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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Last Mile by David Baldacci (Amos Decker #2)

The Last Mile (Amos Decker, #2)The Last Mile by David Baldacci

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Convicted murderer Melvin Mars is counting down the last hours before his execution--for the violent killing of his parents twenty years earlier--when he's granted an unexpected reprieve. Another man has confessed to the crime.

Amos Decker, newly hired on an FBI special task force, takes an interest in Mars's case after discovering the striking similarities to his own life: Both men were talented football players with promising careers cut short by tragedy. Both men's families were brutally murdered. And in both cases, another suspect came forward, years after the killing, to confess to the crime. A suspect who may or may not have been telling the truth.

The confession has the potential to make Melvin Mars--guilty or not--a free man. Who wants Mars out of prison? And why now?

But when a member of Decker's team disappears, it becomes clear that something much larger--and more sinister--than just one convicted criminal's life hangs in the balance. Decker will need all of his extraordinary brainpower to stop an innocent man from being executed.

Read as an audio book.

In this second installment, Amos is on his way to start a new job as a citizen consultant with the FBI near Quantico. He hears about Melvin Mars case in Texas, a young and upcoming college football star who was wrongfully convicted of murdering his parents 20 years ago. Another death row inmate has confessed to the murders and the case is under investigation. Decker talks the team into investigating this case, and was seems straight forward on the surface leads to much darker things underneath.

I found this book engaging. If you've read Baldacci before, you'll know it's never as straightforward as it seems. This was no different...well, a little different in that it wasn't a pending global terrorist threat. The historical twist was a nice addition.

The reader is introduced to some new characters that comprise the "team" (my apologies if I'm butchering spelling, I did say this was an audio book): Melvin Mars took a roll front and center; the psychologist - Mary(?) who joined the team on the pretense of studying Decker; and one FBI agent who was rather forgettable and mostly just played the role of superior condescending FBI agent. Of course, Alex Jamison and Bogart are back from book one.

Now please not I said this book was engaging, I didn't say it was perfect. The plot is a tich over the top (but they all are, which is part of the fun of reading, right?), the plot holes are a lot like Swiss cheese, I found I kept questioning Melvin's behavior post-incarceration, and everyone's role is to support Decker as he solves the mystery. The supporting characters do not "grow" in this book, in fact, one character disappears for about a quarter of the book. So if you are looking for emotional connection with characters, you are not going to find it here.

Roy Mars, our antagonist and Melvin's father. Not sure what to think of his role in everything and looking back, I found his character to be a bit cheesy. A "man in black" who flies under the radar and nobody knows his real name. Is he a friend? Or foe? Nobody really knows.

Melvin, Melvin, Melvin. 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He's released to the recognizance of the FBI. Then he's fully pardoned after a brief trial. While I liked his character, I had a hard time believing his behavior once released from prison. Something didn't quite jive for me - a lack of anger or hardness or similar.

And finally, Amos Decker. We see some personal growth in his character in this second book - Jamison gets him on a diet and we see him sticking to it. He's starting to exercise and turns a cheek to the comments about his obesity. And we see him starting to re-learn empathy. But at the end of the day, it's all about Decker and what *he* needs to do. Oddly, it doesn't bother me here as it does with other books and characters (Harry Bosch series, Wallander series).

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book and narration. I was happily entertained on my commute and that's really all I'm looking for. Recommended on that basis.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Recipe Review from 1/7/17

Week in review!  It was cold!  It snowed!  I almost hit a telephone pole sliding down the hill! But I didn't, so all is well.  Whew! 

Two recipes to review this week: one a slow cooker recipe that was a bit different in that it didn't use cream or flour to thicken the broth.  We kinda liked it better that way.  And one homemade pizza that was easy and darn tasty. 

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L) Leftover lentil soup  (S) instant soup mix
Sun (L) Turkey and Wild Rice Soup  (S) Blacklist for WDSE party
Mon (yoga)  leftover wild rice soup
Tues - leftover instant soup
Wed (yoga) - leftover wild rice soup
Thurs (yoga) - more leftover wild rice soup
Fri - homemade pizza

[Turkey] and Wild Rice Soup  (modified from America's Test Kitchen, Slow Cooker Revolution) gluten free, dairy free

I'm always exploring new versions of wild rice soup and this one has been on my radar for a while.  I did modify this to use a whole chicken from the freezer that was comparable in weight.  I also had most of the ingredients on hand (minus the celery) so I could make this without a grocery run.

What I really liked about this dish is no dairy and no flour thickener that are frequently used in a wild rice soup.  Even with out those two ingredients, this turned out hearty and thick, if not a tich on the bland side (my fault, I forgot to add the salt and pepper).

2 cups onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup + carrots, diced (I use baby carrots, cut into little "coins")
2 celery ribs   (didn't have)
2 bay leaves
2 lbs chicken, quartered (recipe called for 2lbs of bone in turkey thighs, skin removed, I used a quartered chicken, skin on)
1 cup wild rice, rinsed
2 tbsp parsley, chopped

1) In a large pan over medium heat, saute onions, garlic, tomato paste and thyme until onion is just softened.   Add to slow cooker.

2) Add broth, carrots, celery, and bay leaves to slow cooker, season poultry with salt and pepper and nestle into liquid and vegetable mixture.   Cover and cook until poultry is tender, 6-8 hours on low or 5-7 hours on high. 

3) Remove poultry to a plate and cool slightly.  Remove bones and shred into bite sized pieces.  Remove and fat that has settle to the surface of the liquid using a large spoon.  Discard bay leaves.  Stir in rice and turkey, let cook for 30 -45 minutes or until rice has "popped" and is tender.  Season and serve.

Pizza with Olives, Aleppo Pepper and Fresh Mozzarella  (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2018) vegetarian
I've been eyeballing the fresh pizza dough at the co-op for a while now, and when I saw this recipe I knew I had to buy some and give it a try.  This was, simply, awesome!  And I will probably be making it again this coming week (I have leftover mozzarella and basil to use up). 

I did make one significant change - I used a can of petite diced tomatoes and drained well instead of a can of whole.  I just don't care for the texture and chunkiness of whole canned tomatoes.  

I can't really comment on how long it took to make this as I was multi-tasking and putting away groceries and doing dishes, but it does come together fairly quickly.  Not a heck of a lot of chopping.


1 (28-oz.) can unsalted whole peeled tomatoes  (I used petitie diced, and drained well)
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon crushed Aleppo pepper, divided
1 tablespoon plain yellow cornmeal
12 ounces fresh or frozen thawed prepared whole-wheat pizza dough
4 ounces small fresh mozzarella cheese balls (bocconcini)
1 ounce coarsely chopped pitted kalamata olives

1) Place a pizza stone or baking sheet on center rack in oven; preheat oven to 450°F. (Leave stone in to preheat.)
2)  Pour tomatoes into a colander set over a large bowl; squeeze and break into chunks. Reserve liquid for another use. Stir together tomato chunks, salt, 1/4 cup basil, 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper in a bowl.
3) Sprinkle cornmeal on a piece of parchment paper. Roll pizza dough on cornmeal into a 14- x 8-inch rectangle or a 12-inch circle. Spread tomato mixture over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Top with cheese balls and olives. Leaving pizza on parchment paper, place onto hot pizza stone. Bake at 450°F for 10 minutes or until crust is done and cheese is bubbly. Brush edges of crust with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil.
4) Sprinkle with remaining basil and remaining Aleppo pepper. Cut into 8 slices.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Year in Review 2017

Highlights from 2017
(or, My Year in Review) 

Tucson, AZ

U of A Mirror Lab

Tuscon Museum of Art



Corvallis and Portland, OR
Newport, OR

Yahutz, OR
Benton Lane Winery
Texas Hill Country/Canyon Lake


and PUPPY!!
Kepler, Springer Spaniel out of Kinni River Kennels

And we welcomed Baby Grace into the world in October!

New Books Finished  (Novels, Novellas, Novelettes, Short Stories)
2017 - 122  (29857 pages approximately
2016 - 119 (32652 pages)
2015 - 89 (25726 pages)
2014 - 89 (28442 pages)
2013 - 98    (28277 pages)
2012 - 129  (32617 pages)
2011 - 115  (30365 pages) 
2010 – 80   (21848 pages)
2009 – 45   (16094 pages)
2008 – 45   (14456 pages)

New Recipes Tried
2017 - 100
2016 - 133
2015 - 98
2014 -  109
2013 -  125
2012 -100 
2011 - 95
2010 – 82
2009 - 92
2008 - 129
2007 - 120
2006 - 103
2005 - 137
2004 - 143
2003 - 154

Miles Biked:
2017 - 25   (see photo of puppy above...)
2016 - 250  I just couldn't fit in those last 50 miles!  Still...better than 2015.  I did do the Mesabi Ride again this year. 
2015 - 50    Oh,  this was just dismal...
2014 - 292 road   Lots and lots of spin, stopped keeping track
      Jane Addam's Trail 
      Mesabi Trail Ride
2013 - 300 road (628 spin miles - yes, higher spin than road. Very sad.)
2012 -  572.5 road  (568 spin)
      Heartland Trail, MN - 38 miles
      Badger State Trail, WI - 56 miles
      Mesabi Trail Ride, MN - 68 miles
2011 - 470 road  (755 spin)
      Menominee River Century - 50  miles
      Mesabi Trail Ride - 50 miles
2010 – 701 personal best!
      Split Rock Century (my first!) - 100
2009- 250

Miles Hiked:
2017 - 20-ish
2016 - 11  Just the Telephone Pole Hike in Sabino Canyon. 
2015 - 15  (just two hikes this summer)
2014 - 20ish
2013 -20
2012 - 20
2011  - 40+   
2010  - 48

...and there was some knitting!  But I can't find my pictures so you'll have to take my word that I finished a few things. 

Have a splendid 2018!  Please stay tuned for more recipes, book reviews, travel adventures (one coming up in February) and odds and ends! 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Recipe Review from 1/1/2018

I kinda hit the ground running at the start of the new year so I needed some simple dishes to fill the week. Add in temps that are staying stubbornly below 0*F (-18*C), meals also needed to be WARM. Chili is always a good go-to. 

The Meal plan for week of 1/1:
Sat (L) Lentil Soup  (S) leftover pulled pork
Sun (L) leftover soup  (S) Potluck
Mon (L) out    (S) Chili
Tues - leftover chili
Wed - leftover chili
Thurs (yoga)
Fri (Climate Change presentation)  Chinese take-out

Lunches - Double sesame noodles (me);  sandwiches for the Husband

Double Sesame Noodles (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2018) 
I needed something simple for my lunch for the week,and it served the dual purpose of using a couple of pantry/freezer items:  leftover rotisserie chicken and a package of udon.   Because this was for my lunches, I was concerned about the noodles getting soggy over the week, so I stored them separately.  I needn't have worried - the sauce isn't so liquidy that the noodles would have been compromised. 

I really liked this dish.  It was nicely flavorful, easy to assemble and transport, and perfectly filling as a lunch.  I can see making this again, especially during the summer months. 
photo from

6 ounces soba noodles  (I used udon)
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons sambal oelek or Sriracha
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1 cup chopped green onions
8 ounces shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast

Step 1 Cook soba noodles according to package directions; drain and rinse with cold water.
Step 2 Combine tahini, water, toasted sesame oil, fresh lime juice, sambal oelek or Sriracha, and kosher salt in a large bowl. Add noodles, thinly sliced red cabbage, chopped green onions, and shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast. Toss gently to combine. Serve at room temperature.

Cinnamon-laced Chili  (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2018)
Don't be intimidated by the ingredient list, it's mostly seasonings and spices.  The only chopping is the meat, onion, poblano and garlic.  What needs to be taken into account is the 45 minute simmering time on top of 20 minutes of prep, so this isn't the best dish for a weeknight (unless you got home early...).

While tasty, this wasn't may favorite chili.  I did sub pork for the beef (I'm still not a fan of beef).  It's a tich runny for my tastes, and would have been better served over rice to sop up some of that extra sauce. 

photo from
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cubed ]
(I used country style pork ribs)
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups seeded and chopped poblano chile (about 2)
8 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (I used 2 tsp dried)
1 tablespoon unsalted tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cinnamon sticks
1 (15.5-oz.) can unsalted black beans, rinsed and drained  (I used homemade, pre-cooked navy beans)
2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon sliced fresh chives
Step 1  Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high. Add beef, and cook 8 minutes or until browned on all sides, turning occasionally. Place on a plate.
Step 2  Add onion, poblano, and garlic to Dutch oven, and cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add oregano, tomato paste, and cumin, and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute and 30 seconds. Stir in stock, paprika, vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire, salt, and cinnamon sticks; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Add browned beef, cover, and simmer 45 minutes or until beef is tender, stirring occasionally.
Step 3  Remove cinnamon sticks; discard. Stir in beans; serve. Sprinkle each serving with shredded cheese and chives.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Recipe Review from 12/25/2017

Happy New Year!  

OMGosh!  Cold cold week!   Though in all honestly, I take the -22* temps over the 6 feet of snow poor Erie Pennsylvania received.  Yikes! 

Cold temps mean warm hearty meals.  Add in a potluck for work and it was a week of leftovers.  Yum!

The Meal Plan
Sat (L)   leftovers  (S) gumbo
Sun (L) polenta and bolognese  (S) beer cheese soup
Mon (Off) (L) polenta with leftover bolognese    (S) Smothered pork chops
Tues -  pork chops
Wed (Potluck) uff! Full!   pulled pork for potluck
Thurs (yoga)  leftover soup
Fri - leftover mashed potatoes and pulled pork

Lunches - Creamy Lentil Stew

Smothered Pork Chops  (modified from  ATK TV Book Cookbook)  gluten free option**
This was pretty good, if not a tich putsy and the 30 minute simmer in the middle was a bit unexpected (I misread the directions).  I used some organically raised pork chops so these were a bit leaner and smaller than what the recipe calls for.   My note would be, watch the total cooking times for your chops, because times will vary. 

The recipe never noted what to do with the bacon bits after cooking, so I tossed on the chops right before serving.

I did serve this over buttermilk mashed potatoes, there is definitely enough gravy to cover chops and potatoes.  I would make this again,  I don't know that I would do this for a week night meal unless I had a tich extra time, but would be good for the weekend.

3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4" pieces
2 tbsp flour** 
1 3/4 cups chicken stock (I used 2 cups)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 (7 oz) bone-in rib loin pork chops, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thin and trimmed of fat
2 medium yellow onions, halved ad sliced thin (about 3 1/2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp fresh parsley  (I skipped)

1) Fry bacon until crisp, set aside.  Reserve 2 tbsp bacon fat, adding oil if there is not enough.

2) Whisk flour into bacon fat and cook over medium-low until golden (about 5 minutes).  Whisk in broth and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and set aside.

3) Heat 1 tbsp oil in a 12" skillet (I used a 14" skillet, 12" was too small).  Dry chops with a paper towel, make two slits about 2" apart on outer fat layer, and season chops with pepper.  Brown chops, 3 minutes per side, and set aside.

4) Add 1 tbsp oil to skillet and heat till shimmering.  Add onions, 1/4 tsp salt and water, scrapping any brown bits and cook until lightly browned, about 5 are minutes.  Add garlic and thyme, cook 30 seconds.  Add pork chops and cover with onions.  Add sauce, bay leaves and any accumulated meat juices.  Cover and simmer over low heat until chops are tender, about 30 minutes.

5)  Uncover and let sauce thicken (mine was nice and thick at this point).  Discard bay leaves, season to taste and serve over mashed potatoes or egg noodles.  

[Squash] Beer Cheese Soup (Ckng Lght, Oct 2017)  gluten free
Let me say this right off the bat:  this is NOT "Beer Cheese Soup".  This is Squash soup with beer and cheese.   I'm from Wisconsin, now living across the border in Minnesota.  I know what beer cheese soup should taste like and THIS was NOT it.

It tasted like squash soup. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #20)

Two Kinds of Truth (Harry Bosch, #20; Harry Bosch Universe, #29)Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Harry Bosch is back as a volunteer working cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department and is called out to a local drug store where a young pharmacist has been murdered. Bosch and the town's 3-person detective squad sift through the clues, which lead into the dangerous, big business world of pill mills and prescription drug abuse.

Meanwhile, an old case from Bosch's LAPD days comes back to haunt him when a long-imprisoned killer claims Harry framed him, and seems to have new evidence to prove it. Bosch left the LAPD on bad terms, so his former colleagues aren't keen to protect his reputation. He must fend for himself in clearing his name and keeping a clever killer in prison.

The two unrelated cases wind around each other like strands of barbed wire. Along the way Bosch discovers that there are two kinds of truth: the kind that sets you free and the kind that leaves you buried in darkness.

Read as an audio book.

Whoo. Book started out on the wrong note for me when Harry was a complete asshat during the start of the investigation by the San Fernando police department into the murder of two pharmacists. Can a character get anymore condescending and righteous toward his "co-workers" than Harry? I haven't found one yet.

So I gritted my teeth through the first several disks as Harry treated his fellow detectives like imbeciles who don't know how to do their job. Because, as I've noted before, "only" Harry knows how to be a detective.

I continued to roll my eyes when Harry went undercover. Harry's behavior was so implausible to me it was like watching a car collision in slow motion - it could only end one way. surprises there.

I had further issues with Bosch not telling his daughter Maddie he was going undercover because he "didn't want her to worry" (foreshadowing, anyone?) He kinda told Haller, who should have told Maddie when Maddie was frantically calling everyone to find out where Bosch was, but no, no one told Maddie and when they did finally connect, he tells her more than he told the DEA and San Fernando Police detectives. W.T.F?


I also found Bosch to be a sanctimonious git when it came to the resolution of allegations that he - Bosch - planted evidence in a nearly 20 year old case. Haller did what Haller does best, and when Bosch found out how Haller manipulated the system (it was brilliant, actually...), Bosch got his knickers in a bind. Seriously - Haller just blew the whole prosecution out of the water and Bosch was indignant. W.T.F?


So. Not my favorite in this series. I wasn't thrilled with the prescription drug plot and and the second plot of planting evidence was a bit too pat. A "gimmie" mystery if anything because readers of this series know it will end only one way.

Recommended if you're reading the whole series. Start at the beginning if you haven't read the Bosch books yet.

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Monday, December 25, 2017

Recipe Review from 12/18/2017

Okay, I think I'm caught up again!  Last Monday's recipe review is posted (late) so scroll down and check it out as well.

And I admit, I've been a bit frazzled and I don't remember what I did for a couple of meals over the weekend.  We ate something....I just don't remember what!  And I know we went out for supper one night because the Husband had a hankering for steak. 

The Meal Plan from week of 12/18/2017
Sat - leftover hominy stew  (S)  Outback
Sun - more leftovers    (S) Gumbo
Mon (yoga/bkgrp/Legion mtgs) 
Tues (yoga) leftovers / make Texas Sheet Cake
Wed - Bolognese sauce/pasta
Thurs (yoga) leftovers
Fri (yoga) leftovers

Lunches - sandwiches  (it was that kind of week...)

Slow Cooked Chicken Gumbo  (modified, Slow Cooker Revolution by America's Test Kitchen) 

I made this recipe back in Oct 2014 and my thoughts are still the same.  With a solid hour of prep to make the roux alone, this is NOT a speedy dish to pull together.  

My thoughts on this haven't changed this go around: This involved making a roux for the slow cooker by lightly browning 1/2 cup of flour, then adding 1/2 cup of canola oil in a dutch oven and stirring till combined.  This mixture is then placed in a 350* oven and baked until the "color of a copper penny" or about 45 minutes. have to plan an HOUR ahead for this dish.

At which time this mixture is removed (it looks oily) and 1 diced green pepper, 1 diced red pepper, 2 stalks of diced celery, 5 cloves of diced garlic, 1 tbsp dried parsley, 1/2 tsp thyme, 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper are added and cooked till soft.  Pour in 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and bring to a simmer which lets the roux thicken  (did I mention this is already an hour into prep....for a slow cooker dish?).  This is poured over 2 bay leaves, 1lb of andouille, 2 lbs of cut-up chicken (recipe called for thighs, I used one of our home-raised birds), and 12 oz of sliced okra (fresh or frozen, thawed).

Cook for 6-8 hours on low.  I now have to pull out the chicken and de-bone. Stir meat back into pot. let warm and serve.  I did serve this over rice. 

I'm still a bit put out with the whole roux-in-the-oven bit, but it does work.  Was it worth the extra hour plus of prep for a slow cooker dish?   If you're doing this on a weekend, yes.  Still, A a slow cooker is about convenience, and is about as inconvenient as it comes.  That being said, the dish was flavorful, thick, and definitely a gumbo. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey (Expanse #6)

Babylon's Ashes (The Expanse, #6)Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them.

James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network.

But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante’s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity.

Read for December's book group meeting.

The deal with the Expanse series is, this is classic Space Opera spanning six (now seven) books - not counting those little side stories. And I continue to adore this series because it's classic space opera. As with any series, there are some books that are a bit better than others - this one fell solidly in the middle.

War has come to the galaxy: Marco's Inaros in the name of the Free Navy, has dropped rocks on Earth effectively killing most of the planet. Filip is reeling and bitter from finding out Naiomi didn't space herself while still under Marco's thumb. Michia Pa has parted ways with Marco's realizing a need to get supplies to those in need and now Marco's is gunning for her. Avasarala, leader of Earth and parts of space is trying to keep people alive from Luna. Bobbie is now crew with Holden. James Holden and the crew of the  find themselves in a very fine mess and it's a matter of who has the most ammunition when the shooting does start.

And I'm greatly summarizing here.

I felt that there were a lot more characters viewpoints in this book, and more than once it took a bit of mental prodding to figure out just who was "talking". Yes, the authors used the characters names at the top of each chapter, but sometimes I had to think back a bit to remember where they fit into the grand scheme of things.

This installment putters along getting everyone into place, then the shift into overdrive happens so fast that I felt a little discombobulated and had to go back and re-read a chapter or two to see if I missed something.

I didn't. The plot really did shift gears that fast.

Then just as suddenly, everything is over and it felt a bit anti-climatic.

That's not to say there aren't some little "ohhhh...isn't that interesting!" bits at the end. Which there are and had me grinning like a kid in a candy store.

But I felt like there should have been a tich more BANG and there wasn't.

As I noted above: this is great Space Opera, we'll be reading book seven in the new year. Recommended if you've read the first five in the series. If not - go and start from the beginning!

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Recipe Review from 12/11/2017

I'm posting this a week late - work and stuff got insane and it was Thursday when I realized I completely missed Monday's recipe posting.  So I'm back posting a bit.  I think we did Chinese take-out one night too somewhere in there...  Sesame chicken! Yum!

The Meal Plan
Sat (L)  out    (S)  Pork and Hominy Stew
Sun (L) leftover chili  (S) Pork and Hominy Stew
Mon (yoga)  leftover stew
Tues (yoga)  leftover stew
Wed - slow cooked Bolgonese with spaghetti.
Thurs (yoga) leftover stew
Fri (yoga) leftovers stew

Lunches - leftover Quinoa and Roasted Red Pepper Chili
                 chicken salad wraps

Pork and Hominy Stew (ATK Slow Cooker Revolution)
If you've been following my blog, you'll know that I'm a HUGE fan of this cook book.  If you're new to my blog and a fan of slow cookers - go get this cook book!
This was one of the simpler slow cooker stews to pull together, where I only needed to do a quick saute on the onions and seasonings.

My note:  America's Test Kitchen uses a microwave to soften the onions/carrots/celery and to bloom the spices;  I don't have a microwave and so I saute the "old fashioned way" on the stovetop. 

Simple ingredients for a great tasting stew:  pork, onion, hominy, chicken stock, spices are all slow cooked for a great Tex Mex dish.

This makes a lot, and I did end up freezing about four servings for a later date.  Recommended.

Slow Cooked Bolognese (ATK Slow Cooker Revolution)
A bit of a departure for me in making a meat based spaghetti sauce, but I was looking for something different for pasta, something that could be made ahead of time, and was fairly easy.  This America's Test Kitchen recipe hit all those requirements, surprisingly. 

A combination of 3 lbs of meat (a blend of beef, lamb and pork - but I just did pork and beef), crushed tomatoes, bread soaked in cream, sauteed onions/celery/carrot all combined in a slow cooker then left to do it's thing for 9-11 hours on low. 

I did cook this overnight so I wouldn't have to putz with morning assembly.  Not having had a lot of bolognese, I think this was tasty enough if a bit on the bland side.  I served this over whole wheat spaghetti, regular spaghetti, cavatappi, and polenta.  I think the polenta was actually my favorite.   As I noted, *I* found it a bit bland, and added a sprinkling of Alleppo pepper.  Yum!

So if you need a pot of pasta sauce for a crowd, for some upcoming Italian dishes, or need something to freeze, go find America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution and give this a try  I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Deep Freeze by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers #10)

Deep Freeze (Virgil Flowers, #10)Deep Freeze by John Sandford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:   Class reunions: a time for memories—good, bad, and, as Virgil Flowers is about to find out, deadly—in this New York Times bestselling thriller from John Sandford.

Virgil knows the town of Trippton, Minnesota, a little too well. A few years back, he investigated the corrupt—and as it turned out, homicidal—local school board, and now the town’s back in view with more alarming news: A woman’s been found dead, frozen in a block of ice.

There’s a possibility that it might be connected to a high school class of twenty-five years ago that has a mid-winter reunion coming up, and so, wrapping his coat a little tighter, Virgil begins to dig into twenty years’ worth of traumas, feuds, and bad blood. In the process, one thing becomes increasingly clear to him.

It’s true what they say: High school is murder.

Read as an audio book.

LOVED this latest installment! I'm from Minnesota, I've been ice fishing, I've experienced the -3*F, I know what it's like to bomb around on a snowmobile, I know what it's like to pull all those layers of clothes on. Not many authors write about winter - and Sandford nailed it! ...of course he did, he's from here.

Virgil is back in Trippton, where the President of the bank was found dead in the river by the sewage plant and someone is making pornographic Barbies. You, the reader, will know who the murderer is, and it is an absolute HOOT watching Virgil go around and interview people in truly classic Virgil style. There is one point in the book a character totally nails the small town rumor mill, that some how ends with the Sheriff leading a Satanic cult. Oh my gosh, I was laughing my ass off!

I don't know how Sandford does it, but he manages to capture people to a "T", the wild speculation, the internal panic, and the lies they come up with - to see it all spelled out on the page by such an accomplished author is delightful.

The only thing I didn't like was the last paragraph. Didn't care for the direction that points future Virgil books in and was a bit too parallel to the Davenport books. Yup, now you have to read it to find out what the hell I'm talking about.

If you've been reading the Virgil Flowers series, you'll probably enjoy this one. Recommended.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 11, 2017

Recipe Review from 12/3/2017

Pretty uneventful week all around so I'll jump right to recipes!

The Meal Plan for week of 12/3/2017
Sat (L) leftovers           (S)  Creamy chicken quesadillas
Sun (L) Chicken Wild Rice Soup leftovers  (S) Poblano Stew
Mon (yoga)l leftover stew
Tues (yoga) Hamburger Steak and Tots
Wed - leftovers
Thurs (yoga) - Chinese
Fri - Quinoa Chili

Lol - I realized I moved around the meal plan mid-week and didn't note what I actually made when.  So the above is what I think I did.   Maybe...

Creamy Chicken Quesadillas  (Ckng Lght, Oct 2017)

This is perfect for leftover chicken or turkey.  This comes together quick;y, so it's perfect for a weeknight.  For a flavor boost, sub shredded pepperjack or a Mexican blend cheese for the mozzarella.  I used Franks Hot Sauce - the hot sauce adds a nice background zing more so than straight up "heat".   And as I was typing this, I was thinking some banana peppers would have been awesome in this, but that's me and my taste buds. 

photo from

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
1 cup coarsely chopped spinach (about 1 1/2 oz.)
1 tablespoon hot sauce (such as Cholula)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast, shredded (about 1 1/4 cups)
4 ounces preshredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)
4 (8-in.) whole-wheat flour tortillas
Cooking spray
1 ripe avocado, quartered

1) Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium. Sprinkle flour over pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Slowly add stock; cook 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat; stir in spinach, hot sauce, salt, pepper, chicken, and cheese.

2) Heat a large skillet over medium. Divide chicken mixture evenly over half of each tortilla. Fold tortillas in half over filling. Carefully coat both sides of quesadillas with cooking spray. Add 2 quesadillas to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned and cheese is melted. Repeat with remaining quesadillas. Cut each into 4 wedges. Serve with avocado.

Chicken and Poblano Stew with Polenta (Ckng Lght, May 2017)  gluten free
I did make this as a weeknight dish.  It's borderline between taking too long to get it on the table and acceptable amount of time for a weeknight. 

First off, half and seed the poblano peppers first, then oil and place on a foil lined sheet under the broiler.   Round peppers don't "char" very well.  Because of this,  darn peppers took the longest and were the last thing to go into the final pot.

Because I use regular polenta, I did start this first, then moved into the peppers and the rest from there.   Oh, I had one oops!  What I thought was a chipolte pepper in my freezer, was slightly freezer burned tomato paste, not realizing this until too late.  I ended up adding a tsp of ground Adobe pepper in lieu of the chipolte. 

When all was said and eaten, this was a nice change for using shredded chicken (or turkey).  Recommended.

photo from
3 poblano peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups thinly sliced yellow onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
8 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chopped tomato
2 tablespoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle chiles in adobo
(I used 1 tbsp)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
4 ounces skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast, shredded (about 1 cup)
3 cups whole milk    (I used half chicken stock and half water)
3/4 cup uncooked quick-cooking polenta  
(I used regular polenta and cooked according to directions on package)

1. Preheat broiler to high.

2. Place peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet; rub with 1 1/2 teaspoons oil. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened on all sides, turning occasionally. Wrap peppers in foil; let stand 10 minutes. Unwrap; remove skins and seeds. Coarsely chop peppers.

3. Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high. Add onion, oregano, and garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Add tomato, adobo sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in peppers, juice, and chicken; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until slightly thickened.

4. Bring milk to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low; add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and polenta, whisking constantly. Cook 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly. Place 3/4 cup polenta in each of 4 shallow bowls; top each serving with 3/4 cup chicken mixture.

Hamburger Steak with Onion gravy  (Ckng Lght, Nov 2017)
This is a major departure for me from my my usual recipes in that I made something with beef (not a fan).   I also departed from the recipe a bit by using tater tots instead of mashed potatoes - I had a bag in the freezer from a different dish that didn't get made and wanted to use them up.  Mmm...tater tots! 

I did use pasture raised beef, but venison or buffalo would also be quite tasty in this.  I added some garlic salt and onion power to the meat before cooking.   I'll say, this was actually quite tasty (I'm sure it was because of the tater tots).   I did have to thicken the gravy a bit more - I like mine thick - but the overall flavors really complemented everything nicely.  I would consider making this again.    

Serve with mashed potatoes and haricote verts.

Step 1  Divide beef into 4 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Sprinkle patties evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; swirl to coat. Add patties; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned; remove from pan.
Step 2  Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add vertically sliced onion; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned and tender. Sprinkle onion with flour; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add stock and remaining salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Return patties to pan; reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and cook 5 minutes or until gravy is slightly thickened. Sprinkle with green onions, if desired.

Quinoa and Roasted Pepper Chili  (Ckng Lght, Nov 2017)  vegetarian, gluten free, SPICY
 Interesting!  As I was cut and pasting from the Cooking Light website, I was wondering where the chili in adobo sauce went.  I pulled out my magazine and noted where was in the paper version, but it's missing from online.  Not sure which is correct.  I would say, if you DON'T like heat, skip it!

I also dropped the amount of chili powder because mine is Penzey's "Medium-Hot" and we definitely taste it.  I also used the whole can of vegetable juice (V-8) because we don't drink it and the chili seemed too thick without it.

This was a weeknight meal for us and it came together in about 45 minutes.  I liked the flavors of this, use your favorite chili beans or add and extra can.   Adjust the heat to your tastebuds or the little tastebuds in your house.   Recommended

photo from
2 poblano chiles
4 teaspoons olive oil
3 cups chopped zucchini
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder  (I used 1/2 tbsp because mine is "medium hot")
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
Magazine recipe had 1 tbsp chopped chipolte chili in adobo sauce here.
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes with chipotles, undrained
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup low-sodium vegetable juice  (I used the whole can)

1) Cut bell peppers and chiles in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet, and flatten with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a paper bag; fold to close tightly. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and coarsely chop.

2) Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add zucchini, onion, and garlic; sauté 4 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, and paprika; sauté for 30 seconds. Add roasted peppers and chiles, 1/2 cup water, and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until quinoa is tender.

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