Week 7: Poisonwood Bible, Pizza Puffs and Cher Fitness

  I have to say, even though some of these endeavors have been more difficult, awkward or soul-crushing than others, so far, I have completed most of them.  Until today.  Today…I’m popping that failure cherry.

THE BOOK

Yeah, I didn’t finish The Poisonwood Bible.  I really, really wanted to.  I was really enjoying it.  But…it was the week of the Oscars and I was trying to get all the nominated films in that I could and…maybe I’m just burnt out.

I selected this choice because I remember my mother having it around the house while she was reading it.  I always enjoyed the cover, the idea it had the word “Bible” in the title…it looked like an interesting story.  And, you know, it totally is, I just…meh.  Couldn’t do it.

So, the dilemma here, kids, and I really need your input, is: Do I use this week to finish Poisonwood and the hell with Gullivers Travels?  Or do I just put the first on the shelf and get started on the second?  Feedback from readers of either or both (or even neither) is welcome.  Whatever happens, I will come back to this book and finish it, this I vow.

THE FITNESS

Fortunately, I had a lot more success with the ebullient Cher and the Hot Dance portion of her 1992 workout DVD Cher Fitness: Body Confidence.  (Which, incidentally, was a followup to her 1991 DVD Cher Fitness: A New Attitude.  Who knew?)

For those of you who didn’t know, I am a quasi-closeted Cher Fan.  Growing up, I adored watching her in Mask and Moonstruck, but then once the Believe album hit in the late 90’s, I was going through a lot of early 20’s post-adolescent angst and Cher really got me through.  I even had tickets to see her on the Believe tour, but she had to cancel due to illness.  Whore.

So, then, this may explain why I felt so callous towards the scantily clad Aussies in last week’s Pump It Up dance workout, but not to Cher, who wears a fitness-ready version of her Turn Back Time costume.  While last week’s clothing choices felt like an exhibition, this was clearly an homage.  A scant, dramatic, Bob Fosse homage.  And I was totally on board.

  

The workout itself was also tres, tres user-friendly.  In the introduction, Cher explains that the class is lead by her choreographer who, she says “is the best.”  And I can see why.  I’ve done a few “dance” workouts now and Michelle (I think that was her name?) eased me into the choreography at just about the most efficient pace of any I’ve tried so far.  She would first introduce a move by doing it half time, then do a practice, then do a practice at proper double time, then incorporate it into the whole routine/combination with the glorious exaltation “From the top!” At one point, Cher chided “Not the top, anything but the top!”

I love that this workout did not take itself too seriously.  Towards the end, during the cooldown (set to the tongue-in-cheek Tell Me Something Good), the camera even closes in on our star just before she issues a pretty spectacular eye-roll.  It says to me, “Hey, this is cheesy and I get it.  But we’re getting fit, whaddaya want?”

And I felt the soreness mere hours later in my tummy, arms and thighs.  I’d definitely do this one again.

THE RECIPE

This past week, I made the Pizza Puff Appetizers you see above.  We don’t have a mini muffin pan, we actually have the Shrek muffin pan, so my “puffs” were roughly three times the size of the ones shown.   This amounted to about 150 calories per puff.  I served them with some pasta and vegetables with sauce.

Pizza puffs on tray at left

First of all, if you’re reading the recipe, I must clarify: the idea of these sounded delicious, I didn’t choose them for the “gluten-free, organic hippy” factor.  I am staunchly pro-gluten, having worked selling products to legit celiacs in the past. I find the gluten-free trend to be highly over-inflated (and that’s probably the most conservative thing you’ll ever hear me say).  I used full-fat flour, pepperoni that was likely loaded with those pesky nitrates and whatever olive oil Jungle Jim’s sells in the big jugs (which, knowing JJ, might actually be organic).

Secondly, they were absolutely delicious.  Instead of chopping up little tiny circles of (nitrate-free!) pepperoni, I used the mini-pepperonis that come in the store and my GOD!  So good.  We’ll definitely be doing these little guys again.  The one thing I will say about the recipe: if it doesn’t call for little paper cupcake wrappers, I probably should stop putting them in there.  I did the same thing with the mini-fritattas a few weeks back and they were just a pain in the ass to deal with.  Next time, I’m putting these bad boys straight on the (highly greased) muffin tin.

Fun fact: This morning, Jason ate the last of the leftover puffs (I enjoy saying puffs.  Puff Puff Puff).  As I sarcastically indicated that, “No, that’s fine, I didn’t want any,” he countered by saying, in the sincerest tone I’ve heard him use since he proposed, “I just love your cooking, honey!”

I feel just like Donna Reed.  I don’t know whether to be flattered or terrified.

UP NEXT WEEK:

Book: Gullivers Travels? (or the rest of Poisonwood Bible?  YOU DECIDE!)

Recipe: Turkey Black Bean Sloppy Joes

Fitness: 7 Minute Full Body Fat Burning Workout

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Week 6: Heart of Darkness, Pump It Up Ultimate Dance Workout and Valentine’s Pork Chops

And we’ve officially entered the fatigued portion of this quest.

I finished pretty much everything on my list for last week five days ago, Monday but I’m just now getting around to writing up this blog.  I’m also only 20% of the way through Poisonwood Bible for this week, which ends tomorrow.  Which is also Oscar Day.  Perhaps its the snow, but I really just feel like laying on my couch with a pizza.  In fact, I think I did that one night this week.

THE BOOK

Heart of Darkness didn’t help much.  I fought this book.  I fought it a lot, really.  It was short, a novella written in three segments from an old-timey magazine named Blackwoods:

 The “story” was written at the turn of the 20th century, arguably one of the most stuffier times in recorded history, Renaissance notwithstanding.  If you asked me what happens in the story, I really couldn’t tell you with any sane level of clarity.  There’s a sailing guy named Marlow who tells a very long story to his fellow shipmates about a time when he encountered darkness.  He starts off by saying something to the effect of “I won’t waste your time with my personal feelings on the matter” and then proceeds to spend the rest of the book discussing a trip to the Congo.  It took me halfway through the piece to even realize the river they were traversing was the Congo.  The whole book is written in such flowery language, it’s easy to get distracted.  For example:

Marlow starts his story by saying “And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth.”  Then, for two lengthy paragraphs that amount to a full page, the author discusses the wanderlust of the seaman, saying things like: “…for there is nothing mysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny.”  Then he starts up the next paragraph, a page later, with “His remark did not seem at all surprising” and I thought, “Whose remark?  Who’s been speaking?  What did they say?”

In truth, this book only really made my list because I’d read somewhere that it was the inspiration for Apocalypse Now.  It’s been years since I saw the film, but, as I recall, I didn’t much understand it when I saw it either.  So, apparently the movie was true to its source material.  Wikipedia indicates that the book is “complex exploration of the beliefs people hold on what constitutes a barbarian versus a civilized society.” But, because half the time I couldn’t make out who was doing what, I’m unclear who the protagonist or antagonist is.  Everyone just seemed miserable.

Such is life.

THE WORKOUT

Remember the first week when I alluded to the idea that Disco Sweat was an intense workout.  Well, as it turns out, that was hogwash.  Richard Simmons, meet Deanne Berry.

I don’t know much about this gal except she has an Australian accent and apparently likes to show off her cha-cha a lot.  On the real: I can’t remember the last time I saw so much cameltoe in one place.

Logistically, what year would you expect this video to have been made?  1989?  93?  Even 97?   You’d be wrong.  This bitch was released on December 27, 2004!  Legwarmers and hi-cut body suits?  Is this an homage? Or has Australia just not discovered yoga pants yet?

Overall, with this workout I felt dangerously inadequate.  The pace on many of the routines was just too fast; my knees will not allow me break into a perfect side lunge in the amount of time they allotted me to do so.  Add to that the idea that they all look like porn-stars trying to make a little side cash, I became disenfranchised.  I stopped the 60+ minute video about half way through, telling myself I’d do the second half the next day.  I never did.

THE RECIPE

Thank God for the porkchops I made as part of a special Valentine’s Dinner for Jason, or I’d feel like a complete failure this week.  I made them along with some roasted sweet potatoes, toasted crostini and a salad and I felt like I had truly graduated to a new grade.  I had to have Jason come in and assure me that, yes, 3-4 minutes on each side was enough to prevent us from contracting salmonella.  But once I started making the delicious sauce that goes with it, the “That smells so good” and “When’s it ready?”s just started flying in.  I forgot the butter at the end of the sauce, so it was a bit runny, but the sweet potatoes soaked it up nicely.

I also made these pears which took forever to cook, but we were so full and we never ate them.  In fact, they’re still sitting in my fridge.  And they didn’t come out nearly as red as the pears in the picture.

So…not a total loss.  But not my best week.

Coming up:

BOOK: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

FITNESS: Cher Fitness Hot Dance

RECIPE: Pizza puffs

Week 5: Slaughterhouse Five, Tex Mex Calzones and Pilates

On the one hand, a large part of me is thinking WHERE has the year gone?  But then I look at these blog posts and I think, “Ok, yeah…I’ve gotten a lot done.” To that end…Jason and I are slowly pursuing the Great HouseHunt.  So, in addition to my getting caught up on my reading list, expanding my skills in the kitchen and, hopefully, getting into better shape, I’ll also be breaking myself in as a Homeowner.  2015=Transformative.

(on a separate note: I’m kind of terrified.  But I’m that way about most things, so…)

THE RECIPE

 What the recipe should look like

I think, decidedly, the most train-wrecky of them things I done this week was the Tex Mex Calzone I think maybe I was not ready for the challenges inherent in making a calzone.  The calzone ingredients assembled themselves quite easily.  Chop some peppers, brown some turkey. DONE. But when it came to the dough…the recipe made it all sound so easy.  “ Unroll dough; divide into 4 equal portions. Roll each portion into a 6 x 4–inch rectangle. Working with one rectangle at a time, spoon about 1/2 cup turkey mixture on one side of dough. Top with 3 tablespoons cheese; fold dough over turkey mixture, and press edges together with a fork to seal. “ What they didn’t say was “You might find this a little difficult to do seeing as how the dough likes to wad itself into a ball after about five seconds of exposure to air.”  Or “If you’ve never worked with dough before, you should sprinkle some flour onto the countertop in preparation of rolling the dough to prevent it from sticking to literally everything it touches.”  Or “the package of thin crush pizza dough may not be sufficient for four calzones.” I called in reinforcements (read: Jason helped).  In his professional opinion, there wasn’t enough dough for four calzones, so he rolled them into two very large ones.

Monster Calzone Devours Fort Mitchell

And we ate it like that.  And were stuffed. (Like the vegetables on the side?  That was a separate recipe I tried from here).

THE FITNESS

I went into Pilates with a fairly open mind.  To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what pilates are (To the google!) So…apparently Pilates was a guy that invented pilates as an “art of controlled movements” meant to create a “powerhaus” (or strong central core).  While doing the exercises, I thought to myself, “And how is this different from yoga? As it turns out, they’re similar exercises, but focus on different end goals, yoga’s being flexibility and pilates, all about the core. In reality, pilates turned out to be, for me anyway, the worst parts of the yoga exercise.  I don’t think this hooker knew how much I weigh when she started telling me to do all these things.  It started off so innocently…

I could do this, right?

But then took a sharp turn into emotional water-boarding territory…(in fact at this point my husband walked in on me, red faced, legs in the air, muttering  “I weigh too much for this.”)

Maybe I can’t do this

…until I felt sure I was going to die.

NOPE.  Definitely going to die.

In terms of an engaging instructor, I will say I liked Rene a little better than Jenny Ford last week.  She has a very engaging accent (Australian?) and goes at a reasonable clip.  Her movements had grace and fluidity and she made me feel just like a drunken elephant.

But, lest I lose perspective, I must always remember Arthur:

THE BOOK

But..what if I haven’t read Slaughterhouses 1-4?

So…I’ve read Vonnegut.  I’m a Vonnegut reader.

Slaughterhouse Five surprised me, actually a lot.  Because of its historical rendering as a Classic, I expected something much more formulaic, but this book is a mindfuck, y’all.  The beginning and ending chapters are told by an unidentified narrator, who calls it his book about the Dresden bombing. However, in the second chapter, it takes on a third person (limited) omniscient stance to tell the story of Billy Pilgrim.  Billy is a war veteren who, following a nasty plane crash years after the war, becomes “unstuck in time,” convinced he can visit any time of his life and relive it (including his death) and that the “unstuckliness” is explained by aliens from a planet called Tralfamador, who later abduct him and force him to have sex in a zoo with a porn star named Montana Wildhack.

Sounds like a Roger Corman movie, right?

I remember right after I saw the movie Fight Club, I thought to myself “This is my new favorite movie.” (To this day, it is actually No. 2 on my list)  I liked it mainly because it felt like a puzzle, like something that was saying something larger, but I had to work the tiny pieces together to figure out what.  I felt the same way about Slaughterhouse Five.

This was someone’s headstone in the book, though I forget who.  Could have even been the main character

I won’t say much more about the book…mostly because I just want to talk to someone else who has read it and discuss thoughts/feelings.  It made me wish I was back in grad school and could go to Doll’s bar and smoke cigarettes and drink beers and chew over the major plot points.  Like…

What is the meaning of the “rest in peace” type phrase “So it goes?”  What’s the larger takeaway?

–The alien-time travel stuff, it’s obviously PTSD, but why is it manifesting in that way?

–Why did the narrator go into SUCH detail about this person that wasn’t him?  Was it a “I’m asking for a friend” type situation?

–He quotes the Serenity Prayer twice.  Was this before or after AA adopted it?

–While reading the book, I was convinced the Dresden bombing was a fictitious event, as Vonnegut kept referencing the 135k fatalities (which would make it deadlier than the combined fatalities on Hiroshima and Nagasaki).  I later learned it was a real event, but no more than 40,000 souls were lost.  Still.

–Most mind blowing of all…the whole thing is semi-autobiographical, as Vonnegut himself was a POW during the Dresden bombing and held at mutha-fuckin’ Slaughterhouse-Five!  How did I not know this???

If you live in the Cincinnati area and would like to have a beer and talk about this book, let me know.  I’m left with so many questions…but in a good way!

Stay tuned next week for:

BOOK: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

FITNESS: Pump It Up Dance Workout

RECIPE: Valentines Surprise (I cook many things for romantic Jason Sarah dinner)

Week 4: Unbroken, Beer Cheese Soup and Jenny Ford Zoom Latin

So…I’m falling behind.  After last week’s one-two punch of Blindness and belly dancing, maybe I expected all my new experiences to be…just amazing.  This week was a little lackluster.  I jumped right in to…

THE FITNESS

So…THIS hooker.  I found out about Jenny Ford from this article thanks to Shape Magazine.  Before I get to why I’ll never do this workout again, I must say that, upon first glance, she seems known mostly for her StepAerobics videos.  I tried her zumba one (Or Latin Zoom).

The only way I can describe Jenny Ford as a trainer/instructor is to say that this is how I imagine it would be to take a zumba class from a Sims character.  All of her moves are very sharp and defined, her hips circling perfect 360 degree angles, her jazz hands a slicing jazz blade.  It all seemed a little…less than human.  Where’s the pizzazz? The fluidity, the finesse?  The songs with actual words to them?  Perhaps Tiazza Rose just raised the bar too high for me with her indomitable sexiness.  But Jenny Ford reminds me of a certain other…SUPERSTAR.

Oh, and also…like the Disco Sweat of the first week…I just didn’t have enough room for this in my living room.  This was, admittedly, my first fore into the world of Zumba, but it won’t be my last.  I’d like to take a second crack at zumba, only this time with a real live person in a real live gym while I’m wearing real live yoga pants in public and stuff.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  In the meantime, if I ever obtain one of those plastic StepAerobics platforms, I’ll give one of Ford’s other videos a shot.  Otherwise…back to the belly dancing for me!

THE RECIPE

As you all know, last week was the SuperBowl.  As many of you may also know, I’ve never been a particularly large fan of the event (or football in general).  I have, as I say, my Own SuperBowl at the end of every February and it’s called the Oscars and it’s way more fun.  But I came across this recipe and thought it felt very appropriate for SuperBowl evening, especially since Jason decided to go to a SuperBowl party without me and I would have the entire house to myself to drink beer and watch Downton Abbey.  

Which is exactly what I did.  I got home from a quick trip to Louisville around 5 and it was supposed to do a BigSnow outside, so I swung by the grocery and got the ingredients for my exciting Beer Cheese Soup recipe and looked forward to an evening by myself.  I figured I’d pop the ingredients in the crockpot around 6 and everything would be done by 9 or 10 for the middle of Downton.

This is when it helps to read the particulars of the recipe.

First of all, there’s quite a bit of chopping involved in dicing celery and carrots and onions.  Thankfully, I have a SlapChop.  Unfortunately, it took about twenty minutes to find.  But, no matter.  The soup would be done by 10:30 at the latest, yes?

Nope.  The recipe called for the broth to simmer for SIX TO EIGHT HOURS.  Jason walked in around 11:30 (Circa my third beer) and declared that he wasn’t waiting another two hours, that it was probably fine and I should just add the cheese and, in twenty minutes, let him try it.

And that is exactly how that shit went down.  He said he loved it, but two or three days later, he still didn’t touch any of the leftovers.  When I tried it the next day or so, I thought it tasted gritty, like all the ingredients hadn’t blended together.  And bland.  And wa-a-a-y too thin.  I mean, look at it:

Does that seem like it should be the consistency of orange juice?  And yet…

I froze the remainders.  Maybe I’ll resurrect them one day and give them another few hours in the crockpot to see if anything can be salvaged.

The one saving grace of the entire ballyhoo is that I succeeded in avoiding every single minute of the game.  Tra La!

THE BOOK

The best part of this relatively stale week was Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. I decided to take up the novel after my coworker at the Playhouse told me that she liked the book so much that, when she gave it as a gift to one of her friends, he told her, “You already gave me this.  I read it.  I liked it.”

I mean, loyal Entertainment Weekly subscriber that I am, I knew the book was a runaway hit.  But I had avoided it because it all sounded so very…how do I say this?  Like the kind of book a Nicholas Sparks reader would enjoy: tragedy for the train-wreck gawking sake of tragedy.  If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, Angelina Jolie just directed the movie.  Have a look at the trailer.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.

In truth, I cried toward the end of the book.  If I’m keeping it 100%, I dropped my basket a little.  Especially at this section, when a liberated POW is on the train to his freedom and passes through Hiroshima:

” ‘First there were trees,’ he told historian Donald Knox. ‘Then the leaves were missing.  As you got closer, branches were missing.  Closer still, the trunks were gone and then, as you got in the middle, there was nothing.  Nothing!  It was beautiful.  I realized this was what had ended the war.  It meant we didn’t have to go hungry any longer, or go without medical treatment.  I was so insensitive to anyone else’s human needs and suffering.  I know it’s not right to say it was beautiful, because it really wasn’t.  But I believed the end probably justified the means.’ “

I mean, what better way to illustrate the hell of war? Though I’ve heard mixed reviews, I’m looking forward to seeing the movie.  If there’s one thing I sort of didn’t like about the book (aside from the fact that it can feel like you’re being tortured while you’re reading it – it took me a little while to get through), it’s that his pilot, Phil, goes through most of the same things he does but gets significantly less glory from the public, simply because he was not an Olympian.  Maybe I’m just sensitive to him because he’s a Hoosier.  But still, I thought Phil was every bit the hero Louie was and, in my opinion, it was both their stories.

So, here’s to spicier adventures next week:

Book: Slaughterhouse Five

Recipe: Tex Mex Calzones

Workout: Pilates