31 December 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Clean Adipose

As far as alien invaders in my kitchen go, Adipose are too cute to take seriously.

Three-Bite Christmas Cheesecakes

I wanted to do something decadent for Christmas Dinner, but not overwhelmingly so. Mini cheesecakes seemed just the thing and when I stumbled across Paula Deen's recipe for "Hazelnut Mini Cheesecakes," I knew I'd struck gold. What do we love? Nutella. And Ferrero Rocher. And Frangelico. What's in these cheesecakes? Hazelnuts. Chocolate. Frangelico.

It was meant to be!

Pulverized chocolate graham crackers.

Now, making cheesecake is actually The Husband's thing, so I was a little nervous making these ... but I needn't have been! The instructions are quite clear and the whole thing turned out much more easily than I'd feared. The hardest part, actually, was making the chocolate graham cracker crumbs simply because I wasn't sure how fine a crumb they should be. I guess, maybe, you can buy the crumbs ready-made somewhere? I've certainly bought the plain graham cracker crumbs before (yes, LAZY). I ended up processing half the box of chocolate graham crackers down to something that looked a lot like black almond flour and decided that was probably good enough.

"Finely"(ish) chopped hazelnuts.

Honestly, I think I could have used regular graham cracker crumbs, because we couldn't really taste any chocolate when we ate these. Hazelnut, yes. Chocolate, no. And there was the scent of Frangelico, but no taste of it. If anything, I feel the cheesecake batter would have benefited from a teaspoon or so of vanilla bean paste. Or, The Husband's suggestion, raspberry extract.

Certainly, these would be very good drizzled with raspberry coulis. Many of my mini cheesecakes collapsed a bit in the middle as they cooled (I suspect I'd beaten too much air into the batter), creating the perfect "cup" for sauce of some kind. When I served them after Christmas dinner, I topped the cheesecakes with fresh whipped cream and a Ferrero Rocher so no-one could see the indentations!


Overall we liked these cheesecakes, but we didn't love them. Oh, we were certainly happy to eat them all up over the course of Christmas vacation, but every time I ate one, I was reminded of how much better it could be. Definitely orange or vanilla extract next time, beaten on a lower speed, and maybe grease the pans a bit to keep the baking cheesecakes from creeping up the sides? It's definitely a recipe worth fiddling with.

Paula Deen's "Hazelnut Mini Cheesecakes" from Cooking With Paula Deen, Nov/Dec 2007. Also available on the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012). Can't locate a copy on your own? See if your friendly local library can help you out.



30 December 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Resolutions


It’s not-quite-the-first Top Ten Tuesday of 2015. The best (or worst?) time to set goals and make resolutions. As this is a bookish blog, most of my goals are reading or blogging related:
  1. Accept that sometimes I buy books simply because they are beautiful objects and not because I actually intend to read them.
  2. Don’t feel bad about not being a "real" book blogger.
  3. Find a better way to organize my books. Right now, they’re split between two rooms and there’s really no way to change that, but it would be nice if, say, the ones in the den could be arranged better. Basically, I think I want to redecorate the den. (Do you hear that, Husband? Paint swatches and flooring samples are in your future).
  4. I want to read and blog more books than in 2014. (Ideally, I’d like to get back to my 2011 level of blogging, but that may not be possible as my life is rather different from what it was in 2011).
  5. Leave more comments. Yes, this was on last year’s list. I’m still working on it.
  6. Read more books I own and haven’t read yet. I still own so many books I haven’t read -- especially books other people have given me. I think I’m afraid to read them, because what if I don’t like them and then the person who gave them to me asks what I thought of them and I destroy that person emotionally by pooh-poohing the books they picked out and bought just for me? I am overthinking this, aren’t I.
  7. Stop worrying about not doing Twitter "right." Seriously. I just don't have the energy or time for it.
  8. Try out Audible. Because the library will never have all the audiobooks I want to listen to (and I so want to hear to Simon Prebble read Patricia McKillip’s The Riddle-Master of Hed).
  9. Update my LibraryThing account every month to include recent reads. I’ve been very hit or miss about updating it and I just really need to sit down with my CueCat over the next long weekend (MLK, Jr Day?) and scan the heck out of my shelves.
  10. Just enjoy reading.

29 December 2014

Packing Cookies

My father had asked me to bake him something for Christmas, which is also one of the reasons why I made those short-cut peanut butter blossoms. I also gave him a nice wedge of the cranberry-walnut fruitcake and half a batch of short-cut linzer bars.


I'd intended to give him the whole batch of linzer bars, but it turns out The Husband actually likes slivered almonds and I ended up holding half the batch back for him. I've been married for fifteen years now and I still can't remember what The Husband will or won't eat. I say it's because he keeps changing his mind about things, but he says it's because I'm not paying attention. Which is possible, but I swear he was much more selective when I married him. That may have had more to do with culture shock than taste preference, maybe? Regardless, he likes almonds. Or, at least, sliced almonds with raspberry jam and sugar cookie base.

This short-cut Pillsbury recipe for "Linzer Bars" is both fabulously simple and delicious. I did double the amount of jam and almonds, because the original amounts called for seemed a bit scant, but then I like a jammy cookie. This recipe could easily be made with just about any jam and nut you like and I'll probably be trying it soon with black raspberry jam and blanched slivered almonds.

I wanted to make a nice presentation with the cookies so I bought a round tin at Job Lot and filled it with pairs of cookies I put in seasonal cupcake liners. I figured two cookies to a liner was both a nice look and a decent serving. Dad could just reach in and pull up a liner rather than rooting around all the cookies. And, importantly, the jammy Linzers wouldn't get a chance to fuse to each other!


I put the peanut butter blossoms on the bottom, then a circular divider repurposed from a box of Thornton's, and a layer of bars. It looked quite pretty and the cookies seemed to keep well. Although it probably doesn't matter how well they'd keep, because Dad and The Husband had eaten nearly all the Linzers by the time we left him after Christmas dinner!

This may be for the best as the leftover blossoms kept at home in the same container as the Linzers (with no divider between them) went unappetizingly soft as they absorbed the moisture (I assume) from the jammy bars. Meh. I'm still learning.

27 December 2014

Pretty (Lazy) Peanut Butter Blossoms

Growing up, peanut blossom cookies were one of the first cookies I learned to bake. First, I was old and trustworthy enough roll the dough into balls and coat them in sugar. Then, I could put the kisses on the hot, soft cookies. Then, I was old enough to make the dough myself. Frankly, I loved making molded cookies and, thankfully, my mother's Christmas cookie repertoire was dominated by them. Peanut butter blossoms. Russian tea cakes. Jammy thumbprints. Chocolate crinkles. Yum!

Pretty blossoms waiting their turn in the oven ... and then a kiss! Oooer.

So, there's really no excuse for these lazy cookies. I know exactly how to make peanut butter blossoms from scratch. And yet, as soon as I saw this variation on Pinterest, I rushed to put a tube of refrigerated sugar cookie dough on my shopping list. And a bag of kisses, obviously. Because I would have cookies almost instantly. No measuring. Limited mixing. Dirtied one bowl, one measuring cup, and one spatula. Baking the fruitcake seemed to dirty nearly every dish in my kitchen (I am still not a tidy cook) and I wanted cookies without the washing up.

A kiss for the cookie, a kiss for my belly, a kiss for the cookie ...

Yes, there's nothing to these cookies. Just a tube of sugar cookie dough, a half cup of creamy peanut butter, and a bag of chocolate kisses. I did fancy them up a bit by squishing the dough through my cookie press and found that doing so created the perfect balance of cookie and chocolate so Yay, me.

I also found a nifty way to neatly and easily load the cookie press, which is to roll the dough into tubes slightly smaller than the dough chamber and just drop them right in! I know it's an obvious thing, but I spent so much time faffing about with doughy spoons when I made my Halloween spritz, trying to get all the air pockets out so the press would work properly. I could have saved myself so much time (and sworn a lot less).

Logs of dough. Yes, I know they look like poo.

Anyway! The cookies were very crisp and surprisingly peanut-y considering the small amount of peanut butter used. As always, I think they're best when the kisses are still a bit soft and melty, but they were still pretty darn tasty two days later.

24 December 2014

Fruitcake Season: Cranberry Walnut

While I reallyreally wanted to kick off Fruitcake Season with Paula Deen's "Plum Ginger Fruitcake," my mother made disparaging noises when I described it to her and, since I am responsible for Christmas dessert, I decided to go with a safer, more traditional flavor combination. My mother does like fruitcake, by the way, but she is a very traditional baker and ingredients like green tea and Chinese five-spice powder make her very suspicious.


So, perhaps less excitingly, I started Fruitcake Season with "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake." Assembling and baking was just as easy as when I make its sister, "Tropical Fruitcake." Always there is a worrying disparity between the amount of batter created and the amount for fillings to be added. But the point to remember is that the batter is there more to mold the bits of fruit, nut, and peel into a cohesive whole than it is to be cake. Or, more simply put, it's fruitcake.


The raw batter was deliciously fragrant, by the way, and tasted better than any spice cake batter I've ever made. I did use a mix of cinnamon, mace, and allspice instead of the cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves called for ... simply because I always use mace instead of nutmeg and did not know I was out of ground cloves until I started baking. (I went through my spices twice when I was writing up my list of necessary fruitcake supplies and I swear I saw ground cloves then).

Also, despite a basement full of spirits, I did not have any orange-flavored liqueur and ended up substituting Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur. I could have used regular ol' Jack Daniels, but I worried that would be too harsh. Orange liqueur would be a little sweet and mellow, like honey whisky. (Just to be safe, I threw in a teaspoon of orange extract with the vanilla).


Once I added the fruit, nuts, and peel to the butter-and-flour mixture, the batter became intensely dense and was increasingly difficult for my KitchenAid Professional stand mixer to handle. This happens every time I make a fruitcake, so I've learned not to freak out and worry my stand mixer will explode. I am, every time, extremely grateful to the Christmas fairies who gave me my shiny red workhorse. I don't think I could easily make these dense batters with the smaller tilt-head stand mixer unless I wanted to finish mixing by hand -- my mother does this and ropes my father into wielding the spoon because she doesn't have the strength!


The raw batter fills the 10-inch tube pan pretty much to the top, but that's okay because even with two teaspoons of baking powder this cake has minimal rise and there's absolutely no danger of it overflowing the pan, dripping all over the oven's heating element, and making a terrible burning smell. Do I sound like I speak from experience? I have had a few overflowing bundts. It's not fun. (It also took 3.5 hours in my oven, but I've suspected for sometime now that my oven no longer runs as hot as it used to).


Paula Deen's "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake" from Cooking With Paula Deen, Nov/Dec 2008. Also available on the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012). Can't locate a copy on your own? See if your friendly local library can help you out.


Wordless Wednesday: A Cat "Helps"

From her comfy chair, Catzilla oversees the decorating of the Christmas tree.

23 December 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Santa, Won't You Bring Me ...


Considering Santa didn’t bring many any of the books I asked for last year, I’m not holding out a lot of hope for this week's Top Ten Tuesday wish list ... perhaps I should I try harder to stay on the “Nice” list? Nah. Being naughty is more fun.

If you like naughty girls, Santa, then please bring me:


Penguin Threads edition of Annie Sewell’s Black Beauty, because my well-loved childhood edition needs to be retired. And, while he’s at it, I’d be fine with Santa bringing me the Penguin Threads edition of The Wind in the Willows and The Wizard of Oz And Other Wonderful Books of Oz: The Emerald City of Oz and Glinda of Oz! Because more is better.

And how about some Penguin Christmas Classics?! They’re so pretty!


A Merry Christmas: And Other Christmas Stories by Louisa May Alcott
A Merry Christmas collects the treasured holiday tales of Louisa May Alcott, from the dearly familiar Yuletide benevolence of Marmee and her “little women” to the timeless “What Love Can Do,” wherein the residents of a boarding house come together to make a lovely Christmas for two poor girls.

The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman
The gift of a handsomely decorated nutcracker from a mysterious uncle sets the stage for a Christmas Eve like no other for the little girl Marie. That night, Marie’s extraordinary present comes to life, defends her from the taunting Mouse King, and whisks her off to the Kingdom of Dolls.

The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol
Written in 1831 by the father of Russian literature, this uproarious tale tells of the blacksmith Vakula’s battle with the devil, who has stolen the moon and hidden it in his pocket, allowing him to wreak havoc on the village of Dikanka. Both the devil and Vakula are in love with Oksana, the most beautiful girl in Dikanka. Vakula is determined to win her over; the devil, equally determined, unleashes a snowstorm to thwart Vakula’s efforts.

Christmas at Thompson Hall: And Other Christmas Stories by Anthony Trollope
Characterized by insightful, psychologically rich, and sometimes wryly humorous depictions of the middle class and gentry of Victorian England—and inspired occasionally by missives in the “lost letter” box of the provincial post office that Trollope ran—these tales helped to enshrine the traditions of the decorated Christmas tree, the holiday turkey, and the giving of store-bought gifts.

And, of course, a cookbook!

Williams-Sonoma’s Year-Round Roasting because roasting this is fun ... and delicious.
This book offers everything you need to know to roast successfully and more than 100 recipes—meats, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and fruits—to practice doing just that. The recipes are appropriate for any season and include ideas for holiday meals throughout the year: leg of lamb for Easter or Passover; savory stuffed turkey for Thanksgiving; standing rib roast or traditional roast goose for Christmas; or pan-roasted filet mignons for a New Year’s Eve fête.

22 December 2014

Fruitcake Supplies

My order of dried fruits, peel, and nuts has arrived from Nuts.com! See it in it's orange splendor!


  • 1 lb. Diced Apples (Unsulphured)
  • 1 lb. Sliced Cranberries
  • 1 lb. Plums (No Pit)
  • 1 lb. Glazed Red Cherries
  • 1 lb. Glazed Pineapple Wedges
  • 1 lb. Coconut - Shredded
  • 1 lb. Macadamia Nut Pieces
  • 1 lb. Sliced Natural Almonds
  • 1 lb. Pecan Pieces
  • 1 lb. Chopped Walnuts
  • 1 lb. Glazed Orange Peel (Diced)
  • 1 lb. Glazed Lemon Peel (Diced)
  • 1 lb. Glazed Diced Citron
The tiny (compared to the others) green bag holds a generous sample of raw organic cacao nibs! Hurrah, a new ingredient to play with. Later. After Fruitcake Season.

I also picked up three four-pound bags of sugar for $1.49 each and one five-pound bag of King Arthur all-purpose flour for free with the purchase of two McCormick spices (and I had a 50¢ coupon off one McCormick spice that the store doubled!). I'm not usually very thrifty about my baking supplies, but fruitcakes require a lot of stuff and I not 100% sure baking four or five fruitcakes over the course of the winter is the Best Idea Ever so ... let's economize when possible without cutting corners or using untrustworthy ingredients.

Oh, a fruitcake-baking we will go! First, up Paula Deen's "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake!"

21 December 2014

Falling For Max


Tori's parents went through a terribly acrimonious divorce a few years back and, ever since, she's sworn of romance and stuck with (completely satisfying) hookups. And then she meets the town serial killer, discovers he's trying to find a wife, and decides to help him become a more datable person.

Officially, this is Book Nine Stacey's The Kowalski Family series but don't let that deter you. I haven't read the other books in the series (tried the first book, Exclusively Yours, after meeting Stacey at the Big Book Getaway but DNF) and that didn't make Falling For Max any less enjoyable. Being friends of Max and Tori, the Kowalskis flit through, but this isn't their story and it isn't necessary to know or care about them. Instead it's about two "romance misfits" who fall in love while not trying to fall in love. It's quite cute (without being overly twee) and very funny in places. Really, I'd love to read more about Tori and Max. I enjoy romances with unconventional romantic leads and Exclusively Yours certainly had that!

Falling For Max by Shannon Stacey (Carina Press, 2014)

20 December 2014

Ugly Cookies

I'd picked up a bag of Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips at Big Lots just after Thanksgiving with the intention of holding on to them until February when they could be used in baking adorable heart-shaped shortbread cookies. But then I opened the bag ... just to see what they were like ... and started snacking on them. So it seemed they should be used sooner than February, lest they all get snacked away.

Not in the mood for shortbread, I made the "Andes Double Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies" recipe on the back of the bag, omitting the nuts and using four ounces of semisweet morsels instead of a "chunked" baking bar. They were an easy cookie to assemble and the recipe yielded up forty-three cookies -- pretty darn close to the listed four dozen -- although only forty-one made it out of the kitchen as one was lost to breakage and another to "testing."


I don't like coffee or coffee-flavored things, but one of the upcoming Improv Challenges uses coffee and cream so I thought I should experiment and these cookies seemed like a good start. I know a lot of chocolate cake recipes call for coffee because coffee helps bring out the flavor of the cocoa so I do keep espresso powder on hand. However, I wasn't sure how strong my espresso powder was compared to the two tablespoons instant coffee granules called for in the Andes recipe so I limited my tablespoons to one. If you sniff the cookies, beneath the rich, heady aroma of chocolate-and-peppermint, there is a definite whiff of coffee. The Husband also dislikes coffee, but clearly hasn't noticed or isn't bothered by the scent as he keeps scarfing up cookies! And all my coworkers, some coffee drinkers and some not, all enjoyed these cookies. Ymmv, is all I'm saying.

(Mostly, though, I can't get over how ... unattractive ... these cookies are. Frankly, they look like something worrying I might find half-buried in the cat box).

19 December 2014

Saturn Apartments


In a ringworld orbiting the Earth, where sunlight and clean windows are a hot commodity, Mitsu has recently graduated school and become an apprentice window-washer. His father, also a window-washer, fell to his death in an accident five years back. Some of the people Mitsu now works with knew his dad ... and not everyone liked him. So, Volume 1 of Saturn Apartments is very much about Mitsu learning his job, coming to grips with his dad’s death, and finding a place for himself in the window-washers’ guild.

It’s a "small" story that hints at bigger things -- the ringworld is intensely stratified class-wise, with poorer people living in the dimmer, dirtier lower levels and rich people living in the clean, naturally lit upper levels. The poor get sick because of lack of natural light and are willing to spend all their savings on one window cleaning, while the rich are just so other. (And then there’s the whole automation angle -- can the window-washers’ jobs be automated? What would that mean for a whole class of people? Would there be resistance?)

But none of that really signifies, at least not in this first volume. The (possibly dystopian) science fiction setting is strictly a backdrop against which play out small, recognizably human dramas. And it’s lovely, really. The art is beautiful, the stories poignant, and there’s just enough humor sprinkled through to keep everything from feeling to mawkish. I certainly look forward to reading the second volume and learning more about the people who live in the Saturn Apartments.

Saturn Apartments, Volume 1 by Hisae Iwaoka (Viz Media, 2010)

18 December 2014

Improv Challenge: Red & Green

I did think about making a red-and-green bundt cake for December's Improv Challenge but, aside from an egregious use of food coloring, I couldn't see what that could bring to the table. So I went savory and dye-free with this simple dish of chicken, tomatoes, and green olives! And capers! And fresh herbs! Which are also green!


Chicken Thighs In Tomato & Olive Sauce

Yield:4-8 servings
Prep Time: 00 hrs. 10 mins.
Cook time: 06 hrs. 00 mins.
Total time: 06 hrs. 10 mins.

Ingredients

  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced thinly
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 28 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes [Muir Glen]
  • 1 Tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
  • ½ cup pitted green olives, quartered
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp fresh oregano
  • Salt and pepper, as needed
  • Additional fresh herbs for garnish

Instructions

  1. Add the onions, tomatoes, olives, capers, and fresh herbs to the slow cooker insert.


  2. Nestle the chicken thighs into the tomato mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a few sprigs of thyme and oregano, if desired.


  3. Cook on low for 6 hours. Serve garnished with additional herbs.


The tomatoes, onions, and chicken will make more than enough liquid so don't even think about adding broth to the pot! The chicken comes out very tender and the sauce is very flavorful, although it is a little runny so feel free to thicken it before serving.



17 December 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Basket Case




I put the basket down for a few minutes ... and *ZOOOM* there's a cat in it!

Bake All the Fruitcakes!


A few years ago, I bought a copy of the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012) for a ridiculously low post-Christmas price. I'm not a huge Paula Deen fan, but I've enjoyed many of her recipes and the DVD seemed like a good buy. It collects every page of the magazine from the first issue in 2005 through the end of 2012. It's searchable, bookmarkable, printable ... and (most important of all) contains all the recipes my mother and I shared back and forth when she was still a subscriber. Au Gratin Carrots? Yes. Horseradish Mashed Potatoes? Yes. Mushroom Lasagna?

Yes.

And all five totally awesome fruitcake recipes from the November/December 2008 issue! I say totally awesome, but I've only made one of the five -- the fabulous "Tropical Fruitcake" with pineapple, coconut, macadamia nuts, and white rum -- so how can I be sure of the other four?
I guess I'll just have to bake more fruitcakes this winter! The "Traditional Fruitcake" doesn't interest me -- that's the one my mom bakes, so I know it's perfectly fine -- but I'm really looking forward to trying "Plum Ginger Fruitcake" (the batter is infused with green tea!) and "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake" (because who doesn't love cranberries and walnuts?). Can't quite make my mine up about "Ambrosia Fruitcake" as I'm guessing, flavor-wise, it's supposed to be reminiscent of ambrosia salad and I just remember that my uncle's ambrosia was deathly sweet.

Baking three fruitcakes requires a serious laying on of supplies, so I started totting up a list of ingredients I'd need:

  • 16 cups flour
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 5 cups candied orange peel
  • 4 cups chopped pecans
  • 4 cups sliced almonds
  • 4 cups chopped walnuts
  • 4 cups chopped macadamias
  • 4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 4 cups candied pineapple chunks
  • 3 cups chopped dried apples
  • 3 cups dried cranberries
  • 3 cups chopped dried plums
  • 2 cups candied citron
  • 2 cups crystallized ginger
  • 2 cups candied lemon peel
  • 2 cups glazed red cherries
  • 1 cup raisins

I already own some of the ingredients, but it's a good thing we're in the heart of Baking Season and so many ingredients are on sale! But where am I going to store it all??

16 December 2014

#ShelfLove No Book Buying Challenge


I'm generally pretty terrible at reading challenges, but the number of unread books on my shelves continues to grow, not shrink, and Something Must Be Done. So ... I've signed on with the No Book Buying Challenge. In 2015, I will abstain from buying books -- no matter how inexpensive they may be -- and stick with what's already on my shelves.

Well, mostly abstain. While my enthusiasm is great and my intention is good, I cannot promise I won't go on a binge in April when we are in England for a family wedding. Books brought home from foreign parts are simply the best books, don't you know!

There are six levels to the No Book Buying Challenge:
Yellow Belt —-> 1-10 books: shake hands with your shelves
Blue Belt —-> 11-20 books: pat your shelves on the back
Green Belt —-> 21-30 books: give your shelves a warm friendly hug
Purple Belt —-> 31-40 books: regular date night with your shelves
Brown Belt —-> 41-50 books: my shelves are now my bff
Black Belt —-> 51+ books: my shelves and I are going steady

I'm aiming for the Blue Belt, as I definitely own more than ten unread books, but I don't want to promise more than twenty, because too large a number will, six months in, seem overwhelming. I'm reading a mixture of "real" books, graphics, and e-books. (I'll also still be reading library books, of course, but they don't count for this challenge).

Anyway, if you have lots of unread books lying about and/or want to rein in your profligate book-buying ways, the No Book Buying Challenge seems like a great motivator. Visit ChapterBreak for more details!

14 December 2014

Pie for the memories

When I remember my Grandma G, I remember a woman who liked dancing and having good time. Not for her the domesticity of the kitchen, which is a little odd, because I must have eaten at her house quite a lot as a child. I remember many meals of dinners of meatloaf with brown gravy, canned vegetables, and instant mashed potatoes. And picnics with hot dogs and canned baked beans -- the kind that had the chunk of ham fat in it -- and potato salad covered in slices of hard-cooked eggs.


And lemon meringue pie. My Grandma G had a terrible sweet tooth. Doughnuts, snack cakes, ice cream, chocolates -- she loved them all. But she didn't bake much. Except that lemon meringue pie. My father remembers a six month period in which she was always baking bread, but that stopped as abruptly as it started and was a distant memory by the time I came along to eat ham and cheese sandwiches in her kitchen. Mostly, my Grandma kept her kitchen well stocked with Hostess and Entenmann products. And she was generous -- never turned up at anyone else's home without a box of cherry cheese danish or frosted doughnuts.


But the lemon meringue pie. That she baked. And it was lemony and light and as perfect as lemon meringue pie can be.

So. I thought, this weekend being the second anniversary of her death, I'd bake a lemon meringue pie. Can't bake Grandma G's pie, because I don't have the recipe, so I used the recipe in my red-and-white plaid Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It's more likely she found hers on the back of a cornstarch or sugar container. Or the newspaper. She was always clipping things from the newspaper.


My pie was both a little burnt and slightly runny, but that's okay. Memories of her pie give me something to strive for. A measuring stick against which to measure all other lemon meringues. And, yes, maybe the pie I remember is better than that pie ever really was, but that's fine. We polish the best memories until they are diamonds and forget or forgive the rest.

12 December 2014

Pork, the Other White Meat

Sometimes, you have a plan ... but it goes terribly wrong ... and you end up with a supper completely different from what you had intended.


The chicken was bad, you see. I'd had my suspicions at lunch, when I opened the fridge and my nose was greeted by a slightly off odor. Something was going bad. I rummaged around in the crisper, looking for manky produce, but found nothing stinky. Dairy drawer was the same. I completely failed to check the package of chicken, because I knew it had a sell-by date of December 15. Also, I was hungry and it was lunch time.

And then it was supper time. Sliced red peppers. Started heating a splash of olive oil up in my big sauté pan. And then I grabbed the chicken from the fridge and it was just so very clear where the smell was coming from.

So chicken in the bin. Marinated pork tenderloin meant for Sunday into the pan with the peppers and then the pan into the oven for 30 minutes at 375°F. Boil red potatoes. Microwave green beans. Microwave leftover sautéed mushrooms. Portion out. Eat.

Now I just have to figure out what we're going to do for Sunday's supper. Plenty of raw potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, and peppers ... maybe, I'll thaw some chicken! Hahahaha.

Through The Woods


A collection of dark, creepy-yet-beautiful stories. I made the mistake of gulping this book down all in one go, quite late at night, and then I COULDN’T SLEEP. Seriously, what was I thinking? I was thinking it couldn’t be that scary and I’d be fine, because I’m a sensible adult who doesn’t let her imagination run away with her.

And, really, it isn’t scary in the traditional sense of, say, monsters jumping out from under beds. Yet the stories left me feeling deeply uneasy. While the stories show you plenty of horrors, the horrors they suggest are much worse as your brain is more than happy to give them shape. (However, while I found Through The Woods delightfully creepy, The Husband was not impressed at all so ymmv).

Carroll makes good use of black, red, and white in the illustrations the accompany each story. They are quite atmospheric and definitely ratchet each story’s creep factor up a notch. I find her illustrations at once deeply disturbing and beautiful. Carroll has many comics available on her site and, if you take a look, you’ll see what I mean.


Through The Woods by Emily Carroll (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014)

10 December 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Seasonal Dalek

We threw a Doctor Who Holiday social at the library and Dave the Dalek really
got into the spirit of things. Who knew Daleks like glitter???

09 December 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: New-To-Me Authors


This week, our Top Ten Tuesday topic is the top ten new-to-me authors I read in 2014! Only a few of these are new-to-the-world authors, as I seem to read quite randomly these days and finding something to read is much more "oh! accidental discovery of shiny thing!" than "hey! I read this great review and need to go get X's latest book!"

  1. Ann Leckie, author of the utterly fabulous award-winning Ancillary Justice. Does it make me cool, that I read it before it had won the Hugo and Nebula?
  2. Samuel R. Delaney, author of the gender-bending Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (rev).
  3. James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon), author of so many thought-provoking science fiction stories. I started with the omnibus, Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (rev), and have my eye on Meet Me At Infinity: The Uncollected Tiptree: Fiction and Nonfiction.
  4. Marlen Haushofer, most famous for her 1963 apocalyptic novel, The Wall (rev). She actually didn’t write much, but Nowhere Ending Sky and The Loft are currently available in English.
  5. Blythe Woolston, author of the unputdownable Black Helicopters (rev).
  6. Kristan Higgins, author of manymany romance novels including My One and Only (rev) and The Next Best Thing (rev). I heard her speak at the Big Book Getaway and she was just so fun.
  7. Sheila Simonson, author of many fine Regency-esque romances, including A Cousinly Connexion (rev) and The Bar Sinister (rev).
  8. Ann Cleeves, a prolific British crime-writer. Several of her series have been adapted for television ... which is how I ended up reading the first Vera Stanhope book, The Crow Trap (rev).
  9. Cristin Terrill, author of the time travel YA thriller All Our Yesterdays (rev). I don’t usually enjoy time travel stories, but AOY was marvelous.
  10. Lene Kaaberbøl & Agnete Friis -- I have not read them singularly, but I really love what they’ve done together with the Nina Borg series.

05 December 2014

We


Our gods are here below, with us, in the Bureau, in the kitchen, in the toilet. The gods have become like us -- ergo, we've become like gods. And we're headed your way, my unknown planetary readers, we're coming to make your life divinely rational and precise, like ours.

Imagine OneState, a city-state made of glass isolated from the disorderly and primitive natural world by the Green Wall. The happy (but never free) inhabitants of OneState, named by number, live and work in utter transparency according to the strict schedule laid out by The Table of Hours. Other than the masses of numbers, the citizenry consists of the Guardians who police and the Benefactor who rules. Unless the are sick, every member of OneState is a happy and productive -- "one body with a million hands."

Imagine D-503, builder of the spaceship the Integral, designed to spread the "mathematically infallible happiness" of OneState throughout the universe. He's no dreamer, no revolutionary. Just an utterly orthodox cog in OneState's machine ... until he meets his very own manic pixie dream girl revolutionary, I-330, and develops a soul.

I spent most of my time reading We feeling vaguely annoyed by D-503. The novel is told entirely from his point-of-view and his orthodoxy becomes frustrating as the story progresses -- he seems like a child clinging to a fairy story -- and his abrupt love/obsession with I-330 seems so out of character as to be unbelievable.

But, really, I wanted to know more about I-330 and O-90. What do the women do away from D-503? Outside of sexual encounters during Personal Hours, D-503 doesn't seem to interact with women so I, the reader, don't know where the female citizens of OneState fit. I-330 is a mystery and what she does when she isn't being mysterious or sexually manipulative isn't shown. Aside from (probably) being in love with D-503 and illegally conceiving his child, I know nothing of 0-90.

My feelings of annoyance toward D-503 weren't improved any when he said things like this:

All women are lips, nothing but lips. Some are pink, supple, round -- a ring, a tender shield against the whole world. And then these: A second ago they didn't exist, and now suddenly, made by a knife, the sweet blood still dripping ...

Listen, D-503, both your sex partners -- Pink Supple Lips and Lips Like A Knife -- are revolutionaries willing to die for their particular causes and writing this kind of stuff about them just makes you sound completely unworthy of them.

Also, why did D-503 have to constantly mention R-13's African lips? It feels grossly offensive, but the book was written in 1921 so, yay, for casual racism? I actually thought, in the beginning, that Zamyatin's intention was to keep referencing the bestial in D-503 and R-13 because the bestial people on the other side of the Green Wall represented the utopia the revolutionaries strove for. So, maybe, African lips were a good thing? But then R-13 doesn't survive the revolution. And there's this:

R-13 had suddenly jumped on the bench that was above me, to the left; he was red, spitting with rage. He was carrying I-330 in his arms. She was pale, her yuny ripped open from her shoulders to her breast, blood showing on the white part. She had her arms round his neck and he was jumping from bench to bench in huge leaps, repulsive and agile as a gorilla, and carrying her toward the top.

Product of its time, blah, blah, blah. Ugh.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin w/ trans. by Clarence Brown (Penguin Books, 1993)

04 December 2014

Easy Meat Sauce With Mushrooms

I promised The Husband bolognese for supper, but came home too tired and hungry to follow through by preparing my favorite, albeit time-consuming, bolognese recipe. While the mushroom and meat sauce I ended up with is not a proper bolognese by any stretch of the imagination, it is pretty darn tasty and will certainly do it a pinch.

Most importantly, The Husband enjoyed it!


Easy Meat Sauce With Mushrooms

Yield: 4
Prep Time: 25 mins.
Cook time: 30 mins.
Total time: 55 mins.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz sliced button mushrooms
  • 8 oz grass fed ground beef [Nature's Promise Organic]
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onion
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 14.5 oz cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes [Muir Glen]
  • 1 tsp beef stock base [Penzeys]
  • ½ cup Cabernet Sauvignon [Jacob's Creek]
  • ¼ grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend [Penzeys]

Instructions

  1. Spray large French/Dutch oven with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, beef and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is no longer pink. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
  2. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, beef base, Italian seasoning and cheese. Bring pan to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until sauce has thickened slightly, stirring occasionally.
  3. Serve over spaghetti with additional parmesan.

Obviously, use whatever red wine you enjoy cooking with! The Jacob's Creek was leftover from Thanksgiving and needed using up.

03 December 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Rhinoceros


The Rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he’s not a feast,
But you and I will never know
Why Nature chose to make him so.
Farewell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros.
               -- Ogden Nash

02 December 2014

Top 10 Tuesday: Books I Want To Read In 2015


It's Top Ten Tuesday! Huzzah! This week we're talking about the ten books we most look forward to reading in 2015. (We're covering 2015 debuts in January, so I've tried to avoid any of those in this list).

Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple. Persephone Books reprints this 1949 novel.
Because of Mr. Lockwood, and his sharp dealings, Mrs. Hunter -- newly widowed -- was to lose the value of her inheritance and through the years both she and her children are exposed to the patronizing gestures of benevolence of the Lockwoods.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce. (Feb). A companion to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye.
When Queenie Hennessy discovers that Harold Fry is walking the length of England to save her, and all she has to do is wait, she is shocked. Her note had explained she was dying. How can she wait?

A new volunteer at the hospice suggests that Queenie should write again; only this time she must tell Harold everything. In confessing to secrets she has hidden for twenty years, she will find atonement for the past.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. I’m a sucker for retellings of stories like “Beauty and the Beast” or “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.”
For Feyre, the downfall of her merchant-class family into poverty wasn’t easy, but after five years, she’s starting to get the hang of things. Hunt, and her family lives; fail to catch anything, and they starve. It doesn’t help that her two older sisters are lazy and ungrateful, or that her father hasn’t bothered to recover from his misfortune, but Feyre is managing.

That’s Not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us by Erin Moore.
In That’s Not English, the seemingly superficial differences between British and American English open the door to a deeper exploration of a historic and fascinating cultural divide. In each of the thirty chapters, Erin Moore explains a different word we use that says more about us than we think.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and every night. Every day she rattles over the same track junctions, flashes past the same stretch of cozy suburban homes. And every day she stops at the same signal and she sees the same couple, breakfasting on their roof deck, living the perfect life that Rachel craves for herself … then one day Rachel sees someone new in their garden, and soon after, the woman who lived there disappears

An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey.
Irrepressible Biddy Leigh, under-cook at the foreboding Mawton Hall, only wants to marry her childhood sweetheart and set up her own tavern. But when her elderly master marries the young Lady Carinna, Biddy is unwittingly swept up in a world of scheming, secrets and lies.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. [GN]
Sydney Padua gives us an alternate reality in which Lovelace and Babbage do build the Difference Engine, and then use it to do battle with the American banking system, the publishing industry, their own fears that their project will lose funding, and a villainous street musician who will force the two friends to reevaluate their priorities -- "for the sake of both London and science."

Doctor Death: A Madeleine Karno Mystery by Lene Kaaberbol. A historical thriller by one of the authors of The Boy in the Suitcase!
The year is 1894, and a young girl is found dead on the snowy streets of Varbourg. Dr. Karno is called in to determine the cause of her death, but before he can examine the body, the girl’s family forbids the autopsy from taking place. The only anomaly he manages to find is in the form of a mite in her nostril. Shortly after, several other dead bodies are discovered throughout the city, and Madeleine, her father, and the city commissioner must use the new science of forensic evidence to solve the mysterious cases before they all become the next victims of a deadly disease -- or of a heinous murderer.

So excited.