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.