Stuff and Nonsense: December 2015


Wordless Wednesday: Jigsaw Season

It's not Christmastide if there isn't a jigsaw puzzle taking up too much of the dining room table :)

Juice All the (Citrus-like) Things

For my birthday, The Husband gave me a citrus juicer attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer. I'm still not one hundred percent on why The Husband gave it to me. If it's because I've been buying lots of "weird vegetable" juices from the yoga place down the street and he thought I might like to make my own juices ... well, it's the wrong juicer attachment for that sort of thing. If it's because he hoped I'd start buying caseloads of citrus from the warehouse club and make him fresh orange juice ... well, that hasn't happened. Yet.

Because I forget to buy citrus when I'm at the warehouse club? Yeh. That's probably why. The warehouse club is just one giant distraction after another. Go in for vitamins and egg whites, come out with antihistamines and four kinds of butter ...

Happily, December is satsuma mandarin season and, as usual, I picked up a big case of the delicious darlings from Chaffin Family Orchards. Which meant we ate satsuma after satsuma until we were positively stuffed with citrus and didn't want to see another satsuma before next December. Unfortunately, there were still a half dozen slowly fossilizing satsumas left and I was darned if they were going to go to waste so (you guessed it) I got juicing.

The citrus juice attachment is very simple to use -- just slot the bits together and screw them into the "power hub" on the front of the stand mixer. It takes seconds to assemble and then you just juice all the things! Rather like shredding cheese with the food processor, juicing turns out to be quite an addictive thing and I really had to work hard to stop myself from juicing all our lemons and limes, too.

And what did I do with the beautiful, fragrant, sweet satsuma juice? The Husband did a shot of it ... and then I used the remainder in cookies. Followed Pillsbury's "Fresh Orange Cookies" recipe and ended up with some really yummy cookies ... that look, strangely, nothing like the one's pictured on Pillsbury's site. Mine are much flatter whereas theirs are domed. Mine are quite cake-like actually -- very much like biting into a light and fluffy orange muffin top -- and theirs looks sturdier and more scone-like. Regardless, the Husband has been eating them in quantities that suggest they're the best "biscuit" (cookie) I've baked it quite a long time. Having lots of good citrus flavor and being not particularly sweet for an American cookie (putting them more in line with a UK biscuit), they go down a treat with a big mug of black tea.


Top 10 Tuesday: Exciting New Novels Jan-June 2016

It's another Top Ten Tuesday! Huzzah! This week we're talking about the ten new books we most look forward to reading in the first half of 2016. That's January through June, you know, and it turns out two of the books I reallyREALLY want to read in 2016 -- Nisi Shawl's Everfair and Allie Brosh's Solutions and Other Problems -- aren't out until the second half! I shall just have to console myself with these ten as I count down the days ...


  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Two old acquaintances, trying to fix the world’s problems in completely opposite ways (science v. magic), are drawn together to either save the world ... or destroy it. Could be awesome. (Could be dreadful).
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. A book about books, bookshops, letters, and friendship. Of course I want to read this.


  • These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker. 1880s England. Evelyn travels to London to find her missing sister and falls in with a mysterious, if charming, young gentleman who is also looking for her sister ... and who claims Evelyn and her sister have secret powers.


  • The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester. 1912 London, suffragettes, corset fetishists, circus freaks, and a mysterious disappearance. Yes. Yes. YES.
  • Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. I’ve been told it’s a bit like Jane Eyre if Jane had been a (wholly justified) serial murderer. People on Goodreads seem to like it but ... well, I’ll see. I entertain high hopes.
  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. I loved Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and have been looking forward to The Summer Before the War for what feels like ages. Pretty female Latin professor arrives in Sussex during the summer of 1914. Yeah. WWI, educated female protagonist, English countryside ... it ticks most of the boxes.


  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. The interconnected lives of three women -- a New York socialite, a Polish teenager, and a German doctor -- during World War II. Based on the true story of Caroline Ferriday.
  • Modern Girls by Jennifer S. Brown. 1930 modern Jewish American girl has a one-time fling with a hot but inappropriate man and (surprise) gets pregnant. Meanwhile, her Yiddish-speaking mama who, after birthing and rearing five children yearns for a little freedom of her own, finds she’s pregnant, too.


  • Mer by Katie Schickel. Still grieving the “accidental” death of her sister two years ago, Jess gets by as a cook on a fishing boat ... until one day she is transformed into a mermaid and reborn a stronger, more confident, powerful Jess who must choose between land and sea.
  • Steeplejack by A. J. Hartley. In a 19th-century Victorian South African fantasy world, a steeplejack investigates the murder of her apprentice.


Easy Corn Chowder from Christmas Leftovers

As always, I over-estimated the amount of sides needed to feed everyone Christmas Dinner and have a fridge full of leftover mashed potatoes, braised cabbage, and corn. There's a tiny bit of tenderloin left (I'm quite good at calculating out the meaty needs of four people, so why not the vegetables?) which I knew we'd use for sandwiches and what goes so well with sandwiches? Soup!

I used all the leftover corn, but only a little leftover garlic mashed potatoes in this recipe. There's still three(ish) cups remaining and I'm probably going to take the easy route with them and make cheesy, chivey potato pancakes for supper.

Also, the corn and mashed potatoes, being Christmas leftovers, were already seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, parsley, and the like so I did not season the soup very much. Therefore, you will need to adjust the seasonings according to your own tastes!

Anyway, the soup is tasty (of course), easy, and comforting. Just the thing for the day after Christmas when we're -- or at least I'm -- hungover on sugar, cheese, wine, and too much excitement. And by too much excitement, I mean working on a jigsaw puzzle until midnight and then sitting on the couch until 2 AM, telling The Husband how he should be playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

Easy Corn Chowder from Christmas Leftovers

Yield: 6


  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced small
  • 1 medium celery rib, diced small
  • 1 medium onion, diced small
  • 1 32 oz carton low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 oz finely diced peeled potato
  • 10 oz leftover corn
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp chopped dried rosemary
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ½-1 cup leftover garlic mashed potatoes


  • Heat olive oil in a large French/Dutch oven over medium. Add carrot, celery, and onion. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until onion is tender and fragrant. Add broth, bay, and potatoes and bring pot to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  • Stir in the corn, cream, and seasonings and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the potatoes -- starting with a half cup and increasing if needed -- until the soup is thickened to your liking. Remove bay leaf and adjust seasonings as needed.

Of course, this soup makes too much for two people, thus creating leftovers of its own. However, soup is an easy leftover to deal with as it's perfect for every meal -- even breakfast -- and is always ready to go.

And, just for kicks, the puzzle it took way too long for four reasonably clever adults to complete (wine may have had something to do with it?):


Southwestern Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia

The Husband picked up burritos from Moe's earlier this week and, as always, there was half a bag of leftover tortilla chips just sitting, unloved, on the kitchen side days later. Usually, they eventually get chucked in the bin, but this time I thought "surely, I can make breading out of these?" So. I. did.

I blitzed the tortilla chips around in the food processor until they'd formed a fairly fine crumb, but you can obviously use whatever size crumb you prefer. Tilapia's just kind-of delicate, imho, and thus deserves a more delicate crumb. You could even add the seasoning blend and garlic to the food processor with the chips and avoid having to whisk them in later.

Pretty sure potato chip crumbs would be yummy, too. Or Doritos ...

Southwestern Tortilla-Crusted Tilapia

Yield: 2-4, depending on level of hungries


  • 1½ oz finely crushed tortilla chips
  • 1 tsp Southwestern seasoning blend [Penzeys Fajita]
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder [Penzeys Roasted Garlic]
  • 1 oz white whole wheat flour
  • 1 egg
  • 4 3.5-oz(ish) tilapia fillets
  • Garlicky salsa, as desired [Green Mountain Gringo Roasted Garlic]
  • Queso fresco, as desired [Tropical Cheese Salvadoreño]


  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a half sheet pan (13"x18") with parchment.
  2. Pat fillets dry and set aside.
  3. Add tortilla chips, seasoning blend, and garlic powder to a shallow bowl. Whisk to combine. Add flour to another shallow bowl. Beat egg in yet another shallow bowl.
  4. Dip a fillet in flour. Tap to remove excess flour. Dip in egg. Allow excess to drip off. Dip into crushed tortilla chips, pressing down firmly to make sure the chips stick. Place on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining fillets.
  5. Bake 10 minutes at 425°F or until fillets reach 145°F.
  6. Serve garnished with salsa and queso fresco, if desired.

The tilapia was flaky and sweet while the crust was very crunchy and slightly spicy. All in all, definitely something I'd make again.

I served the tilapia with cilantro rice -- literally, hot cooked brown rice with chopped cilantro stirred in -- and my own lazy attempt at elote -- microwaved corn kernels tossed with butter, lime, cilantro, black pepper, and queso fresco.

Wordless Wednesday: Little Tree

look               the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i'll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won't be a single place dark or unhappy

              -- from "little tree" by E. E. Cummings


Top 10 Tuesday: Santa, Please Bring Me

It's Christmas time! Unsurprisingly, this week's Top Ten Tuesday is all about the books we wish Santa would leave under our tree this year.

Graphic novels I would love to receive, because they sound awesome (or I already know are awesome based on previous volumes in their series):

  • Lumberjanes, Vol. 2: Friendship to the Max by Noelle Stevenson w/ illus. by Brooke Allen
  • Star Wars: Princess Leia by Mark Waid w/ illus. by Terry Dodson
  • Thor, Volume 2: Who Holds the Hammer by Jason Aaron w/ illus. Russell Dauterman
  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1: Squirrel by Ryan North w/ illus. Erica Henderson

Novels I would love to receive:

  • The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith. Been told it’s a sweet and beautiful illustrated story about a Fox who goes searching for his missing Star. I love Bickford-Smith’s artwork and can’t wait to see what she’s created within the pages of The Fox and the Star.
  • A Taste of Nightshade by Martine Bailey. 1800s England, an isolated manor house, a young bride, a secretive husband, suspicious servants ... yum.
  • The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins VINTAGE CLASSICS EDITION because the cover is so delightfully atmospheric. Also, it’s Wilkie Collins so I expect a delicious blend of the mysterious, the spooooky, and the thrilling.

Nonfiction I would also love to receive (because information is power … or something like that, anyway):

  • New German Cooking: Recipes for Classics Revisited by Jeremy & Jessica Nolen. Come, let me feed you the food of (one of) my (many) people(s). Kartoffel-Gurkensalat! Pilzgulasch! Entensuppe!
  • The Everyday Rice Cooker: Soups, Sides, Grains, Mains, and More by Diane Phillips. I keep saying I’d like to do more with my rice cooker and the most adventurous I’ve been so far is to cook pearl barley in it …
  • The Calm Coloring Book, Flights Of Fancy, or Natural Wonders coloring books because COLORING BOOKS I HAVE MISSED YOU.


Improv Challenge: Cranberry & Orange

The deli near my work occasionally sells this really yummy couscous salad that's studded with cranberries, spinach, and chunks of dried apricots. It's very flavorful and I love the texture so, when I saw December's Improv Challenge ingredients were cranberry and orange, I immediately thought about cloning that deli salad. I know a salad in December might not sound quite like the thing, but we can't live on cookies and cake all month ... can we? I kinda think, given enough cups of tea, I could live on cookies and cake?

While this recipe is good either at room temperature or chilled, I think it works best at room temperature and recommend that's what you serve it at. Obviously, we're a household of two, so there was leftovers -- the following day I just left it on the side for 15 minutes or so to warm a bit while I reheated the rest of my lunch.

I used pearl (sometimes called Israeli) couscous in this recipe, because that's what the deli uses, but you could probably use another small pasta like pastina or acini di pepe. Obviously, you'll need to ignore my preparation instructions and make it according to the packet.

Cranberry-Orange Couscous Salad

Yield: 4


  • 1 cup pearl (Israeli) couscous
  • 1¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 3 Tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp orange zest
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp runny honey
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup diced dried apricots
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • salt & pepper, to taste


  1. Put the spinach in a large serving bowl and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, bring broth to a boil over high heat. Add couscous, and return to a boil. Immediately cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 8-10 minutes or until the couscous has absorbed all of the broth. Fluff couscous and dump over spinach so that the residual heat from the couscous wilts the spinach. Set aside.
  3. Whisk together orange juice, zest, oil, vinegar, mustard, and honey in a small bowl.
  4. Gently mix the almonds, cranberries, apricots, and spinach into the couscous. Pour dressing over couscous mixture and gently toss to coat. Serve immediately for tastiest results.


Slow Cooker Tuna Casserole

This slow cooker casserole is based on a Betty Crocker's "Easy Slow-Cooker Turkey Tetrazzini" recipe, but I've adapted it to use tuna, more vegetables, less cheese, and no wine. Also, the original was pretty high in sodium, so I tried to use lower sodium ingredients where possible here (it could easily have been even lower sodium, but I couldn't be arsed running to the store "just" for low sodium soup and tuna) and omitted the salt the original recipe called for. The finished dish certainly didn't taste bland, so don't worry about missing the salt.

Just one of those easy slow cooker dishes that creates a lot of recycling :)

Slow Cooker Tuna Casserole

Serves: 4


  • 10½ oz can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1¼ cup low-sodium fat-free chicken broth
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 5 oz cans solid white albacore in water, drained and flaked
  • ½ cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • ½ cup chopped white onion
  • 4 oz jar chopped pimientos, drained
  • 6.5 oz can no-salt-added sliced mushrooms, drained
  • 2 Tbsp dried parsley
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 6 oz uncooked spaghetti noodles, broken in half and then half again
  • 1 cup frozen peas


  1. Lightly coat slow cooker insert with cooking spray or olive oil.
  2. To insert, add soup, broth, cream, tuna, cheese, onion, pimientos, mushrooms, dried parsley, garlic powder, thyme, and pepper. Stir well.
  3. Add broken noodles and stir until just combined. Try to poke the noodles down so they're as covered in liquid as possible.
  4. Cover and cook on LOW 4 to 5 hours until noodles are tender, stirring once about halfway through. About 15 minutes before serving, stir in the frozen peas.

I forgot to add the parsley so I stirred it in at the halfway point.

If you're not around to stir it at the halfway point, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Just be sure to give it a real good stir when you add the peas.

The original recipe just adds the peas in with everything else, but after four hours in the slow cooker I found they lost they're bright green color and had, unsurprisingly, gone pretty mushy. Popping them in at the end helps retain their color and body.

Because the original Betty Crocker recipe is so easy to modify, I'm kind-of tempted to try another variation with chicken, spinach instead of peas, and lots more peppers ... Hmm. There's always next week? No, that's Christmas week. The week after that? Hrm.

Wordless Wednesday: Christmas Crackers

Counting the plates & getting down the crackers ahead of Christmas feasting.


Top 10 Tuesday: Top 10 Best Graphics I Read in 2015

Another Top Ten Tuesday! As the year draws to its close, we consider the top ten best books we read in 2015. Because I've read too many books and it's hard to winnow them down to ten, I narrowed my list to "just" the best graphics (mostly) published in 2015. I've kind-of cheated by putting two volumes from the same series on my ten best list, but if you've read Rat Queens then you'll understand why it's impossible not to put both on the list ... and if you haven't read Rat Queens, then you need to get yourself to the library right now. And you might as well pick up the rest of my list while you're at it.

  • Bitch Planet, Vol 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick
  • Lady Killer, Vol. 1 by Joëlle Jones
  • Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson
  • Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
  • Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe

  • Rat Queens, Vol. 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth by Kurtis J. Wiebe
  • Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction
  • Soppy: A Love Story by Philippa Rice
  • Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
  • The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff

Wow. Put all those covers together and ... that's a lot of pink.


Slow Cooker Beef Stew

It may have been 61°F today, but I still went ahead and made a slow cooker beef stew. It had come out pretty well when I threw it together last week so I'd stuck it on this week's menu plan (along with the fire-roasted tomato and white bean soup), completely disregarding the forecast spring-in-December weather.

Anyway, this was a good stew. Rich, hearty, and filling without being stodgy. The meat was meltingly tender, but the vegetables weren't mushy at all and had kept their own flavors, rather than becoming muddled and tasting generically stewy. You know how sometimes you make a slow cooker dish and after eight hours, all the ingredients in the pot have kind of muddled together and don't really taste like themselves anymore? "Is that squishy orange blob a carrot? Don't know. Just tastes like stew." That didn't happen here.


I served the stew in bowls I'd made from leftover Pillsbury Grands! (Why the exclamation mark? Is it not enough to simply be grand?) biscuits. I followed the instructions provided in the "Grands!® Biscuit Bowls with Chili" recipe. As a technique, it works pretty well, but I'm not sure it is superior to simply hollowing out a bakery-bought sourdough boule. Certainly, I don't think I'd go out and buy a biscuit tube just to make them ... but I had two raw biscuits leftover from the waffled grilled cheese and biscuit bowls sounded like a fun experiment.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Yield: 6


  • 1 lb stew beef, cut into small cubes
  • 12 oz chopped white potatoes (peel or don't ... the power is yours)
  • 3 oz chopped carrot (ditto about peeling)
  • 3 oz chopped celery
  • 3 oz chopped yellow onion
  • 4 oz sliced white mushrooms
  • 14½ oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 Tbsp Penzeys beef soup base
  • 1½ tsp Worcestershire
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup white whole wheat flour


  1. Layer potatoes, carrot, celery, onion, and mushrooms at bottom of slow cooker insert. Add beef. Top with fire-roasted tomatoes and garlic.
  2. Whisk together hot water, soup base, Worcestershire, pepper, and flour. Pour over tomatoes.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 8 hrs. Stir well before serving.

I know one cup of stock doesn't seem like enough liquid but trust me -- the vegetables and meat will release a lot of liquid as they cook. Anyway, we want a thick stew and not a brothy soup, right?


Wordless Wednesday: Blossoms

Messing around, taking photos of flowers in a vase, and ended up with this. It's not exactly terrible ...


Wordless Wednesday: Fountain

Lincoln Center's iconic Revson Fountain. Of course, I had to take a photo.


Top 10 Tuesday: 2016 Debuts

Another Top Ten Tuesday! Hooray! We're talking about our most anticipated debut novels of 2016. New books by new authors. Fantastic!

  • Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti
  • Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
  • The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
  • Look at Me by Sarah Duguid

  • The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry
  • Noah’s Wife by Lindsay Starck
  • The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
  • Relief Map by Rosalie Knecht
  • The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

Huh. That's a lot of blue ...