Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book Challenge Update - Reviews

We are now 2 weeks into the summer book challenge. I haven't been a speedy reader but I've managed to read 2 books. That's a book a week so I don't think I'm doing too bad.

These reviews contain spoilers of the books/movies, so if you haven't read/seen them yet you might not want to read this.

I read Dances with Wolves by Micheal Blake. This book fit the task of reading a book with a Native American character. I really enjoyed this book. It is strikingly similar to the movie, even down to some of the dialogue. There were some significant differences though. For instance, the Indians in the book were Comanche not Sioux. The book was set in Colorado, not South Dakota like the movie. There are several other differences between the book and the movie but probably the most significant is the ending. In the movie, Dances with Wolves and his wife Stands with a Fist leave the Indian camp and trek out on their own so the white soldiers won't find the camp and slaughter the Indians. In the book, Dances with Wolves proposes this scenario but the chief Ten Bears rejects it. Dances with Wolves stays in the camp with his wife and we learn that they are starting a family.

There is a sequel to the book called The Holy Road. This book catches up with Dances with Wolves eleven years after the first book. Dances with Wolves and Stands with a Fist have three children and still live in Ten Bears village. In this book, white soldiers attack the village killing half of the inhabitants and abducting Stands with a Fist and her infant daughter. Dances with Wolves, along with the other Comanche warriors, go to war with the white soldiers. This book is also in the process of being made into a movie. Kevin Costner has declined participation but Viggo Mortenson has been slated to play Dances with Wolves. I have this book on my "to-read" list.

The second book that I read was Along Came a Spider by James Patterson. I used this book to fit the task of reading a book set in a major city. The book is set in Washington DC. This is the first book in the Alex Cross series and was made into a movie starring Morgan Freeman. I had actually read Mary, Mary first and was interested in the series enough to want to start from the beginning. I will start by saying that I saw the movie Along Came a Spider many years ago, and I enjoyed it so I was looking forward to reading the book. Boy was I disappointed.

First, the movie and the book are two completely different stories. The main characters have the same names and there is the basic plot of the kidnapping of a famous child from school, but other than that...nothing. The personalities of the characters are different, some of the character names are different, what happens to the children, what happens to the criminals, everything is different.

Second, racism is prevalent in this book. Alex Cross and his family are racist. Their attitudes overshadow everything going on. I was a little shocked and kind of disgusted when Cross did not want to be assigned to the kidnapping case simply because the victims were white. He has yelling and sometimes physical arguments throughout the book, all based on race. His grandmother disapproves of his relationship with Jezzie because "you can't trust white people". This point is made several times in the book. I found it a little irritating that Cross was so pissed off that the "black" murders in DC would go unsolved (these were committed by Soneji along with the kidnapping) yet the unsolved kidnapping and murder of the white children didn't piss him off at all.

I did enjoy the character development of the murderer/kidnapper Soneji/Murphey. Patterson did a good job creating a character that was a complete sociopath and a possible multiple personality.

Other than the Soneji character, the book was fairly predictable. It was pretty easy to figure out who the bad guys were. I will say that the ending was a little bit of a surprise. I wasn't expecting Maggie Rose (the kidnapped girl) to be found in Bolivia and I definitely wasn't expecting Jezzie to get the death penalty. The book did end with a set up for a sequel. Cross is leaving Jezzie's execution and finds a note from Soneji on the windshield of his car. This is the one and only reason I would pick up the next book in this series. I was fascinated by the Soneji character and would read the next book just to see what happens to this character. I will say that in Mary, Mary Alex Cross is a much different character. Perhaps the character matures as the series continues or maybe Patterson got too much flack for the racism in this book. Who knows. I'm glad this was not the first Patterson book the I read, if it had been I would not have read any others. As it is, I will probably pick up the next in the series to see what happens to Gary Soneji, but that won't be for quite awhile. I think I'm all Patterson-ed out for now.

Book Challenge Total: 15 Points out of a possible 450 points

My next selections are:
Dead Man Walking by Helen Prejean for the task of reading a book about a subject you disagree with. 25 points
Outlander by Diane Gabaldon for the task of reading a book with a one work title. 5 points
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer for the task of starting a series I haven't read yet. 25 points

Monday, July 12, 2010

Weigh In

Hi there! I know I haven't posted anything this week. It was a busy week. We were getting ready for a yard sale, so most of my time was taken up with going through our storage unit, sorting junk, and tagging items. Then we got rained out on Saturday so our yard sale is postponed until this coming Saturday. At least I have all of the work done.

I'm pretty happy with my results this week. I didn't have a huge loss but I did have a loss, which is better than the last few weeks. I'm hoping that this means I'm over the plateau and will be on the losing train again.

I am feeling much better about my diet. I started using The Daily Plate again. I even downloaded the app for my iTouch so I can use it while I'm out. I really wasn't doing too bad but my carbs got a little out of control. I've upped my calorie intake to 1600 to see if that would push me into losing weight again.

I've also been doing really well with the Couch to 5k program. I didn't think I would like it as much as I do. I love that I can go at my own pace. It may take me forever to finish the 5k but I do finish it. I know that the longer I do it, the faster I'll get so I'm not really worried about my times right now. It is an awesome workout but I never feel like I over did it. I have not felt sore or strained, just more energetic. It really is a great feeling. I do need to buy some new shoes though. I've been using my regular cross trainers (shhh, don't tell anyone) and think that I'll need actual running shoes if I start running outside. Fortunately it has been way to hot and humid to do much of anything outdoors so I've been at the gym.

I know that my weight loss has been slow going but I'm happy with the results so far. I know it won't happen overnight and I think I'm being pretty healthy about it. I'm a little disappointed with Vince's commitment though. He has stopped doing his "no processed foods" diet and he has pretty much stopped working out. He says that he just has too much stress to think about dieting and not enough time in the day to get in a workout. He also said that he feels better after a stressful day when he can come home and have junk food. Just yesterday as we were out running errands he tried to convince me to make a stop at McDonald's before going out to dinner with friends. Yes, you read that right. He wanted to have a meal at McDonald's and then go out to dinner two hours later. I convinced him that having an Italian Ice (90 calories) would be much more enjoyable on such a hot day. So we stopped at Rita's instead of McD's. He also picked up a bunch of granola bars and stuff to "snack on". I told him he had to take them to work because I did not want them in the house. It makes me sad that he really has no desire to lose weight and become healthier. No matter how much healthy food I have in the house or how much cooking I do, it just isn't enough for him. I know I can't force him to participate but I wish he would, it would make things much easier if we were doing this together.

Well, tonight will be a little heavy on the carbs. It is my mother-in-law's birthday so we will be going out to eat (although I'll try to keep it healthy) and have cake after dinner. I'm baking the cake but it is definitely not low-cal or healthy in any way. But boy is it good. :)

Here are the stats for this week:

Weight: 236.6 (-1 pounds)
Hips: 49 inches (no change)
Waist: 39 inches (-1 inch)
Bust: 37 inches (-1 inch)
Arms: 14 inches (no change)
Thighs: 25.5 inches (+.5 inch)
Calves: 16.5 inches (no change)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Weigh In

I realized that I skipped my weigh in last week. It completely slipped my mind. Although I don't think it really makes much of a difference. I seem to be on a plateau. I haven't lost any weight since getting back from Phoenix. I've fluctuated 1 pound up and down. I still haven't lost the four pounds that I gained while on vacation.

I am definitely frustrated but I'm hoping that the C25K program will help get me over the hump and back to losing weight. I'm starting week 2 of the program and it is going much better than I expected. I'm going about 2.5 miles alternating between walking and jogging. I really like that the workouts are timed, it helps me get through them knowing how long I have to do each task.

I have gone back to The Daily Plate once again. I feel like I have gotten off track with my calorie intake, so I'm tracking once again.

I will be starting some new meds this week. One of the side effects can be water retention. I hope it doesn't effect my weight too much. We shall see.

Here are this week's measurements.

Weight: 237. (-.4 pounds)
Hips: 49 inches (-1 inch)
Waist: 40 inches (+1 inch)
Bust: 38 inches (+1 inch)
Arms: 14 inches (no change)
Thighs: 25 inches (-1 inch)
Calves: 16.5 inches (no change)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Best Banana Bread Ever

I love banana bread. There are two schools of thought when it comes to this nutty banana confection. Some people like their banana bread to be like bread. My mom for example makes an excellent banana bread that can be sliced, toasted, and buttered. Just like any other bread but with a nutty banana flavor. I, on the other hand, prefer my banana bread to be more cake-like. I prefer a sweet, light bread that could pass for a muffin. And I really like it with chocolate chips.

I have been making banana bread for years. Usually just once or twice a year during my quest for the perfect recipe. The perfect balance of sweetness and nuttiness, of bread and muffin. Up until last month I was still searching. I had found some decent recipes but none that really stuck out in my mind and none that I had bothered to put into my recipe book for future use. That is until last month.

Last month I was preparing to go to Phoenix to visit my mom. I knew that I had a long flight with a 3 hour lay-over. I also knew that I did not want to spend a boatload of money on airport food or even worse, airplane food. So I decide to pack myself a dinner and snack.

I made a yummy turkey sandwich on homemade whole wheat bread with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. I was going to pack some fruit when I noticed that I had 3 very over-ripe bananas sitting in the fruit bowl. What else do you do with over-ripe bananas besides make banana bread?

So I hit the internet on a search for a quick recipe that used what I had handy in the house. I finally ran across an awesome recipe on the blog How Sweet It Is.

I tweaked the recipe to add an extra banana, walnuts, and make the whole thing dairy-free. It is seriously the best banana bread I've ever eaten. It is moist, sweet, nutty, and full of banana flavor. I made 4 mini loaves so I could bring some to my mom in Phoenix. We ended up eating all of it within my first week there.

I don't know how to put into words how good this bread is. I've already made the recipe twice since returning from Phoenix last month. I even purposely bought bananas and let them over-ripen just so I could make this bread with them. I currently have 2 mini loaves in the freezer, for fear that we will eat them too quickly.

If you are ever going to make a banana bread, make this one. If you have made one before and didn't like it...make this one instead. I guarantee you will fall in love with it.

Best Banana Bread Ever
From How Sweet It Is


1 Stick Margarine, Softened
3oz Soy Cream Cheese (Tofutti brand)
1 Cup Brown Sugar
3 Very Ripe Bananas
1 Large Egg
1/4 Cup Soy Sour Cream (Tofutti brand)
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour (may substitute Whole Wheat)
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Chocolate Chips
1 1/2-2 Cups Chopped Walnuts

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
  2. Grease or line pans.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the margarine, sugar, and cream cheese until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the bananas, sour cream, and egg.
  5. Mix until smooth.
  6. Mix in the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
  7. Fold in the chocolate chips and walnuts.
  8. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean.

This can be baked in 2 regular sized loaf pans for 60-75 minutes, 4 mini loaf pans for 35-40 minutes, or in regular size muffin pans for 25-30 minutes. These baking times are approximate and will vary by oven and location.

Yields: 2 loaves

Don't be afraid to experiment with this recipe! Try different kinds of nuts or different types of chips (peanut butter chips would be interesting). It really is a very tailorable recipe.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Moroccan Chicken with Lemon and Olives

This is one of my favorite dishes at Casablanca, a local Moroccan restaurant. Although my absolute favorite is the Bastilla pastry, which I will be attempting to make at some point.

I was a little intimidated at first. At the restaurant, it seems like a dish that takes all day to cook. The flavors are intense and the chicken is always perfectly cooked and falling off the bone. I had no idea how to go about making this one. So I did what everyone else does, I searched the internet for recipes. I was actually surprised at how many I found, and they all seemed to be pretty similar. I don't have a Tagine, which is the traditional way to cook this dish, so I chose a recipe that was cooked on the stove top.

I found a recipe on the Bon Appetit website. I followed the directions exactly, since I'm not familiar enough with this dish to start making substitutions. It was awesome.

It blends all of the traditional Moroccan flavors of cumin, ginger, cinnamon, etc. in a thick savory sauce for the chicken. Since the chicken is cooked in the sauce, it is infused with all of these flavors. My house smelled awesome while I was cooking this. I get hungry just thinking about it. Yum.

I served it over Basmati rice and had a big salad along side.

Moroccan Chicken with Lemon and Olives

From Bon Appetit


1 Whole Chicken (Approx. 4 pounds), Cut into 8 Pieces with skin removed
1 Large Lemon
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
2 Teaspoons Minced Garlic
1 Tablespoon Paprika
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
2 Cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
1/2 Cup Green Olives

  1. Heat olive oil in a large chef's pan or skillet.
  2. Add the diced onion.
  3. Saute the onion until golden brown.
  4. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, and ginger to the pan.
  5. Mix with the onion for 1 minute.
  6. Add the chicken broth.
  7. Bring to a boil.
  8. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
  9. Add the chicken to the pan.
  10. Cut the lemon into small wedges and add to the pan.
  11. Cover the pan, reduce heat, and simmer for 30-40 minutes. You want the meat to be cooked through and ready to fall off the bone.
  12. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan.
  13. Add olives to the skillet.
  14. Boil until the sauce is thickened.

Serve by placing the chicken over rice and pouring the sauce over everything.

Yield: 5 servings