Monday, June 21, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #42: The Avengers by Rich Cohen

Amazon recommended The Avengers to me based on the fact that I enjoyed Defiance. This book is also about Jewish partisans, but the Avengers' focus was less on survival and more on resistance. The story focuses on Abba Kovner, Ruzka Korczak, and Vitka Klemperer, three young eastern European Jews who lead others in a resistance movement against the Germans and eastern European Nazi sympathizers. The three young people managed to rescue many people from ghettos and work camps as well as committing acts of sabotage against the Germans. After the war was over, Abba continued his plans for revenge against the Nazis by organizing a mass poisoning of several hundred war criminals at Nuremberg. The two women and Abba eventually moved to the area that would become Israel where they joined the Israeli political movement and the kibbutz movement.

The book was really interesting and informative, and shines light on yet another perspective of the role of Jewish people during WWII. I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of that period or has an interest in Jewish history.

Friday, June 11, 2010

BorkBorkBork #3: Insanely Easy Cheesecake Fruit Pie

This recipe is something that is incredibly easy to throw together, and you can use just about any kind of fruit you want in it, though I prefer berries. I've made it with strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, and each version was equally good. It'd probably also be tasty with cherries, or maybe chocolate chips....

Cheesecake Pie

Ingredients

1 package Jello Cheesecake flavored pudding
8 oz plain cream cheese
Milk (as require by pudding recipe)
Fruit (2 pints blueberries, strawberries, blackberries -- you can add more or less depending on your taste.)
1 Oreo or graham cracker pie crust

1. Bring cream cheese to room temperature
2. Mix pudding according to box instructions.
3. Whip cream cheese into pudding (I used a hand mixer, but you could probably use a stand mixer if you have one.) Cream until smooth and completely mixed.
4. Mix 3/4 of the fruit into the filling mixture. (Strawberries should be sliced, but any other berry could just be washed and thrown in whole.)
5. Pour filling into pie crust.
6. Add reminder of fruit to the top.
7. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

See, I told you that would be easy! It's nothing fancy, but in our house it almost never lasts more than one day.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #41: With The Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge

I think I mentioned before that I was really excited about HBO's recent mini-series The Pacific. While the show didn't exactly live up to my expectations (Darn you, Band of Brothers for making me expect too much!) it did get pretty good during the last four or so episodes. One thing it definitely did was set me on a quest to find two of the three books the show was based on. The first I managed to get my hands on was With the Old Breed, which was written by E.B. Sledge (those of you who watched the show may recognize him as the character played by Joseph Mazzello.)

This story is somewhat unique, because there are not very many books about the fighting in the Pacific theater written by enlisted Marines (one reason being that so few of them survived intact, and those who did survive were not inclined to discuss their experiences.) This is a book from the perspective of a "boots-on-the-ground" Marine, and the tale is both gripping and bleakly brutal. Sledge does not shy away from the grotesque, gruesome, or violent; he does not hesitate to speak of the hatred he developed for the Japanese, or about the atrocities (major and minor) committed by men on both sides. However, he does avoid glorifying the idea of war as much as possible.

The characters are deliberately vague -- many times Sledge will simply say "my buddy" or "an NCO" -- partly because this was written in full years later and he may have forgotten names, and partly I suspect because he wouldn't want to embarrass any of his former comrades. Sledge himself comes off as a conflicted and complex person, someone who began his tour as a naive young man and completed it a hardened and somewhat cynical marine. I think that the portrayal by Mazzello in the mini-series fits very well with the person whose voice dominates the book.

The book is very heavy, though there are definitely moments of humor throughout. The thing that struck me most as I read it was for the most part, it is very matter-of-fact. There is not a lot of "What does it all mean?" introspection. It is more like a diary account -- "It was very muddy for weeks, and the dead bodies everywhere smelled so awful it was hard to breathe" type language. Although clearly intelligent, Sledge is not interested in impressing the reader. He is just trying to explain what happened to him in his own words. I think that's what gives this book most of its power. It's not trying to impress anyone, it's just trying to let you know what happened.

One small disappointment I had (and this is purely a personal thing) was the lack of "Snafu" in the book. He was probably one of my very favorite characters in the show (played extremely well by Rami Malek) and is not nearly as important in the book as I would have guessed. He does appear from time to time in the narrative, and he was obviously at Sledge's side most of the time, but some of the things he says and does in the show were actually said and done by other unnamed marines.

On the whole, I would recommend this book, though I'd add that some of the descriptions are very gory and graphic, so it's probably not for the faint of heart. However, considering how little most of us know about the Pacific theater of WWII, I think it should definitely be more widely read.

Cannonball Read 2 # 40: Carpe Jugulum (Discworld 23) by Terry Pratchett

I wish I liked Terry Pratchett. I feel like I SHOULD like him, but I just sort of don't. Carpe Jugulum is the second of his books that I've read and I wasn't particularly impressed with either of them. This one was significantly less annoying than The Color of Magic, in that by the end I was actually vaguely interested in how things would turn out rather than wishing all the characters would die horrible, painful deaths, but that's still not exactly a glowing recommendation.

Carpe Jugulum is the story of three witches who live in Discworld. Their relatively quiet existence suffers great upheaval when the head witch goes missing and some very odd vampires arrive to take over the town. I actually liked the majority of the characters, though the vampires' henchman's horrific lisp was funny the first time but grew extremely tiresome.

On the whole, I guess I feel the same way about this as I do about Christopher Moore--there's wacky and quirky, and then there's desperately wacky and quirky, which I feel this is. I know a lot of people really dig the Discworld series, but unfortunately, I am not one of them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BorkBorkBork #2: Deviled Ham Salad

I read a lot of food blogs. Mostly because I am a big fan of food. And I like to cook -- to a certain extent. I mean, I am not going to give Gordon Ramsey anything to worry about. Most of the things I cook fall into one of four categories: casseroles, appetizers & dips, sauces, or desserts. The other thing they all have in common is that they are pretty easy. So I figure that for my 6 loyal readers out there, I would broaden my blogging topics out into recipes. I call this feature "BorkBorkBork" after one of my favorite celebrity chefs, The Swedish Chef.

Today's offering is Deviled Ham Salad. I found this recipe on Homesick Texan, which is a great blog with a lot of terrific Tex-Mex food. I'd never had ham salad before, but the recipe looked simple enough, and I am usually enthusiastic about foods that are designed to be served on Ritz crackers. The recipe is as follows:

Deviled ham salad
Ingredients:
2 cups ham, chopped
(I used a pre-cooked ham steak from the grocery store.)
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (about 1/4 of a pepper)
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
(About half a small onion)
1 large dill pickle, diced (I used 3 dill sandwich stackers)
1 jalapeƱo, diced (I only put in half, but it depends how spicy you like things.)
3 tablespoons mayo (I used 4 tablespoons of mayo and 2 of mustard because I don't especially like mustard.)
3 tablespoons mustard
Salt and black pepper to taste

Method:
In a food processor, mix all the ingredients together until blended but not too smooth as you want a bit of texture. Taste and adjust any seasoning or add more mayonnaise and mustard if you like. A little drizzle of pickle juice is excellent as well.

Yield: About 2 cups. Keeps in the refrigerator for a few days.


I warn you, this is not an attractive food. At best, it looks like cat food, and at worst...well, it looks like used cat food, if you get my drift. However, don't let that keep you from scooping up blobs on to Ritz crackers, which is how The Boyfriend and I mowed through the first batch I made. Another great use is to make sandwiches with lettuce and tomato.

If any of you decide to try this, let me know how it turns out.

(I've got more favorite recipes up my sleeve for upcoming posts...)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cannonball Read 2 #39: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I think most people are probably more familiar with the film version of The Princess Bride, starring Robin Wright and Cary Elwes (before the fathead got him). The book is--well, let's just say they cut a lot out for the movie, and that was probably a good thing.

The basic premise is that Goldman is abridging The Princess Bride from a longer version written by S. Morgenstern. This device results in pages of explanations of things that were "cut out" and why the book is abridged as it is. There are also three introductions in the version I read (the 30th anniversary edition) which go into more detail of the alleged abridging process. Of course, this is all a complete fiction, and it seemed rather unnecessary to me. I would have been perfectly happy to just have the story of Westley, Buttercup, Inigo, and Fezzik. In fact, the one thing I like more about the book than the movie was that Inigo and Fezzik had more to do, since they're my favorite characters. For those who don't know, the basic story is that of a beautiful princess and her one true love; they have to overcome a variety of obstacles with the help of a varied cast of characters in order to escape the clutches of the evil prince.

On the whole it's an okay book, but I don't think you really gain anything from the book that you don't get from the movie.