Sunday, February 27, 2011

Goodreads Review - The Audacity of Hope

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American DreamThe Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Written just before his campaign for president, the Audacity of Hope is a mixture of declarations of belief and anecdotes of life in the political realm. Much like his ability to give inspiring speeches, Obama has a gift for producing well-written books that are  enjoyable to read.

Overall, it's much more political than I expected. At times the book overwhelmed me by revealing the complexity of government and the divisiveness of politics. Being a moderate that is often turned off by both political parties, I was sometimes taken aback by just how much of a Democrat Obama is. And though he calls for bipartisanship, the examples in the book show how difficult and unusual true bipartisanship really is.

The parts of this book that I enjoyed the most are those parts in which he talks about America outside of Washington; about family life, core values, and a commitment to community. He calls for Americans to find common ground and to take on personal and societal responsibilities. A good excerpt on just that issue:

"That's what empathy does - it calls us all to task, the conservative and the liberal, the powerful and the powerless, the oppressed and the oppressor. We are all shaken out of our complacency. We are all forced beyond our limited vision. No one is exempt from the call to find common ground. Of course, in the end a sense of mutual understanding isn't enough. After all, talk is cheap; like any value, empathy must be acted upon. When I was a community organizer back in the eighties, I would often challenge neighborhood leaders by asking them where they put their time, energy and money. Those are the true tests of what we value, I'd tell them, regardless of what we like to tell ourselves. If we aren't willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren't willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all."

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Menu Plan February 21-25

I'm doing it again, I'm making my 1014th attempt at menu planning. We'll see how long this lasts. Last week was disastrous because Chris and I both worked late almost every night. Hopefully this week is better. Anyway, here it is:

Monday: Bean Burritos (Jaynes staple)

Tuesday: Steak and Potatoes (Omaha steaks from my grandparents and a new recipe for potatoes with smoked paprika - my new favorite spice)

Wednesday: Spinach Salad with Bowtie Pasta and Vodka Sauce (although I have never had success making vodka sauce, Food network magazine had a recipe in a recent issue, so I'm going to give it another shot)

Thursday: Chickpea Chicken (recipe from epicurious that has become one of our favs)

Friday: Veggie Sandwiches (roasted veggies, lemon-garlic mayo, goat cheese)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sweet Potato and Brie Flatbread

I have a stash of pages I have ripped out of magazines in hopes of one day whipping up the delicious recipes printed on them. Most of the time, those recipes get stashed in my cookbook and forever forgotten. So I'm trying to revive them and to test out some new recipes.

The October 2010 Real Simple magazine had this recipe for sweet potato brie flatbread that looked amazing. Chris was skeptical at first, but it turned out really well. Thyme/brie/shallot/sweet potato is a fantastic combination.

1 pound frozen pizza dough, thawed
Cornmeal, for the baking sheet
1 medium sweet potato - peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
8 springs fresh thyme
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces Brie, sliced

1) Heat oven to 425. Dust baking sheet with cornmeal and place dough on baking sheet. (I didn't have cornmeal and used crisco and a bit of kosher salt)

2) Toss the sweet potato, shallots, thyme, 3 tablespoons of oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Scatter over the dough and top with the Brie.

3) Bake until golden brown and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes.

We'll definitely be making this again. Next time we'll look for whole wheat pizza dough.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Baby Cardigan

I learned how to crochet back in the 2nd grade when "Grandma Alice" volunteered in our classroom as part of the Operation Love Program - a program through which senior citizens came into the classroom to teach the students a new skill. I'm so thankful for that program and I've continued to crochet throughout the years. However, I've pretty much limited myself to scarfs and afghans and basic stitches.

So I decided to venture out. I found a pattern for a baby cardigan and gave it a go. It definitely took a lot more effort than a scarf and what was supposed to be a 6-month sized cardigan is probably closer to a 2T cardigan, but all in all it's pretty cute. I had fun going to the Fashion District and picking out little buttons. Hopefully I'll be able to continue down the path of more challenging projects.

GoodReads Review - Applied Economics, Thinking Beyond Stage One

Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage OneApplied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One by Thomas Sowell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I remember reading several articles/essays/excerpts from Thomas Sowell in undergrad. He has the great ability of making economics accessible though his clear writing style and simple presentation of ideas. However, in this particular book, it was just that - the simplicity - that bothered me.

The whole premise of the book is that we should "think beyond stage one" and consider long-term effects of policies and practices. Sowell describes the (usually unintended) negative effects of certain policies such as insurance, government-run health care, and anti-discrimination laws. Unarguably, there have been downsides to all of these. People abuse health care and use it differently when they are not the ones directly paying for it. As mentioned by a friend last week, instead of expanding female sports, some colleges eliminated certain male sports as a result of Title IX.

While Sowell was able to shed light on these issues, he writes from an extreme laissez-faire perspective and the one-sidedness of the arguments often seem too simple. Rarely (in this book) does he expand discussions of cost and benefits beyond monetary or time costs to include health, social capital, fulfillment, etc. Nor does he always elaborate on the full issue.

For instance, on the discussion of the effects of land use on housing prices, he mentions a very limited application of land use regulation that is often touted in the realm of planning as ineffective. I agree with Sowell in that exclusionary land use policies or residential zoning that requires half acre lots is counterproductive. However, he doesn't mention land use policies that attempt to integrate transportation with land use, create mixed-use communities, and provide certainty to developers. His aversion to open space regulations does not take into account a complete costs and benefits analysis either. While housing is limited in NYC and housing prices would drop if given more developable land, could you imagine NYC without Central Park? Privately owned public spaces have been produced in a variety of ways, through mandates and incentives. Rather than blasting all of these initiatives, why not compare? Sowell has written numerous books and articles, so perhaps he has made this comparison in other writings.

I will definitely continue to read Sowell, but I think it would be unwise to only read from this perspective.

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