Stuff and Nonsense: October 2013


Wordless Wednesday: Skull

My Cats Are Killers
Our cats have been hiding bodies in the shrubs, again.


Top 10 Tuesday: Scariest Book Covers

With Halloween just a few days away, we're focusing on the scariest-looking book covers for Top Ten Tuesday. I went with the scariest covers I could find, but I know fear is a subjective thing so you might just find some of these covers a bit silly.

Terrified me at 17, but the back was even worse.

The nightmare-inducing back.

The thing with the crank! The sewn up mouth!

Gave me nightmares at 12.

The eyes!


Starts cute, but then that skull ...

I grew up near the ocean. This ruined my childhood.

That's only seven, but I don't read a lot of scary stuff so that's the best I can do!

(I think it's safe to say I'm creeped out by eyes and teeth).


Wordless Wednesday: Lake Winnipesaukee

Bigger Water, Land, Sky
Looking out over Lake Winnipesaukee from Ellacoya State Park.


Top 10 Tuesday: Character Names

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, we get to pick ten character names we love. I went with names I love the sound of, regardless of how I actually feel about the characters themselves. For example, Gogrilla Mincefriend is a truly excellent name, but I have no real feelings about that particular character from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

There's more than ten names here, but I stuck with ten works (sorta).
  1. Anathema Device and Newton Pulsifer from Good Omens
  2. Bathsheba Everdene, Fanny Robin, etc. from Far From the Madding Crowd
  3. Constable Visit-the-Infidel-with-Explanatory-Pamphlets, Cheery Littlebottom, etc. from The Discworld series
  4. Eustace Clarence Scrubb and Puddleglum the Marshwiggle from The Chronicles of Narnia
  5. Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's
  6. Horatia Winwood from The Convenient Marriage (It's just so plummy!)
  7. Neville Longbottom, Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, Bathsheba Babbling, etc. from Harry Potter books.
  8. Rowsby Woof, Fairy Wogdog, Queen Dripslobber, etc. from Watership Down
  9. Slartibartfast, Gogrilla Mincefriend, Zaphod Beeblebrox, etc. from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
  10. Nearly everyone in Bleak House (Volumnia Dedlock, Miss Flite, Mr Guppy ...).


Lasagna: Or, Lasagne

Lasagne. Lasagna. It seems fancy, but really it's not. Or it isn't the way I make it, which is as a vehicle for using up stuff (making it the perfect dish for clearing out the fridge or freezer). I use the directions on the back of the Barilla Oven Ready Lasagne noodles as my guide, substituting whatever sauces, meats, vegetables, and cheeses I have on hand.


This time 'round I used:
  • 32 oz container Sankow's Beaver Brook Farm lamb bolognese, thawed
  • 6 oz pureed fire-roasted diced tomatoes (leftover from making personal pizzas)
  • 15 oz part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups shredded cheese (combo of light cheddar and various cheese blends)
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
  • 12 Barilla Oven Ready Lasagne noodles
(No vegetables in this one as the barley vegetable soup I made the other week took care of all the open bags and then some).

I served the lasagne with steamed green beans and thick sliced Wave Hill Breads Caramelized Garlic Country Loaf smeared with buttered and toasted under the broiler. It was a delicious, comforting meal

And now there's room in the cheese drawer for new cheese! Quick, to the cheesemonger's!


Improv Challenge: Cake & Frosting

When I saw that October's Improv Challenge ingredients were cake and frosting, I immediately knew I wanted to try baking a boozy spice cake using beer in place of water in the mix. I've been wanting to try this method ever since one of my in-the-know coworkers mentioned it could be done with just about any beer or liquor and cake mix.

Ginger Beer Cupcakes w/ Ginger Beer Frosting

Keeping with the season, I used a spice cake mix, baking spice, apple sauce, crystallized ginger bits, and a bottle of Crabbie's splendorous Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Obviously, any beer you like will probably work. I might try this again with Woodchuck Pumpkin Ale in the spice mix and there's Guinness in the basement that would go well in a dark chocolate mix ...

Ginger Beer Cupcake Ingredients

It was my plan to make a dozen cupcakes and an 8-inch round. The round would be for me and the cupcakes would be for work. Alas, I did not grease the cake round well enough and the cake would not come out ... until I banged it really hard against the counter. Then it came out in bits. Well played, cake round, well played.

The cake was still pretty yummy, anyway, and I happily ate bits of it as I frosted the cupcakes.
Beery Spicy (Cup)cakes

Cake Ingredients
1 spice cake mix [Betty Crocker SuperMoist]
1 bottle seasonal beer, at room temperature
1 tsp baking spice blend [Penzeys]
Applesauce (in place of half the oil)
Whatever else ingredients your mix may call for

Cake Directions
Prepare your cake mix following the instructions on the back of the box, substituting applesauce for half or all of the oil and beer for the water or milk.

(I was a bit alarmed by how soupy the batter was but it thickened up considerably during the 2 minutes of medium beating).

Ginger Beer Cupcake Batter

Divide between a 8 or 9-inch baking round and a cupcake pan you've lined with cupcake liners. (It's easiest to fill all the cupcakes first (⅔ full) and then pour the extra into the baking round). Bake cupcakes as directed. Remove from oven. Put cake round in oven and bake as directed.

Allow everything to cool thoroughly before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients
1 cup shortening
½ tsp salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground ginger
6 Tbsp beer
Finely chopped crystallized ginger, as needed for garnish

Frosting Directions
Beat together everything but the crystallized ginger until fluffy. Add additional beer if the frosting seems too stiff to spread.

Use a cupcake corer or small spoon to scoop some of the center out of each cupcake. Fill and ice with the frosting. Decorate with a scatter of ginger.

Ginger Beer Cupcakes w/ Ginger Beer Frosting

The cupcakes were very light and fluffy with an excellent gingery bite. The frosting, too, was nicely gingery and, overall, I was very pleased with how well everything turned out. One of my coworkers said they were the best cupcakes she had every eaten which made me blush, to say the least. (They were good, but not that good).


Wordless Wednesday: Church Clock Tower

Church Spire
First Congregational Church, 1832. Love the weather vanes.


Top 10 Tuesday: Books I Was Forced To Read

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, I'm doing the top ten books I was "forced" to read for college. I don't think I would have come to these works/authors on my own, but they were required reading at college and opened my eyes to a much more varied world of literature than I'd previously encountered. Prior to college, my literary diet was a heavy mix of fantasy and science fiction with a few favorite rereads like Jane Eyre and the Anne books. I was a happy reader, but a narrow one.

  1. Angels in America by Tony Kushner (a play, but read like poetry).
  2. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
  3. Donald Duk by Frank Chin
  4. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  5. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  6. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  7. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
  8. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
  9. The Plague by Albert Camus
  10. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

College gave me access to so many books and really changed how/what I read. The library was full of books. There was even this thing called interlibrary loan where I could get books from libraries all over New England. And I had a campus job so I was earning money and far enough from home there was no-one to tell me to not spend it all on books. (Is it a wonder I changed my major to English literature?)

Eating the Alphabet: S is for Sorrel

I tend to think of sorrel as a spring green as it usually dies back at the onset of hot weather and does not return again until the following spring. However, this year my sorrel came back with a burst of green in early September and has been going strong ever since.

While sorrel (also known spinach dock) looks a bit like young spinach, it tastes very bright and sharp and green -- the long lost love child of spinach plant and a lemon tree? While sorrel can be eaten raw in salads or just on its on, I prefer it cooked with other ingredients to balance out its distinctive tang.

Unfortunately, cooked sorrel tends to turn a singularly unattractive shade of gray-green. I've no idea how to keep this from happening -- I think lemon juice usually keeps cooked greens from changing color, but sorrel's so tart already that adding lemon seems inadvisable. The color is not such a big deal in a brothy soup where the sorrel is mixed with chunks of potatoes and other vegetables, but it is a bit off-putting by itself.

So making a sorrel sauce for September's Eating the Alphabet Challenge? A delicious idea, certainly, but the results were not aesthetically pleasing.

Tilapia w/ Sorrel Sauce & Sorrel-Smashed Potatoes

Yes, that sauce is baby poop green. But it's yummy -- bright, tart, creamy -- and went surprisingly well with the baked tilapia. I'd half expected the sauce would overwhelm the mild tilapia, but the fish held its own. Still, I think the sauce would be awesome with something like baked salmon. Or with steak, as a substitute for chimichurri sauce!

(Of course, supper might have looked a smidge more attractive if I hadn't left the plates in our warm oven for two hours while a salesman successfully sold us a bridge).
Sorrel Sauce
Serves 2 plus leftovers

4 oz sorrel leaves, stemmed and washed
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp half and half
1 tsp dried thyme, crushed
½ tsp garlic powder
Salt and black pepper to taste

Roll the wet sorrel leaves up like a cigar and slice into thin ribbons (chiffonade).

Chopped Sorrel

Add to a saucepan with olive oil, thyme, and garlic powder.

Chopped Sorrel

Cook, covered on medium, for about 5 minutes or until sorrel is greatly reduced and gone an unattractive baby-gak green.

Wilted Sorrel

Remove from heat, add a splash of half and half, and puree until smooth. Add a little more half and half until desired thickness is reached. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Try not to dwell on the color.

Sorrel Sauce

Serve over fish or meat.

Because I had chopped more sorrel than I needed, I decided to make sorrel-smashed potatoes to go with the fish! The sorrel's flavor was, obviously, much more subtle than in the sauce, but still gave the potatoes a slight lemony tang that was really quite nice.

Sorrel-Smashed Potatoes
Serves 2

12 oz small unpeeled red potatoes
1½ oz sorrel leaves
2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter, melted
⅓ cup half and half, warmed
Salt and black pepper to taste

Cook your potatoes however you like (I steamed mine whole in the microwave).

Meanwhile, roll the sorrel leaves up like a cigar and slice into thin ribbons (chiffonade, again). Place sorrel in a small saucepan with the oil. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until sorrel is completely wilted.

Add sorrel, butter, and half-and-half to potatoes. Mash until desired texture is reached, adding more half and half if necessary. Season with salt and pepper.
(Another way to do this would be to stir any extra sorrel sauce into your already mashed potatoes).


The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

She was scrubbing furiously at a line of grease spots which led from the stove towards the door to the dining-room.

See the Knapp Family. See Mrs. Knapp, Evangeline, such a perfect home-maker with her well-scrubbed floors and punctual suppers. See her three (mostly) well-scrubbed and (mostly) obedient children. See Mr. Knapp, Lester, manfully supporting his family. See their unconscious resentment. See their misery. See their desperation.

But. Lester loses his job and is then terribly injured in a house fire. So much so that everyone thinks he will die. And won't that be so awful for poor Mrs. Knapp and all the little Knapps? A terrible thing, to be a widow with young children! Who will take care of them? Surely, they'll have to get by on charity?

But. Lester lives. May never walk again, but still alive. Evangeline, seeing that ends must be met, goes to work at his old establishment. She takes to it like, well, a house on fire and is quickly proven indispensable.

Meanwhile, Lester takes on the housework. From library books he learns to cook and darn and the children help with what housekeeping they can manage.

Everyone is happier than they've been in years. The children blossom, Evangeline's eczema clears up, and Lester's heart is full of poetry. But it can't last, you know. A man must work to support his family. A mother must tend her hearth. Children should be seen and not heard.

And why? Tradition. Social norms. Whatever you want to call the patriarchal heteronormative whangdoodle society still runs by.

The Home-Maker is simply fabulous, darlings. A brilliant consideration of how women and men may live, share responsibilities, and raise children in a way that opens up their hearts and frees their spirits. If, reading this novel in 2013, it can still inspire in me such a desire for revolution then I can only imagine what fire it would have lit in 1924. Certainly, we've come far since the publication of The Home-Maker, but we're still a long way from domestic utopia.

Please note that Canfield isn't saying a man should stay home and a woman should work. There are two more-traditionally arranged families featured in The Home-Maker and they function well because it so happens all parties are doing the work they enjoy in a manner that suits them. Tradition works for some, but it shouldn't be the yoke that burdens all.
Mattie turned, saw what he was doing, and pounced on him with shocked, peremptory benevolence. 'Oh, Lester, let me do that! The idea of your darning stockings! It's dreadful enough your having to do the housework!'

'Eva darned them a good many years,' he said, with some warmth, 'and did the housework. Why shouldn't I?' He looked at her hard and went on, 'Do you know what you are saying to me, Mattie Farnham? You are telling me that you really think that home-making is a poor, mean, cheap job beneath the dignity of anybody who can do anything else.'

Mattie Farnham was for a moment helpless with shock over his attack. When she slowly rose to comprehension of what he had said she shouted indignantly, 'Lester Knapp, how care you say such a thing! I never dreamed of having such an awful idea.' She brought out a formula again, but this time with heartfelt personal conviction. 'Home-making is the noblest work anybody can do!'

'Why pity me then?' asked Lester with a grin, drawing his needle in and out of the little stocking.

'Well, but ...' she said breathlessly, and was silent.

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (Harcourt Brace, 1924)


Wordless Wednesday: Gate

Fences & Filters
I went back and took another photo of the fence I keep fixating on.
Then I kind-of mucked it up with filters.


Top 10 Tuesday: Off Track

I am terrible about finishing series. It's frequently difficult for me to get into series and I usually end up abandoning them after the first or second book. And if I really do get into a series and love it love it then I delay reading the last book as long as possible because 1) I don’t want the series to end and 2) I don’t want my love marred by a disappointing ending. (I should really be doing a list of "Top 10 Series I Loved So Much, I Couldn’t Finish Them." That would be much easier).

So I've decided I'm not doing this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic. Rather than forego Top Ten Tuesday altogether, I'm going with an oldie, Top Ten Favorite Childhood Favorites from June 2010!

  1. Anastasia Krupnik (series) by Lois Lowry
  2. Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
  3. The Dark Is Rising (series) by Susan Cooper
  4. Escape From Warsaw by Ian Serraillier
  5. The Girl With The Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
  6. The Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  7. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
  8. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  9. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
  10. The Talking Earth by Jean Craighead George

Interestingly, a lot of books about going forth or overcoming.


Purging the Books (Say It Isn't So)

We're talking about (finally!) repainting our ground floor and that means moving furniture and other things, like books, out of the way. And that means it's a "great time" to cull our book collection to the point that it actually fits our shelves. The rest are going to the library's Friends sale.

Oh, it's necessary and I've been doing it in dribs and drabs pretty much since we moved in five years ago, but it's hard. I like books, you know. The Husband likes keeping things. Between the two of us, it's a wonder our house isn't filled to the rafters.

I keep putting books bags and then I find myself eyeballing the bags, thinking "hmm, I think I'd actually like to re-read The Once and Future King" or "maybe, I finally will read Gimpel the Fool." If I moved it, unread, from our old house in 2008 and I still haven't read it then it really should go. And if, for some mad reason, I really do finally want to read it then I will just borrow it from the library.

Culling our fiction isn't that hard, because I'd already removed a bunch of never-going-to-read-and-I-feel-so-guilty-about novels last spring in a sudden fit of housekeeping. No, the hard bit is purging the nonfiction. I'm probably never going to crack open Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology again and yet I can't part with it, because I have such fond memories of the course and the nun who taught it (also, Charlotte Mew is the bomb). Ditto all the feminist literary criticism and gender theory. Purging them feels too much like purging part of my self.

But, honestly, I'm never going to reread them. Plural Desires, you really should go. (Please note I've had no difficulty culling the texts I used in library school. There's no nostalgia there, just an awareness of cost and a certain annoyance over lack of relevancy).

Also, do I need three editions of Leaves of Grass? Probably not, but which one should I part with? The one I bought in high school and baptized with pool water one hot summer? The abridged pocket edition I bought in college, half drunk on Whitman? The exquisite 150th anniversary edition with its French flaps and foil-embossing that I just like to caress?


Wordless Wednesday: Spider Flower

I cleome. So pretty & so easy to grow. Bees it, too.


Top 10 Tuesday: Turn-offs

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke & Bookish, we discuss the top ten books things that ruin a book for us. The little (or big things) that make us snap the book shut and glare angrily into the distance.
  1. Anachronistic behavior and language in historical fiction that otherwise treats its time period seriously.
  2. Anything that smacks of INSTA-FOWEVAH TWU LUV. I am just too old for that shit.
  3. Contemporary novels treating technology as a kind of magic (hackers ≠ wizards; geneticists ≠ wizards). I will accept technology as a kind of magic in old-timey Verne/Wells type novels or novels set in a future so distant its science is beyond our ken.
  4. Domineering male characters (without equally domineering or influential female characters).
  5. Indistinguishable narrators. If you’re using multiple narrators to tell your story, they’d better have distinctive voices. I don't want to keep flipping back and forth, trying to figure out who's telling the story now.
  6. Librarians. I am a librarian. Most fictional librarians just make me cringe. Many TV librarians make me hide behind the couch.
  7. Fantasy characters with names I cannot even attempt to pronounce (in my head or aloud). This didn't bother me so much as a fantasy-devouring teen, but really irks me now because it frequently feels like some kind-of fantasy writers' shortcut for proper world or culture building -- "I shall give everyone pseudo-Welsh names and no-one will notice I've just re-created Medieval London with witches."
  8. Passive flibbertigibbet adult female characters in contemporary adult fiction who constantly vacillate between lovers.
  9. Sex that isn’t fun to read -- badly written, violent, completely unrelated to the rest of the story, or whathaveyou.
  10. Too many competing story lines. (Why I’ll never finish a whole bunch of sprawling sci-fi and fantasy series).