Monday, January 24, 2011

First Book Review: I LOVE A MAN IN UNIFORM (1 of 26)

In one of my first posts of the New Year, I made a public pledge to read 26 books in 2011. That's right. Twenty-six books. In three hundred and sixty-five days. One book every two weeks. Easy, right?

Well...I knew from the start it was going to be aggressive, especially considering I maybe read three total in 2010. But, I was inspired by my love of reading and desire to do more of it this year. So here I am in the last full week of January about to report out on my first book...And realizing I need to start bringing my A game.

Regardless, first up: I LOVE A MAN IN UNIFORM by Lily Burana.

The lead sentence on the back cover reads: "An all-American love story about a former punk-rock stripper and her unlikely marriage to an officer in the U.S. Army." Who wouldn't be intrigued?

The book was recommended to me by a friend at work. She shared a great column that Burana had written for the Modern Love section of The New York Times on Veterans Day, and suggested I take it a step further and read the full memoir.

As I think about how I want to approach the reviews for each of my 26 books this year, I think I may try to follow a somewhat standard format. Rather than detailing out every aspect of the book (because that would take all the fun out of it for you if you actually decide to read it!), I'm going to try to focus on providing a brief description, my take, one thing I liked, one thing I thought could have been better and key takeaways for each book. With that...

The Deets
I LOVE A MAN IN UNIFORM walks readers through the love story between Lily and her officer husband, Mike. From Lily's point of view, we learn about their first meeting in a cemetery, the progression of their relationship and decision to marry. And then we get to go along on her very personal journey of adjusting to military culture, struggling through her husband's deployment and overcoming the depression that threatens her marriage.

My Take
It was lovely. Touching and honest, and in some instances, painful.

What I Liked
I love that Burana brings wit and style to every single page. Despite dealing with some very difficult issues, she can still title chapters with "Embrace the Suck?" or "Simple as Alpha Bravo Charlie" - titles that make you smile and maybe even giggle to yourself a bit. I also like that she infuses some of her former self into the story. The contrast between her life as a stripper and her life as a military wife is like night and day, and yet, she relates many of her present day experiences back to her past in an intriguing and thought-provoking way.

What I Thought Could Have Been Better
Sometimes, I couldn't tell if I should treat each individual chapter as a separate story or if I should be reading it as if in chronological order. It kind of bugged me when I'd think one chapter was a natural progression into the next and then it wasn't. Really a small gripe overall.

My Takeaways*
At one point, Burana reflects on how deeply the news about Abu Ghraib in April 2004 affected her. I read this section with a keen interest. Not because I had a strong reaction to her sentiment, but more so because I realized I was only vaguely aware. Sure, I remember hearing names like Lynndie England and I recall the drama that surrounded Donald Rumsfeld (I was a PR major in a Journalism department afterall). But, immediately after reading about Abu Ghraib in the book, I went to the Internet in search of more information because I felt embarrassingly uninformed. It made me reflect on where I was in my life in April 2004, and where I am today. With news and current events being such an important part of my life today, I can't imagine having only vague awareness of such a pivotal event in our nation's history. I guess that's one key difference between me as a college senior and me today.

Next up: The Friday Night Knitting Club.

*I realize that I may not always learn something in every book I read or walk away with profound thoughts, but when I do, I'll be sure to report.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Breakfast at The Copper Dome

It's been so long since I last recapped brunch with the girls that I almost forgot I had this one, so apologies in advance that it's a little dated.

For one of our most recent Sunday brunch excursions, we decided on The Copper Dome Restaurant in Saint Paul. The Copper Dome is one of those unique little treasures that might go unnoticed to the untrained Saint Paul eye. In fact, even though I'd driven by it probably a hundred times during my brief stint working at an electronics store in Inver Grove Heights in college, I had never been before this visit.
The decor is kitschy - touting one of the largest collections of flower mill antiques and breakfast memorabilia in Minnesota - which may be one of the things I like best about it. It also has a small claim to fame in that  during his 2008 presidential campaign, Barrack Obama stopped in at the Copper Dome to visit the fine citizens of Saint Paul.
I ordered the "Famous Hashbrown Breakfast Platter" with three strips of bacon, two country fresh eggs over easy, whole wheat toast and grated Idaho Hashbrown potatoes, all for the low, low price of $6.65. Greasy spoon perfection.

Plus, we had the most precious older woman as our server who buzzed about making sure everyone's water glasses stayed full and plates were cleared almost immediately (she may have been a bit eager to hurry us along as the Dome closes at 2 p.m.). 

And while the Copper Dome has yet to join the 21st century to accept credit cards, and our server may have been a bit unknowingly aloof in her rush to get us out of there, I'm not sure there's a thing I'd change about the place. It's rich in character, and that's probably what's kept it in business since 1960.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Let's Do This: 26 Books in 2011

It's true. I've become addicted to Netflix. My DVD queue has ballooned to 265 titles, and my instant queue isn't much better with 244. I add new movies and shows every day (even when I don't have time to watch any), so the list isn't going down anytime soon. I'm now the perfect poster child for the service: FB statuses about it, word of mouth advertising to family and friends, debates about whether Dexter or Weeds is better...

And so here I find myself at the start of 2011 realizing that while my love affair with Netflix still runs strong, I've let my true love and treasured pastime - reading - fall to the wayside. I used to be able to finish an entire Jane Green book in one sitting. I would never see a movie before reading the book. And I'm the kind of girl who would pass up a night out with friends for the last 100 pages of Harry Potter.

Earlier today I found a post from Arik Hanson about his (and others') challenge to read 26 books in a year. I've decided to join them, and these are the 26 books I plan to read this year:

1. I LOVE A MAN IN UNIFORM by Lily Burana (currently reading; was recommended by a colleague)

2. The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs (on loan from and recommended by a friend)

3. The Jihad Next Door: The Lackawanna Six and Rough Justice in an Age of Terror by Dina Temple-Raston (I saw Dina speak at an event last year and was inspired to purchase her book)

4. Our House in the Last World by Oscar Hijuelos (Mr. Ives' Christmas was on the reading list in one of my college English classes, and I've also read The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love and Empress of the Splendid Season. Thought I'd give his first novel a try, too.)

5. The Last Single Woman in America by Cindy Guidry (impulse purchase at used bookstore)

6. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (because it's his first and you've gotta have a couple classics on the list)

7. Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich (this has been on my list ever since I read her first book, Nickel and Dimed)

8. The Choice by Nicholas Sparks (fluff)

9. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (the movie was creepy, but I've heard the book is good and it's been sitting on the shelf for a few years now)

10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (every year I tell myself I'm going to get through this one; now I'm accountable for it)

11. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (because it's important and about making the world a better place)

12. The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich (Minnesota author and a gift from a friend)

13. Chocolat by Joanne Harris (I recently watched the movie and then remembered I own and still need to read the book)

14. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (I also saw him speak last year at a client event and was inspired to read his book)

15. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling (because I miss HP)

16. Staggerford by John Hassler (Minnesota author and set in Minnesota)

17. WAR by Sebastian Junger (just watched Restrepo)

18. In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Michael Pollan (it should make me think twice about both health and nutrition)

19. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (at the top of all the 'best of' lists in 2010)

20. The Shack by William Young (because people still haven't stopped talking about it)

21. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (another one that has topped many lists)

22. My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands by Chelsea Handler (I've heard her books are hilarious, so I've decided to start with the first one)

23. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barrack Obama (while we're a long way away from the 2004 DNC, I still want to take time to read the president's second book)

24. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis (one that topped the non-fiction lists in 2010)

25. love the one you're with by Emily Giffin (another guilty pleasure, plus the movie based on her first book, Something Borrowed, comes out this year!)

26. Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays by David Sedaris (I've finally decided to give his books a try, too, and will start from the beginning)

So that's it. Twenty-six books in 2011. And good blogging fodder.

What will you be reading this year?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Making Things a Bit More Homey

I've lived in my 'new' apartment for several months now, and for the longest time, it didn't look much different than it did the day I moved in. I put my bed up, of course. Stocked the kitchen with the necessary utensils, plugged the TV in and put the clothes in the closet. But, that was about it. I went on the first of several work trips the day after I moved in, and then just didn't seem to be around much for anything other than sleeping for quite a while.

So, I left boxes stacked up. And random furniture scattered about.

But then something magical happened. My mom found the most perfect little table for my most precious little dining room. And so I went about making one little spot feel like home.
Here's the dining room at night. The black table and chairs, and the dark brown stand were both purchased at auctions. They don't go together perfectly, but I like them both in the dining room nonetheless, especially since I use the shelves in the stand for dining room storage (extra napkins, place mats, candles, etc.). The red place mats and candlesticks are from my recent Pine City adventure, and the gold curtain is just one my mom randomly gave me in a box of stuff she didn't want (curtain rod purchased at Target).
And here's the dining room from a different angle during the day with art. This piece used to hang above my bed in the old apartment, but I like it better now with the dining room colors.

I still have quite a bit more to do in order to fully transform the apartment, but I'm pleased with these baby steps. I'll share updates and maybe ask for advice from time to time, too.

Side note: one of my New Year's resolutions is to get back in the habit of blogging more regularly. Two posts so far - not a bad way to start the year :)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

NYE Tapas: Bacon-Wrapped, Cheese-Stuffed Dates

For this year's New Year's Eve festivities, I wanted to bring something that would accompany the main dish of paella. And, while I'm known for wickedly awesome deviled eggs, I wanted to try something a little more challenging and better suited for the Spanish dish (and besides, I made deviled eggs just last week for an ugly Christmas sweater party).

So after a quick online search for good tapas recommendations, I decided on bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed dates. I've ordered them at Solera in Minneapolis several times and have always loved them. The only question was whether I'd be able to successfully make them on my own.

The dates are loosely based off of this Food Network recipe with inspiration from my friend who loves to cook (and encouraged me to break free from following direction...though he did generously guide me along the way).
First up, pitting all of the dates. Here they are post-pitting.
Next, we stuffed all of the dates with chunks of Maytag (a blue cheese originated and made in Iowa...woot woot). Then, we wrapped all of the stuffed dates in slices of bacon and briefly fried them before placing them in the oven for about 10 minutes.
And here they are ready to be eaten!

Let me just say that these were absolutely delicious. The sweet, chewy taste of the date, combined with the salty, crisp bacon and sharp, strong cheese, made for pure perfection. They went fast and were impressive indeed.

I will make just one cautionary note: stuffed/wrapped dates are not for the cheap. Both the cheese, which you can buy by the pound, and the dates themselves are fairly expensive. BUT, if you're looking to try something new and are willing to indulge, they're simply awesome :)

Happy New Year!