31 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Tall Bearded Iris

I think this lovely Bearded Iris might be the Empress Eugenie. As always, completely taken with the fuzzy caterpillar-like beard.

29 May 2017

The Handmaid's Tale


The best kind of dystopian fiction is, for me, the kind that can convince me that world is possible and The Handmaid's Tale ... well, it hews too close to the truth for comfort these days. It is a bleak portrait of a future that seems far too real, given contemporary events. It helps that Atwood has told her story sparingly and quietly, with so much tension and drama simmering away at the edges, so that it's easy to interpret or suppose or assume things about the narrative and its relationship to the "real world." (Whatever that may mean in these days of alt-facts. Even on a good day, what is real and what is just what we're increasingly becoming used to?)

Format-wise, I really liked that the publisher had added a little music to the last 30 seconds or so of each disc, so that you knew the end was coming up, and that the last minute or so of each disc repeated at the beginning of the next. Maybe I listen to the wrong audio book publishers, but I don't encounter those features very often and that's a pity as they make the listening experience that much easier.

The Handmaid's Tale written by Margaret Atwood & read by Claire Danes (Brilliance Audio, 2014)

25 May 2017

Lazy Blackberry Almond Bars

I came home from work Monday night in the mood to bake something Right Then That Minute. Since I had a bag of sugar cookie mix and a punnet of fresh blackberries on hand, I decided to whip up a batch of my tried-and-true generally-husband-pleasing blackberry bars. These bars are based on Betty Crocker's "Raspberry Streusel Bars" recipe, but I've steadily tweaked it over the years until it has become what you see below.


You don't absolutely have to warm the preserves, but it spreads much more easily on the hot sugar cookie base if you do. Otherwise, I find bits of the base get pulled up and mixed into the preserves as I try to spread it around.


Lazy Blackberry Almond Bars

Yield: 25 bars

Ingredients

  • 1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
  • ⅓ cup butter, softened
  • 2 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground mace
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup seedless black raspberry preserves, warmed until slightly runny
  • ¼ blackberries
  • ¼ flaked almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8-inch square baking pan with foil and brush with canola oil or spritz with cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine cookie mix, butter, flour, almond extract, cinnamon, mace, and egg until a soft dough forms. Press half of the dough into the bottom of pan and bake 15 minutes.
  3. Spread warm preserves over cookie base. Sprinkle with blackberries.
  4. Mash remaining dough and almonds together with a pastry blender until crumbs form. Scatter over preserves and berries.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes or until bars are golden brown.
  6. Cool completely then cut into bars and store in a tightly sealed container until needed. Baked bars will slowly soften, so eat within a day or two of baking.

24 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Foxglove


Because hairs on their speckled daybeds baffle the little bees,
foxgloves come out to advertise for rich bumbling hummers,
who crawl into their tunnels-of-delight with drunken ease
(see Darwin’s chapters on his foxglove summers)
plunging over heckles caked with sex-appealing stuff
to sip from every hooker its intoxicating liquor
and stop it propagating in a corner with itself.

     from "The Miracle of the Bees and the Foxgloves" by Anne Stevenson

18 May 2017

Simple Herb-Roasted Salmon

To celebrate my Mom's birthday, I took her to "Grow It, Cook It, Eat It" -- a workshop and luncheon at White Flower Farm in Litchfield. We listened to a short lecture on the use of various culinary herbs, then planted our own container kitchen herbs, and ate a delicious, herby vegetarian boxed lunch. Mom definitely enjoyed herself and so we're keeping an eye on the list of events, to see if there's something else we'd like to do together.

Anyway, as it's been a bit cool and rainy since then, the herbs I planted haven't grown much. The container is right by the front door, though, so I see them as I pass to and fro and I itch to use them ... and, well, what harm could a little bit taken here and there do?


Since I already had a salmon fillet in the refrigerator, I decided to roast it with a little of the fresh rosemary and thyme. I could just as easily have used fresh tarragon and lemon zest or fresh marjoram and dijon, but rosemary and thyme is a such a classic combination. It's fabulous with salmon, of course, but I’ve also used it with whitefish like cod and haddock.

This recipe makes two generous servings, but can easily serve three or four by scaling down the portion size. We were rather hungry after gardening so I cut the salmon fillet into larger portions than I usually would. Leftover salmon, should there be any, is very nice cold, on a bed of salad greens.


Simple Herb-Roasted Salmon

Yield: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 8-oz portions boned salmon fillet
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp minced fresh thyme
  • ½ Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ⅛ tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Brush a pie plate or baking dish with olive oil.
  3. Pat the salmon dry with a paper towel and place on the pie plate. If your salmon portions have a thin end, fold that under for more even cooking.
  4. Top with ingredients.
  5. Bake salmon, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily and has reached 145°F.

17 May 2017

Wordless Wednesday: Sweet Violets

The sweet violets have successfully seeded themselves through the garden and lawn ... this makes me very, very happy. Who needs grass when you can have violets?

15 May 2017

Far From Home


Rachel is a nice seems-to-be straight girl struggling with student loan debt, under-employment, and an eating disorder. On a whim (almost), she agrees to marry Pari, an equally nice lesbian who, while in the country legally, can't do the work she most desires under her current visa. Two years of marriage will help Pari get her green card and, in return, she will take care of Rachel's debts.

Okay. That sounds kind of improbable. And horrible. And dangerous. And, in the real world, Rachel and Pari's relationship would not work out, the USCIS would have no problem spotting marital fraud, Rachel would go to jail, and Pari would be deported.

But Lorelie Brown's Far From Home is a sweet, hopelessly upbeat and romantic work of fiction. Of course, Rachel and Pari fall in love and happily-ever-after the fuck out of the story. Yes, some readers will probably have to suspend a ridiculous amount of disbelief to enjoy Far From Home ... but I had no problem with it. It's a fictitious romance in a fictitious California in a fictitious America where Everything Will Turn Out All Right and, considering the very real and horrific deportation stories I keep reading, that's exactly what I needed.

Also, I should point out I have a great weakness for marriage-of-convenience HEA stories and I'm always on the look for sweet, tender LBTQ romance. Really, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I gobbled up Far From Home over the course of a rainy afternoon and then immediately went looking for more. Far From Home is a Belladonna Ink novel, sharing the same universe and a few characters as Brown's Take Me Home, but it is not necessary to read one in order to enjoy the other. However ... having read one, how could you not read the other? And wish then spend fruitless night wishing there were more?

Truly, I enjoyed this Far From Home so veryVERY much. While not without flaws, the story is still so sweet, poignant, and delicious that it is definitely going on my "Books To Reread When It Feels Like The End of The World" (wait that's every day, now, isn't it?) list.

Far From Home by Lorelie Brown (Riptide Publishing, 2016). Kindle Edition, Riptide Publishing, 2016.

11 May 2017

Taco Pizza

My parents still keep raving about the taco pizza they buy at their local pizzeria ... so much so that I decided to make my own as it doesn't appear on the menus of any of my local pizzerias and, while it sounds, fantastic, I'm not desperate to drive 90 minutes for a pizza. (Yes, I know I could visit my parents and enjoy their favorite pizza at the same time).


Ingredients:
  • prepared mini pizza crusts (feeling lazy)
  • taco sauce
  • ground beef cooked with Penzeys Arizona Dreaming seasoning blend
  • shredded "pizza cheese" blend
  • chopped red onion
  • chopped, pitted black olives
  • chopped romaine
  • chopped cherry tomatoes
  • guacamole drizzle (guacamole mixed with red wine vinegar and olive oil to make a vinaigrette)

There were meant to be crushed tortilla chips, too, but I forgot about them in my hurry to get pizza in my mouth.

How was it? While a bit messy -- definitely a knife-and-fork pizza -- and probably not at all like my parents' favorite, we both enjoyed eating it and there were no leftovers. I'll be making this again.

08 May 2017

Behold the Dreamers


Jende and Neni Jonga want desperately to stay in America, to make something of themselves, and give their son a future he could not even dream of in Cameroon. But making those dreams come true is dependent on money and money depends on employment and employment depends on immigration status. And immigration status? That depends on who is asking the question. Jende wants to be aboveboard but he is trapped in a legal limbo while he waits for a decision from the USCIS regarding his petition for asylum status. Working as a driver for Clark Edwards, the seeming epitome of the American Dream, entangles Jendi and Neni in the Clark family's secrets and exposes the cracks behind the Dream's facade. This entanglement inevitably spurs several desperate acts, leading to a surprising, but realistically unavoidable, ending.


Behold the Dreamers is of those audio books you can’t stop listening to and find yourself idling extra long in parking lots, waiting for a "good place" to pause. Alas, there are no good places -- this is an audio book that deserves all of your attention, all of the time. Much of that is due to Mbue’s exemplary writing style and intricate story-telling skills, of course, but Onayemi's masterful reading deserves awards.

Behold the Dreamers written by Imbolo Mbue & read by Prentice Onayemi (Random House Audio, 2016)

03 May 2017

01 May 2017

American War


I finished American War well over a week ago now, but I still struggle to know what to say about it. It’s bleak and grim and dark. Full of rogue weaponized drones, catastrophic weather, (villainous) governments, and freedom fighters (terrorists). And yet there are small moments of beauty and humor amidst all the horror.

Ultimately, American War is a disquieting, uncomfortable novel. One of those novels the word “unputdownable” can honestly be applied to. Which doesn’t make this novel flawless -- there are, for example, points where the narrative is frustratingly meandering -- but it is too compelling a story for me to care too much about structural flaws.

El Akkad incorporates excerpts from news articles, memoirs, and official documents to fill out the story and provide context for Sarat's experiences -- I tend to enjoy fiction which employs that kind of epistolary conceit, so I ate those pages up and wanted more, because there is still so much of Sarat’s world I want to know (yet am afraid to know, because These Times Are Too Much Like Fiction).

American War takes place during the uneasy detente occurring after the catastrophic second American civil war. Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia have formed their own government (The Free Southern State), with North Carolina and Tennessee rather friendly to it, and South Carolina a quarantined zone controlled by the North. The Free Southern State is not well regarded by it's populace and there are a myriad of rebel factions clamoring for power within it. The South is gutted. Scarred. Angry. Prone to (self)destruction.

Growing up in this mess, first in mostly-drowned Louisiana and later in a displaced persons camp in Mississippi, is Sarat Chestnut. Curious, defiant, ignorant, and unfeminine (nice to see contemporary gender norms still hold sway), Sarat is eventually befriended by a mysterious, smooth-talking, and educated man who spoon feeds her the Story of the South -- a tasty, untanglable blend of fact and fiction that sets her on a dark path.

And I can’t say more because Spoilers. Just go yourself a copy of American War.



American War written by Omar El Akkad & read by Dion Graham (Random House Audio, 2017)