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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Son of Justice by Steven L. Hawk

Son of JusticeSon of Justice by Steven L. Hawk

My rating: 3 of 5 stars





Jacket Blurb: 
For more than a dozen years, Eli has studied the art of war from some of the most skilled fighters on three planets. There's no question, he has what it takes to be a professional soldier.

There's just one problem. His father is General Grant Justice, the most famous man in the galaxy and leader of a new governmental alliance that unites four alien races.

When it comes time to enlist, the younger Justice has to make a choice. Rely on his last name and claim an automatic commission as an officer? Or enter basic training as a lowly private and earn his way to the top?

For Eli, the decision is an easy one. He changes his name and enlists as an anonymous recruit.
Unfortunately, not all of life's choices have such clear-cut answers. An alien-led rebellion is brewing in the ranks of the army he has just joined, and Eli is forced to choose sides. His actions will determine the fate of his father, the alliance, and the entire human race.


April's book group book.

This was a light and enjoyable military scifi book in the tradition of say, Ender's Game or loosely (and I do mean loosely) Starship Troopers. While this didn't have the emotional weight or impact of the afore mentioned books, it plays homage to the themes found therein: a young recruit making his own way through the ranks to find inner strength and resolve to stand up against adversity.

Premise of the book is Eli Jayson (ne Justice) is going through "boot camp" under an alias to avoid preferential treatment. His father is the renown General Justice, bringer of Peace to what is now the Shiale Alliance. As Eli makes his way up the ranks, he faces adversity and challenge at every turn. When he stumbles up on the Zthrn attempt to overthrown the planet, it becomes more than just a training exercise.

This felt like a young adult book. I'm not sure where it's 'shelved', technically, but the overall tone and theme read like new adult/young adult. What this did not feel like is a "coming of age" book - don't get me wrong,it basically is, but it didn't feel like it and I appreciated that.

I found the aliens interesting, the plot moved the characters smartly along, the premise of the training and new equipment felt integrated into the story and gosh darn it, Eli is just a nice guy.

What I didn't care for was the "love interest". His female acquaintance from a decade ago decides to transfer out of his battalion so they can date. Right. Uh huh. Didn't work for me - a romance where there didn't need to be one.

So other than my one romance quirk, I enjoyed the story.



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Monday, April 24, 2017

Puppy!

No recipe review this week, but a good opportunity to introduce a future member of our little pack. 

Springer Spaniel from Kinni River Springers  
DOB 3/29/2017
Boy
As yet unnamed - we can't decide.  

Pick up day:  May 19

Five days old

Five days old

Three weeks! 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Minicon 53

And so it came to pass that Easter Weekend I found myself, for the 23rd year in a row, at Minicon.  Minicon 52 to be exact.

I'm still stuck on the fact I've been to 23 of these things.  Yaowza!

Four Guests of Honor:
Author - Jim C. Heins
Science - Brother Guy Consolmagno, Director of the Vatican Observatory
Fan - Mark Oshiro
Artist - Jeff Lee Johnson

This was a good year panel-wise.  I found myself engaged and interested in the con, rather than wandering around Minneapolis.  I went to three panels on Friday, five on Saturday, and Sunday headed home. 

Basic Astronomy -  was one of the panels where the title did not match what they discussed.  I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting (and I should know better than to have expectations going into these things), but not what I got.  They talked a lot about the forthcoming eclipse, the MN Amateur Astronomy society, the books the Stars and Turn Left at Orion, and how you don't need a telescope to enjoy the night sky, but if you want a telescope, start small and inexpensive. 



We Suck: the Importance of Failure - was hilarious, but again, not what I thought I was walking into.  I expected (there are those darn expectations again!) more of a serious discussion on screwing up, but it was the GoH's telling stories about where they humiliated themselves and thus, learned some humility.  



Life and Work in a Monarchy was delightful, though the room was so cold I couldn't get comfortable (the room with the stage and screen).  Brother Guy had a slide show of part of his life and adventures living at the Vatican and working at the observatory.  Facinating!



Amino Acids in Meteorites -  I never like to hear the panelist's going "I don't know what we're talking about" as they sit down, so I was a bit worried when the panel kicked off.  Brother Guy and another gentleman discussed science and the origins of life.  Some aspects were over my head, but overall, enjoyable. 



Turn Left at Orion - Not what I expected (SEE! Darn expectations.  Need to let them go...), thought I was getting something about stars.  This was Brother Guy talking about how the book by the same name came into existence, and how it continues to be a good resource for star gazing.  The book is now in my Amazon cart!

Interview with Jim Heins - much  more serious than I thought it would be, especially following the We Suck panel.  Jim talked about disabilities in fiction and in real life, including his own struggles with diabetes and depression.   I left with Things to Think About, such as romanticizing disabilities in fiction and what role does that play with reality.



Ask A Scientist - is roll of the dice.  Never know what's you're going to get. Premise is audience members ask the scientists questions and they answer them. Sometimes silly, sometimes not.  This was a not silly year.



Return to Jupiter - I realized about 15 minutes into Mr. Bill Higgin's presentation I was brain-dead.  His was panel #5 for the day and, unfortunately, it was information overload.  I usually enjoy his presentations and seek him out at conventions because he has slides, he is incredibly knowledgeable, and talks about really cool things in Space, buuuttt...at 4p in the afternoon after a full day, my poor brain just said, Nope. We're done.   I should have skipped a panel earlier in the day as a mental break.  Live and learn.  ((shrugg))    This was a slide show on the Juno exploratory space probe.


Overall a good weekend - I fit in three yoga classes, ate a two new restaurants, several good meals at some tried and true restaurants, and recharged the geek batteries for another year.    This will probably be my only scifi convention this year.  Worldcon is in Finland in 2017.  I'll be going in 2018 when it's in San Jose, CA. 



Monday, April 17, 2017

Recipe Review from 4/17/17

Writing reviews does me no good unless I actually hit the "Publish" button.  Urk.  Just been one of those weeks. 

The Meal Plan from week of 4/17:
Sun (L) Leftovers   (S)  Rice, Broccoli and Cheese cakes
Mon (Yoga)  Beginners pulled pork
Tues - leftover rice cakes
Wed - leftover pulled pork
Thurs - Sunday - MINICON!!

Lunches - Moroccan Chicken (me); sandwiches (Husband)

Broccoli, Cheddar and Rice Cakes (Ckng Lght, April 2017)  vegetarian
These were somewhat putzy despite being touted as a 40 minute meal: one pan to cook the rice, one pan to saute the onion and broccoli, one bowl to mix every thing in, and the pan to bake on (though...use aluminum foil or parchment paper for easy clean-up).   Add in my concern that the mixture was too soupy and hard to form into patties, I had my doubts.

Yet, after baking, these turned out quite good!  I did use a 1 cup measuring cup to scoop, pack and plop the mixture onto the sheet pan.  The patties didn't explode (one or two slightly fell apart) and I ended up with about 10 nice sized rice and broccoli patties.  I served over baby spinach, sprinkled with cheese and at tich of sea salt.  These re-heated quite nicely on the stove and made for a very quick and nicely filling supper.

Recommended.

Cooking spray
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 cup chopped yellow onion
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 cup unsalted vegetable stock (such as Swanson)
12 ounces fresh broccoli florets, cut into 1/2-in. pieces
1 (8.8-oz.) pkg. precooked brown rice (such as Uncle Ben's)
1/4 cup whole-wheat panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
(I used regular bread crumbs, toasted) 
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3 ounces pre-shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, divided (about 3/4 cup)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Sliced green onions (optional)

Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add onion and garlic; sauté 4 minutes. Add stock and broccoli. Bring to a boil; cook 3 minutes.

Heat rice according to package directions. Combine broccoli mixture, rice, panko, mustard, pepper, salt, and 1/2 cup cheese in a large bowl. Stir in eggs. Divide and shape broccoli mixture into 8 (2 1/2-inch) patties. Arrange patties on prepared pan; coat patties with cooking spray. Bake at 450°F for 15 minutes. Top with remaining 1/4 cup cheese, and bake at 450°F for 4 more minutes or until cheese melts. Garnish with green onions, if desired

Moroccan Chicken Stew (ATK Slow Cooker Revolution)
While the ingredient list is a bit on the lengthy side, this dish is totally worth making!  Most of the ingredients are spices, and once those spices are bloomed with the onions, everything is just tossed into the cooker and you walk away.  The result?  Delicious!

I did serve part of this over rice - but because this made a lot and I forgot I didn't need meals for the entire week, I froze three lunch containers and forgot to make rice to go with those.  Which is okay - I bought some naan instead.   So with rice, I expect I could have gotten about 10 servings roughly?  Without, maybe 8 or so. 

Recommended!

2 onions, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (plus extra as needed)
1/2 cup dry white wine (I skipped)
2 (15 oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup dried apricots, chopped and divided
3 tbsp Minute tapioca
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
(I used skinless, bone-in, chicken thighs)
salt and pepper
2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
light brown sugar
lemon wedges for serving

1.  Preheat a medium sized saute pan over medium high heat.  Saute onions, garlic, tomato paste, paprika, cardamom an cayenne until onions are softened and spices fragrant.

2. Stir broth, wine, chickpeas, half of apricots, tapioca, bayleaves, and cinnamon stick into slow cooker.  Season chicken with salt and pepper and nestle into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.

3. Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool and shred into bite sized pieces.  Let stew settle for 5 minutes, then skim fat from surface with a spoon.  Remove and discard bay leaves and cinnamon stick.

4. Stir in remaining apricots, cover and cook on high until softened (about 5-10 minutes)  Stir in shredded chicken and let sit until heated through (about 5 minutes).  Or, just toss everything in at once and let stand for 15 minutes.    Adjust stew consistency with broth if needed.  Stir in cilantro, brown sugar to taste, salt and pepper, and serve with lemon wedges. 



Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron (Mike Bowditch #1)

The Poacher's Son (Mike Bowditch, #1)The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron

My rating: 3 of 5 stars




The Jacket Blurb:  Game warden Mike Bowditch returns home one evening to find a cryptic message on his answering machine from his father, Jack, who he hasn't heard from in two years. The next morning Mike gets a call from the police: a beloved local cop has been killed and his father is their prime suspect.

Coming to terms with his haunted past and desperate for answers, Mike and a retired warden pilot journey deep into the Maine wilderness to clear his father's name and find out why Jack is on the run. But the only way for Mike to save his father is to find the real killer before the killer finds him.


Read as an audio book.

I enjoyed this. The game warden aspect was a refreshing change from the urban police procedurals I tend to gravitate to (John Sandford, Michael Connelly). I could relate to the Maine "Northwoods" setting, which is not all that dissimilar to my corner of the world, complete with hunting cabins, timber lands, and a Canadian border. I also understand that this was a first book, so some rough edges were not unexpected.

Premise of the book is, Mike Bowditch is a newly minted Maine Game Warden. His girl friend has recently left him for greener pastures, he confesses he's a loner and likes it that way, and then he finds out his estranged father is on the run and considered a fugitive for having killed two men and attacking a police officer. Mike puts his career on the line to help prove his father innocent.

The author did a pretty good job balancing/blending Mike's need to help his father with the reality of the situation: Mike has no idea where his dad is, he's convinced everyone is out to kill his father, but he's not part of the investigation in any way, shape or form. Until he's suspended from his job - which was where I started to cringe a bit (okay, a lot).

Mike was directed to report to his Big Boss Malcolm at 11am. The Detective in charge of the investigation calls Mike that morning and wants him to come North to "interview" a potential witness and gain her trust. Mike agrees, but doesn't call his Supervisor OR the Big Boss. The reader observes Mike's conundrum: find out some answers or loose his job. Out of everything in the book, I found this the least plausible. The obvious and simple solution would have been to have the Detective call the Big Boss, Mike call his Supervisor. It's the Detective asking him to come North, Mike was not going on his own accord and bucking orders.

I know this was to add in some emotional tension, but the whole set up just didn't fly with me, especially with the resolution at the conclusion.

I also didn't care for the whole Cops as Assholes vibe I kept getting. But that's my quirk.

Otherwise, a solid if not slightly predictable first book to what I hope will be an interesting series. Mike was interesting even though he seemed older than his 25 years. I liked Kathy (his supervisor),the game warden background is refreshingly different, and, as I noted above, I enjoyed the setting.

I'll be checking out the next book.



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Monday, April 10, 2017

Recipe Review from 4/2/2017

Not much going on this week...or I should say it was "the usual" this week - work, yoga, and errands.  Though!  We did have a chance to start puttering around in the yard on a couple of beautiful afternoons.

Raked up the winter's wind blown sticks, tidied up under the bird feeder (which I take down beginning of April because I don't want to draw bears into the yard), evicted the mice from the grill and scrubbed that down, cleaned out the porch flower bed and cleaned out three flower beds in the main garden. Husband worked on a few other odds and ends.  Doesn't seem like much, but it makes a difference when planting season rolls around so all in all a good start. 

The Meal Plan from week of 4/2:
Sun (L)  leftover polenta and ragu   (S) Brats, beans and kraut
Mon (yoga) leftover brats
Tues- Mexican Butnut Squash Soup  Split Pea Soup 
Wed (Virginia) Brown rice cakes Split Pea Soup
Thurs (yoga) - leftovers
Fri (Pike Lake/yoga) - leftovers
Sat (L)  Leftovers  (S) ??

Lunches - Mexican Butnut Squash Soup

Mexican Squash Soup (Food Lab/Serious Eats)  gluten free, vegetarian option**
I actually made this about two weeks ago, but used poblano's instead of ancho's because I wasn't certain if they meant fresh or dried (Northern girl - not used to dried chilies).  I used dried anchos this go around and did the recipe as written.  Except I realized as I'm typing this I forgot the sugar.  Not sure if that would have made a difference in taste or not.

This wasn't as flavorful as I thought it would be (lack of sugar?).  It's certainly easy enough to assemble, especially if you have a Husband who's willing to cut up the 5lb squash.  HUGE time saver having that prepped ahead.  But for that "Ancho" flavor I was anticipating, it wasn't quite there.  Still, this made for a refreshing lunch option and I would use this technique/recipe again.


photo from SeriousEats.com
2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
2 ancho chilies, stemmed (see note above)
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
1 quart chicken stock or low-sodium broth**
1 cup water
Sugar, to taste
Mexican crema or sour cream, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Pepitas (toasted pumpkin seeds), for garnish
Lime wedges, for serving 

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss squash with 2 tablespoons oil, season with salt, and spread in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast squash, stirring occasionally, until browned and tender, about 35 minutes.

2. In a dry skillet, toast ancho chilies over high heat, turning once, until fragrant. Let cool, then tear into pieces.

3. Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrot, and garlic, and cook until softened and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add ancho chilies, chicken stock, and water and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain simmer. Stir in butternut squash.

4. Using a blender or stick blender, blend soup until completely smooth. Season with salt and add sugar 1 teaspoon at a time to balance the flavor, if needed.

5. Spoon soup into bowls and garnish with crema or sour cream, cilantro, and pepitas. Serve with lime wedges.

Slow Cooked Split Pea Soup (modified from ATK Slow Cooker Revolution)  gluten free
If you haven't gotten this slow cooker cook book yet, GO GET IT!  Oh my goodness, so many excellent recipes!

This was another winner, though I strongly suspect I've reviewed this before and forgot to make note in the cook book.  Still, it was good enough to make again (and again...)  I did one significant modification -I omitted the ham steak completely.  There is plenty of meat on the ham hock and, in all honesty, I'm not wild about ham.

This is also the perfect recipe for a weekday/weeknight.  Prep on the front end is pretty simple, and with a 9-11 hours on low cooking time, that should easily accommodate most schedules. 

My last note - use your largest slow cooker.  I used my small and it was nearly overflowing. 

2 onions, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 red pepper flakes
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1 lb (~2 cups) split green peas, rinsed and drained
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
2 bay leaves
1 smoked ham hock
8 oz ham steak, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tbsp lemon juice  (I think I forgot this bit)

1. Saute onion, garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes over medium-high heat until onions are just softened.  Transfer to slow cooker.

2. Stir broth, water, split peas, carrots, and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Nestle ham hock in pea and broth mixture, Cover and cook until peas are tender 9-11 hours on low or 5-7 hours on hight. 

3. Remove ham hock, let cool and shred into bite sized pieces, discarding skin and bones.  Let soup settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using a large spoon.  Remove bay leaves.

4. Stir in ham steak and shredded ham hock, cover and cook on high until heated through, about 15 minutes.  Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Private: Paris by James Patterson (Private #10)

Private Paris (Private, #10)Private Paris by James Patterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Jacket Blurb: Paris is burning--and only Private's Jack Morgan can put out the fire.

When Jack Morgan stops by Private's Paris office, he envisions a quick hello during an otherwise relaxing trip filled with fine food and sightseeing. But Jack is quickly pressed into duty after a call from his client Sherman Wilkerson, asking Jack to track down his young granddaughter who is on the run from a brutal drug dealer.

Before Jack can locate her, several members of France's cultural elite are found dead--murdered in stunning, symbolic fashion. The only link between the crimes is a mysterious graffiti tag. As religious and ethnic tensions simmer in the City of Lights, only Jack and his Private team can connect the dots before the smoldering powder keg explodes


Read as an audio book.

I greatly enjoyed the multiple narrators, however, there was something a bit off with the recording because I kept having to adjust the volume between the Louis and Jack narrator, and the gentleman reading the AB16 chapters. It also made it difficult to hear the names which is partly why I won't be using them in my review.

I did NOT like Justine in this one - she came across as needy (Jack, we need you here in LA!) when previous books have set up the whole of Private to be self sufficient, and I didn't like how she razzed Jack about dating. For a psychologist and as a former lover, it just came across as massively inappropriate.

I did like Jack's acknowledgement on how it was nice to date a woman who wasn't trying to pick apart his feelings nor analyze his every mood.

Mostly what I enjoyed and appreciated was the change in theme from a single psychotic nutjob to a terrorist group working to further their agenda. Previous books have found me completely skipping the antagonists for various reasons, but this time I felt more engaged listening to their plots unfold and wanting to know how the plot lines would converge.

I liked the setting in Paris. I liked how Jack and Louis worked together. I liked the love interest and really liked how Jack and the woman did NOT end up in bed with each other.

So while the terror plot had some flaws, I found the combination of multiple narrators, engaging characters, and the setting all made for a very enjoyable book.

If you're following the Private books, I recommend this edition.



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Monday, April 3, 2017

Recipe Review from 3/26/2017

Spring has sprung at temperatures creep toward that pleasant 50*.  Shipping season has started - saw my first Laker leave earlier in the week and the fishing boats are starting to patrol around the river mouths and long Park Point.  Bikes have been tuned up and now I'm just waiting to get my first ride in. 

In the meantime, some good recipes this go around! 

The Meal Plan for week of 3/26
Sun (L) Baked Eggs   (S)  BBQ Pork and potatoes
Mon (yoga/bkgrp/legion)  leftover baked eggs
Tues (yoga) - leftover pork
Wed  (Virginia) - Ragu and polenta
Thurs (yoga) - leftovers
Fri (yoga) - leftovers
Sat (L) out        (S)  Final Four?? 


Baked Eggs with Creamy Greens  (Food Lab/Seriously Eats)  vegetarian, GF option**
Yum yum and YUM!  This dish hits all my happy spots except in prep - it's a tich bit prep intensive.  However, if you make sure you do all your prep on the front end, it comes together beautifully on the back end and you have time to clean dishes and counters.

I loved the creamy greens with the baked egg on top - the flavors were bright and comforting at the same time.  I even did the garlicy toasts which added a really nice counterpoint to the dish.  Absolutely perfect and recommended. 

1 large bunch lacinato kale, tough stems removed, leaves roughly chopped (about 6 ounces; 180g after stemming)
1 large bunch Swiss chard, tough stems removed, leaves roughly chopped (about 7 ounces; 200g after stemming)
5 ounces (140g) baby spinach
photo from SeriousEats.com
3 tablespoons (45g) unsalted butter, divided
8 ounces (225g) button or cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed and caps sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, washed well and thinly sliced (about 9 ounces; 250g total)
3 medium cloves garlic, 2 minced or grated and 1 left whole for toast, divided
2 tablespoons (45g) all-purpose flour**
1 cup (235ml) half and half
1/2 cup (120ml) milk
3 tablespoons (45ml) dry white wine
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons (10ml) Dijon mustard
3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese (2 1/2 ounces; 75g)
4 to 6 large eggs
Pinch of red chili flakes, for garnish
4 to 6 slices toasted and buttered bread, such as from a baguette


Directions Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches if necessary, add kale, chard, and spinach to pot and cook for 1 minute. Using a spider or strainer, lift greens from water and transfer to a colander. Immediately run under cold water to stop the cooking. Repeat with remaining greens if necessary. Using your hands, squeeze greens to remove as much excess liquid as possible. Roughly chop greens and set aside. You should have about 10 1/2 ounces (300g) of cooked, squeezed greens.In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon (15g) butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring only occasionally, until well browned, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a plate.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons (30g) butter to skillet and melt over medium-high heat until foaming. Add leeks and cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned. Stir in minced garlic and cook 30 seconds. Sprinkle flour over leeks and cook, stirring, until raw flour smell has cooked off, about 1 minute. Stir in half and half and milk. Bring to a simmer and cook until sauce thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in wine, nutmeg, mustard, reserved mushrooms, and reserved greens and return to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Remove skillet from heat. If mixture is very thick, add a bit more water or milk to thin slightly (this will depend on how much water you squeezed out of the greens). You should have about 4 cups of creamed greens. If baking in the same skillet, sprinkle Gruyère on top of greens. (You can also divide greens into smaller individual skillets or baking dishes.) If using a baking dish, scrape creamy greens into it, smooth into an even layer, and sprinkle Gruyère on top.

Using a spoon, make egg-sized indentations in greens, one for each egg. Crack an egg into each well and season with salt. Bake until egg whites are just set and yolks are still runny, 10 to 20 minutes. Check eggs frequently to make sure they don’t overcook. Remove from oven and sprinkle a pinch of red chili flakes over each egg.

While toast is still warm, gently rub one side of each slice with remaining clove of garlic. Serve, using toast to scoop up greens and eggs.



Slow Cooked BBQ Beef Stuffed Potatoes (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2017)  gluten free
Tasty and filling meals really don't get easier than this - a modicum of chopping (onion), stir the "bbq" sauce together and slather over the meat, put everything into the slow cooker and walk away. Come back in 8 hours and shred the meat.  Eat!

I did some significant changes on this one: I subbed pork for the beef and sweet potatoes for the russets.  I don't know if it was because I was suffering from a head cold and my tastebuds were of or if it was something else, but I wasn't as excited about the sweet potatoes as I thought I would be.

The meat could easily be doubled - I halved a 3.25lb pork butt roast, and there was plenty of sauce at the end that I could have used the whole roast.  In all honesty, if you wanted to go the extra lazy route, skip the "homemade" sauce below, and use jarred.  

Still, for ease of prep and taste, this was perfect for a Sunday meal.  Recommeded! 


photo from cookinglight.com
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 1/4 teaspoons black pepper, divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless chuck roast, trimmed  (I used pork butt)
1 1/2 cups vertically sliced red onion  (I used yellow onion)
Cooking spray
6 (4-oz.) russet potatoes (I used sweet potatoes)
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 3/4 cup)
6 tablespoons light sour cream
1/4 cup sliced green onions

  1. Combine brown sugar, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl; rub generously over roast.

  2. Place red onion slices in bottom of a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker coated with cooking spray; top with roast.

  3. Rub potatoes with oil, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Wrap each potato in parchment paper (I wrapped in aluminum foil); arrange on top of roast. Cover and cook on LOW 8 hours or until tender.

  4. Unwrap potatoes; split lengthwise, cutting to but not through the other side. Shred roast with 2 forks, and stir to combine with onion mixture.

  5. Top each potato with 1/2 cup beef mixture, 2 tablespoons cheese, 1 tablespoon sour cream, 2 teaspoons green onions, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. 


Sausage Ragu over Polenta (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2017)  gluten free
Easy peasy!  This comes together in a very acceptable amount of time, tastes good, and is satisfying.  Only one minor substitution/modification - I used regular polenta instead of quick-cooking and followed the directions on the polenta package.  You could have some fun with this and add some coarsely chopped mushrooms and perhaps a hit of Italian herbs.

I will note, this does make four servings.  This would be lovely along side a bowl of fresh greens.  Recommended! 

1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces bulk pork Italian sausage
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups coarsely chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped carrot
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 1/2 cups water, divided
1 (15-oz.) can unsalted tomato sauce
2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional) 
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add sausage; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Stir in pepper. Remove sausage mixture to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Remove pan from heat (do not wipe out pan).

  2. Combine onion, carrot, and garlic on a cutting board; finely chop. Return pan to medium-high. Add onion mixture to pan; cook 5 to 7 minutes or until tender. Add sausage mixture, 1/2 cup water, and tomato sauce to pan; cook 1 minute.

  3. Bring remaining 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. whisk in polenta. Reduce heat; cook 3 minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently with a whisk or spoon. Stir in cheese. Serve polenta with pork mixture and parsley, if desired.
 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Technician by Neal Asher

The TechnicianThe Technician by Neal Asher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars




Jacket Blurb:  The Theocracy has been dead for twenty years, and the Polity rules on Masada. But the Tidy Squad consists of rebels who cannot accept the new order. Their hate for surviving theocrats is undiminished, and the iconic Jeremiah Tombs is at the top of their hitlist.

Escaping his sanatorium Tombs is pushed into painful confrontation with reality he has avoided since the rebellion. His insanity must cured, because the near mythical hooder called the Technician that attacked him all those years ago, did something to his mind even the AIs fail to understand. Tombs might possess information about the suicide of an entire alien race.

The war drone Amistad, whose job it is to bring this information to light, recruits Lief Grant, an ex-rebel Commander, to protect Tombs, along with the black AI Penny Royal, who everyone thought was dead. The amphidapt Chanter, who has studied the bone sculptures the Technician makes with the remains of its prey, might be useful too.

Meanwhile, in deep space, the mechanism the Atheter used to reduce themselves to animals, stirs from slumber and begins to power-up its weapons.

 
Read for March scifi book group meeting.

LOVED this installment. Goodreads notes it's part of the stand alone books in Asher's universe, but I'd have to disagree. I would definitely recommend reading Prador Moon and Shadow of the Scorpion before The Technician because there is some background that is handy to know.

Premise of the book is one Jem Tombs, former Proctor of the fallen Theocracy on Mesada, is the only known survivor of a Hooder attack, and the only known survivor of an hooder attack by the massive Hooder known as the Technician. For 20 years he's resided in seclusion, in some kind of state of denial, watched by Jerval Sanders.

Until Tombs starts to wake up, murders Jerval, and flees the island he's been isolated to. Amistad, Polity War drone, starts to nudge Tombs this way and that, assigning Leif Grant as protector and reluctantly letting Shree Enkara along to record Tombs story for Earthnet.

If you've read any Asher, then you know that I'm greatly simplifying. If you haven't read any Asher - what are you waiting for?!? And, fyi, I'm greatly simplifying the plot. Asher's plots are hard to summarize without giving too much information away.

Asher's books are so rich in detail and characters, the world building is amazing, and the plots just pull me in. What was different about The Technician from some of the rest that I've read, is I was hooked from chapter one. Not infrequently, it takes me a while to get into the plot, then I find I'm flying down the proverbial slide. Not so here.

I'm totally fan-girlling. Go. Read. Enjoy.



View all my reviews





Monday, March 27, 2017

Recipe Review from 3/19/2017

Oh, be still my gurgling tummy!  A new cook book acquisition has me running down the proverbial rabbit hole of new recipes and much to my delight, there's a website!  The website actually came first, cook book second, but I didn't know that.

The Food Lab Cookbook is ahh-mazing!  I've made a couple things out of it and reviewed them in the last couple of weeks (the mac and cheese being the most notable).   Then I checked out the website and immediately found three recipes I wanted to make AND I had the ingredients for.  I'm also thrilled that the recipe includes weights for everything.   I don't know how many times I've stood and wondered what someone meant by "one large onion" or "two medium zucchini".    A large onion from my garden or one of the softball sized things I get from the grocery store?  So weights - yay! 

The Salmon Chowder kicks off of my newest recipe obsession...  Enjoy!

The Meal Plan from the week of 3/19:
Sat (L) leftovers   (S)  Chinese take out and March Madness
Sun (L)  leftover chicken and stew  (S) Salmon Chowder
Mon (yoga) leftover chowder
Tues - leftover chowder
Wed - Pasta with Butnut squash and sage
Thurs - leftovers
Fri - leftovers

Lunches - leftover Beefless Stew then Squash Soup



Salmon Chowder (The Food Lab/Serious Eats)
This is easy enough to make on a weeknight - the longest bits are waiting for the bacon to render and simmering the potatoes.  During which kitchen can be cleaned up, table set and sides prepped.  Granted, this assumes you assembled and chopped all your ingredients ahead of time, but there's plenty of time to cook bacon and chop veggies too.

I was also contemplating the ways I could switch this up - by adding shrimp instead of salmon, or toss in some fresh corn... can't wait to explore!  

photo from SeriousEats.com
1/2 pound salt pork or bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (225g)
2 tablespoons water (30ml)
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 8 ounces; 225g)2 large ribs celery, finely chopped (about 6 ounces; 170g)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (about 20g)
1 cup bottled clam juice (235ml)
1 quart whole milk (900ml)   (I used goat milk)
1 pound russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (450g)
1 bay leaf
3/4 to 1 pound boneless, skinless fish scraps, such as salmon, cod, or halibut, cut into 3/4-inch chunks (350-450g)
Minced fresh herbs such as parsley, dill, or chives, for serving
Hot sauce, for serving
Crackers, for serving


Combine salt pork or bacon and water in a heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until water has evaporated and pork has begun to brown and crisp in spots, about 8 minutes. Add onion, and celery. Season gently with salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened but not browned, about 4 minutes longer. Add flour and cook, stirring, until no pockets of raw flour remain. Stir in clam juice, followed by milk. Add potatoes and bay leaf and bring to a simmer.

Simmer chowder, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are fully tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in fish chunks and simmer just until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve immediately, garnished with minced fresh herbs, hot sauce, and crackers.


Pasta with Butnut Squash, Browned Butter and Sage (Food Lab/Serious Eats)  vegetarian
If you can find the "good" pasta (ie, not Creamette, Barrillo, etc), do so.  It will definitely elevate the dish (and make it look like the picture below).  I found the "good" pasta at a specialty store in town, but by then I had already purchased regular shell pasta and didn't want more stuff in the pantry.

This does come together fairly quickly - however, we had pre-diced our squash several days prior and that makes a big difference on meal assembly.  Flavor wise, pretty good.  I think if I had the "good" pasta, it would have been better.  I would make this again because it's a great way to use that fall butternut squash.

Daniel Gritzer on Serious Eats notes (and this is actually from the recipe below), and this is SO true and why I love butnut:  

"Butternut squash has just enough personality to make it interesting in its own right, 
but is still enough of a blank slate to make it a good base for all sorts of flavor ideas. 
If butternut squash brought home an elementary school report card, 
the note from the teacher would say,  
Has a strong sense of self yet always cooperates well with others."

photo from SeriouslyEats.com

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (30ml)
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (450g; about 1/2 large squash)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (30g)
1 small shallot, finely minced (about 1 ounce; 30g)
1 handful fresh sage leaves, finely minced (about 1/2 ounce; 15g)
1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon (15ml)
1 pound small cupped, tubular, or ridged pasta such as orecchiette, penne, farfalle, or rotini (450g)
1 ounce grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (30g)

Heat olive oil in a large stainless steel or cast-iron skillet over high heat until very lightly smoking. Immediately add squash, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, until well-browned and squash is tender, about 5 minutes. Add butter and shallots and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until butter is lightly browned and smells nutty, about 1 minute longer. Add sage and stir to combine (sage should crackle and let off a great aroma). Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine pasta with enough room temperature or hot water to cover by about 2 inches. Season with salt. Set over high heat and bring to a boil while stirring frequently. Cook, stirring frequently, until pasta is just shy of al dente, about 2 minutes less than the package directions. Drain pasta, reserving a couple cups of the starchy cooking liquid.

Add pasta to skillet with squash along with a splash of pasta water. Bring to a simmer over high heat and cook until the pasta is perfectly al dente, stirring and tossing constantly and adding a splash of water as needed to keep the sauce loose and shiny. Off heat, stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and texture with more pasta water as needed. Serve immediately, topped with more cheese at the ta

 Mexican Butternut Squash (Food Lab/Serious Eats)  vegetarian option
I'm not sure if I massively misread the recipe, or if my inexperience with ancho chili's played a part (Northern girl here - almost speak Canadian, eh?), but I looked for fresh ancho's because the recipe didn't say dried.  From the picture on the website, it appears to be dried.  Confused!  Ultimately, not being able to find either, I went with poblano chili's, charred them under the broiler, steamed and peeled them, then added to the rest. 

I still want to make the ancho version - I suspect I'm supposed to use dried and those I think I can find in the other grocery store in town. 

2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
photo from SeriouslyEats.com
2 ancho chilies, stemmed (see authors note below)
I used two poblano chilies, charred and skins removed. 
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
1 quart chicken stock or low-sodium broth (see note above)
1 cup water
Sugar, to taste

Note: If you want a less spicy soup with a less intense chili flavor, feel free to discard the ancho chili seeds or scale down to 1 ancho chili pepper. Otherwise, go for the big flavor and spoon in plenty of crema or sour cream to tame the intensity. You can make this soup vegetarian by substituting with vegetable stock.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss squash with 2 tablespoons oil, season with salt, and spread in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast squash, stirring occasionally, until browned and tender, about 35 minutes.

In a dry skillet, toast ancho chilies over high heat, turning once, until fragrant. Let cool, then tear into pieces

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrot, and garlic, and cook until softened and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add ancho chilies, chicken stock, and water and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain simmer. Stir in butternut squash.

Using a blender or stick blender, blend soup until completely smooth. Season with salt and add sugar 1 teaspoon at a time to balance the flavor, if needed.

Spoon soup into bowls and garnish with crema or sour cream, cilantro, and pepitas. Serve with lime wedges.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Zozobra Incident and the Bisti Business by Don Travis

Two book reviews in one post!

The Zozobra Incident (BJ Vinson Mystery #1)  four stars

The jacket blurb:
B J Vinson, a former Albuquerque police detective turned confidential investigator, hesitates when ex-lover and now prominent attorney Del Dahlman appeals to him for help in recovering some incriminating photographs of him and the hustler who broke up their relationship. BJ reluctantly agrees to find Emilio Prada, the handsome gigolo who's been using the photographs to impress his clientele-men and women from all strata of Albuquerque society-thinking he'll put the case to rest in a matter of days. However, things turn deadly with a high-profile murder at the Burning of Zozobra on the opening night of the Santa Fe Fiesta, and B J becomes embroiled in a search for missing negatives, a ruthless murderer, and a way to save himself from being next on the killer's list.

This was a very enjoyable first book, introducing a handful of well rounded supporting characters from Hazel, his no-nonsense office assistant; Del, his ex for reasons that are well explained; Paul, the new love interest; and Emilio, the hustler who started it all. 

The mystery builds quite nicely - Emilio has/had pictures that Del wants back to keep his reputation win tack with his law firm and the potential partnership that's on the line.  But the negatives have disappeared.  For BJ, getting those pictures becomes a matter of hunting down who saw them, and when, and the stakes in retrieving them steadily rise with the body count.  When the attempts on BJ's life start to get serious, BJ knows he's close to figuring it all out.  But only if he can keep himself, Del and Paul alive to do so. 

Several things I enjoyed about this: 
a)  BJ has no problems working with the local police, and the police don't have a problem helping him.  There is a bit of keeping things close to the chest, but much of the animosity that I find between detectives and PI's (oh heck, between detectives and their own men in blue) wasn't there.  I really appreciated reading about that level cooperation - very refreshing. 

b) Not your typical love interest/romance.  Our protagonist is not trying to get between the sheets of the female love interest.  In fact, BJ's interest in Paul is completely separate from the murder mystery up to a point - which made for a nice counterpoint to the mystery and helped build BJ's character.  

c) I really enjoyed the setting in New Mexico.  

d) I already mentioned this, but I liked the cast of characters, even BJ's neighbor lady.  Nobody fell into stereotypical molds.  Nicely done! 

Lots of positives.  There were a few small loose ends not quite tidied up, but I'll put that down as my quirk more so than a downside of the story.  Overall, a solid and engaging read. 



The Bisti Business by Don Travis  (BJ Vinson Mystery #2)  five stars


The jacket blurb:  
Although repulsed by his client, an overbearing, homophobic California wine mogul, confidential investigator B. J. Vinson agrees to search for Anthony Alfano’s missing son, Lando, and his traveling companion—strictly for the benefit of the young men. As BJ chases an orange Porsche Boxster all over New Mexico, he soon becomes aware he is not the only one looking for the distinctive car. Every time BJ finds a clue, someone has been there before him. He arrives in Taos just in time to see the car plunge into the 650-foot-deep Rio Grande Gorge. Has he failed in his mission?

Lando’s brother, Aggie, arrives to help with BJ’s investigation, but BJ isn’t sure he trusts Aggie’s motives. He seems to hold power in his father’s business and has a personal stake in his brother’s fate that goes beyond familial bonds. Together they follow the clues scattered across the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness area and learn the bloodshed didn’t end with the car crash. As they get closer to solving the mystery, BJ must decide whether finding Lando will rescue the young man or place him directly in the path of those who want to harm him.


This could be read as a standalone, but I recommend reading the first in the series to establish the main character’s background.

I will also state I did not realize this was a 2nd Edition until I started this review and thus do not know how it compares to the original and any changes the author/publisher may have made.

Lastly, the book does reference and clearly describes a male rape scene as part of the investigation, which may be objectionable to some.

The disclaimers out of the way, I can get down to the nitty gritty – if you enjoy Tony Hillerman mysteries, you will probably enjoy this series and The Bisti Business in particular. While not as in depth with the Navajo and Hopi cultures, these touch on more of the northwest New Mexico area and I love how the author draws the reader into this vast and formidable landscape.

Premise of the book is BJ reluctantly accepts a missing person’s case – a wealthy California wine mogul’s son has disappeared in the Shiprock area of New Mexico with his boyfriend. As BJ digs into the case and the bodies start piling up in gullies, arroyo’s and car trunks, BJ begins to suspect this issue isn’t so cut and dried and the missing son may be in greater peril if he’s found.

This is not a romance book – there are romantic elements (so sweet too!)- but the theme of the book is a missing person murder mystery with gay elements. I thought this was well executed by the author and a very welcome change of pace from the majority of gay romance books in publication AND a VERY refreshing change of pace from the run of the mill mystery books. .

As a reader who reads a lot of mysteries, I would also like to commend Mr. Travis with his portrayal of the inter-agency cooperation. Way too many mysteries have agencies butting heads or being obtuse and difficult with the leading investigator, refusing to cooperate, not wanting to share information, threatening the investigator – you know the books. So it was incredibly refreshing to read about local police working with the BLM and the FBI and including (with a few grumbles) the private investigator. I’m not saying it was a perfect relationship, there was enough chaffing to keep the plot interesting, but it wasn’t the dripping animosity I’m used to reading. Bravo!

The mystery itself was straight forward and has enough red herrings that it wasn’t immediately obvious “who done it”. This kept me happily engaged all the way to the end to have my guesses and suspicions answered. I won’t tell you if I was right tho…

And if I haven’t convinced you yet to read this series, I will that I greatly enjoy the cast of characters the author has developed. We meet Paul, Hazel, and Charlie in book one, and they make an appearance here. In San Juan County we add Aggie, Joe, Dix, and the intriguing and flirtatious Jazz. A diverse and interesting cast of characters that helped to round out a solidly written book.


(The review for A Bisti Business has been cross posted at Goodreads and Gay Book Reviews).  


Picture from Bing.com = Shiprock, New Mexico

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