29 August 2012

The Moonstone Readalong: The End


Forgive me, I stayed up too late last night playing Mystery Masterpiece: The Moonstone Game (they refer to Clack as Drusilla in the game and I got confused and thought she was a new character and Mrs Verinder is already dead and there is just soooo much wrong about it but I can't STOP clicking all the things!) instead of writing posts about how I Finished The Moonstone And Am Full of Feelings and so you're getting this rushed, irreverent post instead of the deep, thoughty one you all deserve.

Yes, so many feelings. I'm kind of "Yay! The Indians got their cultural artefact back home!" and "Boo! Godfrey turned out to be a desperate opportunist instead of a calculating criminal mastermind." Also, "Boo! Betteredge is mean to Ezra Jennings," but also "Yay! Betteredge is friends with Ezra Jennings!"

And I kinda-sorta wanted a bisexual love triangle to form between Rachel, Franklin, and Ezra BUT IT WAS NOT TO BE.

Also, Rosanna did not come back from the dead to comfort poor Limping Lucy. Goshdarnit.

Spinoffs I want to see:
  • Limping Lucy does go to London where she meets Nan and Flo from Tipping the Velvet, falls in love with a nice suffragette who returns her feelings, and lives as happily ever after as a lesbian in Victorian England can.
  • The discovery of Ezra Jennings' will (he must have had a will as he wanted to leave his own "little patrimony") eventually leads to his wife and daughter and we finally learn the Tragic History of Ezra Jennings.
  • Octavius Guy, Boy Detective, stars in a serious of thrilling adventures in the Victorian London Underworld, then grows up to become a famous alienist, and rubs shoulders with the elderly, bee-keeping Sherlock Holmes.
  • A version of The Moonstone told through Indian eyes. Murthwaite, in talking with Bruff after dinner, says "I will only say, it is clear that these present Indians, at their age, must be the successors of three other Indians (high caste Brahmins all of them, Mr. Bruff, when they left their native country!) who followed the Colonel to these shores." What must it have been like to be an Indian living in Britain called on to help or succeed these Brahmins? Did it cause a conflict of interest or loyalty? What was it like to be Other in Victorian England (not very pleasant, I would hazard)? And what was it like to return the sacred stone to its statue in India after seeing it last adorn the bosom of some English miss?

Nacho, Nacho, Nom

I don't know why, but I've been craving nachos. Those horrible-for-you-drowned-in-orange-cheez-goo nachos you can get at cinemas and sporting events. I haven't actually eaten the darn things in years, but that doesn't mean my taste buds and tummy don't remember them with apparent fondness.

Knowing that what I really wanted was salty crunch and hot gooeyness, I turned to Pinterest for "healthy" nacho recipes and came upon "Nachos with Chicken and Black Beans" from the Cook This, Not That at Men's Health. There would be salty crunchiness and hot gooeyness, but also lean protein and soluble fiber.

Chicken Nachos

The original recipe serves six as an appetizer and doesn't tell you how much chicken to use, so I tweaked the recipe to serve two as a main course, guesstimating the amount of chicken in the process.
Chicken Nachos
Inspired by Cook This, Not That

Ingredients
3 oz round tortilla chips
6 oz shredded cooked chicken [rotisserie chicken works well here]
1 cup low-sodium canned black beans, rinsed and drained
2 oz shredded Cabot 75% reduced fat sharp cheddar
3 Tbsp red onion, diced
2 Tbsp lime juice
¼ cup fat-free Greek yoghurt
2 tsp dried cilantro
6 Tbsp Green Mountain Gringo roasted garlic salsa
1 oz sliced pickled jalapenos

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Combine lime juice, yoghurt, and cilantro. Set aside.

Spread chips across a baking sheet. Scatter the beans over the chips, and then top with the cheese, chicken, and onions. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes (too hot and the sour cream cream will run).

Spoon yoghurt over the nachos. Top with the salsa and jalapenos. Eat.

Serves 2 as main course.

Chicken Nachos

This dish is a bit messy to serve so, if you can, I recommend eating it straight from the pan. Shhh. I won't tell.

What did I do with the rest of the black beans? Well, some went on a green salad and the rest went on a baked sweet potato with a little salsa and fat-free Greek yoghurt.

Sweet Potato

28 August 2012

All The Moonstones

Like any good fangirl, when I find something I like, I can’t help overdoing it. And so it goes with The Moonstone! It was not enough to have an ebook -- no, I needed a physical copy of my own. And then the audiobook. And two of the films. While I drew a line at the computer game, if I could find an excuse to cosplay a steampunk version of The Moonstone, I’d do that too!

Many Formats of The Moonstone

I bought the CreateSpace (an Amazon subsidiary) edition because the cover is so darn pretty and the price, 9.95 USD, was quite reasonable. Also, it’s a very straight-forward edition -- just the text of the novel with no scholarly prefaces to distract or disappoint. I don't know if all CreateSpace reprints are as attractive as The Moonstone, but if I need any more bog-standard classic reprints, I'll be checking them out.

It was slightly ridiculous to borrow the films as early as I did considering I couldn't watch them until the end of The Moonstone readalong. But I had them. Oh, my precious, I had them. And the readalong ends this week, so I know what I shall be doing this weekend -- snipping rag quilts and watching various versions of Sergeant Cuff come to the wrong/right conclusions.

There are several film versions of The Moonstone, but I’ve only been able to track down two. One, the 1996 BBC production with Greg Wise and Keeley Hawes, came through my library system. The other, the 1972 BBC production with Robin Ellis and Kathleen Byron, came from Netflix.

And, lastly, there’s the Tantor audiobook of The Moonstone I’m listening to in my car. It's read by James Langton and, while his Godfrey isn't as plummy as the Godfrey in my head, he does a good job with the others. Indeed, his Betteredge and Clack are spot-on.

27 August 2012

Pasta & Tomatoes Two Ways

Also known as how-fast-can-supper-get-in-my-tummy?!

Pasta & Tomatoes

Thaw two fully-cooked chicken sausage, slice into coins, and set aside. Toss four cups cherry tomatoes with olive oil, four crushed garlic cloves, and salt-free Italian seasoning blend. Roast @ 400°F for about 30 min.

Slice two fully-cooked chicken sausage into thick coins. Add sausage to tomatoes and roast 15 min more. Toss with cooked egg noodles. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and season with freshly ground black pepper, as desired.

Pasta & Tomatoes

Core, seed, and dice five large tomatoes. Heat a small splash of olive oil in a skillet until fragrant. Add diced tomatoes, minced red onion, pressed garlic, and salt-free Italian seasoning blend. Cook, stirring frequently, until tomatoes have broken down and onion is translucent. Add one cup cubed cooked chicken and cook, stirring, until chicken is heated through. Season with Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper. Toss with cooked pasta.

25 August 2012

Manga: Happy Café, Volume 2

Happy Café, Volume 2 by Kou Matsuzuki (Tokyopop, 2010)

I know I said I wasn’t going to read any more Happy Café, but The Husband pressured me into it. He said Volume 2 got cuter as it progressed and the dessert war didn’t take up much of the volume.

Reader, he lied. (Or we each have very different ideas about what “cuter” and “much” mean).

Volume 2 was nonstop dessert war straight up to Chapter 10, leaving one chapter for cuteness and that was completely ruined by Uru’s cougar mom. I think I found the dessert war so annoying, because the outcome was obvious. The crew from Café Bonhuer had to win or that would be the end of Happy Café. You can’t have a lighthearted manga about three cute people working in a café, if that café goes out of business.

So, Team Café Bonhuer for the win, etc. Fine. Just pretend the dessert war is an excuse to introduce new characters and plot dynamics. Unfortunately, Sou and Kashiwa Abekawa are annoying. As is Uru’s Mom, popping up again to cast judgement upon her klutzy daughter. Everyone is annoying. (Except the little girl who loves her strawberry desserts, Sakura Abekawa. She's totes adorabs).


I think much of my disgruntlement stems from how static Happy Café is. Granted, I’ve only read two volumes, but there’s really been no plot advancement or character development. There are thirteen more volumes ... I don’t have the patience for them.

Uru, tell Shindo how you feel. Shindo, yield to your soft marshmallow center. Ichiro, get some therapy. Sou and Kashiwa, grow up. Uru’s Mom, stop being creepy. Café Bonheur, be more about food.

Presto! Pesto Baked Salmon & Tomatoes

When life gives you a bumper-crop tomatoes ... you darn well eat them, knowing you'll miss them dreadfully in January. This week, we've had tomato-bread salad, tomato soup, tomato pizza, tomatoes stuffed with eggs, and now tomatoes baked with salmon.

Pesto Baked Salmon & Tomatoes

All this lycopene better be doing brilliant things to my ramshackle body, I tell you what.

Anyway, this dish was dead easy to make and tasted really good -- the tomato juices and olive oil mingled with the herbs and salmon juices and it was just oh! a savory flavor explosion for the tastebuds.
Pesto-Baked Salmon & Tomatoes

Ingredients
4 large tomatoes, cored and diced
1 lb salmon fillet, boned and halved
2 Tbsp prepared pesto
freshly ground black pepper
fresh thyme, minced
fresh oregano, minced

Directions
Preheat oven to 375°F.

Toss tomatoes with one tablespoon pesto, pepper, and herbs. Set aside.

Spread salmon with remaining tablespoon of pesto. Place, skin-side up in a baking dish. Surround with tomatoes.

Pesto Baked Salmon & Tomatoes

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until salmon flakes easily with fork. Let stand 5 minutes. Peel off salmon skin.

Serve with pesto rice (toss hot rice with pesto) and steamed spinach.

24 August 2012

Too Many Tomatoes? Pizza!

I thought about making a tomato pie with garden herbs, corn, cheddar and pie crust, but then I realized I could just make pizza with the same ingredients for less time and effort.

Pizza!
Actually forgot to put corn on it!

I bought a ball of refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough at the grocery store, but all the other ingredients were on hand -- pesto, red onions, mozzarella, and cheddar were already in my fridge and tomatoes, thyme, and oregano came from my garden.

I preheated my oven, with the pizza stone in it, to 450°F. While the oven was doing its thing, I sliced the vegetables very thinly and chopped the herbs.

Feeling all smugly organized and shizzle, I set out to roll my dough ... not realizing I had no cornmeal and didn't know where my rolling pin was! Yes, I lost a rolling pin somewhere in my kitchen. I am truly blessed.

Happily, a water glass makes a handy rolling pin substitute and I rolled the dough out on a rectangular piece of parchment. This turned out to be The. Best. Idea. Ever. as I could just pick up the parchment, pizza and all, and slide it onto the hot stone. The paper browned while the pizza baked, but did not burn. Then I just slid the hot parchment paper/pizza off the stone onto a cutting board and let the pizza set for 5 minutes or so. Cut it into pieces and went omnomnom.

Pretty sure this pizza should have served four people with salad, but we skipped the salad and split it between the two of us and were happy. The Husband gave the pizza 10 ★s, but later downgraded it to 9½ ★s when I told him I'd used a whole wheat crust. Silly.

22 August 2012

Wordless Wednesday: A Surfeit of Ketchup

A Surfeit of Ketchup
This is what happens when I let The Husband edit our Peapod order!
I'm both amused and annoyed. Mostly amused.

Tomatoes Stuffed With Eggs (Really)

I'd been mulling over the idea of baking eggs in hollowed out tomatoes for a while now, but either didn't have big enough tomatoes (wall to wall cherries, man) or had the right tomatoes but no courage. Seriously, I couldn't decided if baked egg-filled tomatoes would be The Best Idea Ever or just a bit weird. In the end, I just decided to go for it. If the dish failed, there was always the burger shack down the road!

Baked Egg-Stuffed Tomatoes

For this dish, I merged two recipes -- Martha Stewart's "Baked Eggs in Tomatoes" and Whole Living's recipe for "Baked Eggs in Whole Roasted Tomatoes." I liked Whole Living's idea to roast the tomatoes before filling them with whole eggs, but I also liked Stewart's use of corn and chives. And then I just had a moment and stuff happened in the kitchen and the eggs didn't turn out quite as I'd planned, but were still pretty darn delicious.

Cheesy Baked Egg-Stuffed Tomatoes

Ingredients
4 large tomatoes
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp dried thyme
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 Tbsp shredded Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar (or whatever you like best)
4 large eggs
Smoked paprika, as desired

Directions
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice a little bit off the bottom each tomato so they stand firm and don't wobble. Slice the top off the tomatoes, core, and use teaspoon to gently remove the flesh and seeds. Turn upside down and drain on paper towels for about 15 minutes.


Baked Egg-Stuffed Tomatoes

Place tomatoes in a baking dish, drizzle with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle insides of each tomato with thyme and garlic. Roast until tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven.


Baked Egg-Stuffed Tomatoes

Add a tablespoon each of corn and cheese to the bottom of each tomato. Carefully crack an egg into each tomato. Sprinkle with remaining cheddar. Dust with paprika. Bake until eggs are just set, 7 to 9 minutes more. Eat.
I really wasn't sure what The Husband would think of this dish, but he really liked it and said he would be happy to eat it again. I served it with pesto rice and the egg yolks and tomato juices ran all over the rice, creating the most delicious mixture.

Baked Egg-Stuffed Tomatoes

The Moonstone Readalong: The End Draws Nigh


So now we know who stole the Moonstone! Franklin! Franklin?? There should be no doubt, because Rachel saw him steal it (finally explaining her coldness to him since the disappearance of the stone). Ah, but Franklin doesn’t remember the theft! Hmm. Is he lying to us and everyone else? Or does he really not remember? Was it Doppelganger Franklin that done the deed?

Regardless of who stole it, the stone is clearly in Mr. Luker’s bank as the security for some loan to somebody <cough>Godfrey<cough>. How Franklin was bamboozled into stealing the stone and how it got to London, I don’t know. Maybe, Mr. Candy will finally reappear? Ezra Jennings said “He [Candy] had a reason for wishing particularly to speak to me [Franklin]” and I’m guessing it has to do with that ill-fated night.

But what would Candy know? Did he dose Franklin with something as a joke? Remember, they had a small argument at the table about medicine after Franklin admitted he’d slept badly -- “Mr. Candy thereupon told him that his nerves were all out of order and that he ought to go through a course of medicine immediately.” And then they both went at it until Lady Verinder shushed them.

So, Candy drugged Franklin as a prank, Franklin stole the stone in his drugged state, and then Godfrey somehow took the stone off Franklin, brought it to Luker in London, and secured a large loan to cover whoknowswhat naughty debts. (And then he thought he’d marry Rachel, get his greedy mitts on money, and repay Luker).

OR Godfrey bribed Candy to spike Franklin’s drink (this is why you get your own drinks at parties, my dears) and influence the drugged fool into stealing the stone. Then Candy somehow got the stone to Godfrey who took it to Luker, &etc.

Also, glad to see the identity of Franklin’s foreign guest (from waaay back in Betteridge’s narrative) was cleared up. Just the lawyer of a Frenchie Franklin borrowed money from and then couldn’t pay back. Love how Franklin is offended by the lawyers demands -- as if is his own behavior (borrowing money he could not afford to return and then absconding) wasn’t deeply shameful and ungentlemanly. Rachel was very correct to call Franklin “heartless” and 
“dishonourable.” I wanted to smack him ‘round the head.

And, as trying as I find Rachel to me, I really had to feel for her -- she’s seen the man she loves steal her diamond and she knows he has a history of debt so, maybe, it’s not surprising he stole it, but how could she have fallen in love with such a cad? Rachel can’t bring herself to tell what she’s seen, but the burden of knowledge is clearly making her suffer. Is Franklin worthy of such a woman? Or women, really, because Roseanna took such risks to protect him even though it was clear he did not return her feelings.

I don’t understand why Franklin never noticed his nightgown was missing (or had been replaced) to begin with. I know he’s A MAN, but surely the difference in gowns would be obvious. Or is that how it is when you’re used to a lifetime of servants and laundresses? One nightgown is indistinguishable from the rest? It just seems a bit strange to me. Obviously, I need Collins to explain Victorian nightclothes. Surely, the entire household doesn’t wear identical nightgowns?

Also, wasn’t it just so convenient the celebrated Indian traveler, Mr Murthwaite, keeps popping up to explain what the Hindoos are up to? I don’t suspect him of anything -- just that explaining the Hindoos seems to be his sole reason for being.

21 August 2012

Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite Books Blogged


For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about the books we have loved most since starting our blog. You know, the books that cause a reader to go all embarrassingly fangirl and make her alienate all her friends by blathering on about them for days and days and days ...

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson (Grand Central Publishing, 2010)
"I enjoyed reading this novel -- while Ro's behavior and choices weren't always easy to accept, her story was a compelling one and I found I simply had to hang on to the bitter end. I think, if you enjoyed Stephen King's Rose Madder, Sophie Littlefield's A Bad Day for Pretty, or Sherri S. Tepper's Gibbon's Decline and Fall you might enjoy Backyard Saints. (I know, you're thinking those novels have nothing in common with each other, but I think they do share a common sensibility. I just can't put it into words and, believe me, I've been thinking about it for days now!)"

The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith (Harper Perennial, 1999)
"I really loved that the violence was all so matter-of-fact and in-character with everything I’d come to understand about Aud. Another author might have tried to justify Aud’s behavior with the use of some kind-of emotional breakdown or the insertion of heart-rending monologue. Instead, Griffith writes Aud as she is. A woman who sees what must be done and does it. No hand-wringing or emotional ambivalence. If Aud were male, she’d be just another hard-edged James Bond or Jason Bourne type. As a female, she’s ground breaking (and pretty darned hot)"

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."

DramaCon, Volume 1 & 2 by Svetlana Chmakova (Tokypop, 2005 & 2006)
"I’ve only read the first two volumes, but ohhhh such fun! The series is very sparkly and cute with lots of spontaneous (and adorable) chibi-fication of overly excited characters. Seriously, I haven’t enjoyed a manga this much since I read Chi’s Sweet Home. Except for a scene or two, I've grinned my way through both volumes. And lest you think Dramacon, with its star-crossed romance and general tweeness, is just for the ladies, I will have you know I have had to fight The Husband for possession of each volume."

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman (Viking, 2008)
"I liked this novel so much I stayed up until three in the morning to finish reading it. Yes, the plucky heroine sucked me in, but the soul-searching and world-building held me fast. Set in a mythical land reminiscent of ancient China, Goodman has created a unique and compelling novel. Fans of Tamora Pierce's Alanna or Sherwood Smith's Crown/Court Duel or Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otoro series will probably like this book, as well as anyone interested in Eastern cultures. Or dragons. Or plucky heroines. I look forward to reading the next book in the duology, Eona: The Last Dragoneye."

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (Gallery Books, 2011)
"As we all know, I love foodie novels and The Kitchen Daughter is no exception. If you loved the magical realism of foodie lit like Like Water for Chocolate or Crescent, I think you'll really enjoy The Kitchen Daughter. I devoured this book in one sitting and then I read it again, slowly and savoringly, over the course of a week. Even now, days after finishing it, I crave more of Ginny's story. The Kitchen Daughter is one of the few novels I've read this year that demands a sequel. Or a movie. A movie would be acceptable!"

Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson (Penguin Classics, 1996)
"Ever since I first read it, I've wanted to crawl inside Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford and set up house. I'm a sucker for her homey, rural descriptions even though I know she has, in many ways, dressed poverty up in pretty ribbons. The tweeness overrides common sense."

The Night Watch written by Sarah Waters & read by Juanita McMahon (Recorded Books, 2006)
"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."

The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics, 1995)
"It’s the story of Helen Potter, a sexually abused teenage runaway living on the streets of London with her pet rat with nothing holding her together except her love for the works of Beatrix Potter and (maybe) her hallucinations. Now, you might not think a graphic novel dealing with issues like incest and homelessness could be described as "uplifting," but that is exactly what The Tale of One Bad Rat is -- truly uplifting and wonderful."

Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden (Scholastic, 2006)
"Tomorrow was a brilliant read with well fleshed characters and a compelling story line which constantly kept me wondering what would happen next. Ellie and her friends all behave in believable ways and there is nothing that happens in the story which seems improbable in today’s world."

18 August 2012

Manga: Happy Café, Volume 1

Happy Café, Volume 1 by Kou Matsuzuki (Tokyopop, 2009)

Happy Café tells the story of 16-year-old Uru who leaves home after her mother’s remarriage and begins work at Café Bonheur (“Happiness”), an eatery known for its delicious pastries. Uru is very young-looking for her age, extremely clumsy, and improbably strong. She left home believing her stepfather didn’t want a teenage around and that she was getting in the way of her parent’s happiness. Uru is afraid she won’t succeed on her own and will be forced to move back home. Despite her fears and loneliness, Uru remains upbeat and is always ready to believe the best of those around her.

Unfortunately, her two coworkers may not be worthy of those good feelings. It’s hard to tell -- Shindo’s frequently grim and snappish, but clearly has a soft marshmallow center buried deep somewhere, if his beautiful pastries are any indication. He seems burdened by old family drama -- his mother abandoned him as a child to find her own happiness and he ended up being raised by the owner of Café Bonheur.

Uru is obviously crushing on Shindo, although it’s sometimes hard to judge how much either of them are aware of her feelings -- she engages in frequent internal monologues and it’s not always clear what’s in her head and what’s actually being said aloud.

Then there’s Ichiro who falls asleep whenever he’s hungry. To wake him up, you shove food in his mouth until he comes to (I swear I spent the entire volume wondering if he was diabetic). Needless to say, the joke gets old quickly and Ichiro just comes off as a annoying and lazy. Yet ... Ichiro’s also supposed to be bit of a smarty-pants as he’s enrolled at a very select school (except he’s repeating the third year, because he kept falling asleep and didn’t earn enough credits to graduate). So maybe he will improve with time?

Embarrassingly, I sometimes couldn’t tell Ichiro and Uru apart! I know, I know. I am just an old person now – all the young ‘uns look the same to me.

Will I read more Happy Café? I don’t know. While Volume One was a fun, frothy confection that made me grin, I’m not sure I need to read more of the series. I started Volume Two over the weekend and it was just … eh. I couldn’t bring myself to care about the two annoying young men from a rival café and the war they want to start with Café Bonheur. More romance! More happiness!

Spicy Surimi Salad

When I made this surimi salad, I was inspired by Jacques Pepin's recipe for "Surimi Salad on Greens" from More Fast Food My Way (Episode 216 -- the same as the mini savory cheesecakes) but I didn't have quite the right ingredients. Nonetheless, I was pleased by the results and recommend you give it a try.

Surimi Salad

(Obviously, if you don't like spicy, use less sriracha).
Spicy Surimi Salad

Ingredients
8 oz package surimi
2 bottled roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
2 Tbsp light mayonnaise
1 Tbsp minced shallot
1 Tbsp minced chives
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp sriracha
3 tomatoes, cut into wedges
Mixed salad greens

Directions
In a bowl, combine surimi, pepper, mayonnaise, shallot, chives, lemon juice, and sriracha. Arrange salad greens among three plates. Spoon the surimi salad on top. Garnish each serving with tomato wedges.

Makes 3 servings.

16 August 2012

Improv Challenge: Peppers & Tomatoes

I've always been intrigued by panzanella and, when I saw August's Improv Challenge was peppers and tomatoes, I knew it was time to try making one. I started looking for recipes and almost immediately came across Stewart's recipe for "Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Salad." It sounded pretty darn delicious and I had all the ingredients on hand so I set forth on the path to panzanella mastery.

The first time I made this salad, I halved the ingredients but otherwise followed Stewart's recipe exactly. The salad was surprisingly fabulous for something so simple -- all those beautiful garden tomato juices mingling with the oil and vinegar, soaking into the crunchy bread. Double yum with knobs on!

Then I started thinking about all the fresh herbs rioting in my garden and wondered if I could incorporate those into the salad. I started messing around with Stewart's recipe and ended up with what you see below -- a kind of faux Greek panzanella. It's fantastically good, combining all my favorite summer flavors in one bowl. I keep debating throwing a little goat cheese in, but I can't decide if that would increase the level of awesome or just gild the lily.

Panzanella

Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Bread Salad
Adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart

Ingredients
2 ounces day old baguette, chopped or torn into bite-size pieces
1 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil [Lucero Arbequina]
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar [Katz Late Harvest Zinfandel AgroDolce Vinegar]
1 large garlic clove, pressed
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
8 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 medium tomato, cored and cut into ½-inch wedges
1 roasted red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch strips
Sea salt and ground pepper

Panzanella Ingredients

Directions
Preheat oven to 450°F degrees.

Toss bread with 1 teaspoon oil and spread across a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden brown, about 7 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together remaining oil, vinegar, and garlic. Add tomato, roasted pepper, thyme, oregano, olives, and toasted bread. Toss. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Makes 1 large serving.


Moonstone Readalong: Clacking Tongues


I'm late to The Moonstone party this week and I'm sure everyone has already said the really interesting stuff and exhausted themselves with cleverness. This is great, because it means I can witter away like the mad witterer I am and it doesn't matter. It's Thursday -- no-one's paying attention. Woo-hoo, I'm Miss Clack! (Minus the pamphlets and sense of propriety)

I started the second set of readings with high hopes, but they were immediately squashed by the death of Rosanna Spearman. Really, Wilkie Collins, was that necessary? Let's kill off the Depressed But Reformed Criminal so we can never quite be sure of her innocence? Yes, there's that letter she wrote to Franklin, but he's gone abroad to nurse his broken heart and who can guess when we'll finally know its contents. Never if his French, Italian, or German facets have any say (or so I imagine Betteredge muttering).

Needless to say, Betteredge wasn't the only one who cried over the death of Rosanna Spearman.


I knew it had to happen, but I hoped it would come much later and that her suicide wouldn't be so intimately linked with the theft of the Moonstone. What can I say? I really like Rosanna, wrong-headed in love as she was, and wanted better things for her. When Limping Lucy told Betteredge about her plans to take Rosanna away, my mind immediately built up a beautiful future for them and, oh, the bitterness in my heart when I came back to reality!

Moving on from Rosanna ... Lady Verinder dies, too. Heart disease, poor lady. And why? To make Rachel an heiress and remove the person who knew her best? To thoroughly thwart my desire to see more pass between Lady Verinder and Betteredge than a shoulder pat and a kissed hand? Wilkie Collins, you have a lot to answer for.

Still betting Godfrey stole the Moonstone. What a coincidence he should "accidentally" encounter Mr Septimus Luker (Filthy Lucre? Lucky Seven?) at the entrance to a bank and exchange a few words. Later, both men were roughed up at separate locations by tawny-armed brigands clearly looking for something. A "receipt of a valuable of great price" was taken from Luker in the dust-up. A valuable of great price ... c'mon, we all know that's the Moonstone. Godfrey stole it and has used it to secure a loan with Luker much as Cuff said Rachel/Rosanna would.

Oh, Cuff, you let me down! I was sure he'd be all Holmesian/Grissomy smartypants and come up with something better than "Miss Rachel pawned it to pay her manteau maker," but NO. But then it looks like that's precisely what someone else was trying to do, so great theory/wrong suspect?

It looks like three mysterious Hindoo gentlemen are to blame for the dust-up. Unsurprising, but who is this "respectable stranger," escorting them around? That celebrated Indian traveller, Mr. Murthwaite? Seems unlikely considering how poorly he was received by the Hindoos when he spoke to them at the Verinders's. Could it be the mysterious gentleman who came to visit Franklin during his stay at the Verinders's? We never learned who he was or why he came to see Franklin, did we?

Godfrey proposes to Rachel again and this time Rachel says yes, after a round-about confession to loving Franklin, but they must keep their engagement secret until her mother is better. The engagement is quite hilariously witnessed by poor Miss Clack, who has been madly seeding the Verinder townhouse with improving literature:
He had another burst—a burst of unholy rapture this time. He drew her nearer and nearer to him till her face touched his; and then—No! I really cannot prevail upon myself to carry this shocking disclosure any farther. Let me only say, that I tried to close my eyes before it happened, and that I was just one moment too late. I had calculated, you see, on her resisting. She submitted. To every right-feeling person of my own sex, volumes could say no more.
Oh, Rachel, you hussy. But, Miss Clack got all weird with Godfrey's hand in an earlier scene so "judge not" and "let he without sin" &etc.

I really can't stand Miss Clack. Yes, her ridiculously titled tracts and covert pamphleteering bring some humor to the story, but she practices the worst kind of piety and quite sets my teeth on edge. Just reading the first six chapters of her narrative had me clenching my jaw and thinking quite seriously about the unopened bottles of wine in the kitchen (obviously, I am in need of one of Miss Clack's Improving Tracts).

I'm still quite sure Godfrey stole the Moonstone. I'm also equally sure Rachel believes Franklin did it. How this will all resolve itself, I don't know, but it better happen before Rachel marries our Christian Hero or I am going to need more wine.

So two dead ladies, a marriage I don't want to see happen, Franklin brooding abroad, Indian jugglers still on the loose, a money lender, and a flippin' diamond still missing. We are no closer to resolution than we were last Tuesday.


(Gah! I completely forget to mention Betteredge's little asides about dosing the dogs and Dr Candy's unpopular assistant. Surely, those can't be accidental. Surely Betteredge is giving us hints about What Is To Come?)

15 August 2012

Eating The Alphabet: O is for Olives & Oregano

My mother taught me to sprinkle dried oregano on my sandwiches, because oregano makes a sandwich better. Salami, turkey, roast beef, ham, grilled cheese ... all better with oregano. So, when I started thinking about recipes for August's Alphabet Challenge, I spent a lot of time staring at the pot of oregano growing on my porch.

I thought about making a tapenade or muffauletta olive spread, but then Men's Health's "Croissant with Herbed Goat Cheese and Spinach" popped up on Pinterest and I knew I had found The Right Sandwich. Unfortunately, there wasn't much of a recipe so I just kind of made one up as I went along.

Olive-Oregano Goat Cheese Spread

It's a good sandwich -- full of strong flavors, but they all meld together well. If you're not fond of goat cheese, cream cheese or a Laughing Cow wedge would work well as substitutes.

Herbed Goat Cheese and Spinach Sandwich
Inspired by Men's Health

Olive-Oregano Goat Cheese Spread

Ingredients
2 Tbsp soft goat cheese
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
6 small kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
1 oz baby spinach leaves
1 oz bottled roasted red pepper, drained and patted dry
1 whole wheat ciabatta roll, split

Directions
Combine goat cheese with thyme, oregano, and olives.


Olive-Oregano Goat Cheese Spread

Spread thickly over one half of ciabatta. Pile with pepper and spinach. Top with remaining ciabatta half. Eat.

Makes 1 sandwich.
You could also spread the goat cheese mixture on thin slices of baguette, crown them with a bit of sliced roasted pepper and more fresh herbs, and serve them as an appetizer or snack.

Olive-Oregano Goat Cheese Spread

Wordless Wednesday: Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Appetite for Destruction

Appetite for Destruction

Appetite for Destruction

14 August 2012

Top 10 Tuesday: Romances That Would Make It


This week's Top Ten Tuesday asks us to list ten book romances do we think would make it in the Real World. I admit I had a hard time with this list, because it kept turning into “Fictional Relationships I Wish I Wasn’t Just Making Up In My Head” like Jane/Helen, Louisa/Jupe, etc.

My list is short three romances and full of the "friends to lovers" trope. I make no apologies as that is one of the very few romantic tropes I tolerate well:
  1. Anne & Gilbert, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne series (founded on friendship and a deep understanding of each other, I’d bet they’d make it)
  2. Betsy & Joe, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy & Joe and Betsy’s Wedding (again, friendship and deep understanding)
  3. Bridget Jones & Mark Darcy, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bridget Jones: The End of Reason (because ... respect, understanding, tolerance, humor, yadda, yadda).
  4. Lancelot, Guinevere, & Arthur, Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D'Arthur (An open marriage and therapy would save them a lot of misery and I can imagine them happy in 2012)
  5. Margaret Hale & John Thornton, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (they balance/support/complement each other so well that it is hard to believe they couldn’t succeed in the real world)
  6. Nan Astley & Florence Banner, Sarah Waters’s Tipping the Velvet (friendship, understanding, empathy, blahblahblah, and a change in law/societal norms)
  7. Stephen Blackpool & Rachel, Charles Dickens's Hard Times (I want to believe they'd find real happiness today, in a world different from the one they were trapped in, but then the poor are always trod on, aren't they?)
Okay, that’s only seven but that’s the best I can do. Who are three more you think would make it?

08 August 2012

Moonstone Readalong: Red Herrings Everywhere


[Darlings, my apologies. I started typing and ... Words. Just. Happened].

I’m going to presume we all read the same thing and so I don’t need to summarize all 102-ish pages, but can just blather away about what I read. If you’re reading this and aren’t part of The Moonstone readalong, well ... what are you waiting for?

/waits while you go get a copy, read it, and then travel back in time to now

So. We have a well-staffed house in the English countryside, an upper-class mother and her daughter, their two male cousins, a sparkly fuck-off diamond, mysterious Indian jugglers, a bumbling constable, a cunning detective ... and everything told through the eyes of a loyal butler.

Having no other choice as yet, we must presume Gabriel Betteredge1 is a reliable narrator. We must also presume that the documents we’re reading, written and gathered at the request of Franklin Blake, have not been edited to have a certain slant, but exist honorably and truthfully to set the record straight and clear the innocent of suspicion.

None of this may be true, of course. Betteredge, who likes a drop with his Crusoe and who takes an annoying patronizing attitude toward teh womenfolk, may be confused or telling straight-out lies to support some dark purpose. Franklin may have his own, and thus far unknown, reasons for telling a particular version of the truth.


Who knows? So let me just blather on about what I think I know.

The butler did it!

Well, probably not being as he’s writing his account of the theft two years after it occurred and doesn’t appear to be writing that account from prison.

I think, based on Miss Rachel’s carryings-on and some of the things Cuff says, we’re supposed to suspect Franklin stole the gem, but that just doesn’t make sense. Collins is clever and wouldn’t reveal the identity of the thief so early in the game would he? Or is Collins playing with us, knowing we will dismiss Franklin as impossibility? Also, this collection of accounts has been assembled, two years after the theft, at Franklin’s request to set the record straight and clear the innocent of suspicion. Would a secretly guilty man be so bold? He might, but I’m pretty sure Franklin’s a blind to deflect us from the real thief.

Godfrey! Please let it be Godfrey. Now, I know I’m biased against improving, poetical, pretty men, but Godfrey’s just too darn smooth. Proposing to Rachel one minute, having “very improving conversation” with one of “his committee-women” the next. Add in his trust in the bumbling superintendant, interest in being around during the Indian’s inquisition, and sudden need to skive off just after smarty-pants Cuff arrives (stayed just long enough to take his measure, I’d warrant) and I’d say Godfrey’s a guilty man. Who wants to bet Daddy’s bank is failing or someone’s been skimming from the Charities?

But what about the ladies? Are we seriously supposed to suspect Rachel? Yes, I know her behavior is a bit contrary and suspicious to the point of seeming guilty of something, but I can’t see her having stolen the diamond. Why would she steal her own bit of sparkly? No, more likely she’s been made broken-hearted by suspicion and keeps refusing to assist the authorities in their inquiries, because she doesn’t want to tell what she knows (or supposes to know) about Franklin.

And Rosanna. Rosanna’s also too obvious and too unlikely. The Moonstone isn’t short, you know, and the discovery of Rosanna as thief couldn’t possibly fill all those pages. (Also, I like and sympathize with Rosanna. Therefore, she cannot be the thief!) Based on her words to Franklin, however, I’d guess Rosanna thinks she knows who the thief is and I’m worried Something Bad is going to happen to her. For pity’s sale, she likes to hang out at the Shivering Sands! If that doesn’t fill a reader with foreboding, I don’t know what will.

Anyway, I’m guessing our next set of reading will turn all my suppositions on their ears and I’ll start suspecting poor Doctor Candy (such an unfortunate name -- sounds like it belongs to a drug dealer or is the chatroom handle for a pedophile -- not that I would know).

On a not-really-related note (has anything been), there’s a The Moonstone computer game! I’d so spend $10 to get it on my MacBook!


1Those initials! G.B. They nag at me. Is Gabriel Betteredge supposed to be some kind of walking, talking metaphor? An English Everyman with his love of a tobacco, a nice drop of something, and that imperialistic fantasy, Robinson Crusoe? Or am I thinking too much?

2I’m thinking too much.

07 August 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Cheesecake

PhotobucketAugust’s Crazy Cooking Challenge was cheesecake. Cheesecake. In August. Eek! August means heat and stickiness. It means huddling over the air conditioner vent with a sweaty glass of iced tea, day-dreaming about ice cold melon and popsicles. There was just no way I was going to be able to bake or eat a cheesecake (The Husband wishes you to know that, if I really loved him, I would have baked a cheesecake and he, out of love for me, would have eaten it all).

I tried a couple no-bake cheesecake recipes, but they either just didn't turn out good enough for the Crazy Cooking Challenge or were so appallingly bad that I can't bear to think about them. August 7 crept steadily closer and I was still without a recipe. So what to do?

I turned, as I always turn, to my library’s cookbook collection and Jacques Pepin's More Fast Food My Way was my salvation. I would make "Mini Savory Cheesecakes on Arugula or Butterhead Lettuce" and my taste buds would be so happy. Yes, I would still run my oven, but only for twenty minutes and I could live with that, because ... blue cheese. Le fromage bleu. Délicieux!

Savory Mini Cheesecake

I know, you're thinking "Savory cheesecakes? What the heck?" Normally, we think of cheesecake as a decadent sweet to be enjoyed as a dessert, studded with chocolate or glazed with fruit. But, why not a savory cheesecake for a light lunch or appetizer?


If you're going to make this recipe, I strongly suggest watching the accompanying episode first as there are a few differences between how the recipe is written and how it is filmed. For instance, the video calls for adding about ¼ cup crumbled blue cheese to the cheesecake batter, plus some on top before baking and the written recipe just wants it on top. Claudine omits the bread crumbs (and I did, too). Also, the video says the savory cheesecakes can be served hot or lukewarm -- they fall as they cool, but they still taste good.

Boy, do the ever! Mine never puffed up as much as Pepin's, but they still taste outstandingly good. The strong blue cheese is tempered somewhat by the sour cream and cream cheese and the tangy salad vinaigrette partners well with it all. While I used reduced fat blue cheese crumbles and light sour cream in this recipe, the cheesecake still tastes rich and decadent -- also, unexpectedly light (almost fluffy) which it's squat, puck-like appearance belies.

06 August 2012

Invasion of the Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomato Time
Italian Ice, Red Lightning, Tye-Dye,
Honeybunch, Sun Gold, Heritage,
Pink Pounder, Orange Slice, Black Krim,
Big Rainbow, Brandywine, Burpee's Supersteak.

I planted them all.


What was I thinking? I know what I was thinking. It was winter and spring seemed a long time off and I, missing summer's fresh tomatoes, thought "I can't plant too many tomatoes." Well, yes, I can and clearly did, because I harvested just shy of 20 pounds of the delicious bastards this weekend. Cherry, small fruit, and big 'uns. Heirloom and not so.

Tomato Time

What am I going to do with all these tomatoes? Well, a whole lot have already been made into soup -- both the roasted cherry tomato soup I made last week and "Heirloom Tomato Soup" from Taste of Home's Healthy Cooking magazine. Some of the cherries will go into Martha Stewart's Baked Stuffed Red Peppers with Cherry Tomatoes, Feta, & Thyme." As for the rest, I don't know. Tomato jam, maybe, or pie.

I used Italian Ice tomatoes in the roasted cherry soup so it came out paler and a little tarter than the one I made last week with the Sun Golds. A little bit of honey helped sweeten it, though, and I wasn't really concerned about the color while I was sucking mugs of it down.

Tomato Time

And we won't even talk about the enormous quantity of carrots I harvested ... monstrous carrots of unusual size. Help. Send raw vegans. Or vampire bunnies.

05 August 2012

So ... What Do I Read Now?


So. I finished DramaCon. Now I don't know what to do with myself. Well, other than put myself back on hold for the first volume, and start re-reading the entire series all over again.

Or hand lots of monies over to Amazon resellers so I can possess a set of my own ...

[Sp, I know]

04 August 2012

Imperfectly Delicious Oreo Cheesecake Pudding Bites

August's Crazy Cooking Challenge is cheesecake and straight away I knew I would need a recipe for a bite-size no-bake cheesecake, because ... August. August is not for baking nor is it for heavy food like cheesecake.

Happily, I found a recipe at Cooking Classy for no-bake "Oreo Cheesecake Bites" that looked like it would be perfect for the challenge. We like Oreos. We love cheesecake. We adore bite-size nibbles.

No-Bake Oreo Cheesecake Bites
So cute!

Unfortunately, I immediately ran into a big problem -- none of the grocery stores near me sold 3.4 oz packages of cheesecake flavored instant pudding mix. The closest thing I could find was 1 oz Jell-O brand sugar-free instant cheesecake pudding mix at Target.

I decided to give it a go but fudge the amount of liquid, because I worried that using the smaller box would mean a soupier filling if I used the original amounts of liquid. So, instead of 1 cup heavy cream and ¾ cup milk, I used 1 cup heavy cream and ¼ (1%) milk. This sounds logical, doesn't it? Well, it didn't work. My cheesecake filling was still very pudding like and leaving it in the freezer for 20 minutes (instead of 10) didn't noticeably improve it.

Mind you, it still tasted very good -- gooey Oreo cheesecake filling cannot taste bad as it contains both Oreos and cheesecake and those things are never bad -- and we were happy enough to eat the bites, imperfect as they might be.

Because the recipe made 30 and there are only 2 of us, I made 6 bites and stored the rest of the filling in my frosting gun in the freezer so that 1) the filling would hopefully set-up more as time went on and 2) we could make more bites whenever we pleased. If the filling doesn't set up more overnight, I'll just make cheesecake parfaits by layering the gooey filling with crushed Oreos and whipped cream.

Eek! Two days left to find another cheesecake recipe! To the library!

01 August 2012

The Moonstone Readalong: Introductory Rambles


I was very backy-forthy over whether or not I would participate in Reading Rambo's The Moonstone readalong, because I've only recently started reading Dickens and the man is just killing any affection I have for Victorian literature. Dickens and Collins, I hear, were totes bros so ...oh noes, The Moonstone! Please, don't make me read it.

But then I downloaded a library copy to my Kindle for a little taste and couldn't put it down. Quicksand and lecherous old stewards, maudlin ex-cons/housemaids and prodigal cousins, mysterious diamonds and acrobats? I am so doing this readalong. If only to find out whether Carson BETTEREDGE gets it on with his lady. You read his record of events and tell me he doesn't sound like he's in jonesing for her. Also, much too handsy with the maids.


Like a good little reader, I have obeyed instructions to look up The Siege of Seringapatam. It feels creepily familiar -- the British East India Company, with its private army backed by British forces, went to war to protect (and expand) its interests in a country where it was not welcomed in the first place? And there seemed to be a fair amount of "rah! rah! civilise those savages for Christ and Britain!" jingoism supporting it:

The British Army was about twenty thousand strong,
And fearlessly through Indian territory they marched along,
Determined to conquer Tippoo Sahib they were bent,
Or to die — rather than surrender — in the attempt.

Tippoo Sahib was a savage despot — a devotee to the Mohammedan faith,
And had tortured many of the English and put them to death;
But thanks be to God, that did send
The British to crush and bring him to an untimely end.
...

So thus fell Tippoo Sahib, a very cruel man,
And his great fortress of Seringapatam;
And the spoil that fell into the British hands was great,
Money, jewels, and arms, likewise costly silver plate.
                   -- excerpts from "The Siege of Seringapatam"
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