Stuff and Nonsense: August 2013


8.31.2013

Parmesan Roasted Summer Squash

Pork chops were buy one, get one at Price Chopper last week and my cunning plan was to grill one package and freeze the other ... but I forgot to put a package in the freezer when I came home from the shop and, whoops, it was at its sell-by date by the time I did remember. So we had grilled pork chops twice in one week after going months without eating any pork. (It's not that I've been avoiding pork so much as I just don't think about it).

Friday Supper

Rather than marinate the pork chops overnight, I rubbed the chops with a mixture of McCormick Grill Mates Southwest Marinade and brown sugar. I'd stocked up on Grill Mates a few weeks ago when they were on sale for 80¢ a piece. Yes, I could make my own marinades and rubs from scratch, but I can't be arsed. Anyway, the marinade-cum-rub was easy and gave the chops a nice smoky sweet 'n spicy flavor.

I served the chops with roasted summer squash and pilaf. The pilaf was a boxed mix prepared following the low fat directions where three tablespoons of water replaced the one tablespoon of fat normally used. The pilaf cooked up fine without the oil and it certainly didn't taste like anything was missing. I'm not sure why I was surprised the rice turned out fine as, when I make rice from scratch, I don't use any added fat and that rice always comes out fine.

The roasted summer squash turned out fantastic and I'll definitely make squash this way again. If you don't have access to Boxed Goodes' Allium Salt, something like Penzeys Fox Point Seasoning would also work well.
Parmesan Roasted Summer Squash
Serves 2 generously

Ingredients
2 6-inch yellow squash, slicked thickly
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
1 small red onion, quartered and pull into pieces
Cooking spray
Boxed Goodes Allium Salt (coarse sea salt, chives, onion, shallots), as needed
Black pepper, as needed
Grated Parmesan cheese, as needed

Directions
Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment. Lay vegetables flat on pan. Lightly spritz vegetables with cooking spray. Sprinkle them with allium salt, pepper, and Parmesan.

Roasted Summer Squash & Friends

Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until they are tender. Turn on broiler and broil until cheese browns and peppers begin to char.

8.28.2013

8.27.2013

Eating the Alphabet: M is for Mango (& Mint!)

For this August's Eating the Alphabet Challenge we're selecting M, N, and/or O ingredients. I chose mango and mint (with a little bit of spring onion) and made a yummy quinoa salad appropriate for breakfast or a light lunch. It was only after I'd made and eaten the salad that I realized it might be better to save it for September's tricky "Q" and make a different mango and mint dish for August. Trouble is, it's nearly the end of the month and I haven't come up with anything I liked better!

Mango & Mint

Mango is one of my favorite flavors, but it's not a fruit I cook with much. For the Eating the Alphabet Challenge, I wanted to push the envelope a little by trying something more savory, rather than going for a sweet like mango lassi or pudding. I paired the mango with mint simply because I thought it sounded like a great idea and not because I actually knew how the two would work together. I also decided to add spring onions (scallions) to my ingredients list as I reckoned the inclusion of onion would land whatever I made squarely in the land of savory. Also, it's an "O" ingredient and I am nothing if not an overachiever.

Mango, Mint, and Quinoa Salad

I based my salad on BBC Foods' Quinoa Salad With Mint and Mango" recipe, but I changed it up a bit -- adding crushed almonds, increasing the mint, decreasing the spring onions, and cooking the quinoa in orange juice.
Mango and Mint Quinoa Salad

Ingredients
4 oz quinoa, well rinsed
8 oz fresh orange juice
1 mango, peeled, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves (omit stems to avoid soapy flavor)
2 spring onions, including the green parts, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
zest and juice of ½ a lime
4 Tbsp crushed unsalted roasted almonds

Directions
Toss mango with mint, cilantro, onions, lime juice and zest, and olive oil. Set aside and allow the flavors to marry.

Meanwhile, cook quinoa in orange juice using your favorite method. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Toss quinoa with mango mixture. Divide between two plates. Garnish with extra mango and mint and crushed almonds.
This is a fabulously refreshing summery salad well-suited to a humid August morning. The flavors are really clean and bright and the whole thing positively shouts "good health!"

That said, this salad is best eaten within a few hours of making it. You don't want to refrigerate it unless you're going to let it come back up to room temperature before consuming. Trust me, it just doesn't taste very good chilled.

If you want to add meat to this dish and serve it for lunch or supper, I would serve it over a bed of baby greens with a skewer of citrus-grilled shrimp.


Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite Secondary Characters


This week, for Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about our favorite secondary characters. I know the protagonists always get all the fame and glory, but a well-wrought secondary character can steal the book. (Indeed, if a protagonist has a smartass side-kick, I'm pretty much guaranteed to prefer the side-kick).
  1. Calcifer, Howl's not always trustworthy fire demon in Howl's Moving Castle.
  2. Charlotte Lucas of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I've always loved her and her sensibility, but that's probably because I know I am no romantic heroine. Mr. Darcy is lovely and all, but I'd have settled for Mr. Collins, because I am no Elizabeth Bennet. And then I, too, would have encouraged Mr. Collins to spend a lot of time in his garden or study.
  3. Madame Therese Defarge, that pitiless tricoteuse from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. She's not really a secondary character, considering how much influence she has, but the bulk of the novel's focus lies with England and the Darnays.
  4. Narknon, Harry's leggy porridge-loving hunting cat in Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword. She steals nearly every scene she's in.
  5. Raederle of An. Appearing in Patricia McKillip's The Riddle-Master Trilogy, Raederle starts off as a vague princess-shaped prize to be won, but quickly becomes a power to be reckoned with.
  6. Susan Baker, "the gray and grim and faithful handmaiden of the Blythe family at Ingleside." She first appears in Anne's House of Dreams. She used to annoy me, but has grown on me as I've matured.
  7. Samwise Gamgee, Frodo Baggins' companion in Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings. He's loyal, brave, dependable, and loves his Rosie Cotton.
  8. Talb, the Little Mage of the Caves of Downwending. In Meredith Pierce's The Darkangel Trilogy, he helps Aeriel survive life as handmaiden to the vampyre's many dead wives.
  9. The Death of Rats. He first appeared with all the other Small Deaths in Terry Pratchett's Reaper Man, but was allowed to keep existing when the rest were reabsorbed. "Squeak?" "SQUEAK."
  10. The Luggage, an ambulatory chest made out of sapient pearwood that first appears in The Colour of Magic. Trust Terry Pratchett to make luggage awesome.

8.23.2013

The Golden Cage by Tereska Torrès


Torrès is also the author of Women's Barracks -- the first lesbian pulp novel and something I've been trying to through my library system ever since I read Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969. A novel about lesbians serving among de Gaulle's Free French forces during World War II? A novel that was condemned by the 1952 House Select Committee into Current Pornographic Materials? Of course I want to read it.

But, while I wait for a copy, I read The Golden Cage.

The Golden Cage begins with a young Polish girl on "the last train" out of Spain with her family in 1940. Constantly on the run (dad is a deserter and they're all nominally Jewish), the family is currently heading to Brazil via Lisbon. Unfortunately, at the Portuguese border, the train travelers all find they will not be allowed to travel on to Lisbon, but will be diverted to a seaside resort called Figueira da Foz. There, they are assured, they will be most comfortable and if they wish to pass on to Lisbon from Figueira, why then they need just fill out the necessary paperwork and wait!

And wait.

And, while they wait, they have petit affairs and dramas to distract them from what is happening beyond the beach resort, where it is always sunny and the war seems like a bad dream. Teenage Emmanuel falls for a worldly actress who is also the mistress of studly Rodrigo who was once the lover of Pascale who is now the wife of Antoine who is obsessed with the Free French Army and his wife's proto-romance with Debby, the cowboy-boot-wearing baby dyke. And other iterations of lust and longing.

Despite all the bed-hopping and lustful flirtations, The Golden Cage never feels even remotely titillating. Like a bad pantomime, the characters seem to be going through the motions. We're told too often about Pascale's unhealthy desires (and bad housekeeping ... as if bad housekeeping were code for nascent lesbianism) and Rodridgo's depravity -- he sleeps with men and women (sometimes at the same time!), likes candles and velvet draperies (who doesn't?), and owns an impressive porn collection -- but not shown what that means in the form of, say, character development or plot. It's possible The Golden Cage is just too subtle for my jaded 21st century queer feminist sensibilities, but it just feels ho-hum. A lot of people who wouldn't normally have much in common find themselves trapped together in paradise and proceed to have a lot of sex, because what else is there to do? Even that terse summation makes it sound more exciting than it is.

Admittedly, it's not just sex -- there's a lot of daily drama over who might know what about getting visas, and a few dust-ups over religion (no-one likes the Jewish Catholics), and Janka's dad might be moon-lighting as an abortionist -- but none if it seems to really signify anything. It's just ... people doing stuff before they go on to do (probably similar) stuff somewhere else?

Also, the lesbians never get it on. Everyone else gets it on (some of it quite rapey), but not the lesbians. Matter-of-fact, it seems like lesbianism is very much a stage for the two characters and they're both on their way to being happy heterosexual ladies.

BLARG.

The Golden Cage written by Tereska Torrès w/ trans by Meyer Levin (The Dial Press, 1959)

8.21.2013

Wordless Wednesday: Granite Quarry

Rock of Ages, Barre
Rock of Ages, Barre, Vermont

Rock of Ages, Barre
The tiny yellow blobs are people.

Rock of Ages, Barre
600 feet deep!

8.20.2013

Top 10 Tuesday: Things That Make Life As A Reader/Book Blogger Easier


This week, for Top Ten Tuesday, we're talking about all the little (and big) things that make life easier as a reader and/or book blogger.
  1. A laptop. Unlike my old desktop computer, it can go wherever the books go and I read all over the place.
  2. A TV with no reception. The internet already interferes too much with reading time ... add the distraction of a TV to the mix and when would I read?
  3. Amazon preorders. This is the only way I will ever stay current with the graphic novel/manga/manhwa series I
  4. An understanding spouse who does not mind being ignored/underfed because of The Reading.
  5. Being able to "pause" or "delay" library holds. So many books, but only two eyeballs!
  6. Many comfortable chairs. I am a fidgety reader and cannot simply sit one way in one chair ... no, I must constantly squirm about and dangle legs over chair arms, etc.
  7. My slow cooker. Dump food in and wander off to read/blog books knowing food will get made "all on its own."
  8. Notepad/notepad app. I like to jot down thoughts about books I'm reading, as I read them, because I'm likely to forget them by the next chapter.
  9. RSS feeds. I'm sure the blogs I read are very pretty, but reading aggregated posts is more convenient and saves time -- seriously, I do not know what 90% of the blogs I read actually look like, but you are all writing good stuff.
  10. Scheduling posts. I used to feel guilty about scheduling posts -- that I should write/publish about a book as soon as I'd finished reading it or not at all -- but life just doesn't work that way.

8.18.2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.

A man returns to Sussex for a funeral and, while driving through his old village, ends up at the house of a friend he has not seen since childhood. She's not there -- "gone away to Australia" years ago -- but her mother is and greets him warmly enough and allows him to look around. He goes out back to the pond ... and falls down the rabbit hole of memory.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane grabbed me at the start, held me firmly until the end, and then faltered a little -- mostly, I think, because the ending moved the story squarely out of the magical possibility of childhood and back into a wholly unmagical adulthood. I really had no real reason to care for the adult narrator. Particularly as he would not remember any of it again!

However, I did like that there wasn't a lot of explanation about why the world worked as it did -- things happened and while some where quite terrible they fit the story and made sense. More explanations would have just muddied things.

Over all, I was surprised by how much I liked The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Gaiman's works are pretty hit-or-miss for me and this book arrived on my desk so highly recommended that merely looking at it made me feel positively skittish.

As much as I liked it, though, I admit it wasn't surprising. If you've read Gaiman's other works then you're pretty familiar with the idea mythical beings dwell among us, lurking in hidden corners down forgotten footpaths. And there's a lot of that in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It's well done with some exquisite descriptions, but it wasn't anything new.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, 2013)

8.16.2013

Chard Slaw, Because I Can

We had my parents up for a picnic and I wanted to serve a slaw with the turkey burgers and pasta salad, but I had far more chard on hand than cabbage and it seemed a good idea to use the chard I grew rather than go buy someone else's cabbage, but I didn't want to do a hot dish ... so I made a chard slaw.

Chard Slaw

I used Better Homes and Gardens' "Vinaigrette Coleslaw" recipe as my base (what would I do without my red-and-white gingham standby?) but tarted it up a bit with sriracha and whatnot.
Chard Slaw
Makes at least six side dish servings

Ingredients
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
[Katz Sauvignon Blanc Agrodolce Vinegar]
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp sriracha
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp ground caraway
½ tsp mustard powder
4 cups chard sliced into thin ribbons (save stems for a later use ... like pickles)
1 cup coarsely shredded red cabbage
1 cup shredded carrots
½ shallot, minced
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
Whisk together vinegar, honey, oil, sriracha, ground caraway, mustard, salt, and pepper.

In a large bowl combine chard, cabbage, carrots, and red onion. Pour vinaigrette over cabbage mixture. Toss lightly to coat. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
Chard Slaw

I'd recommend eating this within a day of making it, because the chard started to get a bit soggy by the second day.

I think the slaw came out pretty well for a first try -- my mother certainly liked it -- and I will make it again but I might add chopped toasted almonds (or hazelnuts) and dried cranberries (or cherries). Also, maybe a little crumbled blue cheese? But would it even be a slaw then?

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple


The sight of other people’s happiness irritated her. Happy people were so boring. It was unintelligent to be happy, Louise considered.

Happily married Ellen and Avery North lead a charmed in the English countryside. Handsome Avery is a partner in a London publishing house and commutes into the city daily while Ellen, a truly happy housewife, putters about the gardens in her gumboots and oversees the maids. Their fine son, Hugh, is away serving compulsory service in the Army while their daughter, the merry Anne, is at boarding school and very much in love with her horse, Roma. Altogether, they make the perfect portrait of a happy family. The only flaw in the picture is Avery's widowed mother, the querulous Old Mrs. North.

Feeling she's not getting enough attention from her family, Old Mrs. North advertises for a companion and is charmed by a young French woman, Louise Lanier. Beautiful Louise longs for position, loves elegant things, and is recovering (albeit badly) from a failed love affair with the youngest son of local gentry. Louise is furious with Paul for leaving her to marry an insipid little creature of better breeding and she longs to hurt them both. Meanwhile, she turns her desire to hurt on the Norths. Not, I think, deliberately at first but more like in the way a bored house cat will seek a little mischief. However, Louise doesn't seem to know when to stop or, perhaps, doesn't want to stop and things go too far. For a time, she utterly destroys the North's happiness and she certainly ruins any chance of ever being happy in her own right.

Louise was very much the kind of villain it's impossible not to sympathize with while hating. Many times I wanted to take her by her (imaginary) shoulders and say "Look, you can't go on this way. Forget the damage you're doing to everyone else -- this can do you no good." But I'm sure Louise would have dismissed me as yet another ridiculous happy middle-aged married woman and gone on her merry self-destructive way.

Really, I enjoyed Someone at a Distance a great deal and look forward to reading more of Whipple's works. Her characters, and there are many, are all well-crafted and it's hard not to see them as real people in real situations. Even though I finished the novel well over a week ago, I find I cannot stop thinking about it. While the story was at times a painful one, it was also full of hope and gentleness. The descriptions of country life and comfortable domesticity carefully woven through with the full unavoidable horror of the situation ... well, it all made for a bang-up read.

If you're going to read Someone at a Distance, I strongly recommend reading Nina Bawden's preface last as it gives away too much of the plot. But don't skip it outright as it's simply too good to skip!

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple (Persephone Books, 2011)

8.14.2013

Wordless Wednesday: In the Wood

Bridge
We are the Trees.
  Our dark and leafy glade
Bands the bright earth with softer mysteries.
              "Song of the Trees" (excerpt) by Mary Colborne-Veel

8.13.2013

Top 10 Tuesday: Favorite Bath Romances


This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a bit of a free-for-all as we're to list our top ten favorite books in X setting (where X can be anywhere, anywhen). As it's my fourteenth wedding anniversary today and The Husband is English, here are my favorite 10 14 romantic novels set in Bath! Or The Bath, if you read any Chesney.
  1. A Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer
  2. A Proper Companion by Candice Hern
  3. An Accomplished Woman by Jude Morgan
  4. Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer
  5. Belinda Goes to Bath by Marion Chesney
  6. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
  7. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
  8. Evelina by Fanny Burney
  9. Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer
  10. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  11. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  12. Slightly Scandalous by Mary Balogh
  13. The Marriage List by Dorothy McFalls
  14. The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

8.09.2013

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl



I sighed. When would I learn to speak with a tactful tongue? There went another one. I kept forgetting how ridiculously sensitive and illogical men were. He assumed that his fortune would buy a beauty; I assumed that my beauty would procure me a rich husband. It seemed much the same to me, but evidently what was permissible in a man was not in a woman.

Ah well. There was yet time; I was but seventeen.

Althea needs to marry well to keep up the crumbling folly of a castle built by her great-grandfather, and to support her widowed mother, young brother, and two wealthy but parsimonious step-sisters. Luckily, Lord Boring and his (annoying/rude/infuriating ... we all know where this is going, right?) cousin/business manager, Mr. Fredericks, come to live nearby and suddenly life in Lesser Hoo is full of new possibilities. If only Althea’s two fabulously rich (and fabulously horrible) stepsisters don’t muck things up. And the castle doesn’t fall down before she can get married. And Mr. Fredericks, that jumped-up nobody, would stop being so annoying.

Delightful novel! Hilarious novel! Adorable novel! Stuffed with enough funny/sweet/romantic incidents to make any lover of light Regencies swoon, but not larded with unnecessary verbiage or plot points. Unlike some other Austen/Heyer homages I’ve read lately , I never felt as if I was reading my way through a checklist of Regency romance must haves -- the novel certainly owes a great deal to Austen and Heyer, but it feels more like a love letter to the two than something written to Make All the Monies.

And, oh! The character names! Such excellent and utterly ridiculous names -- Lord Boring, The Marquis of Bumbershook, Mr. Godalming (which I always read as Mr. Goddamning), Miss Sneech, and Greengages the butler.

Keeping the Castle: A Tale of Romances, Riches, and Real Estate by Patrice Kindl (Viking, 2012)

8.06.2013

Top 10 Tuesday: Books I Wish Had Sequels


This week, for Top Ten Tuesday, we’re talking about the top ten standalones we think deserved sequels. I had difficulty coming up with a list of ten because, frankly, I feel there are just too many darn sequels and series in Book Land and I’d like to see more standalones. Still, there are a few standalones I wouldn’t mind reading more of:
  1. Deerskin by Robin McKinley: The ending was perfect, but my inner fangirl needs to know what happened after. Does Lissar and Ossin’s relationship thrive? Does Ossin’s sister find happiness? And what about all the puppies?
  2. Sunshine by Robin McKinley: I need more of that world and more back-story on the Voodoo Wars. If I can’t have a sequel, I’ll settle for same-universe-different-characters.
  3. The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip: I’ve always wanted to know if Peri became a wizard and if she and Lyo had a long-term romance. Also, do the princes have a happily-ever-after? Signs point to yes, but guesses aren’t the same as knowing.
  4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: I both want and don’t want a sequel. I want to know that Offred successfully escaped and found some happiness, but I’m not sure a sequel would work as the real world has moved on and Offred’s fictional one feels a bit ... hokey? It's certainly not the nightmare future I worry about.
  5. The Harpist in the Wind by Patricia McKillip: The ending brims with possibility. "The sun set slowly; dusk wandered across the realm, walked behind them on the road, a silver-haired stranger." And. Then. WHAT.
  6. The Libyrinth by Pearl North: I really enjoyed the story, but it’s one of the few novels I feel would have benefit from fattening up and spreading across two volumes.
  7. The Ring by Bobbie Pyron: It felt like the start of something bigger, but nothing else has been published! *cries*
  8. The Stolen Law by Anne Mason: Have wanted a sequel to this since I was twelve and know there is no likelihood of it happening now, but I loved Kira and wanted to know what happened with the explorer ship and the Vallusians. Happily, there is fanfic.
That’s only eight out of ten, but that’s the best I can do. I’ve been working on this list since last Tuesday and I just can’t think of any more standalone novels I truly, madly, deeply need sequels to. What about you? What books make you go “more, more, more?”

8.02.2013

Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer


I need to cook something. I need to lose myself in something else besides the fractured light of my own memory. I'll cook a big supper as a thank-you for being so welcoming. I'll cook. And not think about crying at cemeteries, principals walking down hallways with squeaky shoes, and, most of all, about Everett Coburn ... No. I'll cook. It'll be fine. I've not been thinking about Everett Coburn for going on twenty years.

Queen Elizabeth Wake (Queenie) is a fine chef, but can never hold a job down for long because, among other quirks, she can't stop telling people how they should eat. Ketchup on eggs? Never! (Note to self: do not invite Queenie over for brunch). Finally, at both emotional and financial lose ends, Queenie finds she has no choice but to go home to Texas and the town she's been running from for years. Queenie doesn't intend to stay, but the more time she spends with her sister and nephew the more she thinks that, maybe, it's time to face down old gossip. Oh yes, try living this down -- not enough your Mama slept with every man in sight, but then she gets herself killed by her best friend after being caught "in the act" with said friend's husband! Naughty!

Nowhere But Home was one of those stories that manages to be both funny and moving and just immensely satisfying. A perfect book for reading on the porch with a cool glass of iced tea and the scent of a neighbors' barbecue in the air. It was easy to become swept up in the petty dramas played out between the Wake sisters and the clique of small-minded judgmental women that seemed to dominate the town.

This novel made me cry three times. Three! And I still kept reading! I knew Queenie's job cooking last meals would play havoc with my emotions, but I didn't realize how much power her cooking would have over me.

Speaking of food, if there's one thing I didn't like about Nowhere But Home was the lack of recipes! The novel made me hungry! All the talk of food -- especially ribs -- made me crave some serious home cooking. I actually ended up making ribs, but they weren't as good as I imagine the fictional ones were. I know I'm going to sound like a big ol' food nerd, but I wish the author had included a few recipes.

Nowhere But Home by Liza Palmer (William Morrow, 2013)