Saturday, August 29, 2009

Back from vacation!

Just got back from a great 5-day cruise to Canada aboard the Carnival Triumph. This was my second time doing this itinerary on Carnival (I went last year on the Victory) and we had a wonderful time.

I have tons of laundry to do and lots of work to catch up on, but I'm going to crank out a review of the trip tonight while it's all still fresh in my mind. At some point I'll get photos up, too, but for now, I'll stick with the highlights.

Overall, the trip was great, and I'm looking forward to writing up some helpful info for anyone else who is planning this trip in the near future. Time to put another load of clothes into the dryer and get cracking on that review!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Book review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This is now one of my favorite books of all time. It was so good, I couldn't put it down, but I hated for it to end, too.

The novel is told in a series of letters, a clever story-telling device that works beautifully. The plot centers around Juliet, a 32-year-old author who is successful in her career, but less so in her love life. Living in post-World-War II London, Juliet starts up a pen pal relationship with residents of St. Peter's Port in the Channel Islands. The character development in this novel is simply brilliant, and the authors weave in historical information about the war seamlessly. The book is funny, educational, heart-wrenching, joyful and a wonderful read. Add this one to your reading list, post haste!

Next up on my summer reading list: The Jane Austen Book Club.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Book review: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

This is the first book of David Sedaris' that I've ever read, but it certainly won't be the last. His writing style is witty, engaging, clever, self-deprecating, and hilariously funny.

An excerpt:

For as long as I can remember, my father has saved. He saves money, he saves disfigured sticks that resemble disfigured celebrities, and, most of all, he saves food. Cherry tomatoes, sausage biscuits, the olives plucked from other people's martinis--he hides these things in strange places until they are rotten. And then he eats them.

I used to think of this as standard Greek behavior until I realized that ours was the only car in the church parking lot consistently swarmed by bees.

Sedaris relays stories from his childhood, his drug-addled young adulthood and his years spent living in Paris, skewering his own behavior with a dry humor and stark self-awareness that is rare and oddly endearing.

Another thing that made this book a great summer read is that it's a compilation of essays, so it was something I could pick up and put down without losing my way in the story. It's a fun read.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tofu Shirataki: Pasta alternative for the carb conscious?

I've been lowering my carb intake for the past few weeks, and have been having some great results. Low-carb diets work wonders for me, because I'm such a pasta addict. After just 3 weeks, my clothes are looser and the scale is showing a friendlier number...but lord, do I miss pasta!

So, imagine my happiness on discovering a "noodle substitute" this morning at the supermarket: Tofu Shirataki from House Foods. It's "Hungry Girl approved", only 20 calories for an 8oz package, 3g of carbs and 2g of fiber. They look just like fettucine (packed in water), have no cholesterol, no sugar, and are gluten-free. There was a Hungry Girl recipe on the back for Fettucine Alfredo--which I love--so I picked up a package ($1.99 at my grocery store) and decided to give it a shot.

My first red flag was when I read the recipe directions, and came across this: Drain and rinse Tofu Shirataki thoroughly. Parboil for 2-3 minutes (or microwave for 1 min.) to reduce the authentic aroma, then dry very well.

Um...oooookay. Now I'm scared.

Turns out, the "authentic aroma" wasn't that bad: it was a mildly fishy smell, similar to miso soup or the ice at the fish store. Once I rinsed the noodles, the aroma was gone.

I followed the directions and made the sauce (2 Tbsp. cream cheese, 2 tsp. Parmesan cheese, 1 tsp. sour cream, salt & pepper to taste--I used the full-fat versions because Atkins allows for that). From an appearance standpoint, the fettucine looked amazing--just like the real thing.

Then I tasted it.

The sauce was fine, but the texture...ugh. Rubbery, like thin strips of stubborn Jell-O that refuse to yield willingly on the first bite. By the second or third chew, the noodles broke down enough to get them down, but I'd be lying if I said they were even remotely tasty. They didn't taste like anything, really...I had hoped they'd at least pick up the flavor of the sauce, but no...the sauce just sort of sat on top, but never actually penetrated the gelatinous strings. To be fair, the package calls it a "Fettucine shaped noodle substitute" and, if you check out the House Foods website, they do not promise anywhere that the faux noodles are delicious. Because they're not.


Try as I might, I couldn't get through the whole bowl. Yes, Tofu Shirataki is low-cal, low carb, and a healthier alternative than pasta.

But I'd rather be fat than eat that again.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I have an email address I never use anymore, but periodically, I log in to clear out all of spam and such. Once in a while, one of the more creative emails catches my eye.

Here's one that had me laughing...I love how you can clearly see that English is not their first language:

Re: Your Compensation
Good day to you.

How are you today? Hope all is well with you and your family? I hope this mail
meets you in a perfect condition. I am using this opportunity to thank you for
your great effort to our unfinished transfer of fund into your account due to
one reason or the other best known to you. But I want to inform you that I have
successfully transferred the Cheque out of the company to someone else who was
capable of assisting me in this great venture .

Due to your effort, sincerity, courage and trust worthiness you showed at the
course of the transaction I want to compensate you and show my gratitude to you
with the sum of $800,000.00 (Eight Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) in
respect to your lottery winnings. I have authorized the finance house where i
deposited my money to issue you international certified bank draft cashable at
your bank.

My dear friend i will like you to contact the finance house for the collection
of this international certified bank draft. One of our representative has been
given your cheque to be delivered to you and as faith may have it he his an
AMERICAN who will help you monitor the delivery of your cheque to you simply
because of the ongoing scam all over the world. For clearity, you can ask him to
show to you his identity. Below is his contact details


At the moment, I am very busy here because of the investment projects which
myself and my new partner are having at hand. To avoid any delay, please provide
the below informations to him.

Your Name...............
Your Address................
Phone Number.................
Present Country................

Finally, remember that I have forwarded instruction to the finance house on your
behalf to send the bank draft to you as soon as you contact them without delay.

Please i will like you to accept this token with good faith as this is from the
bottom of my heart.

Best Regards,
Mr Brian Smith

And here's another one...this one is more insidious, though. It makes it sound like someone has done a wire transfer to my bank account.

NOTE: If you get this Wells Fargo phishing email, DON'T click the link. Instead, forward it to:

Dear Customer,

VALORIE SCHMALTZ made an online funds transfer to your Wells Fargo account and asked us to notify you that it was completed successfully. The details of this transaction are shown below.

Transfer Date and Time: 07/21/09 at 01:45 AM
Transfer Amount: $980.00
Transfer Description:

To view this transaction and your current balance, please sign on at

If you have any questions related to this message or the funds transfer, please contact VALORIE SCHMALTZ. Please do not reply to this message.

Wells Fargo Online Customer Service