Stuff and Nonsense: May 2015


#ShelfLove No Book Buying Challenge: Sales Pitch

May’s monthly No Book Buying Challenge update is supposed to be my best sales pitch, explaining why I should be allowed to buy a book.

The book: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Why I want it:

  • I absolutely adored Ancillary Sword!
  • I'm reading Ancillary Justice for this challenge!
  • It's far future space opera!
  • With AI-controlled human bodies!
  • And fun with gender pronouns and socio-sexual constructs!
  • I'm a completist!

Why I should be allowed to have it:

  • I have actually been a good little #Shelflove participant! While, yes, I have purchased three books in five months, I have also read three challenge books in the same amount of time. And one of those reads was Villette, a novel that worked hard to crush my love of Charlotte Bronte. (The ending! Why, Charlotte? Whyyy?)
  • Ancillary Mercy doesn't release until October, which is most of the way through the challenge, making it a reward I will continue to work toward not an instantaneous act of self-gratification.
  • If I pre-order Ancillary Mercy now, Amazon's Pre-order Price Guarantee means I'll pay the lowest price -- this has worked out well for me in the past.


Top 10 Tuesday: My Summer Reads

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about beach reads! I am unlikely to get to the beach this summer, but I do intend to while away many a sunny Sunday afternoon reading on our porch. So these are soft, sunny, summery porch reads ...

Frederick Childe Hassam, Couch on the Porch, 1914

Barefoot Season (Blackberry Island, #1) by Susan Mallery
Beach Colors by Shelley Noble
Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews
Blue Jeans & Coffee Beans by Joanne DeMaio
Fools Rush In (or Catch of the Day) by Kristan Higgins
Seaview Inn (Seaview Key #1) by Sherryl Woods
Summer by the Sea by Susan Wiggs
A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky
Porch Lights by Dorothea Benton Frank


Princeless, Volume 1: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley

Princess Adrienne is tired of being imprisoned in an impenetrable dragon-guarded tower, waiting for some lucky prince to come along and rescue her. Her totally forward-thinking and not at all tradition-bound (cough) father has locked all her older sisters in impenetrable towers, too, and will no doubt do the same with the youngest when she reaches a marriageable age. Interestingly, none of the sisters have been successfully rescued. None. (Makes you wonder about the quality of princes these days). But, yes, Adrienne -- who never chose to be in the tower in the first place -- decides to free herself and all her sisters ...

Princeless, Volume 1 neatly lines up and knocks down plenty of traditional fantasy tropes and social norms while still managing to come off as a light-hearted adventure story. While its mockery can be about as subtle as a flying brick, it is a story meant for children and I doubt they’d notice the lack of subtlety.

And, I’m sure you’re thinking "Yes, yes. PrinceLESS. I get it, already!" but Princeless isn’t just about knocking down all the ridiculousness that surrounds traditional fairy tale princesses. Princeless is just as interested in showing how many of the male characters are equally imprisoned by tropes and norms. For example, Adrienne's brother, the royal heir, is clearing no chip of the block and cannot be what his father wants. And the last prince who tries to rescue Adrienne had to attend a charm school for princes -- he was that much of a failure at traditional princing.

Overall, I found Princeless, Volume 1 to be both witty and well-written with an extremely amusing and attractive illustrative style. I shared Volume 1 with The Husband as I thought it might be something he’s like and he enjoyed it so much we’re both now waiting for Volume 2 to come in at the library. (No guesses as to who will read it first). And that hasn’t happened since we discovered Chi’s Sweet Home!

Princeless, Volume 1: Save Yourself written by Jeremy Whitley with illus. by M. Goodwin (Action Lab, 2014).


Improv Challenge: Cilantro & Lime

May's Improv Challenge features the cool refreshing flavors of cilantro and lime. Unfortunately, cilantro can be very hit or miss for me -- while I usually find it delicious, sometimes it can be oddly soapy-tasting. Therefore, I did not use a lot of cilantro in this recipe!

I used barramundi in this dish, which the man at the seafood counter recommended as a sweet, mild fish similar to sea bass. I like bass and was happy to try something new as we've been eating a lot of tilapia and tuna lately. He said to cook the barramundi at 400°F for ten minutes or until it was white and flaked easily with a fork, so that's exactly what I did.

Cilantro & Lime Baked Barramundi

Yield: 2


  • 2 6 oz frozen barramundi fillets, thawed
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved or quartered (depending on size)
  • ½ cup diced red onion
  • 3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Pat fish dry. Place in a baking dish. Rub with 1 tsp olive oil.
  3. Mix remaining ingredients together in a bowl, and pour the mixture over the fish.
  4. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
  5. Garnish with additional cilantro, if desired (I forgot), and serve.

Overall, I was very pleased with this dish and will definitely be making it again (with garden tomatoes, hopefully). The fish, while sweet and mild, was not overwhelmed by the sweetness of the tomatoes or the tartness of the lime. And, happily, the cilantro was not in the least bit soapy-tasting, but added a welcome grassy/summery note. I know "grassy" sounds a bit off-putting, but it was a bright green flavor that made me think of grass or chlorophyll.


Wordless Wednesday: Violets

“Do you think amethysts can be the souls of good violets?”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Fried Pork Chops & White Bean Salad

Sometimes, I have reasonably good idea about what main dish I'll serve for supper, but don't really plan on a side dish, because I'll just microwave some frozen vegetables or something and call it done. But then it comes time to cook and I realize I'm not really in the mood for microwaved frozen anything ...

Pan-fried thin-cut pork chops and white bean salad. Yum.
Beans to the rescue! Jazz them up with diced vegetables and a quick vinaigrette and there's a bean salad to be (reasonably) proud of.

White Bean Salad

Yield: 4


  • 15 oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup finely diced seeded cucumber
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp garlic vinegar
  • Penzeys Tuscan Sunset
  • Parsley
  • Black pepper


  • Combine all ingredients, seasoning to taste.
  • Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least an hour before serving.


Top 10 Tuesday: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m doing “Top Ten Fictional Dinner Party Guests” ... which I actually made up for the May 27, 2014 freebie, but didn’t get around to posting it because LIFE. Since my table only seats six comfortably (and I know some of my guests would be very opposed to rubbing elbows), I have two separate seatings for a total of twelve guests. I tried for an “eclectic” but “friendly” mix of characters.

I imagine Bertie Wooster would drive Jane Eyre right up the wall, but he might find a sympathetic listener in Mrs. Blythe. And I expect Jane Eyre to rub along with both M. Poirot and Mrs. Blythe. Nanny Ogg is there simply because she’s guaranteed to put the PARTY in dinner party.

Also, it just seems fitting that a witch, DEATH, and the Patrician should all share a meal together. I bet they’ll get along like a house on fire. Bridget Jones and Mr. Tumnus should, hopefully, have a soothing and civilizing effect. Also, I’d like to think Havelock wouldn’t know what to make of Bridget.


Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, & GPS Technology by Caroline Paul

As much as I love cats, I usually avoid kitty lit as I tend to find it mawkish and twee as all get out. While Lost Cat is a genuinely moving, Paul’s voice is more tart than treacly and there’s a thick thread of humor running through her account of Tibby’s wanderings. MacNaughton’s illustrations are whimsical and fun without being cute. Charming, I think, is probably the best word to describe Lost Cat.

Anyway, I have four indoor-outdoor cats (although several are definitely more indoor than outdoor at this point in their lives) and I can happily (and quite obliviously) bore the pants of people talking about the shenanigans they get up to, so I can totally get Paul’s need to obsess over Tibby’s first disappearance and then engage in a long course of espionage when Tibby continues to wander.

Indeed, Lost Cat really made me want to start tracking my own cats and so I’m working hard on coming up with a reasonable explanation for spending all our monies on a GoPro -- especially as I know our cats will never tolerate a harness for it. (If you want to mount a GoPro on your cat(s), then watch Chuck Green tell you how to make a harness).

Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology written by Caroline Paul w/ illus. by Wendy MacNaughton (Bloomsbury USA, 2013)

Easy Baked Salsa Pork Chops

Too lazy to go grocery shopping when I could sit on the porch and read, but hungry stomachs still needed to be fed. What's a lazy cook to do? Quick thaw a package of meat in the microwave. Cover it in salsa and cheese and bake it until yum. Then whip up a boxed grain medley and call it a meal.

And it was pretty good, you know. Slightly spicy, tomato-y, and gooey with cheese. How couldn't it be okay? I even went to the extra step of browning the meat first, but I don't know -- indeed, I never know -- if browning the meat before baking it made any difference. Books say "yes, it makes the dish taste better" but I'm darned if I can tell!

Baked Salsa Pork Chops

Yield: 4


  • 4 boneless center loin cut pork chops
  • Salt-free southwestern-style seasoning blend [Penzeys salt-free Arizona Dreaming]
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Jar of your favorite garlicky salsa [Newman's Own Roasted Garlic]
  • 2 oz light cheddar, shredded [Cabot Pepper Jack Light]


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Rub chops with a generous amount of Arizona Dreaming and set aside.
  3. In an ovenproof skillet, brown the onion in olive oil. Push the onion to sides of the pan, add the chops, and brown them on both sides.
  4. Pour enough salsa over the chops to cover them. Transfer skillet to oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle salsa-covered chops with cheese. Bake for 5 minutes more or until cheese is melted and pork has reached at least 145°F.
I used Newman's Own garlicky salsa in this recipe, because I've been having a difficult time finding Green Mountain Gringo -- my goto brand since I was at college in Vermont -- roasted garlic salsa in the shops. Hot, medium, mild ... that's it. Bah. Newman's is pretty good, but it's (obviously) not the same.


Greek Chicken Salad

While it's only the second week of May, it feels like summer at my house and I'm thisclose to turning on the air conditioner. Unseasonably sweaty workdays call for cool, relaxing suppers and salad's just the thing.

I marinated the chicken using the gyro marinade recipe on the Penzeys Greek seasoning packet -- Mix 1 Tbsp seasoning in 1 Tbsp water. Let stand 5 minutes, add 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Combine with 1 lb chicken tenderloins. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.

When we were ready to eat, I broiled the chicken for 5 minutes each side on a foil-lined baking tray. When the chicken was done (165°F), I set it aside to cool for about ten minutes -- just long enough to make two supper-sized salads.

For the salad, I tossed 1½ hearts of romaine (sliced into thin ribbons) with chopped cucumber, red onion, grape tomatoes, feta, kalamata olives, and garbanzo beans. Then I sliced the cooled chicken (there was leftover chicken for future salads) and arranged it atop the salads.

It wasn't really "Greek," I know, but was good! Next time, I'll add roasted red peppers and artichoke hearts.


Top 10 Tuesday: Authors I Want to Meet

This this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I’m talking about ten authors I REALLY want to meet (but would probably completely embarrass myself if I did meet them by fangirling all over the place and generally being a complete twit). I mean, when I met Danielle Corsetto she asked me the name of my favorite Girls With Slingshots character and I completely blanked (and then turned red and wanted to slink off somewhere to die from the shame).
  • Susan Cooper. For writing Greenwitch and The Grey King. Books that showed me magic could exist right here, right now amongst the everyday.
  • John Green. Yes, I know I haven’t read any of his books (nor do I plan to), but love him and his brother for all they do with Vlogbrothers in spreading learning and goodness in the world.
  • Nicola Griffith. Because AUD. Because Ammonite.
  • Georgette Heyer. Yes, I know she’s dead. That’s what séances are for.
  • Ann Leckie. She writes the Imperial Radch series, which is the most fun I’ve had with science fiction in a long time.
  • Ann Mason. She wrote Dancing Meteorite and The Stolen Law -- the two "teen" science fiction books that got me hooked on the genre. Before her, I was entirely an Anne Shirley/Laura Ingalls girl.
  • L.M. Montgomery. She wrote so many of the books that shaped my childhood (and, quite probably, my definition of romance).
  • Shannon Stacey. I saw her at the Big Book Club Getaway (lovely!) and I follow her on Twitter (so much fun!), but it’s not the same thing as meeting her.
  • Sandi Toksvig. She’s a fantastic comedian, dedicated humanitarian, and prolific writer. I want to talk about gender equality and Lady “Bulldog” Burton over a cup of tea.
  • H.G. Wells. What would the “Father of Science Fiction” think of this future we’ve made for ourselves?


Taken With You by Shannon Stacey

So I seem to be reading Stacey’s Kowalski Family series backwards, having started with Book 9, Falling for Max, and the progressed to Book 8, Taken With You. I don’t think reading the series backwards has ruined any surprises or caused any confusion and, to be fair, if I hadn’t started with Falling for Max then I probably wouldn’t have read any. Falling for Max was the perfect quirky, vaguely nerdy romance I needed.

Taken With You was a bit more traditional -- small town librarian and the new game warden can’t resist pushing each other’s buttons even though they “know” the other is the wrong person for them (meaning they ARE, of course, the right one) -- but still plenty quirky and fun. I thought for sure Hailey in her role of small town librarian would make me cringe, but she actually seemed pretty believable. The attraction between the two characters is good, smolder-y fun and while I obviously knew Hailey and Matt where destined for a Happily Ever After, I didn’t begrudge the time it took to get there.

Indeed, Hailey and Matt were extremely enjoyable characters. While they each came to the relationship with all sorts of preconceived ideas about what they want, they were each aware of when they’d being jerks and were willing to do better. I mean, there was very little in the way of angst or drama in this romance and I LOVED it for that. I wasn’t interested in watching either of them dramatically change who they were to be The One (impossible nonsense) or get all angsty and throw unreasonable hurdles in each other’s way. Hailey and Matt seemed like real people with normal amounts of “real people relationship issues” and they solved them like reasonable adults. Reasonable adults full of snark and sass, that is.

Basically, I thought Taken With You was delicious. I was, dare I say, completely taken with it?

Taken With You (The Kowalski Family, Book 8) by Shannon Stacey (Carina Press, 2014)

Baked Almond-Crusted Chicken Strips

This is one of those "Whoops!" meals where I forget to pick up an ingredient I need for a planned meal and just decide to chuck it all and make something completely different (greek salad, your turn will come). I used Penzeys Chesapeake Bay seasoning blend quite by accident -- I reached for Forward!, but grabbed Chesapeake Bay instead. Happily, the flavors worked well and I'll probably use it with chicken again.

Baked Almond-Crusted Chicken Strips

Yield: 4


  • 1 lb chicken tenders
  • ¾ cup almond meal
  • 1 Tbsp Penzeys Chesapeake Bay
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F and line a baking sheet or jellyroll pan with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk almond meal and seasonings together in a shallow bowl or pie plate.
  3. Beat the egg in another shallow bowl or pie plate.
  4. Blot the chicken tenders dry with a paper towel then add them to the beaten egg. Flip them to make sure they are evenly coated.
  5. Remove each eggy tender and let and excess egg drip into the plate. Then place the tender in the almond meal mixture, gently pressing down and rolling to make sure the entire tender is evenly coated.
  6. Remove tender to parchment-lined pan. Repeat with remaining tenders.
  7. Bake tenders for 10 minutes, then flip and bake for another 10 or until chicken reaches 165°F. Serve with honey mustard, ranch dressing, or whathaveyou.
While all the flavors where there and lunch left no-one hungry, the tenders weren't even slightly crunchy and that annoyed me. They came out of the oven so beautifully browned that my brain insisted they be crunchy and my mouth was just nopenopenope on crunchiness. I think I should maybe have supplemented the fine meal with some more coarsely crushed almonds and/or spritzed the strips with a little cooking oil and then broiled them for the last 2-3 minutes for color and crunch?


One Pan Chicken & Asparagus Bake

This all-in-one supper of chicken breasts and asparagus is just the thing for lazy weeknight cooking, when you know you need to cook something, but also just want to hang out on the porch and decompress after a day spent indoors. The oven does most of the hard work and one pan means minimal cleanup. Hooray!

I used Penzeys Sunny Spain -- a salt-free blend of black pepper, citric acid, lemon peel, garlic and onion -- in this recipe, simply because I've been on a lemon-pepper kick recently. Any chicken-friendly seasoning blend you enjoy would work well.

Easy One-Pan Chicken & Asparagus Bake

Yield: 4


  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 container cherry tomatoes, halved
  • olive oil
  • Penzeys Sunny Spain
  • black pepper
  • half of a lemon


  1. Heat oven to 425°F.
  2. Lay chicken breast between two pieces of parchment or freezer paper and pound until flattish. Repeat with remaining breasts.
  3. Arrange chicken, asparagus, tomatoes, and onion on a baking sheet or jellyroll pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Season generously. Squeeze lemon over everything.
  4. Pop the pan in the preheated oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until chicken has reached 165°F.

Love flattening chicken breasts (or any lumpy meat) with a mallet because it is the perfect excuse to sing "Les Poissons" from Disney's The Little Mermaid. Yup. 39. No children. Can still belt out a Disney song at the drop of a dime. Or swing of mallet.

Wordless Wednesday: Statue

Spring, one of four pieces installed in the Italian Gardens
at Stanley Park in 2014 to replace stolen statuary.


Top 10 Tuesday: Books I'll Never (Probably) Read

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about the books I'll never read! There are many reasons why I decide I'm just not going to read a book and they run the gamut from "just not my cup of tea, darling" to "I have heard so much about this book, I feel I have already read it."

  • Ulysses by James Joyce. Ugh. No. I've read same eight pages more times than I can count. Sometimes, I think I should try listening to it, but it doesn't seem like something to give only a quarter of my attention as I hurtle to and from work.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It's just ... everyone else on the planet has read this book and it's A Big Thing now. There's no way I can come to it cleanly, without the influence of others' experiences. Also, if I don't like it, how will that impact my VlogBrothers adoration? Come to think of it, this applies to everything John Green has written.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Saw the movie and was thoroughly squicked out. Don't want to touch the novel with a ten foot pole.
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Love the musical, Man of La Mancha, but I know the novel is nothing like and I don't want Cervantes ruining my fond memories of a video I watched in third grade music class.
  • Room by Emma Donoghue. I've been a true-blue Donoghue reader since Stir Fry, but what I know of Room makes it sound too much like something ripped from the headlines. Terrible things happen to women and children every day and I can't read fiction about it anymore.
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Similar situation to Don Quixote, but it was a middle school bus trip to New York.
  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. Saw the movies and they were quite violent enough, thank you.
  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Time travel historical romance isn't my cup of tea. Also, these books are enormous.
  • Anything by Hemingway. We read The Sun Also Rises in tenth grade English and that just put me off Hemingway forever. I cannot separate my feelings about the class (absolutely torturous critique of the novel) with my feelings toward Hemingway.
  • A bunch of books I kickstarted. Seriously. When I funded them, they sounded awesome, but now that they’ve actually been printed and made their way to me ... I just go "Ehhhhh. You don't seem that good, anymore."