Author Archives: jordanelaine93

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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Growing up, I had a pretty substantial obsession with Greek Mythology. I owned several books on the gods and goddesses, including The Idiot’s Guide to Classical Mythology, and read every adaptation that I found in the library. I picked a favorite goddess (Artemis, goddess of the wilderness & fertility) and knew which gods would be complete sleaze balls if they existed in the real world. For whatever reason, my interest in mythology never really extended past the Greeks. Even Roman mythology, with all its similarities to Greek mythology, didn’t capture me the same way.

That may have changed now that I’ve listened to the audiobook Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is one of my favorite authors so I was pretty intrigued when I saw his newest book was a retelling of ancient myths. Up until now, my understanding of Norse myths was confined to what stood out to me the most in the Marvel movies (i.e. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston).

In Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman tells the stories of the gods and goddesses, beginning with the creation of the world and ending with Ragnarök, a.k.a. apocalypse. In between, there are about 15 stand alone myths that Gaiman weaves into a relaxed single narrative. However, the book still feels like a collection of short stories that you can pick up and set down as often as you like. I doubt you’ll want to set it down that often, but the option is there.

Most of the chapters star the Big Three of the Asgardian crew: Odin, the Allfather, Thor, the god of thunder, and Loki, the clever and treacherous giant who lives with the gods. Gaiman also mixes in plenty of new gods and goddesses that Norse Mythology rookies such as myself will likely know nothing about. There’s Tyr, who lets his own hand be bitten off by Loki’s monstrous wolf-son; Freya, a sassy goddess who I wish had more time to shine; Hod, the blind and ill-fated god who is cruelly tricked by Loki into killing his own brother; and many more.

Treachery, tongue-in-cheek humor, action, cunning, betrayal, a legendary hammer called Mjollnir. All of it is here, and all of it together makes for an incredibly entertaining 6 hours and 30 minutes. Neil Gaiman narrates the book himself, and he is as fantastic at storytelling as he is at writing.  If you’re looking for an audiobook to occupy a long road trip (or as in my case several small road trips) I highly recommend Norse Mythology.


 

While searching for gifs of Thor and Loki I came across this one:

Marvel franchise Thor smashes a coffee cup. Norse Mythology Thor smashes a seemingly unbreakable cup against the side of a giant’s head to win a massive ale-brewing cauldron and to escape with his own head intact. Coincidence? I prefer to think not.

Recipe: Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken

Here are a few words that I love, particularly when I’m hungry: Spicy. Garlic. Lime. Chicken. 

When a recipe called Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken showed up in a food newsletter I got recently, it felt a little bit like fate. I’ve been wanting to write a cooking post that didn’t contain unappetizing proof of previous failure, and here was the perfect recipe, chosen for my inbox with clairvoyant accuracy. The picture on allrecipes.com cinched my plan to make it.

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#foodporn

When I say this chicken recipe is one of the simplest things I’ve ever cooked, I mean it.  Are you a kitchen rookie who has never touched a pan, stove, or piece of raw meat before? I present to you here a perfect beginner’s recipe. The gist is to mix a bunch of spices together, sprinkle them over chicken, and…. cook the chicken. It’s so easy that it barely merits a blog post, but here we are.

Bonus: if you have a well stocked spice cabinet, this recipe is incredibly cheap. I had to hijack 6 spices from my mom’s collection, but the ingredients are all pretty standard. Once you have the spices on hand you should be able to make this dish even with the slimmest grocery supply and tightest budget.

The technique of making sides, veggies, and a main dish eludes me, but I’ll work my way up to creating fully balanced meals one day. Until then I’ll keep adding rice to everything, as you’ll see in the following glamour shots of my meal.

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#notfoodporn

 

To sum up my experience: I thought I would love this dish, and I did love this dish.

Sometimes things in life just work out.

Here’s the recipe for Spicy Garlic Lime Chicken.

 

Podcast Review: S-Town

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I’ve never had a great relationship with long car rides. As a kid I tried to pass the time with a book, but I’d get car sick after about an hour or two and spend the rest of the drive tormented by nausea and boredom. I’m still not a fan of long drives especially if I’m by myself. Spotify is great, but it can only keep boredom away for about 3 hours.

Last weekend I faced a solo 12 total hours driving to and from Florida for a bachelorette weekend. I knew the trip would be 150% worth it, but I was dreading the process of getting there. Planning for my battle against boredom, I downloaded an audiobook. I was armed, prepared, and a little bit smug. Not only would the trip be tolerable, but I might actually enjoy it.

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Wrong.

The audiobook featured a narrator with such an extremely thick and unbearably fake Southern accent that I couldn’t stand to listen to it for more than about 10 minutes.

Which meant that for seven hours I felt mostly like this:

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In order to get back to Mississippi a relatively sane person, I needed a new plan. Instead of downloading another randomly selected audiobook and leaving my drive up to fate, I settled on a podcast recommended by my Dad called S-Town. Ironically, the podcast also featured extremely thick Southern accents; however, this time the accents were real (and not annoying).

S-Town is seven episodes long with each episode lasting about an hour. It starts when producer Brian Reed (American Life & Serial) receives an email with the subject line: “John B McLemore lives in Shittown Alabama.” In that first email and follow up conversations, John talks manically to Brian about the corruption in his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama and a murder that he believes was covered up because the alleged murderer, Kabrahm Burt, was the son of a prominent businessman. After about a year of chatting on the phone, Brian flies from New York to investigate the alleged crime. They follow several leads, interviewing locals who claim to have heard Kabrahm bragging about the murder, and delve deep into the library archives looking for clues in the paper. Through all of that, the eccentric John B. McLemore rants incessantly about the “proleptic decay and decrepitude” of the town  (p.s. I’ll come back to proleptic later) and the destructive forces of global warming.

S-Town is like nothing I’ve ever listened to before and wasn’t at all what I was expecting. For starters, the murder investigation that prompted Brian Reed to first visit Woodstock is wrapped up by the second episode. So what does that leave for the remaining 5 episodes and approximately 5 hours of material?  A deeper look at – and an attempt to understand – the complicated and fascinating life and mind of John B. McLemore. As pieces of John’s life start to unfold, you gradually get to know a man who approaches the world armed with unwavering pessimism, intense loyalty, and mystery. Who is this man that designed an elaborate hedge maze in his own backyard, seems to despise the place he is from and most of the people around him, and is rumored to have a hidden fortune that he amassed from repairing antique clocks? And who, if anyone in John’s life, can actually be trusted?

One of John’s many surprises is his incredible intelligence. I felt kind of bad about not knowing what proleptic meant, but Brian admitted that he had to look it up in the dictionary, too. It’s certainly not the only time that John seems to be on a different level than everyone around him. Undercutting the unintelligible rants and curse words that shoot from John’s mouth in nearly every sentence is a mind with vast knowledge on chemistry, trigonometry, classic philosophy, and horology. The man is a rambling, nonsensical genius who is outraged by the most troubling parts of Woodstock, Alabama but unable, or unwilling, to leave it.

To wrap it upS-Town is absolutely gripping. I still had an hour left in the podcast after I got back to Jackson, and I finished it almost immediately. New revelations about John’s life are what drive the podcast forward, and I was eager to find out which questions would be answered at the end and which questions would remain a mystery. Caution: the content is dark. John is a complex and depressed person, and even though he criticizes his hometown, he is clearly a product of it. Despite that, there is so much going on in the podcast, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is fascinated by greed, unclear intentions, mental illness, treasure hunts, dependent relationships, mysterious pasts, and the South.

If you’re a first time podcast listener like me, S-Town is a great place to start.

Book Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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I absolutely can’t stand spoilers. Even if I know with 99.95% accuracy that someone isn’t going to see a movie/read a book, I still hate giving away an ending. On the list of things that really shouldn’t happen in a civilized society, spoilers are up there with putting gum anywhere other than a garbage can and not liking The Office. The problem is, I can’t review this book the way I want to without edging close to the spoiler line. So with a bit of regret and without further ado:

**SPOILER ALERT: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS BORDERLINE SPOILERS. (as in you’ll know part of the end without knowing who it happens to)**

Please enjoy the following gifs that should give you enough time to decide whether you actually want to read the full review or not.

Yay, you’re still here!

So here’s a quick rundown of the book: Entertaining? Check. Unique, intelligent, and endearing main characters? Check. References to Italian poets, Dr. Suess, and a British astronomer? Check. This book has a lot going for it. What’s tripping me up is whether or not I actually  recommend it.

All the Bright Places follows a pattern similar to The Fault in Our Stars. Two teens who are abnormally intelligent, quirky, and introspective fall in love despite their personal struggles with illness. Unlike John Green’s ultra-popular couple Hazel and Augustus, Violet and Finch deal with mental illness rather than physical illness. Finch, who is called “Theodore Freak” by the jerks at school, helps Violet cope after the death of her older sister. Their relationship moves a little fast in my opinion, but overall there are plenty of cute, fun moments.

Okay, but a warning: it’s not all cute and fun. One thing that struck me about this book is how hopeless it feels. All the Bright Places deals with mental illness and teenage suicide so I didn’t anticipate a sunshine happy ending.  Actually, a sunshine happy ending would have felt insincere and out-of-touch. However, this book didn’t seem to allow for even a possibility of a way out for the character who ends up committing suicide. I understand that depression is horrible and that those who deal with it often feel deeply helpless and lost. However, a YA (emphasis on YA) book about depression and bipolar disorder that doesn’t indicate a glimmer of hope seems like it could be such a damaging thing for a teen who is struggling with mental illness.

My reaction to this book made me think about the controversy surrounding the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. I personally haven’t seen the show, and I read the book so long ago that I barely remember it. What I’ve gathered from talking to friends and reading articles is that although the show raises awareness about the desperation many teens go through, it presents teenage suicide in a concerning way.

Here’s one article that talks about the show from a psychologist’s perspective: 13 Reasons Why: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

All the Bright Places resembles several of the “bad” and “ugly”elements that the author of the article connects to 13 Reasons Why. All the Bright Places certainly glamorizes suicide and, to an extent, mental illness. After a character commits suicide, it’s described as if he/she has moved on to another exciting world to adventure and explore. Also, like 13 Reasons Why, All the Bright Places suggests that suicide can “reform a sinner, soften a bully.” (A quote from the article, not the book.) Several supporting characters in All the Bright Places are completely changed after the suicide and behave like new people. Honestly, I liked these characters much better at the end, but their transformations didn’t feel realistic.

Despite all of this, the book raises awareness about mental illness, which ultimately seems like a positive thing. It reminds readers that you never know what the people around you are dealing with, so it’s best to treat everyone with kindness and respect. Many of my negative feelings toward this book were lifted after I read the “Author’s Note” at the end. Jennifer Niven drew from personal experience when she wrote All the Bright Places, and knowing that she understood first-hand what it felt like to lose a significant other to suicide made the whole story feel more genuine. I suppose my main advice is to be cautious when reading this book or recommending it to a teen.

Overall, All the Bright Places is a book to make you reflect on life and the way you treat others.

Until the next book!

A Journey through Kitchen Disasters Past

Being honest is important to me, so I’m going to be honest with you (and myself) right now. I’m a terrible cook about 50% of the time. The good news is that the percentage used to be about 75, but through brazen determination and a triumph of will, I’ve knocked it down to 50.

One big problem? I’m a recipe person who has trouble actually sticking to recipes. 

I don’t know why I started to view recipes as general guidelines that could be easily veered from. Actually yes I do. My mom veers from recipes all the time. However, there’s a slight difference between us that I tend to overlook when I’m elbows deep in my battle with ingredients: she knows what she’s doing and I have absolutely no idea.

Lies I’ve told myself in the kitchen:
1. The exact amount of water doesn’t matter that much. I can eyeball it.
2. The exact amount of seasoning doesn’t matter that much. I can eyeball it.
3. Garlic powder will probably work just as well as minced garlic.
4. I don’t need to set the timer. I can eyeball it.
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Thank you, Joe. I needed that.

There are some chefs who can eyeball it. There are some chefs who don’t need to stick to the recipe. I’ve even heard of a magic breed of chef that doesn’t need a recipe at all. That’s not me nor do I expect it to ever be me. All I’m trying to be is a chef that can make edible meals so I don’t blow all of my money on restaurants.

Like any semi-professional wannabe foodie, I take picture of everything I cook and/or eat. I’m not sure what the protocol is for posting photos of unappetizing failed meals. I’m guessing a good rule of thumb is not to do it. Oops.

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The bottom left was mostly a failure of presentation. I don’t claim responsibility for how gross pesto sauce can look in the wrong hands. The other two were failures in every sense of the word. To my credit, (I think) I was still able to eat the meals even though they turned out completely wrong. Oh, and I know it looks like tar, but I promise that’s a balsamic glaze on the chicken.

If you’re questioning the purpose of this post, I think it’s an introduction. Or an explanation. Or maybe an apology. Essentially, I want to warn you about what might be revealed in my cooking posts. If I’m lucky, my future recipes will be so successful that Food Network assigns me a cooking catch phrase. That’s how it works, right?

For now, my goal is to feel confident enough in the kitchen that I don’t need to plan a back-up meal every time I cook.

Until the next culinary adventure!

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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The Book Thief has been at the top of my to-read list since I first examined its back cover in high school. The premise was right up my ally (Seriously. It doesn’t get much better than a World War II historical fiction about a girl who loves to read.) On a Christmas shopping trip with my grandparents several years ago, I bought the book and planned to read it as soon as I finished whatever book I had at the time. But life – or at least other books – always got in the way. Still, anytime someone brought up The Book Thief my heart smiled.

In short, I felt so confident that I would fall in love with The Book Thief that I never actually got around to reading it for years.

I fully realize how ridiculous this is, and I promise you it will NEVER happen again.

I will never let it happen again because I now know that The Book Thief is everything I thought it would be and more. But now, rather than because of a semi-vague hunch based on a back cover, I know how great it is from personal reading experience.

Here is an insider look at what my personal reading experience was like:

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Unfortunately, there was no actual wine around when I was finishing the book. I did, however, have a small plastic cup with a few sips of Coca-Cola in it courtesy of Delta Airlines. Like Will Ferrell, I was bouncing around a lot because our plane back from D.C. kept hitting turbulence. I was too engrossed in my book to notice. Much.

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A very brief summary: The Book Thief is about a young German girl growing up during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party and the beginning of World War II. Liesel is illiterate at the start of the book but develops a passion for words. Her life becomes entwined with other characters who are now among my all time favorite characters in literature. Some of my favorites are her loyal and hilarious best friend, Rudy, and her foster father.

What I loved: The characters. Even the characters I didn’t like *cough Nazis* felt so real. I didn’t have a problem believing any action or emotion, which is something I admire in a book. I’ve read a lot of books that made it their mission to make me cry, and even though I didn’t hate them, it was nice to find a book that managed to be emotionally powerful but not contrived.

Also, the book is narrated by Death. If you’re someone who has trouble with nontraditional types of narration, I recommend giving yourself a few chapters to get used to the voice. If you’re like me, you might weirdly start to love it. I generally like unique narrators anyway so I thought it was a great touch from the first page.

What I didn’t love: Nothing honestly. Death occasionally gives spoilers, so that was a little weird to get used to.

For readers who: Enjoy books that pull authentically at just about every heart string.

Not for readers who: Prefer books with easy endings. No spoilers, but it is a book about World War II.

Until the next book!