Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Just City by Jo Walton (Thessaly #1)

The Just City (Thessaly, #1)The Just City by Jo Walton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: "Here in the Just City you will become your best selves. You will learn and grow and strive to be excellent."

Created as an experiment by the time-traveling goddess Pallas Athene, the Just City is a planned community, populated by over ten thousand children and a few hundred adult teachers from all eras of history, along with some handy robots from the far human future--all set down together on a Mediterranean island in the distant past.

The student Simmea, born an Egyptian farmer's daughter sometime between 500 and 1000 A.D, is a brilliant child, eager for knowledge, ready to strive to be her best self. The teacher Maia was once Ethel, a young Victorian lady of much learning and few prospects, who prayed to Pallas Athene in an unguarded moment during a trip to Rome--and, in an instant, found herself in the Just City with grey-eyed Athene standing unmistakably before her.

Meanwhile, Apollo--stunned by the realization that there are things mortals understand better than he does--has arranged to live a human life, and has come to the City as one of the children. He knows his true identity, and conceals it from his peers. For this lifetime, he is prone to all the troubles of being human.

Then, a few years in, Sokrates arrives--the same Sokrates recorded by Plato himself--to ask all the troublesome questions you would expect. What happens next is a tale only the brilliant Jo Walton could tell.



Read for May book group.

I have to admit, this was quite a bit different from what I usually read. It's a unique blending of historical, philosophy, romance, and science fiction, and I'm honestly not quite sure what to say about it.

Premise of the book is Pallas Athene builds an experimental city based on the principles of Plato's Republic and other works. She gathers to her anyone who has ever prayed to her for a Just City which results in a conglomeration of people - male and female - from across time. With help from Athene, these individuals, known henceforth as "Masters" set up the foundations for the Just City.

Once the City is ready, the Masters - again with Athene's assistance - go back through time and purchase an immense amount of 10 year old children who were slated to becomes slaves, thus saving the children from terrible fates and allowing them to become their best under this model city.

Apollo, curious about his sisters experiment, arranges to become part of the Just City so he too may learn from the humans. He does this by hiding his identity and his powers, thus growing up "human". He successfully hides his identity from almost everyone.

And then Pallas Athene brings in Sokrates (not a misspelling) to stir the proverbial pot. What happens next is...well, bizarre and fascinating.

I read through this in a couple of days. It's a fast and - I thought - engaging read. Jo Walton manages to cram so much into such a few short pages that in some ways it's a bit overwhelming. Should I be focusing on the morality? free will? freedom of choice? The status of women? Who is worthy of a soul? What defines a soul? What does it means to be human? Is the soul comprised of one metal or a combination of four? Is the Just City just?

There are layers and nuances to this that could be picked apart and dissected much like our fictional Sokrates challenges the status quo and mind-set of his student-friends. Everyone wants the Just City to work, but at the same time, consciously and subconsciously, they all work against the system. The Master's are hoping to hand over control of the Just City to the Philospher Kings, but in reality, can they? Does Plato's system even work or is it a failed dream?

I could go on, asking questions and coming back and asking them in a different way. This book will make you think, if nothing else, and that's why I recommend it.



View all my reviews

Monday, May 23, 2016

Recipe Review from 5/16/2016

A busy end to the week with errands, yoga classes, and a field day to one of our fine northern lakes that had me grabbing a take-n-bake pizza for simplicity.  Busy-ness peaked with a 6.7 mile hike on Saturday followed by a potluck supper.  Sunday was catch-up day, with lots of laundry hung out to dry, yard work, and cleaning and putting all the hike stuff away.   Whew! 



The Meal Plan
Sun (L) leftover bbq chicken  (S)  Cajun Shrimp Linguine
Mon (yoga)  leftover pasta
Tues - Brats and corn
Wed - Thai bowl with Salmon
Thurs (yoga)  leftover brats
Fri (yoga)  take-n-bake pizza
Sat (SHT hike, Potluck supper)  Spicy Kale and Quinoa Salad


Cajun Shrimp Linguine (Ckng Lght, May 2016)  gluten free option**
Tasty! Tasty! Tasty!  And very quick and easy to prepare.  Not too many modifications/alterations, just my usual dried herbs instead of fresh (I refuse to pay those prices) and some alterations to suit our tastes.  I did bump up the pasta to 8oz, because it's easier to deal with half a box of pasta rather than some odd amount.

This is touted as being ready in 40 minutes from start to table and it was spot on.  I even had time to start dishes before hand.  Recommended.

photo from cookingight.com
6  ounces whole-grain linguine or fettuccine**  (I used 8oz)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt-free Cajun seasoning (I used Penzeys)
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green red bell pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1 1/2 tablespoons (1 heaping tsp dried) chopped fresh thyme, divided 
3/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
5 garlic cloves, minced (I used 4)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 bay leaves
1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup half-and-half   (I used goat milk)
 
1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/3 cup pasta cooking liquid.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Combine Cajun seasoning and shrimp in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add shrimp mixture to pan; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until shrimp are done. Remove shrimp mixture from pan. Wipe pan clean with paper towels.

3. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, and 1 tablespoon thyme; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add red pepper and garlic; cook 3 minutes. Add reserved 1/3 cup cooking liquid, salt, bay leaves, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until thickened. Discard bay leaves. Remove pan from heat; stir in shrimp and pasta. Stir in half-and-half. Cook 1 minute over medium heat or until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons thyme.


Thai Crunch Salad with Salmon (Ckng Lght, May 2016)  gluten free
May cooking light had an article on "bowls", the idea being you layer your ingredients (like the picture) for a healthier more balanced meal.  Bowls are simple, combining startches, with veggies, a small amount of meat, topped with something yummy like nuts.  If you like nuts.   I've made two bowls so far and I will admit, they are moderately fast from prep to table and filling.  Downside with bowls (or not...) no or very minimal leftovers.

I adjusted the recipe below to suit my tastes - I don't do peanuts or peanut butter.   Argh!  I just realized I subbed tahini for the sauce instead of miso as I intended!  Well...it still tasted good and just goes to show that you can be creative.  I swapped out rice for the quinoa just to use up my brown rice.   I cooked the edamame with the rice (why cook it separate?), grilled the salmon, and everything assembled into a bowl.  Mine looked almost as photo worthy as the picture itself.

I doubled the recipe below to serve two people and had leftovers to make lunch for one. 

photo from cookinglight.com
2/3 cup cooked quinoa  (I used brown rice)
2 tablespoons matchstick-cut carrot
2 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
2 tablespoons steamed edamame
1/4 cup shredded red cabbage
3 ounces broiled salmon
1 teaspoon chopped dry-roasted peanuts
Sesame-Peanut Sauce:
1 teaspoon creamy peanut butter  (I used 1 tsp miso tahini)
1 teaspoon lower-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1. Top cooked quinoa with carrot, red bell pepper, edamame, cabbage, and salmon. Sprinkle with peanuts.

2. In a small bowl, combine peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and lime juice, stirring well with a whisk. Drizzle over bowl.




Spicy Kale and Quinoa Black Bean Salad  (The Glowing Fridge Blog via Pinterest)  gluten free, vegetarian
 My main observations right off the bat are: this takes longer than 30 minutes to prepare.  It takes nearly 20 minutes alone to cook the quinoa, and then you WILL want to let it cool and if you've done anything with quinoa, you know that those darn little grains hold heat a long time.   I also simplified the washing/chopping of the kale by buying two package of baby kale.  You could chop that more finely, but why?


I made this for a potluck event, and fortunately had the foresight to make the quinoa, corn, and black bean mix in the morning before a day of hiking.  Assembled the rest after hiking and comments from the group were very positive.   Don't be put off by the amount of Franks Red Sauce, it adds zing without a lot of heat. 

1 cup quinoa, uncooked
photo from The Glowing Fridge Blog
6 cups chopped kale, de-stemmed(One package baby kale)
1/2 red onion, chopped  (I forgot...)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn

Spicy Dressing
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/4 cup hot sauce of your choice (I used Franks Red)
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cumin
sea salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a medium sized pot, combine 2 cups of water with 1 cup of quinoa and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy.

2. In a large salad bowl, add the kale and the onion.

3. Once the quinoa is done cooking, add in the black beans and corn to the pot. Mix it up. You could just add these over the kale but I wanted to warm up the beans and corn. Add the quinoa mixture over the kale and mix.

4. Prepare the dressing. Pour the dressing over the salad, mix and enjoy

Author Notes Stays fresh in the refrigerator up to 2 days.
Can replace quinoa with rice and add any additional veggies you like. Bell peppers, tomato, avocado etc.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Forgotten by David Baldacchi (Puller #2)

The Forgotten (John Puller, #2)The Forgotten by David Baldacci

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: 
Army Special Agent John Puller is the best there is. A combat veteran, Puller is the man the U.S. Army relies on to investigate the toughest crimes facing the nation. Now he has a new case-but this time, the crime is personal: His aunt has been found dead in Paradise, Florida.

A picture-perfect town on Florida's Gulf Coast, Paradise thrives on the wealthy tourists and retirees drawn to its gorgeous weather and beaches. The local police have ruled his aunt's death an unfortunate, tragic accident. But just before she died, she mailed a letter to Puller's father, telling him that beneath its beautiful veneer, Paradise is not all it seems to be.

What Puller finds convinces him that his aunt's death was no accident . . . and that the palm trees and sandy beaches of Paradise may hide a conspiracy so shocking that some will go to unthinkable lengths to make sure the truth is never revealed.



Read as an audio book.

This was absolutely outstanding! I haven't enjoyed an audio book this much in ages. First - the audio book itself. I loved the use of an additional narrator for the women's voices, makes a world of difference. The subtle sound effects at first were a bit disconcerting (I thought something was wrong with the disk), but once I realized what was going on, they did add a nice touch of dramatic flair. The sound effects were selectively done, perhaps a bit here and there during an of action scene. And the narrators voice - I could listen to his voice all. day. long. Absolutely perfect for this book.

This is a new to me series and I started with book #2 not realizing (or I couldn't get #1 as an audio, I don't recall which) this was the second John Puller novel. Not a problem! There was reference to "something" having gone down in the previous book, which was the basis for why Puller was on leave, and that he had caused a bit of a ruckus in Virginia, but nothing to detract from either book.

To say I was hooked from chapter one would be an understatement. I thought the pacing was perfect, the plot engaging and the characters interesting...no, fascinating. I was initially annoyed by the "bad cop" cliche, but when I realized this was going someplace, I was able to let it go with the flow.

Kudos to the author for the way he portrays his female leads in this book. Strong, willful, can hold their own in a gun fight, they stood as equals and I really appreciated that. I get so very tired of the damsel in distress and woman for sex tropes. Some very good twists with the female protagonists in this. Very good twists.

It was also refreshing to read something where the protagonist isn't a depressed, borderline alcoholic, lone cop/detective. I can't describe enough how refreshing it was to read about a character who can actually get along and work with other people to solve the crime/situation and isn't a total ass to people while investigating.  

Endings (yes, there are a couple 'endings') were not what I expected - I mean, knew generally how things would turn out, but the plot twists were quite fun and I enjoyed the authors sense of humor at the resolution.

I could gush more, buy why when you should be reading the book and not my review! Go! Now! Shoo! Shoo!

Highly recommended.




View all my reviews

Monday, May 16, 2016

Recipe Review from 5/9/2016

Let's talk about the weather.  A week ago Friday we hit 90*.  As I write this a week later, it's 31*, with a windchill and snow showers.  My consolation is, at least we don't have to deal with tornadoes. 

And I think my seedlings on the porch are officially frozen.   Good thing seeds are cheap and grow fast. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) leftover soba bowls   (S)  Udon Noodle Bowl
Mon (yoga)  Udon bowl
Tues - Udon bowl
Wed -Udon bowl
Thurs (yoga) leftovers
Fri -  Out
Sat (L) leftovers  (S) BBQ Chicken with Slaw

Lunches - (Husband) sandwiches
                (me) Kitchari


Slow Cooker Ramen Bowl  (Ckng Lght, May 2016) 
Don't be intimidated by the ingredient list or the directions.  This was amazingly simple!   I will say, tho, best left for the weekend so you don't feel rushed getting home from work.

One significant substitution - I used one package of dried udon noodles instead of the fresh ramen called for.  Seriously Cooking Light!  Not everyone has access to an Asian store or even a well-stocked co-op!  Rawr! I love udon noodles so no biggie.  I prepared according to directions on the package, adding the eggs after the appropriate time and everything was done at once.  Drain noodles, toss in broth.  Proceed.

I also skipped the nori and the sesame seeds.  More of a garnish than anything and I didn't want to putz or buy nori.

The flavors on this are very fresh and bright, but I will note that I felt this was almost bland from the freshness.  I will probably add a bit of siracha to my leftovers.

I would absolutely make this again, maybe even with some variations and modifications - there should be a reasonable method to make this vegetarian and still retain the flavors.   Highly recommended! 

This made four meals for two of us - though I did skip the egg in subsequent meals.  Very filling.

photo from cooking light.com
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 (2-pound) boneless pork shoulder roast
2 onions, peeled and halved horizontally
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
4 cups water
1/4 cup lower-sodium soy sauce, divided
12 ounces shiitake mushrooms
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 (7 x 3-inch) piece kombu
1 (2-inch) piece peeled ginger, cut into 6 slices
12 ounces uncooked fresh Chinese noodles (or brown rice fresh ramen, such as Lotus Foods)
 1-8 oz pkg dried udon noodles - prepared according to directions and added to soup
8 large eggs
3 green onions, cut into 1/3-inch pieces
2 Fresno chiles, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds



1 sheet nori, cut into very thin strips 
 
1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan. Add pork; cook 12 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Place pork in a 6-quart slow cooker. Increase heat to medium-high. Add onions, cut side down, to skillet. Cook 5 minutes or until charred; transfer to slow cooker. Add stock, 4 cups water, and 2 tablespoons soy sauce to slow cooker. Remove stems from mushrooms; add stems to cooker. Reserve caps. Cover; cook on LOW for 7 hours.

2. Remove pork from cooker. Let stand 5 minutes; shred. Strain liquid through a fine sieve into a bowl. Discard solids. Return liquid to slow cooker; increase heat to HIGH. Thinly slice mushroom caps. Add remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, mushroom caps, sesame oil, kombu, and ginger to slow cooker. Cook on HIGH for 20 minutes. Discard kombu and ginger. Add noodles to slow cooker; cook 5 minutes.

3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Carefully lower eggs into water; cook 6 minutes. Place eggs in a bowl of ice water for 2 minutes; peel and halve lengthwise. For each serving, place 3/4 cup noodles in a wide bowl; pour 1 cup broth over noodles. Top with pork, mushrooms, green onions, and chiles. Place 2 egg halves toward one side of bowl. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and nori.


Grilled Hawaiian Bowl  (Ckng Lght, May 2016)   gluten free, vegetarian option**
Dinner doesn't get much easier and tastier than this.  For ease of prep and for a better "fried rice", cook the rice the night before.  This is a very versatile dish, interchange veggies and meats and build the dish to taste. 

For a vegetarian option, drop the pork and increase the veggies, saute some tofu, or both.

For the meat peeps, try subbing Spam.  

NOTE:  This makes one serving.  Double/triple accordingly.   Although, I didn't double the sauce recipe for the two of us.  That made plenty for the rice mixture for both. 


photo from cookinglight.com
2/3 cup cooked brown rice (I used 1 pkg Uncle Ben's instant)
2 slices (1/4-inch-thick) grilled fresh pineapple
1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced grilled red onion
1/2 cup grilled sliced zucchini
3 ounces grilled pork tenderloin 
 
Honey-Soy Sauce:
1 tablespoon lower-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon canola oil
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper 
 
1. Top cooked brown rice with pineapple, red bell pepper, red onion, zucchini, and grilled pork.

2. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, vinegar, honey, canola oil, and crushed red pepper, stirring well with a whisk. Drizzle over bowl.


BBQ Chicken Sandwiches with Slaw (Ckng Lght, May 2016)  gluten free. 
Easy Peasy!  Seriously, a good meal doesn't get simpler and easier than this.  Well...perhaps not a home cooked one.  

My usual notables:  I did make the coleslaw earlier in the day to save time at dinner.  I also used turkey tenderloins instead of chicken because the turkey is less expensive than the chicken at the co-op, and the co-op doesn't always carry chicken thighs.   And I used brown sugar instead of white in the sauce for extra flavor.   I think a dollup of molasses or honey would be a flavorful addition as well.

This does come together quickly, so have everything ready mise en place before you start.   This made two meals for two of us.  Recommended. 

2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
photo by cookinglight.com
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1.25 lb turkey tenderloin
1 tablespoon chili powder, divided
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion, divided
3/4 cup unsalted tomato sauce
3 tablespoons cider vinegar, divided
1 1/2 tsp sugar (cole slaw)
1 tbsp brown sugar for sauce 
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
3 cups packaged cabbage-and-carrot coleslaw
4 (1 1/2-ounce) whole-wheat hamburger buns

1. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with 1 teaspoon chili powder. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove chicken from pan; let stand 5 minutes. shred chicken into large pieces with 2 forks.

2. While chicken cooks, heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup onion; sauté 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 teaspoons chili powder, tomato sauce, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. stir in chicken; keep warm.

3. Combine remaining 1 tablespoon oil, remaining 1/4 cup onion, remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and coleslaw. top bottom halves of buns evenly with chicken mixture, slaw, and top halves of buns, or serve slaw on the side.


 

Kitchari  (Banyan Botanicals: Elements of Kitchari)   vegetarian, gluten free, vegan
This may be a new favorite lunch dish or "comfort food" option.   Easy to throw together, can be varied, delightful flavors, easy on the tummy and would be great for after antibiotics or coming off the flu or head cold.   In the Ayurveda tradition, this is a known to be a high protein healing meal. 
You can tailor this to your tastes as I did:  I cooked the rice separate from the mung dal, then combined.   Like it more as a soup?  Add more water.  Like it thicker?  Use less water.  Change the proportions of rice and dal.   Many options.  Follow the link above for other ideas. 

This makes four to five one bowl servings, depending on any added veggies.   Recommended! 

• ¼ tsp black mustard seeds
• ½ tsp cumin seeds
photo from BanyanBotanicals.com
1 small pinch asafoetida (hing) powder  (couldn't find in area)
• ½ tsp turmeric powder
• ½ tsp cumin powder
• ½ tsp coriander powder
• 1 tsp rock salt
*Note: You can use 1 Tablespoon of Kitchari Spice Mix instead of the above.
• 2-3 TBS ghee (clarified butter)
• 1 cup split yellow mung dal, rinsed well, soaked overnight and drained
• 1 cup white basmati rice, rinsed well and drained
• 4-5 thin slices of fresh ginger root
• 6 cups of water

1.Using a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the ghee on medium heat.

2.Saute the Kitchari Spice Mix or just the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and asafoetida.

3.Add the drained mung dal, turmeric, and salt and stir until the mix almost starts to stick to the bottom of the pan.

4.Add the rice, water, cumin powder, coriander powder, and ginger.

5.Bring the mixture to boil on high heat, then cover the pot and turn the heat down and let it simmer until both the rice and dal are mushy (approximately 30-45 minutes). Add water as needed to prevent scorching. The consistency should be that of a thick vegetable stew.

6. You may have to experiment with the amount of water you use to find the right consistency for you (the more water, the thinner the consistency).

7.You may also choose to add some of your favorite vegetables half way through the cooking process.

8.Serve hot. Enjoy!

Recommended garnishes - Coconut, Cilantro, Lime

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky Instustry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch

Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from ScratchLocally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars




Jacket Blurb:
How a Midwestern family with no agriculture experience went from a few backyard chickens to a full-fledged farm—and discovered why local chicks are better.

When Lucie Amundsen had a rare night out with her husband, she never imagined what he’d tell her over dinner—that his dream was to quit his office job (with benefits!) and start a commercial-scale pasture-raised egg farm. His entire agricultural experience consisted of raising five backyard hens, none of whom had yet laid a single egg.

To create this pastured poultry ranch, the couple scrambles to acquire nearly two thousand chickens—all named Lola. These hens, purchased commercially, arrive bereft of basic chicken-y instincts, such as the evening urge to roost. The newbie farmers also deal with their own shortcomings, making for a failed inspection and intense struggles to keep livestock alive (much less laying) during a brutal winter. But with a heavy dose of humor, they learn to negotiate the highly stressed no-man’s-land known as Middle Agriculture. Amundsen sees firsthand how these midsized farms, situated between small-scale operations and mammoth factory farms, are vital to rebuilding America’s local food system.

With an unexpected passion for this dubious enterprise, Amundsen shares a messy, wry, and entirely educational story of the unforeseen payoffs (and frequent pitfalls) of one couple’s ag adventure—and many, many hours spent wrangling chickens.



My disclaimer - I'm from the Duluth area, so I'm familiar with the name, the product, and parts of Locally Laid's story already. I was there for the Super Bowl commercial voting. I noticed when the eggs started hitting store shelves. I read the articles in the paper. What this book did was fill in the names, faces, and the journey behind the chickens.

Oh my gosh, and what a journey it was - perhaps still is.

What I REALLY appreciated was the brutal honesty in what it took to get this enterprise off the ground. Going from vision to reality. I've read too many blogs (and no, LoLa's not one of them - I admit I didn't even think to see if they had a blog) daydreaming about how starting and owning one's own business (be it agricultural based, a book store, a yarn store, a bakery, etc) is nothing but rainbow farting unicorns because you own the business. Um...no. No golden horned equines in owning your own business, only piles of shitty paperwork and long hours.

And what they - Jason - found out was Reality can be a real Bitch. Kudo's to the Amundsen's, their volunteers, their staff, their families and the supporters for sticking it out and bringing the heartache, the tears, the worry, and eventually, the success, to the world.

A second part of the story was a look at where does a middle size agriculture business fit in, in today's society? Is there even a niche for something like LoLa? Is it sustainable? Locally Laid has yet to stand the trials of time to answer some of those, but the direction they are moving in seems viable and doable. It will be interesting to watch.

A third aspect to this book was in good part, history. How we went from a very agrarian based society to massive factory-farms and the impact that has had not only on our food production, but on the economic fabric of society. Some of this I've read before, such as the poultry industry "contracting" with folks to raise chickens to specs, but at a non-sustainable cost to the individual or family. And, some was new.

I am, however, somewhat disappointed that after 300+ pages discussing the importance of keeping things local, that the author chose to go with a major publishing house and not a local publisher such as On-Word Bound books  After all the support the community gave LoLa, it would have been nice to have seen that reciprocated. And, who knows (other than the author)? Maybe it was and a deal wasn't possible, but I do hope she at least tried.

Also, a small item but it's the small items that grab peoples attention: Grain Belt has not been made in Minneapolis since 1975. It's been produced by August Schell Brewing Co out of New Ulm, MN, since the early 2000's. Before that by and the second Minnesota Brewing Co, St. Paul (1991-2001) and Heilman Brewing Co, LaCrosse, WI (1975-1990). 

Overall, a book balanced between the personal journey, a loose history of the nations food production, and what it takes to turn eggs into a business. Recommended.


View all my reviews

Monday, May 9, 2016

Recipe Review from 5/4/2016

Recipe heavy post this week!  Lots of good ones to review.  I did a Cook Once, Eat 3x meal plan this week - make a larger than usual batch of chorizo for the first recipe, then use that in two more dishes.  The meat is NOT the main part of any one dish, more of a background note, which I really like.

I will say right up front, Cook Once, Eat 3x wasn't necessarily a time saver.  I was still in the kitchen on the following nights for about two hours, start to finish (which includes all prep time, all clean-up, eating and lunch assembly for the next day).  Still, nothing was overly difficult and puttering in the kitchen was a nice way to unwind from the day.

I also highly recommend all three Cook Once, Eat 3x recipes.  Every dish was really good and could be made independently of the others - just adjust how much chorizo you need accordingly.  These were almost enough to get our household of two through the week, just shy of two meals worth.   Family of four?  Perfect for three nights. 

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L)  leftover salmon and couscous    (S)  Stuffed Sweet Potato
Mon (yoga) leftover sweet potatoes
Tues - Chorizo Nachos! 
Wed - Saucy Chorizo and Egg Skillet
Thurs (yoga) leftover egg skillet
Fri -  kebabs (store bought)
Sat (L) Leftover zucchini burritos   (S) Soba bowls

Lunches - lentil salad and bean and zucchini burritos;  chips, fruit, yogurt, luna bars


Chorizo and Kale-stuffed Sweet Potatoes  (Ckng Lght, May 2016)   gluten free
This recipe could be greatly simplified by just buying 2 lbs of chorizo.   This is a fair amount of work to make a lower-fat substitute for the small amount that each recipe actually uses.   If you don't have any overriding health concerns (hypertension, cholesterol, low-fat diet, etc), consider just buying the chorizo and save yourself some time.   OR, buy 1lb chorizo and 1 lb turkey sausage and supplement with some additional spices for extra zing. 

This was seriously good.  I loved the flavor of the sweet potatoes against the spicy chorizo and kale all topped with the creamy tang of a good goat cheese.  We took the two extra potatoes, mashed and themcombined with the leftover kale mixture and re-heated that for leftovers the next day.   Kinda like a mashed hash.  Sooo good!    Recommended! 

**Cook once, eat 3x - meal #1
Serves 4

4 (8oz) sweet potatoes
1/4 cup white vinegar
photo from cookinglight.com
3 1/2 tsp EVOO
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
10 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb ground turkey breast
1 lb ground pork
6 cups torn curly kale
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled

1) Preheat oven (or grill) to 400*

2) Pierce potatoes with a fork; wrap each in foil.  Bake at (or grill) 400* for 1 hour.

3) Combine vinegar, 2 tbsp oil, paprika, cumin, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper and garlic in a bowl.

4) Combine turkey and pork in a bowl, mixing well with hands.   Heat a skillet over medium high heat.  Add turkey mixture to pan; cook 7  minutes or until done, stirring to crumble. Drain any excess liquid from meat mixture in pan; return to medium-high heat.  Stir in vinegar mixture; cook 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates.  Place chorizo in a bowl.   RESERVE 3 2/3 cups chorizo for next two recipes.   Wipe pan clean.

5) Heat 1 1/2 tsp oil in pan over medium-high heat; swirl to coat.  Add kale; cover and cook 4 minutes.  Stir in 1 1/3 cups chorizo, 1/4 tsp salt, raisins, and 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice.

6) Cut a lengthwise slit in each potato and gently squeeze to open.  Spoon about 3/4 cup kale mixture onto each potato; top with goat cheese.



Loaded Chorizo Nacho's  (Ckng Lght, May 2016)  gluten free
Bit of simplification here too - I just bought a bag of corn chips instead of cooking my own tortillas.  The broiler and I don't always have the best relationship and I tend to burn things more than not.  Since I skipped the homemade chips, I heated the oven to 425* along with a foil lined jelly roll pan.  Once oven came to temp, I tossed the chips on top the heated pan, then everything on the chips.  Popped back in and baked until cheese was melted. 

Recipe says this serves four.  HA!  This served two adequately.  A nice surprise for the Husband for dinner, not a dish I would make outside of Super Bowl, World Series, or Final Four playoffs.  It's nachos.  What more can I say? 

**Cook once, eat 3x - meal #2
Served 2

1 2/3 cups chorizo (from above recipe)
1 cup drained canned unsalted pinto beans
8 (6") corn tortillas, cut into wedges (I just used regular corn chips)

2 oz (1/2 cup) reduced-fat colby-Jack cheese, shredded
photo from cookinglight.com
2 oz (1/2 cup) queso fresco, crumbled
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 cup chopped tomato  (I used grape tomatoes)
1/4 cup sliced radishes
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 ripe avocado, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp kosher salt

1) Preheat broiler to high.

2) Combine chorizo and beans in a small saucepan over medium heat; cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally.

3) Arrange tortilla wedges in a single layer on a large foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray.  Coat tortillas with cooking spray.  Broil 2 minutes on each side or until lightly browned and crisp.  Sprinkle cheese and onions over chips, broil 1 minute or until cheese melts.

4)  Top nachos evenly with chorizo mixture, tomato, radishes, cilantro, avocado, and jalapeno pepper.  Sprinkle kosher salt evenly over nachos.  Serve immediately.



Saucy Chorizo and Egg Skillet (Ckng Lght, May 2016)  gluten free
One significant alteration - I skipped the bread and made a batch of polenta instead.  This dish just hollered to be served over a batch of creamy buttery polenta.   One small alteration - I poached two eggs separately then added to the dish.   That way I knew they were cooked to taste.   Plus, since I knew we would not be eating the entire dish in one evening, I wouldn't have leftover eggs to deal with.    Recommended! 

**Cook once, eat 3x - meal #3
Serves 4

4 (1 1/4oz) slices whole grain bread   (I substituted polenta)
cooking spray
photo from cookinglight.com
3 cloves garlic, divided  (mince 2, halve 1)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced onion
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
2 cups strained unsalted tomatoes or canned unsalted crushed tomatoes
2 cups cooked chorizo (from recipe #1)
4 large eggs 
2 tbsp chopped cilantro  (which I bought and forgot to add!)

1) Preheat broiler to high (skip if making polenta).

2) Arrange bread on a baking sheet; coat both sides of bread with cooking spray.  Broil 1 1/2 minutes on each side. Cut 1 garlic clove in half; rub bread slices with cut sides of garlic.   (skip if making polenta)

3) Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion; saute 3 minutes.  Mince remaining 2 garlic cloves.  Add minced garlic and bell pepper to pan;  cook 5 minutes.   Stir in cumin, salt and ground red pepper; cook 30 seconds.  Stir in tomatoes and chorizo; bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.

4) Uncover and form 4 (2") indentation in sauce, using back of a spoon.  Crack eggs, one at a time, into small indentations.  Cover and cook 8 minutes or until whites are set.  Top with cilantro.  Place 1 bread slice on each 4 plates; top with sauce and one egg.  Serve immediately.



Zucchini and Bean Burritos  (Ckng Lght, May 2016)  vegetarian, gluten free option**
MORE simplification!   I skipped the baking bit on these because they would be for lunches and it's easier to just assemble day of.  Bean mixture in one tub, rice mixture in another, crumbled cheese third.  Put in a tortilla or not (I like to just do a burrito bowl ala Chipolte style).

I also don't know where the heck Ckng Lght is finding salt-free beans or pre-cooked rice.  Or do they mean instant rice?  Not sure, but regular and instant are all I got up here.   Best I can do is a low sodium bean and rinse well. 

photo from cookinglight.com
1/2 cup spicy enchilada sauce
1 (14.5 oz) can unsalted pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5 oz) can fat-free refried beans
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cups diced zucchini (about three small 6" zucchini)
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 ground red pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 (8.8 oz package) precooked brown rice
8 (8") whole-wheat flour tortillas (**or just skip and serve out of a bowl)
4 oz (1 cup)  reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
Cooking spray
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/2 cup refrigerated fresh pico de gallo
cilantro (optional)

1) Place large baking sheet covered in aluminum foil in the oven.  Preheat the oven to 450* (leave pan in the oven as it preheats).

2)  Place first three ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat; cook 4 minutes stirring occasionally.

3) Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil; swirl.  Add zucchini; saute 2 minutes.  Add oregano, cumin, black pepper, red pepper and garlic; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

4) Prepare rice according to directions.

5) Warm tortillas according to package directions.  Spread about 1/3 cup bean mixture evenly over each tortilla, leaving a 1/2 inch border.  Top each tortilla with 1/3 cup rice, 1/3 cup zucchini mixture, and 2 tbsp cheese.  Fold in sides of tortilla over filling; roll up.  Repeat procedure with remaining 7 tortillas, bean mixture, rice, zucchini mixture and cheese.

6)  Lightly coat burritos with cooking spray.  Arrange burritos, seam sides down on preheated baking sheet.  Bake at 450* for 4 minutes, turning after 2 minutes.  Top each serving with 1 tbsp sour cream, 1 tbsp pico de gallo and cilantro if desired.  Serve, or freeze for later meals.



Soba-Edamame Noodle Bowl  (Ckng Lght May, 2016)  vegetarian, gluten free
This recipe comes together in about 30-40 minutes, less if you skip the peeling carrots into ribbons bit and just purchase shredded carrot.  Easier to eat too.  This is nicely flavorful, I didn't need any extra sauces and could use what was already on hand in the fridge.  Always a bonus with Asian dishes!  This would be perfect for a hot summer evening, a picnic, or lunches. 

I served kale chips along side for some extra green.  The original recipe suggested grilled baby boc choy. 

1 cup frozen shelled edamame (I used peas)
photo from cookinglight.com
6 ounces uncooked soba noodles
1 cup thinly vertically sliced snow peas  (I forgot...)
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon lower-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon yellow miso
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups very thinly sliced red cabbage
2/3 cup thinly sliced green onions 
1 cup plus some grated carrot (store bought) 
2 large carrots, peeled and shaved into ribbons
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional) 
 
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add edamame and soba noodles; cook 2 minutes. Add snow peas; cook 1 minute or until noodles are tender. Drain; rinse noodle mixture well with cold water. Drain.

2. Combine oil and next 6 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Add noodle mixture, cabbage, onions, and carrots; toss gently to combine. Sprinkle with cilantro, if desired.


Lentil Salad (modified from America's Test Kitchen)  gluten free
This is a little putzy what with the soaking and baking, but I have to say it does produce a nice non-mushy lentil.  One main alteration I did was I minced the garlic - use less if you do this - and combined with the lentils as directed before baking, but I did not remove afterwards.  I like a bit of garlic in my lentil dishes. 

Overall,  a very tasty dish that would be great as a main meal along side some crusty bread, as lunches with some pita crackers, or out on a picnic.   I did double the recipe for lunches for two for the week, which made seven 1 cup-ish meals. 

1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed  du Puy recommended by ATK, I used basic brown.
salt and pepper
6 cups water
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
5 tbsp EVOO
5 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled  (I use less and minced)
1 bay leaf
5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup pitted kalmata olives, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup minced fresh mint
1 large shallot, minced
1 oz feta cheese, crumbled

1) Place lentils and 1 tsp salt in a bowl.  Cover with 4 cups of warm water (about 110*) and soak for one hour.  Drain well.  Drained lentils can be refrigerated for up to 2 days before cooking.

2) Adjust oven rack to middle position and hat oven to 325*.  Combine drained lentils, remaining 2 cups water, broth, garlic, bay leaf and 1/2 tsp salt in oven safe medium saucepan.  Cover and bake until lentils are tender but remain intact, 40 minutes to 1 hour.

3) Whisk oil and vinegar together in a large bowl.

4) Drain lentils well; remove and discard garlic and bay leaf.  Add drained lentils, olives, int and shallot to dressing and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle with feta and serve. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Dark Crossing by Royal Bouchor (Zack Sinclair #1)

Deadly CrossingDeadly Crossing by Royal Bouschor

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  America’s relentless search for terrorists coupled with heretofore unknown and covert eavesdropping techniques and other invasions have uncovered a uniquely coded message between Afghanistan and Mexico. The translation, if it is to be believed, is alarming. Arab terrorists are going to smuggle a Russian into the United States.

A retired former special ops CIA agent, Zack Sinclair is brought back in to go undercover in Mexico to find the Russian before he arrives in the United States.

Zack learns that funding and transportation for the Russian are financed by a Guadalajaran banker for a drug cartel that has corrupted the border and politicians, making Sinclair’s task perilous and deadly.

A tenuous relationship evolves with a member of the banking family that controls the critical sale of drugs to finance the movement of the Russian to the United States. Their relationship puts them both in mortal danger as the body count rises.

When the CIA learns the real reason for the Russian’s arrival in the Unites States, Sinclair alone must find him at all costs, or the results will be America’s worst nightmare.




2.5 stars. It was between OK and I Liked It.

First book in a self published suspense-mystery series set in the southwest between Arizona and Mexico.

Zack Sinclair is recruited by a former colleague as part of a highly secret covert ops mission to find out who and what is being smuggled into the states across the Arizona/New Mexico border. Zack witness a drug deal gone wrong, rescues the one survivor, and is sucked into Mexican politics like a thirsty tourist downs a margarita.

The plot was a bit different from the mysteries I've been reading, and I suspect a big part of that is in the location alone. Living along the Mexican/US border brings its own unique issues that most people in the States never even think about. Or if they do, it "that thing" that happens "down there".

Dark Crossings doesn't deal with illegal immigrants, it deals with smuggling drugs and more across the border. With illegals being such a hot topic in the news, I don't know that I would have wanted to have read about a fictional case. So, points for plot.

Where the book faltered was the dialog. It bounced between a stilted and repetitive to almost too casual given some high pressure high government situations. My largest hang-up was the repetitiveness - the characters would repeat themselves two or three times, which would leave me scratching my head and muttering "you just said that...".

I also noted a repeated use names, where in live dialog, people just don't say the other person's name more than once or maybe twice. Once to garner attention, and perhaps again in closing, or, if in a committee setting, to bring a person to the attention of the group or assign matters. In Dark Crossings, lots of name usage.

Speaking of names, the author hit the repetitive first names - "R's". Rob, Rosa, Ricardo, Ruben; "E's - Edwards, Eduardo; "V's" - Victoria and Veronica; which caused a bit of confusion more than once.

Don't expect a lot of description in this book - it's dialog heavy and light on scene establishment. The most one gets is a quick rundown of what a character is wearing and that's about it. You won't get a feel for Guadalajara - you could be in Anywhere, Mexico. I had trouble discerning when Zack was back in states and when and where he was in Mexico.

I was less than enamored with the protagonist claiming adoration for multiple drop-dead gorgeous women that seemed to litter his path. Zach is supposed to be "playing" Rosa, a hardened business woman, but all it came away with was Veronica Rabbit. It's to Veronica, mistress of disguises, that Zach professes a more complete adoration, but I'm perplexed as to when and where he actually got to know her since Zach spent most of his time with Rosa. And, ultimately, in my humble opinion, it all falls under the James Bond trope anyway of over being overdone.

Overall, an okay read for a independently published first book. I'll read the next out of curiosity.



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