27 December 2007

A Fillpot of Negus and Thou


I have been trying (rather desperately) to get myself in a more seasonal mindset by listening to Christmas-y audiobooks. I dabbled a little with folksy Lake Wobegon Christmases (A Prairie Home Christmas and Now It Is Christmas Again) then moved South (Blue Christmas by Mary Kay Andrews) before jumping across the pond (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens).

Whenever I read (or listen to) a historical novel I find myself always puzzling over trivia. While A Christmas Carol is a ripping tale and Jim Dale is a pleasure to listen to, I found myself increasingly distracted by pesky little question like "What kind of game is snap dragon?" or "What’s a smoking bishop made of?" and "What the heck is negus when it's at home?"

Smoking bishop, in particular, caught my fancy -- I imagined a group of fat old barristers (their buttoned waistcoats straining over their bellies) with hands full of smoking pipes and Toby jugs of some hot steaming toddy while they gossiped around a pub fire. The jugs, of course, would be shaped like fat little bishops. It was a pleasant image, if completely unlikely.

Thanks to the Guardian's "Booze by Boz" post, I now have a nice little recipe for smoking bishop and also know that it's pretty much mulled wine. Not particularly exciting, but there it is. There's also a decent sounding recipe for it over at Recipezaar which omits the grapefruit juice and suggestions posh additions such as cinnamon sticks and star anise.

Humbug!

Now, snapdragon? Gerard and Patricia Del Re’s The Christmas Almanack (Doubleday: 1979) tells me this about snapdragon:

This was once a very popular game played at Christmas in England. Raisins were placed in a bowl and covered with brandy, which was set ablaze. The object was to snatch the raising out of the fire and pop them in your mouth before the flames did too much damage. There was probably very little flavor left in the burned and shriveled raisins, but the danger and daring made a great sauce, and snapdragon was popular for many years before dying out in our own practical century [19th].

Ah, to live back in the good old days when unburnt fingers were grand entertainment!

And negus? Mysterious negus consumed with cake and cold roast? Negus is, according to Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management (available online at mrsbeeton.com or through Project Gutenburg), a hot mulled fortified wine like port or sherry. While this beverage sounds rather potent to an infrequent tippler like me, it was often served to Victorian children:

Mode. -- As this beverage is more usually drunk at children’s parties than at any other, the wine need not be very old or expensive for the purpose, a new fruity wine answering very well for it. Put the wine into a jug, rub some lumps of sugar (equal to 1/4 lb.) on the lemon-rind until all the yellow part of the skin is absorbed, then squeeze the juice, and strain it. Add the sugar and lemon-juice to the port wine, with the grated nutmeg; pour over it the boiling water, cover the jug, and, when the beverage has cooled a little, it will be fit for use. Negus may also be made of sherry, or any other sweet white wine, but is more usually made of port than of any other beverage.


Sufficient -- Allow 1 pint of wine, with the other ingredients in proportion, for a party of 9 or 10 children.

Yum!

16 December 2007

Crunchy, Sweet, and Yumptious Cookies

Since I'm not doing fruitcake (poor planning), I figured I'd write about cookies this year. I baked some last year, too, but they were completely overshadowed by The Fruitcake Experience and were never written up.

I would love to know who decided Christmas is for cookies as it seems it would be much better to slap together one big pie or cake to feed a mess of people rather than fiddling around with many tiny pieces of dough. But then, I've never really been a cookie girl. Much prefer cake or pie. Mmm ... pie.

Christmas Cookie Plate

"Glazed Fruitcake Squares"
From Pillsbury: Best Cookies Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 199). The bars smell strongly of brandy, but does not really taste of it. Used really brandy in the bars and glaze, but the recipe allows for the substitution of orange juice and brandy extract if that's your thing. The bars seemed a little dry the first day, but were much better the next. I used King Arthur Flour's "Favorite Fruit Blend" (apricots, raisins, pineapple, dates, and cranberries) rather than the moister, stickier, green and red fruitcake fruits sold in those little plastic buckets. This was the same fruit blend I used in last year's fruitcake and I've used it in a bunch of fruit breads since then. Good stuff.

"Peppermint Snowballs"
From Betty Crocker's Best Christmas Cookbook (Hungry Minds, 1999). They are very light and very minty with just a hint of crunch from the crushed peppermints. My husband loves them and I will definitely be making them again -- although I may modify the instructions somewhat. It is very hard to roll hot fragile cookies in powdered sugar without experiencing significant breakage. Next time, I will put the cookies on a wire rack and sift confectionery sugar over them (the sugar is there to form a sticky layer for the crushed candies to stick to). Recipe makes 48 cookies -- I made 36 with breakage. (Of course, I ate the breakage).

"Chocolate Crinkles"
Also from Betty Crocker's Best Christmas Cookbook (Hungry Minds, 1999). I made these for the first time last year and The Husband loved them so much they are now a Christmas necessity. I love how easy they are to make and that the dough needs to be refrigerated for three hours (giving me plenty of time to un-cookie the kitchen, have a cup of tea, and generally not feel my life has been taken over by cookie making). The recipe makes 72 cookies -- I made 70.

"Holiday Eggnog Sugar Cookies"
From a mix by King Arthur Flour and came in my November Baking Club box (December's, which is supposed to be full of cookie goodness, has yet to arrive). They are supposed to be "a rich custard-flavored cookie, with a hint of nutmeg," but taste more like a ginger-y sugar cookie. Not bad, but not eggnog. A bit on the crunchy side, too, and I baked them for the least amount of time listed. Grr. I followed the instructions for hand-shaped cookies and rolled them in leftover green & red sugar. Recipe makes 36 cookies -- I made 41.

13 December 2007

Omg!! The Blue Sword!! Omg!! Squee!!!


I was browsing November’s issue of Paperclips, happily initialing off all the fantasy and romance paperbacks I think I my patrons would like to read when I came across a reprint of The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley:

Harry Crewe, the Homelander, bored with her sheltered life as an orphaned girl in the remote orange-growing colony of Daria, discovers her own magical gifts when she is kidnapped by a native king with mysterious powers and is transformed into Harimad-sol, King’s Rider, the heir to Gonturan, the mystical Blue Sword once wielded by the Lady Aerin herself. A Newbery Honor book.

Oh, did the fangirl in me ever go squee! (Omg!! The Blue Sword!! Omg!! Squee!!!) Completely mortifying, but true. The Blue Sword rocked my world when I was a disenfranchised ninth grader. Harimad-sol? Total girl crush. A clever girl stifled by society and then plunged unwillingly into a foreign culture, given a magic sword and romantically entangled with someone perplexing? Oh, yes! The novel had everything that was likely to appeal to me at fourteen (or thirty-one). I must have read the book three times that year alone and when I discovered there was a companion novel (The Hero and the Crown), I was over the moon.

Seriously, I loved The Blue Sword so much that I more-or-less stole it from my English teacher’s class room. I had borrowed it from her small and neglected lending library around Easter of my freshman year and then “forgot” to bring it back before school ended. And I didn’t bring it back the following autumn, either. It lived under my bed, much dog-eared from midnight readings, until I went away to college. I have it still, but it lives on a proper bookshelf amongst all my other McKinley books and I don’t engage in midnight readings, anymore.

(It’s not really as if I have to read it -- I just need to glance at the pages to prompt my memory).

Squee!

10 December 2007

Dillicious Soup

I've definitely been in the mood for soup this autumn and winter looks no better. Over the weekend I made "Vegetable Soup with Bow Ties and Dill" from Good Housekeeping's Favorite Recipes: Vegetarian Meals (Hearst Books, 2006). It's a very simple recipe which yields a surprisingly dilly soup. Very dilly. Dillicious, even!

Very  Dilly Vegetable Soup

For this recipe, I cooked chopped onion in a little oil until soft and golden. Then I added the carrots and celery and cooked until crisp-tender. When the vegetables were ready, I added vegetable broth, lemon peel, and water and simmered it all until the vegetables were tender. Then I stirred in the frozen peas, cooked pasta, dill, ground black pepper, and lemon juice. When everything was hot, I ate it. Yum!

I've been eating cupfuls of this for breakfast with a toasted mini bagel. It's a warming way to start a cold day and it wakes me up quite nicely without the help of caffeine or sugar.

Soup -- the perfect breakfast food!

02 December 2007

Christmas Is a-Comin'

I’ve been reordering or replacing many of the worn-out (or just plain missing) holiday cookbooks at my library in the hopes that we might manage to get some new books on the shelves in time for Christmas and Kwanzaa. I didn’t think about the holiday cookbooks early enough to get new books or replacements in time for Hanukkah (they are here now, however, and are all totally awesome). Really, I need to put my brain on the same seasonal cycle as the department stores (winter in summer, etc) if I’m going to get the holiday books sorted out.

I probably sound as if I am complaining, but I’m not. I love collection development. I love replacing nasty old worn-out copies of cookbooks with spangle-y reprints or shiny new editions and then watching the circulation stats going up. People reading the books I select -- it's the best compliment.


One of the new books we’re getting is Betty Crocker’s Christmas and, while you can expect to see it on the shelves in early January, I can’t wait as I need to buckle down and start planning Christmas dinner ASAP lest it be “emergency spaghetti” all-round. As it this is the first Christmas dinner I have ever hosted, it has to be pretty fantastic.

And it will be.


So, no Betty Crocker’s Christmas before Christmas, but Betty Crocker’s Best Christmas (Hungry Minds, 1999) was available when I went looking for something similar and, wow, am I ever pleased to have found it!

I’ll be making the "Rib Roast with Herb Rub" for Christmas dinner along with "Do-Ahead Mashed Potatoes" and "Red, White and Green Beans." There are also two or three cookie recipes I’m just itching to try and the "Hot Crab Dip" will be excellent for New Year’s Eve if I can’t find my artichoke dip recipe.

Yum! If everything comes out well, I will have to think about buying this book for myself. Let's hope I get some gift cards for Christmas ...

30 November 2007

I Do Love Me Some Pie

Since I wasn't hosting Thanksgiving this year, I brought the pies. I made three pies -- two with Splenda and one with white sugar. Originally, I wasn't going to bring pies. I was going to bring Betty Crocker's Praline-Pumpkin Cake, but then I was told I would bring pie. Pie is a traditional Thanksgiving food, you see, and Traditions Must Be Observed.

Sigh.

Not as that bringing pie is any hardship, you know. I do love me some pie ...

"Mixed Berry Pie"
From the Crisco website. Made this pie using two 1-lb bags of thawed frozen mixed berries (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries) and a box of refrigerated pie crust. Brushed the top crust with a little beaten egg prior to baking to give the crust a little shine (I really need to work on my crimping technique, though).

My husband is a great fan of mixed berry pies and he thinks this one is a repeater. Actually, everyone seemed to really like it and there wasn't much to bring home. The pie was very fragrant and flavorful, but not too sweet and we could still taste the individual berries.

Crisco Mixed Berry Pie

"Chocolate Cream Pie"
Recipe from the Splenda website. Except for the substitution of 1% milk for 2%, I followed the recipe exactly. All the diabetics and chocolate-loving non-diabetics raved about it and took seconds and, as with the berry pie, there wasn't much to bring home.

I used my Pampered Chef easy Accent Decorator Gun to make the Cool Whip peaks and it worked really well considering I use it four times a year on average (usually for deviled eggs).

Splenda Chocolate Cream Pie

"The Great Pumpkin Pumpkin Pie"
Also from the Splenda website. I followed the recipe exactly when I made this pie and it was surprisingly good. The filling was very spicy and firm, but not dry, and with an excellent mouth feel. A really nice breakfast pie, I kid you not. Yes, there is a little brown sugar in this pie so it is not technically sugar-free, but close enough for government work.

25 November 2007

I ♥ Madeleine Brent


Someone posted up to Fiction-L looking for a novel about a British orphan girl in China around the time of the Boxer Rebellion ...
Patron recalls a memorable line about heroine being asked if she like cats, and saying that she finds 'they don't yeild [sic] as much meat as rabbits.'

She thinks the same author also wrote another Victorian romance about a circus (the memorable line she recalled from this was the girl worried about becoming 'fat, white and spotty.'
Now, I quite liked the line about cats (who wouldn't?) and the very idea of a Victorian circus romance tickled me so I set out to find a copy of Moonraker’s Bride as soon as possible. Much to my pleasure, I discovered nine copies in my system. Put in my interlibrary loan request and less than a week later Moonraker’s Bride was mine ...

What a wonderful book full of daring-do, romance, and humor! Some parts Bronte, some parts Dickens, and all parts fantastic. I devoured it and went looking for more information about my new crush, Madeline Brent. Searching Gale’s Biography Resource Center, I found several profiles for Madeleine Brent and was amused to discover that “she” was actually a “he” -- Peter O’Donnell. While most of the profiles focused on O’Donnell’s work as the creator of Modesty Blaise, the profile in Twentieth-Century Romance & Historical Writers provided a quite fantastic analysis of Brent’s works. I was particularly taken with the description of Brent’s heroines which seems totally spot-on when I think of Lucy Warring -- an intelligent, compassionate, and gutsy woman completely unaware that there's anything unusual about her:
Brent's heroines, though modest and self-effacing, are role-models of feminine virtues: daring, determined, resourceful, and spirited but also patient, persistent, and enduring. They have left behind (or never had) the trappings of ‘proper' upbringing, see the world with alien eyes, and in fact learn to look with humour on Victorian hypocrisies and proprieties, particularly pretences that ladies are not sexual creatures with hearts and minds. They are honest and warm-hearted, trading innocence and naiveté for the experienced wisdom of heartbreak. They patiently endure social restraints, but yield to their instinct for right: befriending servants and social outcasts, saving children from hunger, cold, abuse and war. They speak honestly without forethought, but glare like alley cats when angered.


Because of their blunt honesty, grim realism and alien experiences, people dismiss them as liars, but the advice of older males proves invaluable. With time, their virtues are rewarded, their place in society confirmed. Jani, for instance, the heroine of Merlin's Keep, though raised as a half-caste orphan in Tibet, turns out to be a deposed Indian princess, whose parents were murdered for their fabled jewels, and other Brent heroines prove heiresses as well.
While Wikipedia was no real use (Madeleine Brent as footnote), I did find a rather nice webpage titled "Who Was Madeline Brent?" which helps to explain why Peter O’Donnell started writing under a pseudonym. I am amused that O’Donnell was not initially enthusiastic about writing Gothic novels, because he did such a fine job with Moonraker’s Bride (his 2nd gothic) and I hear nothing but praise for his first Gothic, Tregaron’s Daughter.

I’m really looking forward to reading more Brent. I think my selection will be Stormswift in which “Jemimah Lawley, the wealthy heiress of an English estate, sees her parents slaughtered by Afghan soldiers; sold to Hindu traders, then to a mad Kafiristan ruler, she becomes slave to a captured Italian doctor.” What fun!

---

"Madeleine Brent." Twentieth-Century Romance & Historical Writers, 3rd ed. St. James Press, 1994. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC

17 November 2007

TMI

You know what's fun? Waking up an hour before the alarm is due to go off and just sort-of fidgeting about for half an hour before you give up and stagger to the bathroom and while dozing on the toilet you realize the smell is not coming from you but rather from the enormous runny shit some cat took on the shag bathmat so you scrape off as much of it as you can and toss the mat in the wash and then toss every cat you can find outside into the deep dark cold because they are horrible horrible creatures and by then you are wide awake and feeling faintly sick but that is okay because you need to be up in about five minutes anyway and then you remember that today is your day off and you have no need to be awake but you are utterly and completely awake so you write out a week's worth of menus plus grocery list and plan out which pies your are bringing to Thanksgiving plus grocery list and then you realize you can still smell the smell you smelt in the bathroom and you look and you do not find any more but you know it must be there and ...

Come to think of it, none of that was any fun. Well, menu planning was all right as it allowed me to browse the branch's copy of Pillsbury's Good for You! Fast & Healthy Family Favorites (Wiley: 2006) and tick off things on my freezer's content sheet.

Yes, I made a list of all the things in the downstairs freezer. I have a habit of forgetting what's down there and then discovering I own five pounds of frozen peas and a whole lot of mysterious (unlabeled) soup containers. Too many peas aren't a problem as I am quite liberal when I add frozen vegetables into casseroles, soups, and stews and they will get used up -- as long as I continue to remember they exist. The mystery soups are a bit more problematic (I swear I've been labeling all the soups), because I might thaw it expecting Cabbage & Vegetable only to discover it is Mexican Beef & Vegetable. Not a terrible problem, but a trifle irritating.

Another reason for knowing the contents of the freezer, is that I'd like to empty it out. Not particularly soon, really, but it would be good to work toward empty. We are (probably) putting our house up for sale in the spring and we're moving too far away to schlep a freezer full of frozen stuff. Anyway, the basement freezer came with the house and we may just leave it. It works fine, but I don't really want to deal with moving it.

Yes, I know. Fixating on the freezer isn't a useful thing to do. Yet, this is how I cope with change. I break down whatever change is coming into tiny steps (like emptying out the freezer) and, by the time I've done a bunch of tiny steps, I have gotten on board with whatever it is that has happened/is happening and I can look at The Big Picture without flinching (too much).

11 November 2007

Another Birthday

I took Monday of last weekend so I could have a three day birthday celebration, but really it works out to almost two weeks of celebration. I thought, when one became a fully fledged adult, one's birthday celebrations became briefer and more paltry affairs. And yet, for me, birthdays seem better now that I am an adult. Less intense, maybe, but better. Rather than one big day with cake and ice cream and presents and too many people it becomes nearly two weeks of cards and mysterious parcels and restaurants and shopping and just a few special people.

The week before my birthday, The Best Friend sent me a parcel from the wilds of N'Hampsha which freely admit to tearing open immediately upon returning home from work. The Husband suggests I have no self control. I say, there was no note saying I shouldn't open it. The box was full, as always, with all sorts of yummy goodness and practical objects like delicious lavender flax bars and environmentally friendly cleaning stuff. The Husband, exasperated by my lack of restraint (he would have waited for the proper day if it had been his birthday parcel?), also gave me a present ...

Five Mo's Bacon Bar by Vosges Haut Chocolat!

Ever since I read about these a few months ago, I have been dying to try them. They are so delicious. The chocolate is smooth and deep. As it melts on my tongue, it releases a slight smoky flavor and then the salt crystals embedded in the chocolate begin to dissolve and, oh my, chocolate and salt is an amazing combination. Finally, when I chew, there is the bacon -- more texture than taste, but still unmistakably crisped cooked bacon. Not Bacos bacon bits, mind you. This is very much real Sunday Breakfast crumbled bacon ...

*Sigh* It is impossible to accurately describe the sheer pleasure this chocolate gives me. You must try it for yourself.

You know what a really great evening is? Guitar Hero III on the Wii, bacon chocolate in your mouth, and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon at your elbow. I kid you not, an evening like that is a small kind piece of heaven. A heaven I can look forward to most nights as GH3 was one of my other birthday presents (w00t). Not surprisingly, I am pretty terrible at it, but may someday be ... less terrible. And there is always bacon chocolate to console me.

Anyway, enough about the mouth-watering chocolate! The Husband also gave me on really snazzy jewelry box which makes my jewelry collection suddenly look a whole lot smaller (yet more expensive). My parents had bought me a jewelry box at Ames over fifteen years ago and I'd been making do with it, because it's just one of those things I use everyday, but don't really see. Suddenly, I have velvet lined drawers and separators and pockets and crap and I wonder how I got along without them.

Of course, there was lots of birthday food. We went out for dinner with my parent's to Modesto's. The food was good, but not as exceptional as I had remembered (we had eaten there once before). The Mexican I ate with The Husband certainly was, however, quite good.

We tried SolToro, the new Mexican eatery (apparently owned by Michael Jordan) at the Mohegan Sun. The guacamole put The Husband over the moon -- the guacamole was made from scratch at our table and the taste was really quite amazing. Clean and bright with none of the murkiness I associate with guacamole. And the duck carnitas ... they gave the bacon chocolate bars a run for their money as Most Delicious Thing I Have Ever Eaten.

So,a perfect night would be: guacamole with house made corn chips, duck carnitas, bacon chocolate, and Guitar Hero III. Must start planning.

08 October 2007

I Promised Myself a Rose Garden

When the stonework guys came and laid our front path/patio area, we asked they not seed the L-shaped area formed by the steps, path/patio, and edge of the driveway -- leaving me a nice sized possibility of a flower bed to play with.

I've spent the better part of the last couple months planning out how I wanted the bed to look and the plan went through many iterations before I reached my final design. In the end, I went for stuff that would smell good, look pretty from our bench (10' away) and as well as right up close, attract hummingbirds/butterflies/bees, come up every year, and be largely self-maintaining.

I think I've got what I wanted, but there's always a difference between what the plant books say and what the plants actually do, isn't there? Only time will tell me whether I've planted the right stuff or not.
What I've planted in the new L-shaped flower bed (back to front of the large rectangle):
(and back to front of the smaller rectangle)
  • Agastache 'blue fortune' (aka Hyssop)
  • Assorted coneflower seedlings from my mother's garden
  • Achillea 'paprika'
  • More of mom's dwarf irises
  • Daffodils 'tête à tête' and anemone blanda 'blue shades'
(and at the 'pivot' where the two rectangles come together):
  • Assorted tall purple irises from mom's garden
  • Assorted black-eyed susan (we think) seedlings from mom's garden
I also planted some of my mother's dwarf irises in the other front bed and will plant daffodils 'tête à tête' and anemone blanda 'blue shades' along its edge to tie the two beds together a bit better.

Now, I just have to cross my fingers and hope everything will come up again next spring (and pretty much where I planted it -- damned cats are very good at rearranging flower beds to suit their napping needs).

28 September 2007

Betsy-Tacy; Or, A New Fixation


A few weeks ago, my supervisor read about DC's Minx line in Library Journal and tried to pass the article along to me, but I explained I already knew all about it and had, indeed, read most of the line. Thereupon she told me how much she wanted to read Plain Janes and Re-Gifters and I said she could borrow my copy of Re-Gifters and she went *squee*.

Well, okay, not actually *squee*, but she was very keen. She loved it. She loved Clubbing and Plain Janes, too, and now we are the best of buds and get along like a house on fire. Or something.

Anyway, when we're alone together at the desk we talk about books we've especially loved or hated. Most recently we were talking about "girl series" and how there don't seem to be many new ones coming out. Oh, there are the Clique books and the Gossip Girls, the Babysitters Club and, yes, American Girls, but they seem lacking the richness of writing and overall quality we remember from series like Little House on the Prairie or the Anne books.

About this time, my supervisor started talking about the Betsy-Tacy series and lost me entirely. When she realized this, she seemed both appalled and gleeful. Appalled that I had never read such classics and gleeful, because now she had someone else to addict. I had, she told me, to read the Betsey-Tacy books. If we did not have them in our library, she would give me her copies. Either way, I must read them.

And I am. I admit that the first book, Betsy-Tacy, seemed a tad simplistic and left a variety of interesting possibilities undeveloped. But, then, it was a story about two very little girls (who probably wouldn't have grasped some of the more interesting/grownup things happening around them) written for other very little girls (who probably wouldn't have been interested). The series follows Betsy and Tacy (and Tib, I guess) all the way up to Betsy's wedding and the beginning of the Great War (WWI) so I can only hope the story will take on more depth over time. Regardless, I am enjoying the Betsy-Tacy books and, if I could find some nice hardcovers on eBay, I'd certainly buy them. The books are all pretty much still available from places like Amazon, but the cover art for the paperbacks is a bit too cute for me (but then I am extremely annoyed with the new Little House cover art and very choosy with my Anne covers, too, so I may just be Ms. Pickypants).

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace w/ illus. by Lois Lenski (HarperCollins, 2007)

14 September 2007

Too Many Pears? Bake!

One of my fellow librarians gave me a whole bunch of windfall pears and I didn't know what to do with them -- can only eat so many -- so I cast about on the Internet until I found a recipe at Allrecipes for "Fresh Pear Cake."

I made a few alterations to the recipe -- less sugar, walnuts for pecans, added ground ginger, and I only soaked the (very ripe) pears for about as long as it took me to preheat the oven and mix everything else together. I also ground the cloves myself so my half tsp was an approximation.

I'm really pleased that the pear chunks, while very tender, still kept their shape and didn't dissolve into the batter or fall to the bottom of the cake.

Oddly, this cake tastes better on the second or third day (as if it needs to mellow a bit?). This is true for other similar cakes I've made (zucchini, blueberry, tomato soup, etc) and I don't know why -- I just plan on making it an extra day ahead of time if I'm bringing it somewhere. (Or, you know, I could try wrapping it in cheesecloth soaked in pear brandy -- as if it were a fruitcake -- but that might make it too moist. Hmmm. Will have to think on that).

Also, I have no idea what kind of pears I used. My co-worker didn't know and the pears themselves just look, well, rather generic. I'm guessing they're "Yellow Bartlett" because they've come ripe at the right time for Bartletts and did turn a beautiful yellow as they ripened. Regardless of their variety, the windfall pears where delicious and almost make me wish we had a pear tree of our own.

Over the course of my childhood, my parents planted many fruit trees. Alas, they were all, over time, lost to deer or hurricanes or ice storms and this caused me to think fruit trees are not worth the fuss and effort. But, now, I look at the side yard (which is pretty wide open) and think about the number of trees we could plant. Pears and cherries. Apples and plums. Hmm.

01 September 2007

Reads & Listens, September 2007

Reads:

Alabaster by Caitlin R. Kiernan (illus. by Ted Naifeh)
I picked this up mainly for Naifeh's illustrations (he did Polly & the Pirates) as this book had been described to me as a graphic novel and, certainly, it was cataloged in my library system as such. Alas, it was not a graphic novel illustrated by Naifeh. Instead, it was a (bizarre and tiresome) short story collection scattered with a few (too few) of Naifeh's illustrations.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Haven't read this since high school. Even better than I remembered.

Rumspringa: To be or Not to be Amish by Tom Shachtman
Both fascinating and depressing.

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace Betsy, Tacy, and Tib by Maud Hart Lovelace
Rather charming stories about little girls in pre-WWI America.

Cast in Courtlight by Michelle Sagara
Book Two of the Chronicles of Elantra. Less of a police procedural and more of fantasy/romance, but still a good read. Kaylin is a sarcastic and fiesty heroine and her world is a believable one.

52, Vol. 1 by Geoff Johns
Even Renee Montoya and lesbian Batwoman could not make this interesting.

Listens:

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett (read by Nigel Planer) Jingo by Terry Pratchett (read by Nigel Planer) Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett (read by Nigel Planer)
Good job, as usual (there's really nothing I can say about these that I haven't said about the other Pratchett/Planer audiobooks).

Animal Farm by George Orwell (read by Richard Brown)
Brown does an excellent job providing voices for all the animals and I really enjoyed listening to this novel. Even when it cut too close to home.

01 August 2007

Reads & Listens, August 2007

Reads:

Girls: Volume 3: Survival by Joshua and Jonathan Luna Girls: Volume 4: Extinction by Joshua and Jonathan Luna
Eh. I expected better from this series, considering the hype and the general quality of Volume 1. Two, yes, was a bit ... lacking ... but I had hope for Three and Four. At the very least, I expected a "real" ending and not this pieced together nonsense which left me expecting a fifth volume.

The Observations by Jane Harris
Young Bessy, of a questionable background, accepts work as a maidservant a rural Scottish estate where she becomes a bit too involved with "the missus" and discovers she might not have landed on her feet, after all. Is her mistress mad? What really happened to the last maid? An intoxicating bit of Victorian melodrama.

Emma: Volumes 1, 2, 3 by Kaoru Mori
Manga about a Victorian maid and a young man of property who dare to love outside their stations. Beautifully illustrated and so well written. This is what you give people who say that manga isn't "real literature." I have recommended this to everyone I know who reads period novels or historical romance, but I really think this is the type of cross-over work which could appeal to almost anyone. I've liked the series so much I've bought the first three and ordered the next two. I can't way to find out what happens -- I am all a-tingle with anticipation.

Sorcerers & Secretaries: Volumes 1 & 2 written and illus. Amy Kim Ganter
Nicole, a student and secretary, lives more in the secret world of her notebook than in the real one. When she meets Josh, the wannabe bad boy, secret worlds and real ones get mixed up. Is Josh Nicole's Ellon or is her subconscious trying way too hard? A cute read, but not worth $9.99 -- borrow it, don't buy it.

Polly and the Pirates: Volume 1 written and illus. by Ted Naifeh
Polly is a willing student at a boarding school for proper young ladies who has no wish to go adventuring like her roommate Anastasia. One night, however, she is stolen away by pirates and adventure is thrust upon her. Polly, you see, is the daughter of the Pirate Queen Meg ... A fun read and probably worth the $9.99 -- I bought my copy and don't regret it, but I would have read the library's copy if there was one.

Gunslinger Girl: Volume 1 by Yu Aida
Not worth the $9.99 and not worth the time, either. I might watch this on TV, but it just didn't work for me on paper. I had great difficulty telling the girls apart and never developed any empathy or interest in them. I regret picking this manga up.

Daisy Kutter: The Last Train by Kazu Kibuishi
Daisy Cutter is a gunslinger gone legit. She runs a general store on a small town and is, by all appearances, a respectable citizen. An incredibly bored respectable citizen. Then Mr. Winters makes her an offer she can't refuse and suddenly life is full of excitement (and less respectable). Highly entertaining and the Future West illustrative style is quite nice. Don't regret buying or reading.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Oh, Catherine Morland, you are such a silly twit to start, but you do turn out well. And what seventeen year-old girl isn't a bit of a silly twit, anyway? I thought this was one of Austen's funniest novels and I look forward to reading it again.

Persuasion by Jane Austen
I love this novel so much, I cannot speak or write of it.

Listens:

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (read by Nigel Planer)
I would like keep Nigel Planer chained in my basement and make him read me all of the Discworld books. It's not just that all his voices match the characters, it's that he does all the random sounds with such ... gusto. The Eater of Socks was perfect.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (read by Davina Porter)
Davina Porter does a truly excellent job with this novel and made it a pleasure to hear. Emma, of course, annoys me as much as she ever did, but much more charmingly thanks to Porter.

31 July 2007

Reads & Listens, July 2007

Reads:

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
In the end, I still regret Fanny's marriage to Edmund. Yes, her patience and virtue were rewarded with the one man she desired, but what a man to desire! Why do I feel as if Edmund married on the rebound from Miss Crawford and mostly picked Fanny because she was a convenient and appropriate choice for a man of his position?

Girls: Volume 2: Emergence written by Joshua Luna (Art by Jonathan Luna)
The people of Pennystown band together after some truly weird shit goes down one night in their small town. Will they survive the invasion of "girls?" What's going on with the giant sperm? Will the plot progress?

Listens:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle written and read by Barbara Kingsolver
I loved the descriptions of nature, home-based food production, and food preservation, but Kingsolver's preachy politics (which I agree with!) wore on me. Also, she writes about Americans as if she weren't one and her enthusiastic description of Europe as the source of All Things Good seems awfully simplistic and romanticized (has she never been in a Sainsbury's or Tesco?).

Small Wonder written and read by Barbara Kingsolver
Collection of essays all sort-of encompassed by September 11th. Not all essays are new -- some have been tweaked a bit to contemporize or bring in line with the others -- but all are interesting. Kingsolver has a beautiful reading voice and, even though I was often annoyed by the contents of her essays, I could have listened to her forever.

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett (read by Stephen Briggs)
Nac Mac Feegles! Witches! Always a good time.

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett (read by Stephen Briggs)
More Nac Mac Feegles! More Witches! Plus Annoying Teen Cliques! And Death! Yippee!

22 July 2007

Mansfield Park


Jane Austen's Mansfield Park has been my lunch read for the last two weeks. I've seen the (1999) film two or three times and enjoyed it immensely, but I've never managed to finish the novel. I like Fanny Price very much, but she is so passive she sometimes makes me want to grind my teeth and throw the book across the room. Probably her passivity annoys me, because I see how necessary it is and how little good fighting might do her. She has no wealth, no beauty, no talent or charm with which to acquire even the limited freedoms open to her cousins.

I know, of course, that she ends up with Edmund rather than the (reformed) rake, Mr. Henry Crawford, but I have difficulty reconciling myself to that "happiness."

Oh, Mr. Henry Crawford! How I wish you had loved Fanny a little bit more! Edmund is a good sort of fellow and will keep Fanny content, I am sure, but I would love to see her pushed to passion.

Who knows? I'm miles from the end yet and everything is still possible. Perhaps Edmund will push her to passionate speech? Speak passionate love, Fanny?!

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (Headline Review, 2006)

08 July 2007

A Happy Weekend Out & About

For supper tonight, I had ice cream followed by clam fritters and more ice cream. Delicious and nutritious, no? Supper was supposed to have been McCormick's "Greek Style Skillet Supper" (made with soy crumbles rather than beef), but we were out and summer fun foods were everywhere and who were we to resist?

Desperate to get out of the house and away from the cries of woebegone housebound Catzilla Kitty, we had hied ourselves off to the farmer's market. She'd made us crazy with her poor plaintive cries to be allowed out (she has a nasty infection and is not allowed outside until she is quite well again). On the way back from the market, the highway was overrun with Summer People trying to get home to their various inland urbs so we escaped onto the side roads as soon as possible and ended up idling our way to the comic book shop.

Mmm ... Sarge's Comics. Picked up Girls, Volume 3: Survival, Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order, Re-Gifters, and P.L.A.I.N. Janes. Those last two are part of DC's newish tweener girl graphic novel line, Minx. I think they're supposed to be comic books for girls who don't know they like comic books. The two I bought are really nicely put together and the stories seem a lot of fun, but I don't know how much they'll inspire their readers to explore the rest of the DC universe. Some of the Vertigoproducts look attractive, but how will tween girls find them? DC doesn't seem to be doing any cross-promotion.

Anyway, after Sarge's we took a little walk down to the pier and watched the ferry come in with all the returning weekend islanders then walked up the street, stumbled into Michael's Dairy Downtown, and shared a cup of "monster mash" (vanilla ice cream with crushed chocolate sandwich cookies, chocolate malt balls, and M&M's). Then, after I voiced a yearning for clam fritters, The Husband took me to Captain Scott's Lobster Dock where I ate some pretty fine fritters and "lobster tracks" ice cream ("vanilla ice cream with red colored chocolate caramel cups and chocolate cookie ripple") and where The Husband fed his french fries to the sparrows (who were obviously anticipating this).

Can we properly call them french fries once again? Or are they still "freedom" fries? Why do we dislike the French so much, anyway? Weren't they our allies during the Revolution and the War of 1812?

02 July 2007

Safety


Currently listening to Barbara Kingsolver read her essay collection Small Wonder and (somewhere around the middle of the first disc) she asks:
How much do we need to feel blessed, sated, and permanently safe? What is safety in this world, and on what broad stones is that house built?
After discarding a bunch of foolishness, my answer turned out as simple as this: the circle of my husband's arms.

30 June 2007

Reads & Listens, June 2007

Reads:

This Is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers ed. by Elizabeth Merrick
Some really excellent stories here. Sadly, I was more embarrassed to be seen reading it than I ever was with any actual chick lit piece. I would have loved this better were it not for the title and its hot pink lettering.

The Professor's Daughter written by Joann Sfar (illus. by Emmanuel Guibert)
Graphic novel set in Victorian London about a girl who has a romance with a mummy. Nonsensical little read with rather lovely illustrations.

Cast In Shadow by Michelle Sagara
First book in the Cast series, this is essentially the story of a girl who grows up on the wrong side of the tracks, escapes, and then returns to Make Good. You can also read it as a detective or romance novel masquerading as fantasy. It doesn't really matter how you read it, just as long as you do.

Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the Correspondence of Two Young
Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the Country
by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Yes, I have read this before. Yes, I will read it again. Yes, it is that good.

Listens:

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis (read by Lynn Redgrave)
When I was a kid, this was my 2nd to least favorite Narnia story (1st was The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe). Alas, I was out of library audios and had to settle for what I already owned. Lynn Redgrave did a bang-up job reading this novel and made me like it a whole lot more. Definitely, a reader to keep an eye out for.

Lolita by Nabokov (read by Jeremy Irons)
I was mostly revolted by this novel -- not so much because of the pedophilia (I don't think is glorified in the way I had previously believed) -- but because it was so full of the most beautiful descriptions and cunning phrases that I nearly forgot exactly what Humbert Humbert was describing (usually inappropriate lust, nymphets, etc).


I think, in some ways, Nabokov has described mid-girlhood sexuality pretty well. Based on my own experience, 12/13 year old girls are brimming full of sexuality and crushes and cruelty and Dolores seems not unusual by herself. Even after Humbert Humbert rapes her/enslaves her/loves her, her behaviors still seem realistic. It's because everything is seen through the distorted lens of HH's story that it all becomes .. revolting.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by (read by Lisette Lecat)
Overall, I liked the audiobook a lot, but I do think it tried to be three different stories all at the same time. The story I appreciated least was the one about her students -- they seemed more like vehicles to extend her storytelling that actual people. Sometimes, it actually made me think of Plato's Dialogues -- philosophical essays masked by the conceit of conversation. Or something.

03 June 2007

Another Rosy Weekend in West Hartford

The Husband surprised me last week by driving all the way up to myplaceofwork just to have lunch with me. Sweet of him, no? And a nice way to start off a long weekend. I had a holiday day I needed to use so I'd arranged to take that Friday off and do stuff with The Husband out in the Big Blue Room.

Mostly, this meant driving up to the Capital to check out the roses at Elizabeth Park. Like the Norwich Rose Garden, this garden is also an AARS-accredited public rose garden which, I guess, is supposed to award them a tidy amount of street cred in rose garden land. Or something. There were a fantastic number of roses in bloom, although not all were labeled, so I couldn't really tell you which ones smelt or looked best to me. There were some ruffled pink ones the size of nickels which smelled divine and reminded me of the ones the old farmers had trained against their parlor window, but does that help identify them? Not in the least. And not that it mattered. It was enough to sit with The Husband in a rose-y nook and quietly bake in the sun. (Oh, yes, we are all set for dotage).

Aside from the two and half acre rose garden, the park boasts several other nice garden areas as well as pathways, greenhouses, lawns, a pond with untidy waterfowl, and a cafe. We had rather nice lunch at the Pond House Cafe (after ice cream for elevenses) and stopped for more ice cream on the way home. I know, ice cream twice in one day. We are decadent and depraved people.

But well-contented depraved persons -- and that makes all the difference.





A Rosy Weekend at the Norwich Rose Garden in Mohegan Park

What with the weather being nice and me having full weekends off, I'm inclined to do as much outside stuff as possible before the twinkly glow of full weekends fades, the humidity creeps in, and I cannot be bothered to stir from the couch. Anyway, this weekend we hied off to the Norwich Rose Garden in Mohegan Park to sniff flowers and take in lots of healthy fresh air.

Prior to visiting, I'd done a little reading up on the Garden and found that the two-acre garden is one of the 130-odd All American Rose Selections's accredited public rose gardens and features over 120 varieties of roses. At the time, 120 varieties of roses sounded pretty fantastic. Alas, when we visited, the garden didn't seem quite as fantastic as anticipated -- about half the roses seemed either new or so recently (and heavily) pruned they weren't more than greenish brown sticks. (I hear the garden suffered a lot of deer damage last autumn and this may account for the less than stellar rose showings).

After we sniffed all the roses we could and canoodled on one of the shady benches, we explored the rest of Mohegan Park -- quite a nice experience, really. The wisteria lined walk which skirts the pond was quite lovely even though not in bloom (must be simply fantastic when in bloom). We managed to while away a not insignificant portion of the afternoon walking the little woodland path around the lake, watching the fishes, and whatnot.




30 May 2007

Reads & Listens, May 2007

Reads:

After School Nightmare: Volume One by Setona Mizushiro
Mashiro Ichijo is seems like an ordinary high school boy, but he is harboring a secret which could destroy him if others discover it (or so he believes, anyway). He is forced to participate in a special after-hours class in which his secret is revealed ... An interesting look at gender and conformity.

The Twelves Kingdoms: Volume One, Sea of Shadow by Fuyumi Ono
We've been watching Twelve Kingdoms a while ago and while it's been enjoyable we haven't watched it with enough consistency or pleasure for me to be eager to shell out twenty-odd dollars for the next disc. Yet I've liked it enough to buy the first book and, wow, it's much better than the anime. Oh, yes, there are stilted, hurried sections and redundant bits, but it is still pretty damned good. Good enough I'd like to read Volume 2: Sea of Wind right now.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (read by Mandy Siegfried)
Brilliant. Read this book a couple years ago and it struck such a cord with me that I found myself thinking about it long after I had returned it to the YA collection. The audiobook, too, is very good but it rendered me a little too emotional, perhaps, for rush hour driving.

You Suck by Christopher Moore
Christmas present I'd been very slow to start, but quite enjoyed once I did. Of course, I did. I've liked everything else I've read by Moore. His books are a bit like "Terry Pratchett does San Francisco" with a bit of Robert Aspin sprinkled in, but better.

City of Pearl (Wess'har Wars, Book One) by Karen Traviss
An Eco-Vegan-Feminist-Pagan-Police adventure and a Philip K. Dick Award nominee -- what more could a girl want? Only Lin's pregnancy and Mesevy's conversion kept me from completely enjoying this book as I couldn't understand what those storylines had to do with anything.

Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce
"Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog." Fantastic.

Listens:

Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie by Holly Black (read by Renee Raudman)
I don't know if I liked this better than Tithe, because Valiant was read to me or because it seemed less a homage to De Lint than Tithe ever did, but this was fantastically good and I look forward to listening to Ironside: A Modern Faery's Tale whenever it comes to audio.

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (read by Cherry Jones)
By The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder (read by Cherry Jones)
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder (read by Cherry Jones)
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (read by Cherry Jones)

I read these (and had them read to me) as a child, yet I find myself continually astonished by how much I had forgotten and by how well these books are suited to adults as well as children. All the railroad construction, house building, and farming factoids are utterly fascinating. And the food ... Farmer Boy left me starving.

01 May 2007

Booklust

There are books I covet because of their looks. Books I lust for because of their feel. Books I feel I must possess for no real rational reason at all. The Headline Review Jane Austens are one. The Penguin Steinbeck Centennial Editions are such another. There is something about the raggedy deckle-edged pages, French flaps, and textured-look covers with the cunning pen and ink sketches that make my hands itch and my mouth water.


Part of the attraction, I'm sure, is that I really like Steinbeck. Or did when I read him a decade or more ago. Of Mice and Men was my first Steinbeck -- read for a middle school English class. It didn't quite rock my world, but there were so many powerful images in that little book ... images which still stick with me today. I think, perhaps, this is how some people reacted to Catcher in the Rye?

After Of Mice and Men my class moved on to other Great American Works (The Great Gatsby *blurgh*) and Steinbeck was never brought up again. Being a sad and nerdy student, I went off looking for more Steinbeck and found The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. Boy, was that as far from Of Mice and Men as you could get, topically, yet I loved it. Carried it around for weeks. Read and re-read the same passages over and over again. Wanted more, but there was no more. Cast around and found Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur which led me to the Susan Cooper Dark is Rising series which (eventually) led me to Katharine Kerr's Deverry novels which led to flirting with this guy named Nevyn on some talker called Crazylands ...

Hrm. My marriage is all Steinbeck's fault.

28 April 2007

Reads & Listens, April 2007

Reads:

Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron
Yes, the terrible scrotum book. Turned out to be very sweet and with a fine message at the end.

Indiscretion by Jude Morgan
Highly entertaining, but it reads as if Morgan cobbled all of Austen's best bits together.

The Chronicle's of Faerie: The Hunter's Moon by O.R. Melling
It was a very interesting read, true, but neither the story for the characters seemed believable or complete. Like fairy glamor, it looks pretty but it rings hollow?

The Lost Colony, Book One: The Snodgrass Conspiracy by Grady Klein
Eh. Too much going on without enough (or any) reasons given and I had some difficulty figuring out which panel to read when.

Kampung Boy by Lat
Follows the early years of a Muslim Malaysian boy living in a village (kampung) where traditional life is on the verge of disappearing. Illustrative style is quite attractive and the story is compelling.

Chickenhare: House of Klaus by Chris Grine
Chickenhare (a rabbit with the feet and feathers of a chicken) and his Bearded Box Turtle friend, Abe, are held prisoner by Klaus, a very bad man who has a terrible habit of stuffing his pets so they will never leave him ... this is a rather gruesome little graphic novel with not a lot of development (characters or plot).

Billy Hazelnuts by Tony Millionaire
Bizarre. Grotesque. Oddly charming.

Listens:

Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (read by Cherry Jones)
As a child, I adored the Little House books and, as an adult, I was thrilled to find them in audio format. Jones does an admirable job bringing the characters to life and her accent, which I first thought was too broad and Ozark-y, seemed perfectly suited to the content. Little Town was one of my favorite books in the series and this reading did nothing to change that. Can't wait to listen to Hard Winter.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis (read by Patrick Stewart)
One of my favorite Narnia books and handled so well by Stewart. I'm still not very keen on his Aslan, but he did everyone else so well. I particularly liked his use of regional accents.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (read by Josephine Bailey)
This is one of my favorite books and Bailey does such a good job with it. I also really enjoyed listening to Bray discuss the writing on this novel in the bonus portion of the last CD. I can't wait to listen to Rebel Angels.

The Worst Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (read by Elaine Stritch)
Extremely amusing.

30 March 2007

Reads & Listens, March 2007

Reads:

Love: Selected Poems by E.E. Cummings (illus. by Christopher Myers)
While good ol' Edward Estlin usually rocks my world, this collection left me shrugging my shoulders. Aside from the cover art, the illustrations are unappealing and I am not sure what relationship most of them are supposed to have with the accompanying poem. Also, not sure about the age appropriateness of some of the poems selected for this book (published by Hyperion Books for Children). I mean, I am all against brainwashing the little dahlings with neo-Victorian mores, but the whole "may I feel said he" poem ("(cccome?said he / ummm said she / you're divine!said he / (you are Mine said she)" ) seems a bit ... explicit. But perhaps I just have a filthy mind.

Heartmate by Robin D. Owens
Heart Thief by Robin D. Owens (didn't complete)
I was hoping for something akin to Sharon Shinn's Samaria books, but was horribly disappointed. Celta and its traditions never seem real and her characters seemed like the worst sorts of cliche. It seemed as if Owens didn't believe in the world she was building?

Girls: Volume 1: Conception written by Joshua Luna (Art by Jonathan Luna)
Somewhere in Small Town America, boy goes on a bender at the local bar and is chucked out by the John Law. Boy is angry and something happens -- related to boy's anger? Who knows? Boy then meets mysterious girl and takes her home. Bad things happen. Giant bouncy sperm is discovered. People flee. Town ends up encased in giant ova. The end of Volume 1. (Slow plot development, but the illustrations are so good and the story so ... unique ... that I didn't mind).

Tadpole's Promise by Jeanne Willis (illus. by Tony Ross)
Tadpole and Caterpillar fall in love and promise each other they'll never change ... I will admit the ending came as a shock to me. A highly amusing shock.


Listens:

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Kate Willig (read by Kate Reading)
The Masque of the Black Tulip by Kate Willig (read by Kate Reading)
The Deception of the Emerald Ring by Kate Willig (read by Kate Reading)
Dear Kate Reading: Stop saying "Ant" for "Aunt." You did such a marvelous job turning these mediocre romances into highly entertaining romps, but your "Ants" made me want to pull my car over and jump up and down in a way which would surely have terrified the other commuters.

Pattern Frequency by William Gibson (read by Shelly Frasier)
I always enjoy listening to Shelly Frasier -- her excellence is unfailing no matter how poor the text. This isn't a "bad" novel (although Neuromancer fanboys may disagree), but too often Gibson glossed over the things I wanted to know and spent too much time on things I cared less about (how many times did the under-decorated London apartment need to be described??) Still, I quite liked this book and might actually get around to reading my copy ... one of these days.

All Creatures Great And Small by James Herriot (read by Christopher Timothy)
No doubt I've been spoiled by the television series, but I could not get into this audio book. Christopher Timothy ought to have been a pleasure to listen to, but I found myself annoyed by his interpretations of Siegfreid and Tristan. Frequently, I could not tell them apart in conversation and they both seemed a bit wooden. However, Timothy's rendition of the local farmers' broad accents was quite brilliant.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (read by Kate Reading)
Kate Reading did an excellent job with this and I can fully forgive her "Ants." This is the Commuters Library edition of P&P and just very nicely put together. Back of the case tells me which volume (of three) is on which disc and which chapter numbers correspond with what track numbers. Also very nice in that there's a pause and a little music at the end of each disc to tell you to move on to the next one and (even better) each disc starts with a sentence or two repeated from the end of the previous disc.

24 March 2007

Second Act: Life After Colostomy and Other Adventures

I've been going through my library's catalog, trying to read as much of the ostomy stuff available because I've been feeling a little out-of-sorts about life with an ostomy lately and I don't really have anyone to talk to who won't try to bolster me with platitudes. Alas, the list of materials isn't very long and quite a chunk of it's outdated.

However, I just finished reading actress Barbara Barrie's Second Act and it's such an encouraging (and entertaining) book. It's a very intimate, honest, and funny look at her experience with colon cancer and colostomy surgery. Some of it's absolutely toe-curlingly terrifying -- the herniated stoma that looked like "a pink penis coming out of a donut," frankly, just make me want to vomit. But Barrie treats it all with a fine dose of humor and spirit which is extremely admirable and practical behavior I shall try to keep in mind the next time my stoma is shooting undigested peas at the bathroom mirror as I try to put on a new faceplate.


Second Act: Life After Colostomy and Other Adventures by Barbara Barrie (Scribner, 1997)

22 March 2007

Bacon Makes Asparagus Even Better

I ate an entire recipe of pan-roasted asparagus for dinner, tonight. Originally, I was going to eat just about half the pan, but then I thought the asparagus might not be so fine upon reheating ... so I ate it all.


Obviously, the dish was pretty darn yummy. The recipe -- "Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Red Onion and Bacon" -- is found on page 20 of the new (March/April) Cook's Illustrated and comes with four variations. While I really enjoyed eating this dish, it was a little on the sweet side for me and I made a note to halve the amount of maple syrup next time. Or use different balsamic vinegar -- my balsamic is made from port and so just a tad on the sweet side, anyway. Paired with the maple syrup and it's almost all sweet with just the barest tang. Anyway, the bacon and red onions came out delish and worked really well with the asparagus. When The Husband comes home, I will try the "Red Peppers and Goat Cheese" variation on him as he is not a bacon-lovin' guy.


28 February 2007

Reads & Listens, February 2007

Reads:

Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Bettie & John Geiger
Reading this confirmed how little real information the Nova special contained. Indeed, the Nova special was a teaser compared with this book and the others I have read about the (doomed) Franklin Expedition.

Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Frankin's Lost Polar Expedition by Scott Cookman
The text can be a little overwrought for non-fiction, but still a frighteningly informative (if depressing) description of what happened to the (utterly doomed) Franklin Expedition. Grr. They were so cocksure, so Victorian, so English they went ahead and killed themselves on a mission that was (we can so easily see this now) doomed to utter failure from the start.

Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medical Mystery of the Age of Sail by Stephen R. Brown
Ordinarily, I would not have picked up this book, but the Franklin expedition suffered from scurvy and I am nothing if not all things Franklin these days. Anyway, a fascinating and disheartening read.

Listens:

Nightwatch by Sarah Waters (read by Juanita McMahon)
This book made me want to cry. Or throw up. Aside from Jane Eyre when I was twelve, I've never felt so completely ... ensnarled ... by a book. Kay, Viv, and Helen were more real to me than some people I know.

23 February 2007

Delicious Clam Chowdah ... Gone Light

I made a batch of clam chowder earlier this week using the recipe for "Light New England Clam Chowder" from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (a Christmas present from The Husband). Amusingly, the exact same recipe is in The Best Light Recipe cookbook. Indeed, the light recipe section from the Family Cookbook is pretty much just excerpts from the other. Is this surprising to anyone other than me? Was I the only one expecting new recipes?

Anyway, made the chowdah exactly as directed -- bought Snow's minced clams and juice (with coupon I had saved just for this occasion), used precisely 1 ounce of bacon, and everything. When I ladled the finished soup into my bowl, I was a little worried by the thinness of the broth and the first mouthful seemed kind-of eh. But.

But, by the time I got to the bottom of the bowl, I was ready to eat the whole damn pot right there and then. It was that delicious.


My only regret is that I did not make a double batch as it's nearly gone now and I do not know when I will have time to make more.

19 February 2007

Year of Cake: Too Much Cake

Last month, I made Dad's cake of the month from a recipe in The Hartford Courant. Not the best idea I've ever had -- the cake was dry and the frosting would not set without the addition of nearly toxic amounts of confectionery sugar. In the end, it was a not particularly special white layer cake with oversweet frosting and jam filling -- on par with something you might buy from the bakery at a not particularly good grocery store. Dad was happy enough (he believes there is no such thing as bad cake), but I was disheartened. Each cake I bake is a gift and I expect the gifts I give to be pretty near perfect.

I mean, if you're going to eat cake -- a food product with no real redeeming nutritional qualities -- than it had better be a Good cake.

For February, I made Dad a lemon bundt using a recipe from the Duncan Hines Lemon Supreme cake mix box. I dusted the bundt with confectionery sugar rather than use the suggested glaze and we served the cake up alongside a bowl of strawberries. Everyone seemed to enjoy the bundt and had second helpings (My mother liked it so much she told my father he wasn't getting anymore -- she would eat all the cake while he was at work). It did have a nice crust -- golden brown and a little crunchy like a tea bread -- and good form, but was really nothing wonderful. Stridently yellow on the inside and only mildly lemony with a moist sponginess that didn't quite work with the crunchy exterior. It needed a drier, fluffier crumb ...

Oh, I have no idea what it really needed. To not have come from a box? To have been made from ingredients I could pronounce? To have tasted like a lemon and not the idea of one? To have danced its way around the table while singing Frère Jacques?

And March. March is coming. March with its two cakes. Gah.

30 January 2007

Reads & Listens, January 2007

Reads:

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
Rather funny coming of age novel featuring a road trip, hinky math, and too many girls named Katherine.

College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
A delicious Christmas present from The Husband. Billed as a sequel to A Scholar of Magics, this novel works just fine as a stand-alone novel (and thank god for that as I'd forgotten a lot of what happened in College). Anyway, a good read and recommended for anyone who enjoys genteel alternative History ala The Enchanted Chocolate Pot.

The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgewick
Having already lost one brother to the War, seventeen-year-old Alexandra runs away to France to save her brother from the terrible death she foresees for him. Fascinating (and horrifying) amounts of historical detail caused me to devour this book.

London Calling by Edward Bloor
Martin's grandmother dies and he inherits a World War II-era radio which allows him contact with Jimmy, a boy who lived during the War and who desperately needs Martin's help. This is an excellent novel full of history, turmoil, and redemption. I would have loved this book when I was thirteen.

The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability by Laura Kipnis
Irreverent and insightful if not quite new or ground-breaking. I wouldn't recommend reading it all at once -- makes the eyes roll -- but it was quite good when taken in pieces.

Fruits Basket: Volume 1 by Natsuki Takaya
Cracktastic. Seriously, I am probably too old to be reading this kind of thing.

Talking With My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories by Bonny Wolf
A dissatisfying little collection of essays. Most of the pieces read like fleshed-out newspaper columns and the recipes did not rock my world the slightest. I mean, the title and cover art where the best parts.

Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi
All I know is, I am desperate to get me some chicken with plums.

My Last Skirt: The Story of Jenny Hodgers, Union Soldier by Lynda Durrant Historic novel about the petticoat soldier, Albert Cashier.
Fascinating, but I could have done without the whole Frank Moore affair and the way Albert/Jenny goes crackers at the end of her life. Chock full of detailed descriptions of war manoeuvres and camp life trivia, it was like literary candy for my brain.

Listens:

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (read by Juanita McMahon)
I was absolutely chuffed to find this audiobook on the library shelves as it is one of my favorite novels. McMahon does a brilliant job -- all of the characters sound real and (more or less) the way I expected them to. Her sharp esses take a bit of getting used to, but otherwise a brilliant reading.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr (read by Edward Herrmann)
I loved this novel about a serial killer loose in 1896 New York when I read it ten years ago, but I could not stand it as an audiobook. Gave up at the end of the second disc -- I don't know if it was Herrmann's voice or reading style or Carr's writing, but it was unlistenable.