30 January 2013

Accidental Workhouse Porridge

I know. My soup looks like the kind of wretched porridge they would have served at a Victorian workhouse, if the Victorians had known about quinoa. It's not at all pretty. Indeed, it's down right homely. But, O my darlings, it is quite tasty.

Quinoa & Acorn Squash Soup

This soup is based on Crisco's "Butternut and Quinoa Soup," but I used an acorn squash, yellow bell pepper, and no-sugar added cashew butter. Also, I was out of cayenne so seasoned the finished soup with sriracha.

I blame the soup's sad, washed-out color on my choice of ingredients as orange butternut and red bell pepper would have held their own against the brown cashew butter and ultimately yielded a prettier soup. But yellow and yellow, when mixed with the brown cashew butter, just went ... beige.

And then I had the brilliant idea to puree the finished soup as the large chunks of squash didn't really seem to go with the tiny grains (would really recommend dicing squash into fingernail-sized cubes) ... No, pureeing did not help its looks at all.

But the taste was better! The squash blended with the quinoa and corn forming a spicy/sweet/nutty/creamy amalgam that I couldn't stop sampling.

Since it looks like porridge, I've been eating it for breakfast and find a one-cup serving is quite filling and doesn't leaving me starving by midmorning. I do look forward to making it again, but with a butternut squash and a red or orange bell pepper.

28 January 2013

Italian Homework: Pork Pizzaiola

I can't seem to close the book on my online cooking course. I've done everything I need to except submit the final assignment and, rather than do that, I keep going back and trying new recipes. Oh well, I have a year to complete the course ...

Anyway, the dilly-dallying has been worth it as I've made some really nice dishes, including this pork pizzaiola. I haven't cooked with pork very often, because I believed The Husband didn't eat the other white meat. Then, a few weeks ago, he mentioned it had been awhile since I cooked any meat that wasn't chicken or beef and the Truth of Pork was revealed. He doesn't eat ham or bacon, but everything else is (probably) fair game.

Pork Pizzaiola & Pasta

So I made this pork pizzaiola and, wow, it was good. The chops were tender and flavorful, the sauce rich and tomato-y. While it looks pretty fancy, it was super easy to make, didn't take a lot of prep, and cooked quickly. Indeed, it's actually something I could throw together on a weeknight!
Pork Pizzaiola
Serves 3

Ingredients
3 thick center cut boneless pork chops
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
6 large basil leaves, rolled and sliced into thin ribbons (chiffonade)
1 14.5 oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
Thirty minutes before cooking, remove the chops from the refrigerator, unwrap, pat dry, and liberally season with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet and add in the garlic. Sauté the garlic for a few minutes over medium; shaking the pan to keep the garlic moving. Add the chops to the pan and brown the chops on both sides. Lower heat to medium-low.

Add the tomatoes, oregano, parsley, and basil and continue to cook over medium-low heat until done (145 F° according to the USDA). Let rest for about five minutes. Serve with pasta.
So, yes, pork should definitely be on the menu more often. And lamb! And duck! And, wow, it's been a long time since we had a turkey ...

27 January 2013

Across the Universe


This ship is built on secrets; it runs on secrets.

Across the Universe is a delicious young adult space opera featuring Murder, Oppression, and Love. Amy, our female narrator, was cryogenically frozen along with her parents and stowed aboard a generation starship headed out on a three hundred year journey to colonize a new planet, Centauri-Earth. Elder, our male narrator, is descended from those who were not frozen, but elected to stay awake and take care of the ship and its precious cargo, even though that meant not living to see Centauri-Earth. Aside from some vague creepiness, everything seems to be ticking along just fine and then ...

Something bad happens and Amy is woken decades before she was meant to. She can't be refrozen, so she must cope with being awake aboard the Godspeed. However, Elder and his kind find her bizarre and freakish -- truly alien to everything they know or accept as normal -- and her difference puts her in great danger.

I actually finished reading Across the Universe just before Christmas, but never got around to writing about it because ... people died and it was Christmas and I Was Sad and ... life, you know.

But! Over the past few weeks, bits of Across the Universe kept creeping back into my head. The ideas behind this book are so fascinating and I've always secretly wished to travel aboard a multi-generational interstellar ark starship, anyway, so maybe it's no surprise I can't stop thinking about life aboard the Godspeed. The mono-ethnicity, controlled breeding cycles, Eldest's governance system, creativity diagnosed as a kind of mental illness ... it's all deeply creepy. And yet I can see how naturally and inevitably it all came to be. Which is even creepier. So I keep thinking about how it could have been different and wondering if it could happen again now that everyone's eyes have been opened.

Across the Universe wasn't without flaws and I was annoyed with the ending, because quite a lot of the story felt rather sophisticated and then the ending felt like "and then they all stopped drinking the kool-aid, and everyone was happy, the end." (It was a longish novel, I admit, so perhaps Revis just came to the end and realized that, since explaining the drama of detox and a new reality would create enough story to fill its own book, it might be easiest to just gloss over it?)

Anyway, as I said, I finished reading Across the Universe weeks ago and yet it keeps creeping back into my thoughts ... very much making it A Book Worth Reading. Happily, my library catalog tells me the next book, A Million Suns, is on the shelf and I shall pick it up Monday.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis (Razorbill, 2011)

26 January 2013

Cleaning Out the Fridge With Soup

Made another loaf of bread Friday night (the second this week!) and that made me crave chicken soup and, since Saturday afternoon seemed like a good time to clean out the fridge, I made a big pot of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink chicken soup. Leftover leeks, carrots, onions, peppers, peas, corn, rosemary, parsley -- everything went in the pot and deliciousness came out.

Saturday Night Chicken Soup

I'd put the chicken breasts in the fridge to thaw the night before (planning on enchiladas to use up the manky peppers and onion) and they were still slightly frozen when I went to make this soup. That turned out to be a good thing, because they were much easier to cut! Usually, I detest cutting up raw chicken because it feels like the flesh just flops around on my cutting board, smooshing more than slicing. Slightly frozen chicken has body and doesn't smoosh.

Speaking of chicken, I feel I need to give a shout-out to my local Shoprite as it's now stocking some really nice organic chicken and grass-fed beef that rivals the stuff I buy from Whole Foods. The organic produce is also nothing to sneer at -- the variety is limited, yes, but everything is great quality. The organic Fairtrade bananas I've been buying are the best-tasting bananas I've had in months -- sweet and buttery and wonderful.

And now back to the soup!
Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Chicken Soup

Ingredients
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 heaping cup chopped leeks
1 scant cup chopped red onion
1 heaping cup chopped red and orange bell pepper
1 scant cup chopped carrots
1¼ lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
32 oz low-sodium chicken broth
14.5 oz turkey broth
1 heaping cup frozen corn
½ cup frozen peas
1 large bay leaf
1 3" sprig fresh rosemary
1 scant cup quick-cooking barley
1 scant cup chopped fresh parsley (do not pack)
salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Heat the olive oil over medium until hot and very fragrant. Add leeks, onion, pepper, and carrots. Sauté until onion is transparent. Add chicken, bay, rosemary, and both containers of broth. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Stir in barley, peas, corn, and parsley. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes more or until barley is cooked. Remove bay and rosemary. Season soup with salt and pepper to taste.
We ate this with crunchy, buttery toast and big mugs of tea while watching back-to-back episodes of Dark Shadows: The Revival. It was exactly what I'd been craving.

(We'd been wondering where all the food storage bag clips had gone and now it's clear they're all in the freezer holding closed an improbable number of open bags of veg).

25 January 2013

Yotsuba&! Volume 1


A weird little green-haired toddler named Yotsuba moves to a new neighborhood with her daddy. She slowly settles in, making new friends and getting into small-girl level mischief. Really, there's not a lot going on here. The manga simply follows Yotsuba's daily interactions with her dad and their neighbors, the Ayases. She learns about air conditioning and swings, hunts cicadas, and goes shopping for home goods with her daddy. It's undiluted domesticity. Mundane slice-of-life stuff.

In another manga, that might have annoyed me, but the mundane works just fine in Yotsuba&!, because this manga is just so darn sweet, wholesome, and fun that it doesn't matter there isn't a deeper story. And, ohmygod, the adorabs! I'm quite sure I grinned my may through the book.

(I'm counting Yotsuba&! 1 as a manga for the 2013 Graphic Novel Challenge).

Yotsuba&! 1 by Kiyohiko Azuma (Yen Press, 2009)

23 January 2013

Banana-Nutmeg Quesadillas

This recipe was my runner up for last week's Improv Challenge post. I'm pleased with how well it came out -- all crunchy, chocolaty, and banana -- and while it didn't curl my toes the way the broiled bananas did, it's well worth a post of its own.

Banana-Chocolate Quesadillas, Yum

These quesadillas were inspired by a Weight Watchers recipe for "Chocolate-Cinnamon Quesadillas." The directions are pretty much the same, but I shrank the serving size down to one and changed the ingredients a bit.
Banana-Nutmeg Quesadillas
Serves 1.

Ingredients
1 high fiber whole wheat tortilla [Maria & Ricardo's FiberRich Wheat Tortillas]
1 baby banana, sliced
Chocolate nut spread [Trader Joe's Cocoa Almond Spread]
Nutmeg

Directions
Spread chocolate over half of the tortilla. Arrange banana slices over chocolate and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Assembling Banana-Chocolate Quesadillas 3

Fold tortilla over to cover ingredients.

Spritz a skillet with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Cook quesadilla about two minutes on each side or until tortilla is speckled with brown spots and filling melts.

Banana-Chocolate Quesadillas In The Pan

Remove from pan. Cut the quesadilla in half, sprinkle with more nutmeg, and eat.
I ate this for breakfast, but it would work perfectly well as a snack or dessert. If serving for dessert, you might want to dress the cooked quesadilla up with a dusting of chocolate powder and a splodge of fresh whipped cream.

21 January 2013

Polly & The Pirates, Volume 2: Mystery of the Dragonfish


In an alternate-history 1800s San Francisco rife with pirates and airships, Miss Polly Pringle sneaks out of Mistress Lovejoy's School for Proper Young Ladies to rescue Emperor Norton, self-proclaimed Emperor of the Americas and Protector of Mexico, from his unjust imprisonment by the federal government. For, you see, Polly is no mere milk-faced boarding school miss. No, she is the Pirate Queen! Arrr.

I read the first volume of Polly & The Pirates waaay back in 2007 and thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was quite fun and Polly made an admirable hero. Obviously, I was chuffed to bits to find there was a second volume ... but not so chuffed that I actually sat down and read it. Oh, no! Volume 2 languished in my TBR pile for a good year.

And there it should have stayed. For, as much as I loved Volume 1, I couldn't muster even a vague liking for Volume 2. The story rambled around with much excitement and enthusiasm (prison breaks! naval battles! naughty foreign governments! first love!), but not a lot of sense. Rodriguez's illustrations didn't help as I found them hard to follow and it wasn't always easy to tell his characters apart. Maybe, it would have worked better in color?

Polly and the Pirates Volume 2: Mystery of the Dragonfish written by Ted Naifeh & illus. by Robbi Rodriguez

19 January 2013

Italian Homework: Italian Cheesecake

For "Lesson 11: Creating Sumptuous Italian Desserts," the penultimate class in the online Italian cooking course I've been taking through Universal Class and my public library, I made a fabulous ricotta cheesecake. It was my first cheesecake! And so blessedly easy! Fool-proof, even! No water bath! No crust! Just pure, unmitigated deliciousness.

Italian Cheesecake
My first cheesecake! So proud!
The cheesecake was light, creamy, and mildly sweet. Filling, but not heavy --- I love cheesecake, but it usually leaves me with an "Ohmygod, I need bigger pants and a nap" feeling. This cheesecake was almost like eating a dense lemon mousse and left my tummy content rather than overstuffed.
Ricotta Cheesecake
Serves 8. 8 Weight Watchers Points+ by my math, but ymmv.

Ingredients

6 large eggs
⅔ cup sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract [Penzeys Mexican vanilla]
1 32 ounce container whole milk ricotta cheese
Zest of one lemon

Directions

Pour the ricotta cheese into a colander lined with cheesecloth and let drain for an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Spray a nine-inch springform pan with cooking spray.

Separate the eggs, placing the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. Beat the yolks by with an electric hand mixer or what have you until light yellow and thick. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat on medium speed for another 2 minutes. Add the ricotta cheese and lemon zest and mix well.

Clean your beaters and beat the egg whites on high speed until they make stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold the whites into the ricotta mixture until mixed well. Pour the mixture into the springform pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and the sides begin to pull away from the pan (start checking at about 50 minutes). Let cake cool completely before refrigerating. Cover with foil and let settle in the fridge for at least 7 hours before cutting.

Serve with fresh berries and whipped cream.
Next time, I'm trying this with orange zest! Bet it will be just as fabulous.

18 January 2013

A Late Victorian Road Boat Trip


Everything has its drawbacks, as the man said when his mother-in-law died, and they came down upon him for the funeral expenses.

Ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous! And so delightful! Three men (and a dog) escape their taxing London gentlemen’s life for a fortnight’s boating expedition on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford. Their adventure, like the Thames, meanders pleasantly along from one misadventure to another, with many funny twists and turns between, and a few unexpected sparkling tributaries of poetry.

Personally, I found it a wonder the men managed to get up (and down) the river, so absurd and maddeningly (but also amusingly) incompetent were they. (I never had any doubt the dog, Montmorency, would make a success of it, but then he’s the only one with the sense to vote against the trip). However, the narrator is clearly aware of his own failings and continuously pokes gentle fun at himself and his companions thereby redeeming the trio in mine eyes. I like wit and self-effacing humor and Three Men in a Boat has it in spades.

Mind you, I did not read Three Men in a Boat. I listened to an audio book edition read by Hugh Laurie and, frankly, he could make the phonebook seem droll. Oh, the man has a scrumptious voice. *fans self*


Sadly, this audio book edition was an abridgement and the Internets tell me I missed some good bits – the dead girl in the river, George and the swans, etc – so I may have to seek out an unabridged edition. But not right now, because Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is waiting for me. (Google Reader’s been full of people wittering away about The Reading Rambo's Harry Potter Readalong: All the Gifs and I find myself overwhelmed with nostalgia ... at least for the first few books).

And here I leave you with one of my favorite passages from Three Men in a Boat:

How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with—oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all!—the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man—all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness—no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchids, or the blue forget-me-nots.

Tl;dr? Then:

Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need—a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

Three Men in a Boat written by Jerome K. Jerome & read by Hugh Laurie (CSA Word, 2008) [abridged]

17 January 2013

Improv Challenge: Bananas & Nutmeg

January's Improv Challenge ingredients were bananas and nutmeg. I knew I wanted to do something simple and fairly straightforward -- something that would let the banana and nutmeg shine. It also needed to be reasonably healthy, because 2013 is my own personal Year for Better Health. And it needed to be quick, because I'm just getting lazier and lazier as the winter progresses.

Broiled Banana Cottage Cheese Plate
I want to eat this every morning!
Ended up making a Bananas Foster-esque broiled banana something with banana, nutmeg, maple syrup, walnuts, and cottage cheese. I used baby bananas instead of "regular" bananas, because I saw them in the shop and they were simply so unbelievably adorabs that I couldn't pass them by. Baby bananas are smaller than the common yellow Cavendish banana you find at every grocery store and actually taste a bit sweeter and more complex. Like the "regular" bananas, baby bananas can be eaten raw or cooked.

Bananas & Baby Bananas
Behold, Bananas and Mini Bananas!
Broiled Banana Cottage Cheese Plate
Serves 1.

Ingredients
½ tsp ground nutmeg plus more for garnish
2 tsp maple syrup (or honey!)
1 baby banana
1 serving 2% cottage cheese
1 Tbsp crushed toasted walnuts
Directions
Preheat broiler.

Slice banana in half lengthwise. Place halves, flat side up, on greased baking sheet. Brush halves with maple syrup and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Broiling Bananas

Broil bananas for 3-5 minutes or until beautifully browned. Remove from oven.


Place cottage cheese in center of a dessert plate and flank with broiled bananas. Scatter crushed walnuts over cottage cheese and bananas. Drizzle with remaining syrup and sprinkle with more nutmeg.

Broiled Banana Cottage Cheese Plate
I really liked how this recipe turned out -- so many great texture and flavor combinations. The warmth of the bananas and the cool of the cottage cheese. The sweetness of the bananas and the salty creaminess of the cottage cheese. The rich maple syrup and the sprightly nutmeg. The smoothness of the bananas and cottage cheese with the crunch of the walnuts. Yum! Look forward to making it again.


14 January 2013

Southwestern-Style Chicken Salad

I'm really enamored with The Cheesecake Factory's "Grilled Chicken Tostada Salad." I love the combination of creamy dressing, juicy chicken, and crispy greens. And you can never go wrong with black beans and corn in a salad. But I can't visit the Cheesecake Factory every week -- too expensive and unhealthy in the long term -- so I've had to make do with trying to clone the salad at home.

Southwest-Style Chicken Salad

I think I've made a good start here, even if it looks nothing like the original, but there's a depth of flavor that's lacking in the dressing. Lime juice, maybe. Or a tart salad dressing like Newman's Own's "Lite Lime Vinaigrette" or Williams-Sonoma's "Spicy Chipotle Agave Vinaigrette" might work well with this salad. Obviously, I will keep tinkering -- need to figure out the avocado crema, after all.

(I've completely omitted the corn tortillas, because they're my least favorite part of the Cheesecake Factory's version and I don't really need the fat/calories/refined carbs).

Southwestern-Style Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp sour cream
  • ½ cup salsa [Green Mountain Gringo Roasted Garlic]
  • 1 Tbsp dried cilantro
  • 2 4-oz boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Southwestern-style chicken rub, as desired
  • 1 large heart of romaine, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup finely chopped red cabbage
  • 1 cup chopped seeded cucumber
  • 4 cocktail tomatoes, halved and quartered [Campari]
  • 3 scallions, sliced thin
  • 1 cup low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed and drained

Instructions

  1. Whisk salsa, sour cream, and cilantro together. Set aside.
  2. Liberally rub chicken breasts. Heat a nonstick skillet until very hot and add chicken breasts. Cook 5 minutes per side or until each side is very brown and chicken is cooked through. Rest for 10 minutes.
  3. Wipe down skillet and return to heat. Add corn and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until corn is a little charred-looking. Set aside.
  4. Toss romaine, cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes, scallions, and black beans together in a large bowl. Add salsa mixture and toss until salad is evenly coated. Divide between two serving plates.
  5. Slice or chop chicken. Put on top of salad. Scatter roasted corn across it all. Admire. Eat.
Yield: 2

Ignition City


Ignition City was a five-issue science fiction comic book series, all of which are collected in this trade. It's set in the 1950s in a universe in which World War II was interrupted by a Martian invasion. A young woman, Mary Raven, arrives at the Earth's last spaceport, Ignition City, to collect her father's possessions and find his murderer. Unfortunately, she annoys many people who would like her to stop asking questions and go away ... one way or another.

I enjoyed Ignition City's story very much. Ellis has crafted a well-formed and compelling alternate Earth with interesting characters and enough action to keep any reader enthralled.

Genre-wise, Ignition City reads like a sci-fi western where everyone dresses like they came from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I think, if you enjoy videogames like Fallout or Bioshock you would enjoy this graphic novel.

Alas, the illustrations are a bit patchy. The landscapes, scenery, machinery, clothing, etc are richly detailed, but the character's faces can be oddly blank at times. Almost as if, unlikely as it sounds, someone forget to finish them. Also, there are scenes which seem drawn only to showcase Mary's ass or breasts. They're quite nice, I admit, but their niceness is irrelevant. More facial expression and less pandering in the next volume, please. (Oh, I know, there isn't supposed to be another volume, but I can't believe Ellis would create such a rich and detailed world and not revisit it at some later date).


(I'm counting Ignition City as my science fiction entry for the 2013 Graphic Novel Challenge).

Ignition City by Warren Ellis with illus. by Gianluca Pagliarani (Avatar Press, 2010)

12 January 2013

Italian Homework: Rolling Italian Dinner

I'm behind in posting -- lots of cooking and photo-taking, but not a lot of writing going on here -- so please travel back in time with me to Boxing Day as I talk to you about my Italian homework.

In order to complete the online beginners Italian cooking course I've been taking through my library, I have to cook a multi-course Italian meal using recipes from the course syllabus. Well, I wasn't really charmed with the idea of cooking a multi-course meal as I had a feeling I'd spend the greater part of the day in the kitchen cooking, only to have dishes dry out while waiting for others to cook and nothing arriving at the table at the right temperature. So I did a rolling dinner on Boxing Day. We started with stuffed mushrooms at noon, then pasta fagoile at one, chicken Parmesan and salad around two, and then ... I completely forgot about dessert. So ... I have to do it all over again! Or lie to the instructor and pretend everything happened on the same day.

Anyway, the recipes I did make were easy to prepare and yielded tasty dishes I'd be happy to make again (just not all in one day). I was especially pleased with the mushrooms -- I've always been intimidated by stuffed mushroom recipes as they seemed inordinately fiddly and fiddly recipes fill me with anxiety.

Easy Stuffed Mushrooms
Easy Herby Stuffed Mushrooms

Easy Pasta Fagiole
Super Garlicky Pasta Fagiole

Easy Chicken Parmesan w/ Rotini & Sauce
Naked Chicken Parmesan, Rotini & Sauce, & Salad

Oliver Twist


For years, I avoided reading Dickens. As a man, he was an ass. As a writer, unforgivably smug and wordy. Aside from the very amusing A Christmas Carol, no good could come from Dickens.

Then The Husband gave me the beautifully slip-cased hardbound Major Works of Charles Dickens and I felt obligated to give Old Charlie a try. And, you know, his novels have turned out to be rather enjoyable. A Tale of Two Cities was excellent (I ♥ Mme. Defarge) and Hard Times, while exceedingly preachy, was well worth the weeks I spent on it.

In September, in a fit of optimism, I listed Oliver Twist as one of my top ten autumn TBR. Optimism, because if there was any work by Dickens I thought I'd never-ever-so-help-me-god read, it was Oliver Twist. In my eighth grade music class, we'd watched Oliver!, the 1968 musical drama film based on the stage musical of the same name and nominally based on the Dickens' Oliver Twist. We then learnt a medley of songs from the musical and performed them at a school concert. I hated every second of the film. The medley? Bah!

I fully expected to hate the novel.

But I was so WRONG. Oliver Twist was good fun. (And very, very little like the musical). Full of pathos and angrifying references to "The Jew," yes, but the Good 'Uns get their just rewards and the Bad 'Uns suffer and sometimes that's all I want from a story.

Well ... except in the cases of Nancy and Monks. Nancy DIES (oh, the angries I still feel) even though she does good, because she loves Sykes and that love kills her. Monks, rotter that his is, still avoids prison because he is a gentleman.

Even though I resent Nancy's death, I must admit Dickens wrote it quite beautifully (if such a word can be applied to murder) and it is, to me, one of the most moving scenes in the novel:

He had not moved; he had been afraid to stir. There had been a moan and motion of the hand; and, with terror added to rage, he had struck and struck again. Once he threw a rug over it; but it was worse to fancy the eyes, and imagine them moving towards him, than to see them glaring upward, as if watching the reflection of the pool of gore that quivered and danced in the sunlight on the ceiling. He had plucked it off again. And there was the body—mere flesh and blood, no more—but such flesh, and so much blood!

He struck a light, kindled a fire, and thrust the club into it. There was hair upon the end, which blazed and shrunk into a light cinder, and, caught by the air, whirled up the chimney. Even that frightened him, sturdy as he was; but he held the weapon till it broke, and then piled it on the coals to burn away, and smoulder into ashes. He washed himself, and rubbed his clothes; there were spots that would not be removed, but he cut the pieces out, and burnt them. How those stains were dispersed about the room! The very feet of the dog were bloody.

Gives me chills.

My other favorite scenes were when Sykes considers drowning his poor dumb faithful dog and all of "Chapter LII" concerning Fagin's trial and imprisonment. Oliver! has Fagin reform (temporarily) before running off into the sunset with Dodger and that always annoyed me a bit, but then the Fagin of Oliver! is more merry and less "wickedly wicked" than the Fagin of Oliver Twist. Dickens' Fagin ... I didn't like him, but I had a grudging respect for his ability to not just survive, but thrive in the London stews. Mind you, I do not know how much of my feelings regarding Fagin have been shaped by Will Eisner's Fagin the Jew.

10 January 2013

Lazilicious Cheesy Salmon-Potato Cakes

I recently found myself craving my mother's salmon-potato cakes. Growing up, she made them a lot during Lent using canned salmon, leftover mashed potatoes, egg, bread crumbs, and such. I was always unnerved by the sight of Mom picking the salmon skin and bones out of the drained meat and was quite sure, for a very long time, that salmon was the grossest food ever. Tuna was good as it came in a nice little can I was allowed to drain and prepare all on my own. There was nothing fishy or weird about it. (To my chagrin, I must admit it wasn't until high school that I stopped drowning my mom's salmon cakes in ketchup and realized how good they were on their own and changed my mind about salmon).

So I wanted salmon cakes. Alas, I had no leftover mashed potatoes or even whole potatoes to turn into mash. What I did have was a box of Streit's Potato Pancake Mix. "Hmm," I thought, "surely I can salmonize this." And I did.

Lazilicious Salmon-Potato Cakes

Start by putting a large serving platter in your oven and setting the oven to its lowest setting (mine actually has a "warm" setting). Then prepare potato pancake mix according to box instructions and let sit until very thick (about 10 minutes). Stir in one can drained skinless, boneless salmon (Wild Planet Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon) and one cup shredded cheddar (Cabot 75% Light). Stir well.

Lazilicious Salmon-Potato Cakes

Heat canola oil in a large saute pan and drop dollops of batter into the hot oil. Pan-fry cakes until golden brown on both sides. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels on a platter in the warm oven. Repeat until all the batter is used. Serve with sour cream or ketchup and a large salad.

Lazilicious Salmon-Potato Cakes

09 January 2013

07 January 2013

Three Shadows


A little boy named Joachim lives deep in the woods with his parents, Louis and Lise. One night, three shadows are seen upon a neighboring hill. Shadows which, it is eventually revealed, have an awful interest in Joachim. While Lise vows to cherish every remaining moment with her child, Louise reacts badly and flees west over the river with Joachim. Alas, the shadows are inexorable and, driven by desperation and despair, Louise makes a terrible choice.

Three Shadows is a wrenching story full of joy, fear, loss, and love. I became teary-eyed at several points and angry at others. Sometimes, I wanted to put the book away for a time, to think about what I'd read, but I found I couldn't. I had to read to the end. And now that I've read it (twice!), I find I cannot stop thinking about Three Shadows.

The art, done entirely in black and white, using a combination of pencil, ink, and charcoal, is quite stunning. The fluidity of the illustrations allow for a great deal of expression and movement without detracting from the text and the panels are easy to follow. I want to see more graphic novels by Pedrosa!

As Three Shadows is a translation by Edward Gauvin from the French original, I am counting it as my "translated from a foreign language" entry for the 2013 Graphic Novels Challenge.

Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa, translated by Edward Gauvin (First Second, 2008)

06 January 2013

Lambilicious Sunday Dinner

The Husband pointed out it's been a long time since I made any lamb so, to please him, I picked up a nice small semi-boneless leg of lamb at Shoprite (manager's special, woot), roasted it Sunday afternoon, and there was much rejoicing.

Sunday Lamb

Roast lamb is good lamb!

I rubbed the lamb with a paste I threw together in my food processor of dijon mustard, leftover fresh rosemary, cracked black pepper, sea salt, olive oil, and the juice and zest of half a lemon. Aside from the lemon, no actual measurements were used -- I just threw ingredients in until it looked right. I put the roast, fat side up, on a rack in a roasting pan and poured some leftover malbec into the bottom of them pan. Then I roasted the lamb in a 375F° oven for about an hour (or until the meat reached 135°F).

While the lamb was roasting, I washed and trimmed a pound of asparagus, lay them in a baking pan, drizzled them with olive oil and lemon juice, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.

I took the lamb out of the oven, tented it with a little foil, and left it to rest for fifteen minutes. While the lamb rested, I popped the asparagus pan into the oven and roasted them for fifteen minutes.

I served the lamb and asparagus with rice (brown for me, jasmine for The Husband) and gravy. It was good and a three pound semi-boneless leg turned out to be the perfect size for two people -- enough for sunday dinner, with a little bit leftover for a sandwiches).

05 January 2013

Cold Magic


"She is the eldest Hassi Barahal girl?" he asked, indicating me. How he stared!
"She is the eldest of the girls," agreed Aunt, indicating me.
Uncle puffed up beside her, looking as enflamed with anger as Bee, and at those words he cast such a look at Aunt that I knew something was up. Something bad. Something very, very wrong.

Truth be told, I really enjoyed Cold Magic, chunkster that it is. It's set at the beginning of the Industrial Age in an alternate Europe full of Afro-Celts, Phoenicians, Romans, and trolls. The old order of magic users and feudal princes struggle against the rising tide of technology and social unrest. Indeed, doing their best to quell it by engaging in nasty shenanigans like blowing up experimental airships and terrifying the peasantry. Meanwhile, an imprisoned general (think Napoleon) has escaped from his island prison and is set on dominating Europe. And a young orphan girl finds herself married into a powerful family of magic users.

Seriously good fun. Cat, the protagonist, was someone I liked very much and consistently rooted for ... even when she made me facepalm. Frequently impulsive and hotheaded, Cat makes some poor choices (trust issues), but really tries her best to Do Right by others. And, despite being betrayed by those she loves and running for her life, Cat never succumbs to self-pity. Cat's not inhuman -- she is clearly hurt and bewildered by the betrayal, but she also knows she must Get On With Things and save her cousin, Bee.

Bee and Cat's relationship was a real plus for me. They loved each other as dearly as sisters and clearly took great risks to keep each other safe. It was refreshing to see that they kept their love for each other strong and never doubted in each other even after they had been separated by many months and miles. And, of course, what I really loved is that their sisterhood never took second place to any possible romance. Both clearly love people they think they can't have, but it's equally clear those romances are not (yet?) the meat of the story.

A kiss can be like the world turning over. It can be like the tide of a dragon's dream washing through the unseen world that is hidden to mortal eyes but that nevertheless permeates our being. It can be hot and cold together, as vast as the heavens and yet specific to the pressure of hands and the parting of lips. It raised more intense feelings than I had expected, like being engulfed in a storm of lightning.

Looking forward to the next two books, Cold Fire and Cold Steel!

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott (Orbit, 2010)

04 January 2013

Semi-Planned Salmon Supper

Monday, I was supposed to make "Baked Lemon Caper Salmon" with baked potatoes and roast asparagus for supper and ... I kinda-sorta did? We did eat salmon and potatoes. There were no capers. There was rosemary. Somehow, asparagus became green beans. It was all very good and home-cooked so I'll count it a win, anyway.

New Year's Eve Supper

I used the recipe for "Baked Lemon Caper Salmon" from My Daily Dish as the model for my salmon. I had planned on boneless steaks, not fillets, so panicked a bit when I realized Peapod had delivered bone-in steaks (labeled as boneless, but clearly full of jabby things). I have terrible deboning skillz so eventually, after abusing the poor salmon with a pair of tweezers, decided to deal with the bones after the steaks cooked.

Lemony Salmon

Aside from using the wrong cut of salmon, I mostly followed My Daily Dish's recipe as written. I did replace the capers with sprigs of rosemary, because I suddenly wasn't in a capery mood.

Which is also why we ate green beans instead of asparagus. I just looked at the asparagus, rampant and green, and thought "not tonight, you" and stuffed it back in the fridge. Of course, it's now Friday and we still haven't eaten the asparagus ...

To make supper, I cut two large unpeeled baking potatoes into bite-size cubes and tossed them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary. I roasted the potatoes in a jelly roll pan in a 425F° oven for 30 minutes. Then I scooted the potatoes to one side of the pan, added the green beans tossed with olive oil, and slid the salmon pan into the oven next to the jelly roll pan, and let everything roast for 15 minutes.

Roasted Potatoes & Green Beans

I didn't stir the green beans while they and the salmon roasted, so they charred a little bit, but I like my roasted vegetables extra crispy around the edges.

02 January 2013

New Year's Day Luncheon

We had my parents up for New Year's Day luncheon and it turned out deliciously, even if I do say so myself. There was only a tiny smidge of leftovers and they served as an almost-as-delicious light supper for me that evening. (The Husband filled himself up with cookies and chocolate at nuncheon and could only groan when I offered him leftovers later ... yay for me).

New Year's Day Luncheon

with garlic croutons

with whole wheat rotini

~ Wine ~
Layer Cake malbec &
Gato Negro cabernet sauvignon

~ S'mores ~
The Pepp from S'more Bakery

While I loved the soup and baked chicken Parmesan, it was Taste of Home's "Mediterranean Romaine Salad" that really stole the show for me! It was simple to assemble, had great flavor -- very tangy and light -- and looked very elegant in the bowl. Really, this will be a regular item on my table from now on!

Mediterranean Romaine Salad

I roasted my own peppers for this recipe -- just halved and cored them, smooshed them kind-of flat on a jelly roll pan lined with foil, brushed them with a little olive oil and broiled them until they were all blistery and charred-looking. Then I folded the foil up around them and let them sit for about 15 minutes. I used a sharp knife to scrap the skin off, wrapped the "clean" peppers back up in the foil, and refrigerated them until I was ready to make the salad.

Taste of Home's recipe says to use cubed French bread for the croutons, but I used cubed roasted garlic ciabatta, because more garlic = better. I omitted the black olives, because The Husband detests olives and replaced them with a cup of halved cherry tomatoes. I also used Newman's Own light Italian dressing instead of balsamic, because I didn't think everyone would eat balsamic. And, anyway, Italian is Mediterranean, too!

01 January 2013

Therefore, Be It RESOLVED

Too many books! Too. Many. Books. Toomanybooks. TOO MANY. Books for my birthday. Books for Christmas. Books unread from last year's birthday and Christmas. Incalculable free Kindle downloads. Half-forgotten Amazon pre-orders. A steady trickle of Kickstarter projects. And the library books! Oh, the library books.


Library cards are a gateway drug leading to rampant bibliophilia and book hoarding.

So I've signed up for two reading challenges to help me get through my enormous pile of unreads! Admittedly, I don't have the best record when it comes to reading challenges. I'll start out strong with regular posts and then peter out after a few months. Oh, I'll intend to catch up, but guilt and ennui will overrule the best of intentions and I'll fail so hard. However, neither of the challenges I'm signed up for require anything more strenuous than reading books and linking to my reviews, so ... success in 2013?

To the challenges!


Challenge the First: The 2013 Graphic Novel Reading Challenge! This challenge is being hosted by Nicola. I'm signed on for Advanced Level 2 of this challenge and am supposed to read 24 books, 12 of which need to come from these categories:
  1. manga: The Drops of God, Volume 1
  2. superhero: Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection
  3. classic adaptation: Jane Eyre: The Graphic Novel
  4. memoir: Marzi: A Memoir
  5. fantasy: The Last Unicorn
  6. translated from a foreign language: Three Shadows
  7. a single-issue comic book:
  8. science-fiction: Ignition City, Volume 1
  9. crime or mystery: Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story
  10. fairytale or mythology: Fairy Quest: Outlaws
  11. children's book: Zita the Spacegirl, Book One: Far From Home
  12. anthology: No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics
  13. Womanthology
  14. Courtney Crumrin, Volume 1
  15. Fun Home
  16. Polly and the Pirates, Volume 2
  17. Unterzakhn
  18. Greek Street, Volume 1
  19. Greek Street, Volume 2
  20. Emma
  21. Road to Oz (preordered -- out April 2013)
  22. Tank Girl, Volume 1 (remastered edition)
  23. Chi's Sweet Home, Volume Whatever I'm On
  24. Underground
This challenge runs from 1/1 through 12/31. I'll tag each post "graphic novel challenge 2013" and I may or may not create a page for the challenge, grouping all the posts together. Click here to sign up and get more information on this challenge.


Challenge the Second: The 2013 Ebook Challenge, because I keep downloading free ebooks to my Kindle and then not reading them since there are so many interesting physical books right in front of me. This challenge is hosted by Workaday Reads. I'm attempting the "Floppy disk" level which means I'll read 5 e-books:
  1. Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice by Jennifer Becton
  2. Ridiculous by D.L. Carter
  3. The Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill
  4. The Exploits of Lydia by Angela Darcy
  5. One Thread Pulled: The Dance With Mr. Darcy by Diana J. Oaks
Challenge runs from 1/1 through 12/31. I'll tag each post "Ebook Challenge 2013" and, as with the above, I may or may not create a page blahblahblah. Click here to sign up and get more information on this challenge.