’s Weekend Cooking meme you’re bound to have met her! She challenges us to explore the world of good food writing; taking the form of cookbooks, biographies or even novels centered around food.

Now look at Graasland and tell me honestly: could I really have resisted this challenge??? :)

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

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