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Thursday, February 25, 2021

14 by Peter Clines (Threshhold Series #1)

14 (Threshold, #1)14 by Peter Clines
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Blurb: Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.

There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment.

Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbour across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s. Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.

Or the end of everything...

Read as an audio book. Narrator was same performer who does the Bobiverse books by Dennis E Taylor.

Read for February 2021 book group.

Book blurb summarizes the basic plot so I won't rehash. I have rather mixed thoughts on this selection. I was engaged for about the first 2/3 of the book, and annoyed in the last 1/3. Annoyance factor came from one bad thing after another happening to our main characters and they just couldn't catch a break. A bit of a drawn out climatic conclusion where I seriously thought about skipping a bit. But I didn't. I thought about it though.

What I liked was the diversity of the characters (narrator was great with voices). The Lovecraftian homage was interesting (noting here - I really didn't care for the voice of the nasties, nor how the nasties "spoke". It was too, simple? childish?). There were some strong similarities with another classic SF book whose name and author eludes me at them moment...argh.


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Monday, February 22, 2021

Recipe Review from 2/15/2021

After a weekend ice fishing, I had a couple easy peasy meals picked out. And I do mean easy. Not sure the tuna melts actually needed a recipe, but it's nice to get ideas for different flavor combinations. The queso "chili" was more like a soup/stew and really didn't require an instant pot.  I recommend both of these dishes for a fast weeknight meal. 

Kep is less than enthused about ice fishing.

More snow art!

The Meal Plan:
Sat - Snowbank Lake
Sun - Snowbank Lake
Mon - Snowbank Lake (S) Tuna Melts Pancakes
Tues - Tuna melts
Wed (yoga) leftover tuna melts
Thurs - Creamy Queso Chili
Fri - Chili Take n bake pizza

Tuna Melts with Roasted Red Peppers (Eating Well Jan/Feb 2021)
As I noted above, this is one you wonder why you needed a recipe. Sometimes, a little flavor nudge is a good thing. I forgot to by English muffins, so I used the bread I had on hand. You could also use a jar of roasted red peppers, drained, instead of cooking your own to save some time.

Bottom line - it's tuna melts. Easy. Fast. Tasty.

This made 2 meals for two, plus 2 lunches for one.
Photo from

2 larges red bell peppers, halved and seeded (or, one jar roasted red bell peppers)
2 5-ounce cans oil-packed light tuna, drained (I used 2 5oz vacuum packed packages)
¾ cup chopped celery
¼ cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons minced fresh dill I used 1 tsp dried
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
⅛ teaspoon ground pepper
4 whole-wheat English muffins, split and toasted
4 slices Swiss or provolone cheese (4 ounces total), halved

Position rack in upper third of oven; heat broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil; place bell pepper halves on it, skin-side up. Broil until the skin is nicely charred, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let steam for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir tuna, celery, mayonnaise, dill, shallot, mustard and pepper in a medium bowl. Arrange English muffins, cut-side up, on the foil-lined pan. Divide the tuna salad evenly among them.

Peel the peppers and slice into 1/4-inch-thick strips. Divide the strips among the sandwiches and top each with a slice of cheese (tear it into smaller pieces if it hangs over the edge). Broil until the cheese begins to turn golden and bubbly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Creamy Queso Chili (Eating Well, Jan/Feb 2021) vegetarian option
If you don't have an instant pot - just cook on the stove. The recipe did note this can be made ahead, but to wait till reheating before serving to add the cheeses. I did add the cream cheese, but waited with shredded.

I skipped the cilantro, and topped with avocado and sour cream. This really is a simple, versitle dish. Recommended.

Serves 4
Photo from

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large bell pepper, chopped
½ large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 15-ounce can no-salt-added pinto beans, rinsed
1 15-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 cup low-sodium no-chicken or vegetable broth
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded Mexican-style cheese blend
2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, cubed
1 tablespoon lime juice, plus wedges for serving
Tortilla chips & chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

Heat oil in an electric pressure cooker set to Sauté mode. Add bell pepper, onion and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add chili powder and cumin; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in beans, tomatoes, broth and salt. Close and lock the lid. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. Carefully release the pressure manually.

Mix shredded cheese and cream cheese into the chili, stirring until melted and smooth. Stir in lime juice. Top with tortilla chips and cilantro and serve with lime wedges, if desired.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Recipe Review from 2/8/2021

We spent the weekend up outside of Ely, MN, on Snowbank Lake ice fishing. It was cold. Like -38* cold according to my phone. I heard reports that it hit closer to -50* F below zero. After a point it doesn't matter - it's just cold. But it was all good - main objective was to look at four walls that weren't our house. Second objective, fish. Both objectives were a success.

Past this sign is the BWCAW.  The furry one to the right is Kep.
Snow art!

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L) hot and sour soup (S) meatloaf
Sun (L) Leftover soup and grilled cheese (S) buffalo wings (Super Bowl!)
Mon (Yoga pm) leftover meatloaf
Tues - Chipolte glazed Salmon
Wed (Yoga pm) leftovers
Thurs - leftovers
Fri - ice fishing, Ely, MN

Lunches - (me) Roasted Cauliflower "Couscous" Salad (DH) - sandwiches

Keto Roasted Cauliflower "Couscous" Salad (I Breathe I'm Hungry blog) vegetarian, keto
I'm not doing a Keto diet; I have a friend who is and she passes along tasty looking recipes. I modified a bit and omitted the fresh dill and mint as garnish. I'm not paying $3.00/carton/each for a few sprigs. However, I DID add some dried herbs to the dressing before combining.

Another point, I'm pretty sure you could make this with frozen riced cauliflower. The key here is the squash needs to be diced small in order for everything to cook at the same time. Even then, expect your kale to get a bit crispy. I'm almost thinking, skip baking the kale and add to the salad chopped, raw.

Coming back after eating this over the week - it was "okay". My recommendations: add the kale as a raw component. It was over-cooked when prepared as directed and became bitter in the dish. Consider doubling the dressing and adding just before serving (I did skip the garlic - I was eating this at work). The dressing flavors were completely lost over the course of the week. What did surprise me was how filling this was as compared to some other vegetarian salads I've had. I didn't get as hungry later in the afternoon as I usually do. This was also my first time making and eating cauliflour "rice" or "qunioa" and I would make it again.
Recommended with some reservations and/or modifications.

Made about 4 servings

Photo from I Breathe I'm Hungry blog
For the vegetables:

4 cups raw riced cauliflower**
1 cup finely chopped kale
1 cup chopped butternut squash (1/2 inch cubes)
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds (see note below)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, peeled and minced finely
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

**My note: how to rice raw cauliflower can be found here: TheKitchn

**My other note: you could also make this with frozen riced cauliflower.

To roast the vegetables:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the cauliflower, kale, squash, and sunflower seeds on a baking sheet.
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast for 30 minutes, or until the squash is fork tender. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes.

To make the dressing:

Whisk the dressing ingredients together until well blended.

To assemble:
Place all of the roasted ingredients in a medium-sized bowl, along with the herbs and lemon zest.
Pour the dressing over the top and stir well.
Serve immediately if a warm dish is desired, or chill overnight and serve cold.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (Any longer and the flavors and textures start to deteriorate. Freezing is not recommended by the author. )

Author notes: If your sunflower seeds are already toasted, don’t roast them with the vegetables. Add them in with the fresh herbs before dressing.

Honey-Chipolte Salmon with [Rice] (Eating Well, Jan/Feb 2021)
A noteable subsitiution: The Husband doesn't like cauliflower, so I made a brown and wild rice pilaf (LOVE my instant pot!) and added the carrots and peas to that. I'm posting the recipe "as written" however.

We really enjoyed this. I did find the sauce/glaze was a bit thin and that could have been a function of the fillet I used. We also thought this was better on the second day when we flaked the salmon and 1 ¼ pounds skin-on wild salmon, cut into 4 pieces
½ teaspoon salt, divided
2 teaspoons chopped chipotle in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups cauliflower rice (fresh or frozen)
½ cup frozen diced carrots and peas
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon lime juice

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Place salmon on the prepared baking sheet, skin-side down, and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt. Combine chipotle and honey in a small bowl and brush on the salmon. Bake until the salmon flakes easily with a fork, 6 to 12 minutes depending on thickness.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add cauliflower rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and hot, about 3 minutes. Add carrots and peas and garlic; cook, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in almonds, cilantro, Parmesan, lime juice and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Serve the salmon with the pilaf.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Ice Cold Heart by PJ Tracy (Monkeewrench #10)

Ice Cold Heart (Monkeewrench, #10)Ice Cold Heart by P.J. Tracy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket blurb: On a bitterly cold winter night, Kelly Ramage leaves her suburban home, telling her husband she's going to meet a friend.

She never comes back.

When her body is discovered, murdered in what seems to be a sex game gone horribly wrong, Detectives Gino and Magozzi take the case, expecting to find a flirtatious trail leading straight to the killer.

However, Kelly's sinister lover has done a disturbingly good job of hiding his identity. This isn't his first victim - and that she won't be the last...

Read as an audio book.

It's been a few years since I've read a PJ Tracy book, and I just realized I completely skipped over book eight and nine. So...that says something about reading them in order. Helpful, but not necessary.

Book blurb doesn't really summarize the book adequately, offering only one plot teaser when there are two that drive the characters. There are a couple sub-plots, but those can be left for the reader to discover.

Minneapolis detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth pick up a murder case that at first appears to be a BDSM scene gone wrong. The more they investigate, the more they realize there's may be a connection to a murder in another state that's tied to a controversial art show.

Meanwhile, the Monkeewrench gang has been hired to revamp the cyber security of a bit-coin company that had millions stolen from their accounts. It's with great gusto that Harley and Roadrunner tackle this project, while Grace and Annie hold a supporting role. Roadrunner gets his moment in the limelight when he befriends a neighbor and her story becomes interlinked with theirs.

This was engaging for the most part, it kept my attention on my daily commute and when running errands. My main observation is there are a lot of moving pieces in this one and not infrequently I was sitting at a red light pondering who was being referenced and missing what ever was being said.

My main contention with the story stems from reading cozy mysteries, and the heroine goes to confront the protagonist by herself and ends up needing rescue. Major peeve.

This story should also have a trigger alert - there are scenes of sexual abuse and reference to sexual abuse with bondage.

Overall, it was an okay read. The plots were a bit grandiose and muddled from too many characters, and the book fell to an undesirable trope of damsel in distress. But it's Monkeewrench, and the Monkeewrench gang is enough to keep me reading.

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Monday, February 8, 2021

Recipe review from 1/25/21 and 2/1/21

It's been a crazy couple of weeks. My Sister brought the two little nieces up for a much needed get-away weekend and the weather cooperated. We got out for a walk in a new-to-me park in town, did a little sledding on our butts (it was icy enough we could), we played games and read books. I started leading a one time a month yoga class at a new studio in town, just opened by an associate of mine (Svajla Yoga). And the usual work, working out at the Y, classes at the Y, and errands.

Winona, MN 2019

Meal Plan from 1/25/21:
Sat (with sister) Tater tot hotdish and Tostada boats
Sun - leftovers
Mon (yoga pm) "fancy" grilled cheese
Tues - spaghetti
Wed (yoga pm) - leftover pasta
Thurs - "fancy" grilled cheese
Fri - Butternut squash soup

Meal Plan from 2/1/21:
Sat (L) Leftover soup (S) take n bake pizza
Sun (L) leftover pizza (S) rice stuffed cabbage rolls
Mon (yoga pm) leftover cabbage rolls
Tues - enchilada meatballs
Wed (yoga pm) leftover cabbage rolls
Thurs - leftover meatballs
Fri - (Vet appt, snowblowed, met friend for lunch) leftover cabbage rolls

Enchilada Meatballs (Husband found on Facebook) keto friendly
The Husband found this one on his facebook page and thought it sounded interesting. I did modify slightly since I used our "Italian" seasoned bear meat. I skipped the onion powder, salt and pepper. Honestly, if you're using taco seasoning, you can easily skip the onion powder, salt and pepper. That's getting into too much salt and seasonings.

This is a little time consuming, easily an hour to assemble, bake, and bake again. On the flip side, there's time to clean the kitchen and set the table.

You may note, there is a distinct lack of recommendations for what to serve this over. It seemed a shame to waste the enchilada sauce and odd to eat just meatballs. I served over rice for one meal, and then tried tostada boats for another. I kinda liked the tostada boats, husband liked the rice. I also added some avocado and sour cream. FYI - we're not following the keto plan.

It was...okay, when all was said and ate. Recommended with some reservations.

Serves 4 - 6 (we had two meals for two people, four to five meatballs apiece, and we were full)

1 lb ground beef
1 egg
1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp taco seasoning
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Cooked meatballs
1 10 oz can red enchilada sauce
3/4 cup shredded Mexican cheese


1) Preheat oven to 400.

2) Add all of the meatball ingredients into a large bowl and mix well until combined.

3) Shape into approximately 15 meatballs and place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.

4) Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked through.

1) Preheat oven to 350.

2) Pour 1/4 cup enchilada sauce into bottom of small baking dish or cast iron skillet.

3) Place cooked meatballs into dish and top with remaining enchilada sauce. Top with shredded cheese.

4) Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Pancetta Pangrattato and Leek Pasta (Eating Well, Jan/Feb 2021)
This is a great "pantry" recipe - the only items I needed to buy were the leeks and the pancetta. I don't have access to pancetta I can dice; I bought the thinly sliced kind in the package (found in my cheese section) and sauted it like bacon. OMG - don't skip the pancetta in this dish! Sooo good!

While a bit putzy (cook noodles, set aside; cook pancetta, set aside; cook breadcrumbs, set aside; cook leeks and then combine everything), it is a fairly easy dish with minimal chopping-type prep. I do recommend having everything mise en place as once the pancetta hits the pan, assembly goes fairly quickly. And, granted, you can be cooking the noodles while sauteing the rest.

Good flavor, can use pantry staples, and okay for a weeknight. Recommended.

Serves 4

photo from
8 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
3 ounces diced pancetta
1 cup fresh whole-wheat breadcrumbs (see Tip)
¼ cup finely chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (I used 1/2 tsp dried)
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups thinly sliced leeks (about 2 medium)
¼ cup dry white wine
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 15-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the water, then drain the pasta and return to the pot. Cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook pancetta in a large skillet over medium heat until browned and crispy, 3 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon.

Add breadcrumbs to the pan and cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, 1 to 3 minutes. Add walnuts and cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted, 2 to 5 minutes. Add rosemary and half the garlic and stir to combine. Cook until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the pancetta.

Add oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring often, until just starting to brown, 3 to 6 minutes. Add the remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Stir in wine and crushed red pepper; cook until the wine is almost evaporated, 30 to 60 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and the reserved 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water. Bring to a simmer. Add the pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. Cook, tossing the pasta with tongs, until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup of the pancetta mixture and toss to combine. Serve topped with the remaining pancetta mixture.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

In Memoriam: Andy 2011-2021

Our sweet, soft, pretty Andy passed away today, Feb 4, 2021, of heart failure. He was about 11-12 years old. It was not entirely unexpected; a December vet visit revealed he had a mass in his chest and fluid around his heart, which was drained off. We were blessed to let him be "Andy" these last two months.

In May 2011, Andy came to his forever home.
He was a bit dubious about his new family.

He had to learn his manners, potty training, and a new name.  It was a lot to take in.

His "brother" Ben showed him where all the squirrels and chipmunks lived.

He learned, that with some effort, he could escape from his outside kennel. Remarkably, both times he escaped he stayed in the yard, patroling his paths. Yes, you are cute, you little escapee.

It was sad when Ben passed. But after a few months he got a new "brother", Kepler.
Kepler has a lot more energy than Ben did.

Andy was such a sweetheart. I'm going to miss you so much!

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Fuzzy Sapiens by H. Beam Piper (Fuzzy Sapiens #2)

Fuzzy Sapiens (Fuzzy Sapiens, #2)Fuzzy Sapiens by H. Beam Piper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Are Fuzzies People? Pendarvis' Decision had finally declared the Fuzzies to be intelligent beings, and that meant some drastic changes for the Earthmen who had colonized their planet, changes that a lot of people weren't going to accept easily. But why worry? said others. The Fuzzies seemed lovable, fun-loving creatures, only two feet high, and covered with soft, golden fur. Give them plenty of extee-three and they'd do anything you asked. What ruling race of invaders could ask for a more ideal native population? Read for January 2021 book group.

Fuzzy Sapiens picks up right where Fuzzy Nation left off. A Zarathrustra Corporation no longer has control of the planet, the planet is trying to establish a new government, and Jack Holloway is in charge of the Department of Native Liaisons. Zarathrustra Corporation has had a complete change of heart with its CEO finds a Fuzzy in his own apartment and realizes there are four missing Fuzzies. Enemies become allies as everyone discovers there's a larger problem at stake.

Loosely summarizing...

Written in 1964, this has all the makings of a classic science fiction book - planetary drama, futuristic society, newly discovered alien species, Good Guys vs Bad Guys and triumph over evil. The plot is still engaging, the story moves smartly along, and its an interesting look back at how authors were looking forward.

From a modern perspective I found it to be a bit cringe-worthy: patronizing, androcentric, and socially unbelievable. From a modern perspective. It amazes me how authors could create a space faring future with interstellar travel, float cars, and more, but keep people in a 1960's mindset of women as secretaries and fuzzy sitters and where everyone smokes. Scientifically looking forward, socially stuck. Rather fascinating and I wonder why that was.

I do believe it's worth reading when viewed with a historical eye. It an easy and entertaining read if that is kept in mind. Recommended.

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Monday, January 25, 2021

Recipe Review from 1/18/2021

Hm. Well, another week where meal planning was just that - a very loose plan. The Burgundy Bear dish made a lot more leftovers than I was anticipating and I should note that on the recipe for the next time I make it. It's not a new recipe, it's just been a very long time since I've made it. So the pasta and leek saute: moved to next week. Salmon: moved to next Sunday and hoping the weather will be warm enough to try smoking it. So only two recipes to review.

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L)leftover Cobb Salad (S) Chickpea dish
Sun (L) leftover chickpeas (S) Burgundy bear steaks
Mon (yoga) (L) out? (S) leftover bear
Tues - Pasta leftover bear on smashed potatoes
Wed (yoga) leftover bear on sauted potatoes
Thur - Salmon Chinese takeout
Fri (off) leftover Chinese

Lunches - Squash chili with cornbread muffins

Warm Spinach Salad with Chickpeas and Roasted Tomatoes (Eating Well Jan/Feb 2021) vegetarian/vegan
This was so simple to assemble (and would have been simpler had I made my beans ahead of time). The tahini dressing really pulls everything together. I did use dried beans I prepared in the instant pot, I subbed red wine for the sherry vinegar (what's with recipes calling for sherry vinegar lately?), and I purchased a 5 oz tub of baby spinach. Prep is minimal (especially if you cook your beans ahead of time, clean-up is a snap (tip: use parchment paper under the tomatoes on the baking sheet) and it tastes great! I would absolutely make this again. Recommended!

Photo from

1 medium sweet onion, sliced ¼ inch thick
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ teaspoon salt, divided
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
3 cups cooked or canned (rinsed) chickpeas
1 ¼ teaspoons dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon tahini
½ teaspoon pure maple syrup
8 cups lightly packed spinach (8 ounces)

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss onion with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/8 teaspoon salt on a large rimmed baking sheet. Spread into an even layer. Roast for 10 minutes.

Push the onion to one side of the pan. Add tomatoes to the empty side and sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt. Roll the tomatoes around on the pan to oil them up a bit. Roast until the onion is blackened in spots and the tomatoes have collapsed and released some of their juices, 25 to 30 minutes more.

Add chickpeas, oregano and pepper to the pan and drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Toss to combine the vegetables, scraping up the browned bits. Return to the oven and roast until the oregano is fragrant and the chickpeas are heated through, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, vinegar, tahini, maple syrup and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Add spinach and toss to coat. Top the spinach with the roasted vegetables and chickpeas. Serve warm.

Vegetarian Winter Squash Chili (Slow Cooker Favorites, Fine Cooking, Winter of 2014) vegetarian/vegan
The recipe was written backwards, in my humble opinion, and I've reflected the order I thought would make the most sense below. Though, really, this would be a good chop and plop dish and skip sauteing the onion.

My other observation is this is a very sweet chili - almost too much so with the squash, cranberries and orange juice. It was a bit...disconcerting. You can also adjust the heat level by adding or reducing the amount of chipolte in adobo. I should have added a tich more, but I like heat.

2 cups finely chopped onion
1 tsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon (divided)
1 tsp ground cumin (divided)

2 (15 oz cans) chickpeas, rinsed and drained OR 3 cups cooked chickpeas
7 cups (about 2 small) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
2 tsp coarse salt
12 grinds of black pepper

1/2 tbsp chipolte chili in adobo sauce
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup tomato paste

Heat oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion, garlic, 1/2 tsp cumin,1/2 tsp cinnamon and saute until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Mix chickpeas, squash, salt, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp cinnamon and the pepper in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the onion mixture.

Place chipolte chili, cranberries, orange juice and tomato paste into a blender and puree until mostly smooth. Pour over ingredients in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low 4-6 hours or until squash is soft.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Recipe Review from 1/11/2021

The initial meal plan rather went out the window last week and it was an exercise in "shuffling" and pantry diving. The beautiful hoarfrost went away as temps crept up above freezing mid to end of the week.

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L) squash with qunioa leftovers (S) leftovers
Sun (L) Scrounged (S) Fish cakes
Mon (yoga) Fish fillets
Tues - Cobb Salad  Rice bowls
Wed (yoga) Fish  Hot chicken sandwiches
Thurs - Cobb Salad take-n-bake pizza
Fri - Cobb Salad

Lunches - Caprese Pasta Salad Bowls

Chicken Caprese Pasta Salad Bowls (Eating Well, June 2019)
photo from
This was so easy to assemble, especially if you are using leftover or rotisserie chicken (which I highly recommend for this recipe. The dressing really makes this dish - it's excellent. No, awesome. No, fantastic! Seriously good. This dish combined with a small dinner roll or baguette, really does make for the perfect, pre-packed lunch. Recommended!

Made about 5-6 tubs (I think I used more spinach.

8 ounces whole-grain rotini
1 (5 ounce) package baby spinach (about 6 cups)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
1 cup pearl-size or mini mozzarella balls (about 4 ounces)

1 small shallot, peeled and quartered
½ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon ground pepper
¼ teaspoon salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook rotini according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold running water, then drain again and set aside.

Divide spinach among 4 single-serving lidded containers. Top each with 1 cup of the cooked pasta, 1/2 cup tomatoes, 1/2 cup chicken and one-fourth of the mozzarella balls.

Vinaigrette: Combine shallot, basil, oil, vinegar, honey (or agave), mustard, pepper and salt in a blender. Puree until smooth.

Divide vinaigrette among 4 small lidded containers and refrigerate.

Seal the salad containers and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Dress with the vinaigrette just before serving.

Winter Cobb Salad (Eating Well, Jan/Feb 2021) vegetarian/vegan option
This ended up being one of the dishes that got shuffled due to time restraints with baking the squash. I should have just baked it ahead of time and assembled later. For a salad, this was...putzy and time consuming to assemble - and I say this after I either skipped or forgot some of the ingredients. I omitted the bacon and red onion and forgot the blue cheese. So you would think this could be fairly quick to pull together. Nope. Had to prep and bake the squash (45 minutes), prep apples, prep dressing, prep avocado, prep kale, wait for squash to cool, assemble, eat.

My suggestions: buy a clamshell of mixed spinach and kale greens and skip the squash. I didn't care for cold (room temp) squash on my salad. This can easily be converted to vegetarian or vegan without loosing any flavor. Omit bacon and/or cheese.

The other modification I did was to use the dressing from the Winter Cobb Salad.

Serves 4(ish)
photo from

4 cups cubed peeled butternut squash
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallot
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
10 cups coarsely chopped stemmed kale
1 large crisp apple, sliced or chopped
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 slices cooked bacon, chopped skipped
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
1 ripe avocado, sliced
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Toss squash with 1 tablespoon oil, coriander, cumin and cinnamon in a large bowl. Spread on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring once halfway, until tender and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes.

Whisk vinegar, mustard, shallot, oregano, pepper and salt in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Add kale and toss well to combine. Divide the kale among 4 plates and top with apple, onion, bacon, egg, avocado, cheese and the squash.

Crispy Fried Rice Bowls (Eating Well (Jan/Feb 2021)
This dish, while simple, does require planning ahead so the rice is ready to go. I did a couple of modifications - I poached the eggs (I like the "clean" taste of a poached egg more so than a fried egg) and I skipped the carrot and scallions.

Unfortunately, I only got one meal out of this as I didn't realized I was nearly out of brown rice. I had just enough to make one meal for two of us. Which was a bummer as this came together quickly, was perfect for a later week-night meal, and was quite good. I would make this again. Recommended!

Serves 4

photo from
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided
2 ½ cups cooked brown rice
½ teaspoon salt plus a pinch, divided
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil, divided
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 11-ounce package baby spinach
1 tablespoon lime juice
4 large eggs
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1 cup julienned carrot
4 radishes, thinly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
4 teaspoons Sriracha

Heat 1 teaspoon sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add rice and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy, about 10 minutes. Divide among 4 shallow bowls.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon grapeseed (or canola) oil and ginger to the pan. Add spinach, in batches, and cook, tossing, until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in lime juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Divide among the rice bowls.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon grapeseed (or canola) oil in the pan. Crack eggs into it and cook until the whites are set and the edges are crispy, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining pinch of salt. Place an egg on each rice bowl. Top with avocado, carrot, radishes, scallions and Sriracha.

Pan Seared Snapper with Red Pepper Relish (Eating Well, Jan/Feb 2021)
I had some Lake Superior whitefish cakes and fillets in the freezer from a trip to the Bayfield peninsula last fall, and this recipe fit perfectly. It was super easy to assemble, it tastes great and would work with a variety of neutral white fish (red snapper, tilapia, halibut if you want to go a bit fancy, your local favorite fish...). Serve with some crusty artisanal bread to sop up the relish. Recommended!

Serves 4

1 15-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, drained
3 jarred roasted red bell peppers (about 8 ounces), chopped
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons chopped garlic plus 1 teaspoon, divided
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
1 ½ teaspoons sherry vinegar, divided
⅛ teaspoon salt plus ¼ teaspoon, divided
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 ¼ pounds skin-on snapper fillets

Combine tomatoes and peppers in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, about 3 times. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet over medium heat; add 3 tablespoons garlic and cook until fragrant and softened, about 3 minutes. Add coriander and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato mixture, sugar and crushed red pepper; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is dry, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon oil, parsley, 1 teaspoon vinegar and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

Meanwhile, mix mayonnaise, paprika and the remaining 1 teaspoon garlic and 1/2 teaspoon vinegar in a small bowl; set aside.

Cut 2 slits in the skin side of each fillet. Pat dry with paper towels. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fish, skin-side down, and gently press with a spatula until it stays flat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the skin is browned and crisp, 6 to 7 minutes. Flip the fish and cook until it flakes easily with a fork, 1 to 2 minutes more. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Divide the reserved red pepper relish among 4 plates. Top with a fish fillet and some of the reserved garlicky mayo.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Wine Girl by Victoria James

Wine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America's Youngest SommelierWine Girl: The Obstacles, Humiliations, and Triumphs of America's Youngest Sommelier by Victoria James
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book Blurb: An affecting memoir from the country’s youngest sommelier, tracing her path through the glamorous but famously toxic restaurant world

At just twenty-one, the age when most people are starting to drink (well, legally at least), Victoria James became the country’s youngest sommelier at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Even as Victoria was selling bottles worth hundreds and thousands of dollars during the day, passing sommelier certification exams with flying colors, and receiving distinction from all kinds of press, there were still groping patrons, bosses who abused their role and status, and a trip to the hospital emergency room.

It would take hitting bottom at a new restaurant and restorative trips to the vineyards where she could feel closest to the wine she loved for Victoria to re-emerge, clear-eyed and passionate, and a proud “wine girl” of her own Michelin-starred restaurant.

Exhilarating and inspiring, Wine Girl is the memoir of a young woman breaking free from an abusive and traumatic childhood on her own terms; an ethnography of the glittering, high-octane, but notoriously corrosive restaurant industry; and above all, a love letter to the restorative and life-changing effects of good wine and good hospitality. Read as an audio book. Narrated by the author.

Trigger warning - descriptions of child abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and rape are described in this autobiography.

This book has a dual personality - one aspect is Victoria's trials, tribulations, humiliations, triumphs and successes from childhood to adulthood. It is very much an autobiography. And the other aspect is an in depth review of working in the hospitality industry in New York as well as the world of a sommelier.
Both aspects were appalling. Both aspects were moderately interesting.

I have heard from other avenues of the prevalent sexual abuse in the restaurant industry, especially in New York City. It despicable that this degradation of staff is allowed to persist, where those with money and power can and do take advantage of those without money simply because they can. Honestly, if I ever make it back to NYC (or any large city) I would be very hard pressed to even consider dining in a "starred" or "fancy" restaurant.

The journey to become a sommelier was fascinating, that it's an unregulated industry of white male privileged. I probably shouldn't have been surprised by that. Mostly what I realized as I read this, is that the industry seems to focus solely on French wines, South American wines and California wines, and if you dare drink anything else, you are a plebe. Which is a shame, because there are some wonderful wine growing regions in the States. What I learned - drink what *I* enjoy.

The book was organized into time frames spanning certain ages in Victoria's life, sub-threads (family, work, wine, personal tribulations, etc) seemed to come and go without consistency or cohesiveness. There were several topics that were brought up, then left dangling without conclusion or resolution later.

Ultimately, what Victoria achieved and the obstacles she overcame are amazing and commendable. Someone needs to stand up and tell the world about the crap under the surface and this autobiography certainly does that. I recommend this book with some definite reservations. It's not a comfortable story to read.

View all my reviews

Read as an audio book. Narrated by the author.

Trigger warning - descriptions of child abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and rape are described in this autobiography.

This book has a dual personality - one aspect is Victoria's trials, tribulations, humiliations, triumphs and successes from childhood to adulthood. It is very much an autobiography. And the other aspect is an indepth review of working in the hospitatlity industry in New York as well as the world of a sommiler.
Both aspects were appaling. Both aspects were moderately interesting.

I have heard from other avenues of the prevelent sexual abuse in the restaurant industry, espeically in New York City. It despicable that this degredation of staff is allowed to persist, where those with money and power can and do take advantage of those without money simply because they can. Honestly, if I ever make it back to NYC (or any large city) I would be very hard pressed to even consider dining in a "starred" restaurant.

The journey to become a sommiler was facinating, that it's an unregulated industry of white male privledge. I probably shouldn't have been surprised by that. Mostly what I realized as I read this, is that the industry seems to focus soley on French wines, South American wines and California wines, and if you dare drink anything else, you are a pleeb. Which is a shame, because there are some wonderful wine growing regions in the States. What I learned - drink what *I* enjoy.

The book was organized into timeframes spanning certain ages in Victoria's life, sub-threads (family, work, wine, personal tribulations, etc) seemed to come and go without consistency or cohesiveness. There were several topics that were brought up, then left dangling without conclusion or resolution later.

Ultimately, what Victoria achieved and the obstacles she overcame are amazing and commendable. Sometimes someone needs to stand up and tell the world about the crap under the surface and this autobiography certainly does that. I recommend this book with some definite reservations. It's not a comfortable story to read.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Recipe Review from 1/4/2021

Welcome to the new year! It's been a quiet start all in all if I discount the work insanity. No blizzards and a week of beautiful hoarfrost coating everything. And I do mean everything. The picture below caught one of of the sunny days - it's been mostly foggy and overcast.

photo by scifiwithpaprika@blogger

It was a week of predominantly leftovers. We had tentative plans to go scouting bird hunting locations in SD but a blizzard kept us home. So I just made what I had planned on taking on our trip.

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L) Burritos from the co-op (S) Texas Roadhouse take-out
Sun (L) leftover chili (S) Bear roast and potatoes
Mon (yoga) leftover bear
Tues - Texas Roadhouse leftovers
Wed (yoga) leftover bear
Thurs leftover chili
Fri (off) leftover squash with quinoa

Husband = sandwiches
Me = Squash with Quinoa and Apricots

Squash with Quinoa and Apricots (The Vegetarian Slow Cooker cookbook) vegetarian/vegan
A bit time consuming on the prep side, and I'm generally not a fan of pre-cooking something that's going into a slow cooker. What grabbed my attention was using squash and quinoa - which I had in my pantry.

This was...okay. I found it overly "orange-y" and in hindsight, I should have cut back the zest to 1 tsp. I did cook it for for 6 hours on low and it turned the squash, apples and onions into a bit of a "mush". Not very appealing. So while not a "failure" - I did eat it for lunches for the week, this would need some tweaking if I were to make it again.

Made enough for 5-6 lunches (depends on your container size)
Medium to large (3 1/2 to 5 qt slow cooker
1 tbsp oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp minced ginger root
1 tbsp cumin
2 tsp finely grate orange zest
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup orange juice
4 cups cubed, peeled winter squash
2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup chopped apricots
1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed

Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, cumin, orange zest, cinnamon stick, tumeric, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minutes. Add vegetable broth and orange juice and bring to a boil. Transfer to slow cooker.

Add squash, apples and apricots to slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low 6 hours or on high for 3 hours; until vegetables are tender. Discard cinnamon stick.

Cook quinoa according to directions on package. Add to slow cooker and stir well. Serve.

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