17 Sep
2014

The Best Week of the Year is Back!

hobbit The Best Week of the Year is Back!  Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Oh, Mar­tin Free­man. You are so Hobbit-y.

That’s right, friends, Sep­tem­ber 21–27 is Tolkien Week!  (It’s also the best because it’s Banned Books Week, but Jessi will get to that later.)  There are plenty of amaz­ing writ­ers in the world.  And some day in the future I would love to start Neil Gaiman Week or Robin McKin­ley Week or some­thing.  But one of the only ones (if not the only one) who has his own week of cel­e­bra­tion is J.R.R. Tolkien.  And it is well deserved.

lotr The Best Week of the Year is Back!  Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Man, books used to look so awesome.

I’ve talked plenty on this blog about what makes Tolkien such an impor­tant author and I don’t want to bore you, so here’s the Spar­kNotes version:

  • Though the fan­tasy genre has existed pretty much since the dawn of fic­tion (espe­cially if you con­sider ancient epics like The Epic of Gil­gamesh and Beowulf to be fan­tasy), Tolkien’s works of the early to mid 20th cen­tury gave mete­oric rise to the genre’s pop­u­lar­ity and inar­guably made pos­si­ble the pub­li­ca­tion of lit­er­ally all pop­u­lar fan­tasy works since.  Seri­ously, there is not a sin­gle writer in fan­tasy today who doesn’t owe a huge debt to Tolkien.
  • Tolkien’s works not only defined a genre, but they also exem­plify one of the most dif­fi­cult and impor­tant aspects of fic­tion: world cre­ation.  The com­plete­ness of Middle-earth and its inhab­i­tants, down to such details as his­to­ries that have no direct bear­ing on the plots of the major nov­els, so spe­cific that Tolkien’s lan­guages are equipped with all the trap­pings of lin­guis­tic mat­u­ra­tion includ­ing ety­molo­gies and even dead languages.
  • Tolkien’s works and he him­self were largely con­cerned with mythol­ogy.  Because of this, his work is not not merely telling a story for its own sake, but rec­og­niz­ing and cel­e­brat­ing a story’s sig­nif­i­cance to the peo­ple who told it.
  • This list could lit­er­ally be infi­nite, so I’m going to leave it at that for now.

This Tolkien Week, we’ll be hav­ing our usual Tolkien Quiz con­test!  Come in and take the quiz!  The high­est scorer will win a fab­u­lous Tolkien-related prize and every­one who takes the quiz will be entered in a raf­fle for a $20.00 KU Gift Cer­tifi­cate!  So even if you know noth­ing about Tolkien, you could still win big!

TolkienWeek TakeTheQuiz 640x800 The Best Week of the Year is Back!  Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

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16 Sep
2014

You Can’t Take the Sky from Me

The 20th is the birth­day of that dev­il­ishly hand­some rap­scal­lion of a brown­coat, Mal­colm Reynolds!

nathan fillion malcolm reynolds You Cant Take the Sky from Me Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

He’s sexy and he knows it

For those of you who are not aware, allow me to go a lit­tle fan­girl on you. It begins with the show that has a huge cult fol­low­ing, Fire­fly. Mal is the cap­tain of Ser­en­tiy, a trad­ing ship. He’s a rogue out­law with a heart of gold. The show is basi­cally a West­ern… IN SPACE! Mal is Han Solo but bet­ter. Believe me there has been much, much debate on this sub­ject, and I’m going to have to agree with geek­dad.

66517 300x229 You Cant Take the Sky from Me Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

I’ll be the peanut but­ter in THAT sandwich

Mal has the ten­dency to get into tight spots but is always ready with a well aimed quip or barb, no mat­ter how ridicu­lous the sit­u­a­tion is.

500full 300x168 You Cant Take the Sky from Me Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

At least you’re honest

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Busi­ness, he means it

Mal Reynolds 300x216 You Cant Take the Sky from Me Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Oh yes, please do

Cap­tain Reynolds is a super badass. A nat­ural leader, witty, a bit of a scoundrel with a soft heart (although you’ll count your­self lucky if you EVER see it), he’s pretty much my dream guy. So Happy Birth­day Mal, you adorable hunk, you.

MalReynoldsFirefly You Cant Take the Sky from Me Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

 

 

 

 

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15 Sep
2014

Katie Reviews This Month’s Book Club Pick!

Here’s what Katie has to say about The Girl In the Flam­ma­ble Skirt:

flammable skirt 192x300 Katie Reviews This Months Book Club Pick!   Pittsburgh Gifts CardsA fan­tas­tic debut col­lec­tion of short sto­ries by one of my favorite authors, Aimee Ben­der.  Sto­ries like “Loser,” the tale of a boy who has the mag­i­cal abil­ity to find any lost object — except what he him­self has lost — or “The Remem­berer,” whose pro­tag­o­nist deals with the loss of a rela­tion­ship when her boyfriend begins to expe­ri­ence “reverse evo­lu­tion,” read like modern-day fairy tales, the absurd ele­ments illu­mi­nat­ing the com­plex, relat­able emo­tions under the sur­face.  This quick read made me want to search out and read every­thing that Aimee Ben­der has ever writ­ten. Weird in the best way pos­si­ble, well writ­ten and com­pletely orig­i­nal, The Girl in the Flam­ma­ble Skirt stays with you long after it’s put away on the book shelf.  Try it out and let us know what you think!

Book club meets at the store on Sun­day, Sep­tem­ber 28th at 6pm!

11 Sep
2014

Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!!!

“So Matilda’s strong young mind con­tin­ued to grow, nur­tured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hope­ful and com­fort­ing mes­sage: You are not alone.” — from Matilda

RD1 192x300 Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!!! Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Shout out to Quentin Blake!

It’s that time of year again, time to con­sume out­ra­geous amounts of pump­kin spice fla­vored food and drink time to cel­e­brate Roald Dahl! Why? Because it’s his birth­day Sep­tem­ber 13th, and of course, because he was a great writer with an enor­mous imagination!

 Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!!! Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Remem­ber how their spit was blue so they didn’t have to buy ink?!

rd2 300x187 Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!!! Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

The Twits. There is a recipe in the book men­tioned at the bot­tom of the post for a mashed potato and veg­gie model of this guy!

Roald Dahl  delighted gen­er­a­tions of chil­dren with his cap­ti­vat­ing, orig­i­nal, and slightly dark sto­ries like Matilda, The Witches, The BFG, Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory, and James and the Giant Peach. Some par­ents, for their part, have found his writ­ing to be off-putting (he is a mem­ber of the Banned Authors That You Should Def­i­nitely Read Club) and bris­tled at the thought of a world where adults are reg­u­larly out­smarted, more often than not the vil­lains, and could be flat­tened by a giant peach on the loose at any moment. But those details just made the books bet­ter, right?!  Real talk: adults aren’t always smart or kind or the types of peo­ple to be trusted.

rd11 300x147 Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!!! Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

haha­ha­ha­ha­ha­haha

What an amaz­ing thing to dis­cover as a child, and how great did it feel to read about awful Mr. Worm­wood get­ting his come­up­pance again and again. He deserved a hat glued to his head, Ms. Trunch­bull deserved a newt filled water glass tele­ki­net­i­cally thrown at her and those awful par­ents on the Willy Wonka tour deserved blue balloon-like or stretched like taffy chil­dren! Chil­dren know this, and will con­tinue to read his orig­i­nal, updated fairy tales for­ever. How could they resist when Dahl so bril­liantly filled his books with details like lick-able wall­pa­per, a boy tri­umphantly eat­ing an huge choco­late cake in front of a cheer­ing crowd, or the weird descrip­tion of the witches with their blue spit, wig­gly nos­trils and square block feet!

 Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!!! Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Oh, boy! You should not have worn pig­tails today…

For adults who still sym­pa­thize with James and Matilda and Char­lie, (and are still try­ing to pic­ture “square can­dies that look ‘round” in their heads) Roald Dahl also wrote over sixty dark and sur­pris­ing short sto­ries, pub­lished in the New Yorker, Harpers and in book col­lec­tions as well. I also highly rec­om­mend check­ing out his auto­bi­ogra­phies Boy and Going Solo, quick reads with great insight into the life events that influ­enced his writing.

 Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!!! Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Yes, there IS a recipe for Snozzcumbers!

Re-read a favorite to cel­e­brate his birth­day, check out his fun web­site or make your own choco­late cake or edi­ble pil­lows with this fan­tas­tic book!  

rd6 300x152 Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl!!! Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

I could def­i­nitely eat this entire cake.……as, you know.….a protest or something.….….….…

Thank you Roald Dahl!

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9 Sep
2014

We love video games! Do you?

So, like, lis­ten.  There’s this lit­tle hol­i­day on Sep­tem­ber 12th that few peo­ple have heard of (though I’m try­ing my darnedest to raise aware­ness).  It’s Video Games Day, you guys!  How much do you want to jump up and punch the air when you hear that?  Seri­ously, we here at KU com­prise a group of pretty avid gamers, and we’ll be cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­day by rem­i­nisc­ing on all the super awe­some (and super crappy) video games we’ve come across over the years.

When peo­ple ask me what I like about video games, I always point to the sto­ry­telling.  Some games suck at it, but on the whole it’s been get­ting bet­ter each year.  I’m sure you’ve heard of The Last of Us (fea­tur­ing fake — or is it real? — Ellen Page), which debuted last year and was the source of sali­va­tion for many a nerd.  I’ve played it and I can’t WAIT to play it again.  These days, video games are like movies (or books — although reg­u­lar paper books are pretty awe­some too, guys) on steroids.  This game felt like an hours-long zom­bie flick with some nature film footage thrown in for good mea­sure.  The pretty moments in The Last of Us are quite end­less, like this one scene where you’re hunt­ing a deer with a bow and arrow and track­ing it by its blood trail.  I mean, that sort of makes me cry, but OH MY GOSH IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL, SO I’LL LET IT SLIDE.

last of us 300x168 We love video games!  Do you?   Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Duu­u­ude, I know!

I have two favorite video games, one silly and one seri­ous.  The silly (but also quite seri­ous) one is Banjo-Kazooie, which came out on N64, like, nearly two decades ago now?  I FEEL LIKE A GRANDPA.  What I love about this game — besides the con­ta­gious col­lec­tathon atmos­phere, and the world-hopping, which are com­po­nents of numer­ous other games of that gen­er­a­tion — is the dia­logue.  This game makes fun of itself in such an endear­ing way.  Like, one char­ac­ter will use a ter­ri­ble pun, and the other will insult him.  To a younger me, those sorts of gags were amaz­ing.  And, also, IT’S A LOT OF FUN!  I love jump­ing between the worlds and hear­ing all the musi­cal scores for each envi­ron­ment.  Banjo-Kazooie’s sequel, Banjo-Tooie (I’m not really sure if these hyphens are nec­es­sary, but we’re going for it), is also great, but, I think, ends up intro­duc­ing too many con­fus­ing and com­pli­cat­ing ele­ments into the game­play.  Like the numer­ous dif­fer­ent types of eggs you can col­lect, and the fact that you have to use por­tals to travel around a sin­gle world because they’re that vast.  Which I think was some­thing that was sup­posed to be impres­sive, but ends up being exhaust­ing.  Any­ways, enough about that.  If you’re famil­iar with these games, you’ll want to lis­ten to a song fea­tured in Banjoo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, a TERRIBLE GAMEAVOID, AVOID…but the music is fan­tas­tic.  This lit­tle diddy always puts a smile on my face.

banjo kazooie 300x208 We love video games!  Do you?   Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Like I said, I’m pretty old…

My seri­ous pick for favorite game is Final Fan­tasy X, the first game in the series that I ever played.  Friends tell me that ear­lier iter­a­tions are even bet­ter, but I can’t get into them.  FFX is epic for sure, but it’s also funny, mov­ing, and, at times, really sexy.  There’s that one scene where Yuna and Tidus are inex­plic­a­bly under­wa­ter for like five min­utes, and (sub­text is that) they’re hav­ing sex.  I felt so guilty — and secretly thrilled — watch­ing that as a youn­gun.  And THE ENDING.  Always makes me cry.  And, again, that music is spot-on.

0 We love video games!  Do you?   Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Need­less to say, I’m very excited too see (and play) the future of video games.  But, for now, I’m more than happy to replay the ones that I already know and love.  Have fun gaming!

8 Sep
2014

To boldly go where no man has gone before…

enterprise To boldly go where no man has gone before... Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Happy anniver­sary to one of the most pop­u­lar and influ­en­tial sci-fi icons of all time!  On Sep­tem­ber 8th, 1966, the orig­i­nal Star Trek series pre­miered on NBC.  Though its ini­tial low rat­ings caused it to be can­celed after only three sea­sons (on June 3, 1969), Star Trek’s endur­ing cult pop­u­lar­ity even­tu­ally led to syn­di­ca­tion and a ton of spin-off mate­r­ial includ­ing books, games, five addi­tional TV series and 12 fea­ture films.

the boys 640x447 To boldly go where no man has gone before... Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Star Trek’s endur­ing pop­u­lar­ity can lately be attrib­uted to the awe­some spe­cial effects, ster­ling act­ing, and excel­lent writ­ing that have graced the two most recent Star Trek films.  Those things were not really a part of the orig­i­nal series, but it gar­nered and main­tained pop­u­lar­ity nonethe­less.  Which brings us to Star Trek’s sin­gle great­est attribute: it was sci­ence fic­tion that actu­ally was about sci­ence.  Sure, the orig­i­nal series may have been laugh­ably over­acted.  Sure it was incred­i­bly corny.  Yes, it lit­er­ally used the same set every week to por­tray var­i­ous alien plan­ets.  But none of that mat­ters, because Star Trek’s great sav­ing grace was that it was really all about humanity’s insa­tiable curios­ity.  Star Trek taught us that even in three hun­dred years when human­ity is trav­el­ing through space with no more incon­ve­nience than what we fly with now, there will still be things to dis­cover.  There will still be chal­lenges to over­come.  In short, there will still be a search for mean­ing.  Gene Rod­den­berry was a freakin’ genius.

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4 Sep
2014

It’s National Bourbon Heritage Month!

bourbonheritage 214x300 Its National Bourbon Heritage Month! Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

 

 

 

Ah, Bour­bon. The ‘Native Spirit’ of Amer­ica. Rather Bad Ass, don’t ya think?  I really don’t think there is any­thing bet­ter at the end of the day than a glass of good bour­bon. Bour­bon Her­itage Month came into being in 2007 by a Ken­tucky Sen­a­tor (Ken­tucky is known as Bour­bon Coun­try, fyi) ‚ and cel­e­brates the fam­ily her­itage, tra­di­tion and deep-rooted legacy that the bour­bon indus­try con­tributes to the United States.”  Cel­e­brat­ing respon­si­bly and in mod­er­a­tion, of course.

 

 

 

bourbon 300x300 Its National Bourbon Heritage Month! Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Any­one else’s mouth water­ing while look­ing at this pic, or is it just me?

 

Here’s the thing about me, I love bour­bon, don’t care for whiskey. Which is really strange because all bour­bons are con­sid­ered whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are con­sid­ered bour­bons. But I swear, I can taste the dif­fer­ence. So what’s the dif­fer­ence between bour­bon and whiskey? Short expla­na­tion is how it’s aged. Whiskey can be aged in re-used bar­rels, but bour­bon must be aged in NEW charred AMERICAN white oak bar­rels. ‘Murica! After the bar­rels have been used once, many other spir­its (like tequila, scotch, etc) are aged in them to help impart the bour­bon fla­vor to those spir­its. Hey, why waste a bar­rel, am I right?

 

 

 

 

National Bourbon Heritage Month  300x192 Its National Bourbon Heritage Month! Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Hello, Gor­geous!

 

Also, here’s a pretty cool info­graph about bour­bon. I LOVE INFOGRAPHS! Espe­cially ones about alcohol!

So, this month, get out there and cel­e­brate Bour­bon Her­itage Month by get­tin’ yer bour­bon on! I raise my glass to you!

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2 Sep
2014

September is National Honey Month! An Appreciation of Baklava

 

honey comb 640x425 September is National Honey Month!  An Appreciation of Baklava Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Look at all that deli­cious honey comb.

Honey is one of the old­est sweet­en­ers known to man.  There is evi­dence of humans gath­er­ing honey to eat as far in the past as 8,000 years ago (as com­pared to com­mon table sugar, which, at the ear­li­est, may have been dis­cov­ered and used around 800 B.C.)  Sugar only began to rival honey as a sweet­en­ing agent after the Cru­sades, and it remained a lux­ury item until the 19th cen­tury when it finally com­pleted its trans­for­ma­tion to basic human neces­sity.  So honey has been a pretty big deal for most of human history.

baklava1 September is National Honey Month!  An Appreciation of Baklava Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Mmmmm, baklava.

And baklava is pretty much the best thing you can make with honey.  (Although honey is also great in a vari­ety of bev­er­ages like tea and lemon­ade!)  If you’ve never had baklava, let me break it down for you.  Baklava is a pas­try from the for­mer Ottoman Empire (though vari­a­tions exist in many of the sur­round­ing cul­tures and most peo­ple think baklava orig­i­nated in Greece!) and it is made by lay­er­ing filo, chopped nuts, but­ter, and a syrup made with honey.  And it is damned delectable.

beeeeeeees September is National Honey Month!  An Appreciation of Baklava Pittsburgh Gifts Cards

Ahh! Beeeeeeeeeees! Bees are awe­some, actually.

But National Honey Month isn’t all about the amaz­ing treats one can make with honey.  Any dis­cus­sion of honey must include bees, which a) are totally cool, and b) are in decline.  Which sucks, both because the cause of the bees’ decline remains unknown and because the loss of hon­ey­bee pop­u­la­tions would have severely adverse effects on agri­cul­ture.  (And the amount of honey that might be avail­able for use in baklava and other recipes in the future.)

So make sure you get you some honey this month and make deli­cious treats with it.  And appre­ci­ate the bees!  They may not be around forever!

And!  As an added bonus, here’s the baklava recipe that I use!  I gen­er­ally use pecans or wal­nuts for my baklava, though pis­ta­chios are tra­di­tional and I read some­thing recently about using hazel­nuts, so I’m prob­a­bly def­i­nitely going to try that some time soon. Enjoy!

1 (16 ounce) pack­age phyllo dough
1 pound chopped nuts
1 cup but­ter
1 tea­spoon ground cin­na­mon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 tea­spoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey

Direc­tions
1. Pre­heat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). But­ter the bot­toms and sides of a 9x13 inch pan.
2. Chop nuts and toss with cin­na­mon. Set aside. Unroll phyllo dough. Cut whole stack in half to fit pan. Cover phyllo with a damp­ened cloth to keep from dry­ing out as you work. Place two sheets of dough in pan, but­ter thor­oughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets lay­ered. Sprin­kle 2 — 3 table­spoons of nut mix­ture on top. Top with two sheets of dough, but­ter, nuts, lay­er­ing as you go. The top layer should be about 6 — 8 sheets deep.
3. Using a sharp knife cut into dia­mond or square shapes all the way to the bot­tom of the pan. You may cut into 4 long rows the make diag­o­nal cuts. Bake for about 50 min­utes until baklava is golden and crisp.
4. Make sauce while baklava is bak­ing. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Sim­mer for about 20 min­utes.
5. Remove baklava from oven and imme­di­ately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Serve in cup­cake papers. This freezes well. Leave it uncov­ered as it gets soggy if it is wrapped up.

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