Stuff and Nonsense: May 2012


5.30.2012

Wordless Wednesday: Hydrangeas

Hydrangea Display

Hydrangea Display

Annual hydrangea display at the Niagara Parks Floral Showhouse featuring enormous displays of colorful hydrangeas.

5.18.2012

Manga: Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 2

Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 2 by Svetlana Chmakova (Yen Press, 2009)

Alex, after some misadventure with a vampire and his girlfriend, manages to enroll in Nightschool. There she meets new students, annoys a teacher, and receives a mysterious missal while searching for her missing supposedly-never-existed-sister, Sarah, who used to be the Night Keeper. Meanwhile, the Hunters are getting into trouble over the Prophet and no-one knows what to do about their three comatose allies -- except find the witch who did it.

Nightschool is a definite win. A compelling series with interesting characters, a story than manages to be complex without being complicated, and fantastic art. Seriously, fantastic art.   The illustrations are well-rendered, with lots of detail, but no excess clutter. The scenes where Alex “grows wings” are my favorites and I really wish those pages, at least, had been done in color.


However, as each volume is so very brief, the story moves frustratingly slowly. There are only two volumes left and it seems impossible everything will be explained and all the little plotlines tied together with any neatness. I don’t usually go for chunksters anymore, but Nightschool could definitely benefit from more pages.  Pages that build Nightschool's world up with a bit more detail or flesh out what a Hunter or a Weirn is/does.  Need. More. Book.

5.16.2012

Wordless Wednesday: Not-So-Wild Turkeys

Wild turkeys at our bird feeders

Wild turkeys at our bird feeders

Wild turkeys at our bird feeders

We moved our bird feeding station last Friday and these lovelies came to visit Tuesday morning! Hope they come back (and bring friends). Used to see wild turkeys quite often where we lived before, but not so much here on the outskirts of a small city. Miss the wildlife. Someday, I will live in the woods again.

5.14.2012

Staying at Daisy’s by Jill Mansell


'I like this hotel.' Dev was openly grinning at her now. 'You're handy for the motorway. Although I'd prefer it if your chambermaid didn't seduce my guests.'

'I'll make a special note of it. Nooo sed...uct...ions.' Daisy slowly repeated as she wrote it down. 'How's your friend Dominic, by the way?' She raised her eyebrows, feigning interest. 'Still married?'

Daisy MacLean very capably runs her father’s country hotel, Colworth Manor, while he boozes up with the quests and generally carries on. Matters start to slip from Daisy’s control when her best friend, Tara the Chambermaid, is discovered in a compromising position with one of her exes on his wedding day at the hotel and Daisy locks horns with his dangerously sexy Best Man …

And I really can’t say much more about the actual story, because there’s too much going on and I would spoil your fun. Seriously, there’s a lot going on in this book. Most of the characters -- even the secondary and tertiary ones -- are quite colorful and nearly all have their own storylines, so the action never stops. And, yes, sometimes the storyline gets a little over the top (the transplant-baby mama-fire arc, for example), but it’s all good fun. Buckets of fun.

(I do feel I should warn you that reading Staying at Daisy's will make you want to rush to the nearest animal shelter and adopt a Clarissa or Clive of your own. I'm not inordinately fond of dogs, but I'd like a Clarissa).

Staying at Daisy’s by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2011)

5.12.2012

Grilled Cheese, It's (Still) What's For Breakfast

I have made Fo's Reals Mom's Egg-in-the-hole Grilled Cheese Sandwich for breakfast two days running and, if there's time, I might make it again on Sunday to fortify us for the long drive down to Mom Land. It's delicious, darlings. Seriously delicious. Crunchy, buttery bread encasing hot, melty cheese and yolky goodness ... it's grilled cheese gone platinum.

Breakfast Grilled Cheese

My first attempt. Look at that hot, melty rivulet of Cabot Seriously Sharp cheddar! *Swoon* Yolk's a little hard, though.

Breakfast Grilled Cheese

My second attempt. Lots of hot, runny, golden yolk! A bit too much, really, but that's what the toasted holes are for.

It's been years since I ate egg-in-the-hole. My mom would occasionally make me eggie-in-the-hole when I was small and I would "help" her by buttering the bread and (carefully) cutting the hole with a butter knife. Egg-in-the-hole production has not changed a lot in the last thirty-odd years, but the use of a round cookie or biscuit cutter to make the hole is a welcome improvement. Perfectly round holes every time:

5.09.2012

Wordless Wednesday: Pavement Pansies

Wild pansies beautify the pavement.

Fast Greek-Style Dip & Salad

We threw a little shindig at work last week to celebrate our volunteers and, as always, I panicked when I saw the sign-up sheet going 'round. I never know what to bring to these things -- especially since this year, it was a "social hour" instead of a meal, which meant lots of nibble-y things instead of "sit down" food.

I knew I wanted a recipe I could throw together in the morning before work with minimal fuss that would still look good on a plate -- as if I had actually made an effort. A quick search on the Internet at lunch turned up Kraft's recipe for "10-Minute Appetizer Spread" and that seemed pretty perfect. I could make it right before work with minimal fuss, it would keep well until the "social hour," and it was savory rather than sweet (there was already a preponderance of sweets on the offing).

I modified what I thought of as the "Mediterranean" version of the recipe and it turned out really well! So well, in fact, that three people asked me for the recipe!

Creamy Mediterranean Spread

Combine 1 8 oz. package softened neufchatel cream cheese, ½ cup light mayonnaise, and 1 tablespoon Penzeys Greek seasoning blend.

IMG_3557

Plop into a serving dish -- I used a shallow soup bowl -- and top with ½ cup chopped seeded Campari tomatoes, ½ cup chopped unpeeled seeded English cucumber, ¼ cup chopped black olives, and ½ cup crumbled feta with garlic and herbs.

IMG_3552

I lay the diced seeded tomatoes and cucumbers on paper towels for about an hour before assembling the dish, hoping to get some of the water out of them. I also drained and blotted the olives very well.

As my amounts turned out differently from Kraft's (I did't want to bury the cream cheese mix in a mound of vegetables), I ended up with leftover chopped vegetables. I tossed the excess vegetables and cheese with cold diced beef leftover from Sunday dinner and a little Greek vinaigrette to make a lettuceless salad.
Easy Greek(ish) Chopped Salad

¼ cup diced seeded tomatoes
¼ cup diced seeded cucumbers
2 Tbsp black olives
2 Tbsp crumbled garlic and herb feta
4 oz diced cold roast beef
2 Tbsp Marie's Greek vinaigrette

Combine all. Toss well. Eat.

5.07.2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Grilled Cheese

PhotobucketI tried out many of grilled cheese recipes for May's Crazy Cooking Challenge. There was grilled cheese with bacon. And pickles. And a fried egg. And crab. They were all good and I'm sure I'll blog about them all at one point or another, but only two recipes made sandwiches I would want to eat again and again and again. In the end, I went with "Sriracha-Mayo Grilled Cheese" from Ashley Dalle Eats Food, Too, Sometimes because it was less fiddly than "Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Grilled Cheese Sandwich" from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures. Still, that grilled cheese was excellent and I really do recommend it. You can read about my experience making it here.

I must admit I used slightly different cheeses than Dalle's recipe called for, based on what I had on hand at the time, and the sandwich came out really well. Crunchy, creamy, and spicy with lots of good tomato-y tang ... it made my taste buds and tummy quite happy.
Sriracha, you are a delicious blessing flavored with the incandescent glow of a thousand dying suns. I love you.
                     -- "Dear Sriracha Rooster Sauce," The Oatmeal.

Gooey-Good Grilled Cheese
Behold! Yumptious cheesy goodness!

So happy, in fact, that I could eat this grilled cheese two or three times a week. Seriously, I would happily keep a little bowl of sriracha-mayo in the fridge so that, in the morning, I could just slap the sammich together and pop it in my waffle iron (if I ever find my waffle iron). In the morning, you say? Yes, I ate (and will eat) this grilled cheese for breakfast.

Sriracha-Mayo Sauce

Combine light mayonnaise with sriracha to taste. Smear all over both sides of two slices of bread.

Bread, Sriracha-Mayo, Pepper Jack, Salsa ...

Top one slice of bread with two slices of Boar's Head Monterey Jack with jalapeno, a glop of Green Mountain Gringo roasted garlic salsa, and two slices of Cabot sharp cheddar. Top with remaining bread.

Toasty-Gold Grilled Cheese

Fry in a hot nonstick pan until the bread turns a lovely brown, carefully flip over, press, and fry until brown (about 5 minutes each side for me on medium). I created an impromptu sandwich press with a plate, a mug, and a tin of refried beans. I don't usually press grilled cheese, but this sandwich was so thick that it seemed like a good idea.

Improv Sandwich Press

Important: As this grilled cheese is quite thick, you don't want to cook it too fast, because then the bread will brown faster than the cheese melts and that makes for an Unfortunate Grilled Cheese. I ate a lot of Unfortunate Grilled Cheese in my impatient teen years and have since learned better. Cook 'em low and slow.

5.04.2012

Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell


"Oh God, I'm so ashamed. How could I have gone out with someone for six months and not known they were a secret bell-ringer?"

"Come on." Erin's tone was consoling as she put the empty pudding bowls on the coffee table and stood up. "It's stopped raining. Let's go to the pub."

One fine day, Tilly Cole comes home to find that Gavin, her live-in boyfriend, has done a runner. Hurt, she visits her friend Erin in the tiny town of Roxborough for much needed cheering up. While there, she ends up applying for a job as a "Girl Friday" for a interior designer and his teenage daughter. Of course, Tilly gets the job and suddenly she has a new home and new life. Maybe even a new romantic interest in the form of Jack Lucas. Except Jack's a player with a tragically romantic (romantically tragic?) past. Will Tilly give her heart to a man who will break it or can she fix Jack's own broken heart?

Oh, I think we all know how this will end -- wedding bells and whatnot -- but, I promise, it's fun getting there! It's impossible not to like Tilly or root for her happiness and the abundance of secondary characters/subplots means the novel just roars along with never a dull moment. Some of it, especially the ending, borders on the ridiculous, but you just have to suspend your disbelief and say "I do believe in Romance! I do!"

Rumor Has It by Jill Mansell (Sourcebooks, 2010)

5.01.2012

Some Brief Folly: Intrigue, Romance, & Derring-do

When she saw the group gathered in the bedchamber, she gave a scandalized gasp. "Hawkhurst! Are you run mad? And the girl in her nightrail!"
"No, is she?" He turned his quizzing glass interestedly upon Euphemia as if seeing her for the first time. "So she is, by Jove! And I, alas, thwarted by the presence of her admirable brother." He sighed and, allowing the glass to swing from its black velvet riband, shook his head reproachfully at Buchanan.
One of my co-workers, rereading her way through Patricia Veryan's Regencies, kept prodding me to read one. She thought I would like them because I liked Georgette Heyer and am a fan of what she called "old-style Regencies" (I think she means no sex and more authentic dialogue/behavior). Bowing to pressure, I borrowed Veryan's Some Brief Folly and, wow, what a great read!

Euphemia Buchanan, "The Unattainable," travels with her brother, a lieutenant injured on the Continent, and her page to visit their aunt for Christmas. Euphemia persuades her brother to detour their route a little to admire a passing estate, Dominer, that is famous for its beauty. There they suffer a terrible accident and find themselves at the mercy of Sir Garret Hawkhurst who, it is said, caused the death of his wife and only child ...

Oh, this was fun! The central characters were mostly dashing and witty types and the well-fleshed secondary characters were, if not entirely sympathetic, then dashed colorful. While there were many trials to be overcome and dramatic situations resolved before any characters could find happiness, these were dealt with in ways which seemed appropriate for the time period and the characters seemed like real Regency people (or, at least, how I imagine Regency people would be) and not like modern people in fancy dress. The language, too, seemed very correct and reminded me, during the best bits, of Heyer.

I did think Veryan's decision to have the protagonists' siblings run away together even though one was already married (and cuckolded) was de trop, but the situation was well-handled and resolved in a satisfactory manner. Not every Regency marriage would have been a happy one and I imagine Buchanan wouldn't have been the only soldier, returned home to an unfaithful wife, to have found his happiness elsewhere.

Anyway, Some Brief Folly has loads of intrigue, romance, feuds, and derring-do. Definitely recommended.

Some Brief Folly by Patricia Veryan (St. Martin's, 1981)