Thursday, October 30, 2014

London Falling by Paul Cornell

London Falling (Shadow Police, #1)London Falling by Paul Cornell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  The dark is rising . . .

Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence analyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out.

Now, the team must find a 'suspect' who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again. As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game - and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

October's book group selection. 

I enjoyed this quite a bit.  Somewhat of a cross between a police procedural, mystery and urban fantasy, the story blended a bit of each into a rather well written book. 

Four unlikely characters are thrown together after a gang bust literally blows up in their faces - the crime lord's head explodes for no apparent reason.  The group finds they are blessed and damned with the gift of Sight - they can see the "other side" of London.  They can see the ghosts and shadows and the depths of Hell itself.  They can see the one old woman who has transcended time and is now a threat to London and the innocents that live there.

I had two complaints with the book.  One, the "chase" or "hunt" went on for one too many .   It started to become, "yeah, yeah, she's got supernatural powers and continues to kick your butt ((yawn))".  

And my second complaint was the shifting point of view.  I really didn't care for the paragraph blurbs for each character.  The rapidity of the shifts felt almost like a video rather than a story - I would have preferred a chapter devoted to each character, rather than a paragraph.  Perhaps this rapid fire delivery is a carryover from Mr. Cornell's comic/graphic comic background?   Whatever the reason, I found it annoying.  Though I will give a tip o' the hat to Mr. Cornell in that I never had to wonder which character the paragraph belonged to. 

Recommended.  And I see there is a book two coming out shortly.  I will have to pick that one up as well.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Recipe Review from 10/20/2014

Andy-pup is doing much better this week after his first 7 days of antibiotics.  No problems getting him to swallow his meds, but then we're hiding those in a little ball of wet food.  Down the hatch it goes!

We've been enjoying a glorious week of sunny and warm (for us - 60*) Fall weather.  The Husband has been taking advantage of this to build the foundation for the future chicken coop.  Blocks are in, cement poured and curing, and first sheets of plywood for the walls purchased.

And now...The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) grilled cheese and leftover soup  (S)  Lasagna
Mon (Yoga/IMA mtg) scrounge
Tues - leftovers
Wed - (AM yoga)  leftovers
Thurs - (yoga) sauteed pork chops
Fri - leftovers
Sat - (leading yoga workshop/out with friend Tess!)  scrounge

Lunches - Slow cooked Chicken Gumbo, fruit, yogurt, nut cups

Classic Lasagna with Meat Sauce  (Ckng Lght Oct 2014)
I simplified this a bit by using no-boil noodles and adding some extra liquid to the pan.  Personally, I hate boiling lasagna noodles. Lasagna is an already labor-intensive dirty-dish creating meal, and I just despise adding boiling noodles into the mix.  It is imperative though, when using no-boil noodles to add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of water to the pan.  If you like your lasagna saucy, go with the 1 cup.  If you like your lasagna firmer, use less. 

Overall, this was a basic lasagna with meat sauce.  Nothing fancy, solid comfort food, the 11x7 pan good for two - four people with some leftovers. 
photo from cookinglight.com

1 1/2 cups fat-free ricotta cheese
6 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
5 garlic cloves, minced and divided 
1 large egg, lightly beaten 
12 ounces extra-lean ground beef (93% lean)   (I used mild Italian sausage)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 (25-ounce) jar lower-sodium marinara sauce (such as Dell'Amore)
Cooking spray 
6 lasagna noodles, cooked  (I used 1 pkg no-boil noodles, and added ~1/2 cup water to pan)
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Combine ricotta, 2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) mozzarella, 2 tablespoons parsley, butter, oregano, 1 garlic clove, and egg; set aside.
3. Place ground beef in a large non­stick skillet over medium-high heat; sprinkle with peppers and remaining 4 garlic cloves. Cook for 9 minutes or until beef is browned, stirring to crumble; drain. Return beef mixture to pan; stir in marinara sauce, and remove from heat.
4. Spread 1/2 cup meat sauce in bottom of a broiler-safe 11 x 7–inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cut bottom third off each noodle to form 6 long and 6 short noodles; cut short noodles in half to form 12 pieces. Arrange 2 long noodles along outside edges of dish; arrange 4 short noodle pieces along center of dish. Top noodles with 1 cup meat sauce. Top with 2 long noodles and 4 short noodle pieces, all of ricotta mixture, and 1 cup meat sauce. Arrange remaining 2 long noodles and 4 short noodle pieces on top. Spread remaining meat sauce over top noodles. Sprinkle evenly with remaining 4 ounces (1 cup) mozzarella cheese and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until bubbly.
5. Preheat broiler to high. (Keep lasagna in oven.)
6. Broil lasagna for 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese is golden brown and sauce is bubbly. Remove from oven; let stand 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons parsley; cut into 6 pieces.

Slow Cooked Chicken Gumbo  (modified, Slow Cooker Revolution by America's Test Kitchen)
Okay, this recipe was way to long and involved to type out.  It was also rather long and involved in the prep!  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.

At which time this oily mixture is removed (I thought it looked 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.  This is poured over 2 bay leaves, 1lb of polish (recipe called for andoullie), 2 lbs of chicken thighs, and 12 oz of sliced okra (fresh or frozen, thawed).

Cook for 4-6 hours on high.  Break-up super tender chicken with a wooden spoon, and serve.

I was pretty dubious (and a bit put out) with the whole roux-in-the-oven bit, but much to my surprise it actually worked.  Was it worth the extra hour of prep for a slow cooker dish?   Not entirely certain.  A slow cooker is about convenience, and that was about as inconvenient as it comes.  That being said, the dish was flavorful, thick, and definitely a gumbo. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Buttons and Bones by Monica Ferris (Needlecraft Mystery #14)

Buttons and Bones (A Needlecraft Mystery, #14)Buttons and Bones by Monica Ferris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Owner of the Crewel World needlework shop and part-time sleuth Betsy Devonshire heads for the Minnesota north woods to renovate an old cabin. But beneath the awful linoleum is something even uglier- the skeleton of a Nazi. Betsy's investigation yields the site of a former German POW camp, a mysterious crocheted rug, and an intricately designed pattern of clues to a decades-old crime.

After a couple of meh thriller-mysteries,  I needed something solid, dependable, and well, cozy.  Monica Ferris's Needlecraft mysteries fits this requirement to a T.  Kinda a Murder She Wrote type series, it features a vibrant woman over 60, who's found herself transplanted from California to Excelsior MN, running her deceased sisters needlepoint and yarn shop (Crewel World) and solving mysteries on the side.  She's methodical,  talks to people, makes mistakes, and calls the cops when she should call the cops, and makes no claims to being anything more than an amateur sleuth.  No hysterics, no moodiness, no running off by herself. 

In this current book, Betsy helps her best friend Jan solve the question of whose bones were found in the root cellar of Jan and Lars newly purchased Northwoods cabin.  The mystery takes the reader back to the 1940's in World War I embroiled country.  I applaud Ms Ferris for taking the "murders" away from Excelsior and for creating mysteries that revolve around people long since deceased.   Not every "Mystery" has to be someone recently dead.

The book is by no means perfect; there are more loose threads than an unraveling rug (which was one of the loose threads), a bit of dialog repetition and lots of unnecessary driving.  I also question the quick "forensics" decision of the deceased's body.  Seemed...unlikely.  Just sayin'. 

What I like about these books is they are light, faced paced, engaging, and perfect for a quiet weekend, a beach read, or travel.   Recommended.  Can be read as a stand alone, but I do suggest starting at the beginning of the series for the most enjoyment.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Death Du Jour by Kathy Reichs (#2)

Death du Jour (Temperance Brennan, #2)Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Assaulted by the bitter cold of a Montreal winter, the American-born Dr. Temperance Breman, Forensic Anthropologist for the Province of Quebec, digs for a corpse where Sister Elisabeth Nicolet, dead over a century and now a candidate for sainthood, should lie in her grave. A strange, small coffin, buried in the recesses of a decaying church, holds the first clue to the cloistered nun's fate. The puzzle surrounding Sister Elisabeth's life and death provides a welcome contrast to discoveries at a burning chalet, where scorched and twisted bodies await Tempe's professional expertise. Who were these people? What brought them to this gruesome fate? Homicide Detective Andrew Ryan, with whom Tempe has a combustive history, joins her in the arson investigation. From the fire scene they are drawn into the worlds of an enigmatic and controversial professor, a mysterious commune, and a primate colony on a Carolina island.

Read as an audiobook. 

What could have been a really good forensics based mystery was overshadowed by the protagonists poor behavior:  sulking because her sister 'might' have slept with Andy Ryan, snapping at Ryan like she was menopausal or some jealous teenager, going off like a tea kettle from anxiety attacks, demanding that someone drive her around in a very dangerous ice/snow storm at 4 am in the morning or she would By God! do it herself!  It was like watching a grown adult throw a childish temper tantrum.  She was moody, demanding, prone to hysterics, subject to stupidity, and unreasonable often all within a matter of pages.  By the end of the book I detested the main character.  She needed a solid slap upside the head.

I grew increasingly annoyed with the over use of "...a cold wind gripped by body,"  "..ice flowed through my veins,"; "...an icy fear stopped my heart," "...fear clenched my stomach." "...my heart was gripped with fear,"  "...my throat clenched with anxiety,".

By the end of the book all the interesting forensics details had gone by the wayside and I was left with panicked ruminations, foreboding dreams, an ice storm that shut down the Province (except Ryan and Tempe could drive around), and theatrics.  I was quite relieved when I hit that final disk.  By this point I'm sure I've got a lump on the back of my head where I was banging it against my car seat.

Book one: Tempe's house is broken into.  Book two: Tempe's house is broken into.

Book one:  Tempe is threatened.              Book two:  Tempe is threatened.

Book one: Tempe is strangled.                 Book two: Tempe is strangled.

Book one: Tempe is subjected to bodily harm.  Book two:  Tempe is subjected to bodily harm.

Book one: Tempe's best friend is harmed.  Book two:  Tempe's sister is harmed.

Do you sense a trend?  I'm sensing a trend, and not one I'm entirely pleased about.

What I did like about the book was the descriptions of the Low Country down by Beaufort.  The talk of the coast, of the island, of the inter-coastal waterway.   I also like the descriptions and history of Montreal.   And as I said before, the forensics aspect can be really fascinating. But ultimately, it wasn't enough to over come the issues I had with the protagonist.  Which I'm rather bummed about because I was hoping to sink my teeth into another series.  Oh well.  Very reluctant recommendations.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Receipe Review from 10/13/2014

This week was a bit off-kilter, what with being gone the weekend before to Brainerd.  That was figured into the meal plan - leftovers to get us through Monday, sandwiches for lunch. 

What wasn't figured in was a sick dog.  My poor Andy fell ill on Monday.  He was fine when I sent him out the door Monday morning for "1st call", but Husband said by mid-morning Andy was just kinda was bleh.  No improvement on Tuesday so off to the vet he went.  Diagnosis - early Lymes (maybe) and Anaplasmosis. 

What in the heck is anaplasmosis you ask? 

Short version - tick borne disease. 

Long version - an infectious disease that is caused by a bacteria called Anaplasma phagocytophilum. This lives inside of the white blood cells and can cause a variety of problems. Anaplasma was formerly called Ehrlichia equi, so you may hear this disease referred to as Ehrlichiosis. This can infect both dogs and cats.  The most common signs of infection are high fever, lethargy, and swollen painful joints (this can be dramatic). The pets become dumpy, will not eat well, and will be reluctant to move. Painful joints can shift from leg to leg and they may cry when they try to move.

We didn't see any indication of painful joints, but dogs are known to 'hide' their pain.  I think we also caught this somewhat early on - plus we didn't wait to see if he would get better on his own - so perhaps that didn't have time to manifest.  At anyrate, Andy-pup was put on an anti-inflammatory/pain med for one week and and antibiotics for a month.  He's already much better as we move into the weekend. 

So, what this means meal-wise is we kept the week simple.  Enough running around that I didn't want to futz with a lot of meal prep. 

Sun (back from Brainerd)  leftover Minestrone Soup
Mon (yoga) leftover chili from Brainerd
Tues - Zucchini Squash Soup
Wed (AM yoga) leftovers
Thurs (yoga) leftovers
Fri (Mall-ternative)  Husband = brats
Sat (Mall-ternative)  Husband = brats

Lunches - sandwiches, apples, luna bars, crackers, nut cups...the usual.

Bacon, Blue Cheese and Courgette (zucchini) Soup  (Irish Pub Ckbk)  vegetarian option**  gluten free
This is by no means a new recipe, but has become one of our last summer and fall "go-to" squash soups.  In fact, I did a quick search and found I've blogged about this twice before!  Yes, it's that good.  

The one change I have made to this recipe is I now bake the bacon.  I save the drippings, and use those in which to saute the vegetables.  The bacon can easily be omitted to make this vegetarian.  Use extra blue cheese crumbles for garnish.  

2 tbsp olive oil
5-6 streaky rashers (Traditional Irish Bacon), diced  (or in our case, regular bacon, easily omitted)  
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 medium zucchini, diced or sliced  (or summer squash)
3 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I've use baby reds or yukons, unpeeled)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2/3 cup half in half  (I used maybe 1/2 cup)
4 oz blue cheese crumbles
fresh ground pepper
fresh parsley (for garnish)

1) In a large stockpot, heat the oil and fry the bacon until nearly crisp.  Remove bacon and set aside, reserving 2 tbsp bacon drippings.

2) Stir in onions, zucchini (or summer squash) and potatoes.  Cover and cook, stirring once or twice to prevent sticking for 5-7 minutes or until the onions are soft but not browned.  Stir in the stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for12-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

3) Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.  Add half and half and pepper. Simmer until heated through.

4) Serve, garnished with bacon, blue cheese crumbles, and parsley, if desired.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Hard Day's Knight by Simon R. Green (Nightside #11)

A Hard Day's Knight (Nightside, #11)A Hard Day's Knight by Simon R. Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: John Taylor is a P.I. with a special talent for finding lost things in the dark and secret center of London known as the Nightside. He's also the reluctant owner of a very special-and dangerous-weapon. Excalibur, the legendary sword. To find out why he was chosen to wield it, John must consult the Last Defenders of Camelot, a group of knights who dwell in a place that some find more frightening than the Nightside.

London Proper. It's been years since John's been back-and there are good reasons for that.

Another fast read that follows right on the heels of The Good, The Bad, and the Uncanny.  Excalibur has literally shown up on John's and Suzie's doorstep in the Post no less.  The Elves are threatening to go to war in Nightside.  And it seems the answer to both lies in London Proper with the Knight's of London. 

And, as usual, it's up to John to figure everything out.

I enjoyed this one, but perhaps not as much as #10.  The repartee between Suzie and John has evolved nicely, telling rather than showing how their relationship has grown and evolved.  Not as many Nightside regulars in this one - as John has stepped out of Nightside and is working with the Knight's of London.  Some interesting plot twists.  And, as always, I love how Green has taken myths and legends and incorporated them into this alternate reality/urban fantasy setting and in such a way as to make them new and refreshing. 

Recommended if you've read the first 10.  Please do start at the beginning for this series.

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Recipe Review from 10/6/2014

A busy week work-wise for both the Husband and myself and fortunately meals were quick, or ala slow cooker.  Yup.  That time of year where my favorite kitchen implement comes into play!  Starting to return to soups and stews for lunches with the temperatures staying on the cool side.

Then add in a trip to Brainerd to spend some time with The Folks and my youngest Sister's family.  Got to play with the 2yro nephew and let the 3 mo niece spit up on me.  No commentary on the auntie - she spits up on everyone equally.  Weather was a fantastic 60* with a cool wind.  There was pool time, walks in the afternoon sun, good meals, and a quick round of Apples to Apples.  Hard to fit in game time with little kiddos. 

The Meal Plan for last week:
Sun - (L) Cheesy Skillet Gnocchi  (S) leftover Barley Butternut Risotto (last weeks review)
Mon (yoga)  leftover Gnocchi
Tues (sub yoga)  Slow Cooked Chickpeas and Potatoes
Wed (AM yoga) leftovers
Thurs (yoga) leftovers
Fri - Sun  Brainerd! 

Lunches - Slow Cooked Minestrone Soup, crackers, fruit, nut cup, luna bar and yogurt.

Cheesy Skillet Gnocchi (Ckng Lght Oct 2014)
This was ready to eat in 25 minutes.  Seriously.  It came together that fast.  I used closer to 10oz bulk Italian venison sausage (skip the whole 'casings' bit and just buy what you need bulk).  I omitted the basil because the Husband said the last package in the store looked bleh.  I used some dried oregano instead.  And there is no such thing as whole wheat gnocchi in my world so regular it is.

This was good.  Hearty, comforting, flavorful, fast...what more can I say?  Recommended. 
photo by CookingLight.com
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 (16-ounce) package prepared whole-wheat gnocchi
  • 4 ounces mild bulk Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped tomato 
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1/4 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
  • 2 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil   Omitted because option in store didn't look good. 
  1. Preheat broiler to high.
  2. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add oil; swirl. Add gnocchi; cook 7 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Place gnocchi in a large bowl. Add sausage to pan; cook 6 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add sausage to gnocchi. Add tomato and garlic to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add gnocchi mixture and stock to pan; sprinkle with cheese. Place pan in oven; broil 2 minutes or until cheese is melted and lightly browned. Sprinkle with basil.

Slow Cooker Indian-Spiced Chickpeas and Potatoes  (OhMyVeggies Blog via Pinterest)  vegetarian, gluten free
Slow cooker recipes just don't get simpler than this.  Chop, saute, plop, walk away, eat later.  This turned out fantastic.  Seasonings were perfect, loved the potato and chickpea combo.  The Husband and I agreed that some chicken thighs would have been a very tasty addition, but the dish was just as good vegetarian.  

photo from ohmyveggies.com

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 pound red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 lime
  • Small bunch fresh cilantro
  • 3-quart or larger slow cooker
  1. Drizzle the olive oil into a large saute pan over medium heat and swirl to coat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, garam masala, ground ginger, turmeric, red pepper flakes, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and vegetable broth. Stir until combined. Pour into the slow cooker, then stir in the chickpeas and potatoes.
  2. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 8-10 hours, or until the potatoes are fork-tender.
  3. Ladle into bowls and serve with fresh cilantro and lime wedges for squeezing over the top.

Slow Cooked Minestrone Soup (Slow Cooker Revolution by America's Test Kitchen, modifiedvegetarian**, gluten free

A very simple dish to pull together - saute onions, garlic and spices, combine with veggies and liquid, cook.  Toward the end add the noodles, zucchini and Swiss chard.  Cook a bit more.  Eat!

1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz zucchini, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced (I added)
1 1/2 tsp fresh oregano or 1/2 tsp dried
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup dried beans, quick soaked/pre-soaked with your method of choice
4 qts chicken stock (**or vegetable stock)
1 (15oz can) tomato sauce
1 cup ditali or other small tubular pasta
8 oz swiss chard, stems removed and chopped
1/2 cup sliced basil (I omitted)
fresh grated parmesan cheese

1) Prep beans using method of choice.   Can be done day before. 

2) Saute onion, garlic (and celery), until softened.  Add to slow cooker.
3) Combine broth, beans, carrots, and tomato sauce in slow cooker.  Cook 4-6 hrs on low, 8-10 on high.
4) Last 30 minutes or hour, add swiss chard, zucchini and pasta (and basil if using).  Cook until pasta is tender.
5) Serve with grated parmesan cheese.