Stuff and Nonsense: December 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.