Stuff and Nonsense: June 2012


6.28.2012

Graphic Novel: Thessaly, Witch For Hire

Thessaly, Witch For Hire by Bill Willingham with illus. by Shawn McManus (Vertigo, 2005)
Go home, woman. Make a very short list of the final things you with to do with your life and then do them. Because your sure and certain destruction is finally and irrevocably written in Destiny's terrible pages.
Thessaly is a very old and solitary witch who finds herself battling more monsters than usual. At the end of her most recent battle, she is visited by the fetch - -a ghost composed of all those Thessaly has killed over the millennia --who admits to having sent all the monsters to her. Without her knowledge or permission, he has hired them both out as monster killers extraordinaire. The fetch finds the clients and takes the money, then sends the monsters on to unsuspecting Thessaly ... who is, understandably, quite displeased to learn of the arrangement. Turns out one of the monsters the fetch has contracted them to kill is something no-one and nothing can kill. Oh, the merry hijinks that ensue!

It's been a decade or more since I first encountered Thessaly in the fifth Sandman collection, A Game of You, and I don't remember the fetch at all, so it was hard for me to accept their relationship -- whatever it was supposed to be. I think he was really supposed to like Thessaly and, possibly, Thessaly was supposed to like him but he seemed creep most of the time and she just another put-upon-woman stuck in the company of a guy she could easily live without. But, again, maybe if I knew their back story, their situation would have seemed more believable and the fetch's noble sacrifice more moving.

Also, the ending was extremely anticlimactic and there was just too much talky-talky, overall. Less talking and more doing! And the illustrations didn't help. The cover art was very attractive (Thessaly with the dead frog helmet was just cute) but the internal illustrations just seemed generically comic book-ish. There's nothing about them that particularly stood out or improved the story. Isn't that what comic book illustrations are for, anyway? The illustrations support and enhance the text by showing us the story?

6.27.2012

Wordless Wednesday: Among the Lupines

lupines with axle

Long after we are gone,
This ridge will shape the night,
Lifting the wine-streaked west,
Shouldering the stars. And always here
Lovers will walk under the summer skies
Through flowers the color of your eyes.
                     -- excerpt from "Lupine Ridge" by Peggy Simson Curry

6.25.2012

Manga: Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 4

Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 4 by Svetlana Chmakova (Yen Press, 2010)
Hello, Sohrem. Nice of you to finally show.
Ronee and Alex manage to open Ye Ancient Gate of Unknowable Runes, are captured by those who would free the Sohrem, their possession by the Sohrem strengthens, the Hunters arrived with Mariana, and the bad guy talks too much.

 Then the Nereshai (Mme. Chen & Co) show up and it’s Sohrem smack down/world-saving time.

Aaaand so these Nereshai, these Night Lords, cast the Reave, “a highly sophisticated and powerful reality-shaping spell … a re-arranging of reality’s sinew and bone to change the shape of it. Shifting some key events, removing others and such.” Yes, it’s a flippin’ reset button. *Poof* Everything's fixed. For now.

Gah. I understand that, if the Nereshai hadn’t cast the Reave, the realm would have been destroyed and everyone would have died, but it felt like such a copout. Sometimes, we can’t have happy endings. Sometimes, wickedness wins. Sometimes, characters have to die. Instead, I’m left expecting a second series in which the Sohrem reappear at a more convenient time and are properly dispatched by The Forces of Good and everyone gets a great big Happy Ever After.

I feel cheated. The ending was so completely unsatisfactory that I now regret recommending this series to others.

6.23.2012

Oven-Fried Chicken Thighs

I went a little mad a few weeks ago and bought not one, but three Weight Watchers cookbooks -- Fruits & Veggies A-Z, Tastier Than Takeout, and Best Darn Food Ever! While I've filled them with sticky notes, I've not actually made anything from them yet. Planned to, certainly. We were supposed to have "Oven-Fried Chicken" from Best Darn Food Ever! tonight, but I must have been standing in someone else's kitchen when I wrote last week's menu plan, because when it came time to make supper,  it was clear I did not have the right ingredients.

We did eat oven-fried chicken and it was good.  It just wasn't Weight Watchers' chicken.

Oven Fried Chicken Thighs

Oven-Fried Chicken Thighs

Ingredients
¾ cup Butterworks Farm Organic nonfat buttermilk (my buttermilk BFF, yo)
½ tsp sriracha
2 tsp Penzeys salt-free Sunny Spain seasoning blend (black pepper, lemon peel, garlic, and onion)
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 cup seasoned salt-free whole wheat bread crumbs
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions
Whisk buttermilk, seasoning blend, and sriracha together. Pour over thighs. Toss to coat. Marinate overnight in fridge.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a baking rack on a jelly roll pan and spray rack with nonstick spray.

Whisk together bread crumbs and cheese. Remove chicken from buttermilk mixture and coat chicken, one piece at a time, in bread crumb mixture. Place chicken pieces on prepared rack and bake 30 minutes.

Oven Fried Chicken Thighs

Set oven to broil. Spray tops of thighs with nonstick spray and broil until golden, about 5 minutes longer.
I used a baking rack to elevate the chicken, hoping that would keep the bottoms from getting soggy. The alternative was to flip the chicken halfway through and I couldn't be arsed to fiddle with chicken-flipping on a weeknight.

We ate this chicken with potato salad and parslied corn and it was very good. The bottoms still weren't as crispy as I'd like, but I'm not sure it's possible to get uniformly crispy oven-fried chicken without fiddling with them more than I'd like.

6.22.2012

Manga: Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 3

Nightschool: The Weirn Books, Volume 3 by Svetlana Chmakova (Yen Press, 2010)
Word spread of seven children walking the realm and leaving charred cities, blood, and bones in their wake. No creature spared, human or other, no stone left standing – it was all rather apocalyptic.
Betrayed from within and driven from their safe house, the Hunters end up at Mr Roi’s. You remember Mr. Roi, right? The mysterious, sexy teacher of Defence Against the Dark Arts advanced magics? He helpfully provides a lot of back-story and the plot starts to make more sense.

Meanwhile, back at school, Alex teams up with some people who also remember her sister and they discover Ye Ancient Gate of Unknowable Runes. Also, it turns out Sarah isn’t the only person to go missing from the Nightschool …

Really, there’s a lot going on in this volume -- almost too much back-story for one volume, considering how little there was in the previous two -- and it can feel overwhelming at times. Of course, I gobbled Volume 3 down in one sitting and I’m sure that didn’t help, but I really needed to know what was going to happen next!

6.21.2012

Improv Challenge: Almonds & Cherries

For June’s Improv Challenge, I decided to go simple and easy with salad. Oh, I’d had plans to bake something sweet and splendid -- cherry Bakewell tartlets or King Arthur Flours’s cherry frangipane tarts, maybe -- but when it came down to it, I found myself craving something fresh and savory. Something very much like this salad:

Cherry Almond Chicken Salad

Isn't it pretty? And delicious, too. Crunchy almonds, sweet cherries, tart blue cheese ... I could eat it all week.

There are two steps (and two meals) to making this recipe -- first, you make oven-fried chicken tenders in almond meal. Then you make this salad with the leftover chicken. Obviously, you could use any old leftover chicken, but the almond flour crusted chicken tenders give this salad a certain je ne sais quoi. Also, they are pretty yummy.
Almond Flour-Crusted Chicken Tenders

Ingredients

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp Penzeys salt-free Sunny Spain seasoning blend (black pepper, lemon peel, garlic, and onion)
1 cup almond flour
1 cup panko


Instructions

Whisk buttermilk and seasoning blend together. Pour over chicken strips. Toss to coat. Marinate overnight in fridge.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a baking rack on a jelly roll pan and spray rack with nonstick spray.

Whisk together almond flour and panko.

Remove chicken from buttermilk mixture and coat chicken, one piece at a time, in bread crumb mixture.

Place chicken pieces on prepared rack and bake 15-20 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
Chicken Caesar

Serve your chicken with oven-roasted corn on the cob and potato salad. Or use it to top a caesar salad. Or what have you. Just make sure to set some aside for later ...
Cherry Almond Chicken Salad

Ingredients

Diced leftover chicken tenders
Chopped garden lettuce
Blue cheese crumbles
Fresh cherries, halved and pitted
Flaked almonds
Lucini Italia Cherry Balsamic & Rosemary Vinaigrette
Salt and pepper


Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
I know, I know. I haven't listed any amounts. How much chicken? How many cherries? As much or as little as you like, my darlings. It's salad. It's forgiving.

I dressed this salad with some of the Lucini Italia Cherry Balsamic & Rosemary Vinaigrette that I was lucky enough to find at Whole Foods. I'd actually gone to Whole Foods for a jar of sour cherry preserves to make my own vinaigrette using Panera's recipe, but this was easier. And probably just as delicious.

I am trying my hand at homemade cherry vinegar using Signature Dish's recipe for "Spicy Cherry Vinegar," because I happen to have all the ingredients on hand and making my own flavored vinegar feels just pioneer girl-ish enough to tempt me.

Spicy Cherry Vinegar


6.15.2012

Manga: Amazing Agent Jennifer, Volume 2

Amazing Agent Jennifer, Volume 2 by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir with illus. by Kriss Sison (Seven Seas, 2012)

Volume 2 is considerably darker. Jennifer's first field mission does not go as planned and she finds herself on the run in an enemy state. Jennifer is betrayed by those she trusts most and it drives her from The Agency, but a brief reunion with her old college roommate eventually sends her back for justice. She comes out on top in the end, of course, and you know she's bound for great things.

I did feel a little bad that Dan died, but mostly not. While their romance was awfully sweet in Volume 1, it was so new and tentative that the presumptions Dan made about their future together seemed a little creepy. It was as if he hadn't heard any of the things Jennifer actually said about the future. Then he betrays her and The Agency? For this imagined life together? Yes, Dan really didn't have the right to say "I love you."

6.13.2012

Wordless Wednesday: Protective Coloration

Owl Butterfly (Caligo)

Owl butterfly @ the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory. Not classically pretty, but compelling.

6.12.2012

Manga: Amazing Agent Jennifer, Volume 1

Amazing Agent Jennifer, Volume 1 by Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir with illus. by Kriss Sison (Seven Seas, 2011)

Jennifer is ridiculously gifted college freshman saddled with a rather insufferable father. Dear old dad wants Jennifer to study economics and business so she can take over the family business, regardless of where her true interests may lie. And, as he's paying tuition, it looks like he'll get his way. Enter the Agency, an ultra-secret government organization that would be more than happy to pay Jennifer's fees to study whatever she likes ... as long as she spends her weekends enrolled in their spy school.

Amazing Agent Jennifer is a light-hearted and comic spy story. This volume followed her progress from freshman through senior year and it was quite fun to see how she develops as a character, becoming stronger and more sure of herself regardless of family and social drama. Her tentative "romance" with Trainee L. was quite sweet and I look forward to seeing where it goes in the second volume.

This is the first in a two-volume prequel to the Amazing Agent Luna manga series, but you needn't have read Luna to enjoy Jennifer. Everything makes sense in itself and I never felt I was missing vital bits of plot because I didn't know the backstory.

6.10.2012

Graphic Novel: Irredeemable, Volume 1

Irredeemable, Volume 1 by Mark Waid with illus. by Peter Krause & John Cassaday (BOOM! Studios, 2009)
"You do astonishing things for them a hundred times a day. You bring wonder to the lives of ordinary people. And in the end, you realize it's like doing magic tricks for a dog."
What could make a superhero turn bad? And not just bad, but Bad, so that he takes what can only be seen as an angry (seriously, this is one pissed off anti-hero) pleasure in leveling cities, destroying families, and killing as many superheroes/villains as he can find.

Unfortunately, Volume 1 doesn’t actually tell us why The Plutonian, once the greatest superhero the world has ever known, goes bad. We are witness to a lot of destruction, though, and get to see his former friends, The Paradigm, desperately search for a way to stop him. Their horror and desperation is clearly palpable as they sift through the known details of Plutonian’s past, trying to find an exploitable weakness.

However, The Plutonian is so ridiculously powerful that it seems impossible The Paradigm will manage to stop him.  Taken individually, there isn't a superhero amongst the lot of them that could stand against him and, as a group, they still don't seem strong enough. I also suspect that The Paradigm is doing exactly what The Plutonian wanted.  That his actions aren’t driven merely by wickedness for wickedness’s sake, but that he has some unspeakable master plan ...

6.08.2012

Graphic Novel: The Cape

The Cape by Joe Hill & Jason Ciaramella with illus. by Zach Howard & Nelson Daniel (IDW, 2012)
Sometimes it seemed like I was still falling out of that tree. Like I was going to fall forever.
Once upon a time, there was a boy named Eric who had a blue cape. He was mostly happy. One day, while playing superheroes with his older brother, Eric fell out of a tree ... and in falling, something happened ... and then he was badly injured. Recovering, Eric asked for his cape back, but his mother said she has enough to deal with without  it ("You almost got yourself killed because of that silly thing. I have enough to worry about -- I don't need to add a crippled kid to the list") and threw it away. Time passes and Eric grows into a not-very-nice, whiny man who feels he never got a fair shot at life. Then he and the cape are reunited. And all hell breaks loose.


From the very first page, I thought Eric was an unbearable asshole and I read the book quickly, waiting for him to get his comeuppance. Which he did, but not fast enough to stop Eric from committing a whole range of atrocities. I admit I cheered at the end and was relieved to see Hill did not leave an opening for a sequel (although I understand a prequel is in the works which ... well ... I dunno).

The story telling was excellent, the illustrations so well done with careful use of color and just enough funkiness (?) to give us a taste of Eric's skewed reality. Unfortunately, I was so thoroughly creeped out by Eric that I’m not sure I actually enjoyed The Cape. Even the horrifically funny bear-as-murder-weapon scene and the poignant flashbacks to his childhood, didn’t make me feel better about this book.  It's one of those books I give other people to read, just to know if they'll find it as fucked up as I did.

6.06.2012

Wordless Wednesday: Peonies

Peony

Peony

Peony

Peony

@ Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens & School of Horticulture, Ontario, Canada

6.05.2012

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James


I am weary from all the carnal exertions of the last day and from the complete and utter dilemma that I'm faced with. I sit on my bed and gingerly extract the manila envelope from my bag, turning it over and over with my hands. Do I really want to know the extent of Christian's depravity? It's so daunting. I take a deep breath, and with my heart in my throat, I rip open the envelope.

Awkward virginal girl meets an extremely wealthy and powerful man. Said man becomes fixated with her and offers to make her his Submissive. Girl agrees. Light BDSM ensues. Etc.

Clearly, I've read too much erotica, because Fifty Shades of Grey is just not salacious or kinky enough for me. Here's a man, a powerful dominant man, with a room devoted to the pleasure of pain and the best he can do is whip his new girlfriend with a belt? FFS.

The sexytimes are always about Ana being naive and not knowing what to expect while Christian's all masterful and I get it, already. Now let's have some proper Kink. None of this spanking or whathaveyou and then the foil packets and the vanilla penis-vagina sex.

But, I suspect, the sex isn't actually the point. The point is that Ana's fallen in love with Christian and maybe he's falling in love with her and her Magical Love Vagina will heal his 50 Shades of Fucked Up and make him whole and they'll live happy ever after. Huzzah?

Also, am I the only one expecting Ana to end up pregnant at some point soon, because that girl cannot remember to take her contraceptive pill. Why is she on the pill, anyway? Wouldn't an IUD or implant make more sense?

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage Books, 2011)

6.03.2012

Post Vacational Cookery: Chicken & Veggie Skillet

Now that we've been back from Niagara Falls for a few days, it's time to face the hard truth -- if I don't cook, we're not going to eat. Yes, we could keep eating out, but that's not healthful. Also, we left all our money in Canada as Niagara Falls was much more expensive than we'd anticipated. O, you wily Canadians with your wines and restaurants!

So time to be thrifty and healthful and responsible and make some darn supper.

Saturday Supper

Ingredients: boneless skinless chicken breasts, Italian dressing, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, snow peas, red onion, grated Parmesan.

That, my dears, is Kraft's "Sizzling Chicken & Veggie Skillet" on a bed of basmati rice. The recipe is low calorie, low fat, and low sodium so there's healthful and responsible checked off. It's also pretty inexpensive as about half the ingredients were purchased on sale.

The recipe is very easy, too. Cook chicken, chop vegetables, cook vegetables, serve.

Untitled

Cook chicken in a hot skillet over medium-high heat until nicely browned and cooked through. Transfer to shallow bowl (don't want to lose any juices!) and pop into a warm oven to rest until needed.

Zucchini & Red Onion

Add dressing (I used Greek vinaigrette with feta), zucchini, and onions to pan; cook until vegetables are crisp-tender.

Cherry Tomatoes & Snow Peas

Stir in tomatoes and snow peas; cook until heated through. Stir in any accumulated chicken juices. Serve chicken topped with vegetables on a bed of rice or farro or what have you. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

While the recipe doesn't call for it, I strongly recommend marinating the chicken in a little Italian dressing for extra flavor.

The Husband recommends more tomatoes and fewer snow peas!

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson


There are different sorts of treachery, but betrayal is betrayal wherever you find it. She burnt a lot more than the letters that night in the backyard. I don't think she knew. In her head she was still queen, but not my queen any more, not the White Queen any more. Walls protect and walls limit. It is in the nature of walls that they should fall. That walls should fall is the consequence of blowing your own trumpet.

A coming-of-age novel about a adopted girl, Jeanette, growing up in 1960s Northern England. Her mother is devoutly religious and heavily involved with a fundamentalist Christian church, The Society for the Lost, and Jeanette’s early childhood is strongly shaped by her mother’s faith. Indeed, Jeanette’s mother adopted her with the intention of bringing her up to become a missionary! However, as Jeanette matures, she begins to push against the boundaries of her world, questioning the faith she was raised in. Quote about love and religion not being mutually exclusive?

This was my first time reading Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and, I admit, I picked it up more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. How could I never have read this great work Classic Lesbian Literature before? For shame. I think I was sidetracked by Rita Mae Brown -- Rubyfruit Jungle leading to Venus Envy, Sudden Death, &etc. Rita Mae Brown was fun, you know. Jeanette Winterson never struck me as fun. The sad thing is, much of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit was funny and engaging. I laughed quite a bit and, while there is a lot about it that is grim or harrowing, there is also a lot of joy and optimism to it, as well!

I finished reading Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit several days ago and I’ve been struggling over what to write about it. It’s classic queer lit and I feel obligated to like it, but I’m not sure I actually do. The novel is skillfully written and Jeanette’s hopscotch stream-of-consciousness narrative with its gypsies, white mice, and ice cream vans is very compelling and I enjoyed it immensely ... but the myths and stories Winterson weaves around the narrative just muddied and confused things for me. Sometimes, I thought I could wade through the Sea of Metaphor and find clear meaning in them, but mostly I found myself skimming them, rushing to get back to the “real” story!

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (Grove Press, 1997)

6.02.2012

See Lovely Canada, Buy Comic Books

I am returned from Niagara Falls, Ontario. Ate delicious things, drank some fantastic wine, walked till my poor little feet whimpered for mercy, stared at waterfalls, sat in public gardens, and visited comic book shops.

Comic Books

Unfortunately, I only visited two comic book shops in Niagara Falls, Ontario -- Pulp Comics and Neutral Zone Comics. At the time, our GPS was dead certain those were the only shops in the area, but now I see Big B opened on Lundy's Lane in early May. Sigh. Well, there's always next year.

Anyway, both shops were kind of ... eh. Pulp Comics has a single bookcase of graphic novel/trade collections which we spent a few minutes browsing. Almost picked up a copy of Crossed, Volume 1 but it appeared to be coming unbound. Indeed, many of the books I looked at seemed gently worn as if they had been pawed by too many other tentative readers. Which, being right by the door, they may well have been. Or, maybe they were warping and ungluing from the humidity? I didn't know and, being a tourist and not a captive local buyer, I didn't really care. I just moved on to the next shop.

Neutral Zone Comics had a lot of single issues in boxes and piles all over the place. If you’re into collecting, Neutral Zone Comics would definitely be your thing. There’s so much stuff, though, that you’d have to be really patient and have a fair amount of time on hand to sort through it all. I’m most definitely not into single issues, so Pulp Comics didn’t have a lot for me ... but I still picked up a copy of The Cape when the owner offered The Husband 20% off any purchase. I’d heard good things about The Cape and knew I’d have to buy it somewhere if I wanted to read it as it isn’t the kind of thing that would ever show up in my library system.

The rest of my comic book loot came from the fabulous The Comix Zone in North Syracuse, New York. The shop made a handy, if dangerous, stop halfway between Ontario and home. Truly, it’s good the shop is no closer or I’m sure I would keep finding reasons to visit! Unlike a lot of the shops I’ve visited since I started reading comic books, The Comix Zone is big and clean and well lit. Besides single issues and models and the other requisite comic book shop detritus, there’s a large assortment of trade collections and graphic novels by many different publishers and a sweet collection of manga. Many comic book shops (see above) I’ve visited tend to be small and poky with a lot of single issues, a small samey-samey selection of GNs and trade collections, and a tiny manga section that always feels tacked on, like an afterthought.

So, yeah, The Comix Zone was pretty sweet and well worth visiting if you’re every near North Syracuse.

(There’s supposed to be a great comic book shop in Buffalo, Queen City Bookstore, but we didn’t get to stop in as we passed through Buffalo hours before it opened. Next year, we’ll stop on our way to Canada).

Graphic novels, trade collections, and manga acquired:
  • The Cape
  • The Bride's Story, Volume 3
  • Amazing Agent Jennifer, Volumes 1 & 2
  • Courtney Crumrin & The Night Things, Volume 1