Friday, September 19, 2014

Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith (#11)

The Double Comfort Safari Club (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency #11)The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Fans around the world adore the bestselling No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the basis of the HBO TV show, and its proprietor Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's premier lady detective. In this charming series, Mma Ramotswe navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, and good humor--not to mention help from her loyal assistant, Grace Makutsi, and the occasional cup of tea.
Readers will agree that this touching and dramatic new installment in Alexander McCall Smith's beloved and best-selling series is the finest yet. In this story, Precious Ramotswe deals with issues of mistaken identity and great fortune against the beautiful backdrop of Botswana's remote and striking Okavango Delta.
Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi head to a safari camp to carry out a delicate mission on behalf of a former guest who has left one of the guides a large sum of money. But once they find their man, Precious begins to sense that something is not right. To make matters worse, shortly before their departure Mma Makutsi's fiance, Phuti Radiphuti, suffers a debilitating accident, and when his aunt moves in to take care of him, she also pushes Mma Makutsi out of the picture. Could she be trying to break up the relationship? Finally, a local priest and his wife independently approach Mma Ramotswe with concerns of infidelity, creating a rather unusual and tricky situation

To say the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books are fast reads would be a bit of an understatement.   Delightful, entertaining, perfect for a very lazy weekend afternoon or a day at the beach kinda book. 

The adventures, advise and wisdom of Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi continue.  Mma Makutsi's fiancee is grievously injured and she must face a bitter Auntie over her rights as a fiancee with Rra Ratiphuti's care.  Mma Ramotswe makes several assumptions which lead to the realization that despite what her friends or her snap judgement says, one must set aside first thoughts and impressions and focus on finding the facts. 

I really liked this book.  It had a nice cadence and flow to the stories that made them seem more interlinked than in past books.  The little bits of wisdom and insite had me both chuckling in amusement and nodding my head at the simplicity of the statement. 

Recommended.  Reading series in order helpful, but not necessarily required.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Killer Instinct by Joseph Finder

Killer InstinctKiller Instinct by Joseph Finder

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Jason Steadman is a thirty-year-old sales executive living in Boston and working for a electronics giant, a competitor to Sony and Panasonic. He's a witty, charismatic guy who's well liked at the office, but he lacks the "killer instinct" necessary to move up the corporate ladder. To the chagrin of his ambitious wife, it looks as if his career has hit a ceiling. Jason's been sidelined.

But all that will change one evening when Jason meets Kurt Semko, a former Special Forces officer just back from Iraq. Looking for a decent pitcher for the company softball team, Jason gets Kurt, who was once drafted by the majors, a job in Corporate Security. Soon, good things start to happen for Jason - and bad things start to happen to Jason's rivals. His career suddenly takes off. He's an overnight success
Only too late does Jason discover that his friend Kurt has been secretly paving his path to the top by the most "efficient" - and ruthless - means available. After all, Kurt says, "Business is war, right?"
But when Jason tries to put a stop to it, he finds that his new best friend has become the most dangerous enemy imaginable. And now it's far more than just his career that lies in the balance.

Read as an audiobook.  Not entirely enthused about about the narrator - he was the voice for a couple of Brad Meltzer books I bounced off of.  Personally, I find that he makes the main characters sound whiny, which is hard to overlook.

Not sure what to think about this book - quite a bit different from the police and detective thrillers which I'm used to and prefer.  The book revolves around Jason, who is trying to sell plasma TV's in a cutthroat corporate world and finds nearly everything going his way.  He comes from a working class upbringing, his beautiful and gorgeous wife is dethroned upper crust - she wants the big house and fancy cars and $2800 baby pram.  It's when things begin to look up that Jason realizes he's getting a bit more "help" from a new friend than he anticipated.

Things begin a steady spiral around the drain the higher Jason climbs the corporate ladder.  His wife is having a difficult and tenuous pregnancy, a co-workers starts to question how Jason got where he was, and as events unfold, Jason begins to realize just how much of an enemy a friend can be. 

A very slow moving thriller, a main character who makes stupid decisions, and ultimately left me bored rather than engaged. I set the audiobook aside with two disks (maybe three?) to go listen to something else and I'm not sure I'll pick it back up again.

As of today (9/5/14), DNF.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Recipe Review from 9/8/2014

A rather quiet and mostly uneventful week.  Temperatures have officially dropped into the low-mid 30's (0*C) at night and we started covering the butternut squash, tomatoes, kale and swiss chard.  I don't think the tomatoes will ripen, but we'll baby them a long and see.  Kale and swiss chard really didn't need to be covered, but what the heck, little extra babying there doesn't hurt anything either. 

I've signed up for a new-to-me exercise class at the gym - TRX and Kettlebells.  I knew the instructor and they needed an extra body to hold the class on Friday's.  Much to my delight I knew the other two gals from my yoga classes!   Never done TRX or kettlebells, but I loved the first class despite my "newbie-ness".  TRX is using your body's natural resistance with stationary straps. Kettlebells are these little dumbell thingies and you do squats and things with them.  Between the two - intense!  Stay tuned for more on this...

The Meal Plan:
Sun - Slow cooked beans and rice
Mon (yoga) leftovers
Tues - leftovers
Wed - 5 Bean chili   leftovers
Thurs (yoga)  Pizza from Do North
Fri - leftovers
Sat - leftovers

Fingerling Potato-Leek Hash  (Ckng Lght April 2011)  vegetarian, gluten free
The Husband selected and made this dish.  This was super tasty!  We did sub cheddar cheese for the gruyere (had cheddar on hand).  He did have problems getting the potatoes to cook fully, not sure what was happening there, but I would recommend increasing the time on the potatoes.  Or, cut into cubes instead of wedges.  Loved the combination of the smoked paprika with the egg and tangy swiss chard. One other note: if making for two people, just cook two eggs.  Dish does serve four, so add extra eggs with leftovers.  I would make this again!
phoot from cookinglight.com
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups sliced leek (about 2 large)
  • 12 ounces fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise (about 4 cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
  • 4 cups thinly sliced trimmed Swiss chard (about 1 bunch)
  • 4 large eggs 
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded Gruy√®re cheese  medium or sharp cheddar
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan. Add leek; cook 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add potatoes and garlic; cook 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chard; cook 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Using a spoon, push potato mixture aside to make 4 egg-size spaces. Crack 1 egg into each space; sprinkle remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon paprika over eggs. Cover and cook 3 minutes; sprinkle cheese over potato mixture. Cover and cook 2 minutes or until egg yolks are lightly set.
Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice (Ckng Lght Sept 2014)   gluten free
There was something "off" about this dish in the preparation that went beyond my subbing beans.  I didn't have enough dried beans for the full recipe, so I added an extra can.  I also should have decreased the liquid by at least half - which is really a significant amount.  So this turned out to be more of a soup served over rice.  It was good, but not what I was after.  Which was my fault for not making sure I had enough beans.

This made enough for five or six dinners when served over rice and looked nothing like the picture below.   
  • 1 pound dried red kidney beans  (I used white soldier beans)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion 
    photo from cookinglight.com
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped poblano chile
  • 1 cup diced celery 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 10 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 (12-ounce) can lager-style beer (such as Budweiser) 
  • 4 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, divided
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 4 cups hot cooked long-grain rice
  1. Sort and wash beans; place in a large saucepan. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; cover and let stand 8 hours. Drain beans.
  2. Return beans to saucepan. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes; drain.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add sausage; cook 6 minutes or until browned. Add onion and next 5 ingredients (through garlic); cook 8 minutes. Stir in beer; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Place sausage mixture in a 6-quart electric slow cooker. Add beans, stock, red pepper, black pepper, and bay leaves. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours.
  4. Discard bay leaves. Stir in 1/4 cup green onions and vinegar. Serve over rice; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup green onions.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Monster Hunters International: Alpha by Larry Corriea (MHI #3)

Monster Hunter Alpha (MHI, #3)Monster Hunter Alpha by Larry Correia

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Earl Harbinger may be the leader of Monster Hunter International, but he’s also got a secret. Nearly a century ago, Earl was cursed to be werewolf. When Earl receives word that one of his oldest foes, a legendarily vicious werewolf that worked for the KGB, has mysteriously appeared in the remote woods of Michigan, he decides to take care of some unfinished business. But another force is working to bring about the creation of a whole new species of werewolf. When darkness falls, the final hunt begins, and the only thing standing in their way is a handful of locals, a lot of firepower, and Earl Harbinger’s stubborn refusal to roll over and play dead.

This was darker and slower than the first two previous books and I missed the quirky humor.  I also found Alpha a bit slow and had a hard time getting into the story for the first 100 pages or so - perhaps even the first half of the book. I thought Earl's journal was the most interesting part of the over all story and would really liked to have read more journal and less of Copper River. 

For a 500+ page book, not a lot happened, really.  Our protagonist, Adam, with the help of a witch, sets up a situation in Copper River, MI to take over the world with the help of an ancient amulet and a town of newly converted werewolves.  Earl and his arch nemesis, Nikolai, are lured to the town under false premises and find themselves reluctant allies.  The town, descended from hearty Eastern European mining immigrants, also proves to be harder to contend with than initial anticipated.  Troops are rallied, massive snow blowers employed, and a battle ensues...but it sure takes a long time to get there.

So, I liked it, but it wasn't my favorite MHI book to date.  Recommended with slight reservations.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cold Days by Jim Butcher (Dresden #14)

Cold Days (The Dresden Files, #14)Cold Days by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 Jacket Blurb:  After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard.

He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill.

Guess which Mab wants first?

Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday.

Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…

His soul...

Read as an audiobook.

This was a story that started rather sedately then suddenly took off like a blood hound hot on the scent of a coon.  I enjoyed this book insofar as I enjoy any Dresden book, but I had some issues that have been building over the last several books and unfortunately manifested themselves in this selection.

Perhaps this is a bit prudish, but since I am a female reading about a male protagonist, I really don't want to hear about Dresden's wet dreams (getting boinked by Queen Mab on a stone slab and having all of Farie witness, how he/the Winter Knight wants to ravish and dominate every female he comes across, Molly offering herself - again - to Dresden, etc).  Seriously, these "thoughts" are getting more and more sqwicky as the series progresses.  And the phrase, "I've known Molly since she was in a training bra" is becoming repetitive. Seriously, what guy makes a comment about a female friend or family member in terms of her training bra?  So this is telling me that Dresden was checking her out when she was twelve?  If you aren't grossed out you perhaps you should be.

I also thought the action in book fourteen was over the top even for an over the top fantasy.  Way too much going on:

Queen Mab introduces Harry to the Winter Court, and then tell's Farie it's open season on Harry.  Run, Harry! Run!

Queen Mab tells Harry to kill Maeve, and oh, by the way, you can't kill an immortal.  Good luck, best wishes, see you when you get that done,  

Harry learns he is now a Warden of the Island of Demonreach and must stop Demonreach from blowing up and taking most of the Midwest with it.

Harry discovers the dreaded and feared Outsiders are making a bid for Chicago, then world domination.  Harry has to stop the Outsiders.

And Everyone Loves Harry, but poor Harry is badgered about not being able to express his love for everyone else.

And what is with Harry always ending up nekkid right before a big fight?  That's a bit disturbing too. 

This was also fairly long for a Butcher book - and I didn't find it a fast read even as an audiobook, if that makes sense?  I found my mind wandering away while Harry pontificates about something right before a big knockdown - I don't know why Butcher does that actually,and it's really annoying.  My interpretation of Dresden's soliloquies: "The Goo-Glump was coming at me, hideous gelatinous arms reaching out to throttle the life essence out of me, and I knew if I didn't do something quick, I would soon be a paste on the parking lot asphalt.  It was like Ebeneezer always told me when I has knee high to a grasshopper, I had to learn when to back away from a fight.  And I knew if I backed away from this one, all my friends would perish.  I found that thought to be sobering, the life of Chicago reduced to a quivering blob of jello, my friends mere drops of fruit cocktail as they were slowly digested..."  blah, blah, blah.  Then he collects his will, gathering his power about him like a familiar glove, shouts FORZARAE! (or however it's spelled) and blows the Goo-Glump up and collapses until he can get his breath back.

Again, I enjoy this series, but I'm starting to find a few raisins in my pudding that I have to push to one side of the bowl to get though the rest. 

Still wholeheartedly recommend the books, but start with Storm Front if you're just tuning in.

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Recipe Review from 9/1/14

What with me being gone at the beginning of the week, the Husband was in charge of the meal plan and execution last week.  He likes to keep things simple and incorporated our garden produce. 

Speaking of garden produce, so far we've frozen about 15 quarts of blueberries and raspberries (mostly blueberries - bumper crop this year!), canned 8 half-pints of sweet relish, 15 pints of bread and butter pickles, mixed a batch of refrigerated bread and butter pickles, and several quarts of fermented pickles.  I'm hoping the frost holds off long enough for the butternut squash to ripen.  I have no hopes that the tomatoes will do anything, just too cool of a summer for the hot weather plants this year. 

The Meal Plan:
Wed - Spaghetti with sauted zucchini
Thurs (yoga) - leftovers
Fri - Venison with blue cheese sauce and lemon garlic swiss chard
Sat (Isanti for Duane's Aunt's 80th Birthday)
Sun - Potato leek hash

Lemon-Garlic Swiss Chard (Ckng Lght Jan 2013)
This was really good and super easy to make.  The Husband did comment that he didn't use enough Swiss Chard the first time we made it - yes, this was an immediate repeat!   I will also note, we halved the recipe to make enough for two of us for one serving each.  Not a dish that makes good leftovers so less and fresh was the way to go.  The recipe also offered some variations that we would like to try, and I've included those below.  I also think kale could easily be subbed for chard, or use a combination. 
photo from cookinglight.com
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 12 cups Swiss chard, chopped (about 10 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons shaved fresh Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic; sauté 2 minutes or until garlic begins to brown. Add Swiss chard and 2 tablespoons water to pan; cook 3 minutes or until chard wilts. Stir in lemon juice and pepper. Sprinkle with cheese.
VARIATION 1 Quick Caramelized Onions: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil; swirl to coat. Add 2 cups sliced yellow onion and a dash of baking soda; cook 10 minutes or until browned. Add 12 cups chopped Swiss chard and 2 tablespoons water to pan; cook 3 minutes or until chard wilts. Stir in 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Serves 4 (serving size: about 1/2 cup)

VARIATION 2 Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons pine nuts to pan; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently. Remove nuts from pan. Add 1/4 cup golden raisins and 1/4 cup water to pan; cook 1 minute. Add 12 cups chopped Swiss chard; cook 3 minutes or until chard wilts. Stir in 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Serves 4 (serving size: about 1/2 cup)

VARIATION 3 Warm Bacon Vinaigrette: Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 slices applewood-smoked bacon to pan; cook until crisp. Remove bacon from pan; crumble. Remove pan from heat. Add 2 teaspoons cider vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper to pan, stirring with a whisk. Pour vinegar mixture over 6 cups chopped Swiss chard; toss. Serves 4 (serving size: about 1/2 cup)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Corvallis, Oregon

Labor Day weekend had me on the road to Corvalis, OR, to visit my sister and her family.  I flew from Duluth, to Minneapolis, to Portland, then took the HUT shuttle to Corvallis.  Same coming back.  Flights and shuttles all ran smoothly and on time, good weather coming and going.  Yay!

I arrived in Portland/Corvallis Thursday afternoon about 330p.  Karen and nephew Fin picked me up, grabbed some groceries, and made our way to their apartment.  The evening was spent relaxing and catching up, with a tour of her community garden.

Friday we picked up Karen's friend and headed to the Coast for the day, specifically, Cape Perpetua.  We did a little walking, saw some massive sitka spruce (massive to this Midwest girl where most trees don't get much bigger than 80' tall and 15" diameter.  We had a picnic lunch atop the Mt. Perpetua, then walked around the coast viewing the Devil's Cauldron and the blow-hole.  Tide was coming in so lots of frothy wave action. 

Base of a Sitka Spruce...this is one very large tree.

Looking south along the coast from Cape Perpetua, point in the far distance has a lighthouse.

Tide coming in.  Sploosh!

The blow-hole; wave action pushes water up through a gap in the rocks.

Saturday morning we did girly things - yarn shopping, wandered downtown Corvalis, then pedi's.  The afternoon was spent working in my sister's community perennial garden which she had just acquired.  A much neglected 400 sqft plot of land - full of 4-5' high thistle, fennel going to seed, some kind of yellow flower, and grasses when we started.  We conquered all but about 1/8th of it over a couple days.  Alas, no before/after pics.  Lots of scratches tho...

Sunday morning was more gardening, then a trip to "wine county", which in Corvalis is everywhere.  Stopped at two wineries just outside of Philomath, and unfortunately, I can't remember the name of either.  I'll have to come back and post.  Since I don't have a way to share the wine (which was really good) I'll share some pictures:

First Winery. Not the customers I think they wanted to attract...(center)

Second Winery - barn is their "showroom".

A quite delightful Pinot. 

And this was the view...

And Monday, after a bit of school supply shopping for Finny, we drove to the top of Mt. Mary and enjoyed this view of Mt. Hood.  Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters are off to the right just behind the spruce tree.  So we are standing on the backside of the Inter-coastal range looking east to the Cascades. 

Mt. Hood in the distance.

After a picnic lunch atop Mt. Mary, we heading to Bellweather Wool Company and some fiber!  The lovely lady who owns this bit of heaven in the valley raises Wensleydale sheep, has rescue alpacas, angora rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and the usual assortment of dogs and cats.  She cards and spins her own yarns in the upper levels of the barn and sells on-line and to local retail outfits. 

Bellweather Farm

fuzzy fuzzy alpacas

A 6am shuttle had me up very early on Tuesday morning.  Two hours back to Portland, flight back to Minneapolis, then a jog back to Duluth where I was on the ground by 630pm.  My sincere thanks to my sister and her family for a fantastic visit!