Stuff and Nonsense: 2013


Top 10 Tuesday: Top 10 Read In 2013

It's the last Top Ten Tuesday of the year! What better day to talk about the best books we read in 2013? It's hard to pick favorites, because I read a lot of great books in 2013, but I've done my best to compile an honest list:
  1. The Anvil of the World [Fantasy] <rev>
  2. The Different Girl [YA Sci-Fi] <rev>
  3. Earth Girl [YA Sci-Fi] <rev>
  4. The Hallowed Ones [YA Horror-Romance]
  5. Oliver Twist [Classic Brit Lit] <rev>
  6. Tell the Wolves I'm Home [YA Contemporary] <rev>
  7. Three Shadows [GN] <rev>
  8. Two Boys Kissing [YA Contemporary] <rev>
  9. Wool [Sci-Fi]
  10. yotsuba&! [YA GN] <rev>


If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

Nasrin pulled my hair when I told her I didn't want to play with her dolls. I wanted to play football with the neighborhood boys. Even though sometimes they wouldn't let me because I was a girl, they couldn't deny my speed or the fact that I scored a goal on the biggest kid in the yard. Nasrin pulled my hair and said, "Sahar, you will play with me because you belong to me. Only me." That was when I fell in love with her.

Motherless Sahar has been in love with her best friend, Nasrin, since forever. But now they're almost adults and their lives will be taking different paths -- Nasrin is getting married and Sahar will (probably) be going on to university. While Sahar does not want to lose Nasrin to some man (especially not a nice guy like Reza who will give Nasrin everything Sahar can never), she does not appreciate Nasrin's suggestion that they keep carrying on under her husband-to-be's nose. Sahar wants to love Nasrin openly and such a thing cannot happen for two lesbians in Iran, where homosexuality is punishable by death.

But. There might be a solution. A loophole. Sahar will become a man and then she can marry Nasrin and live the life she was meant to live. But such decisions are not easy. And some sacrifices come at too great a cost.

What is it with YA novels making me cry? For such a slim little book, If You Could Be Mine packs quite an emotional wallop with a surprising depth of story and character. All of the characters -- even the secondary characters seldom on the page -- seem thoroughly human and I cared about them all, wanting them all to find better futures for themselves.

Nasrin is, perhaps, not as fully fleshed as Sahar, but then we do not see the story through her eyes so it is hard to know what she feels as she makes certain choices or decisions. I spend much of the novel wanting to tell Nasrin off, but Sahar's pigheadedness was also deeply frustrating. It was very much like watching two friends you deeply care about do something incredibly dumb.

Anyway, If You Could Be Mine was well worth the time and I look forward to reading more books by Farizan.

If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Algonquin, 2013)

(Belated) Eating the Alphabet: G is for Green Beans & Garlic

I never posted during May's Eating the Alphabet Challenge as I never got around to photographing my dish of garlicky roasted green beans before we ate it and then there wasn't enough time to remake it and photograph the redo. Unfortunate, as it was pretty darn delicious. And it's not as if I haven't made it since ... just never get around to photographing it.

But I have now! Et voilà! The belated green beans:


Roasted Green Beans with Garlic & Thyme
Serves 4 as a side dish

12 oz green beans
1 tbsp olive oil
4 small sprigs thyme, chopped
8 garlic cloves, halved if large
salt and pepper, as desired
Additional fresh thyme, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425°F. Cover a jelly roll pan with parchment or foil.

Lay green beans, garlic, thyme on the jelly roll pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat. Spread them out on the span so that they lay flat. Season with salt and pepper and roast for 25 minutes.

Roasting Green Beans

Adjust seasonings, if necessary, and serve garnished with additional thyme.
The garlic gets all nutty and, mmm, is just marvelous with the fresh thyme and tender-crisp beans.


Top 10 Tuesday: Santa, Please Bring Me

Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is the top ten books I wouldn't mind if Santa brought me. Seeing as Christmas is tomorrow, Santa better get hopping! Here's my Christmas wish list:

  1. A Bride's Story, Volume 4 & 5 by Kaoru Mori
  2. The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott
  3. Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

... and all of Williams-Sonoma's Of the Day cookbooks. I adore the series. Unfortunately, my libraries' copies are almost always checked out so I never get to fondle them as much as I'd like. And they're expensive (especially if you want to collect them all) so I'll never buy them for myself.

What's on your list?


Fantastic Raspberry Mascarpone Mousse

This mousse was meant to be August's Improv Challenge recipe, but time got away from me and I ended up skipping that month. However, since I decided to play with vanilla beans for September's Eating the Alphabet Challenge, I thought I would finally give the mousse a go. It's based on a recipe for "Vanilla Mascarpone With Chocolate, Coconut and Berries" I found on the MailOnline (clearly, not a proponent of the Oxford comma), but I fear I undid any positive nutritional value the dish may have originally had!

Vanilla Mascarpone Mousse with Chocolate & Raspberries

This is, without a doubt, the very best raspberry mousse I've ever eaten and it comes together in a blink of the eye. Especially if, like me, you are the impatient sort and thaw your raspberries in the microwave. While mousse is creamy and rich, it is also very light and bright tasting. The kind of thing I could eat a lot of, before I really started thinking about the number of calories and grams of fat that went into it.

The Husband really enjoyed it, too -- he made a little moaning sound with each spoonful and when I asked if he liked it he said "Oh, yes! I could eat a lot of this! A big bowl of it and a spoon!"

I'm thinking about serving it at Christmas. Maybe using mint chocolate and with a garnish of mint leaves and raspberries?
Vanilla Mascarpone Mousse with Chocolate & Raspberries
Serves 4

4 oz frozen raspberries, thawed and drained
½ Tbsp sugar
1 tsp raspberry extract

8 oz mascarpone cheese
½ cup sugar
¾ cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
1 oz dark chocolate, grated
[Lake Champlain Chocolates 70% Madagascar Dark]

Combine the raspberries, sugar, and extract. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the mascarpone, cream, and sugar with the vanilla scrapings until smooth. Change over to the whisk attachment and whisk until light and fluffy. Gently fold in the raspberries and chocolate.

Divide the mixture between four serving bowls. Decorate with more grated chocolate, if desired.


Improv Challenge: Lime & White Chocolate

When I saw December's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients were lime and white chocolate, I immediately knew I wanted to make a pudding. Essentially, I wanted something like a pavlova -- a soft meringue nest filled with lime curd mousse topped with white chocolate whipped cream and berries. I've never actually eaten or baked a pavlova, but I've made several Eton Mess and what is that but a deconstructed pavlova?

white chocolate & lime clouds

I used King Arthur Flour's pavlova recipe, because their recipe for Angel Kisses (a meringue cookie) always come out well. While the pavlova recipe makes one big meringue, I chose to make five smaller single-serving meringues. If I'd been a bit neater I could have gotten six meringues from the recipe, but I'm not(and probably never will be) a neat baker.

The meringue recipe only needs five common kitchen ingredients and goes together easily so do give it a try if, like me, meringue makes you a little nervous.

Meringue Ingredients
Meringue Ingredients
Unbaked Small Meringue Shells
Unbaked meringues (the baked ones look almost exactly the same)
Lime Mousse

11 oz jar lime curd [Thursday Cottage]
1¼ cups whipping cream
zest of one lime

Put curd into the bowl of your stand mixer with the zest and cream, and whisk until thickened and fluffy. Chill 2 hours. (Whisk in a few drops of green food coloring with the cream, if you like, otherwise the dish will be very white).

Ingredients for lazy lime mousse
Lime Mousse Ingredients
White Chocolate Whipped Cream

2 ounces white chocolate, broken into small pieces [Ghiradelli]
1½ cups plus ¼ cup heavy cream

Microwave chocolate and ¼ cup whipping cream in large microwaveable bowl on high 1 minute or until chocolate is almost melted, stirring after 30 seconds. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Whip the cream in a chilled bowl to soft peaks. Fold in the cooled white chocolate mixture and beat to stiff peaks.

Or, if you have a whipped cream dispenser, pour the cooled chocolate and cream into the container. Replace cap, charge with one cylinder, shake, and maketh with the whip creameth.

white chocolate whipped cream
White Chocolate Whipped Cream Ingredients
Fill meringue shells with lime mousse, top with white chocolate whipped cream, and garnish with blackberries and additional lime zest, if desired. (You will have extra mousse and whipped cream. The mousse will keep. The whipped cream probably won't if you didn't add stabilizer or make it in a whipped cream dispenser).

These lime and white chocolate pavlovas where very light and bright-tasting. Tangy, with most of the sweetness coming from the meringue itself. I'd expected the mousse to be quite sweet as there was a fair amount of sugar in the prepared curd, but it wasn't. It was wonderfully fragrant, though, and made my whole kitchen smell fantastic. I was also rather impressed by the white chocolate whipped cream as the flavor of the chocolate really came through.

These pavlovas are very pretty served as I photographed them, but I admit that when it actually came time to eat them, we found it easier to bash the pavlovas up into small pieces and stir them into the mousse ... Eton mess, all over again.

The meringues will keep indefinitely in an airtight container and the mousse is good for two or three days, so these are easy enough to make ahead.


Wordless Wednesday: "Cheater" Tree

We "cheated" this year and bought a precut tree from a lot, rather than slog through the snow and cut down our own.
It is currently standing naked in our dining room and will, hopefully, be decorated before Christmas Eve.
As always, it seems much bigger once inside the house.


Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite New Authors

So this week, for Top 10 Tuesday, we're talking about our favorite new (to us) authors. Is it weird that I feel weird declaring favorites? As if I'm slighting all the other authors I read in 2013? And, anyway, I'm basing their favorite-hood on the adoration of one or two novels. It's perfectly possible I'll hate their other novels and have to downgrade them in 2014. Still, I admit I admire the minds who dreamt up and then so skillfully composed these novels that I've liked so much:

  1. Kage Baker, Anvil of the World [rev]
  2. Laura Bickle, The Hallowed Ones
  3. Mike & Linda Carey, Steel Seraglio
  4. Monica Dickens, Mariana [rev]
  5. Hugh Howey, Wool
  6. David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing [rev]
  7. Liza Palmer, Nowhere But Home [rev]
  8. Olive Higgins Prouty, Now, Voyager [rev]
  9. S.M. Wheeler, Sea Change
  10. Dorothy Whipple, Someone at a Distance [rev]


Eating the Alphabet: Z is for Zucchini

So we've come to the end of another Eating the Alphabet challenge. December's ingredients were X, Y, and/or Z. I went with zucchini, because I kept seeing these little packs of adorable baby zucchini in the produce section and I was dying for an excuse to buy them. (I know, I did zucchini last year ... there's just not a lot of XYZ ingredients and I like zucchini a lot).

You can make this dish with regular-sized zucchini, of course. You'll just need to cut them into strips about the same length and thickness of your ring finger.

I did not remove the stems from the baby zucchini as they are perfectly edible. Also, very cute cooked with the stems intact and, sometimes, I just crave cute.

Baby Zucchini
Ahhh! So cute! I must eat you all!
Lemon-Cheesy Zucchini
Serves 2 generously as a side dish

1 Tbsp olive oil
8 oz baby zucchini, halved lengthwise
4 Tbsp grated Parmesan
[4C Homestyle Parmesan Romano]
4 sprigs thyme, chopped
zest 1 lemon
Freshly cracked pepper, as desired

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. Add the zucchini, cut side down, and sauté for 3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and toss with the Parmesan, zest, thyme, and lots of black pepper. Serve.
Lemon-Cheesy Zucchini

While the dish served two as a side with grilled chicken, it would also make a fine lunch for one zucchini lover if paired with a little crusty bread spread with soft goat cheese and maybe some thyme honey ... drools.

The still-firm zucchini is marvelously nutty and the tart lemon zest helps balance out the salty cheese. If you prefer softer zucchini, just flip the zucchini after three minute cooking time and cook the other side for an additional three minutes.

And that's it! We're done with the 2013 Eating the Alphabet Challenge. Wrap-up post coming in January and then we begin again in February! A is amaranth? B is for bok choy? It's anyone's guess!


Wordless Wednesday: Winter Is Here

winter trees


Tried to take a few pics of the snow and early morning sky before leaving for work today, but it was very cold out and I am not a morning person.


Top 10 Tuesday: Winter TBR

This will be the third TBR list I’ve compiled since I began participating in Top Ten Tuesday and I've consistently failed to read from them so I kind of feel like I can put anything on this list because it's never coming true.

Books I'm never going to read, so I put them on a TBR list (because that’s where books go to die):

  1. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  3. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov
  4. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  5. The Last Man by Mary Shelley
  6. North and South by Peter Jakes
  7. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  8. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
  9. Ulysses by James Joyce
  10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

It's not as if I hate these books. Indeed, at one point or another I've held each in my hand with every intention of reading it. But then I didn't. And probably never will. It’s kind of freeing, really, to type that. I'm never going to read The Satanic Verses and that's okay!


Wordless Wednesday: Sunset with Cattle

Sunset with Cattle. Near Kellogg Dairy Center, UCONN.


Top 10 Tuesday: 2014 Releases I'm Dying to Read

2014 is right around the corner and with it lots of fantastic new books! Unfortunately, my shelves groan under the weight of books not read in 2013, 2012, 2011 ... I really shouldn't be adding new books. And it's all well and good to say "well, just borrow them from the library!" but have you seen my library hold list? It just goes on and on, list without end.

Anyway! Ten 2014 releases I rather fancy:

  1. After the End by Amy Plum
  2. The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott
  3. Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
  4. Liv, Forever by Amy Talkington
  5. My Real Children by Jo Walton
  6. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
  7. Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson
  8. A Star For Mrs. Blake by April Smith
  9. The Unpredictable Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell
  10. The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit
I see the trend of Covers With Faceless Women continues into 2014.

Egg-Stuffed Potatoes

This is definitely one of the odder dishes I've made, but I figured since stuffing a tomato with egg worked out okay, so would stuffing a potato with an egg. There are different versions of this dish all over Pinterest, too, which must mean it works ... right?

And, if it didn't, I still had two dozen eggs in the fridge to make something else with.  No, I don't know how we ended up with so many eggs. Probably multiple cases of listless grocery shopping.

Egg-Stuffed Potato

And, you know, it actually does work pretty well. Hot, starchy, buttery potato wet with rich, runny, yolk and melty cheeeeze. A little bacon wouldn't go amiss, though ...
Egg-Stuffed Potatoes

2 potatoes, baked your favorite way
2 large eggs
1 tbsp unsalted butter
4 Tbsp shredded "Italian" cheese blend or your favorite cheese
3 Tbsp freeze-dried chives
salt and pepper, as desired

Preheat oven to 350F°. Slice a thin layer off the top of each potato. Gently scoop out insides, being careful not to poke holes in the potatoes (save scooped potato for another recipe). Place potatoes on a baking sheet. If potatoes roll a little, just smoosh them flat against the bottom of the sheet.

Divide butter between potatoes. Sprinkle with half the chives, salt, and pepper. Crack an egg into each potato. Divide cheese between the potatoes. Sprinkle with remaining chives and more salt and pepper, if desired.

Bake for 15 minutes and then check egg. Egg whites should be set and yolks soft. If whites are not set, bake another 5 minutes.


Second Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, I bought a case of satsuma mandarins from The Fruit Company for The Husband. Alas, they weren't very good satsumas -- watery and bland, sayeth The Husband -- and have been lurking in the basement since the third failed attempt to find a "good" one in the box.

I was loathe to compost the satsumas, because even if they weren't good for straight out noshing, surely they might be good for cooking? I had dreams of satsuma-glazed mini bundt cakes and satsuma-roasted chicken thighs, but those dreams never got off the ground.

And then it was Thanksgiving and, while we were going to my parents, I picked up a turkey for us because THANKSGIVING. I recalled that roasting whole chickens on beds of thickly sliced red onion made for phenomenal chicken. So why not satsumas under the turkey? Because, you know, alliums and citrus are so similar ...

I took a bunch of satsumas, plus a few oranges that had been malingering in the produce drawer, and trimmed a thin slice off opposite sides so they would lay flat(tish) in the roasting pan. Then I halved them and arranged them in the pan, packing them as closely as I could.


Roaster lined with Citrus

I whizzed some of the citrus trimmings 'round in my food processor until they were well chopped, then mixed in four tablespoons softened unsalted butter, and one teaspoon Bell's Seasoning. I gently slid the butter mixture between the turkey breast meat and skin. The excess butter mixture was smeared all over the outside of the turkey and then I sprinkled it with a teaspoon of sea salt.

Citrus Peel

Citrus Turkey

I stuffed the turkey cavity with three or four quartered satsumas -- some didn't fit, so I just tucked those pieces in any gaps in the orange carpet at the bottom of the roasting pan -- and roasted the turkey at 325F°, uncovered, for about four hours.

Then I remove the turkey from the oven, tented it with foil, and allowed it to rest for fifteen minutes while I mashed potatoes and microwaved vegetables.

Our Thanksgiving

The roasted turkey was fragrant, moist, and tender without being overwhelmingly citrus-y. If I ever have satsuma troubles again, I will certainly use this method to dispose of them!


Mmm, Brisket In My Slow Cooker

My dad's mom was never much of a drinker, but she always had a bottle of Manischewitz Concord Grape on hand. Indeed, I think it was the only wine I ever saw her drink. My grandmother has been on my mind a lot lately so, when I thought about making a brisket earlier this week, I thought about Manischewitz.

Why brisket? I can't precisely say. A vague craving for pot roast couple with too much talk about slow cooker barbecue with some co-workers followed by a brief, intense infatuation with Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America ... and then I saw brisket was on sale?

The Internet is full of ways to slow cook brisket and many of the recipes I found used ingredients like chili sauce and onion soup mix. I took the "best bits" from those recipes and spun them to suit my own taste preferences. Heinz balsamic ketchup for chili sauce, for example, because I wanted lots of tang but no heat. Lots of onion and garlic, because alliums make everything better. And Manischewitz Concord Grape, for grandma.

Slow Cooker Brisket
Manischewitz for the win!
The piece of brisket I bought was slightly too large for my slow cooker so I halved it and arranged the two pieces, edges overlapping, at the bottom of the insert.

(As with any roast, it's important to cook the meat fat side up so that the fat, as it renders, bastes the meat).

Wednesday's Supper
O, beautiful onions! Beautiful brisket!
Tangy Slow Cooker Brisket

3 - 4 lb brisket, flat cut
4 large cloves garlic, sliced thickly
1 large red onion, sliced thickly
1 envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion
8 oz Heinz Ketchup Blended with Balsamic Vinegar
5 oz Manischewitz Concord Grape

Lay onion and garlic at bottom of slow cooker insert. Top with brisket, fat side up.

Mix together soup mix, ketchup, and wine. Pour over brisket. Cover and cook on LOW for 10 hours.

Slow Cooker Brisket
Looking so fine!
I served the brisket with chive-mashed potatoes and garlicky green beans. The potatoes were a complete cheat as they were leftover from work's Thanksgiving dinner. I reheated them in the microwave with milk and butter and then mixed in a liberal amount of Penzeys dehydrated chopped chives.

The garlicky green beans are pretty much a supper time standby. I take a bag of fresh steam-in-bag ones, poke holes to let the steam out, and then use those holes to poke slivers of sliced garlic cloves into the bag. Shake everything about to distribute the garlic and then microwave as directed. Season the cooked beans with a drizzle of olive oil and some black pepper. We can easily consume a 12 oz bag between us at one meal ... although I admit I probably eat more than my fair share of these lovely beans.


Wordless Wednesday: A Trip to the Vet's

Catzilla at the vet's. She thinks the sink makes her invisible.

Realizing the sink was a trap, she tried to get in the cabinets.


Top 10 Tuesday: Thankful Things

It's Thanksgiving in America soon so, for this week's Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about the ten things we're thankful for. Shockingly, my list is mostly non-bookish!


The Best Intentions by Candice Hern

She knew it was wrong, but she could not help it. He was just about the most wonderful man she'd ever met.
She had to go careening into a footman and fall on her bum in front of this perfect man.
What a silly cow she was for believing the magic of the evening could last.
She wanted to die.

Recently, I noticed many of Candice Hern's older Signet Regency romances have been repackaged with rather attractive covers and I have been sorely tempted to purchase them. I am, however, mercilessly miserly these days, and have resorted to getting the much less attractive 1990s mass market paperbacks from the library. And, in the case of The Best Intentions, a good thing, too, because I'd be rather angry to have spent $8.09 on this ... piffle.

Two sisters -- Charlotte, the Hot Older Widow, and Hannah, the Awkward Nerdy Chit -- are visiting with the Earl of Strickland's family. A widower, the (somewhat starchy) Earl is in want of a wife and mother for his two young daughters. Undoubtedly, Charlotte would make a fine match. But, of course, the Earl finds that the more time he spends with Hannah, the more he enjoys her awkward, nerdy charms. She's funny, smart, has fine eyes and clearly likes his daughters. And his daughters clearly like her back. Indeed, the Earl finds he only thinks about Hot Charlotte when she's in front of him, all husky whispers and practiced, womanly charm ...

And, you know, I would have been fine with Awkward Nerdy Chit marries Starchy Earl and destarchifies him, but the difference in ages rather ruined the sweetness of their budding romance for me. Also, the sudden introduction of the Elopement Misunderstanding at the end of the book just added unnecessary drama as it did nothing to move the plot along that couldn't have been done without it. I think I was supposed to find it funny and sweet, but it just made me regret reading that far.

While I've read other Regencies by Hern and enjoyed them (seriously, she's much better than this), The Best Intentions was a bitter disappointment.

The Best Intentions by Candice Hern (Signet, 1999)


High Rising by Angela Thirkell

It was nearly dark when Laura crossed the green and walked down the willow avenue beside the brook. It was a lonely walk, and had a slightly haunted reputation, which occasionally caused one of Mr. Knox's maids to have hysterics and give notice. But, being local girls, their mothers usually made them take it back. At the far end stood the Knoxes' house, lonely among the water-meadows, often surrounded by thick white mists, a little sinister, but Laura was not imaginative except in the matter of plot and incident.

High Rising is the first of Thirkell's Barsetshire novels and centers around Laura Morland, a widow and author of popular thrillers, and her circle of friends. Her neighbor and dear friend, George Knox, has recently taken on a secretary, Miss Grey ("The Incubus"), and Laura's other friends are dead cert Grey means to get her claws into Knox and make him marry her ... but surely Laura can do something about that!

Overall, an enjoyable romp. Not only is Laura a well-wrought protagonist, but Thirkell has padded her novel with a whole crew of wonderful secondary characters -- including Laura's train-obsessed young son, Tony, and her devoted secretary, Miss Todd. Alas The Incubus, the villain of the piece, was probably the most weakly rendered character and it was difficult for me to dislike her as much as I was supposed to. Instead, I found myself disliking all the other characters for their willingness to close rank against her. Don't get me wrong, The Incubus was a wicked girl ... I just don't know why and the casual dismissal of her behavior ("neurotic," "wonky," and "a bad egg") just frustrated me.

Also High Rising, even more so than Wild Strawberries, is clearly a product of the 1930s and there's so much casual racism in it (seriously, it all feels entirely off-hand and everyday) that I found some passages hard going. And so, as enjoyable as I found the novel overall, I am rather reluctant to pick up another Barsetshire novel any time soon. Maybe some Monica Dickens? It's been awhile ...

High Rising by Angela Thirkell (Virago Press, 2012)


Improv Challenge: Orange & Cardamom

It's time for the monthly Improv Cooking Challenge! This month we showcase orange and cardamom. Because baking has suddenly become something that makes me go "meh," I decided to take a savory approach and make a marinade, butter, and glaze for chicken thighs. Orange and honey are natural companions to chicken, so adding cardamom to the mix didn't seem that risky.

Orange-Cardamom Roast Chicken Thighs

I used bone-in, skin-on thighs for this recipe simply because that's my taste preference. As thighs can be pretty fatty, I trimmed them well and left only a small patch of skin on the "top" of the thigh. You could use boneless skinless chicken thighs, but then you'll have to skip the cardamom-orange butter and all your cooking times will be different.

And, by all means, omit the crushing and biffing by using ready-ground cardamom. The pods were just what I had on hand. I don't know how much ground cardamom you'd need, though, so be prepared to experiment. (Not as if this entire post wasn't one long, probably mad, experiment).
Cardamom-Orange Marinade
Juice of half orange
12 whole white cardamom pods
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
4 chicken thighs, well trimmed

Gently crush the cardamom pods to release the seeds. Sandwich seeds between parchment paper and lightly biff with a meat mallet until seeds are a bit crushed. Whisk together cardamom and all other ingredients (except thighs, obviously). Pour over chicken thighs and marinate for four hours or so.

Marinading Chicken Thighs

Meanwhile combine ingredients for:

Cardamom-Orange Butter
1 tbsp butter, softened
zest of half orange
4 whole white cardamom pods, crushed and biffed

When you're ready to cook your chicken, remove them from the marinade and preheat the oven to 450F°

Gently slide fingers between chicken skin and meat to loosen skin. Rub butter over thigh meat under skin. Sprinkle skin with salt and pepper, if desired. Roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes, basting with pan juices every 10 minutes or so.

Marinaded Chicken Thighs

Roast Chicken Thighs

Serve with rice pilaf and broccoli blend.
Overall, I think my orange-cardamom chicken was mostly successful, but adding more cardamom to the marinade and soaking the thighs longer might have added even more flavor. They were orangey, yes, but the cardamom flavor was very faint. Beautifully fragrant, though. Some of that could be because I used white cardamom pods, which have a milder, more floral flavor than green cardamom?


Wordless Wednesday: Leaves

Faffing about with my camera phone, trying to be artsy ... just like everyone else :)


Top 10 Tuesday: Top Ten Books I'd Recommend To X

This week, for Top Ten Tuesday, we're creating lists of recommendations for a certain person or kind of person. Based on conversations I've recently had with a few friends, I've created a list of books I would recommend to people who are already sick of Christmas -- not "I hate Christmas" books, but quirky books that put a slightly different spin on the holiday:
  1. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
  2. Dave Cooks the Turkey by Stuart McLean (novella)
  3. The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays ed. by Michelle Clarke and Taylor Plimpton
  4. Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
  5. Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
  6. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
  7. The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket & Lisa Brown
  8. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
  9. Skipping Christmas: Christmas with The Kranks by John Grisham
  10. The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore
(It's not that we hate Christmas -- we're the sort of people who are bound to love any holiday that involves significant amounts of food and merry-making -- we're just not prepared to deal with it before December 1 and it's everywhere already).


Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

I was Jarra, a Military kid, trained in unarmed combat. A history lecturer and twenty-nine other history students couldn't scare me. I stepped into the portal and a new identity.

Centuries ago, thanks to the development of portal technology, humanity jumped to the stars. Earth became a graveyard, a museum, a-nice-place-to-visit-but-I-wouldn't-want-to-live-there. Unfortunately, some humans, born with a genetic deficiency which made off-planet portalling impossible for them, had to remain on Earth. They might be lucky and have children who, lacking the deficiency, might leave Earth. And unlucky portal-using parents might find their children, bearing the deficiency, would have to be sent to Earth at birth ...

Ape. Throwback. Nean. Jarra knows all the words for what she is, but she knows she's more than that. She's as good as any off-planet eighteen-year-old and she burns to prove it. Given a chance to study Pre-History (that's our today) during her Foundation Year, Jarra opts to study on Earth (as she must because DEATH) with an off-world university. She'll lie to everyone (except the university) about who/what she is, dazzle her classmates with her superior archaeological skills, and then destroy all their presumptions about "apes" by revealing who she is and laughing in their faces.

Or something like that. Trouble is, Jarra grows to like and respect her classmates. And the work they're doing is really compelling. But how can she tell them what she is without destroying the tentative trust and friendship they've built?

In addition to all the quality friendship and relationship building drama Edwards has packed into Earth Girl, her hard SF elements are fab. Earth Girl is as much about Jarra getting her nerd on as it is about her coming to grip with what she is. What with ruined New York, domes, impact suits, sleds, stasis boxes, hover belts, tag guns ... Edwards has built a future Earth I'd want to live in.

While I really liked Earth Girl's cover art -- rather metaphorical, mythological, and pre-Raphealite kind of vibe -- I do think it does the novel a disservice as it makes Jarra looked like a sad, brooding waif. There's also nothing about it to suggest the novel is full of hard SF elements. That said, I felt the same way about Beth Revis's Across the Universe trilogy and it won't stay on the library shelves so clearly publishers know who they are marketing to. It's just not me.

As a teen, I read a lot (perhaps too much?) of Elizabeth Moon and CJ Cherryh and there's a duology by Anne Mason I will cherish in my heart forever. So I've grown to expect "good" science fiction covers will have women in space suits (or Military-esque uniforms) and space ships and science-y stuff and shizzle. Not mopey barefoot girls in cotton summer dresses.

Anyway, the sequel should be coming out in April and I can't wait.

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards (Pyr, 2013)


Easy Cheesy Salsa Chicken

I threw this together the other night when I realized there was more cheese in the cheese drawer than there was actually "proper food" in the rest of the fridge ... not an unusual occurrence in this household, you know. Probably I should be embarrassed, but ever since we started watching Pushing Daisies, I've thought this every time I opened our fridge:

If you haven't seen Pushing Daisies (get thee to Netflix), let me just say that two of the characters really love cheese. So much so that their fridge contains nothing but cheese and their niece spendt years thinking that's all the appliance was for and was, indeed, called a "cheese box."

While, for all my talk of cheese, this isn't a super-cheesy dish, it is quite fast and satisfying. We always have extra beans and salsa in the cupboard, because you never know when you'll need them. I guess it's like other people's need to always have an extra jar of peanut butter jar on hand.

Cheesy Salsa Chicken

Cheesy Salsa Chicken
Serves 2 generously

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded flattish
2 Tbsp taco seasoning [Penzeys Arizona Dreaming]
½ cup low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup frozen fire-roasted corn, thawed
½ cup garlicky salsa [Green Mountain Gringo Roasted Garlic Salsa]
2 oz shredded cheddar[Cabot Seriously Sharp]

Rub breasts with seasoning blend. Cook in a hot oven-safe skillet for about 5 minutes per side or until breasts are a lovely brown on each side and cooked through.

Pour black beans, corn, and salsa over the chicken and top with cheese. Pop skillet into the oven and broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden.

Serve topped with sour cream and more salsa, if desired.
You could serve this over rice, if you were so minded, but it's pretty filling on its own.


Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two boys kissing. You know what this means.
For us, it was a secret gesture. Secret because we were afraid. Secret because we were ashamed. Secret because it was a story that nobody was telling.
But what power it had.

Narrated in first person plural by the men who died during the AIDS crisis, this is ostensibly a novel about two boys kissing in an attempt to set the world's record. But it is also about other boys -- some in relationships, some alone, some looking for themselves, some looking for belonging. And, of course, it is about the dead, because we cannot talk about how we got to be here without talking about where we came from.

It is good to look at the world and know that, no matter how resistant individuals may be, humanity goes forward and the world gets better, bit by bit. But it is also sometimes hard to look at the changes that have happened (just in my lifetime!) and not think how much better it might yet be if so many people had not died.

It took me a month to finish David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing. Not because it is a lengthy novel, but because every time I read a bit of it I burst into tears. The day I decided to just power through and finish the damned beautiful thing, I cried so much that I gave myself a tension headache and chapped my nose.

It's good. Beautiful, poetic, bittersweet. It begs to be read aloud. Indeed, the rhythm and cadence of narration so put me in mind of Kushner's Angels in America that I checked a copy of the HBO special out from the library ... but haven't been able to watch it yet. Because CRYING. Dammit.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)