30 May 2018

Wordless Wednesday: A Cat Does Not Share

Ms. Grumpy Boots does not understand why the humans want to sleep in her bed.

28 May 2018

The Marsh King’s Daughter


After a traumatic childhood, Helena moved away from her family, changed her surname, and created a new life that (she thought) kept her safely under the radar. Helena was content.

Then Helena’s father escapes from prison and she has no doubt he will come looking for her. A murderous psychopath, kidnapper, and rapist -- the man is definitely not someone Helena wants anywhere near her husband and daughters. So, using all the tracking skills he taught her, Helena hunts her father.

The Marsh King’s Daughter is an atmospheric and mesmerizing psychological thriller about a woman whose secret past catches up with her and threatens to destroy the life she has built for herself. The book alternates between the past and the present, steadily ratcheting up the nail-biting dramatic tension as the parallel story-lines progress. Child Helena, ignorant of many truths, adores her father intensely. Adult Helena, knowing the truth about her parents’ relationship and recognizing that her childhood was completely fucked-up, still longs for her father’s approbation ... even as she understands she’s going to have to kill him.

With The Marsh King’s Daughter Dionne has crafted an absolutely riveting story -- the characters and the plot are very well developed and the marsh feels like a very real, very familiar place. Rankin’s narration is also spot-on and I cannot tell you how many times I willingly considered being late for work so I could listen to “just a little bit more.”

Be warned, though, that there’s a lot of violence in The Marsh King’s Daughter -- both the constant, oppressive shadow of it and the fully-realized bloody kind. However, this is no torture porn. Violence is there, because it is the way of things in the marsh, but there’s no glorification or sensualization of it. I’m just saying that, if you’re sitting in a parking lot listening to this with your car windows down on your lunch break, you might get some curious looks!

The Marsh King’s Daughter written by Karen Dionne & read by Emily Rankin. Penguin Audio: 2017.

24 May 2018

Exploring Mexican Made Easy for Cookbook Club


For May's library cookbook club, I made "Maria Cookie & Lime Cream Trifle" from Marcela Valladolid's Mexican Made Easy. When I hear "trifle" I think of the English dessert made with fruit, sherry-soaked sponge, and custard. Well, this trifle is nothing like that, but it's still fabulous -- a creamy, sweet-tart no-bake treat that goes together in minutes, keeps well, and can go straight from fridge to table.

Maria cookies are a very mild, slightly sweetened cookie more similar to a British rich tea biscuit than a traditional American "cookie." They're usually easy to find in the "ethnic" aisle of most grocery stores although Valladolid writes graham crackers can be substituted for the Maria biscuits, if you prefer. I stuck with Maria cookies, because the recipe only uses four ingredients and so substituting one just seemed wrong.

I tried my best to make the recipe exactly as instructed, but ended up doubling the number of layers as I still had a lot of biscuit and cream left after following the instructions (it was either that or make two trifles ... which, in hindsight, I realize might have been a grand idea as I would have had my own private trifle). Proportionally, to get the number of layers Valladolid calls for, I think you'd need to halve the amount of ingredients.

The recipe says it makes six to eight servings, but I would say closer to ten to twelve. No-one stinted in their servings, but there was still plenty left for my coworkers. Honestly, it's a very bright, zesty pud -- rather like deconstructed key lime pie -- and I'm not going to complain about having had too much of it!

When I whizzed the milks and lime juice in my stand mixer, the liquids did thicken up a bit but were still worryingly soupy. However, when I went to serve the trifle seven hours later, the liquid had set into a thick pudding. The biscuits had softened up considerably, but still retained their shape and enough firmness to add a pleasing texture to the trifle.

In addition to the trifle, I've made two other recipes from Mexican Made Easy -- "Red and White Kidney Salad" and "Corn and Zucchini Sauté" -- and they were both easy and flavorful. While I imagine the sauté will be even better with in-season ingredients, it was still very satisfying as it was. The crunchy bacon added a delicious smoky savoriness to the dish that pushed the salad from very nice to "I'm going to eat the whole pan on my own."

The bean salad was also pretty wow. Bright and refreshing with just the right about of zip. A lot of bean salads I've made go the "more ingredients are better" route, but this simple combination of ingredients reminded me that more isn't always better. While I made a significant attempt to eat all the tasty beans the first night, there were leftovers and they kept very nicely in the fridge until the next day when I let them come to room temperature before tossing them with baby spinach and eating them as a main.


Overall, I'm very pleased with my experience cooking from Marcela Valladolid's Mexican Made Easy and look forward to trying out her other cookbooks soon.

21 May 2018

The Murders of Molly Southbourne


The Murders of Molly Southbourne is a strange little novella, at once compelling and also surprisingly unsatisfying. I read it in one sitting, frequently wanting to put it down and disliking it intensely at points, but could not stop reading. Yet, after I finished, I found myself skimming back through The Murders of Molly Southbourne, feeling certain I'd missed something.

Oh, I enjoyed the premise -- whenever Molly bleeds, her spilt blood grows into other mollys who must be dealt with before they turn all murder-y -- but, ultimately, the novella felt unfinished and I was left with SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

My questions are more than a bit spoilery, so you might want to stop here with "The world-building in The Murders of Molly Southbourne is vague and unsatisfying, but I'm pretty sure I'd watch a season of it were it to be adapted by Netflix or Amazon."

  • Why did Molly's blood generate mollys?
  • Where did the mollys come from when she wasn't bleeding -- I understand one was alive, zombie-like, down a hole for years -- but what of the others?
  • Why did the other mollys want to kill her?
  • Why was the "last" molly different?

Evolutionary drive seemed a hand-wavy answer to these questions.

And then there were what I think of as the "menstrual questions:"

  • Why did Molly's mother not explain menstruation to her long before it happened? If Molly's blood births monsters, than surely menarche should be a time of extra concern?
  • Why is Molly burying the evidence of her monthlies? Why not burn them in the furnace with the mollys? I'm imagining a diaper pail full of diluted bleach in the bathroom, that she adds bloody stuff to & then takes to the furnace? Rather than burying it in the back garden, which is just a big NOPE.
  • Why isn't Molly using a continuous birth control pill to keep from menstruating? Molly's world suffers from an extremely low birthrate and I can see where that might mean birth control would be frowned upon or difficult to obtain, but she's a also registered hemophiliac. Certainly, there's no mention of contraception when she discusses sex, but what do I know?

See, I told you -- SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson. Tor: 2017.

17 May 2018

Cookbook Club: The Flavors of Mexico

May's cookbook club theme was "The Flavors of Mexico" -- a fun opportunity to try out a new Mexican or Mexican-inspired recipe. It might have been smarter to save the theme for summer when tomatoes, chiles, cilantro, and corn are in season here, but I didn't really think about that when I planned out my calendar. Anyway, participating cooks did not disappoint, bringing in a impressive range of tasty dishes:

  • "Creamy Chicken Chipotle Salad" from Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro. Fresh, bright take on the traditional Cobb salad. The creamy, smoky chipotle sauce was just fab.

  • "Cubiletes de Requeson (Individual Cheese Pies)" from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson.
    Light, slightly sweet cheese filling with lots of nice citrus flavor nestled in a flaky, slightly sweet empanada dough crust. (The cook who made these could not find Requesón and so substituted ricotta, as the book described Requesón as falling being somewhere between ricotta and pot cheese in constancy and flavor).

  • "Dulce de Frijol (Bean Candy)" from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson. These soft, pinto-based sweets had a consistency similar to marzipan, smelled strongly of cinnamon, and tasted mildly of orange. If we hadn't been told they were made of beans, I doubt any of us would have guessed. (It took much longer to make than the recipe indicated, the cook said, and there was a ridiculous amount of stirring needed).

  • "Pan de Elote (Corn Bread)" from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson. This is not corn bread as we are used to seeing it. No, this was creamy and custard-like -- kind-of like a chess pie in consistency -- and tasted like the best of summer on a plate.

  • "Stacked Torte" from Quesadillas by Donna Meeks Kelly. A layered quesadilla made of ground turkey, red enchilada sauce, salsa, corn, black beans, flour tortillas, and cheese. Very Tex-Mex, very comforting and hearty.

  • "Tortilla Soup" from Simply Mexican by Lourdes Castro. Just ... see below.

  • "Maria Cookie & Lime Cream Trifle" from Mexican Made Easy by Marcela Valladolid. Marvelously zesty. Kind of like eating deconstructed key lime pie. It's my dish, so expect a post about it later.

¡Que delicioso!


Fany Gerson's My Sweet Mexico proved a popular recipe source and we were all really smitten with the dishes prepared from it. The creamy "Pan de Elote" was very morish, the "Cubiletes de Requeson" a nice balance of textures and flavors, and we just could not stop talking about the "Dulce de Frijol," because Bean. Candy. Just a fascinating (and delicious!) concept.

And now, a little weirdness: I am 99% sure the cook brought the "Tortilla Soup" passed off a completely different dish as Castro's. We certainly ate a soup, but it does not resemble the one in Castro's recipe. The one served was full of corn, beans, and shredded chicken while Castro's sounds much more vegetal with a thinned roasted vegetable puree base and lots of fresh toppings. It's not even as if she just added in extra ingredients -- it seems like a completely different soup. The one served was good, but I don't know why she tried to pass it off as Castro's. If she'd tried Castro's recipe and it failed ... well, why not say? We've all had failures before. No-one judges. Indeed, some of the failures people have shared have yielded the liveliest and most pleasant conversations.

All I know is, curiosity demands I make Castro's "Tortilla Soup" as soon as possible to see what it's like!

16 May 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Dwarf Iris After Rain

Dwarf bearded irises speckled with rain. Variety might be "Scruples," but I can't be certain. Transplanted from my mom's garden yonks ago.

14 May 2018

Murder on the Orient Express


Seeing Kenneth Branagh's production of Murder on the Orient Express last fall made me itch to read Christie's novel again, but copies were thin on the ground as every library patron seemed to have the same idea. I reckoned I'd pick it up again once the interest died down, but then simply forgot about it entirely (as one does when constantly surrounded by other equally tempting books).

Happily, The Husband was paying attention and gave me a copy of Audio Partners unabridged production read by David Suchet. Suchet was my formative Poirot -- Masterpiece Mystery! introduced me to the Belgian detective years before I read any of Christie's novels -- and will forever live in my heart as the only Poirot that matters. Whether I read the books or listen to Hugh Fraser narrate the audio books, David Suchet's Poirot is the detective I see in my head.

Unsurprisingly, this unabridged recording of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express is just superb. As always, David Suchet demonstrates an impressive range of vocal talent -- his voice for each character is distinct and appropriate to the character. Yes, some of the characters might be a little over the top, but I feel Christie might have meant them to be? To me, at least, Christie's characters tend to seem full of stereotypes and it seems like she's deliberately having fun with this in Murder on the Orient Express.

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Suchet's reading and found myself always eager to know what the next scene would bring ... even though I've read Murder on the Orient Express twice and watched two adaptations now.

Murder on the Orient Express written by Agatha Christie & read by David Suchet. Audio Partners: 2001.

09 May 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Dicentra spectabilis

This pink bleeding heart is one of my garden favorites.

03 May 2018

Baked Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia

Often, when I buy a box of hard taco shells, one or two will be broken. I save these shells in a bag for "later" with the expectation I'll crush them up to top taco salad or a casserole or something, but what actually happens is that I just end up with a bag of broken taco shells rattling around the cupboards for months, getting in the way and annoying me to no end.

But no more! For I have finally used my bag of broken taco shells! I ground them up in the food processor and used them to coat tilapia fillets. This isn't a very original idea, I know, but it made for tasty fish. If you don't have a bag of broken taco shells on hand, tortilla chips would also work just fine.



Baked Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia

Yield:3-4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb whole tilapia fillets
  • 5 hard yellow corn taco shells
  • 1 tsp salt-free southwestern-style seasoning blend [Penzeys Arizona Dreaming]
  • 2 egg whites
  • Salsa, for serving
  • Guacamole, if desired, for serving

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Line a half sheet (13" x 18") pan with baking parchment.
  3. Pat fillets dry with a paper towel. Cut fillets in half, length-wise, and set aside.
  4. Pulverize taco shells in a food processor until finely ground. Pour into a shallow dish -- a soup bowl or pie plate works well. Stir in seasoning blend.
    Serve with salsa and guacamole, as desired.
  5. Place egg whites in another shallow dish.
  6. Dip fillets in egg and then in tortilla crumb mixture.
  7. Place fillets on the parchment-lined sheet pan and bake at 400°F for 15 minutes or until crispy and fish is 145°F.
  8. Serve with salsa and guacamole, as desired.

We ate this tilapia with cucumber salad and garlicky cilantro rice. The rice was the usual medium grain white cooked in low sodium chicken broth with dried garlic flakes, but I stirred a generous handful of minced cilantro into the finished rice just before serving. As a meal, it was light but filling with bright, clean, summery flavors.

Anyway, I've switched over to using corn tortillas, so I shouldn't have to deal with broken shells in the future. If we want them crispy, I follow Mexican Please's method for oven-baked shells.