30 December 2005

Reads & Listens, December 2005

Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett
Johnny Maxwell, twelve year old luser, gets into a bit of a sticky situation when the aliens in his video game surrender to him. Set during the (first) Gulf War this is a timely novel with a good moral and lots of funny bits.

Only You Can Save Mankind is promoted as the first book in the "Johnny Maxwell Trilogy," but it has a tidy ending and all, so don't worry about having to read the "sequels." (You'll probably want to.)

Mouthing the Words by Camilla Gibb
Darkly funny, repulsive, confusing, compelling, and wonderful. What a complete mindfuck.

The Singer's Crown by Elaine Isaak
I wanted to like this book -- I really did -- and it had all the indications of being something I would like, but I didn't like it at all. Mostly, I hated Melisade and wished most of the characters were less stupid and the plot developments less obvious.

Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley
Recommended by one of my library cronies. Reads a bit like Garrison Keillor crossed with Jan Karon. Collection of stories (some sweet, some sad) from a Quaker minister's life in a small town called Harmony.

Pay the Piper: A Rock'n'Roll Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple
First in their "Rock 'n' Roll Fairy Tales" series. An interesting interpretation of the Pied Piper story, but it seems (especially toward the end) that a lot of story was passed over in order to hurry the book along. However, it was still a good read and I'd happily recommend it to the Tithe or de Lint crowd.

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn
Meh. Evil government-controlling corporation attempts to have everyone coded so it might control who succeeds and who fails (based largely on subject's ethnicity and genetic history). It's an interesting YA novel covering everything from individualism vs conformity to medical ethics, but the story gets stretched a little thin toward the end.

The Toy Collector by James Gunn
One of the most fucked up stories I have ever read.

Three French Hens by Margie Palatini (Illus. by Richard Egielski)
One of the best holiday picture books I've ever giggled my way through. The illustrations are clever, the text is amusing as all get out, and who can knock three kosher hens from Paree?

N is for Nutmeg: A Connecticut Alphabet by Elissa Grodin (illus by Maureen Brookfield)
The rhyming poems can be a bit labored at times, but the watercolor illustrations and factoids are very good. Reminded me of the state folklore I knew as a child, but had since forgotten (like Prudence Crandall may be the state heroine, but she really got screwed over).

Elf Elementary written & illus by Edward Miller
Adore the flocked cover and the retro illustrations. Doesn't avoid the religious meaning of Christmas, but doesn't presume the readers are Christian (uses "they" instead of "we"). Funny and informative -- what more could you want? (Am embarrassed to realize I've spent my whole life thinking the Twelve Days of Christmas preceded Christmas when they actually fall between Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany).

Od Magic by Patricia McKillip
An altogether pleasing Christmas present from The Husband that I shall have to read again. Lyrical, vibrant, funny, and smart.

Zoo by Graham Marks
Why was Cameron kidnapped? What secrets do his parents keep from him? What's with the computer chip in his shoulder? An okayish book -- the epilogue is way too pat and the pacing is a bit annoying (too fast/too slow).

Siberia by Ann Halam
Fabulous little tale set in a futuristic world that, yes, bears some similarity to a 20th century Soviet Siberian gulag. Rosita/Sloe will put her life on the line to protect the Lindquist kits (wildlife DNA kits she inherited from her parents) and get them to a safer a place. Some amazing world building going on here. Nice cover art, too.

Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples
After Najmah's brother and father are taken away by the Taliban and her mother and sister are killed by a bomb, she disguises herself as a boy and travels to a refugee camp in Pakistan. There she meets an American convert to Islam, Nusrat, who teaches refugee children while she waits for her husband who went off to open medical clinics and never came back. A beautiful and heart breaking story which promises no happy endings, but allows for hope.

30 November 2005

Reads & Listens, November 2005

From Hardtack to Home Fries: An Uncommon History of American Cooks and Meals by Barbara Haber
Draws on cookbooks and culinary references in diaries, journals, and memoirs to examine women's history in America. Compelling, but frequently too brief (each chapter could have given birth to its own book).

A Working Girl Can't Win by Deborah Garrison
Some gorgeous imagery. Poems are not "deep" or "metaphysical," but who says they have to be?

Apple Pie Perfect: 100 Delicious and Decidedly Different Recipes for America's Favorite Pie by Ken Haedrich
So far, I have baked the "Apple Rum Raisin" and the "Sugarless Apple Pie." Both recipes have been a success with the co-workers and family members I used as guinea pigs. Indeed, the apple rum raisin really knocked their socks off. This is a fairly straight forward and well written cookbook suitable, I think, for bakers and non-bakers alike. The introduction and guide to apples is informative without being boring and the text that accompanies each recipe is also quite good. I may have to buy a copy of this cookbook.

Apple Pie: An American Story by John T. Edge
Food writer tours America in a "quest to understand the meanings and the incarnations of this dish -- and, thus, America itself." Second book in a series and, if you like foodie travelogues, this may appeal.

Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat by Carolyn Wyman
Lots of good graphics, but the skimpy (and sometimes downright catty) text is a let down.

Magician's Guild by Trudi Canavan
First book in The Black Magician Trilogy. If you've read a lot of fantasy, much of this book will seem familiar and trite. I could live with the lack of originality, if the story was more interesting or just faster paced, but it wasn't. But, while I don't expect to read the rest of the series, The Husband enjoyed Magician's Guild quite a lot and looks forward to reading The Novice.

Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger
Seriously, what the fuck?

I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women to Voteby Linda Arms White (illus. by Nancy Carpenter)
Fun, witty book.

The Best Cat in the World by Lesléa Newman (illus. by Ronald Himler)
Sweet and sad. I dare you to read this book without getting even a little choked up.

You & Yours by Naomi Shihab Nye
Author of Habibi and winner of The Isabella Gardner Poetry Award for 2005. Truly excellent poems.

Demon's Daughter by Emma Holly
Flesh out the plot a bit more and this might become a promising fantasy novel. Otherwise, this book doesn't seem to know what it is. Erotica? Romance? Mystery? Vampire story? All of the above and none of it done well?

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder
Girl is saved from execution by shady guy who makes her the (transgendered) Commander's poison taster. Girl gets involved in all sorts of magical and political doings. Saves world as she knows it. Falls in love. Packs for magic school. End of Book One. Mostly okay novel. Probably won't read the next book(s).

(Hello? Does everything need to be a series? Maybe, Robert Jordan and Stephen R. Donaldson just wore me out too early on, but it seems as if ... well ... if it can't be said in one book, it is unlikely to be said in three).

Fledgling by Octavia Butler (or, if you're Publisher's Weekly, "Olivia" Butler)
Now, I don't like vampire stories all that much, anyway, and I'm getting pretty tired of reading series (see above) so my dislike of this novel should probably be disregarded. I just never felt actively involved in the story or felt I knew any of the characters enough to care about them or continue on with the series. Also, kept noticing pesky printing errors (words dropped or the wrong spelling used) which just added to my general sense of irritation.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Girl dies. Wakes up on boat. Meets people. Eventually, realizes she is dead. Arrives in Elsewhere. Meets dead granny. Has series of adventures. Falls in love. Ages backwards. Is reborn. The end. The beginning?

31 October 2005

Reads & Listens, October 2005

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterspoon
I was doing fine until Silver left the lighthouse and then the story became too confusing/too stream of consciousness for my taste. Up to that point, I was in love with this book. The use of language and imagery was quite astonishing and I couldn't stop reading

Friday by Robert Heinlein
I've avoided Heinlein since I tried (unsuccessfully) to read Stranger in a Strange Land way back in high school. I picked up Friday, because it was mentioned in an essay in the New York Times Review of Books ("Heinlein's Female Troubles" 10/2/05) as one of those books that make feminists call Heinlein bad names. Having read it, I can sort-of see why. I don't think Friday's reaction to the rape was that problematic considering who and what Friday was supposed to be (but my reading didn't suggest she enjoyed it). Nor did I think there was all that much sex going on (lots of innuendo, but not a enough of the jiggity-jiggity). And it was nice that Friday was not white (tho' you wouldn't know from the cover art) or particularly hetero. But, the characters were pretty thinly written and the plot just meandered from point to point without any real direction and, yes, her marrying one of her rapists (long after the rape) did strike me as ... prettyfuckinginsane unlikely, at best. But the playing house with her girlfriend bit? That charmed the pants of me. Guess I'm just an old fashioned girl. Or just plain batshit.

Divided Crown by Isabel Glass
This is the sequel to Daughter of Exile (which I have not read), but it stands pretty well on its own, anyway, so do read it even if you can't find Daughter of Exile (or can't be bothered with chronology). Anyway: A spoilt and weak-willed teenager inherits the crown of Karededin. He is manipulated by unscrupulous parties, makes some really bad decisions, and causes many people to die. Happily, the witch Angarred and her husband, Mathewar, Master of the College of Magicians, are around to thwart him.

Thud! by Terry Pratchett
With the anniversary of Koom Valley coming up the dwarfs and the trolls are getting edgy. Then one of the dwarf extremists ends up dead and it looks like a troll did it. Only Sam Vimes and his trusty Watch can uncover the truth and save the day! Also included excerpts from Where's My Cow? (coming soon to a library near you) -- "It goes HRUUUGH! It is a hippopotamus! That is not my cow!"

Knitting by Ann Bartlett
Contains some truly lovely images, but the story itself is rather blah and knitting still seems like a lot of window dressing despite the author's attempts to the contrary.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Oh, lovely. Just a lovely little book. I adored The Goose Girl and have been waiting for this, Hale's third novel, with rather desperate anticipation. I was not disappointed in the least. (I did suss out who would marry the prince long before the end, but that didn't ruin a thing).

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
Dad's a god. He "died." You didn't like him much, but now you feel a little bad about it. You discover you have a brother you don't remember. He screws your girl and messes up your life. You make a foolish agreement with some crazy bird woman so she will torment him for you. Merriment ensues. The End.

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris
The first Aurora "Roe" Teagarden mystery. I've enjoyed Harris's Southern Vampire series quite a lot and this came highly recommended by another librarian. It was okay. I tired quickly of the whole "librarian = unattractive" schtick (even if it was all in Roe's head), but did enjoy her juggling of two men.

Truth-Teller's Tale by Sharon Shinn
A companion to The Safe-Keeper's Secret. "Mirror twins" Eleda and Adele discover that they are a Truth-Teller and a Safe-Keeper. While their talents show quite early in life, they have few problems dealing with the repercussions until they are seventeen and their lives change irrevocably. Ultimately, an amusing little book with a satisfying ending.

Testing Miss Toogood by Stella Cameron
Fleur, the daughter of a parson, needs to make a good match to improve her family's lot and guarantee her sisters marrying well (there are five of them so we can probably expect five more books). At his mother's request, Lord Dominic Elliot agrees to squire this country mouse around and, of course, they fall in love. Of course, true love's road never runs smooth in the romance novels and the couple travails and unnecessary plot meanderings to overcome before their happily ever after Oh, and there's some "excited virgin" sex and some (thanks to two evil throw-away characters) rather alarming s&m style sex. (After the dreaded aunts were mentioned, I remembered having read Cameron's A Useful Affair and not being impressed with it, either).

Beyond the Deepwoods (The Edge Chronicles, Book One) written by Paul Stewart & illus. by Chris Riddell
First book in the series. Thirteen-year-old Twig is informed he is not a wood troll at all and that the sky pirates have taken an unhealthy interest in him. Sent to safety, he instead wanders off the known path and so begins a series of (mostly unpleasant) adventures in the Deepwoods. Visually stunning book -- Riddell's illustrations are just perfect and the binding makes the book quite lovely to hold. The story is pretty good, too, despite some tendencies to annoy.

Circle of the Moon by Barbara Hambly
Sequel to Sisters of the Raven (a novel I enjoyed very much), but you don't have to have read the first to "get" the second. The Raven Sisters are busy trying to master their powers while political shenanigans and scary shit out of legends threaten to destroy everything. Gender issues, magic, ethical use of power, politics ... it's pretty thoughty stuff.

Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
Companion to The Goose Girl, this is the story of Enna and fire. While the story is a little slow to start and the ending is a little too pat, this is still a pretty good book.

Food for Thought: The Complete Book of Concepts for Growing Minds by Saxton Freymann & Joost Elffers
Because a world without eggplant penguins isn't worth living in.

29 October 2005

Whale of a Good Time @ The Mohegan Sun

The Husband has been driving me hither and yon so that I might collect more Whale Trail photos before it was too late. The whales are only on display through the end of October and I am nowhere near collecting all fifty of them. Granted, a whole bunch are out of state, but even some of the local ones are missing from my collection.


I have, I think, twenty-seven whales photographed. I've seen a couple more than that, but they proved impossible to photograph well -- which just annoys me. There seems to be no requirements as to how whales are displayed. Some sites do a really nice jobs, putting their whales smack out in the sunshine with some nice landscaping around them. However, too many sites just seem to stuff their whales in any odd corner and tracking down the whales takes more effort than it ought to.


One of my favorite whales is "Gunche" over at the Mohegan Sun. On Friday, The Husband drove me up there on Friday so that I might photograph it and that we might also get some Krispy Kremes. The whale was the excuse, I think, but the donuts were the true motivator. We didn't know where the whale was, so had to ask many staff persons where to find it and none of them really had any idea what we were talking about. One blue jacket said they didn't have a whale. Someone else tried to direct us to some whale themed gambling game. Happily, we finally found another blue jacket who knew what we were talking about and we managed to get some decent pictures of der walfisch.

Since we were there at supper time, we did stay to eat at the buffet. Haven't eaten there in a while, but the food was as I remembered. Mostly standard buffet line stuff -- lowest common denominator cuisine -- but the salad bar had a couple interesting things. There were two seasonal salads, in particular, which impressed me. The first was made of whole roasted baby beets, toasted pecans, and dried cranberries tossed in a nice marinade and the second was made of sweet potatoes, golden raisins, and dried cranberries tossed in a light herb-y dressing. Both equally nummy.

Then we went and bought some Krispy Kremes! Yay!

21 October 2005

Butternut Squash & Apples All Lovely in My Tummy

Did not make pie. Could not make pie without pie crust. Well, not a real pie. Could have made some kind of Bisquick "Impossible" pie, but that's not "pie" pie. Could have made my own crust, yes, but didn't have time what with the mowing of the lawn, the raking of the nuts, and the frantic cleaning of the house after The Husband invited The Parents over for supper. We did not actually cook for them -- took them to the rib place -- but the house had to attain a certain level of cleanliness pretty damned quick, because The Parents were going to want to visit after eating and my mother was bound to make some gentle comment about how busy I must be and how dusty my drapes are ...

Agh.

I did make a nice apple and butternut squash bake that was all yummy-yummy. The recipe was off the back of a wrapper and, of course, I threw said wrapper away in my mad dash to tidy the house. However, it was a pretty basic recipe and I'm pretty sure it went something like:
Peel, core, and slice a couple apples (mine are small so I used three) and toss with a pound of bite-size squash chunks in a greased 13x9 baker. Mash ¼ cup butter (I brought mine up to room temp, because warmer seemed easier to mash than colder), ¼-ish tsp. of nutmeg and cinnamon, 1 tsp salt, and ½ cup brown sugar (I used ¼ cup of white). Sprinkle mix over top of squash/apple combo and cover. Bake at 350° for 50-ish minutes.
While lovely in my tummy, this dish came out less chunky then I had anticipated. As I stirred it round the casserole after cooking, the apples almost completely dissolved and most of the squash looked on a more "mashed squash" consistency. Next time, I might leave the squash in bigger pieces and chunk, rather than slice, the apple.

Still, the squish bake was really excellent with baked chicken breast and also very fine on its own for lunch the next day.

Anyway, I have pie crust now. Pie crust that now comes with its own spice sachet, creepily enough. Because there are people in the world who don't keep cinnamon and nutmeg in their pantries? Barbarians! You do not deserve pie!

(And, I'm pretty sure, the pie crust fanatics feel the same way about me).

14 October 2005

I Like Pie

It's supposed to stop raining this weekend and it had better or, by god, I'm going to have to give someone a talking to.

It would help if the cats, understanding that I know the weather is shit and that I know they don't want to go outside, would stop both surreptitiously (Hawaii) and flagrantly (Hedwig) throwing up. Why now? Is it some kind of rain born panic driving them to barf up chunks of dried kittie kibble? Or is it some kind of contest of will? Something like: "Oh, you think you have their attention what with surreptitiously barfing on the stove? Hah! I'll vomit across the living room while they try to throw me out the door, you fucker!"

Made pie. Pie is good. We like pie. Almost as much as the moon (but not as much as a spoon). Used the recipe on the side of the pie crust box (Pillsbury's "Perfect Apple Pie") and it came out pretty damned perfect. Sweet, but not cloying. Moist, but not oozing. Yum.

13 October 2005

But Can She Bake a Cake?

I am not much of a baker of cakes. I am all about the eating of the cakes, yes, but I am not at all about the baking thereof. Oh, I can follow back-of-the-box instructions with the best of them and have even been known to take liberties with said recipes to good effect. But stand me at the kitchen counter with a "from scratch" recipe and I will fail. The cake will be too heavy. Weirdly chewy. Raw yet crispified.

Certainly, the apple bundt I made earlier this week was all those things -- despite following the recipe to the letter. Ought it not have been the most perfect cake ever rather than the sorry piece of ass it so resembled?

The problem is I bought a tote of apples at the farm stand and need to use them. I was planning on sharing apple bundts with work and my parents, but am too pissed off to try the recipe again lest the results be even less wonderful. Yet I still have many pounds of apples. While I have used three in the slow cooker sauerkraut and pork "stew" earlier in the week and will use another three with tonight's roasted butternut squash ... so many apples! But it would have been impossible not to buy them! Glowing ruby and garnet in their rustle-y brown sack, taunting me with their unblemished skins, and intoxicating me with their heady scent! So delicious! So desirable!

Farm stands. Never a safe place for me.

Fine. I will bake a pie. I do pretty good with the pies. Some people ever speak of my strawberry-rhubarb pie with longing. I just wish I knew why I can't do cakes from scratch. I mean, I can make pie crust from scratch quite well (just usually can't be bothered when doctored ready-made can taste as good) so why can't I make a cake from scratch?

And all this because I didn't take Home Ec. as an elective in high school. No, too busy doing the college track thing to learn how to budget household finances or bake a cake. Explains a heck of a lot, really.

30 September 2005

Reads & Listens, September 2005

Imagine a Day by Sarah Thomson (illus. by Rob Gonsalves)
The illustrations are delightful and it would be very easy to get lost in them. A good read-together book for a dreary afternoon.

Russell The Sheep written & illus. by Rob Scotton
Russell the Sheep can't sleep and, after trying countless other remedies, he begins to count things ... This is a charming picture book, cleverly illustrated, and full of humor.

Season to Be Sinful by Jo Goodman
Thief with a heart of gold takes a knife for some knob who later discovers said thief is a young woman with an interesting past. Of course, he takes her into his home, nurses her back to health, and falls in love (or an approximation thereof) with her. An okay novel, but the descriptions of sexual violence made me feel a bit sick.

Cat Haiku by Deborah Coates
Very funny and the ink illustrations are quite cute. Two of my favorite haiku are: "Sometimes when I'm bored / I hunch up and look ill just / to make you nervous" and "A bit of advice: / Purring is just a decoy. / Trust me on this one."

Monkeyluv: And Other Essays on Our Lives as Animals by Robert M. Sapolsky
There were monkey finger puppets on the cover -- how could I not pick this up? Collection of (mostly) reprint essays by a professor of biology and neurology. Each essay is easy to read without being full of dumbed down science. Each essay comes with a list of suggested readings -- really nifty-keen inclusion I wish more non-fiction authors took on.

Meet Wild Boars by Meg Rosoff (illus. by Sophie Blackall)
"This is Borris. / This is Morris. / This is Horace. / This is Doris. / They are wild boars." Naughty boars who make no apologies for their naughtiness. Yippee!

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell (illus. by Henry Cole)
I can't resist penguins, you know, and this was one of the most adorable penguin picture books I have ever read. Even The Husband was charmed by it and he's made of sterner stuff than I.

Original Cyn by Sue Margolis
Cynthia is just such a good girl -- so good she lets other people fuck her over -- but one day she snaps, steals her co-worker's identity (always a good idea), and starts dating someone from her therapy group (even better). Really bad novel. I liked Neurotica, but after wading through Spin Cycle, Apocalipstick, and this dreck, I just give up.

Red Carpet: Bangalore Stories by Lavanya Sankaran
Collection of stories about life in modern India as experienced by those who have returned to it. Some good stories. Some not so good. All worth attempting.

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran
Indian/Irish foodie lit. Mehran's use of language and imagery is quite delicious and I enjoyed this first novel very much.

Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw
Long and rather tiring.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
So. Dumbledore died. Snape may or may not be a baddie. The Big V is still up to no good. Blahdy, blahdy, blah. Mostly, I found myself approaching this novel not with warm anticipation, but rather with a sense of ... duty. It's almost as if it were assigned reading.

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick: Volume 1: The Short Happy Life of the
Brown Oxford
by Philip K. Dick

I read the entire volume while I was hospitalized and irritable which was probably a mistake, because I can only take Dick is small doses, even on my best days. Some of the stories were good, others not so good, and some just plain "eh."

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx
Sketchy and bleak. "The Half-Skinned Steer" is probably my favorite.

30 August 2005

Reads & Listens, August 2005

Reads:

It's in His Kiss by Julia Quinn
Not only does Gareth St. Clair have a bad reputation with the ladies, but he may not even be his father's child. Who would have him? Hyacinth Bridgerton is just a little too self-aware and out-spoken for a marriageable young miss. Who would have her? And then there's the matter of the Italian diary ... all very predictable and flatflatflat.

The Professor's Daughter by Emily Raboteau
Read an excerpt from this in Poets & Writers and was immediately captivated. Raboteau's use of language and imagery is quite amazing and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson
The uneven pace and the lackluster dialog leave a lot to be desired. However, there were a few genuinely funny bits that more than made up for the novel's failings.

Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner
What would happen if Buffy grew up and became a soccer mom? Hopefully, something better than this book. I'm sure the story would work fine as a movie-of-the-week, but as a novel it lacks things like coherence and depth.

Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
Blech. Predictable ending, far-fetched plot contrivances, and characters too much like those in the Shopaholic books.

Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro
Slightly downtrodden, overweight, frumpy heroine finds inspiring fashion advice book and 1) starts to dress better/loses weight/gains self-confidence, 2) divorces (gay) hubby, 3) gets a fab new job, 4) finds a fab new (younger) love, and 5) lives happily ever after in Fab City. Oh, and let's not forget the token gay friend! And the spinsterish stand-in for a best friend!

Fagin the Jew written & illus. by Will Eisner
Re-telling of Oliver Twist from the viewpoint of Fagin. Although I can sympathize with his terrible life, Fagin doesn't seem any less loathsome. I'm also not a big fan of Eisner's illustrative style.

Listens:

The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler (read by Teresa Gallagher)
Emily Windsnap has a secret -- a great big, swishy, fishy secret. What to do about it? I adored this audiobook and wish there was more of it. Happily, there's always Emily Windsnap and the Monster from the Deep.

14 August 2005

Anniversary Whales

Yesterday was our sixth wedding anniversary and, as we have house guests, we could not spend our anniversary doing what it was we desired best. Namely, to lie abed all day, to rise only at sunset to pursue supper and (if feeling especially decadent) a movie before returning to bed. But, no, the in-laws are here and so we had to leave the house and find a constructive way to pass the day.


Lacking a coherent plan, we spent most of the day wandering up and down State Street while the relentless sun beat down on our little heads. First, we visited the Saturday Market on the pier. It was a bit of a let down as there were only five or six vendors and they were all selling chichi knickknack-y stuff. From the promotional information I'd fallen for, I had expected local farm produce and music. On the other hand, it was unbearably hot and humid and I should be happy any vendor showed. We tarried just long enough for me to buy a (not in the least bit chichi) raw silk slate blue tote bag with braided cloth handles and then, with our brains quickly boiling away inside our skulls, we escaped to the first open bar we saw.

At The Galley (to which I would happily give a Michelin star based solely on the fact it was air conditioned) we ate unadventurous sandwiches and debated going to the cheese shop. Cheese shop is always good, but it was so hot and buying cheese would mean going straight home to refrigerate it and our house had people in it. So we threw ourselves back out into the heat and walked up the street to Sarge's Comics. Didn't buy anything, but The Husband had a nice sit on their squashy sofa and watched an episode of Ghost in the Shell the TV series (apparently, just as indecipherable as the film) while I read The Pro (very naughty, dahlings) and petted the shop kitties.


Suitably refreshed by the air conditioning, we schlepped over to the newspaper offices and took some pictures of one of the Whale Trail whales (like those cows they had all over the place a few years ago). It was very cute -- all white with a giant red squid and black "tribal" tattooing. We sat in the shady little green space around the whale for a bit and were pretty comfortable as long as we didn't move. But, because it seemed like a good idea at the time, we then walked up the street to the public library and took pictures of their whale -- turquoise blue with topless red-headed mermaid and strategically placed tropical fish -- and quickly realized what idiots we were for leaving the (relative) comfort of the green space.

(Dude, I'm saying it was one of the hottest days of the year and here we were schlepping up and down the city streets like witless tourists when we ought to have been parked on our couch in our nuddiepants.)

Desperate for a toilet (The Husband) and a drink (me) we popped into a nearby coffee bar where we fed each bits of chocolate mudslide pie (cake-y brownie layer topped with thick chocolate mousse and a cream cheese layer, then finished with crumbled bits of brownie) and canoodled for a bit. In the end, we decided we were going home. The hell with it, it was just too damned hot.

We arrived home (taking more whale pictures on the way) and the house was empty. Empty. But we were too hot and tired to make good use of that time. Stupidstupidstupid.


When the in-laws returned, we skived off to the theater to watch Must Love Dogs which, I must say, was pretty terrible. But there was air conditioning and the theater was dark and so conducive to dozing or the entertaining of lustful thoughts. Oh, and they had a whale! So it was all good.

After the movie we came home, locked ourselves in our bedroom, and did things not condoned by the current administration. While my in-laws sat watching a video in the living room. Surely, I am going to hell.

Then we went to one of the local Japanese restaurants and ate many delicious things. The Husband (full of surprises these days) shared some raw tuna and salmon sushi with me and declared it good.

After eating, we went and saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was surprisingly good. I'd avoided seeing it because Johnny Depp's portrayal of Willy Wonka just screamed "creepy pedophile" to me. After seeing the movie, he was still creepy, but much more in a Roald Dahl way and less in a Michael Jackson one.

And then we came home and that was it. Aren't we just the most boring people ever?

30 July 2005

Reads & Listens, July 2005

Reads:

Whispering to Witches by Anna Dale
What a pretty book and such a fun read! Joe gets off at the wrong train station and ends up getting involved with some witches ...

Winter of Magic's Return by Pamela Service
Found this in the donation bin and remembered reading it as a child. Five hundred years after a nuclear war that left most of England uninhabitable, a young Merlin and his friends bring back King Arthur. Not a bad book, but it doesn't stand up to re-reading.

Book Without Words by Avi
I liked this book quite a lot until I read Brother Wilfrid's history of Thorston and noticed the discrepancy in ages -- there's a thirteen year difference between what Thorston says his age is and what Brother Wilfrid says it is. While I enjoyed the rest of the story and was quite taken with Sybil, the discrepancy nags at me.

Septimus Heap, Book One: Magyk by Angie Sage (brilliantly illus. by Mark Zug)
The seventh son of the seventh son of a wizarding line, Septimus Heap dies at birth and his parents are given a baby girl to raise instead (around about the time the Queen is murdered, interestingly enough). This is both a (visually stunning) well written novel with carefully crafted characters and geography. Forget Harry Potter and the Lurid Green Cover, I'm waiting for Book Two: Flyte.

Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci
Egg thinks she's boy proof -- too tough and too smart for boys to be interested in her. Then a new boy arrives at her school and ... well, you know.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Virginia is an upper middle class girl in New York City and, wow, does life suck for her. Her whole family is brilliant and thin and perfect and she just isn't. But then it turns out her family isn't so perfect after all and she learns being yourself is better than being what other people think you should be. I think I'm making this book sound horrible when it was really very good. Indeed, I would recommend this book to all misfit teen girls out there.

Spinners by Donna Jo Napoli & Richard Tchen
Generally well-crafted retelling of Rumpelstilskin.

30 June 2005

Reads & Listens, June 2005

Reads:

Extremes: A Retrieval Artist Novel by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Second book in the series. A runner is found murdered during a race across the Moon's surface. Who is she? Why was she killed? Is she the cause of a terrible virus?

Garden of Dreams by Valerie King
She loves him, but doesn't think he feels a thing. He wants to kiss her all the time, but knows his brother wants to marry her. They can't be in the same room without quarreling. Blahdy, blahdy, blah.

Ten Little Elvi by Laura J. Henson & Duffy Grooms (illus. by Dean Gorissen)
Count down with ten little Elvis impersonators. Funny rhymes and vibrant colors make this great for story hour (I don't even like Elvis, but I thought this book was adorable).

King & King by Linda de Haan & Stern Nijland
Very simple tale of a Prince who cannot find love amongst the choices his mother gives him. Illustrative style is rather amusing and the whole treatment of same sex love seems pretty innocuous to me.

Hanuman by Erik Jendresen & Joshua M. Greene (illus. by Li Ming)
"There is no such thing as large or small when it comes to acts of love."

Marriage Most Scandalous by Joanna Lindsey
Bringing characters back from the dead for quickie happy endings is not a good idea.

How to Be a (Bad) Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes
Seems as if it should be rather charming and smart, but comes off a bit ... flat. Dunno. The Guardian digests it best.

The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
I'm conflicted. I felt emotionally distant from our nameless heroine through much of the story, but then cried my way through the end. Yet, possibly, this is what Hoffman intended -- the Ice Queen keeps everyone distant until her heart begins to thaw? While the language was ravishing, the story seemed contrived, and the characters functioned more as symbols than people. Yet, isn't that the way with fairy tales?

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
I liked this book best when Vowell stuck to historical events and didn't try to link them with contemporary politics.

27 June 2005

Bye, Bye Baby Buntings

I scared the bejeesus out of some poor birds, yesterday. I walked into the bedroom and it sounded as if something was being mauled in the rhododendrons, so I peeked out the window and there was an enormous blue jay flapping it's wings and carrying on. It flew off when it saw me, but some of the noise continued. I then realized that part of the interior shrub wasn't shrub at all but two or three fuzzy looking blue birds. Of course, before I could get a good look at them, they also flew off.

At the time, I presumed I had seen a blue jay with it's fledglings, and that's what I've been telling people, but I think I was wrong. I looked blue jays up at work and the fledglings look just like the adults. They do not resemble the round blue balls of fluffy feathers I saw. Indeed, the birds I saw inside the rhododendron resemble male Indigo Buntings more than anything else.

According to my Birds of Connecticut field guide, jays will eat other birds' eggs or young offspring so I carefully checked the shrub for a nest -- in case what I had seen was a little neighborly raid -- but could find no nest. So why the jay? And why three male buntings (if buntings they be) in the same shrub?

It is all a great mystery to me.

30 May 2005

Reads & Listens, May 2005

Reads:

The Safe-Keeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn
Reed may be the son of the King and Fiona may be meant for more than safe-keeping ... pretty good coming of age novel with a few twists which may surprise some readers.

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd
Just to prove that I am a freak, I will now admit I never read the Secret Life of Bees. It's just never appealed to me. I picked up the Mermaid Chair, because I liked the cover and the inside flap made the novel sound a bit like an Alice Hoffman work ... and it was. Funny and sad all tangled together, it was a delicious read.

Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food by Susan Marks
Entertaining and informative look at the way Betty Crocker changed the way American women cook and how the development of corporate marketing impacted the way we perceive food. Also, examines the mechanics of modern food processing. Excellent companion to Something from the Oven or A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove.

The Good Body by Even Ensler
Disappointing. The Vagina Monologues were so shocking and uplifting and I expected the same of The Good Body, but what I read were tired cliches about why women don't like their bodies or how chubby women can be strong. It didn't open any new vistas of understanding for me. Indeed, reading it made me feel kind-of pissed off and cheated. And then I saw the Ensler's photo and just wanted to throw the book across the room. Oh, I know, fat is as much a psychological state as a physical one and even skinny bitches feel fat, but really.

Roller Birds of Rampur by Indi Rana
Sheila, 17, was born in India but grew up in London and thinks of herself as English. But when her boyfriend dumps her because she's not English enough and her best friend is sent "home" to India for an arranged marriage, Sheila begins to wonder who she really is and where she belongs. While the books provides a great deal of philosophical and cultural insight, the characters never really feel properly fleshed out.

Natural History by Justina Robson
Through genetic engineering, we have created the Forged -- human/machine hybrids made to do jobs too boring or dangerous for us to perform. Voyager Lonestar Isol nearly dies on an exploration mission, but it saved by the discovery of mysterious "stuff" that seems able to become whatever the user needs it to be. When she returns to Earth claiming to have found a new world, she starts sharing this "stuff" around and, obviously, it's not all good. The Unevolved (ordinary humans) don't want to give up the planet -- especially if it might have belonged to someone else -- so they send Isol back with archaeologist Zephyr Duquesne to determine whether the planet was/is inhabited. "Stuff" happens ...

This is the most original science fiction novel I've read in a long time and I look forward to reading it again.

Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam
He talks about social capital and how the United States doesn't have much of it, anymore. I think he means that, with the decline of certain kinds of organized social groups (bowling leagues), we lose that ability to socialize and to congregate in a regular way and this decreases our trust in others which leads to all sorts of bad things like depressed economies, increased crime rates, depleted environments, etc. I don't know if that's true or if I understand his theory properly, but it makes for interesting reading.

The Disappeared: A Retrieval Artist Novel by Kristine Kathyrn Rusch
First book in the Retrieval Artist series (discounting the novella that started it all). A detective novel set on the moon with interesting treatment of alien cultures and multicultural laws. Some of the character development is weak or relies too heavily on repetition. Still, a promising start. Those who enjoyed Kristine Smith's Jani Kilian books may also enjoy this series.

Wait Until Midnight by Amanda Quick
The romance is not very sparky and the plot's a bit weak (who didn't guess the murderer was Durward Reed?? And "Durward?" Fuck's sake, what kind of name is that??), but it's still a pretty enjoyable bit of fluff.

Beware of God: Stories by Shalom Auslander
"Somebody Up There Likes You" and "Waiting for Joe" were two of my favorites.

Sarah: Book One of the Canaan Trilogy by Marek Halter (trans. by Howard Curtis)
Better than Orson Scott Card's Sarah, but is that saying much?

25 May 2005

Bevy of Birds

What with the weather finally becoming Spring-ish and the new bird feeder array and all, we've been inundated with birds. So far, I've seen:
  • downy woodpeckers
  • hairy woodpeckers
  • red-bellied woodpeckers
  • monstrously huge blue jays (possibly a nesting pair)
  • northern cardinals (ditto the above)
  • mourning doves
  • black-capped chickadees (a veritable mob)
  • white-breasted nuthatches
  • tufted titmouses
  • american goldfinches
  • house finches
  • chipping sparrows
While this may not be a list to make an ornithologist cheer, I'm pretty chuffed.
And, yes, some people do say "titmice." You can argue it either way, but I'm going with "titmouses," because it makes my mouth happy.

titmousestitmousestitmouses ... hairy woodpecker ...

Heh.

15 May 2005

For This I Went To Grad School

I'm in the bathroom, staring blindly out the window, and trying not to be awake when I think "Oh! The Husband bought me a finial!" Then, I think that doesn't make any sense. A finial won't fit on our bird feeder pole. Then, I realize it's a different pole. Someone schlepped off to Wild Birds Unlimited, bought me a new double arch pole system with bird-shaped finial, squirrel baffle, and leaf branch and then installed it in the night. I'm wondering who it's from, but it's only six thirty in the morning. I couldn't possibly wake up The Husband to find out, could I?

I could. He says The Parents came and installed it while I was at work. It is the other graduation present my mother kept hinting about so madly.

It's so nifty! I could stand by the back windows all morning, watching the squirrels breeze up the pole and then shit themselves when they realize there is no access to the sweet sweet gourmet birdseed blend. There is only the Death Star of a squirrel baffle looming over them, eclipsing the sun and all hope of easy living.

12 May 2005

Celebratory Cherry Tree

Last Saturday, I came home from work and there was a tree sitting next to my driveway where no tree had been before. It was a beautiful little cherry tree about six feet tall and covered with clusters of tight pink blossoms.

My parents had dropped off my graduation present.

I cajoled my dad into coming over later that evening and planting it for me between the hammock and the black walnut. It's the perfect spot -- I can see the tree from all of the back windows and there's plenty of room for it to grow.

Also, finished planting and mulching the rose bed. Of course, after I mulched it, I went to the garden center for ... who knows what. (It's not as if I need a reason this time of year. I gravitate toward them without thought or hope of escape). Anyway, they had corn seedlings at the garden center and corn seedlings sounded kind of interesting ... Hmmm ... could possibly squeeze them in between the pickling cukes and the bush beans ...

Anyway, dug out the last third of the bed in the end of the driveway. Yes, the bed is in the driveway -- the driveway forks for the last five or six feet and there's another black walnut planted in the middle of the fork. It can make backing out a bit of a bitch in the winter, but I like having another shade tree in the front. The previous owners had left the plot around it as grass, but it seemed a pain in the ass to mow it so I have been slowly converting it to a day lily and daffs bed. I started with the best of intentions when we moved in four years ago, but ran out of steam two-thirds in and the last third has been weedy and horrible for too long. I'm edging the curbside with a star- shaped fragrant white phlox and then filling in with more lilies.

The problem is that I had been buying a fifty plant assortment of day lilies from the Whiteflower people -- an assortment no longer being offered. Had it offered last year, when I had no time to plant bulbs, but don't have it this year when I do. So I'm buying quart pots from different garden centers around the area, trying to build the biggest assortment I can while keeping with the colors found in the rest of the bed. More expensive this way, but I want to get it over with. Plant it, mulch it, and stamp it with a big ol' "done" stamp by next Friday.

I can always hope.

30 April 2005

Reads & Listens, April 2005

Reads:

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
Grad student goes to England to work on her thesis about the Pink Carnation -- a spy from the days of the Scarlet Pimpernel whose identity has never been revealed. Meets kindly old biddy with chest full of family papers about Pinkie. Clashes with hunky man who doesn't want her snooping in family histories. Discovers identity of Pinkie. Discovers attraction for hunky man. All lovey, lovey romance novel pretending to be a work of historic fiction. I mean, what's the problem with calling a spade a spade?

Okay ... so I knew who the Pink Carnation was from the get-go. Despite this, the novel was still pretty fun and I've been recommending it to everybody. That means you, too.

The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir by Toni Bentley
Bentley makes anal sex seem like an act of masochism or fetishism and yet also considers it a gateway to paradise? Dude, this book confused me. I expected something more profound, more moving, more smutty. Not the book to read if you're looking for something even vaguely arousing or are just curious about why "normal people" like anal sex.

Weight Loss that Lasts: Break Through the 10 Big Diet Myths by James M. Rippe & Weight Watchers
Was a little leery of this book at first, because I expected it to be all "Weight Watchers! Weight Watchers! Rah! Rah! Rah!," but it turned out to be a pretty straight forward look at the stupid diet myths people (mostly women are discussed in this book) succumb to and how to create a healthy lifestyle by eating more mindfully and getting some exercise.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The monstrous as the mundane. Creepy as all get out and impossible to put down.

Alchemy by Margaret Mahy
Roland has a recurring nightmare about being locked in a magician's box, his teacher wants him to spy on a classmate, and said classmate is one freaky chick. Essentially, a novel about the battle between good and evil with teenage angst thrown in for good measure.

Pride and Prescience, Or, A Truth Universally Acknowledged by Carrie Bebris
I selected this book specifically because I was looking for Jane Lite and this novel promised to fit the bill. The novel started out well enough -- there were a few linguistic and cultural anachronisms that irked me, but the book was, at the very least, in keeping with the spirit of Austen. Then, of course, it all went pear-shaped as the bizarre occult nonsense became the driving force of the novel. Gah.

Listens:

Orlando by Virginia Woolf (read by Barbara Rosenblat)
I had tried, several times, to read this book, but found it near impossible to get into. Happily, the audio book was much more approachable.

14 April 2005

Bringing Roses to My Garden

This week I planted six tiny rose bushes in the front bed. I've been wanting roses for what feels like forever and my mother has had really good luck with hers so, over the winter, I finally committed myself to a long term relationship with the Jackson & Perkins catalog. I eventually settled on "Feisty," because I wanted something that would stay short (3.5') and sprawl a bit (2') and wouldn't arrive bare root. Pots I understand, and so pots I stuck with.

I spent some afternoons this week pulling out most of the old vegetation in the front bed. Felt horrible about tossing the black hollyhocks and the lavender cotton in the compost, but had no place to transplant them and they had never really worked out where they were, anyway. The lavender cotton just sort-of sprawled allover its companions and smothered them to death, while the hollyhocks grew at a diagonal, because they didn't get enough sun where they were. After I cleared the bed, I worked in six bags of Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Roses, because I'm not taking any chances. It's mostly peat moss, manure, and bone meal, with a "wetting agent" to keep the roses happy. Mmmm, better living through chemistry.

When the plants arrived this afternoon, they were all in really good shape. I've had other plants delivered by UPS that look like they'd been trod on, but these were perfect. Two were in bloom and the rest all had blossoms. I suppose this isn't the best thing -- the roses may be putting all their energies into blooming, rather than rooting, but it gives me that instant gratification I crave.

They are so twee, though. I look at them and think they cannot possibly fill the bed, but I'll keep watering and fertilizing them and we'll see what they look like in a month. I do need to mulch the bed before it gets too warm so that the little darlings don't crispify, but first I need to get some blue or violet calibrachoa (pseudo-petunias) to plant along the front of the bed. Then, of course, I have to make myself not buy any more plants for that bed (except, maybe, some crocus bulbs in the autumn). Usually, I go a bit overboard planting everything that takes my fancy (and I can afford) and then half of it gets smothered by its mates or gets some funny infestation. No, this time, I have a plan and I'm sticking with it.

With that bed, anyway.

30 March 2005

Reads & Listens, March 2005

Reads:

The Trouble With Valentine's Day by Rachel Gibson
I've read other Gibson books and, yes, they were pretty fluffy, but they were also fun. This book was not fun. Rob just seemed like a jerk. Even in the end, when he said he really did want love and marriage, I couldn't believe him. And all those big horrible things that happened in their pasts? Couldn't that have been dealt with? And couldn't we have had more about Kate's sexual fantasies and less about Rob's?

Much Ado About You by Eloisa James
I think the problem with this romance is that there are so many characters and stories in this little book that there simply isn't enough space to flesh anything out. Supposedly, this book was about Tess and Lucian, but with so much of it spent setting up the series, I never got a real feel for either of them. Will I read the rest of the series? Probably not.

Asking For Trouble by Elizabeth Young
This is the novel that the film The Wedding Date is spawned from. The novel is pretty god awful -- I never really got a handle on why Josh/Dominic liked Sophy when she was just a neurotic bitch and her constant carping about her "wobbly bits" made me want to slap her something good. However, I can see how vast chunks of crap storyline could be winnowed away or rewritten to make a charming little piece of film fluff I would happily borrow from the library for free.

Lord of Fire by Gaelen Foley
Virtuous spinster and an orgy-hosting rogue are thrown together ... will she turn him from the dark side? Will he corrupt her utterly? Do we ever give a damn? The virgin/whore dichotomy, one dimensional characters, and unecessary subplots are annoying to the extreme.

Something From the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America by Laura Shapiro
The rise of processed food in American cuisine and what it meant (and means) for society.

Albert the Bear written and illus. by Nick Butterworth
Albert the Bear is a sad looking bear and all the other toys in the shop badly wish to make him happy. But, Albert is happy -- looking sad and being sad are not the thing, you see. Illustrations are quite lovely.

For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich & Deirdre English
Paints a rather nasty picture of the impact of various social and economic movements on women over the last 150 years.

The Golem's Eye (Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 2) by Jonathan Stroud
No disappointments here -- as good, if not better, than the first. Can't wait to read the third book.

Listens:

Crescent [abridged] by Diana Abu-Jaber (read by Nike Doukas w/ Marcelo Tubert) Sirine, an Iraqi-American chef for a small Lebanese restaurant in Berkeley, falls helplessly (and hopelessly) in love with Han, an Iraqi expat professor at the local university. Abu-Jaber's use of language is simply stunning and Doukas is a skilled reader.

28 February 2005

Reads & Listens, February 2005

Reads:

Vaginas: An Owner's Manual by Dr. Carol Livoti & Elizabeth Topp
Even better than The V Book! Funny, honest, and extremely informative. (Excellent for reading aloud to cornered spouses). Buy it for Valentine's Day.

Guji Guji written & illus. by Chih-Yuan Chen
Charming story about a crocodile brought up in a family of ducks. Also contains one of my favorite lines: "Mother Duck didn't notice. / (She was reading)."

Something About Emmaline by Elizabeth Boyle
Complete and utter candy floss. A dull baron invents the perfect wife and is then appalled when some fraudulent chit starts running around London claiming to be his wife. All the plot twists are quite predictable (I mean, if any of it astonishes you, you're rather dim) and the premise is utterly preposterous, but rather cute. A nice candy floss book for a "when the fuck will winter end??" kind of afternoon.

Q Pootle 5 written & illus by Nick Butterworth
While on the way to a party, little green dude named QPootle5 crash lands on Earth. He tries to enlist aid from the Earthlings he meets, but none are particularly helpfull until he meets Cat. The illustrations are charming and the construction materials used to build the space craft are really quite clever. (It was like reading a book inspired by Pikmin!)

Feast: Food to Celebrate Life by Nigella Lawson
Probably, the most attractive and tempting cookbook I have ever read. I must own it. (A bit surprising to me, because How to be a Domestic Goddess just infuriated me).

Listens:

I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Ready, Working Mother by Allison Pearson (read by Emma Fielding)
I read this novel two years ago and loved it very much. I was a bit leery about listening to the abridgment, but should not have worried because this is an excellent adaptation. I am in love with Emma Fielding's voice -- she is Kate Ready. My only quibbles are with the story itself, but that has more to do with a personal reaction to Kate's choices and less with plot or style.

15 February 2005

Upside Down Bundt Burger of the Apocalypse

So, I made one of the stimulating entrees from the Bundt cookbook. It was hard to narrow the choices down to only, but I finally ended up making the "Upside Down Burger Biscuit," because 1) I had all the ingredients on hand and 2) the "Party Meat Ring" seemed a little too fancy for a weeknight supper. Best to save that little darling for company.

The "Upside Down Burger Biscuit" is a pretty innocuous recipe: browned ground beef, chopped onions and celery, chili powder, catsup, Worcestershire, horseradish, tomato sauce, and oats (I presume the oats give it more of a meatloaf consistency). Just stuff the meat into the Bundt pan, layer with cheese/biscuit topping, and bake for thirty minutes.

Now, I forgot to add the oatmeal, so it didn't hold the Bundt form very well, but it still stayed pretty ring-shaped on the platter. Yes, I will grant that the sight of the glistening ring of meat sliding out of the pan was a little disturbing, but its taste more than made up for that. It was good. Surprisingly good. The Husband said it tasted the way he had always thought a sloppy joe should taste and he would eat it again.

(On the other hand, he may well of said that because we were experiencing a wee bout of disgruntlement in our happy household and it was either compliment The Wife's cooking or get poked with something sharp and pointy).

10 February 2005

Bundt Cake Goodness

My kitchen order arrived this afternoon! Bundt keeper et al. Plonked the oven thermometer in when I was making supper and, yes, the oven is off by fifteen degrees. Precision calibrated at the factory, my tuckus. Calibrated against what? Somebody's best guess at what 350° looks like?

The little 6-cup Bundt pan is just so ickle and twee. I am dying to bake something adorable with it. Of course, I do need to test the oven after I reset the temperature and it seems positively wasteful to just run the oven for the thermometer's sake when I could just as easily stick a cake inside. Mmmm. A chocolate cake. Mmmm. Split in half and filled with sliced strawberries and unsweetened whipped cream. Mmmm.

Yesss, preciousss. The chocolate cake. We wantsss it. We wantsss it now.

The Bundt cookbook is a little creepy. Yes, it is full of cake recipes. Yummy cake recipes I will probably never make, because I am all about the mixes, people. Give me a mix, some pudding, and a bag of chocolate chips and we have cake. None of this sifting cake flour and bringing butter up to room temperature.

So why did I buy the cookbook? How could I resist buying a book that also includes recipes for molded salads and, yes, entrees. How could I resist something that would tell me how to make the "Lazy Days Meat Ring?"

Dude! Theme supper! Perhaps, the "Party Meat Ring" with the "Golden Avocado Ring" and the "Deluxe Cheesecake?"

04 February 2005

Bundt Cake Madness

My Saturday library came into several hundred cookbooks last year through the death of a patron who had owned a catering company at one time. Most of the books were very current and very crisp and we built a special memorial collection out of them. In order to publicize the collection, we were going to hold a cooking contest that would be judged by two area chefs and a food critic. Entrants were to chose and prepare a sweet, soup, or starter recipe from any of the memorial cookbooks. People who didn't want to cook could purchase tickets for tasting. All funds raised were to benefit the we-need-a-new-building-before-this-one-collapses fund.

Registration deadline was this past Tuesday and the contest was to be held on the 13th. Unfortunately, not enough people entered and we've canceled. It's disappointing, because we thought it would be a lot of fun, but it's hardly surprising because this is a town where community participation is nil. I sometimes think the only way to get residents interested in the library would be to start a rumor we're going to bulldoze the orchard and build a cell phone tower (cell phone towers being bad shit, but collapsing libraries being completely ignorable).

Well, I don't need to be worrying about perfecting that lemon pound cake recipe, do I? This is good, as I made a test version earlier this week which did not bake all the way through. It passed the toothpick test and certainly looked a nice golden color, but the insides were undercooked. Had the texture and look of yellow marzipan. Very disappointing. I'd suspected the new oven was running cold, but couldn't quite believe it as it is part of a new stove and supposed to have been carefully calibrated. After the pound cake failure, I broke down and ordered an oven thermometer so I can see what the temperature really is. Yes, I had to order it off the Internet as no-one seems to sell them locally (by no-one I mean the four shops I've been in).

And of course, whilst ordering the thermometer, I ordered a 6-cup Bundt pan, a Bundt keeper, and a paperback copy of NordicWare's Bundt Bakeware Cookbook, because I am becoming some kind of Bundt fanatic. Which I guess makes me either all hip and retro or just really sad. All I know is, Bundt cakes look fine straight out of the pan and I'm all for sweets that make themselves look pretty.

03 February 2005

Almost Mom's Pork Ribs & Sauerkraut

Tonight, I made sauerkraut and spare ribs. Earlier in the week, I saw this recipe for spareribs and sauerkraut soup and it got me all nostalgic for the ribs and sauerkraut my mother used to make. I couldn't find quite the same recipe she used and I was reluctant to call her up knowing she'd say something to the effect of she didn't have a recipe, but just sort of threw things together. Which is pretty much what I did, come to think of it.
Almost Mom's Pork Ribs & Sauerkraut

Ingredients
2 lbs country-style pork rubs
2 unpeeled apples, cored and diced [McCoun]
1 medium onion, diced
28 oz jar of sauerkraut, do not drain or rinse
¼ cup brown sugar
Caraway seeds, as needed
Ground pepper, as needed
White wine, as needed [Riunite D'Oro, because I have no taste]

Directions
Arrange the country style pork ribs across the bottom of a 13x9 baking dish. Rub ribs with ground pepper. Scatter apples and onion around ribs. Sprinkle generously with caraway seeds. Cover ribs, apples, and onions, with sauerkraut. Sprinkle with brown sugar and more caraway. Add a glug or two of white wine . Cover with foil and bake at 350F° for 3-ish hours or until ribs are falling apart. Serve with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh green beans.
(And it turns out my mother does have a recipe -- it's from Cooking From Quilt Country: Hearty Recipes from Amish and Mennonite Kitchens by Marcia Adams. A book I own, but did not consider consulting!)

30 January 2005

Reads & Listens, January 2005

Reads:

American Smooth by Rita Dove
Magnificent collection of poems. Makes me want to get up and dance.

Otherwise Engaged by Suzanne Finnamore
After finally brow-beating her boyfriend into proposing, our heroine freaks out. While there are many hilarious one-liners, the novel is generally superficial and repetitive.

It's Snowing! written & illus. by Olivier Dunrea
Text, while simple and spare, makes good use of language (lots of mouth pleasing words like "scrunches" and "trundles"). Illustrations are equally pleasing. A great curl-up book for a wintry day.

Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue
Very charming set of interlinked fairy tales told with (gasp) a lesbian slant. Who hasn't wanted to kiss the witch? Fairytale princes are all such a lot of stuffed shirts and pomade -- who would want to kiss one? Although, I suppose, the thing with traditional fairy tales is it's the prince who is doing the kissing, not the girly chick.

Doing It by Melvin Burgess
Apparently, this novel has generated a bit of flack because of its frank treatment of teenage boys -- they're all led around by their pricks! How shocking! Because, you know, teenage girls are so not sex-driven. No, teenage girls are all about "relationships" and finding the right lippy. Yeh. Anyway, loved Doing It very much. Too bad it wasn't around when I was in high school.

Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter (illus. by Peter H. Reynolds)
Moderately enjoyable story about a girl who lives in an apartment building where strange things are afoot. Reads a bit like a lighter Dahl.

Lily Quench and the Dragon of Ashby by Natalie Jane Prior (illus. by Janine Dawson)
Lily Quench and the Black Mountains
Lily Quench and the Treasure of Mote Ely
Ahh, Lily Quench is just ripping good fun. How could you not love a plucky red-headed dragon slayer turned dragon friend who likes apple trees and whose liege lord is a librarian/king? Each book is charming and easily devoured.

Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian
Reading Bohjalian is always a kick in the gut -- the familiar place names always leave me blind-sided by an emotional reaction I don't quite understand. Yet, I love his books and I mean it as a great compliment when I say that Bohjalian writes so well that I care very much about the happiness of characters I heartily dislike.

Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Guide to the Amazon Princess by Scott Beatty
While reading this guide all I could think was "wow, look at those breasts!" Shallow, I know, but I doubt she's drawn with readers like me in mind, anyway.

No Place for a Lady: Tales of Adventurous Women Travelers by Barbara Hodgson
Brief studies of adventurous European women from the mid-seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth century. A beautiful looking book -- everything from the cover art to the weight of the pages to the illustrations and end papers are just lovely. My only real quibble is that, because the book was arranged geographically rather than by subject, the lives of these women were told in a rather piecemeal fashion that left me unsatisfied. I must know more!

The Glass Virgin by Catherine Cookson
It was only when I looked this title up in Amazon that I realized this terrible novel is not a new (posthumous) publication but a reissue. Explains a lot. Oh, I did enjoy the historical details, but most of the characters and story just pissed me off to no end and I presume that had a lot to do with the novel's age.

Why I am a Muslim: An American Odyssey by Asma Gull Hasan
I found this book to be quite eye-opening and, based upon what Hasan has written, the problem doesn't seem to be Islam so much as the politicization of Islam (which seems true of other faiths, as well).

29 January 2005

Calamari Dominancy!

We were at the mall -- ostensibly because my watch needed a new battery, but really because we desired chocolate and video games.

Ever since we read a review for Katamari Damacy in one of The Husband's twee gamer magazines, we have wanted it. This is a bit of a miracle as I generally would not touch The Husband's games with a long pole. It's all car chases or running around in the dark shooting things. Ick. I believe I was actually supposed to have purchased a copy for The Husband for Christmas, but forgot and then couldn't be bothered to go back to the shops during the Christmas consumer frenzy. (Even if every time I go to the game shops and use my Linux card, the geek boys at the desk get all flirty. If I had only known at nineteen! How easy it could have been! None of this importing of English code monkeys when I could have had a nice domestic model every six months or so!)

What, you may ask, is this calamari dominancy? Katamari Damacy, dahlings, is complete crack. The King of All Cosmos has broken the sky and it's your job to travel to earth and collect things with which to make new stars. You do this by rolling around a sticky ball. The more you attach to the sticky ball, the bigger it gets and the bigger the items you can stick to it. When you start, the ball's only a few centimeters across and you can only pick up things like thumbtacks and matchsticks. Eventually, you work your way up to this like people, trees, and buildings. (People, dude). When you have a big enough sticky ball, the King of All Cosmos makes a star out of it and you start all over again.

And, just to make life even better, there's a sequel coming later this year.

"Oh! I feel it! I feel the cosmos!"

06 January 2005

Dreaming Spring

It's January and you know what that means, don't you? It means the garden pr0n starts showing up on the bedside table. The Burpee catalog arrived earlier this week and damned if I haven't dog-eared half its pages already. I am drunk on fantasies of a successful vegetable garden verdant with heirloom vegetables. How can you resist growing a tomato called "Bloody Butcher?" Or cucumbers that look like lemons?

Realistically, there are very few veggies I've ever grown successfully. The tomatoes always start out well, but seldom ripen and those that do don't taste like much at all. Ditto the radishes. Bland radishes are just pure evil. They look all rosy and brimming with tongue tingling zippiness, but they taste like water. Eww. Beets are beautiful and I love to eat them, but the yard critters seem to love their tender foliage even more. Pesky critters also managed to mow down all the scarlet runner beans in one evening -- leaving nothing but nekkid vines behind.

This year, I swear to cake I will restrain myself. I will only plant the things I know I probably won't kill or neglect. There's two free beds so that's a bed each for cucumbers and sweet peppers with strawberries starting their second year in the third bed ...

Seems rather bland, dinnit? Need some stubby carrots or leeks or some nice bush beans ...

Or, you know, I could just skip the vegetables and put all my money is roses. (How many times do you think I can rip up and replant the front bed before The Husband starts confiscating all my gardening catalogs?)

Deer says "Plant more lettuce! Last year's was really delicious!"