30 December 2011

Bandwagon, I'm (Sorta Kinda) On It

So. I have a Kindle. Not the sexy new Touch or Fire all the hip kids got for Chrismukkah, but the plain old Kindle Keyboard (Wi-Fi). The Husband bought me one just before we went to England in September. You’re thinking that was a sweet and loving gesture, but it was really a self-serving one. The Husband is tired of me shuttling half tons (tonnes) of literature from one continent to another -- and I always return with more than I departed with! Once, I brought so many books home with me that my suitcase weighed too much and we had to pay an extra baggage fee. The Husband has never forgotten this.

Kindle, Old School

Kindle = no tonnage fees.

So, my Kindle Keyboard was pretty sweet and I downloaded a bunch of free books onto it before we left to keep me busy. Everything was ticking along just fine right up until the middle of our holiday, when part of the screensaver stopped going away. Bits of Audubon birds, just sitting there. Grr. While Amazon was great about replacing the device when I returned home, I still had to tote a couple chunksters onto the plane to keep me from climbing the cabin walls. (I like flying. I do not like planes. It's a bit of a problem considering many of the places I'd like to visit require rather long flights. I'm sure the answer is medication, but I'm a control freak and worry what decisions I might make under the influence of something that plays with my brain. Like, I might start chatting with perfect strangers. Nooo).

Anyway, I’ve downloaded tons of free eBooks from Amazon and sites like Baen Free Library. Theoretically, I can also download free Kindle eBooks from my library consortium, but it's a wee bit complicated and I can't be arsed. I know, I know. I'm a librarian. I should be right out front, leading the patrons into A New Age of Reading ... and I am, at work. At work, I will happily show you how to download an eBook using a library computer and then transfer it to your device. At home, I snark and dig my heels in. There are too many steps involved in downloading a library eBook to my Kindle Keyboard. My library experiences should be better, goshdarnittoheck. But, I know, much of it has nothing to do with my library consortium and everything to do with DRM and the publishing industry's ostrich-brained, knee-jerk reaction to change.

/rant

On a happier (?) note, one of my coworker's loaned me a Kindle eBook, Sheila Simonson's A Cousinly Connexion, and that was a pretty interesting experience (also a fun read). As I expected, she had no access to the item while it was loaned to me, but I hadn't expected such a short loan period -- a mere fourteen days! I'm a fast reader, but I can see where someone like The Husband, who reads in fits and starts, might find the loan period rather restrictive. It doesn't even look like I can reloan Kindle eBooks -- Kindle Lending Help says "eligible Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days." Bah.

28 December 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Compleat Discworld Mapp

Do you know the way to Sto-Helit?
I've been away so long. I may go wrong and lose my way.
Do you know the way to Sto-Helit?
I'm going back to find some peace of mind in Sto-Helit.
Discworld Mapp Jigsaw Pieces

Discworld Mapp Jigsaw Compleat

Discworld Mapp Jigsaw

Discworld Mapp Jigsaw

I bought my parents a couple jigsaw puzzles for Christmas as they're on a puzzle kick and this reminded me that there was a fantastic Discworld jigsaw puzzle in our games cupboard that might be fun to put together with The Husband ... and there went my Christmas vacation! We started the jigsaw late on Dec 25 and finished it very early Dec 27. We didn't work on it nonstop, but still probably frittered ten or so hours away on it.


24 December 2011

Hello, Coquito! Good-bye, Eggnog!

Last week, one of my coworkers gave me a wee little Mason jar full of coconut-rum deliciousness. While I love a little spiked eggnog at Christmas, I swear to cake this stuff beat it flat. It is truly the nectar of the gods and I knew I had to have the recipe.

Happily, my coworker is a generous person and was pleased to share her recipe with me. It makes a lot, but she says it will keep about a week in the fridge. Not that it will remain undrunk for so long! I've made a batch for Christmas Eve and I expect it to all be gone by the end of Boxing Day!

Coquito Ingredients

Librarian's Coquito

Yield: Enough

Ingredients

  • 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • 2 15 oz cans cream of coconut
  • 1 tsp vanilla or coconut extract
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • 2 cups white rum

Instructions

  • Blend first seven ingredients together with an immersion blender. Blend in 2 cups white rum. Serve well chilled. If you think the coquito is too thick, thin it with a little milk before serving.

While my coworker recommended Coco Lopez cream of coconut, I only found Goya cream of coconut at my grocer and made do. Similary, I couldn't find coconut extract (just coconut "flavor") so I used Penzeys Mexican vanilla and its strong, rich fragrance and flavor did not disappoint. I also used Pineapple Jack Pineapple Coconut Rum as my coworker recommended a pineapple or coconut flavored white rum and I thought "why not both?"

23 December 2011

The Bargain Bride


He was smiling, the devil, knowing his effect. His confidence gave her the strength to smile back and say, "Yes, now I can go find my own Prince Charming to wed."

Like hell you can," came a loud voice from the open doorway. "You are marrying Lord Lustful, for good or ill, and not a moment too soon, it seems. And you, sir, unhand my daughter. The wedding ain't taken place yet."

Two scheming men -- one a rich banker, the other a cash-strapped nob -- arrange a betrothal between their two children. The nob will get the cash up front and, when the banker's girl is of age, the nob's younger son will marry her. Yet thirteen years pass and the young couple, well into adulthood, still aren't married! The boy, now Viscount Westfield, has no interest in marrying some countrified miss. Then he sees her again, all pretty and shizzle, and suddenly finds he is the marrying kind, after all. If only Miss Persephone Goldwaite will have him. Her father is quite sure she will. Does Penny have a say in any of this?

The Bargain Bride was a fun distraction from the Christmastide hustle and bustle. It's a rather funny, breezy romance with lots of colorful secondary characters and amusing patter. Not a very deep book and Penny's behavior was definitely predictable (hate him, want him, hate him, love him, etc), but I wasn't look for originality when I picked up The Bargain Bride. I was looking for fun and I got that in spades.

Bits of The Bargain Bride -- particularly the scene where they discover Penny's father has redecorated Westfield's town house and hired servants for them -- reminded me very strongly of scenes from Heyer's A Civil Contract and I'm now tempted to go re-read A Civil Contract. It's one of Heyer's less "traditional" romances and quite my favorite.

The Bargain Bride by Barbara Metzger (Signet Eclipse, 2009)

22 December 2011

Manga: Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 2

Chi’s Sweet Home: Volume 2 by Kanata Konami (Vertical, 2010)

The second volume of Chi's Sweet Home is just as sweet, adorable, and squeetastic as the first! The story continues from the first volume -- Chi’s human family continues to cope with the stress of having a rambunctious contraband kitten in the house, Chi gets into mischief exploring her new home, and many squees ensue. The cat-human interactions are adorable and will be perfectly familiar to any cat owner.

Some of my favorite scenes were right at the beginning when Chi discovers new foods. Cabbage is horrible, but pancakes are the bomb. The part where Chi steals Youhei's pancake and, his mother, out of sight in another room, hears the ruckus and tells her son to share? Oh, so cute. And so true. I don't think I've ever introduced my cats to a human food they then didn't take to as if it were crack. (I know, don't feed your cats human food &etc).

Yes, I've used the word "adorable" five times. You're now thoroughly turned off by the cuteness factor and wouldn't touch Chi's Sweet Home with a ten-foot pole. I can't just help it! C'est tres adorable!

21 December 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Ornaments

Ornaments
Some of the ornaments going up on our tree

15 December 2011

Return of the Chestnuts

For my second foray into chestnut cookery, I made Schmooed Food's "Golden Chestnut Soup" as it looked to be an easy recipe and I had most of the ingredients on hand.

Chestnut Soup

Ingredients: roasted chestnuts, olive oil, carrots, celery, onion, fresh thyme, bay, salt, pepper, nutmeg, water.

I am so happy I made this soup! It smells heavenly and is simply ohmygoddelicous. I could happily have sat down and ate the entire pot in one sitting. I almost wished I had more chestnuts so I could make more soup! I gave a container to my vegan coworker and, days later, she is still talking about how good it was and how she might just have to acquire some chestnuts ...

Overall, I'd say Jennifershmoo's roasting instructions worked better than Martha Stewart's -- roasting at a higher temperature really made the chestnuts easier to peel. (I also found that squeezing each nut before peeling helped loosen the husk and pellicle).

12 December 2011

Holy Chestnuts, Batman!

For my birthday, The Husband subscribed me to six months of Melissa's Exotic fruit club. November's selection was chestnuts. Two pounds of chestnuts. I have no experience cooking or eating chestnuts. What was I going to do with them? I searched library cookbooks, my cookbooks, and the internets for tips on cooking chestnuts and recipes to use them in. In the end, I settled on Martha Stewart's recipe for "Caramelized Chestnuts and Brussels Sprouts" and Shmooed Food's "Golden Chestnut Soup" (I Vegan Lunch Box).

Sunday afternoon, I made Stewart's recipe and it was both delicious and, surprisingly, a lot of fun to prepare. Yes, roasting and peeling chestnuts is fiddly business. Yes, stemming, trimming, washing, and halving two pounds of Brussels sprouts can be tedious. But, do you know what Brussels sprouts and roasted chestnuts resemble? Tiny brains! Yes, my dears, I amused myself by pretending I was preparing zombie food. It was so hard not too spear a tiny brain roasted chestnut with a knife and brandish it at The Husband, moaning "braaaains."

In my research, I'd encountered terrible stories about chestnuts explosions -- cooks who either forgot to score their chestnuts or did not score them deep enough so that, when cold air entered the hot oven as the door was opened, hot chestnuts exploded like small, nutty bombs. Therefore, I was extremely careful about scoring mine and sawed deep crosses into them using a serrated bread knife.

Scoring Chestnuts

Unfortunately, I did not roast them long enough and about half were pretty darn impossible to peel. Properly roasted, the husk and pellicle peel back from the nutmeat and it's easy-peasy to get the nutmeat out. Improperly roasted, the husk doesn't peel back very much, the pellicle sticks to the nutmeat and there's a lot of swearing it the kitchen.

Roasted Chestnuts

In the end, I did manage to get all but one peeled. Most remained whole (as per Stewart's recipe), but a few were broken into halves or thirds. It made for a less impressive presentation, perhaps, but did not ruin the taste of the dish.

Delicious Brussels Sprouts

And it was a delicious dish! Tangy -- sweet and a little sour -- with just a little crunch from the chestnuts and no bitterness at all from the firm, yet tender Brussels sprouts.

It would, no doubt, make an excellent Christmas side dish for someone less lazy than I. Truffles Bakery is providing much of this year's Christmas feast as, while I want to feed my family and guests good food, can't be arsed this year to get up at 6 am on Christmas morning to start cooking. Nor do I wish to be rushing around Christmas Eve, prepping a million dishes, when I could be cuddled up under the Christmas tree with The Husband, surreptitiously rattling boxes.

10 December 2011

Tomato-tastic Presents!

For the third year in a row, Muir Glen sent me a limited edition Reserve kit. Besides the awesome little basket (which I look forward to using in my vegetable garden next summer), I received Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilies, No-Salt Added Diced Tomatoes, Reserve Harvest Sunset Organic Fire Roasted Red & Yellow Diced Tomatoes, Reserve Harvest Sunset Organic Red & Yellow Diced Tomatoes, and a recipe booklet.

2011 Limited Edition Reserve Tomatoes

I don't know how Muir Glen found me or why they send me free products, but I hope they never stop. Muir Glen is the only brand of canned tomatoes I use these days as they're organic, high-quality, and so very flavorful -- sweet and ripe-tasting, that taste as if they were just picked and processed yesterday.

If you've never ordered a Muir Glen Reserve kit before, I suggest you do so rightnowthisminute. $15 dollars gets you a beautiful basket of tomato goodness!

Legalese: I am not affiliated with Muir Glen Organics nor was I compensated for gushing over their Reserve kit. All opinions, such as they are, are my own.

06 December 2011

Manga: Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 1

Chi’s Sweet Home: Volume 1 by Kanata Konami (Vertical, 2010)

Holy flippin’ fish fingers, Batman! Chi's Sweet Home this is the sweetest, most adorable, squeetastic kitty manga the world has ever seen. I do not know how I managed to miss this series for so long, but now that I have read the first volume, I indeed to read the rest as soon as possible.

Chi’s Sweet Home is the story of a little lost kitten who is found by a young boy and his mother in a park and brought home to stay with them while they locate a home for her. Unfortunately, the family lives in a pet-free apartment complex and they must hide Chi while they search or they will be evicted! Naturally, this leads to a fair amount of shenanigans as Chi, like all small kittens, is full of energy and curiosity.

Although I’m sure this manga is meant for small children, every adult I’ve shared it with has read it with big grins on their faces and I think this would make a great family read – especially for a family with reluctant readers or for family’s already addicted to Simon’s Cat. Many of the situations addressed in Chi’s Sweet Home will be familiar to most cat owners and, therefore, this manga might make a good gift for a first-time cat owner or person thinking about adopting a kitten. Panels read left to right, so readers who aren’t used to manga shouldn’t have a problem following the text. (Frankly, I just think everyone should read this manga. Even if you told me you hated cats and all things Cute, I would still want you to read Chi’s Sweet Home).

There are currently seven volumes out in the United States, with two more slated for 2012 (and probably many more after that as it’s still serialized in Japan). And … there’s an anime for it! Of course there is!






03 December 2011

Gothic Challenge: Mistress of Mellyn

Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt (Doubleday, 1960) 
"There are two courses open to a gentlewoman when she finds herself in penurious circumstances," my Aunt Adelaide had said. "One is to marry, and the other to find a post in keeping with her gentility."
Martha Leigh, a gently bred orphan, had been given a crack at the marriage mart and failed to make a success of it. Too proud to live on charity, she becomes a governess to Alvean TreMellyn, a motherless girl with a cool and uncaring papa. Alvean is a handful, but Martha is sure she can rein the girl in and make a success of the situation. Her aloof papa, Connan TreMellyn, intrigues Martha and, while she knows better, she finds herself falling in love with him.

And growing up side-by-side with that love is the terrible suspicion Mrs. TreMellyn did not die in a train accident whilst eloping with a neighbor. No, the more Martha investigates, the more unlikely it seems Alice would ever have done such a thing. So what became of Alice? Does the key lie with Gillyflower, the housekeeper’s fey bastard granddaughter?

Mistress of Mellyn is a compelling read. I was immediately drawn into the mystery surrounding Alice's death and the many little details of daily life at TreMellyn. The mystery builds slowly, but satisfyingly, as Holt fully immerses us in Martha’s world which is full of well-crafted secondary characters that help give the story real depth and flavor -- I was especially fond of the housekeeper, Mrs. Polgrey, with her whiskey-laced cups of Earl Grey.

I must admit to be less fond of Connan TreMellyn. I didn’t doubt Martha’s affection toward him, but I was never really certain of his toward her. The entire time Connan said he was madly falling in love with Martha, he was carrying on an affair with a married neighbor. He doesn’t deny it, nor does he indicate he’s spent those months trying to break off the affair. No, to me, it seemed like Connan decided it would be a good time to remarry, the TreMellyn household liked Martha, the silly thing hadn’t hidden her affection as well as she’d thought, and he did find her both desirable and companionable ... so why not marry the governess?  A man could do worse.

Even though the romantic elements of the novel felt a bit false, the novel’s central mystery was very fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed its resolution -- it was just so over the top and so thoroughly gothic!

01 December 2011

Fifteen in Fifteen

I found this quick challenge on Facebook last week and thought it sounded like fun.
What 15 books have you read that will always stick with you?

Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.
  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  3. The Stolen Law by Anne Mason
  4. The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
  5. Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle
  6. Night Watch by Sara Waters
  7. Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
  8. Sabriel by Garth Nix
  9. Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
  10. Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
  11. The Actor and the House Wife by Shannon Hale
  12. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  13. Grass by Sheri S. Tepper
  14. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patrica McKillip
  15. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin
Not necessarily The Best Books Ever -- just books that, for some reason or other, made a strong impression on me when I read them and have haunted the cob-webby back reaches of my mind ever since, popping out at odd moments to confuse or amuse me.

Every spring when I hear peepers singing in the marsh, I am brought right back to Grass and the terrible discovery of what exactly the bons have been riding in their Hunts. On a less disturbing note, mixed berry pie always makes me think of The Actor and the House Wife and the scene where Becky Jack stays up, baking pies, because the world feels less heavy and hopeless with pie.