30 November 2006

Reads & Listens, November 2006

Wolf Who Rules by Wen Spencer
A solidly crafted follow-up to Tinker. The cover art is still terrible, but what can you do?

M or F? by Lisa Papademetriou & Christopher Tebbetts
Frannie likes Jeffrey, but is too shy to talk to him. Best friend Marcus impersonates Frannie to woo Jeffrey for her. Jeffrey likes Frannie (as written by Marcus). Marcus likes Jeffrey. It's a breezy and (mostly) funny story of mistaken identity and false assumptions.

The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey by Lisa Papademetriou
Veronica and Heather, two total opposites, find themselves trapped in the fantasy world of the novel Queen of Twilight. They must face their fears and band together in order to save the land of Galma and get back home. Very funny.

Canning Season by Polly Horvath
Winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature (2003). Lonely and badly mothered Ratchet is sent off to the Maine woods to live with her ancient (and outlandish) great-aunts. A rollicking tall tale with lots of slapstick humor and just maudlin enough to give it some poignancy.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly
It's the same story told in Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, but this time it is told through the eyes of Mattie Gokey, a young woman desperate to get out of the woods and take control of her life. Beautifully told. I loved Mattie even when I wanted to shake her for falling for that Roy Loomis ... gah.

To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan
I think I was supposed to hate this book, but I ... liked ... it. Even when I disagreed with Flanagan, I still felt extremely entertained and amused by this book.

American Born Chinese written and illus. by Gene Luen Yang
A 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature and no wonder. Wonderfully illustrated fable with three linked storyl ines and central characters. Plus, it features the Monkey King! What's not to like?

Garden of Eden and Other Criminal Delights by Faye Kellerman
Two of my favorites from this short story collection were "Holy Water," which involves the kidnapping of a Rabbi by a soda company in an effort to discover their competitor's secret formula and "Summer of My Womanhood" an autobiographical piece about working in her father's deli.

Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham (illus. by Medina and Leialoha, et al)
In a New York secretly populated by exiled fairy tale folk, Rose Red is found murdered. Or isn't. She was probably murdered, but maybe she was kidnapped. Or maybe it's all a ruse. It's up to Detective Bigby Wolf and Snow White to discover the truth. It's as if Agatha Christie and Neil Gaiman had a love child who was addicted to daytime television.

Y: The Last Man (Vols. 1-4) by Brian K. Vaughan (illus. by Pia Guerra & José Marzán)
Yorick Brown is an escape artist with a hot girlfriend in Australia. He is also the last man on Earth. Dangerously addictive series ... it is impossible to just read one.

The First: Two Houses Divided by Barbara Kesel (illus. by Lary Stucker, Bart Sears, et al)
Collects the first seven issues of CrossGen Comic's The First and holycrap bad.

I Feel Bad About my Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
Another book I didn't expect to like, but did. Really need to stop reading reviews -- I hate the books I'm told I'll like and like the ones I'm told I'll hate.

27 November 2006

The First Thanksgiving

Turkey Day turned out rather well. There were only six of us and everyone pretty much behaved themselves and managed to have a good time. I think. It was my first proper Thanksgiving and I was just a bit freaked out about the whole thing, but there no disasters. Everything tasted very nice and there was more than enough to go round. Even the eponymous turkey came out perfectly. I used the "Roasted Turkey" recipe from Southern Living's 2005 Annual Recipes which called for spreading sage butter between the turkey breast and skin and then thoroughly buttering the rest of the turkey before plunking it on a rack in a roasting pan which had been filled with 32 oz of turkey broth. The turkey looked beautiful when it came out of the oven -- a caramel-y maple brown -- and tasted very nice, too.

Because I wanted to make Thanksgiving as easy on me as possible, many dishes were prepared ahead of time and the whole meal ended up being far more "conventional" than I had intended. I used Betty Crocker's "Make-Ahead Garlic Mashed Potatoes" recipe to make the potatoes Wednesday afternoon. The stuffing was made in the slow cooker that morning ("Slow-Cooker Cornbread Stuffing" from Southern Living's 2005 Annual Recipes) to shave some time off the turkey so I could sleep in.

Instead of roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta and maple glazed balsamic baby carrots, we had Green Giant Niblets® Corn & Butter Sauce, Campbells® Green Bean Casserole (Mom), and cooked sliced carrots (Mom). Rather than homemade French rolls pressed with sage leaves there were Pillsbury® Oven Baked Crusty French dinner rolls. Butter was an ordinary stick of Cabot® rather than the fancy-shmancy compound butter I had considered making. The mince for the apple-mincemeat pie (Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book, Meredith Books: 1998) came out of a jar and was doctored with great abandon. Splenda®'s Great Pumpkin Pumpkin Pie replaced a salad of autumn fruits. The Husband's "Chocolate Swirl Muffin Cake" (doesn't eat teh piez) was a complete baking mix hack job. The cranberry sauce came out of a can.

Yes. Thanksgiving dinner was pretty much a complete hack job. And, like most hack jobs, completely fine. The food was delicious, everyone enjoyed themselves, and no-one missed the compound butter. Except me. I still want to make a nice compound butter and use one of those decorative butter molds to shape it into strawberry leaves or something. I've wanted to do this ever since I read the part in Little House in the Big Woods where Caroline uses carrots to yellow the winter butter and then presses it in a strawberry leaf mold ...

18 November 2006

Year of Cake: More Fun With Nuts

I made Dad's cake a little early this month, because it seemed mean to stick him with a cake immediately following Thanksgiving. Better to give it to him now while there is still room in his tummy and no other delightful foods about to distract him.

November's selection was "Pecan Cake with Tangerine Cream Filling" frosted with "Tangerine Whipped Cream" from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book (Meredith Books, 1998). When I first saw Dad's post-it next to the picture of this fancy-shmancy looking cake, I admit to freaking just a little. But it turned out to be an easy and tasty cake (Dad had thirds) which was a lot of fun to make.

The cake uses 3 tablespoons of flour. Yes. Tablespoons. Not cups. The bulk of the batter is made up of coarsely ground toasted pecans, sugar, and whipped eggs. I don't toast nuts very often, but I followed the cookbook's instructions and they came out a lovely golden brown. And the aroma! The whole kitchen smelled so good I was tempted to nibble the cabinets (eerily, same golden brown as the nuts).

The frosting and the filling were simple to make and the whole cake came together quite easily. I used my mom's old food processor for the nut grinding and batter preparation, my new Microplane to zest the orange, and the KitchenAid mixer to make the whipped cream ... this might be called a "tool heavy" cake, I guess. I don't know how you'd make the batter if you didn't own a blender or food processor. Happily, (for someone who didn't know what a Microplane was three years ago) I seem to be collecting a lot of tools.

08 November 2006

Birthday Loot

For my birthday, I received a lot of bookish loot which I have barely touched. It's been days since my birthday -- surely, I should be halfway through the pile! Lately, the only time I really read is at night in front of the television, but it seems to annoy The Husband that I'm sitting on the couch with him, but not really with him. For me, watching television isn't something you do when you want to spend time with people. You turn the television off when you want to spend time with other human beings. Otherwise, you're sitting in front of the box in each other's presence, but not in each other's company. Not really.

Probably, this is an old-fashioned way of thinking and I need to get with it and throw some Tivo parties or something.

Anyway, so not reading so much. Terrible, because there are so many things to read. All these delicious books from the library that barely get skimmed before being tossed in the return tote (yes, I have two library totes -- one for taking out and one for bringing back). And now there's the sweet sweet pile of presentses ...

The Husband gave me Boondocks: Because I Know You Don't Read The Newspaper which I have managed to read, already. It was good. Funny in a way that makes me wince, sometimes. I'm annoyed to know there won't be any new newspaper strips and who knows if new episodes are really coming in Spring 2007?? Happily, there are at least three more print collections to read.

The Husband also gave me Jane Austen's Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility in the same Headline Review editions I purchased in England. No more will I have to wonder what befell my poor benighted copy of Sense and Sensibility (or if, indeed, I had ever purchased one as I might have confused that book purchase with other book purchases .. there were so many).

Not all The Husband's gifts were of the bookish persuasion. After all, he did give me a sturdy pair of Fiskars Pro Kneelers last month. And he did give me Seasons 2 & 3 of Chef! And March of the Penguins! Yes! Penguin madness!

We have Tivo programmed to record pretty much anything that so much as mentions penguins. We get some weird shit, but we also get a lot of nature documentaries and the occasional children's cartoon. Indeed, this is how I became addicted to 3-2-1 Penguins! which is a Christian cartoon produced by Big Idea. Big Idea also does The VeggieTales, but 3-2-1 Penguins! is more about learning good behavior with a bit of instructional scripture thrown in whereas VeggieTales is much more ... biblical. Anyway, the religious bits aren't gag-worthy and the stories are generally quite amusing. Significantly better than most of the crap on Saturday mornings, anyhow.

"Let's sing a little song with eight little words about a rocketship and some flightless birds ..."


06 November 2006

Posh Dinner & Donuts

For my birthday dinner, The Husband booked us a table at Todd English's Tuscany at Mohegan Sun. I know, casino dining on my birthday? What crack am I smoking now? Delicious foi gras crack, I tell you. Yes, I know. Foie gras is a cruel and wicked food and I should burn in hell for having eaten it. Yes, yes. But so tasty.

The trio of foie gras (brilliant sauteed liver, good pate, and an amusing ravioli) was charmingly arranged in a row on a squarish white platter with accompaniments of blue cheese, fig and cranberry compote, honeycomb, prosciutto, watercress, and a couple of those crisp sesame encrusted toasts fanning out behind them. It looked too pretty to eat, but it wasn't. One taste of the sauteed liver with the fig compote and I was off. I'd never eaten foie gras before and was unsure how to go about it, but I just took lots of tiny delicious bites of different combinations and it was all good. I don't even like blue cheese, but it was absolutely delicious with the honeycomb. The fig compote? I wanted a jar to take home with me. If I hadn't been on "best manners" I might have licked the plate.

Certainly, I did fish a little of the onion-topped focaccia (came with minced kalamata olive tapenade and a pureed white bean spread ... fuckmegood) out of the breadbasket and use it to mop up the delicious honey, compote, blue cheese, prosciutto crumb detritus left at the bottom of my plate, but I managed to stop at that.

While I was off, orgasming over my foie gras, The Husband was quietly enjoying his grilled scallops over peach ice with a spicy garnish (you think you know a person and then He orders something like that). He let me sample a little of the peach ice and it was quite refreshing and I almost wished I had ordered it.

He also had a nice cuppa and that was good to see as many restaurants don't seem to understand tea and either tart tea-making up so much it's a hassle or give you a teabag floating in a coffeecup full of lukewarm water. Ick. But this was good tea with a real teapot and a proper size mug. Huzzah. (Once, when the busboy was tidying our table between courses, he swept up The Husband's pyramid of empty sugar packets and said "you use almost as much sugar as I do" which is cute, but not possible without going into a coma).

Our entrees were a mixed bag. The Husband had "Spaghetti Polpettine 'Brooklyn' Style" which was basically really nice spaghetti and meatballs. He seemed quite happy with it and only shared a tiny forkful of meatball with me. My "Crispy Skinned Salmon Filet" with sauteed spinach and walnuts, an over-salted risotto-type side, and cider reduction was good, but not as good as I expected considering how when the kitchen had rocked the foie gras. The salmon, a bit bland and overcooked, was rescued by forking it up with the spinach and then smearing it all through the twee little puddles of sauce. Indeed, the spinach with walnuts was excellent. Crisp, emerald green, and nutty. Yum. The risotto-y thing? Creamy and with bits of crab or lobster, it seemed to have a lot of promise, but was too salty for me.


We didn't have dessert as, well, the dessert menu was not that tempting. All I really wanted was a cheese plate and a glass of port, but that wasn't in the offing so we went to Krispy Kreme, instead.

Mmmm ... donuts ....