Saturday, February 23, 2008

Turn About is Fair Play

When I was just graduating from high school and looking for a major to specialize in, my dad kept (jokingly) pushing me towards accounting. He got his BS in accounting and his MBA and CPA license after that, so maybe he wanted someone to follow in his footsteps. Mostly I think he was just hoping that someone would successfully teach me how to balance my checkbook (believe me, he put me through rigorous courses that didn't stick for years). In any case, my creative temperament balked at the idea of studying anything with--gasp--numbers involved. I was the girl who, at the end of my junior year course of pre-calculus in high school, told my teacher that I was done with math. She couldn't understand my decision. She at first tried to convince me to take calculus with the rest of my friends the next year. When she could see I was determined, she tried to get me to take a course in AP Stats. Finally when she could see I really was set on my "no math" policy she said in exasperation, "But Alicia, you're so good at math!" I remember looking at her blankly, wondering how she could have not noticed the vacant and puzzled expression on my face the entire year.

In any case, I entered BYU with a declared major in broadcast journalism (I wanted to be the next Anne Curry). After a few semesters of that I decided to go into history teaching, then pre-law, then History again--this time no teaching emphasis--then I was about to transfer universities so I could go into fashion design--until I met an amazing writing teacher who opened me up to the world of being an English major. I loved to read, I loved to write more, and once I discovered that I actually liked doing literary criticism, I was sold. And I never looked back.

Recently though, I have become convinced that my dad has somehow gotten his "revenge." About a month ago my boss was completely lost trying to use a new computer program her husband had installed to better organize her business, Quickbooks Pro. She isn't the most tech savvy so I offered to sit down and take the tutorial . . . which has evolved into my being the official bookkeeper for Sakora. I handle inventory, I organize sales tax, enter in recites and track sales. One tutorial on how to enter inventory has turned into many, many other tutorials since, until I feel pretty competent with the program. And oddly enough, I actually have fun doing this kind of thing. Who would have thought . . . Dad!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Book Review: Praisesong for the Widow

Praisesong is the first novel I have read by Paule Marshall. Through the course of my studies in African American Women's Literature, I have read various pieces of criticism by and about Paule Marshall, but I had yet to get around to her literature. I picked this book up two days ago (my bookshelves are filled with books I am anxious to read) and I have been enthralled from start to finish. As I read her work I was reminded of the experiences I had reading other books, such as Mama Day by Gloria Naylor, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. All these novels--all extremely moving and excellent fiction--deal with ancestory, love, and destiny--and how these three things are irrevocably intertwined. Marshall does a fabulous job of keeping her narrative focused and relavent, all the while creating a deep dreamlike environment for the reader to lose themselves and experience another world. I love reading books like this so much because they make me feel connected to the diaspora of humanity, with the universal nature of feminism, with empathy, with experiences that are not mine but that I can still connect to.

Praisesong takes the familiar situation that Lorraine Hansberry captured in her play, "A Raisin in the Sun," of an underprivilaged black family living in abstract poverty, and then finishes the story where Hansberry left off. What happens to us when we let our circumstances dictate who and what we are, instead of letting the most fundamental part of our souls thrive, no matter our circumstances, good or bad--rich or poor? Richard Wright answered that question for himself in Native Son, with a polemic that is intended to be at once terrifying and real. Marshall does not take up the same themes of overt violence, the "ego" gone out of control--but she captures something very powerful in a very feminine way.

I highly recommend this book. You would definitely like it if you like anything by Toni Morrisson, Zora Neale Hurston, or Gloria Naylor.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Making Vegan Delicious

It has been interesting to me, the reaction I have recieved from various people on my decision to go vegan. Mostly I hear, "Oh, that sounds so hard. I could never do that," or some variation of, "I just don't know what I would eat! A lot of rice and beans I guess." Well, I do love well-seasoned black beans (see previous post) and I adore my mom's special homemade refried beans--but being vegan for me goes way beyond the beans. I love to cook, and I love to eat delicious food (I wasn't brought up in my parent's household for nothing!) so any serious lifestyle change for me could not exclude fine dining. I'm not much for the fake "meat" they market for vegetarians--I tried some veggie "bacon" a few weeks ago and was NOT impressed. What I have found is that I can add various combinations of fresh or frozen veggetables to recipes that I previously used meat, and the taste--in my opinion--is far better than the version I was used to.

Still skeptical? Well, I am going to share my favorite dish--what I made for my birthday dinner (Randy helped with the dishes). My mom is to credit for the origional, non-vegan version of the recipe. I just tweaked it to fit my needs :)

Taco Pizza

1 recipe pizza dough (see below)
12 oz. refried beans (vegetarian)
1/2 pkg shredded soy cheese
1 c fresh or bottled salsa
1 ripe avacado
1 head shredded lettuce or leaf lettuce
2 c. tortilla chips (preferably organic)
1 can sliced black olives

Mix up pizza dough, let rise until double. Roll out onto pizza stone or pan: prick with fork. Bake @ 425 for 10 minutes. Take from oven and spread refried beans on top, leaving 1/2 " around the edge. Spread salsa over the beans, crush the tortilla chips and spread over salsa. Top with cheese and bake for additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven, add lettuce, avacado, additonal tomatos, olives, etc. Cut and enjoy.

Pizza Dough

1 c warm water
1 TB yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 Tb oil
2 1/2 c flour

Monday, February 18, 2008

So Much Love

I may be a little biased, but I firmly believe that I have the sweetest husband in the world. He knew that I was a little sad that my parents couldn't make it for my birthday, so he tried really hard to make my day extra special. To start it all off, he gave me an amazing present: this beautiful three-strand pearl necklace from the jewelry shop we work at (thank you employee discount). They scream Audrey Hepburn/Jackie-O, and Randy fell in love with them on me. The pampering didn't stop there. We were both REALLY sore from skiing, but he let me lay down for a rest while he made me a special brunch of waffles (yes Ben, with egg substitute they are still vegan) with strawberries and powdered sugar on top. They were so delicious I stuffed two of them down in quick succession. He then let me take a nap (I am just a little out of shape, so the previous days adventure kind of wore me out. Plus I think naps are a wonderful luxury) and he got everything ready for my party. Any of you who know Randy well know that cooking Mac and Cheese on his own is an accomplishment. And if you know me, you know that I grew up never cooking out of a box, and I really love home cooked food. Well my darling, wonderful husband refused to cook me a cake out of a box--instead I found him a simple chocolate cake recipe out of one of my cook books, and he spent a couple of hours making me my birthday cake. I really appreciated this thoughtful act especially since I knew what a struggle it was for him. And he really did a wonderful job. It looked a little funny because it didn't have enough time to cool properly before we frosted it, but it tasted really good--vegan and all.

It was really fun having family over to share the cake with us--it has always been a dream of mine to marry into a large family since I come from one so small (being an only child makes for small family reunions). Randy was happy Ethan was there to play a little Super Smash Brothers with him (it isn't my favorite game) and Sydney set up a darling little convenience store in our hall way for us to purchase various toys from. And I was so happy that my cousin Sarise and her husband Boyd could make it--between both our busy schedules it has been hard for us to get together. Thank you everyone for your calls, emails, facebook posts, cards and well wishes. I really had a very happy birthday.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Happy 27!!

So, I think I have officially made it to my "late" 20s. I'm okay with that: I still feel like a young 20-something, and to celebrate that joix de vivre, we decided to be adventurous yesterday. I have never been skiing, and Randy has only been once when he was about eight, so we got bundled up and hit the slopes yesterday morning. We went up to Alta, which was highly recommended to me as great for beginners. We planned on taking a lesson, but the crowds in the ski rental shop prevented us from making it on time. Nothing deterred, we purchased our lift ticket, strapped on the skis, and . . . the fun began. Randy started out all brave and just went for it. There was a slope down to where the first lift was, and he just pointed his skis in that direction and off he flew. He did pretty good until he picked up too much speed, and crashed in an effort not to kill some good folks waiting in line. Seeing Randy's fate did nothing for my courage, so I tried baby stepping my way down the slope until I ingloriously fell over, got stuck, and couldn't figure out how to get back on my feet again. Luckily this nice lady helped me and gave me a few tips, and eventually I made it down to where the lift was. We got on, went up the mountain . . . and I so gracefully slid off the lift and straight onto my bum. I was picturing the bunny hill as a gentle slope with little bunnies hopping gracefully and playing in the snow. Well . . . I'm sure it looks that way to people who have skied forever, but to me it looked pretty darn scary. We followed the signs for "easiest" and just went for it. Long story short, the first fun took us FOREVER, and I made a lot of people on the lift above me laugh. But we made it down, and we went right back up for another crack at it. The second time I actually did pretty good, and stayed up on my skiis a good 80% of the time. I was actually more fearless than Randy, and it shows this morning in the array of bruises all over my body. But it was so much fun that we are planning on going back in a few weeks when my parents visit. Mom and Dad Weatherspoon couldn't make it for my birthday at the last minute . . . the flu bug hit my mom with full vengence. It was disappointing because I was looking forward to having them here for a long weekend of fun and really good food, but I felt more sorry for my mom who sounds completely miserable. Get well Soon!!!!!! Here are a few pictures from our adventure.

Monday, February 11, 2008

January Book Reviews

After a long drought of reading for me (Christmas projects took up all my spare moments in late November/all of December) I devoured a couple of books last month. They are both best sellers and one won the Pulitzer, so I thought I'd review them for those of you in to literature.

Evening by Susan Minot was beautifully written. I was familiar with the film version that came out to limited release this last year (the screenplay was done by Michael Cunningham, and was materially different than the book--still a fine film in its own right) and on the special features of the DVD (thank you Redbox) I saw an interview with the author, and my interest was piqued. Her writing style is very spare--reminiscent of many of the mid 20th century author's styles (Hemmingway, Faulkner) but used in a very post-modern feminist way. Much of the prose reads like a kind of poetry--think Virginia Woolfe meets Sandra Cisneros--and I was fascinated and impressed with this poetic version of stream of consciousness. Overall I was very impressed with the quality of the novel. It dealt with very poignant issues without becoming overly sentimental, and I felt that the characters were believable and real--which I had been disappointed in a few of my previous reads. I would recommend this to people who can handle or even like novels with non-traditional prose, and don't mind shifts in time and/or perspective. If you like the novels The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers or Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, I think you would like Evening.
The next book I picked up was related by the association of the two authors--Michael Cunningham wrote the screenplay for Evening, and I was familiar with the film version of The Hours. I studied Virginia Woolfe a fair amount in various British Literature courses, and I firmly believe that before either seeing the movie or reading the book, a familiarity with Woolfe's Mrs. Dalloway is absolutely necessary. First of all, Mrs. Dalloway is a spectacular piece of fiction--Woolfe's language is exquisite and I think the concept of the novel is pure genius. Cunningham does a superb job of capturing many of the elements from Dalloway in The Hours--and to get the full effect you really must read the book. Something that might turn some people off to the novel: Michael Cunningham deals extensively with homosexuality in his work. As a gay writer he sees the world from that perspective, and it is an obvious factor in his work. I studied enough "queer theory" (yes, that is the technical term for it) in my university studies not to be fazed by homosexual themes/characters--so I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. It was very well written, and I wholeheartedly agree that it deserved the Pulitzer. Having given that footnote about Cunningham's . . . gayness . . . if that is what you want to call it, The Hours isn't about homosexuality. It is about dealing with loss, living with mental illness, love, and what the price is of living a full life. The themes are deep and very relevant for all of us, no matter our religious affiliation or sexual orientation. If you liked the novels Possession by A.S. Byatt or Eve's Apple by Jonathan Rosen, I think you would enjoy this novel.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Johnson Family Staple

I have had a bunch of people ask me for my black bean recipe, so I thought I would post it for anyone who is interested. While I served my Spanish-speaking mission several years ago, I picked up on some "native" recipes that I have enjoyed ever since. I have altered most of them to make them a bit healthier (lard isn't the most appetizing ingredient) but I love Hispanic cooking and we end up using these black beans in a variety of ways. I usually grill up a bunch of burritos on the George Foreman and freeze them for quick meals/snacks, the beans go great on taco salads, taco pizza (personal favorite), enchiladas, or as my brilliant and beautiful mom suggested, as filling for vegetarian tamales. So here you go:

2 cups dry black beans
2 bouillon cubes
chili powder
chopped garlic/garlic powder
chipotle seasoning
fresh ground pepper
(You can add any other spices/flavoring you like: green chilies, tomatoes, etc)

Put everything in the slow cooker and add another 4-5 cups of water. Put it on high and let sit for 5-6 hours, or until the beans are tender and delicious. Thanks to those great food storage cans of black beans, this has been a cheap staple for a young married couple who likes to cook/eat!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Happy February!

I am a February baby, and I've always loved this month--for more reasons than my birthday. My favorite color is pink, I love Valentine's Day (I defy anyone who believes it to be merely a commercially-driven holiday. I think it is splendid to celebrate love and romance) and I love seeing all the decorations in stores. The little jewelery shop I work in is decked out right now, so there is some added joy in my day.
Since last I posted, various changes have happened for our family. The first, most startling change has probably come from our revised eating habits. The delectable pictures above . . . I can pretty much no longer eat. At least in traditional forms. A few weeks into the new year I adopted a strict vegan diet, one that is organic as much as my food budget will allow. Since I do a lot of my own cooking from scratch, I only had to make a few slight modifications (such as buying an egg substitute and soy/rice milk) so it hasn't been too difficult on me. The best part is that I feel absolutely amazing. My body is working better than it has in a long time, and I know I'm getting way more vitamins and minerals in my diet now. Randy has been a good sport about the whole change in my cooking. He never liked milk or eggs, and he has always been wary of most meat so he hasn't minded that bit. I think he does miss his real cheese and things like philly cheese steaks on occasion . . . he'll just have to sneak one every once in awhile. :o)
On January 12th we celebrated our one year milestone with a relaxing, wonderful trip to Salt Lake. Our boss helped us out with a great deal on a bed and breakfast, so we visited the Anton Boxrud B&B. When we got there, we first watched a disappointing Seahawks game, and then headed to temple square where we watched the Joseph Smith movie (Randy hadn't seen it before). Then we headed downtown to PF Changs for some AMAZING food (thank you mom and dad Weatherspoon!) and then back to the B&B. It was so nice to get out of town and feel so pampered, and just spend time together. It was really a perfect weekend.
Two short weeks later, Randy celebrated his quarter-century mark. Yeah, he's still a young one. He actually had to work that day, so I spent my day off getting some surprises ready for when he got home that night. I found him a copy of Treasure Island by Stevensen which he has been wanting to read for some time, and the new Sophie Milman CD "Make Someone Happy" that we heard previewed on NPR like 5 months ago. (Really good cd by the way) I made him a veggie delight pizza with whole wheat crust and even a little real Tilamook cheese on top and some organic chips and hummus, and when he got home we just ate, cuddled, and watched a movie. Mandy even came over to help eat the cake. It was a nice night . . . and the rest of his gift will come later this month when we go on a ski trip to Alta.
I think that pretty much catches us up . . . We did have a baby shower for Joy while Darlene and Ashley were in town, and I just found out that my dear friend Leith is having a baby girl! I am so happy for both of them. They had both just let me babysit once in awhile!!