We’re doomed.

The Sixth Extinction

 

What’s it about?
The Sixth Extinction is about evolution and extinction. It has a good overview of the history of both evolution and extinction – people didn’t believe that animals could go extinct before the French Revolution. There’s a history of the other five major extinction events in the earth’s past, even though we don’t know much about them – other than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. She then looks at the current rates of extinction, which are much closer to the rates during the other major extinction events rather than the typical background rate. There’s also a small, amusing bit about how rats are going to take over the world if humans die.

Why should you read it?
The world is getting warmer because there are higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. So what? Well, The Sixth Extinction answers that question. The oceans acidify. Many – possibly most – animals won’t be able to live. Animals and plants will need to shift where they live and grow, but because people have taken up so much of the land, it’s hard for them to find new places to be. She does a great job of both showing how awesome the world is and making you despair over its future.

Girl Power!

Not That Kind of Girl

 

What’s it about?
Not That Kind of Girl is about Lena Dunham’s life. I’d say it was a memoir, but it wasn’t. It was a series of essays, grouped by themes like “Love & Sex” or “Work.” She’s entertaining and kind of messed up in a punk-ish way. But she’s also clearly got a serious work ethic, and I suspect is less messed up than she portrays herself as.

Why should you read it?
Maybe if I watched Girls I’d’ve like it more. Not That Kind of Girl is a fine book, it just didn’t grab me in the way I thought it would. I like that it’s supportive of women and girl culture. I like that she shows herself and her flaws and that that’s ok. I like that she is ambitious as hell. I hate that she feels the need to downplay that ambition. But I don’t identify with her – that’s what I was missing. I’m not as punk or trendy or young, and I didn’t grow up with hippy parents in NYC. But I do think that Lena Dunham is a pretty good role model, and I’m happy she’s out there for people to look up to.

It’s a fantasy book. Don’t tell.

The Bone Clocks

 

What’s it about?
The Bone Clocks is about Holly, a girl who runs away from home when she’s fifteen. She’s gone for a weekend, but in that weekend her life changes. At the end of the book, she’s raising a granddaughter on the west coast of Ireland as civilization falls. She plays lots of roles and has lots of jobs in the interim, but she keeps running into a person named Marinus. There are fantasy elements in the book, and the story isn’t always told from Holly’s point of view. In some ways, it’s about ensuring that life goes on as the world falls apart.

Why should you read it?
Aside from the fact that it was long-listed for a Booker Prize (if you’re into that sort of thing)? It’s a compelling story. So often highbrow books are experiments in style or something else that makes them hard to read. The Bone Clocks isn’t that book. It’s a solid, well-told story about a woman navigating her family and her life in a fantasy setting. I’m happy this one hasn’t been shunted off in genre land and is getting the attention it deserves.

So not authentic. Still tasty.

Fajitas

 

We really do eat a lot of texmex food. Huh.

One of my favorite stories about fajitas is that the name derives from the cut of steak that’s traditionally used. Which makes chicken fajitas a bastardized version of the traditional dish. So I tend not to worry about particular toppings being “authentic.” None of this is authentic. That’s ok. They’re still good.

Chicken Fajitas
2-3 limes, juiced
6T veg oil
3 garlic cloves
1T worcestershire sauce
1.5t brown sugar
1 jalapeño
1.5T chopped fresh cilantro
1 lb chicken breast
2 red onions
2 red bell peppers
2 green peppers
8-12 flour tortillas (I sub corn in for mine because I’m gluten-free.)

  1. In a large bowl, mix lime juice, 4T oil, garlic, worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, jalapeño, and cilantro together. Add 1t salt and 0.75t black pepper. Reserve out 0.25c of mixture, marinate the chicken in the remainder for about 15 minutes.
  2. Chop vegetables and coat with oil.
  3. Heat 2 cast iron skillets (one for the vegetables, one for the chicken) over med-high heat. Cook chicken for ~4-5 min on each side, sauté vegetables until done.
  4. Warm tortillas. Let chicken rest for 5 minutes, then slice.
  5. Pour 2T of reserved marinade over vegetables, pour remainder over the chicken. Serve with warmed tortillas and any toppings you’d like.

We tend to serve our fajitas with salsa, cheese, avocado, and sour cream. Not terribly traditional, but I covered that above.

The stove-top cooking method I use also isn’t traditional – you’re supposed to grill both the vegetables and the chicken. We do that when we make them on the weekend (and they taste better that way), but if you’re looking for a faster weeknight meal or it’s cold or rainy, this  is an acceptable substitute.

Outrunning the Blerch

The terrible and wonderful reasons why I run long distances

 

What’s it about?
If you read The Oatmeal, you know that he is funny and likes to explain things. The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances is an expansion on his strip of the same name. It’s about how out of shape he used to be, stories about particular runs he’s taken, and, of course, the Blerch. The Blerch is the embodiment of the little voice inside you that tells you to be lazy. To not try. To not go for that run because that would be hard and wouldn’t you rather sit on the couch? His goal is to outrun the Blerch.

Why should you read it?
Well, because it’s funny. Because you enjoy running. Because the Blerch is a great embodiment of all the times the voice in your head has said “why not watch one more television show?” or “why not put off cleaning your house?” It applies to everything, not just running. It’s just that with running, you can actually, physically, try to get away from it. It is either a motivating book, or just a funny one. Either way, you get to decide.

Egyptian Civil War

To recap last week: Alexandria was an awesome place, Cleopatra as a child was smart and capable, but the Ptolemies didn’t get along. At all. Her father, Auletes, was deposed because he was too much under Rome’s thumb. Her sister took over, but the Romans (after much bribery by Auletes) said: no, really, Auletes is in charge, and here’s our army to back up our words. Auletes rules for a few more years, with some evidence that Cleopatra was his co-ruler for the last year of his life.

Auletes died in 51 BCE. He left Egypt to Cleopatra (18 years old) and her brother, Ptolemy XIII (13 years old), in his will. They co-ruled for a bit. Which really means that Cleopatra did what she could to sideline Ptolemy. Ergo, Ptolemy’s advisors schemed to get rid of Cleopatra – she was too independent from them and he was more malleable. (The History of Rome, ep 44) She also takes part in religious festivals – an important part of being an Egyptian ruler. (The History of Rome, ep 44) Since they couldn’t control her, they wanted her gone. She was banished.

Bust_of_Gaius_Julius_Caesar_in_Naples
Julius Caesar, who plays a large role in our story today.

 

Back in Rome, they’re having their own civil war. Julius Caesar is fighting Pompey Magnus for control of the Roman Republic, which, remember, basically controls all the land around Egypt and is breathing heavily down Egypt’s neck. In the course of said war, Pompey is fleeing Caesar’s army. He aims for Egypt because they’ve been nice to him in the past. But not this time.

Ptolemy and his advisors know that without Rome’s blessing, their government isn’t long for this world. Seeing that Caesar has the upper hand at this point, Ptolemy and his advisors behead Pompey as he comes ashore in September of 48 BCE. Caesar follows shortly thereafter, and is appalled when Pompey’s head is presented to him. Ptolemy and his advisors have misjudged the situation. Caesar takes over a portion of the royal palace. (Cleopatra, p14)

Cleopatra has been raising armies in Syria. (Cleopatra, p11) She’s persona non grata in the Egyptian palace, and both she and Ptolemy have armies ready to fight. But she sees an opportunity: Caesar can help her. He’s not inclined to like Ptolemy, since he and his advisors killed Pompey (The History of Rome, ep 44).

Ptolemy asks Caesar to leave, he refuses because he needs Egyptian money. Egypt still owes 6000 talents to Rome, promised by Auletes, so this isn’t conquer and pillage per se. (Cleopatra, p39) Caesar (age 52) asks Cleopatra (now 21) to come to the palace. (The History of Rome, ep 44) Note that it’s also in Rome’s interest to have a stable Egypt. Caesar wants a stable client kingdom that will pay up in either gold or grain as needed. (Cleopatra, p14)

She smuggles herself into the palace, probably in a bag typically used for carpets. She isn’t particularly lovely by modern standard, but she was smart and charming. “Generally, it was known to be impossible to converse with her without being instantly captivated by her.” (Cleopatra, p16) She impresses Caesar, who also reportedly likes her flair. Ptolemy discovers Cleopatra and Caesar together and freaks out. (Cleopatra, p40)

Caesar and his troops take over the palace, placing Ptolemy under house arrest and protecting Cleopatra. Unfortunately for Cleopatra, the Alexandrians are on Ptolemy’s side, and his advisors claim that the Romans are trying to turn Egypt into a province. (The History of Rome, ep 44) The Egyptians were grumpy about Auletes being in Rome’s pocket and now Cleopatra is in Rome’s bed. Ptolemy ostensibly agrees to a reconciliation, but his advisors are raising troops at the same time. (Cleopatra, p43) Caesar eventually manages to calm the Alexandrians down somewhat by returning Crete. (Cleopatra, p44)

Caesar is protecting Cleopatra, but they’re all prisoners in the Royal Palace. There was a lot of street fighting in Alexandria – by this time one of Ptolemy’s advisors has troops in the city (Cleopatra, p45). The Roman legions were tougher, but they didn’t have urban warfare tactics. (The History of Rome, ep 44)

In January of 47 BCE (if my calculations are correct), a delegation heads to the palace to secure Ptolemy’s release. It works, and it’s unclear exactly why. Certainly Caesar’s typical leniency plays into it. (Cleopatra, p 61) Ptolemy, of course, heads straight for his armies.

Shortly thereafter, Ptolemy’s and Caesar’s forces meet in the Battle of the Nile. Caesar wins easily. Ptolemy dies when his boat capsizes. (The History of Rome, ep 44) The Alexandrians throw down their weapons. (Cleopatra, p 62) Cleopatra is ruler, albeit with her even younger brother Ptolemy XIV, but he’s a puppet. Cleopatra and Caesar are firmly in control. So they take a trip down the Nile to show off her power and glamour to her people, but also: vacation.

Next week: Cleopatra is pregnant with Caesar’s only son at the end of the Nile trip. He heads back to Rome to consolidate his power. Long-distance romance!

A meal + leftovers

enchiladas

 

Enchiladas are so messy. How can anyone make them look good? Regardless of what they look like, they are delicious. This is another weekend recipe, albeit one that makes enough leftovers that they can easily stretch to another meal. Especially when you serve them with a scoop of refried beans.

Enchiladas
(from Cook’s Illustrated #62)

1.5T veg oil
1 med onion, chopped fine
3 med garlic cloves, minced
3T chili powder
2t ground coriander
2t ground cumin
0.5t salt
2t sugar
12oz boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 0.25″ strips
16oz tomato sauce
0.5c chopped cilantro
4oz pickled jalapeños, drained & chopped
11oz shredded sharp cheddar
10 6″ corn tortillas

  1. Heat oil & sauté onion. Add garlic, chili powder, coriander, cumin, salt, and sugar; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Add chicken, stirring constantly, until coated with spices. Add tomato sauce & 0.75c water. Stir to separate chicken slices. Bring to simmer, cook for 8 minutes. Pour mixture through strainer into medium bowl. Transfer chicken to plate to cool. Combine chicken with cilantro, jalapeños, and cheese in medium bowl.
  2. Heat oven to 300F. Heat tortillas for about 4 minutes. Once tortillas are heated, increase oven temp to 400F. Smear bottom of 9×13 pan with 0.75c chili sauce. Fill each tortilla with 1/3c filling. Roll each tortilla tightly, place in baking dish, seam-side down. Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas. Sprinkle an additional 3oz cheese over top.
  3. Cover pan with aluminum foiled, bake for 20 minutes. Uncover & serve immediately, passing lettuce, sour cream, avocado, and lime wedges separately.

Beach read, brain candy

vacationers

What’s it about?
The Vacationers is a beach read. It’s about a dysfunctional family full of people you may or may not like all heading to a small Spanish island for a two-week vacation. Will the wife forgive the husband’s affair? Will the daughter have sex for the first time? Will the son ever grow up? Will the gay couple (friends of the family tagging along) manage to adopt a child? The Vacationers will address those questions.

Why should you read it?
It’s fun, harmless brain candy. It’s not a great work of fiction, but it was entertaining. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for; sometimes, that’s all you want.

Eat your broccoli

A brief history of seven killings

What’s it about?
Plot-wise, A Brief History of Seven Killings is about Jamaica in the 1970s. It wasn’t a happy place. Two parties wanted to control the government. The CIA worried that the country would become communist, like Cuba. Gangs were aligned with both parties, full of not very nice people. The CIA was giving them guns. And Bob Marley was putting together a peace concert. There was a shooting at Marley’s home two days before the concert. This book posits what happened in the lead-up and in the fall-out to that shooting. Subject-wise, the book illustrates power relationships, what it’s like to live in a third-world country, how the CIA’s meddling in said countries screwed things up, and tries to pick apart why people do what they do.

Why should you read it?
An actual conversation with a friend yesterday:

me: Did you like Wolf Hall?
her: No.
me: Oh. Then you’ll hate this one.

Because, despite the differences between 1970’s Jamaica and Tudor England, the books are largely about the same things: power, how do people get power, how do they keep power. It is dense and not at all brief. It’s also very violent. It, at one point, made me wish I had an English degree so I could properly analyze it. It’s good and important and educational but it is not entertaining. And that’s ok. I’m glad I read it.

Carb-o-riffic dinner

spicy bucatini

 

Spicy bucatini is one of our favorite weeknight meals. It’s quick and easy and simple to make gluten-free by using gluten-free pasta. We eat this very regularly. We’ve been making it for so long, I’m not even sure where we got the recipe from. This one’s pulled from my memory.

Spicy Bucatini

2T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
0.25 – 0.5t red pepper flakes (more or less depending on how spicy you like it)
0.25lb pancetta, diced
28oz petit diced tomatoes (You can use the regular diced tomatoes. I prefer the smaller cut.)
2T minced fresh sage
0.5c parmesan, freshly shredded
1lb bucatini or other long, thin pasta

  1. Heat the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pancetta over medium heat in a saucepan until fragrant (about 2-3 minutes). Add tomatoes, simmer for 10 minutes, until thicker. Add sage.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 4qts water to boil. Cook your pasta as directed, reserving 0.25c before you drain it.
  3. Return pasta to pot, add sauce & cheese. Stir to combine over the still-warm burner for about a minute. Add as much leftover water as needed to make it smooth.
  4. Serve, with extra cheese to pass if you like parmesan. Mmmm, parmesan.