26 June 2015

The Good, the Bad, & the Furry

That wee daisy just gives The Bear a certain je ne sais quoi, you know?
My cats would freak out … and then eat the flower.

I don’t know how long I followed @mysadcat on Twitter before I realized there was a “proper person” behind it or that person was Tom Cox, columnist for the Guardian, but when I did I (of course) went hunting down his books. The Good, the Bad, and the Furry was the first one I stumbled across and the cover alone was enough to make me snatch it off the library shelf and start gobbling it down at lunch.

The Good, the Bad, and the Furry is a delightful episodic collection of misadventures in catpacity. Some of the episodes are poignant and sad (Janet!), but most are just absurdly funny. Indeed, I found myself laughing aloud quite often while reading this book and I took to reading it, a section at a time, just before bed (with one or two cats snoozing beside me) as mood-booster and guarantee against bad dreams.

Mind you, I currently have four cats and am, therefore, strongly inclined to enjoy feline-theme nonfiction like The Good, the Bad, and the Furry and James Herriot's Cat Stories. Obviously, if you aren’t that keen on cats, then your level of enjoyment may vary. Which is not to say The Good, the Bad, and the Furry is 100% cat. No, it’s just as much about parents (his weird-but-wonderful dad TALKS LIKE THIS and keeps a toad in his shoe), his falling-apart house in Norfolk, and love. But the cats knit it all together.

My only complaint about The Good, the Bad, and the Furry is that I wish the publisher had splashed out a bit for glossy, full color photos. The black-and-whites are, frequently, too small and grainy for good detail. Surely handsome, condescending Ralph deserves a high-quality fashion shot?

Cox has written two other books about his cats, Under the Paw: Confessions of a Cat Man and Talk to the Tail: Adventures in Cat Ownership and Beyond, but neither are available at a Connecticut public library... and they’re already out of print in the US. You know what that means, right? My January 2016 end-of-the-no-book-buying-challenge Book Depository shopping binge just got that much bigger. Hooray.

The Good, the Bad, and the Furry: Life with the World’s Most Melancholy Cat by Tom Cox (St. Martin’s Press, 2013)

25 June 2015

Lazy Oven Kabobs

Brown and lovely oven-baked chicken-vegetable kabobs. Yum!
Kabobs! In the oven! Because Weather. (Also, maybe, laziness?) Last Saturday started as a beautiful late Spring day with big fluffy white sheep of clouds scudding across deep blue skies ... but, by the time lunchtime had rolled around, the sun was skulking behind dark clouds of dooooom, the wind kicked up, and it began to rain. The whole family wandered back into the house and the kabobs went in the oven.

Chicken-vegetable kabobs, marinating
And they were good! I'd bought these ready made, unseasoned chicken kabobs at the grocery store and then marinated them overnight, skewers and all, in Italian dressing. (What can I say? I am my mother's daughter and Italian dressing remains my go-to marinade). To cook them in the oven, I just decanted the container onto a baking tray and baked them at 450°F for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. As you can see, they came out looking pretty much just like they came off the grill -- charred edges and all.

Chicken-vegetable kabobs ready to go in the oven

24 June 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Treefrog

Gray treefrog on a railing. A creepy-cute insectivore. Also, surprisingly loud.

23 June 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite Top 10 Tuesdays


In honor of 5 years of Top Ten Tuesday (our first Top Ten Tuesday debuted June 21, 2010) this week’s topic is “My Ten Favorite Top Ten Topics We've Ever Done In The Past 5 Years.” While I’ve actually only been doing Top Ten Tuesday since 2012, I certainly didn’t have a problem coming up with ten!

Quick, Convenient Burritos

I'd cooked a pound of ground beef ahead of time for slow cooker recipe, but it turned out I didn't have quite all the ingredients on hand to make ... so I ended up making something completely different! The cooked beef went in the fridge, with the idea I would use it for tacos, and then it seemed we had suddenly the end of the week, I was driving home from work, and realized I owned neither taco shells nor tortillas. A quick detour to the grocery store and ...


Behold, burrito fixings! These burritos were so easy to make, reasonably healthy (or, at least, healthier than delivery) and full of flavor. The Husband took no issue with the filling which, thanks to the Birds Eye blend, contained things like lentils and whole grains. (Quite probably, considering the amount of cheese and sour cream involved, he couldn't even taste them).


I heated up the Protein Blend and then mixed it with the ground beef and about 4 oz of shredded Cabot light pepper jack cheese.


Warmed up some tortillas and spooned a half cup down the middle of each before folding them up into little bundles.


Spritzed them with a little cooking spray and baked them at 375°F until they were golden brown on top.


Served them with shredded lettuce, sour cream, and salsa. Yum!

I imagine these would be equally good with chopped grilled chicken, instead of beef, or no meat at all. My "recipe" made a lot and I don't know how well these would freeze, but they keep fine in fridge for the two days it took us to finish them. I reheated them by wrapping them individually in foil and tossing them, as needed, in a 375°F oven for about 20 minutes or until heated through.

19 June 2015

Lemon Dill Chicken & Potatoes

My tiny dill plants have become hulking monstrosities. While it's a bit early for pickle-making, I knew I needed to started using fresh dill more often (and in bigger quantities) or the plant would bolt and that would not be good at all. Well, when life gives you too much dill ... roast chicken!


This chicken dish is easy to prepare and comes together quickly. Simply toss all the ingredients in a big baking dish, pop it in the oven, and you're good to go!

Lemon Dill Chicken & Potatoes

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 lb baby potatoes, halved
  • 1 red onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • Generous palmful fresh dill
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 400°F. Spray a large baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Arrange chicken thighs, potatoes, onions and lemon slices in the baking dish.
  3. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dill. Drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Bake, covered with foil, for 40 minutes. Uncover, stir, and bake 10 more minutes or until potatoes are tender and chicken has reached 165°F.


I think the combination of lemon and dill keeps the dish very bright and fresh-tasting, you may want to cut back if you're not a lemon-lover!

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis


1892. Two young people are in love and secretly engaged to be married, but then, due to family interference, the engagement is broken and all contact between the two is stopped. A tragedy, yes, but these things happen. Except one of them isn’t going to give up on the engagement -- it’s marriage or death. Well, that happens.
And they’re lesbians ...

So, yeah, there’s that. Would I read a historic crime book about a nice straight, white Memphis boy who killed is ex-fiancé in 1892? Probably not. But give me a crime history with lesbians and I’d fight every library patron on the eastern seaboard to get my hands on it. Yes, I can feel you judging me. I judge me.

Alice + Freda Forever is one of those reads I’d definitely recommend to people looking for nonfiction that reads like fiction. There’s just so much of Alice and Freda’s story that seems impossible or improbable and yet is undoubtedly (and heartrendingly) true. A lot of that has to do with how lesbianism was viewed in the 1892 -- which is to say it wasn’t, because it simply didn’t exist (for anyone who wasn’t one, obviously).

That Alice and Freda planned to run away together, get married, and live as husband and wife was just so far beyond the ken of any reasonable person -- who could have grasped the possibility? Even Freda’s own brother, when he waited up with a shotgun that elopement night, was convinced there was really a man at root of the elopement scheme and that Alice was merely a pawn. If the girls were actually serious in their love, then clearly one or both of them had to be insane. And that’s what Alice’s trial is about. Not whether she killed Freda, but whether she’s sane enough to be tried for murder.

Although I frequently had to put the book down to facepalm over Alice’s painful dramatics (someone get the girl a therapist) and awkward machinations (she’s about as cunning as your average thwarted-in-love teenager, I guess), I absolutely adored this book. The story, while deeply tragic, was endlessly fascinating and I wanted more. (Indeed, I’d love to know why more of Alice’s testimony isn’t included. Is it destroyed or missing? And what of the poor patsy, Lilly Johnson? What became of Lilly after the trail?).

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp/Zest Books, 2014)

18 June 2015

Improv Challenge: Fish & Avocado

For June's Improv Challenge, I made a quick and easy canapé using shrimp and avocados. It's reminiscent of ceviche, but uses canned shrimp so no worries about bacteria or parasites. It makes twelve toasts, but if you prefer to eat these for lunch, figure three toasts per person, plus a light salad and fruit.


Shrimp & Avocado Toasts

Yield:12ish toasts

Ingredients

  • 6 oz can tiny shrimp, rinsed and well drained
  • 2 Campari tomatoes, seeded and diced small
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1½ Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 avocado, stoned and diced small
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Sriracha or preferred hot sauce, as desired
  • Melba or toasted thin-sliced sliced baguette

Instructions

  1. Gently combine shrimp, tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, avocado, and lime juice so that the ingredients are well mixed, but the avocado remains chunky.
  2. Season with salt, pepper, and sriracha to taste.
  3. Serve on melba toasts.

I apologize for the quality of my photos -- I took them in a rush and failed to notice the terrible focus issues at the time. Also, I swear my avocado was not that shade of yellow, but a nice (avocado!) green. Ugh.

Anyway, they taste pretty good! Promise.



17 June 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Allium Blossoms




Mystery allium blooming in my vegetable bed. Might be shallots?

Quick White Bean Salad

I first made this bean salad for our Memorial Day picnic, because I knew we were going to stuff ourselves with burgers and deviled eggs so should probably pack a healthy side. Also, I wanted something mayonnaise-free that could sit on out on a warm picnic table in the woods for a bit without becoming intestinally exciting.


Anyway, it was so good that I've made it several times since. It's a very simple recipe and works well with other herbs, so feel free to use whatever you have too much of in the garden! I especially like it with fresh dill.

Quick White Bean Salad

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 15-oz can white beans, rinsed and drained
  • ½ cup finely chopped red onion
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery
  • Generous handful finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Small palmful finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbsp garlic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Combine beans, onion, celery, parlsey, and rosemary in a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper in a measuring cup or small bowl.
  3. Pour dressing over bean mixture, tossing to coat. Cover and chill for several hours.

16 June 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Summer 2015 TBR


I'm really not good at sticking to TBR lists as I tend to read whatever looks interesting -- regardless whether it's on my list or not. Anyway, this summer's TBR list is all about books coming out this summer.

  • Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel (June)
  • Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman (July)
  • Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh (August)
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (July)
  • Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (August)


  • Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings by Shirley Jackson (August)
  • The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman (August)
  • More Fool Me: A Memoir by Stephen Fry (June)
  • The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig (July)
  • Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams (June)

12 June 2015

Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante


After Maxie Mainwaring is caught locking lips with Elaine Ellman in the country club powder room during the Daughter of the American Pioneers luncheon, Maxie's outraged mother cuts off her allowance. Vowing to make it on her own, Maxie pursues a number of interesting career options -- everything from being a summer rec aide to writing for a hoity-toity ladies fashion magazine -- while managing to get tangled up with a Scandinavian American crime syndicate and the mysterious, brooding, and deliciously butch Lon.

I'd picked Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante up on a whim and, wow, what fun! As a parody of classic lesbian pulp, it might not be every reader's cup of tea, but I (who hoped it would be reminiscent of the Beebo Brinker or Nancy Clue books) was quite satisfied. For me, it was the perfect summer read -- both fluffy and fun without being silly. Also irreverently sexy, if such a thing is possible.

I am totally chuffed to discover Maxie is part of a series, The Lesbian Career-Girl, and look forward to reading Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary and Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher ... in 2016, when I'm "allowed" to buy books, again.

Maxie Mainwaring, Lesbian Dilettante by Monica Nolan (Kensington, 2013)

Burger Salad Bowl

I have no proper recipe for this burger salad bowl -- although you can find lots of variations on Pinterest -- just take the toppings you usually love on a burger and put them on your salad. I used chopped pickles, red onion, and tomatoes on a mix of sweet butter and red leaf lettuce. I was craving "special sauce," but was too lazy to make it from scratch so I dressed the salad with its bastard cousin, low-calorie thousand island dressing.

Delicious with Little Penguin cabernet sauvignon.
Frankly, this salad was pretty fabulous and I look forward to making another one soon. Maybe with a little bacon and homemade "special sauce" spiked with sriracha?

10 June 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Hydrangea

Close-up view of a lace-cap type hydrangea.

Easy Anything & Everything Egg Bake

The giant tub of organic baby greens I bought at the warehouse club is, apparently, secretly a horn of plenty, because no mater how much of the stuff I eat, there's still more left. The greens ARE delicious, mind you, but I'm actually getting tired of salad for lunch (who knew that was possible?) and they're going to go off if they don't get et up fairly quickly.

So I made what I'm calling a crustless egg bake -- it's not quite a quiche or a frittata -- and I don't even have a "real" recipe to share with you because I didn't measure anything.


As I had a lot of greens and I wanted them to all fit in the pie plate, I microwaved them, covered, for a minute so that they were slightly wilted and easier to stuff in the lightly oiled plate. Then I chopped up a handful of wrinkly grape tomatoes and threw them in the pie dish along with some leftover chopped red onion and a generous amount of Penzeys Sunny Paris.


At this point, I thought the dish looked a little blah, so I sprinkled it with the last of the crumbled feta ...


Then I whisked together two eggs and the last of the egg whites and poured them over everything. Arranged a few thin slices of tomato around the top for extra pretty points. Baked the whole thing at 375°F for about 35 minutes.


That's breakfast for four days and no wasted vegetables. Hurrah. And, obviously, it tastes pretty good!

09 June 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Spring TBR, Second Half


Back in March we shared our Spring TBR list, so this week we’re covering the second half of 2015! No idea whether I’ll actually get around to reading any of these -- thus far, I’ve read 0 from my spring list -- but list-making is fun.

  • Akuma no Riddle: Riddle Story of Devil, Vol. 1 written by Yun Kouga & illus. by Sunao Minakata (October)
  • Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3) by Ann Leckie (October)
  • The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips (August)
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (October)
  • The Cake Shop in the Garden by Carole Matthews (October)


  • Come Hell or Highball (Discreet Retrieval Agency #1) by Maia Chance (September)
  • Dragon Heart by Cecelia Holland (September)
  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong (October)
  • The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood (September)
  • The Marriage Recital by Katharine Grant (November)


05 June 2015

Princeless, Volume 2: Get Over Yourself


Princess Adrienne, Bedelia, and Sparky are off to rescue beautiful Princess Angelica ... but, maybe, she doesn’t want to be rescued? Meanwhile, the King sends forth the bravest heroes in the land to find Adrienne’s killer (she burned down her tower and rescued herself, but no-one has figured that out because, frankly, it just doesn’t occur to them as a possibility) and bring him to justice. And the Queen, traveling completely alone and unprotected, appears to have been kidnapped by a turncoat knight.

Dum dum DUM.

Princeless , Volume 2 is a fun romp and our protagonists remain as imperfectly heroic as ever -- particularly Princess Adrienne, who rushes around as if she has everything figured out, but clearly doesn’t! Heroes aren’t made overnight, you know, and it’s kind-of nice to see Adrienne isn’t yet a perfect paragon of heroism or feminism. She’s still very young and, while she has strong opinions, she hasn’t yet spent a lot of time thinking things through.

Unfortunately, my edition of Princeless , Volume 2 suffers from a lot off gutter loss -- the way the book was set and printed, the inner margins (gutters) are too small and many panels run into the binding -- making it difficult to read at points. Also, unlike Volume 1, which was stripped of ads and such so that all the story pages flowed together into one long cohesive tale, Volume 2 simply consists of complete issues -- ads and all -- bound together. Call me a snob, if you will, but that’s not the quality I expect from a trade.

Print issues aside, it's all good fun and I still recommend. There doesn't seem to be a Volume 3, though, so if you're a completist, you may be frustrated!

Princeless, Volume 2: Get Over Yourself written by Jeremy Whitley with illus. by Emily Martin (Action Lab, 2013).

Pasta Salad Season Continues

I threw this quick pasta salad together Sunday night so we'd have something quick and cool to eat after a long, hot Monday. It's not particularly fancy -- more of a "garbage" salad than anything else -- but it came out pretty well and I'll definitely be using the mayonnaise-milk-lemon-mustard combination again.

Mom always served pasta salad with pickled beets ... so I do, too. Tradition!

Tuna Macaroni Salad

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 6 oz whole grain elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
  • 5 oz can albacore tuna packed in water, drained and flaked
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • ¼ cup chopped radishes
  • ¾ cup light mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup 1% milk
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp dill weed
  • ¼ tsp black pepper

Instructions

  1. In a large serving bowl, combine macaroni, tuna, onion, peas, and radishes.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, milk, lemon juice, mustard, dill, and black pepper.
  3. Pour mayonnaise mixture over pasta and toss to coat.
  4. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

I took the leftover pasta salad and pickled beets (not-too-rigorously drained canned beets tossed with garlic vinegar and refrigerated overnight) to work with garlic Triscuits:


03 June 2015

Maple Dijon Glazed Salmon

I also picked up a 3-pound bag of Kirkland Signature frozen Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon fillets at the warehouse club last week, because salmon is a fish everyone can agree on, and I'm trying very hard to keep the freezer stocked with things that can be easily and quickly made into a meal. Frozen salmon thaws in about ten minutes if you put it in a dish and run very cold water over it -- then it's just a matter of throwing together a couple sides while the salmon cooks.


While I usually season salmon with olive oil and herbs before I bake it, I was craving something a little sweet to go with my savory and threw together an easy maple syrup and dijon mustard glaze. I used a little coconut aminos, too, to give it a bit more depth, but I'm sure soy sauce would work just fine.

Maple Dijon Glazed Salmon

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 6 oz wild-caught Alaskan salmon fillets
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp coconut aminos
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Whisk together maple syrup, coconut aminos, and mustard. Set aside.
  3. Brush a baking dish with a little olive oil or spritz with cooking spray. Place fillets in dish, skin side down, and liberally brush with the syrup mixture.
  4. Bake, uncovered, 8 minutes or until fish flakes easily and has reached 145°F.
Served the salmon with buttery dilled potatoes and our usual cucumber-and-tomato salad. It was all quite tasty and couldn't have taken more than 20 minutes from freezer to plate.

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Bee

Happy bee drunk on sunshine and springtime.

02 June 2015

Top 10 Tuesday: Books as Movies/TV


For this week's Top Ten Tuesday we're talking about the ten books we'd see made into movies or television series. I thought I'd have a hard time with this, but once I started typing titles just kept popping into my head ... which is why you'll see I have eleven, not ten.

  • Beauty Queens by Libba Bray as a reality television mockumentary.
  • Fables as an hourly fantasy-adventure series. If programs like Grimm and Once Upon a Time can keep running, than Fables should have a shot.
  • Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series as a primetime soap opera.

  • Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain as a long-running high fantasy series. Never to be animated, because Disney ruined that forever.
  • Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books as a humorous detective series adapted and written by the people who did Scott Adams’s Dirk Gently series for BBC4.
  • Kiera Cass’s The Selection series as a character-driven romantic drama with elements of reality television sprinkled through.
  • Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy as a big screen series. We’re going to Mars soon, aren’t we? Also, it nicely combines “hard science” with romance and drama.
  • Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Brothers series as an hourly romantic comedy series with ensemble cast.
  • The Amulet of Samarkand/Bartimaeus trilogy as a long-running high fantasy series (the books are so big and full of stuff that I’d rather a six season Showtime series than 6 heavily-abridged two-hour films).
  • The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry as a full length movie.
  • Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea pentalogy as a big screen series as it has dragons and huge amounts of geography that would look best on a big screen. Also, the small screen 2004 TV mini-series was a terrible adaptation and needs to be consigned to the same dark pit as Disney’s The Black Cauldron and the only way to do that is a high-quality big screen production.