Stuff and Nonsense: March 2012


Feeling Maudlin: I Got the Adrienne Rich Blues

The summer between by freshman and sophomore years of college, I took a class at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London. It was called something like “Literature and the Sea” and we read, among other things, Moby Dick, Far Tortuga, Sailing Alone Around the World, and poems by James Merrill and Adrienne Rich.

I was an literature student and a lover of books ... I’d read my share of poetry and I’d been moved by many of them, but until I read Rich’s "Diving Into The Wreck," I never felt a poem was speaking directly to me. To the deepest, most isolated, most confused part of me. I knew that wreck. I knew the mermaid. I had read the book of myths.

As with, no doubt, many college students, I had been going through an intense period of inner upheaval and felt adrift in life. I didn’t know where I fit in the order of things or how to fit in or if I even wanted to fit. I felt like I was continually pushing against boundaries no-one else was bound by and I was full of a deep, miserable loneliness.

So, yes, "Diving Into The Wreck" could not have come at a better time -- a whole new way of seeing and being in the world opened up to me. Seriously, it is a profoundly beautiful poem that still makes my heart ache when I read it.

My extract doesn’t start at the poem's beginning nor does it end at the poem's end. Go here to read it (or listen to it!) in full.
There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
hanging innocently
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

You can also hear Rich read her poem via SoundCloud:


More From The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook

Working my way down the list of recipes I want to make from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook before it has to go back to the library next week. This third recipe I made, "Fresh From the Careers' Packs: Super Healthy Dried Fruit Quinoa Salad," is very delicious and so flagrantly healthy that I couldn't help feeling smug as I ate it. It also has a many ingredients:


Ingredients: quinoa, salt, water, scallions, celery, dried cranberries, dried cherries, golden raisins sriracha, garlic powder, canola oil, lemon juice, toasted sesame oil, cilantro, almonds, shelled sunflower seeds. (The golden raisins were an optional ingredient recommended under "Tips from Your Sponsor").


Sriracha, canola oil, toasted sesame oil, garlic powder, and lemon juice whisked together to make a tasty vinaigrette. (I recommend doubling up on vinaigrette as the salad was a little dry).


Cooked quinoa, vinaigrette, dried cranberries, dried cherries, golden raisins, celery, and scallions mixed together.


Serve at room temperature sprinkled with cilantro, almonds, and shelled sunflower seeds. Pretty to look at, yummy to eat.

This would be really good for breakfast, if you omitted the celery, cilantro, and scallions and used the maple vinaigrette recipe from Prim's salad.

Wordless Wednesday: Daffs

Daffs & Scilla


The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook by by Emily Ansara Baines

I brought The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook home from the library over the weekend and I have mixed feelings about it. It's rather contrived, trying way too hard to explain how every single recipe slots into The Hunger Games universe -- the description for "Hazelle's Beaver Stew with Rosemary Potatoes" goes too far by claiming "the beaver represents hard work and family." Dude. Sometimes a beaver is just a piece of meat. And where does a good suburban cook get beaver, anyway?

(She wants to know where to get some beaver) *snickers*


Hokiness aside, I must admit I am seriously enjoying cooking from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook. So far, I have made two recipes -- "Pimm's Sweet Goat Cheese Salad" and "From Casual to Formal: Fruit Nut Spread At The Capitol Banquet." To me, they are both spring dishes and would work well served at an Easter or Mother's Day brunch. They're also reasonably healthful so you can feel righteous while eating them.

"Prim's Sweet Goat Cheese Salad"

Salad Ingredients

Ingredients: romaine, blueberries, raspberries, dried cranberries, sunflower seed kernels, chopped pecans, goat cheese crumbles, white balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil.

Maple Vinaigrette

Combine white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and maple syrup.


Toss the salad ingredients together. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Say "Ohhhh, pretty!" and eat. So good!

"From Casual to Formal: Fruit Nut Spread At The Capitol Banquet"

Berry Cream Cheese Spread

Ingredients: raspberries and blueberries, almonds, cream cheese, maple-flavored yoghurt.

Berry Cream Cheese Spread

Run everything through your food processor until creamy and smooth.


Serve smeared on bagels or flat bread.

I made my spread with light cream cheese and low-fat yogurt and it's really quite good -- light, creamy, and full of berry goodness. It makes a nice change from regular cream cheese and is probably a lot healthier than the berry-flavored cream cheese spread you can buy at the market. I've been eating it for breakfast, smeared on toasted VitaBuns, with some extra berries on the side.

Will I be making more recipes from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook? You betcha. Looking forward to "Fresh From the Careers' Package: Super Healthy Dried Fruit Quinoa Salad" and "Survival of the Fittest: Quinoa and Black Bean Salad For Bonnie and Twill" among others.


A Tale of Two Cities: "Then tell wind and fire where to stop ... but don't tell me.”

A Tale of Two Cities begins before the French Revolution, when Mr Lorry, a respectable man of business, travels with Lucie Manette to Paris to reclaim her father, recently released from the Bastille after a long and unjust imprisonment. While traveling back from Paris, the three make the acquaintance of Charles Darnay/Evrèmondes, a French émigré, who travels between the two countries on “business.” Darnay’s trips arouse suspicion in England and he is put on trial as a spy. With testimony from the Manette’s and assistance from that ne'er-do-well Sydney Carlton, Darney is exonerated. No, Darney is no spy, but his connection to France will eventually place everyone he loves in danger.

Because A Tale of Two Cities focuses on the dramas of a very small group of characters, we don’t get a lot of the “true” history of the Revolution, which was fine as I wasn’t looking so much for a history lesson as rollicking good story. To me, the novel’s narrow focus make the Revolution that much more personal and, therefore, that much more harrowing. The plight of the poor little seamstress who went to La Guillotine moved me so much more than a cold recitation of the tens of thousands of murdered could have. Although, I admit, the general, gruesome air of delight surrounding the executions made me shudder.
'I said so! A brave number! My fellow-citizen here, would have it forty-two; ten more heads are worth having. The Guillotine goes handsomely. I love it. Hi forward. Whoop then!'
Speaking of gruesome, I feel I must admit an unwholesome liking for Mme Defarge. Yes, I know Thérèse is the novel's big villain -- and I think Dicken’s wants me to be utterly repelled by her -- but she’s such a strong, passionate, and ruthless woman that it’s hard not to root for her. Unlike Lucie, there is nothing soft, feminine, or kind about her and there doesn’t need to be. She is the Justice of Mob Rule, only as terrible and skewed as oppression has made her.
   Of a strong and fearless character, of shrewd sense and readiness, of great determination, of that kind of beauty which not only seems to impart to its possessor firmness and animosity, but to strike into others an instinctive recognition of those qualities; the troubled time would have heaved her up, under any circumstances. But, imbued from her childhood with a brooding sense of wrong, and inveterate hatred of class, opportunity had developed her into a tigress. She was absolutely without pity. If she ever had the virtue in her, it had quite gone out of her.
   It was nothing to her, that an innocent man was to die the sins of his forefathers; she saw, not him, but them. It was nothing to her that his wife was to be made a and his daughter an orphan; that was insufficient because they were her natural enemies and prey, and as such had no right to live. To appeal to her, was made hopeless by her having no sense of pity, even for herself.
I know she’s probably mad. Mad from suffering or mad from power, I’m not sure it makes a difference. Her sister and brother were monstrously treated by the Evrèmondes and their deaths are on the Evrèmondes’ heads. Yes, Darnay gave up everything when he went to England and had no actual hand in the family wickedness; he is still guilty by association.

Thérèse strikes me as the embodiment of the mob -- squashed down, abused, and full of hatred -- finally given a shot at retribution against her oppressors it’s no surprise she goes all out. And, yes, I know this makes her as evil as her oppressors, but it still doesn’t stop me from sympathizing with her with her. Or wanting to cheer her on. Just a little.

So, yes, a Tale of Two Cities was well worth the time! (I admit it took me a while to get into this novel, but listening along with the audiobook helped immeasurably. Instead of getting bogged down in the sheer wordiness of some passages, I was swept along by the sheer drama of the story).

A Tale of Two Cities written by Charles Dickens & read by Simon Vance (Tantor Media, 2008)


Pigeon Pie

I picked up Pigeon Pie after enjoying Mitford’s witty and slightly absurd Christmas Pudding and was not disappointed. Pigeon Pie is a delightful spoof with spies in the ballroom, goofy cultists in the drawing-room, and a famous vocalist in the drains.

If Pigeon Pie sounds a bit over the top that’s because it is, but that still doesn’t make the protagonist, Lady Sophia, any less than sympathetic. Many of us, surely, have fantasized that when catastrophe strikes we would take charge and save the day in a thoroughly dashing but unexceptionable way? That we might accidentally stumble across a ring of spies, infiltrate them, and bring them to justice? Or am I just the weird woman out, having read too many Nancy Drew novels at an impressionable age?

Anyway, I thoroughly sympathized with Lady Sophia. There she is, at the beginning of a war that doesn’t seem as stirring or passionate as it might (i.e. The Phoney War), stuck as an office worker at a First Aid Post, rather than becoming the dashing globe-trotting spy she rather fancies she could be. And then she discovers spies in her own home, gets invited to play at counter-espionage (or is it counter-counter-espionage?), and suddenly everything is just tremendously exciting!

Sophia felt that life had become very complicated all of a sudden. She wished she were more versed in the intricacies of spying, and she very much wished that she could remember more about what happened in the limited number of spy stories which she had read at various times ... At what point, for instance, does the beautiful heroine abandon her lone trail and call in the heavy hand, large boots and vacant faces of The Yard? She rather thought not until the whole plot had been brilliantly unmasked, except for a few unimportant details by the glamorous amateur spy herself.

Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford (Hamish Hamilton, 1952)


Wordless Wednesday: Cat, Napping

Little Napping
Little Napping
Little Napping
I keep meaning to put this blanket away, but it is so clearly
his new favorite napping spot that I just can't bring myself to do it.


Slow Cooker Beef Stew w/ Merlot & Tomatoes

I made beef stew on Saint Patrick's Day and, to thumb my nose at limiting faux-Irish traditions, it doesn't have Guinness in it. Or potatoes. Hearty with thick chunks of beef and vegetables, this made a delicious alternative to corned beef, boiled potatoes, and cabbage.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Easy Slow Cooker Beef Stew

1 pound stew beef, trimmed & cut into bite-sized pieces
2 shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red onion, chopped
3 carrots, sliced thick
3 celery ribs, sliced thick
sliced mushrooms
28 oz can Muir Glen fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
1 cup Little Penguin Merlot
1 Tbsp Penzeys Beef Soup Base & Seasoning
2 tsp Penzeys Herbes de Provence
Dried parsley, as desired
Black pepper, to taste

Layer mushrooms and other vegetables at bottom of slow cooker. Top with beef. Whisk soup base into wine until dissolved and combine with tomatoes, parsley, and pepper. Pour over beef. Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours. Serve over parslied egg noodles.
This stew makes a lot -- enough for four or six -- but the leftovers reheat well.


Improv Challenge: Potatoes & Cheese

I knew I had to sign on for March’s Improv Challenge (hosted by the wonderful Kristen of Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker) when I saw the ingredients where potatoes and cheese. Potatoes and cheese! Is there any combination of potatoes and cheese I wouldn’t like? Methinks not.

Anyway, despite days spent pinning hearty cheesy potato soup recipes and casseroles, I ended up making "Healthy Sweet Potato Skins" from Pinch of Yum, because it used three ingredients I like a lot -- sweet potatoes, spinach, and chickpeas. Also, lots of dairy. Mmm, dairy!
Stuffed Sweet Potatoes Ingredients 
Healthy Sweet Potato Skins
Reproduced with permission by the author: Pinch of Yum
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 60 mins
Total time: 1 hour 20 mins
Serves: 2-3

2 medium or large sweet potatoes
1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 shallot, minced
1 bag fresh baby spinach
¼ cup light sour cream
2 ounces light cream cheese
1 cup chickpeas
¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Bake sweet potatoes at 350 for 45-60 minutes, or until fork tender.

Cut sweet potatoes in half and let cool for 5-10 minutes. While sweet potatoes are cooling, saute the shallots with the butter over medium heat until translucent. Add fresh spinach and heat for 2-3 minutes, until spinach has cooked down. Set aside. [I dumped the chickpeas into the hot pan and gave them a stir 'round until they were lightly toasted]

Sauteed Spinach w/ Chickpeas

Scrape the sweet potato out of the peel, leaving a thin layer inside with the peel so that it can stand up on its own. Mash the sweet potato with the cream cheese and sour cream. Stir in chickpeas, spinach, and salt and pepper.

Sweet Potato Filling

Coat potato skins with a drizzle of oil and bake for about 5 minutes to get a crispier outside. Remove from oven and fill each skin with the sweet potato mixture and top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake again for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and filling is heated through.

Twice-baked Stuffed Sweet Potato
I love these potatoes -- they're pretty, portable, and perfectly delicious. I baked two large sweet potatoes and took a potato half to work each day for lunch. They reheated really well using the staff room toaster oven and a little foil and, paired with a small salad, they kept me going all afternoon. No three o'clock slump for me! No sirree, Bob. Not with these potatoes.

When I make these again, because I will be making them again, I might season the chickpeas and spinach with sweet curry powder and swap the mozzarella out for some fresh goat cheese crumbles.

Eating the Alphabet: C is for Chickpeas

I knew I wanted to use chickpeas in this month's Eating the Alphabet Challenge and so was pleased to find Oxmoor House's "Lemony Fusilli with Chickpeas, Raisins, and Spinach" posted on This was a warm pasta salad made from whole wheat pasta, lemon juice and zest, chickpeas, baby spinach, and golden raisins. With all that yellow and green, it seemed like an excellent recipe to welcome Spring!

Lemony Fusilli with Chickpeas, Raisins, and Spinach

I made this salad twice and the second time through I changed up the amounts of seasonings (the first iteration was a bit bland) and subbed fresh goat cheese crumbles for the shredded fontina as, while fontina is a tasty cheese, I thought this salad needed a tangy-sweet creaminess to balance the lemon. Also, I really like fresh goat cheese crumbles!
Pasta With Chickpeas, Spinach, and Golden Raisins

3 cups uncooked whole wheat rotini
2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (9-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
¾ cup golden raisins
¼ cup (1 ounce) goat cheese crumbles

Cook pasta as directed.

While pasta cooks, zest lemons and squeeze juice from lemons to measure 4 teaspoons zest and ¼ cup juice. Whisk zest, juice, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and garlic together in a really big bowl. Add spinach, chickpeas, and raisins; toss well. (I think you could do this an hour or two ahead of time to really let the spinach, raisins, and chickpeas pick up as much flavor from the dressing as possible).

Drain pasta and return to hot pot. Immediately add the spinach mixture, stirring until spinach wilts. Taste for salt. Serve warm sprinkled with goat cheese crumbles. Serves 4.


Crazy Cooking Challenge: Spaghetti & Red Sauce

PhotobucketAs soon as I saw that March's Crazy Cooking Challenge was for spaghetti and red sauce, I knew I was on the lookout for a Bolognese sauce, because we love a good Bolognese sauce. And by "good Bolognese sauce" I mean something that resembles the classic Bolognese sauce registered by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, which is made with skirt steak, pancetta, carrot, celery, onion, tomato puree, milk, white or red wine, salt and pepper. Experience tells me it must be served with a splodge of ricotta and sprinkle of shredded fresh basil. Ideally, it should be served on a bed of tagliatelle, but I find that impossible to buy locally.

I found many promising recipes and actually went so far as to try a few, but even though I dallied with others, I knew "Spaghetti Bolognese" by Bobbi’s Kozy Kitchen was the recipe I would go with in the end. It had everything I wanted -- even the splodge of ricotta -- and dried mushrooms.

This was proper Bolognese.
Spaghetti Bolognese by Bobbi’s Kozy Kitchen (reproduced with permission)

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, wiped of grit
¼ pound pancetta or slab bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs rosemary
1½ pound ground pork [2 pounds lean ground beef]
1½ pound ground beef [1 pound ground pork]
2 cups milk [heavy cream]
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 cups dry red wine [Little Penguin Merlot]
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
1 handful fresh basil leaves
Fresh ricotta cheese

Bolognese Ingredients

Reconstitute the mushrooms in boiling water for 20 minutes until tender, drain and coarsely chop.

Making Everything Smooth

Puree the mushrooms, pancetta, onion, celery ribs, carrots, garlic, together in a blender. [I used my food processor and whizzed it all 'round until it looked like pate].
In a heavy-bottomed pot add olive oil, bay leaves, herbs and cook gently until fragrant, then add vegetable puree and continue to cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes. [I wasn't sure whether to leave the herbs in or take them out, so opted to leave them in].
Pureed Pancetta & Vegetables
Raise the heat a bit and add the ground pork and beef; brown until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up the clumps with a wooden spoon [it is very important to break the meat into the tiniest clumps possible as, despite being full of meat, this sauce should be very smooth].
Meat & Cream
Add the milk and simmer until the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Carefully pour in the tomatoes and wine and season with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and cover. Slowly simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring now and then, until the sauce is very thick. Taste again for salt and pepper. [Remove bay and rosemary].
Bolognese Sauce Before Reducing

When you are ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender yet firm. Drain the pasta well and toss with the Bolognese sauce.

Spaghetti Bolognese Redux

Serve with a good scoop of fresh ricotta cheese and garnish with some shredded basil, grated Parmigiano and a drizzle of olive oil.
Fabulous, just fabulous. A little labor intensive, yes, but well worth it. Lots of flavor, very meaty and rich, and it made the whole house smell delicious as it cooked. The recipe makes an enormous amount of sauce -- especially if, like me, you're "only" cooking for two -- but that's fine because that means there's plenty of sauce left for lasagna, English muffin pizzas, and freezing for later!


Graphic Novel: House of Mystery, Volume 1

House of Mystery: Room & Boredom written by Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham (Vertigo, 2008)

There's this house, The House of Mysteries, perched on an intersection between "our" world and The Dreaming. All sorts of people visit this house. Most can leave, but a few special souls cannot unless The Coachman comes for them. Dundundun.

Then there's this girl, Fig, who stumbles into The House while trying to escape from the terrible Pair of the Conception. Why is she pursued? Fig has no idea. But The House ... oh, The House is very familiar. Probably, because Fig has been drawing it over-and-over again since forever! Dundundun.

Why The House? And why Fig? Who knows? This is the first volume of seven so there's a lot of set-up and introduction to an array of colorful (if not entirely original) secondary characters, but there aren't a lot of answers.

Fig's story is interesting, if not exactly compelling, and the stories the secondary characters tell are well done, but they so clearly stand apart from Fig's story that they feel more like filler than anything else and I found it hard not to get impatient with their teller's. "Yes, yes, you wore the wrong shoes to work ... less about you and more about The House, m'kay?"


Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 7 by Kanata Konami

Chi's midnight adventure from Volume 6 continues. Chi, collarless, follows her new "friend," Cocchi, out of the park ... and nothing terrible happens, I promise you. Did you really think anything too terrible could happen to Chi? Well, aside from getting heart-breakingly lost in Volume 1?

Blackie makes sure Chi gets home okay and everything is hunky-dory (except for a few small misadventures with bathing and a goldfish) until Chi goes off on another adventure with Cocchi and gets into big (tummy) trouble. The Yamadas reaction to their cat's first illness is pretty hilarious and Chi's desperate attempts to physically escape her sick feelings seemed very true to life.

Chi’s Sweet Home: Volume 7 by Kanata Konami (Vertical, 2011)


Easy Mixed Greens & Tomatoes

Last week I was at Shoprite looking for The Husband's favorite ice cream and, while I didn't find that, I did find a big display Glory Foods bagged chopped greens! Super-excited, I snapped up a bag of mixed greens and brought it home, full of fantasies of the good things I could make from it. When I got home, I knew I wanted "proper" greens -- rich, flavorful, hearty greens -- but I didn't want to use meat in the dish. I ended up with this, which is an amalgamation of ideas I found on the internetz and, yes, the recipe on the back of the greens' bag:

Greens & Tomaters

Easy Greens & Tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red onion, chopped
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 16 oz bag Glory Foods chopped mixed greens
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth stock
A dash or two of liquid smoke
1 14.5 oz can Muir Glen no salt added diced tomatoes, undrained
Salt and black pepper, as desired
Red wine vinegar, as desired.

Heat oil in a French/Dutch oven. Sauté onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes until onion is until tender and fragrant. Add greens and cook for about a minute, stirring. Add broth and liquid smoke, cover pot, and simmer on low for about 40 minutes or until the greens are much reduced in volume and most of the liquid has cooked away. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, until tomatoes are heated through. Season with salt and pepper, as desired, and serve drizzled with a little red wine vinegar.
Oh, this was delicious! I used leftover cheddar biscuits to sop up the pot liquor and it was an awesome flavor combination.