28 April 2006

Reads & Listens, April 2006


When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
Almost a Woman by Esmeralda Santiago

Written and set before My Turkish Lover these two autobiographies explore Santiago's early life in Puerto Rico and her young adulthood in Brooklyn. I expected to feel for Negi, but it was really Mami I was moved by.

The Thing About Jane Spring by Sharon Krum
The thing about Jane Spring is she can't keep a man. Blonde and leggy is good for attracting the men, but acting like a real ball-breaker won't keep them, apparently. Rather than modify some of her behavior, Jane completely chucks her old self to become a Doris Day clone (and not the real Doris Day, either, but the fictional one we see in the movies) ... it sounds dreadful, doesn't it? Well, it didn't seem so at the time. While reading, the story seemed utterly preposterous, but fun. In hindsight, however, it's utterly cringe-worthy. Must now go read The Truth About Abortion to clean out my brain.

The Legend of the Wandering King by Laura Gallego Garcia (trans. by Dan Bellm)
Jealous of another poet, prince Walid ibn Huyr is driven to commit terrible acts with grave repercussions. A nice combination of morality tale, adventure story, and romance.

Mary Seacole: The Most Famous Black Woman of the Victorian Age by Jane Robinson
Utterly fascinating.

The Diary of Pelly D by L.J. Anderson
Why gills? I mean, I think I know why the author gave her characters gills, but why did the characters think they had gills? What was the purpose of gills?

The Double Task by Gray Jacobik
Thank god for poetry-loving colleagues -- I would never have cracked this volume were it not for their enthusiasm and praise for the author.

The Cat Lady by Dick King-Smith (illus. by John Eastwood)
Somewhere in 1901 England, Muriel Ponsonby ("the Catlady") lives alone in a big country house with a lot of cats (some of whom she believes are reincarnated people). This is a very gentle, sympathetic, and loving story suitable for most cat lovers (story reads at about 3rd grade level).

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
I owned this book for two years before I read it and even then I didn't read my own copy, but borrowed a paperback out of the library book sale bin, instead. Why??? Why did I wait so long to read such a good book?

The Dangerouse Debutante by Kasey Michaels
Tempestuous raven-haired girlie is packed off to London for a Season in hopes someone will tame her/marry her. Immediately meets extremely unsuitable older man and falls in love. Story includes a bit of espionage, smuggling, and voodoo for extra flavor. Overall, a nice bit of fluff, but still a series novel and so full of people I would only care about if I had read or was planning to read the other books.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo (illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline)
Be prepared to cry.


Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (read by Shelly Frasier)
I was so impressed by Frasier's reading of Animals in Translation that I went looking for other books she had read. How could I resist listening to her read Green Gables -- one of my most favorite books ever? Double yum with knobs on, dahlings. Frasier and Tantor have done another bang-up job and Frasier's voice, in my mind, is now forever the voice of Anne. I look forward to listening to Anne of Avonlea next.

13 April 2006

Varenyky? Pyrohy? Pirogi? What??

My mother and I got together today to make pirogies. My mother has made them before, but it was a whole new experience for me. While I've been a devoted pirogi eater all my life, the mysteries of pirogi makery seemed far beyond my ken. But, thanks to a family kerfuffle and the resulting break in the pirogi supply chain, my mother and I had been left to our own devices pirogi-wise. And, as we cannot have a proper Easter without them, we made them ourselves today in my mother's kitchen using Blind Grandma's (my maternal great-grandmother) rolling pin and authentic recipe.

Well, her supposed "authentic" recipe. If you hear my grandmother tell it, Blind Grandma brought this recipe all the way over from the Old Country and there is no other recipe that yields pirogies as good as this one. If you listen to my mother and aunts, however, they'll tell you Blind Grandma never wrote down her recipe and the pirogies we make today owe as much to a recipe in the newspaper forty years ago as they do to Blind Grandma. Regardless of its origins, the recipe makes pretty good pirogies and this is how it goes:
To Make Varenyky (Pyrohy)

3 tsp oil
about 1 cup lukewarm water or skim milk
4 cups flour
½ tsp cream of tartar
1/3 cup minced onion
¾ cup mashed potato
¾ cup dry large curd cottage cheese (drain in lined strainer in fridge for 24 hrs)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix cream of tartar and flour together. Add 2 tsp oil and enough liquid to flour mixture to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a freshly floured surface and knead slightly (don't over knead or you'll get really chewy pirogies), 10 to 12 times. Cover and let rest 30 minutes. While dough rests, sauté onion in remaining 1 tsp of oil until tender. Combine with mashed potato, cottage cheese, salt and pepper and set aside.

Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out each half until about 1/8 inch thick. Use a cup or glass to cut out 3-inch rounds. Place a rounded teaspoon of potato mixture in the center of each round. Fold rounds in half and firmly press edges together (crimp edges with a fork if you want more decorative pirogies). Place on a kitchen towel and keep covered with another towel until all pirogies are assembled.

Gently plop six at a time into a large pot of boiling water. Boil uncovered until the pirogies bob to the top. Lift out with a slotted spoon and put in a colander. Rinse under warm water and drain. Place back on towel to dry while the others boil. When all are boiled, leave on towel and chop one large sweet (vidalia) onion. Fry in butter until well browned.

Put a little onion at the bottom of a baking pan. Top with a layer of pirogies and then more onion and then more pirogies and then the rest of the onion. Cover and refrigerate overnight1.

Bake uncovered at 350° for 30-60 minutes or until the pirogies are just warmed through. Serve with sour cream.

This recipe makes approximately three dozen pirogies. My mother usually doubles the amount of minced onion and mashed potato she makes, knowing she'll need more than the recipe calls for (eats any extra filling with dinner as if it were regular mashed potato). However, if you are a parsimonious cook, you might be able to stretch the one batch out.

1 You don't have to refrigerate the pirogies overnight, but they taste better when we do.

02 April 2006

You Say Hoover, I Say Vacuum

We bought a new vacuum this weekend, because The Husband could no longer abide our old suckless one. The Husband, you know, is the one who vacuums. I do not vacuum. I do a lot of other things, but not that. That is The Husband's Responsibility. And he does a good job, too.

Even if he calls it "hoovering."

I'm not sure if any of the staff at Sears believed it. The stock guy who carried it to the car seemed to think that, if The Husband vacuumed, it was something he did to humor the little woman and would probably have preferred to purchase a big screen television (which we already have, thank you, because you can't properly game or watch food pr0n on a itty-bitty screen). And the salesperson who sold us the vacuum initially kept talking at me about the vacuums, too, even though I kept alluding to The Husband being the vacuum king. Grr. People, why is this so hard to grasp? I. Do. Not. Vacuum. I do not give a toss about vacuums. As long as the floors are clean when I come home from work Saturday or Sunday, I don't really care how they got that way. He could have trained the cats to do coordinated carpet licking, for all I know.

In general, I cook the meals, dust, tidy, and wash the floors. He vacuums and cleans up cat sick. We both run the dishwasher and do laundry. Maybe, the housework is not evenly shared out enough to suit my more feministic sensibilities, but it seems to work with minimal bloodshed or shouting. Most days, that's good enough.

So, anyway, The Husband seems to have picked out a pretty good vacuum. I borrowed the October 2005 issue of Consumer Reports where they rated a bunch of vacuums ("Vacuums: Style vs. Performance," pgs 43-45) and he read the article, took some notes, and then we hied off to Sears whereupon we discovered that the models they had for sale where newer than the ones reviewed (of course). Also, they all mostly looked like highly breakable plastic toys in primary colors rather than something that could suck pounds of cat hair out of our carpets every week. Finally settled on the Kenmore Progressive with "Direct Drive" and The Husband seems pretty satisfied with it.

Now we just have to figure out what to do with the old clunker vacuum. It won't fit it the bin without quite a bit of disassembling and then, you know, it's going to take up the whole bin. I suppose we could disassemble it and then throw a little bit out each week until all the evidence is gone. Or it can just live on the back porch for a while ...