Stuff and Nonsense: April 2013


Top 10 Tuesday: What Makes Me Pick Up A Book

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, The Broke and the Bookish ask bloggers to list the top ten words or topics that instantly induce us to pick up a book. I took a good hard look at my personal library and these "motifs" were immediately obvious:
  1. Anything with a "properly dressed" female astronaut/space marine/etc on the cover (Sharon Traviss, Kristine Smith etc)
  2. Anything with a "properly dressed" female wielding a sword/staff/magickal doohickey on the cover
  3. Historical fantasy (Patricia Wrede, etc)
  4. UK "women's novels" (Catherine Alliott, Marian Keyes, etc)
  5. Lesbian historical fiction (Emma Donoghue, etc)
  6. YA science fiction/fantasy (shelves and shelves of it)
  7. Terry Pratchett’s Sam Vimes, Death, or witches (a whole shelf of nothing but Pratchett)
  8. Woman in Regency-esque dress (F/NF … it doesn’t matter, but I own a lot of Heyer)
  9. "Classics" (Important Works "everyone" has read, but I have not ... doesn't keep me from buying more)
  10. Cookbooks, particularly those about fresh/seasonal cooking


Dawn of the Arcana, Volume 1 by Rei Toma

Two secondary royals, married to each other in order to forge a (temporary) peace between their warring nations, each discover they might actually have a friend in the other. Princess Nakaba, from a much poorer and less cosmopolitan land, is very much a fish out of water in her husband's court and he doesn't help her out ... publicly, anyway. When they are alone together, he seems much nicer and more sympathetic to her plight. Nakaba, on her part, seems to want to make the best of things and is willing to try to fit in as long as that does not involve sacrificing her essential self to fit in. I think, if they could spend time alone together away from court and family expectations, they would get along pretty well.

I like that Nakaba, Caesar, and Loki don't seem to be a love triangle. I mean, Nakaba and Caesar just met and married -- they've barely begun to sort their differences out. Falling in love with each other is unlikely, at best. And while it's clear Loki and Nakaba love each other, it doesn't seem to be a romantic love -- something born more of philia and agape than eros.

The clothes are quite lovely (which is good as clothes are clearly a shorthand for "belongingness"), most of the characters (even the unlikeable ones) are interesting, and the world-building is off to a good start. Also, there's the whole "Nakaba might be magic" thing no-one but Loki has picked up on yet.

Yes. A red-headed princess who might be magic. I was born to love this manga.

Dawn of the Arcana, Volume 1 by Rei Toma (Viz Media, 2011)


Top 10 Tuesday: Liked More/Liked Less

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the boisterous Broke & Bookish, topic is "Top Ten Books I Thought I'd Like MORE/LESS Than I Did." To make it easier, I broke my list into two groups.

Liked More Than I’d Expected:
  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collin
  2. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  4. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  5. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Liked Less Than I’d Expected:
  1. Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  2. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. The Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
I tried to figure out of there was a particular reason why I ended up liking a novel less than I had expected and I've decided it all came down to hype. The more I was exposed to/made aware of those novels by sources I valued (reviews, friends, etc), the higher my expectations and the more likely those expectation were not to be met. Novels I was barely exposed to before reading created few if any expectations and I was more likely to enjoy them.

Interestingly (?), this is not true for novels I read in school. I felt over-exposed to them, approached them with low expectations, and yet was frequently surprised by how much I ended up enjoying them.


Happy Birthday, Charlotte Bronte

"I would always rather be happy than dignified."

I added a little whatchamacallit to iCal that tells me which famous authors were born on a given day. It's dangerous, because it distracts me from the reading I'm supposed to be doing by sending me down The Rabbit Hole of Nostalgia ... "Charlotte Bronte's birthday? How long since I last read Jane Eyre? Should read it again! Where is my copy? How old is my copy? I was eleven? Eleven!"

To my surprise, I see I no longer own my much water-stained (too much reading in the bath) and worn childhood copy of Jane Eyre. It was a 1962 Campus Classic Scholastic edition (purchased in the late 80s) and it was simply ugly.

But it was mine and I loved the story between its covers with all the obsessive love only a eleven-year-old girl can bring to the table. I was totes in love with Jane/Helen. I didn't know what shipping was (did it even have a name, way back then?) but I shipped them hard. Oh, I still wanted Mr. Rochester to be around. All dark and unhandsome and grumbly. And let's not forget lovely Miss Temple! But it was Jane and Helen I built my Jane Eyre universe on. (Which is a bit ridiculous, considering how little Jane and Helen there is to the novel, and how hard I also crushed on Mr. Rochester ... I was eleven, I was in love with everything and everyone all the time, for pete's sake).

And now, I think I need to go forth and acquire a new copy of Jane Eyre and, maybe, her other novels because I've never actually read anything else by her. Oh, I meant to. But why read Shirley when Jane Eyre was a time-tested pleaser?


Figgy Ham Quesdilla & Flatbread

I made a delicious fig spread for March's Eating the Alphabet Challenge and, while I've found it's great on crackers with little blue cheese, I've been wondering what it would be like in a ham panini -- smoked ham, creamy havarti, peppery arugula, thick crusty bread. Trouble is, I don't have any bread in the house. Nor do I own a panini press.

But I do have tortillas and a skillet ...

Fig Havarti Ham Quesadilla

Fig Spread & Ham Quesadilla
Serves 1 or 2, depending

2 Tbsp neufchâtel
¼ cup havarti cheese, shredded [Boar's Head Cream Havarti]
2 Tbsp fig spread
2 thin slices black forest ham, sliced into fine ribbons [Boar's Head Lower Sodium]
1 handful arugula
2 8-inch whole wheat tortillas

Smear one tortilla with fig spread and the other with cream cheese leaving a ½-inch border around the edge.

Sprinkle one tortilla with shredded cheese, arugula, and ham. Cover with remaining tortilla.

Fig Havarti Ham Quesadilla

Lay the quesadilla in a very hot nonstick skillet. Cook on each side until the tortilla is crisp and golden (about 1 minutes for each side).

Remove from skillet and let sit 1-2 minutes. Cut into 4 wedges and serve with a small green salad dressed with (fig!) balsamic vinegar and olive or flax oil.
You can also make a fancy-pants flatbread "pizza" using most of the same ingredients -- smear fig spread around like you would tomato sauce on a flatbread and top with shredded havarti. Broil just until the cheese is melted and the flatbread is a little brown around the edges. Top with arugula, ham, a drizzle of fig balsamic vinegar and season with fresh ground black pepper. A sprinkling of crumbled blue cheese wouldn't go amiss, either.

Fig, Ham, Havarti & Arugula Flatbread

This is definitely a knife-and-fork pizza ... or, if you're a barbarian like me, you can roll up the flatbread and eat it like a wrap!


Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo

The grief flooded through me, dissolving a knot that I hadn't even known was there. I closed my eyes, feeling tears slide down my cheeks, and I reached out for the thing within me that I'd kept hidden for so long. I'm sorry, I whispered to it.
I'm sorry I left you so long in the dark.
I'm sorry, but I'm ready now.

Alina, an apprentice cartographer serving at the front of a protracted war, unleashes a surprising power to save Mal, the boy she loves. This brings Alina to the attention of the government who hope to use her to save the country. She's separated from Mal and packed off to magic school where she is supposed to learn how to use her power. Of course, Alina's a terrible student, the other (prettier) girls make fun of her, and she doesn't feel like she belongs. And then there's this older guy, very dark and powerful, who makes her feel a bit funny but can't seriously be interested in her because she's Not Good Enough for him. So there's that.

I don't really know how I felt about Shadow and Bone. While it clearly wasn't the best book I've read this year, I certainly didn't hate it. Admittedly, I spend much of the novel distracted from Alina's story by questions of how much Revka was really meant to be fairytale Russia and what the Grisha were actually wearing as, in this universe, kefta isn't a coat or overdress or whatever ... it's a delicious mixture of ground lamb and spices. Somehow, I don't think they're all meant to be emulating Lady Gaga. I think I kept trying to make Revka real, but it's almost Russia-ness kept getting in the way, and that's led to my ambivalence.

That said, I really did appreciate how Alina only became pretty and powerful by coming to grips with her feelings toward Mal and by accepting the gift she had so long suppressed ... not through the Tailor's skills or somesuch. Mind you, her keenness on acquiring an amplifier was a bit frustrating. So, again, ambivalence.

Shadow and Bone is the first book in a trilogy and, ambivalence be damned, I have placed myself on hold for the second, Siege and Storm, when it comes out in June.

Shadow and Bone (Book 1 of the Grisha Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt, 2012)


Improv Challenge: Eggs & Bacon

I admit I really had no idea what to do with April's Improv Challenge ingredients. Eggs and bacon are delish, yes, but how to make them interesting enough for the Improv Challenge without creating some kind of dangerous bacon-enhanced cupcake? Because that's what everyone thinks when they hear "eggs and bacon," right? Cupcakes?

I wandered through Pinterest, looking for savory recipes that served one or two. While I was toying with a recipe for sweet potato hash topped with a lovely soft poached egg, I stumbled across Living Paleo's recipe for "Sweet Potato, Bacon and Egg Salad" and knew I had found The One.

Bacon, Egg, & Sweet Potato Salad

Bacon, Egg, and Sweet Potato Salad
Adapted from Living Paleo's "Sweet Potato, Bacon and Egg Salad"
Serves 2

1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into thumbnail-sized cubes
2 large eggs
4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
4 Tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp finely minced shallot
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Hard-cook eggs according to your favorite method -- I put mine (6, because it's just as easy as 2) in a saucepan, cover them with cold water, put the lid on, and let them come to boil. Then I remove them from the stove and let them sit for 10 minutes. Submerge them in a bowl of ice water until cooled, peel, and chop.

Cook bacon according to your favorite method -- I baked mine on a foil-lined jelly roll pan at 400F° for about 20 minutes. I like a really crisp, slightly blackened bacon so ytmv.

Put sweet potato in a saucepan, cover with water, and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for about 4 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife.

Combine dill, mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest, and shallot in a medium mixing bowl. Add eggs, sweet potato, and bacon. Stir well. Season with pepper to taste.
The original recipe notes this salad can be eaten warm or cold. As it serves two, I ate half warm for breakfast and the other half cold over a bed of shredded romaine for lunch. While I think lunch's flavors were better for having sat a few hours, I preferred the salad warm. Therefore, I recommend you let it sit and then warm it a little in the microwave before you eat it. (The bacon seemed as crisp at lunch as at breakfast, so no worries about soggy bacon).


Top 10 Tuesday Rewind: Favorite Words

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the boisterous Broke & Bookish, is a rewind -- we pick past topics we haven't covered or want to revisit. I'm going with my top ten favorite words (TTS September 2010), because words are fun. These are not words I use often, if at all, but I do love how they feel in my mouth.
  1. Uvula
  2. Melancholy
  3. Tête-à-tête
  4. Umbrage
  5. Calendula
  6. Galoshes
  7. Babooshka
  8. Kerfuffle
  9. Gobsmack
  10. Hullabaloo
Mmm. Calendula. What words to you think have great mouthfeel?


Eating the Alphabet: F is for Figgy-Fig-Figs

I used to buy a yummy fig and ginger jam from Stonewall Kitchen, but stopped as I am the only one in my household who likes figs and it takes me so long to get through a 12.5 oz jar that the jam goes green and fuzzy before I see the bottom. I've pondered making my own jam and, since April's Eating the Alphabet challenge is E and/or F ingredients, I thought now would be as good a time as any to find a recipe.

I wanted a simple recipe with a straight-forward ingredient list. A refrigerator jam, of course, since I have no patience for hot-water baths and canning rigs. And obviously not a lot of jam, since it's just me.

While I looked at many recipes (some rather sophisticated with white wine and such), I ended up modifying a simple Weight Watchers recipe ... and a good thing, too, as it made a really yummy spread! Very figgy, but not too sweet and the lemon keeps it bright. Also very thick and sticky so, if you're like me and seriously uncoordinated in the morning, be careful not to smear it all over your eyeglasses.
Zesty Fig Spread
Modified from Weight Watchers' recipe
Makes about 1 cup of spread (2 tablespoons/serving)

7 oz package dried Mission figs, stems removed
1 heaping tsp fresh peeled diced ginger root
2 oz orange juice
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
⅛ tsp table salt

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated by ¾ the amount, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse on medium-high speed until mixture is well combined and smooth.
What can you do with this spread, you ask? Many delicious things! Put it on crackers with a little blue cheese.

Fig & Blue on Crackers

Make a flatbread pizza with it.

Fig, Ham, Havarti & Arugula Flatbread

Or a yummy quesadilla.

Fig Havarti Ham Quesadilla

Yay for figs! Figgy-fig-figs!


Twin Spica, Volume 2 by Kou Yaginuma

Asumi Kamogawa survived the practical exam and is now enrolled in Tokyo Space School along with several characters from Volume 1. She finds training hard, but doable and does her best to succeed. Indeed, school would be pretty good for Asumi except ... her astrophysics teacher is secretly working against her, trying to make her quit the school! But why? There must be more driving his antipathy than her family name and the cost of her space suit (tiny girl needs custom built suit).

This volume, as with the previous volume, includes two short stories from Asumi's childhood -- further enriching the back-story readers have already been given and making the characters even more compelling. It also gives us chance to spend more time with Mr. Lion since he didn't/couldn't follow Asumi to Tokyo Space School.

I admit I'm really rooting for Mr. Lion and Miss Suzunari to find some kind of happiness in the following volumes. Also, I still find Miss Ukita, the "snobby" rich girl, a bit off-putting and hope we'll get to her back-story soon as I'd like to understand her better. (Hopefully, both things will happen within the next two volumes, because I'm out of borrowable library copies after that).

Twin Spica, Volume 2 by Kou Yaginuma (Vertical, 2010)


Roasted Salmon & Asparagus

Since one of my "lifestyle changes" is to eat more wild caught fish of discoverable provenance, I've been buying bags of frozen wild caught Alaskan sockeye salmon fillets -- mainly because it's more convenient and slightly cheaper than fresh. Does frozen wild caught taste as good as fresh wild caught? Not quite, but it's still steps above fresh farmed.

Mind you, frozen or fresh, wild salmon is a lot leaner than the farm-raised stuff and so cooks faster. It seems obvious, but I didn't know and turned my first piece of wild caught salmon into salmon jerky. Ah well, practice makes perfect!

Salmon & Asparagus

Asparagus and salmon with garlic oil, minced shallot, fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Roasted, uncovered, in a 400F° oven for about 10 minutes.



Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite Books From Before The Blog

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the mighty Broke & Bookish, we talk about the top ten favorite books we read before we were bloggers. Do you even remember that? I remember that. It makes me feel old. No surprise then that the books I've listed are all from my childhood/early adulthood.
  1. The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip
  2. Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce
  3. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  4. Green Witch by Susan Cooper
  5. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  6. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
  7. Downbelow Station by C.J. Cherryh
  8. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  9. Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt
  10. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
I still own my much battered pre-blog editions of these books, too, as a favorite book is usually a favorite book forever. (I say "usually," because I admit there are a few favorites I have revisited that made me cringe and question my younger, pre-blogger, self's sensibilities).


Steak, Tomatoes, & Oven-Fried Potatoes

I was in the mood for steak and potatoes late last week and, happily, had a nice piece of organic grass fed steak in the freezer. I seared the steak in a very hot pan then popped it in a 400F° oven for 10 minutes. Came out perfect!

Steak, Tomatoes, & Potatoes

We ate the steak with sautéed cherry tomatoes and my mom's oven-fried potatoes. They're not really fried, but that's what she called them on the recipe card. They're really awesome potatoes and taste even better then next day with a runny egg.

Mom's Oven-Fried Potatoes

Yield: 4 generous servings


  • 6 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped into thumbnail-sized pieces
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Smoke paprika, as desired
  • Dried parsley, as desired


  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Brush 13x9 baking dish with a little olive oil or spritz with baking spray.
  2. Put potatoes and onions in dish. Liberally season with salt, pepper, and paprika. Toss. Dot with butter. Cover and bake 50 minutes.
  3. Uncover and broil 10 minutes longer or until browned and a little crunchy on top.

If you want to use fewer potatoes, that's fine. Just remember the rule of thumb is one tablespoon butter per potato. Also, be very liberal with the seasonings. I'm fond of Bourbon Barrel Foods' Bourbon Smoked Paprika, but Penzeys Smoked Spanish Paprika is also pretty fine.

Mom's Oven Fries


Lola: A Ghost Story by J. Torres & Elbert Or

Jesse, a Filipino Canadian boy, returns to the Philippines for his grandmother's (his lola's) funeral. His lola had visions and was considered blessed by many people, but Jesse found her a bit frightening and thinks she tried to drown him once because of the "evil" inside him. He's also haunted by the ghost of his cousin, JonJon, who drowned a few years before. JonJon's sister, Maritess, is convinced Jesse has inherited their lola's gift and is adamant he should tell people, but Jesse is equally adamant no-one would believe him.

Lola is a low-key horror story with lots of creepiness simmering away under the surface. The dread builds slowly, but surely, and the ending -- startling in its unexpectedness and ambiguity -- is perfect. What will this boy, very much caught between two worlds, do?

Lola: A Ghost Story by J. Torres & Elbert Or (Oni Press, 2009)


Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

Just Like Heaven is a (mostly) quiet romance between friends. If you're looking for a tale of derring-do, secrets, and drama, this is not the romance for you. However, there's a real sweetness in the interplay between some of the characters and I found the whole simple friends-to-lovers story-line rather refreshing. They like each other. They've always liked each other. But now they realize there's love, too. Sigh.

I admit Chapter Twenty-One nearly ruined the novel for me. Premarital sexytimes in Honoria's bedroom in a house full of family and guests gathered for the annual Smythe-Smith musicale? Really? I don't doubt unmarried 1820s ladies and gentlemen got it on outside of marriage and in inappropriate places to boot, but it seemed out of character for Honoria and Marcus.

I had a similar reaction to the end of Quinn's What Happens In London back in 2009 ... is this her formula? I used to read a lot of Quinn, but that was a decade or more ago and I don't remember being annoyed by the sexytimes then. But I was a different reader then, too.

But that's one chapter out of twenty-three. As I said, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of Just Like Heaven and do recommend it to those who love a good friends to lovers story.

Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn (HarperCollins, 2011)