31 October 2014

Halloween Spritz Cookies

My mother used to bake spritz cookies for Christmas every year and, as a child, they were the cookie I loved to hate. They were pretty, yes, but they were horrible little beasts to assemble. My mother had a Mirro cookie press -- the kind you have to turn the handle at the top of the barrel while holding the bottom level with the baking sheet until enough dough has come out to see the shape of the cookie and then you have to carefully lift the cookie press straight up so as not to ruin the design. It never really worked out well when I had the running of it and, when I started baking on my own, I vowed I'd never bake spritz cookies because they were just to darn fiddly.

Yet ... here I am with an Oxo Good Grips Cookie Press. A cookie press I was given for Christmas last year. After I specifically asked for it. Because I am mad, I tell you, mad.


I used the spider, web, and pumpkin cookie disks to shape my Halloween spritz. I thought the web and pumpkin would be the easiest shapes to press, but the webs turned out to be annoying little beasties. Of course, I started with the webs so when they wouldn't come out properly I thought it was because the baking sheets weren't chilled enough! And then I thought maybe the dough needed to be chilled. And then, finally, I decided to try the spider disk ... and the spiders came out perfect from the first!

Stupid webs.

The pumpkins also shaped and stuck to the baking sheets just fine. I don't know what it was about the webs, but they really didn't want to release from the press.

I used the recipe for butter cookies that came with my Oxo Good Grips Cookie Press, figuring the recipe had been formulated especially for the press and was thereby a good starting point ... so I am still a bit grumpy and confused about why the webs were so difficult.

Since I was making Halloween spritz I divided the dough into two bowls and colored it with Americolor Soft Gel Paste Food Colors. I was afraid to use too much black, because my mouth kept telling me the cookies would taste "black" even though my brain knew that was nonsense.


The dough looks rather gray in the photo, but the cookies baked up pretty dark.


The orange was just ORANGE from the get go and didn't bake up any less vibrant.


Overall, I'd say I enjoyed my first attempt at spritz cookies and am looking forward to making more as we head into Cookie Season. The Oxo cookie press does take a little getting used to as using it isn't quite as straightforward as the instructions suggest (I would say I pressed a good dozen duds before I got the hang of it), but know that I've figured out what I'm doing ... it beats the socks of my mother's old screw-style cookie press!

29 October 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Fun Guys

The lawn is full of fungi this autumn! These pretties -- I think they're Amanita muscaria var. guessowii
(American Eastern Yellow Fly Agaric), but I am no mycologist -- are slowly forming a fairy ring around our big pine tree.

Around Connecticut: Krell's Farm

Driving around, looking for pumpkins, and hit the jackpot at Krell's Farm in Farmington!



There's also quite an assortment of fresh vegetables for sale inside, including some beautiful cabbages and brussels sprouts, so I will have to go back soon.

28 October 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Halloween Spirit


For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the horrific Broke & Bookish, we're talking about our top ten books and/or movies to get in the Halloween spirit.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
When Coraline steps through a door to find another house strangely similar to her own (only better), things seem marvelous. But there's another mother there, and another father, and they want her to stay and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.
The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
Amy is terrified. She hears scratching and scurrying noises coming from the dollhouse, and the dolls she was playing with are not where she left them. Dolls can't move by themselves, she tells herself. But every night when Amy goes into the attic to check on the dollhouse, it is filled with an eerie light and the dolls have moved again!
The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey
A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who wasted away. D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh ...
Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie
  • At a Hallowe’en party, Joyce—a hostile thirteen-year-old—boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub. That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the "evil presence." But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double murderer ...
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
On Halloween Night, eight trick-or-treaters gather at the haunted house by the edge of town, ready for adventure. But when Something whisks their friend Pip away, only one man, the sinister Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, can help the boys find him.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (movie also recommended)
First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a “haunting”; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2008 Swedish romantic horror film also strongly recommended)
It is autumn 1981 when inconceivable horror comes to Blackeberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenager is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last---revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day.
Tales of Mystery and Terror by Edgar Allan Poe
Thirteen stories of horror, suspense and the supernatural. "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Fall of the House of Usher," and "The Black Cat" are just three of Edgar Allan Poe's most famous tales in this chilling collection.
Wait Till Helen Comes: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn
Heather has found a new friend, out in the graveyard behind our home -- a girl named Helen who died with her family in a mysterious fire over a hundred years ago. Now her ghost returns to lure children into the pond ... to drown! I don't want to believe in ghosts, but I've followed Heather into the graveyard and watch her talk to Helen. And I'm terrified. Not for myself, but for Heather ...

26 October 2014

Around Connecticut: Sampling Shebeen Brewing

On our way back from the Connecticut Garlic and Harvest Festival, we stopped at Shebeen Brewing in Wolcott. A coworker, who is Very Serious about beer, raves about Shebeen's Cannoli Beer and I'd been meaning to visit for a while.


The tasting flights are generously poured and, if you're not a serious beer drinker, is perfectly sharable. Not having been before, we didn't quite realize what we were getting into and ordered a flight each!


I think it's pretty clear I didn't particularly enjoy 1 (Royal IPA) or 5 (Turbo IPA). 1 (Royal IPA) was just kind-of ehhh and 5 (Turbo IPA) was just nopenopeNOPE.

4 (1814 Colonial Brown) was certainly drinkable but not memorable. To be fair, I drank most of 4 (1814 Colonial Brown) trying to get rid of the taste of 5 (Turbo IPA). 5 (Turbo IPA) made my mouth want to turn inside out -- it was SOUR and smelt of ammonia. Not a pleasant taste experience.

2 (Pumpkin Scotch) was, like 4 (1814 Colonial Brown), perfectly drinkable but not memorable. Malty. We could detect no pumpkin note.

But 3 (ESB) and 6 (Cannoli) were delicious and I bought two bottles of 6 (Cannoli) home for later!

24 October 2014

Toast Those Muffins

We had a Dunkin Donuts chocolate chip muffin kicking around the kitchen that no-one seemed interested in eating because it was two days old, after all, and lost much of the fluffy cake-like qualities that make Dunkin Donuts chocolate chip muffins worth eating in the first place. I didn't want to throw it out -- waste of food/money -- but I couldn't see how to make it taste good, again.

And then I remembered how The Husband love's the chocolate chip muffins at The Shack in , because they butter and toast the split muffins on their griddle. And I thought "I have a cast iron skillet and butter!" And, you know, it worked out pretty well! The muffin -- warm, crunchy, and buttery -- was a lovely bit of decadence on a dreary October evening.


Cut your muffin in half. Heat a blob of butter in a cast iron skillet until it's foamy.


And halved muffin, cut side down, to skillet and cook until beautifully browned.


Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, because whipped cream makes tasty toasty muffins even better.

22 October 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Sleepy Kitty

Hedwig snoozing on the window seat. She loves her fuzzy gray cushion, all squishy and good.

21 October 2014

Achoo.

I didn't post a menu plan for Menu Plan Monday this week, because I have an irksome cold The Husband is also in the midst of succumbing to and it seemed pointless to plan meals when I have both no energy and no sense of taste. Seriously, I can tell if something is salty or sweet, but that's about it. I had a piece of bacon with breakfast this morning and all I could tell you about it was that it was very crunchy.

*cries*

So what have we been eating? Soup from the deli. Soup from tins. Sandwiches from the deli. Heat-and-eat things from the freezer. Pie. (Did you know warm mixed berry pie with cold vanilla ice cream is the perfect thing for a sore throat?)


I'd like to go back to childhood, when my mother's cure for a cold was lots of bed rest, chicken soup, ginger ale and, if things were bad, some junior strength Tylenol and disgusting-tasting Cepacol throat drops. I knew I was really sick when the sticky bottle of impossibly-disgusting-tasting red Triaminic showed up!

But I'm adult and have to go to work. So yay for DayQuil. And Motrin. And big cups of herbal tea.

And tissues with lotion.

Top 10 Tuesday: New Series


This week, for Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about the new series we want to start. I'm not really a series reader and, when I am, I tend to glom onto series everyone else is done with. But here are five new series I do want to read:

The Silo Saga by Hugh Howey. There are three books in the series (Wool, Shift, Dust) and they're all out so none of that pesky forgetting-about-the-series-while-waiting-for-the-next-book-to-come-out.

In a ruined and toxic future, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo's rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside.


The Last Policeman series by Ben Winters. All three books (The Last Policeman, Countdown City, World of Trouble) are out.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He's investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.


Worldbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley. Only the first book, The Mirror Empire, is already out.

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past... while a world goes to war with itself.


Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown. The second book, Golden Son, is due out in January 2015.

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.


After the End by Amy Plum. The second book, Until the Beginning, is due out in May 2015.

Juneau grew up fearing the outside world. The elders told her that beyond the borders of their land in the Alaskan wilderness, nuclear war had destroyed everything. But when Juneau returns from a hunting trip one day and discovers her people have been abducted, she sets off to find them. And leaving the boundaries for the very first time, she learns the horrifying truth: World War III never happened. Nothing was destroyed. Everything she'd ever been taught was a lie.

19 October 2014

Snack Time With Love With Food

My first Love With Food box arrived Friday! While the box is full of tasty snackage, I don't think I'll sign up for another box as the contents are not unique or exceptional. I expected snacks I couldn't easily find locally and, instead, got three things I already buy! Justin's nut butters are all available at Whole Foods, Calbee's Snapea Crisps seem to be everywhere, and Famous Brands' Falafel Chips were a totally delicious discovery the last time I shopped at Garden of Light in Avon.


(To be fair, nothing's going to compare to our monthly Okashi Box for rarity or diversity).

18 October 2014

Easy Lemony Roasted Broccolini

Stopped at Trader Joe's the past weekend to stock up on frozen bricks of grass-fed organic beef ... and, of course, picked up a bunch of tempting-but-not-on-the-shopping-list items. Like a package of fresh broccolini ("baby broccoli"). It's good stuff, but I'm the only one who eats it so it means taking broccolini to work all week. That's no hardship, but I have to make sure I've cooked it in a way that microwave reheating it won't turn it mushy and 'orrible.

Roasting to the rescue. Well, under-roasting so that the broccolini is cooked but still a bit crunchy. Al dente broccolini, if you will. It kinda-sorta worked ... the broccolini was delicious straight from the oven but reheating still did some damage.

Easy Lemony Roasted Broccolini

Yield: 2 servings

Prep Time: 00 hrs. 05 mins.

Cook time: 00 hrs. 15 mins.

Total time: 20 mins.

Ingredients

  • 15± fresh broccolini stems, washed and trimmed
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • Salt and pepper, as needed

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Spread broccolini on large jelly roll pan and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon zest.
  3. Roast for approximately 15 minutes or until stems are crisp-tender and tops are slightly browned.
  4. Remove from oven and allow to cool. When reheated and ready to serve, sprinkle with a little lemon juice.

When I reheated the broccolini in work's microwave, the stalks stayed fairly firm ... but the lovely crisp tops went limp. Next time, I will pack in glass instead of plastic and try reheating the broccolini in the toaster oven. Perhaps they will retain their crispness a bit better that way?

17 October 2014

Grave Mercy


I stare at him coldly. "I do not care for needlework." I pause. "Unless it involves the base of the skull."

Girl assassin in 15th-century France! Woo. I was thoroughly captivated by Grave Mercy and ended up devouring the book in one sitting. Ismae is a delightful heroine and I enjoyed watching her grow from an abused and unloved motherless child to a strong, self-assured, and loved woman. I also liked that while she killed people for her god and country, there was nothing squeamish or apologetic in her actions. Yet she didn't seem to delight in the killing, either. It was just the Right Thing To Do and she did it. Rather refreshing in a female heroine, really.

As much as I enjoyed Grave Mercy, I really disliked the cover art. The crossbow Ismae so casually holds is ridiculously massive in proportion to her body and Ismae herself just looks like a 21st century girl in a 15th-century gown, anyway. Put your hand over her body, masking the dress and castle, and she's just Any Girl on the cover of a contemporary or dystopia YA. She certainly doesn't look like the wolf in sheep's clothing.

/crank

Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin series. The books seem only loosely linked so I feel no strong desire to go on, as Ismae's story is as complete as it's likely to get and I don't have strong feelings about Sybella and Annith.

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)

16 October 2014

Improv Challenge: Peanut Butter & Chocolate

I have a dim memory of making waffles using tubes of refrigerated biscuit dough. However I have no notes or pictures to support this memory and The Husband, who generally has the memory of an elephant when it comes to recalling All Things Waffle, had no idea what I was talking about when I brought it up with him.

But, at the very least, I knew it could be done (Pinterest is full of ideas) and October's Improv Challenge ingredients -- peanut butter and chocolate -- seemed perfect for waffling!


My recipe essentially makes dessert for breakfast and is probably completely nutritionally unsound. You could be a good, morally upright person and serve the waffles as an actual dessert ... but they're also pretty darn good as an extra-special surprise midweek breakfast when one more day of getting up early and going into work just seems too awful for words when home is warm and snuggly and full of sunbeams and cats.

I tried assembling the waffles two ways -- the first time I split the biscuits in two and rolled them into 4-inch circles before filling them. The second time, I just opened the biscuits up like a book and filled them. Both versions came out of the waffle maker looking and tasting exactly the same. Since the second method saves a little time and uses less equipment, that's the method you'll find in the recipe below.

Peanut Butter, Chocolate, & Banana Biscuit Waffles

Yield: Serves 2-8, depending on how much you like waffles
Prep Time: 00 hrs. 10 mins.
Cook time: 00 hrs. 03 mins.
Total time: 13 mins.

Ingredients

  • 16.3 oz can refrigerated flaky buttermilk biscuits
  • ½ cup peanut butter chips
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • Warmed peanut butter, as needed
  • Whipped cream, if desired

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to Warm or whatever is the lowest setting. Spray waffle maker with cooking spray; heat waffle maker.
  2. Separate dough into 8 biscuits. Take each biscuit and open it up like a book. Top one dough half with sliced bananas, peanut butter chips, and chocolate chips. Close up the biscuit. Press dough around edge to seal.


  3. Place 1 biscuit in the center of the waffle maker. Close lid; cook 3 minutes or until waffle is golden brown. If your waffle maker doesn't have a heavy lid, you may want to put a pot or jar on top to smoosh the biscuit down a bit (I used my garlic pot). Remove cooked waffle to oven and repeat with remaining biscuits.


  4. Serve drizzled with warmed peanut butter, sprinkle with extra chocolate chips, and a splodge of unsweetened whipped cream. The whipped cream sounds like pure decadence, but actually helps balance the richness of the waffles.



The dough tubes I find at the market make 8 biscuits, which is more biscuit that two people need so I wrap the extra dough in plastic wrap and then store them in a zip bag in the fridge until needed. They don't bake up exactly the same as those fresh from the tube, but they're close enough -- especially if they're going on top of a casserole or pot pie.



15 October 2014

Around Connecticut: CT Garlic Festival! Again!

Fifteen minutes after arriving at the 2014 Connecticut Garlic & Harvest Festival in Bethlehem, my basket was already heavy with garlicky loot and, one hour in, it was too heavy to comfortably carry. Perhaps I should start bringing two baskets? Or a backpack for The Husband?! Yesh, he shall be my beast of burden. (I'm certain that was somewhere in our marriage vows. Love, honor, and carry sacks of garlic? Well, if it wasn't then it certainly should have been!)


What did I buy?
Yes, that's three bottles of garlic vinegar! What was I thinking? I was thinking that I didn't have any left at home and, as they each tasted uniquely good, it only made sense to buy all three. I really wanted a bottle of garlic-infused olive oil, but while I sampled several none were garlicky enough for me. Seriously, to my (possibly over-garlicked) senses they neither smelt nor tasted of garlic. I guess I'll just have to make my own!

I do have plenty of garlic and olive oil on hand. Why not make my own garlic oil???

(Lest you think CT Garlic Festival was all about shopping we did share several yummy edibles I couldn't be arsed to photograph before gobbling up and listened to a toe-tapping performance by the Al Fenton Big Band).

Wordless Wednesday: Cat at the Window

Kitty finds the autumn breezes are full of exciting smells and sounds.

14 October 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Places Books Make Me Want To Visit


For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about all the places books have made us itch to visit.

  1. Ankh-Morpork, Discworld. Peer over the wall at Unseen University, eat something suspicious onna stick, and visit with the ladies of the Seamstresses' Guild!
  2. Australia. Because of Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country (and, maybe, Terry Pratchett's The Last Continent)
  3. Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. I didn't even know Avonlea was fictional until I composed this list!
  4. Deep Valley, Minnesota. Home of Betsy and Tacy of Betsy-Tacy fame. I know it's actually Mankato, but I have no interest in the real, contemporary town. No, I want to visit the fictional town in 1905 when Betsy is in high school, so someone find me a time machine that can also visit fictional worlds.
  5. Devon, England. Many of Agatha Christie's novels are set in Devon and I want to see if that bucolic countryside is as murderous as it seems. (Austen's Sense and Sensibility is also set in Devon and, supposedly, many of the locations mentioned in the novel are identifiable today).
  6. The fictional Greece portrayed in those terrible, tawdry Harlequin-type romances I read in middle school with their beautiful Mediterranean climate, feisty women, and handsome tycoons/millionaires/playboys.
  7. Iceland. Blame it on Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth and the HBO series Game of Thrones. (Keep meaning to read Quentin Bate's Officer Gunnhilder series which is set in contemporary Iceland).
  8. Mars. It's never going to happen, but wouldn't it be splendid? Blame Mars on Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy as well Mary Robinette Kowal's novelette "The Lady Astronaut of Mars."
  9. Sweden. So many crime novels and thrillers coming out of Sweden! Rather like with Devon, I want to see if Sweden is a murderous as it seems. Also, it just sounds beautiful.
  10. Yorkshire, England. I blame the Brontes, Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, all those James Herriot books.

12 October 2014

Slow Cooker Season! Country-Style Pork Ribs

Trying to use my slow cooker more consistently this fall. Not sure I'll go so far as to declare Slow Cooker Mondays or something like, but I do want to make the effort and use it once during the work week because it's the surest way to guarantee food on the table when I arrive home from work all HANGRY and tired.


This past Friday, I made Pillsbury's "Slow-Cooker Country-Style Pork and Onions" and the ribs turned out so well that we both took seconds which is not a thing that happens very often.

That said, I have questions about the recipe and am not sure I'd make it quite the same way again. Was it necessary to precook the onions? For what purpose was I directed to flouring the ribs? No and none, I think. Next time, I'm inclined to throw the onion in raw and skip flouring the ribs. I'll just add the sage into the sauce mixture -- doubling the amount of sage -- and I might swap the broth out for beer.

Anyway, it's a completely simple and darned tasty throw-together slow cooker dish that I recommend you try. Even if it doesn't photograph well at 6 pm in my badly lit kitchen!

Floured ribs.

Ribs topped with tender onions. See how the flour has come off  the ribs where the onions touch them?

Ribs and onions covered in condensed French onion soup, gravy mix, and water.

10 October 2014

Slow Cooker Red Cabbage With Apples & Cinnamon

I was musing over possible ways of combining apples and cinnamon for November's Improv Challenge and I thought "What, in the autumn, goes really well with apples and cinnamon?" I came up with two definite possibilities -- winter squash and cabbage. Conveniently, there was a red cabbage and turban squash lurking in the kitchen from my last impulsive shop at the farmers market. What can I say? Turban squash are adorable and red cabbage is my favorite cabbage. (What do you mean? Normal people don't have favorite cabbages?).

Anyway! I decided to start with the cabbage-apple-cinnamon combo since I wanted to use my slow cooker (oven was occupied by what, ultimately, turned out to be The Most Disappointing Bundt Cake) and knew, thanks to making "Bavarian Red Cabbage" that it would probably work out okay.


Slow Cooker Red Cabbage

Yield: 4-6 servings
Prep Time: 00 hrs. 15 mins.
Cook time: 8 hrs. 00 mins.
Total time: 8 hrs. 15 mins.

Ingredients

  • 1 large red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 large Gala apples, peeled cored and chopped
  • 1 small red cabbage, cored and shredded or chopped small
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp peppercorn mélange, slightly crushed
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Instructions

  1. Put cloves, peppercorns, and bay leaf in a spice bag or tea ball or tie up in a bit of cheesecloth so you don't later accidentally bite down on a whole clove.
  2. Add all ingredients except butter to the slow cooker insert. Stir.
  3. Dot with butter. Cover and cook on Low for 6-8 hours.

After eight hours in the slow cooker, the apples and onions seem to completely disappear into the cabbage. The cinnamon scent is pretty pronounced but works well with the cider vinegar's tangy scent. I'd say this would be nice with crunchy crackling roast pork. I ate it first with bratwurst and spicy mustard and later with "Swedish" flavored (caraway and mace) meatballs. It was delicious both ways ... and even when cold and unaccompanied during a late night snack scavenge.

However, while I enjoyed the cabbage, in the end it is just too similar to my Bavarian Red Cabbage to be submitted as a new recipe for November's Improv Challenge. On to the turban squash!

The Selection


I was wandering around the library during my lunch break, searching for something "good" to read and ended up, as I often do, in the young adult area. The young adult librarian, seeing me blankly staring at the wall of new fiction, merrily chirped that a staff pick was always a good choice and that I might like something fluffy and fun like The Selection.

So that's what I read at lunch for four days running and it was completely and unabashedly ohmysomuchfunandsosillyandnonsensicalandwhyisthesecondbooknotontheshelfohnoooooo. And yet my thinking brain (the part that isn't busy fangirling all over the place) is completely aware that The Selection is completely flawed. I can't accept how its world works or how its characters behave. How have the teenagers not discovered oral sex? How is there not a thriving black market for abortifacients and contraceptives? How has the rigid cast system which demands a large population of disenfranchised and uneducated working poor managed to thrive? How has no-one figured out what the rebels are looking for? Why is the castle so ridiculously vulnerable to attack?

Yet. All that aside, I really enjoyed The Selection. America Singer is an entirely sympathetic heroine and I greatly enjoy watching her grow and transform into a woman who could be queen. Or, you know, co-leader of a country founded on a fair and balanced system of government. Also, who doesn't love descriptions of dresses? And garden parties?

The Selection by Kiera Cass (HarperTeen, 2012)

08 October 2014

Husband-Pleasing Egg Salad

The Husband has enjoyed a brief but torrid love affair with a local deli's egg salad. I've tried, over the past six months, to return his eggy affections to our kitchen, where his gastronomic heart should rightly lie, and I've failed every time. Until Sunday. Sunday I brought out the big guns. The irresistible charm. The foolproof seducer.


That's right! I pulled out my copy of The Cook's Country Cookbook: Rediscovering American Home Cooking with 500 Classic, Regional, and Heirloom Recipes (Boston Common Press, 2007). Apparently, to a man who adores a straight-forward no-frills egg salad its "Classic Egg Salad" is irresistibly delicious. The best egg salad he's ever eaten, he said.

Swoons.



Cook's Country recommends dicing the eggs into medium-sized pieces but I stuck with my preferred mash-them-with-a-pastry-blender-until-they-look-right method. I also used dried parsley instead of fresh as I had none on hand. It all worked out deliciously and I will, obviously, be making it regularly.


Wordless Wednesday: Hydrangea


Hydrangea macrophylla "Everlasting Revolution" still blooming in my front garden! Love the color variation.

07 October 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Character Driven Novels


This week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about character-driven novels! I would argue that some of the books on my list are also plot-driven and why not? The terms needn't be mutually exclusive.

  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (most of the rest of her work)
  • Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding
  • Endless Night or Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie (or pretty much anything by Christie)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman
  • Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X Stork
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (or any of Austen’s novels, really)
  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

05 October 2014

Antique Bakery: Volume 2


If possible, I enjoyed the second volume of Antique Bakery even more than the first! The characters are all quite charming and attractive, but they each have dark and/or complicated pasts and it's interesting to watch those pasts be slowly, teasingly revealed. Indeed, for all it's outward appearance of a light bit of fun, there's some serious psychology at work in Antique Bakery.

Indeed, I am extremely interested to know why a man who doesn't like cake -- indeed, who associates cake with a terrible childhood trauma -- would chuck an established career to open a bakery. I mean, I certainly can guess why, but I want to see how that choice will play out for the character and whether he ever attempts to explain it.

While there's more boy story and less pastry in this volume, there's still no shortage of cake and if I end up destroying my kitchen attempting a bûche de Noël of my own this year ... it will all be Fumi Yoshinaga's fault. Seriously, between this series and The Great British Bake-Off, I'm a goner.


My only complaint is that it's not always clear when the story flashes back from the present (sometimes even only a few hours back) and I was needlessly confused at points (Chikage and Ono are having a drink and then suddenly Tachibana's thrashing about in his bed with the covers heaped ... suggestively ... and then we're back at the bar and whatjusthappened?). Otherwise, Antique Bakery continues to be a charming and highly entertaining read. I look forward to Volume 3.

Antique Bakery: Volume 2 written & illus by Fumi Yoshinaga (DMP, 2005)

03 October 2014

Seasonal Reads: Rosemary’s Baby


During the summer of '65, a young married couple eagerly move into the Bramford, a highly desirable New York City apartment building. The wife, Rosemary, is a naïve young woman completely in love with her new apartment (and actor husband) ... until things start to get a little strange after she becomes pregnant. Her new neighbors, once seemingly kind-hearted and well-intentioned folk, become increasingly menacing as her pregnancy advances. And Rosemary's loving husband, Guy, turns cold and distant as his success as an actor grows. He's not even interested in the baby. While the neighbors are obsessed with it. What's going on at the Bramford?

Of course, we all know. Right? Rosemary's Baby is such a pop culture touchstone that it's hard to believe anyone could NOT know what's up at the Bramford. Certainly, I've never seen the film but I knew enough about it that very little of the novel surprised or shocked me and those bits that did probably weren't intended to. Like the way Guy masks Rosemary's drugged rape (by Old Nick himself!) by claiming to have had baby-making sex with her while she was passed out drunk after dinner. Yes, by all means, cover up a rape with a rape! And, dear god, the constant casual racism. Oh, 1960s America, I don't miss you.

Mostly, though, I have to say I enjoyed Rosemary's Baby. Levin clearly knows how to write, having set what is essentially a classic Gothic horror story in modern urban America and managed to make it feel real. The story is all from Rosemary's POV and we slowly move with her from enthusiasm and amused interest to creeping dread and confusion. Yes, Rosemary is a bit slow to catch on to what's happening and I could clearly see what was happening well before she did, but it's hard to know whether that's Rosemary's fault or whether I should blame cultural saturation. Rosemary is, despite her lapsed Catholicism and upward-climbing urban lifestyle, still a "good" small town girl who wants to see the best in things. Her neighbors can't be dabblers in the Dark Arts -- they're so kind and constantly fussing over her pregnancy! Her husband can't be colluding with Satanists -- he's just distant because he's overwhelmed with work! Her baby can't be the Son of Satan -- he's too cute?!

And that's pretty much where the novel falls apart for me. Right there at the end when Rosemary decides that the demonic rape-conceived child -- the same child she had just moments before considered throwing herself out the window with -- is actually rather sweet. Cute even. Am I supposed to believe that Rosemary is so overwhelmed by maternal feeling that she actually falls in love with the little monster? It's too big a stretch and occurs too quickly to be even slightly believable. All I can hope is that Roman Castevet's gentle pleading and the mental focus of the other Satanists have subverted Rosemary. Or, perhaps, she's had a complete psychotic break. Because, otherwise, no.



Rosemary's Baby by Ira Leven (Random House, 1967)

01 October 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Bees Love Flowers



Hurry, busy bees! Collect that pollen! Winter is coming!