Stuff and Nonsense: April 2014


Wordless Wednesday: Big Blue Room

Looking out over Black Rock Lake at Black Rock State Park, Watertown


Downton Abbey Spring Tea In The Making

I spent today baking for the library's Downton Abbey Spring tea. Tomorrow's tea. No little panic percolating through my veins, darlings. No, I am just a big bag of terror. Why did I say I'd take on the sandwiches? Why didn't I sit back and wait for someone else to volunteer? Mostly, because there's no-one else. This tea was (mostly) my idea.

Oh, my god, the pressure. The expectation. And I can't even blame Daisy.

It's been years since I baked scones from scratch and even then, they were drop scones. None rolling or cutting required. Just plop, sprinkle with sugar, and bake. I was terrified they'd come out flat and chewy from being overworked, but they're actually pretty okay. Not the cream scone of my teatime fantasies, but good enough for sandwiches.

The sandwich recipe, "Blueberry Heart Scones with Smoked Turkey," from Winnie-the-Pooh's Picnic Cookbook (Dutton Books, 1997), called for a 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter but I went with round because that's the shaped I owned. Anyway, I can just imagine what the Dowager Countess of Grantham would have to say about heart-shaped scones!

Probably something biting about nursery foods.

As the sandwiches seemed a little plain with just smoked turkey and cranberry-orange conserve (actually Stonewall Kitchen's Orange Cranberry Marmalade, because where do you find cranberries in April?) I added a few watercress leaves to each sandwich ... and, with that bit of greenery, they were transformed into something delightful.

I also made "Mini Orange-Pecan Muffins with Black Forest Ham" from the same cookbook. Because the muffins were a bit on the sweet side -- perfect for breakfast with pot of strong black tea -- I spread only the bottom of my test muffin with cranberry-orange conserve and spread the top with Dijon mayonnaise. No watercress garnish for this gem, but I splurged and picked up some orchids blossoms from the produce section to decorate Saturday's platter.

For fear of soggy bottoms, I did not assemble any of the sandwiches ahead of time. I did cut all the scones and mini muffins in half and cut the deli meat into appropriately-sized strips, but I'll assemble everything tomorrow about an hour before the tea starts so that the flavors have a chance to work, but nothing gets soggy. That's the plan, anyway. I'm pretty sure much of tomorrow will be spent in a state of pure panic. Quiet, invisible panic no-one else need be aware of. The ladies will have their tea and party games and, no doubt, a marvelously good time.

If only!


Wordless Wednesday: Flowers in Snow

Tête-à-tête daffodils

Glory of the snow (chionodoxa)


Top 10 Tuesday: Wants All The Things

While I totally buying books, I also adore buying bookish things and, if I had limitless funds, you can bet my house would be wall to wall with book nerd bling. Obviously, I was pleased that we're talking about "Top Ten Bookish Things (That Aren't Books) That I'd Like To Own" for this week's Top Ten Tuesday!

Banned books scarf gives bibliophiles a certain je ne sais quoi.
Pretty and practical phone charger.
Full of sparkling wine, but who would want to uncork it?
"I cannot live without books"
Brewed from pages of Moby Dick. Really.
Smells like absinthe and mystery!
I really want to collect teapots, but no-one needs more than two.
Fully Booked by Field Notes. Yes, a tent shaped like a book.
Flutter Notes -- paper-thin, translucent sticky notes for marking all the passages I want to return to. Someday.
Verilux Heritage Natural Spectrum Floor Lamp for just the right level of illumination.


Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

Then the tree said, "I'm Kate. I work in mergers and acquisitions for Goldman Sachs."
"Do you know what happened to you, Kate?" said Artemis.
The longest silence of all. Artemis was just about to repeat the question when the tree replied.
"I think I've turned into a tree," it said.
"Yes," said Artemis. "You have."
In a world dominated by Christianity (but surely Islam is also statistically significant?) the Twelve Olympians are alive and living in Hampstead. With no-one believing in them anymore, their power and glory has faded over the years and they have been reduced to living like mortals. And not rich, powerful mortals. No, indeed. Aphrodite works as a phone sex operator. Artemis, a dog walker. And Apollo is sure his star is on the rise when he becomes a TV psychic ... only to shoot the worst pilot ever. And then he falls in love (with help from Eros) with Alice (played in my head by Shirley Henderson), a cleaner. And everything goes from bad to worse.

Gods Behaving Badly was a fairly amusing and quick read well-suited to an afternoon spent in various waiting rooms as I found it easy to put down and then take up again. Some books are hard to read in fragments -- I need to gobble the whole thing up in one big gulp -- or hard to take up again after being put down, as there's no strong pull or connection. With Gods Behaving Badly, while I needed to know what would happen the Alice and the gods, I wasn't breathless with need. That makes it sound as if I didn't enjoy the novel ... I did enjoy it, but many of gods were (unsurprisingly, if you've read any Greek mythology) a tad insufferable and best absorbed in small doses.

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips (Little, Brown, and Company, 2007)


Mexican Food: Hot and Delicious

Earlier this month, I was excited to receive free copy of the e-cookbook Mexican Food: Hot and Delicious from Something Else Publishing as part of LibraryThing's Member Giveaways. My household enjoys eating Tex-Mex and Mexican food and I have been meaning to try my hand at "real" Mexican cooking.

I read Mexican Food: Hot and Delicious cover to cover before I sat down to write this, because it's not every day someone gives me a free cookbook and I wanted to be as thorough as possible. I even picked out five recipes to test, but I never made them because OMFGBBQ.

I absolutely cannot recommend Mexican Food: Hot and Delicious as a Kindle purchase as it is rife with editing/formatting issues and two recipes appear to have been lifted from BHG and Sunset. It's possible there are more than two, but I don't actually want to know. Two is more than enough.

Examples of "borrowed" recipes:
Just. Ugh. I know it's the Internet and "everyone" "borrows" recipes, but you still can't sell recipes that aren't yours to begin with.

But maybe paying for stolen content doesn't phase you? Maybe all the recipe errors and editing/formatting issues will?

Some recipe errors (possibly from a poor cutting and pasting job):
  • Mexican Muffins calls for "3 package" corn muffin mix. (Having made other versions of this recipe, I think it's safe to say the author really meant a single 7.5-8.5 oz package).
  • Mexican Rice calls for grated orange peel, but not how much and it is not mentioned in the directions.
  • Mexican Cheesecake comes with a tip clearly meant to go with a cookie recipe.
  • Speaking of cookies, the ingredients list for Chicken Enchiladas with Green Sauce calls for "1 package store bought sugar cookie or chocolate cookie mix!"
Some editing and formatting issues:
  • Missing periods.
  • Lack of spaces between the endings and beginnings of some sentences.
  • Use of I for 1.
  • Table of contents link in Kindle for Mac is grayed out, but the table is clearly there.
  • Book is not enabled for searching.
I am so extremely disappointed.

Mexican Food: Hot and Delicious. Something Else Publishing, 2014. Kindle AZW file.


Wordless Wednesday: April Flowers

More adorable dwarf iris "Katharina Hodgkin" and purple croci blooming in my back garden.


My One And Only by Kristan Higgins

"You asked why I couldn't forgive you," Nick said, very quietly, and I jumped a little. "It was because you were the love of my life, Harper. And you didn't want to be. That's hard to let go."

Harper has spent years telling herself that her brief marriage to Nick had been a youthful mistake and that she was completely over him (and better off without him), but when she sees Nick at her sister's destination wedding (to his brother, no less!) she admits she might have been wrong about being over him. When circumstances leave Harper driving cross country with Nick they are forced to face their shared past.

My One And Only packs no surprises and that's a-okay because the character development and story-telling is pretty darn fine and Higgins is always guaranteed to deliver a fantastic HEA. Harper and Nick are well-wrought (if not completely likable) protagonists and the many secondary characters are just as real. Seriously, I was just as interested in the relationship between Harper and her parents and Nick and his dad as I was with Harper and Nick's.

Anyway, I picked up My One And Only because Higgins had mentioned it during at the Big Book Getaway when the panelists were asked about protagonists readers disliked. Apparently, a lot of readers didn't like Harper and that piqued my interest. A romantic heroine most romance readers didn't like? Well, maybe I'd like her?

And I did. Harper's a professional woman in her mid-thirties who has been badly hurt by love and she protects herself accordingly by cultivating a cynical and unromantic attitude toward relationships. This doesn't make her a bad person, just a thoroughly human one. That she open herself up to love again (and with the person who hurt her) just made me love her more. Unfortunately, I liked and empathized with Harper so much that I had difficulty accepting Nick as a romantic hero. He was so domineering and made so many assumptions about the changes Harper would make to her life to accommodate their romance that I spent a lot of the novel wanting to sign him up for relationship therapy.

My One And Only by Kristan Higgins (Harlequin, 2011)


The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

The Next Best Thing is a sweet and tender romance about second love (and pastry). Lucy and Ethan have been friends since culinary school and live in the same small town on the same tiny island. Lucy even married Ethan's brother -- a (seemingly) perfect paragon of manhood who died eight months after their wedding. After five years of mourning, Lucy is ready to start a relationship and have children with a nice, healthy man who isn't a risk-taker. And who won't give her butterflies. And who isn't Ethan.

I sometimes have a hard time with first person POV, but I liked its usage in The Next Best Thing as I really enjoyed being in Lucy's head. It felt comfortable and familiar. Does that sound a little creepy? I don't mean it to be. It was if Lucy was a good friend -- I felt her pain, sympathized with her grief over the loss of her husband, and understood her reluctance to risk her heart again with someone like Ethan.

The Next Best Thing was my first Kristan Higgins book. I heard her speak at the Big Book Getaway and was so smitten I checked out three of her books from my library on the following Monday. The Next Best Thing links with Somebody to Love but neither seem to link with My One and Only so I may have just created a problem for myself? Higgins doesn't seem to have written any series (at least not any labeled as such), but many of the books seem linked by character or place.

The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins (Harlequin, 2010)


Wordless Wednesday: Early Irises

Adorable dwarf iris "Katharina Hodgkin" blooming amongst the litterfall.
And some of the Tête-à-Tête daffodils look ready to bloom this weekend!