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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross (Laundry Files #4)


The Apocalypse Codex (Laundry Files, #4)The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb: For outstanding heroism in the field (despite himself), computational demonologist Bob Howard is on the fast track for promotion to management within the Laundry, the supersecret British government agency tasked with defending the realm from occult threats. Assigned to External Assets, Bob discovers the company (unofficially) employs freelance agents to deal with sensitive situations that may embarrass Queen and Country.

So when Ray Schiller—an American televangelist with the uncanny ability to miraculously heal the ill—becomes uncomfortably close to the Prime Minister, External Assets dispatches the brilliant, beautiful, and entirely unpredictable Persephone Hazard to infiltrate the Golden Promise Ministries and discover why the preacher is so interested in British politics. And it’s Bob’s job to make sure Persephone doesn’t cause an international incident.

But it’s a supernatural incident that Bob needs to worry about—a global threat even the Laundry may be unable to clean up…


Premise of the book is after a regular mundane management training session, Bob has been temporarily assigned to External Assets department as a test of his abilities, though he doesn't know that. Bob is assigned to oversee two outside contractors in Denver, Colorado (USA) while they investigate one Raymond Shiller and the Golden Promise Ministries. Something is quite fishy about Mr. Shiller but nobody can quite put their finger on what. Once on the ground in the States, it's only a matter of days before everything goes absolutely pear shaped and Bob's worst nightmare becomes a reality.

I'll say upfront, you have to read the first three in the series. Not a stand alone book.

And I'll also say upfront, this was so much better than the Fuller Memorandum. I almost walked away from this series after Fuller Memorandum, but a couple of friends indirectly managed to talk me into continuing the series (they just finished The Delirium Brief, #8).

I enjoyed this book - it's classic Bob being Bob and managing to scrap through despite a lack of resources and support. The story clips along, it kept me engaged, and I really liked the supporting characters of Persephone and Johnny.

It was also an interesting look at how another country [via the author] views Evangelical Christianity. I don't know how true this is, but I've heard at panels at various science fiction conventions, that Sci Fi is one of the few genre's that explores the concepts of religion. Apocalypse Codex takes that exploration a step beyond, perhaps, but still, an interesting thought.

Ultimately, when all was said and read, I enjoyed the book enough that my faith was restored in the series and I'll go get the next.



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Monday, August 14, 2017

Recipe Review from 8/7/2017

This past week we hiked from Temperance River to Britton Peak on the Superior Hiking Trail, not once, but TWICE!  We volunteered to be Hike Leader and Naturalist for this segment waaayy back in February or March.  I like to know what trail conditions are before we head out with a group of people, so we went up the Wednesday before the hike with the dogs and timed the drive, the shuttle and the hike.

The we went back sans dogs (SHT asks no dogs on Guided Hikes) on Saturday for the event itself.  We had about 30 people for a glorious Saturday morning, with some familiar faces and many new-to-guided hikes attendees.  Temperatures hovered right about 75* (warmer on the rock faces), with a slight breeze, and clear skies.  I marked time at 3.5 hours by the time I got off the trail as "Sweep", just a half hour longer than when we hiked on Wednesday.  Most excellent! 

Pictures coming!  Phone is not talking to the internet this morning...

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L)  shish-k-bobs and corn on the cob  (S)  Fish sandwiches
Sun (L)  Fish sandwiches (S)  Chicken Enchiladas
Mon (yoga) leftover enchiladas
Tues - leftover enchiladas
Wed (hiking)  Corn, tomato and basil salad
Thurs (yoga) leftover enchiladas 
Fri - leftover corn salad

Lunches - hummus sandwiches



Blackened Grouper Sandwiches (Ckng Lght June 2017)  vegetarian option**
My notes: For a vegetarian option, skip the bun and serve open face on the lettuce and tomato with the sauce on the side.

I used tilapia for this dish - I'm not even sure I could get grouper in my corner of the world.  I also forgot I was out of paprika so I pulled out a jar of Penzey's Northwoods seasoning - it has the paprika, salt and pepper, plus thyme, rosemary, garlic, and chipolte.   Close enough plus I can use something I have on hand.

These do come together quickly, I thought they tasted as good or better than fish sandwiches I've eaten in restaurants, and I would make these again.  Recommended!


1 teaspoon paprika  (I used 2 tsp Penzey's Northwoods seasoning)
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
photo from cookinglight.com
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 (6-oz.) grouper fillets
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup canola mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon unsalted ketchup
4 (2-oz.) whole-wheat hoagie rolls, split**
4 romaine lettuce leaves
8 plum tomato slices

1. Preheat broiler to high with oven rack 8 inches from the heat.

2. Combine paprika, pepper, and salt in a small bowl. Rub spice mixture evenly over fillets.

3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add fillets to pan; cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side.

4. Combine mayonnaise, relish, mustard, and ketchup in a bowl. Arrange rolls, cut sides up, on a baking sheet; broil 1 minute or until toasted. Spread mayonnaise mixture over cut sides of rolls. Top bottom halves of rolls with lettuce, tomato, fillets, and top halves of rolls.


Roasted Chili Verde Chicken Enchiladas  (Ckng Lght, June 2017)  gluten free
This dish is going to take a bit of time, expect that going in; there really isn't much in the way of short cuts here so plan on this being a weekend dish.  The link and magazine note this as being 1:30, it took me probably closer to 2:30 - but I'm including prep in that and clean-up.   

I didn't want to heat up the house any warmer than it already was, so I did part of my prep on the grill.  I charred the veggies, then grilled a portion of the meat because my Dutch oven isn't large enough to properly sear 4lbs of thighs. 

And that was my second modification - I used two whole chickens (+/- 2.5lbs ea - my chickens were on the smallish side), cut-up.  I grilled the breasts and legs, and seared the thighs in a large sauce pan (again, amount of meat).  Because I used a whole/cut-up chicken, it did take a tich longer to shred the meat. 

I also didn't split the dish into two, but cooked it (on the grill) in a 9x13 pan.  

End result?  Very tasty and a nice change from the usual El Paso Enchilada sauce.   Best part?  Supper is ready for the next several nights - LOVE the leftovers!  

Cooking spray
photo from cookinglight.com
2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed
4 poblano chiles, halved lengthwise, ribs and seeds removed
1 large yellow onion, quartered
6 garlic cloves
1 cup firmly packed fresh cilantro leaves and stems
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs (about 4 lb.)
16 (6-in.) corn tortillas
6 ounces reduced-fat Mexican blend cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1. Preheat broiler with oven rack 6 inches from heat. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Place tomatillos, poblanos, onion, and garlic on prepared baking sheet. Broil for 12 minutes, turning vegetables after 6 minutes, until well charred. Let stand 5 minutes. Scrape mixture and any accumulated juices into a blender. Add cilantro leaves and stems, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper; process until smooth.

2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high. Sprinkle chicken with remaining 1/2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Place chicken in a single layer in Dutch oven, meaty sides down. Cook until browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
3. Pour tomatillo mixture into Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium-high. Cook until sauce thickens slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Return chicken to Dutch oven; reduce heat to medium-low; simmer until a thermometer inserted in thickest portion registers 165°F, 12 to 15 minutes. Place chicken on a plate; let stand 5 minutes. Set aside 2 cups tomatillo mixture. Shred chicken and return to Dutch oven; discard bones. Toss meat to coat.
4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 2 (11- x 7-inch) baking dishes with cooking spray. Spread 1/4 cup reserved tomatillo mixture in the bottom of each dish. Spoon 1/4 cup chicken mixture into each tortilla; fold into thirds, and arrange in dishes (8 enchiladas in each). Spread 3/4 cup reserved tomatillo mixture over enchiladas in each dish. Sprinkle each with 3/4 cup cheese. Coat 2 pieces of aluminum foil with cooking spray, and cover each dish. Follow freezing directions, or continue to step 5.
5. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, until heated through. Remove foil. Increase heat to broil. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes, until cheese is golden and bubbly. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon yogurt and 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro.

Magazine Notes:  How-To FREEZE: Cover dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil or an airtight lid. Freeze up to 2 months. THAW: Remove foil; reserve. Place dish in microwave. Microwave on MEDIUM for 20 minutes, until thawed. REHEAT: Cover dish with reserved foil. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, until cheese is melted and a thermometer inserted in center registers 160°F. Remove foil during last 5 minutes.

Corn Tomato and Basil Salad (Ckng Lght, June 2017)  gluten free, vegetarian
I modified this a fair amount:
  • I used 1 pint small cherry tomatoes (whole) instead of cutting up regular tomatoes  (putzy)
  • I grilled 4 ears of corn (makes about 2 cups) instead of eating raw
  • I skipped the parsley (I was out)
  • I used some green onions instead of the shallot (had the green onions in the fridge)
  • I used a Roasted Garlic infused olive oil
  • and I added 2 andoullie sausage links, grilled and cut up, to make my resident carnivore happy
This was very good!  I was concerned that there was too much dressing for the amount of food, but it turned out okay, maybe a tich much for my tastes, but still good.  This would be great as a side for just about any grilled meal, or, as a dish in its own right.  As I noted above, I added two sausage links for The Husband.  Added a nice zing!

Recommended! 

2 large ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-in. dice, or 1 diced heirloom tomato and 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
photo from cookinglight.com
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon white miso  (I used 1 tsp red)
1 medium shallot, peeled and minced
2 cups fresh yellow and white corn kernels
1/4 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1 oz.)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
12 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces

1. Place tomatoes in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt; let stand 30 minutes at room temperature.
2. Combine oil and next 6 ingredients (through shallot) in a pint jar. Seal jar; shake 30 seconds or until blended.
3. Add vinaigrette, corn, cheese, chopped parsley, and basil to tomatoes. Toss gently to combine; serve immediately.




Thursday, August 10, 2017

Golden Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #27)

Golden Prey (Lucas Davenport, #27)Golden Prey by John Sandford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  The man was smart and he didn’t mind killing people. Welcome to the big leagues, Davenport. Lucas Davenport’s first case as a U.S. Marshal sends him into uncharted territory, in the thrilling new novel in the #1 New York Times-bestselling series.

Thanks to some very influential people whose lives he saved, Lucas is no longer working for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, but for the U.S. Marshals Service, and with unusual scope. He gets to pick his own cases, whatever they are, wherever they lead him.

And where they’ve led him this time is into real trouble. A Biloxi, Mississippi, drug-cartel counting house gets robbed, and suitcases full of cash disappear, leaving behind five bodies, including that of a six-year-old girl. Davenport takes the case, which quickly spirals out of control, as cartel assassins, including a torturer known as the “Queen of home-improvement tools” compete with Davenport to find the Dixie Hicks shooters who knocked over the counting house. Things get ugly real fast, and neither the cartel killers nor the holdup men give a damn about whose lives Davenport might have saved; to them, he’s just another large target.


Read as an audio book.

Premise of the book is - a drug deal money heist that left five people dead, including one little girl, results in a cross-country man hunt for the perpetrators and culminates in a massive shoot out in Texas.

Seriously, that's it.

And I enjoyed it - hey! It's Davenport.

We are introduced to some new characters, Ray and Bob. They aren't Jenken's and Shrake, but I think they will do quite well. Their characters offered a nice counter-point to Davenport running solo, but yet avoided the whole permanent partner thing.

The antagonists were quite the varied bunch, from Darling and Poole, to Court and Soto, Dora Box, even Rosie and Annie. Killers, all of them, some nastier than the others. I kinda wonder if we won't be seeing three of the above in a future book? I won't say who, don't want to spoil the fun.

My only criticism was with the shoot-out - I kept wondering why nobody called in a helicopter? We had nearly every single law enforcement agency present, I KNOW the Border Patrol has helicopters, so...why didn't anyone call one in and just put a spotlight on the perps?

Recommended if you've read the first 26 in the series, because by this point, you are invested in wanting to know what Davenport is going to do next.



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Monday, August 7, 2017

Recipe review from 7/29/2017

Kepler update!  
He's getting to be a big boy!  About half the size of Andy-dog now, or about 30lbs.  His chewing has gotten better, he gets mouthy when he's hungry or wants attention so that's an improvement over All. The. Time.  He LOVES his swimmy-pool, digging in the garden with Mom, eating woodchips/bugs/frogs/rocks/raspberries/blueberries/chicken poo and anything else that might taste good.  Early indications are he loves riding in the car.  He's a sweetie, even when he's playing "keep away". 

Almost 5 months old now!

And lots of tasty recipes this week! 

The Meal Plan from week of July 29:
Sun (L)  Corn cakes   (S) Tortellini and squash
Mon (yoga)  leftovers
Tues:  Grouper/tilapia sandwiches
Wed: Leftovers
Thurs (yoga)  brats
Fri: Leftovers

Lunches - cheese sandwiches because I didn't have the time to make the hummus.


Corn Cakes with Bacon and Tumeric Dressing  (Ckng Lght, June 2017) gluten free; vegetarian option

I made these as written (I KNOW right?) and these were really good.  Don't skip the "dressing" - it totally pulled the dish together.    I served these along side a salad for a light lunch. 

I will admit, I did have some apprehension when I dolluped a ladle of "batter" into the pan.  I seriously thought, "No way is this gonna work.  This is going to be a disaster...".  Much to my very great surprise,  it worked!  I had little corn cakes!

My one complaint is this was touted in the magazine as a 30 minute recipe - plan on an easy 45 minutes.  I added up the times noted below: 8 minutes for the bacon, 2 minutes for corn, 10 minutes rest, 5 minutes rest = that right there is 15 minutes and it doesn't include prep or that I could only cook about 4 at a time (at 2 minutes per side).   How could you not include prep in with the time factor??
 
Anyway, most excellent - recommended. 

2 center-cut bacon slices, chopped**   (Could be optional)
2 3/4 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
photo from cookinglight.com
1 1/4 cups finely chopped yellow squash
1/4 cup chopped green onions (white parts only)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup plain yellow cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt (not Greek-style)  (I used Greek-style)
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium. Add bacon; cook, stirring often, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels; reserve drippings in skillet.
2. Increase heat to medium-high. Add corn and squash to drippings; cook until lightly charred and al dente, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl; cool 10 minutes. Add onions, eggs, cornmeal, pepper, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cooked bacon to corn mixture; stir to combine. Let mixture stand 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Stir together yogurt, maple syrup, turmeric, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Set aside. 
4. Heat skillet over medium. Drop batter by 1/4-cupfuls into skillet, flatten slightly with a spatula, and cook until firm and browned on each side, about 2 minutes per side. Serve with turmeric-yogurt mixture.

Tortellini Salad with Zucchini and Peas  (Ckng Lght, June 2017)  vegetarian
I have mixed thoughts on this dish:  it's easy to assemble, the flavors are definitely "summer",  and you can use produce from the garden.  Butttt...I wasn't wild about the way the zucchini was prepped for this (or in my case, the summer squash).  It was incredibly awkward trying to eat the tortellini and peas with these long limp planks of squash.  They just don't mesh well on the fork.  Medallions would have been SO much better and easier to cook. 
Other than that complaint, I liked the flavors of this dish and it's ease in prep.  Perfect for a mid-week meal with a side salad.  

1 (9-oz.) pkg. refrigerated whole-wheat 3-cheese tortellini (such as Buitoni)
2/3 cup frozen peas
photo from cookinglight.com
2 medium zucchini (I used 1 medium summer squash)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind plus 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Small fresh basil leaves (optional)

1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; add peas for the last 6 minutes. Drain, and cool 10 minutes; place pasta and peas in a medium bowl.

2. Using a vegetable peeler, shave zucchini into ribbons.

3. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a medium skillet over medium. Add garlic; cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Remove from heat. Add zucchini; stir constantly until zucchini is slightly softened, about 1 minute. Add zucchini mixture to tortellini mixture in bowl.

4. Combine rind, juice, salt, pepper, and remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil. Drizzle over tortellini mixture; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with basil, if desired.


Southwest Roasted Potato Salad  (Aberdeen's Kitchen Blog)  vegetarian, gluten free
A friend passed this recipe along and I knew this was a "must try".  This was very tasty and a nice alternative to a more "traditional" mayo/mustard based potato salad.  I made this as a side for brats.

And, as usual, I did a modification:  I grilled this.  I assembled as directed below, tossing everything but the corn together.  I split into two foil packets, fired up the grill to 400*, and tossed'm on.  I rotated the packets every 10 minutes to ensure even cooking and no burning.  I think I cooked for about 40 minutes?   Corn was also cooked for 40 minutes.   Pulled everything off and assembled.

The dish was well received - though the Husband and I agreed that the spices were too subtle for the amount of food.  I would definitely increase both the cumin and the ancho pepper. 
Photo from Aberdeen's Kitchen Blog

Recommended! 

2 lbs baby red potatoes, halved  (I did a medium dice)
1 corn on the cob, husk on  (I cooked separately) 
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
½ teaspoon cumin  (1 tsp)
¼ teaspoon ancho chili pepper powder (1/2 tsp)
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced + extra roughly chopped to garnish
Green onion, thinly sliced to garnish
3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400˚F.

Toss potatoes, bell peppers, cumin, ancho chili pepper, salt, pepper, minced dill, and olive oil until coated on a roasting pan. Spread the vegetables out into a single layer, leaving an empty space for the corn on the cob. Place the corn on the cob, husk still on, in the empty space.

Put the pan on a middle rack in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the corn on the cob and set aside. Put the pan back in the oven and cook for another 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
While vegetables continue to cook, remove the husk from the corn and slice off the kernels.

When the potatoes are tender enough to be pierced with a fork, remove the pan from the oven. Stir in the corn kernels and add the remaining fresh dill and green onion to garnish.


 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

No Man's Land by David Baldacci (John Puller #4)

No Man's Land (John Puller, #4)No Man's Land by David Baldacci

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:
Two men. Thirty years.

John Puller's mother, Jackie, vanished thirty years ago from Fort Monroe, Virginia, when Puller was just a boy. Paul Rogers has been in prison for ten years. But twenty years before that, he was at Fort Monroe. One night three decades ago, Puller's and Rogers' worlds collided with devastating results, and the truth has been buried ever since.

Until now.

Military investigators, armed with a letter from a friend of Jackie's, arrive in the hospital room of Puller's father--a legendary three-star now sinking into dementia--and reveal that Puller Sr. has been accused of murdering Jackie.

Aided by his brother Robert Puller, an Air Force major, and Veronica Knox, who works for a shadowy U.S. intelligence organization, Puller begins a journey that will take him into his own past, to find the truth about his mother.

Paul Rogers' time is running out. With the clock ticking, he begins his own journey, one that will take him across the country to the place where all his troubles began: a mysterious building on the grounds of Fort Monroe. There, thirty years ago, the man Rogers had once been vanished too, and was replaced with a monster. And now the monster wants revenge. And the only person standing in his way is John Puller.

Read as an audio book.

They changed the narrator between book three and book four! ARRRGGH!

Premise of the book is Jackie Puller went missing 30 years ago, a mystery or crime that was never solved. Now, 30 years later, John Puller Jr. is given a letter to read from a former neighbor, accusing John Puller Sr. of murdering his wife. What comes to light, is Puller Sr. was actually stateside the day his wife went missing, not overseas like everyone previously thought. As John starts to investigate the disappearance of his Mother, he begins realize there is a bigger, more dangerous threat behind everything he thought was true.

This is classic John Puller/David Baldacci plot. Something small and innocuous slowly begins to blossom into a somewhat implausible, slightly over the top conspiracy. And darn if I don't enjoy it anyway.

Things that made me roll my eyes - the antagonist was one heck of a nasty woman. Almost too much so. This is where some questionable plausibility started to creep in.

The author continues to spell out exactly what kind of weapon Puller pulls out when in a confrontation. I still don't need it described every. single. time. Just say "Puller pulled out his gun/service pistol/weapon/etc and move on, please.

Given the grief Robert gave John at the beginning of the plot, I didn't get quite the resolution between the two I had hoped for: as in Robert admitting he was wrong when telling John he should back off the case.

Things I appreciated in this book: Puller didn't automatically fall into bed with Veronica when she shows up on his proverbial doorstep. *She* walked away from him, and he's still a bit resentful about that. This wasn't something resolved even half way through the book and I liked that tension between Knox and Puller.

Not every one who is bad, is actually a bad guy. I enjoyed Paul Roger's character a lot - a conflicted, abused, military secret who's trying to stay under the radar and mostly succeeds.

The antagonist is one heck of a nasty woman, not something you find in military mystery thrillers all that often.

Robert is back as a strong, but distant, supporting character.

Puller makes mistakes and I appreciate seeing that written into the story (won't give away particulars), what's even better is he admits when he makes a mistake - he's not a super CID officer, he's just very good at what he does.

John Puller Sr. getting to hear his wife's voice again made my eyes a bit moist. Well written. Bravo!

Overall, I thought this was a very enjoyable and engaging commute read. Recommended if you've read the first three in the series.



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Monday, July 31, 2017

Recipe review from 7/25/2017

Not much to say this week, it's been toasty warm for us (LOVIN' IT), puppy is growing, work is busy, yup, life is good. 

And I made a few new recipes! 


The Meal Plan:
Sun (L)                           (S) Chicken and black bean tacos
Mon (Yoga/Bkgrp/Legion)  leftovers
Tues - leftover tacos
Wed - pork chops with peppers
Thurs (yoga) take n bake pizza
Fri -leftover chops
Sat -  lentil and bulger salad over greens

Lunches - Lentil and bulger salad


BBQ Chicken and Black Bean Tacos (Ckng Lght, June 2017)  gluten free
I combined a couple of activities making this dish - instead of a rotisserie chicken, I made stock from a bird I had in the freezer,  then used the meat from there.  I could have grilled or even roasted my chicken, but I was going for ease of prep and I wanted some additional stock on hand.

The great thing about this recipe is that it uses items we usually have in the pantry: frozen corn, black beans, chicken, and BBQ sauce (I use Stubbs Original).  A very inexpensive meal.  Recommended!

2 teaspoons olive oil
2/3 cup diced red bell pepper (from 1 bell pepper)
photo from cookinglight.com
3/4 cup frozen whole kernel sweet corn, thawed
3/4 cup canned unsalted black beans, rinsed and drained
12 ounces skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast, shredded (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/3 cup organic barbecue sauce (such as Annie's)
10 (6-in.) corn tortillas
1/2 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium. Add bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in corn and black beans; cook until warmed through, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Place shredded chicken and barbecue sauce in a microwave-safe bowl. Mix until thoroughly coated. Loosely cover, and microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until warmed through.
  3. Warm tortillas according to package directions. Place 3 tablespoons chicken mixture in center of each tortilla. Top each tortilla with 3 tablespoons bell pepper mixture.
  4. Place yogurt, cilantro, lime juice, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk to combine. Dollop each taco with about 1 tablespoon yogurt mixture. Sprinkle tacos with cilantro.

Seared Pork Chops with Poblano Peperonata  (Ckng Lght, June 2017) gluten free
This is a dish that does come together in about 20-30 minutes, with a few moments to even start clean-up.   I will note that I forgot to buy the capers, and I bought red pepper flakes for this dish and forgot to add them... sheesh.  I'm not sure the dish even needed the capers. 

What I would like to note is, I think this would be great with balsamic vinegar instead of red wine.  Something about the flavor combination made me think balsamic.  Course that's without capers - capers might have said something different.

Bottom line - great mid-week meal that comes together very quickly with minimal fuss.

5 teaspoons olive oil, divided
Photo from cookinglight.com
4 (6-oz.) bone-in center-cut pork loin chops
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup sliced red onion
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 poblano chile, seeded and thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained (forgot to buy)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper  (bought, forgot to add)


1) Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over high. Sprinkle pork with 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove pork from pan; keep warm.

2) Reduce heat to medium-high. Add remaining 3 1/2 teaspoons oil, onion, garlic, poblano, and bell peppers to pan; cook 4 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Increase heat to high. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, parsley, and remaining ingredients; cook 1 minute or until liquid is reduced by half. Serve pepper mixture with pork.


Lentil-Bulgar Salad  (Moosewood Cookbook by Molli Katzen)  vegetarian, vegan option
I've owned the Moosewood cook book for years and I've made a handful of items from it.  A couple weeks ago I made the tabuli salad for lunches for the week - on the opposite page was the lentil bulgar recipe.  I had the lentils, I had the bulgar, I had parsley, olives, green onions - all I needed was feta, a bell pepper and celery.  Wah-LA!  I had lunch.


Recipe says this serves 6 - I'd go with 5 or less.   It made just enough for me for lunches for the week.
  • 1 cup dry lentils (I used brown lentils)
  • 2 cups water
Put lentils in a small saucepan. Add water and bring to just boiling. Turn heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 20-25 minutes until tender but not mushy. Drain well and place in a large bowl.
  • 1 cup dry bulgar wheat
  • 1 cup boiling water
Place bulgar in a small bowl. Add one cup boiling water to bowl, cover and let stand at least 15 minutes or longer.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (I used juice of one lemon)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tbsp freshly minced (or 2 tsp dried) mint (I skipped the mint, not a fan)
  • 2-3 tbsp freshly minced (or 2-3 tsp dried) dill
  • fresh black pepper to taste
Combine in a small bowl and mix well with a wire whisk.  Set aside.
  • 1/4 cup packed freshly minced parsley
  • 1/3 cup minced red onion  (I used some green onion I had in my fridge).
  • 1 small bell pepper any color
  • 1/2 stalk celery, minced  (I used the whole stalk)
  • 1/2 cup nicoise olives
Combine the above veggies and herbs with the bulgar and lentils in a large bowl.  Add the dressing and mix well.   Just before serving, top with: 
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta
  • 1 medium tomato, diced  (I used cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Thursday, July 27, 2017

War Factory by Neal Asher (Transformation Series #2)

War Factory (Transformation #2)War Factory by Neal Asher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Thorvald Spear, resurrected from his death over a hundred years earlier, continues to hunt Penny Royal, the rogue AI and dangerous war criminal on the run from Polity forces. Beyond the Graveyard, a lawless and deadly area in deep space, Spear follows the trail of several enemy Prador, the crab-like alien species with a violent history of conflict with humanity.

Sverl, a Prador genetically modified by Penny Royal and slowly becoming human, pursues Cvorn, a Prador harboring deep hatred for the Polity looking to use him and other hybrids to reignite the dormant war with mankind.

Blite, captain of a bounty hunting ship, hands over two prisoners and valuable memplants from Penny Royal to the Brockle, a dangerous forensics entity under strict confinement on a Polity spaceship that quickly takes a keen interest in the corrupted AI and its unclear motives.

Penny Royal meanwhile continues to pull all the strings in the background, keeping the Polity at bay and seizing control of an attack ship. It seeks Factory Station Room 101, a wartime manufacturing space station believed to be destroyed. What does it want with the factory? And will Spear find the rogue AI before it gets there?

War Factory, the second book in the Transformation trilogy, is signature space opera from Neal Asher: breakneck pacing, high-tech science, bizarre alien creatures, and gritty, dangerous far-future worlds.


July 2017 book group selection.

I just love Asher's books - big grandiose space opera, great aliens that kinda beg the question - exactly who is the alien here - Artificial Intelligence's that are just as alien as any thing else floating around the universe, and awesome character development (or redevelopment?)

In Dark Intelligence, the reader watched the transformation of Isobel Santomi from human to hooder. In War Factory, the reader watches as Sverl turns from Prador into a triumvirate of Prador, AI, and human. Penny Royal had a hand in both instances, and the humans, AI's and aliens he touches are changed in ways only the AI understands while leaving his - victims - with more questions than answers.

War Factory is, basically, a transition book - characters from book one are moved along per Penny Royal's plans, and set up for the next book. And, as I've found in transition books, this became a tich long in the tooth. For myself, I could have used a bit less of the moving characters into place like chess pieces. I admit, I got very fidgety about the last 100 pages.

Oh heaven's, I really have no idea how to summarize this...Asher's books are like that. Penny Royal is driving everything as he manipulates the players to congregate on the Factory Station Room 101. But as I noted above, this is Sverl's story - Sverl and the War Drone Riss, Sverl and Cvorn, Trent Sobel and the Shell People. On the periphery, is Blite and his crew, and Thorvold Spear.

There is a tremendous amount of stuff going on in a relatively shore span of time. Even when taken in the context of book two of a three book series, this IS Space Opera at it's finest. Recommended if you've read Dark Intelligence, and maybe Prador Moon, Shadow of the Scorpion and The Technician.



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Monday, July 24, 2017

Recipe Review from 7/9/2017 and 7/16/2017

I know I've been  busy when a week goes by and I realize that none of my posts were actually posted.  Oops!  So, doing a double post here for the last two weeks. 

First - Kepler update!  The Lil' Monster had his final exam and shots a week ago.  He's doubled in size since we brought him home and is now a very solid 25.5 lbs.  I'm also happy to report, he's lost his first tooth!  I can't WAIT for the rest of the little needle teeth to go away.

Puppy eyes!  (or, "can I have a treat?')

Lots of "leftovers" over the last couple of weeks!  A bit of freezer and pantry reduction...mostly freezer.   This years blueberry crop is going to be another bumper crop and I'm still trying to use up LAST years bumper crop.  I might have to make freezer jam this year. 

The Meal Plan from 7/9/2017
Sun (L) polish and baked beans         (S)  shredded pork
Mon (yoga)  shredded pork
Tues - Moroccan stew and basmati rice
Wed - polish
Thurs (yoga)  Moroccan stew and basmati rice
Fri - Pizza

The Meal Plan from 7/16/2017
Sat (L) leftover pizza    (S) Quinoa Bowls
Sun (L) leftover quinoa bowls   (S) Leftover shredded duck
Mon (Owatonna) 
Tues (Owatonna)
Wed (Owatonna)  Caesar bagels
Thurs (yoga) Caesar bagels
Fri - brats and grilled potatoes


Quinoa Bowls with Avocado and Egg  (Ckng Lght, Aug 2017)  vegetarian, gluten free
 Easy! Fast! Tasty! Filling! Make it!

I used regular quinoa and made two cups cooked.   I used the full can of black beans.  And this made enough for two meals for two. 

Serves 2
photo from cookinglight.com
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 cup hot cooked tricolor quinoa
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup canned unsalted black beans, rinsed, drained, and warmed
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
2 large omega-3 eggs
1/2 ripe avocado, sliced

  1. Whisk together 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, vinegar, and dash of salt.

  2. Combine quinoa, tomatoes, beans, cilantro, and 1/8 teaspoon salt; toss gently to combine. Divide mixture evenly between 2 bowls.

  3. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon oil; swirl to coat. Crack eggs, 1 at a time, into pan. Cover; cook until whites are set and yolk is still runny, 2 to 3 minutes. Drizzle dressing evenly over quinoa mixture; top with eggs and avocado. Sprinkle with remaining dash of salt. Garnish with additional cilantro, if desired.

Caesar Bagels (Ckng Lght, Aug 2017)  vegetarian option** 
These are ridiculously easy and super tasty.  You can adjust the lemon juice and anchovy paste to suit your taste buds (I cut back on each).  I toasted my bagels because I'm absolutely in LOVE with a warm bagel smeared with cream cheese.  Perfect for a light supper or hot summer evening's meal.  I served with a basic side salad.   Recommended!

3 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
photo from Cookinglight.com
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste**
1 garlic clove, grated
3/4 ounce grated Parmesan cheese
2 2/3 cups torn romaine lettuce
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
4 (3.4-oz.) whole-wheat bagels

Combine softened cream cheese, lemon juice, anchovy paste, grated garlic, and Parmesan cheese in a bowl, stirring well. Combine lettuce, olive oil, and lemon juice, tossing gently. Divide cream cheese and lettuce mixtures among bagels.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tell No One by Harlan Coben

Tell No OneTell No One by Harlan Coben

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  For Dr. David Beck, the loss was shattering. And every day for the past eight years, he has relived the horror of what happened. The gleaming lake. The pale moonlight. The piercing screams. The night his wife was taken. The last night he saw her alive.

Everyone tells him it's time to move on, to forget the past once and for all. But for David Beck, there can be no closure. A message has appeared on his computer, a phrase only he and his dead wife know. Suddenly Beck is taunted with the impossible- that somewhere, somehow, Elizabeth is alive.

Beck has been warned to tell no one. And he doesn't. Instead, he runs from the people he trusts the most, plunging headlong into a search for the shadowy figure whose messages hold out a desperate hope.

But already Beck is being hunted down. He's headed straight into the heart of a dark and deadly secret- and someone intends to stop him before he gets there.




Read as an audio book.

Intense. Holey smokes was this intense.

I managed to listen through Disk 4 when I became so thoroughly uncomfortable and irritated with the whole aspect of the widowed Dr. Beck being pursued by homicidal maniacs and FBI agents intent in their convictions that HE killed his wife, that I had to stop, put in the last disk and find out what happened.

Well. Totally didn't see THAT ending coming!

Not having my next audio book in hand, I went back and picked back up with Disk 5. MUCH more enjoyable now knowing the ending and I could just sit back and watch everything unfold. From this perspective, I could now see all the little hints being dropped along the way, that a very astute reader might pick up on. And I do mean they were little and subtle. So WELL done!

Premise of the book is 8 years previously, Dr. David Beck and his wife Elizabeth were visiting the Kissing Tree at his family's lake, when Elizabeth is kidnapped and Dr. Beck brutally attacked and left to drown. Fast forward 8 years, Dr. Beck didn't drown by some miracle but he's lived on with the still tender memories of the since deceased Elizabeth. While checking email, David receives an video email from Elizabeth and his world as he knew it ends. Now on the run from the FBI, the local police, and some unknown entities hit man, Dr. Beck must prove to everyone not only did he NOT kill his wife, but that she is very much alive.

This is the third stand-alone by Coben that I've read: Fool Me Once and Six Years being the other two. I've noticed a trend in the three books, and I don't know if this is the case for all his stand-alone's, but with these three Coben explores the Missing Spouse theme. Of these three, I would have to say Tell No One was the most...intense.

My biggest peeve - the repeated use of the phrase "I don't understand...".

Second biggest peeve - the character's Rebecca's death. While her demise pointed the FBI and police soundly in Beck's direction, and thus the impetus for Beck going on the run, I don't like pointless brutality and this fell under pointless brutality. My quirk.

If you enjoy an intense, engaging mystery thriller, read Tell No One.



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Monday, July 10, 2017

Recipe Review from 7/2/2017

The weekend had us in Ely, MN, for a Fire Ecology Seminar the Husband attended for work.  We brought the dogs to give us some extra time to hang out, so while he was at the seminar, I took them for a walk on the Trezona Trail, which encompasses a historic mining pit and old mine shaft headframe. There are at least two other mines discussed on Historical Markers along the four mile trail as well.   

This was also a "training" outing for Kepler.  He's done a three mile walk, and now we bumped it up to four miles.  He did fantastic with some new experiences like cars going by, cyclists, and walking on a leash in an unfamiliar area.  He had more pep than Andy did by the time we were done!  Tho not by much: 

Resting after his big hike!


General cuteness

The Meal Plan from week of July 2:
Sat (L) Leftovers    (S) Eggs in a Nest
Sun  (L) Eggs in a Nest  (S)
Mon (yoga)  leftover sandwiches
4th of July!  (L) Farro Bowls  (S)  Grilled Duck, Bourbon Baked Beans, Salad
Wed - leftovers Farro Bowls
Thurs (yoga) polish with leftover beans
Fri -chef salad with various leftovers
Sat - Ely for lunch   (S) chef salads with remainder of leftovers 



Eggs in a Nest (Ckng Lght, July 2017)
An interesting riff on a BLT with Avocado and Egg - the egg is fried in a little "nest" or hole made in the bread.

My most notable observation - fun, yes; messy to eat, definitely.  There's no place to "grab" the sandwich on top! 

Otherwise, pure comfort food. YUM! 
photo from cookinglight.com

8 (1-oz.) whole-wheat sourdough bread slices, lightly toasted
2 center-cut bacon slices, diced
1 medium ripe avocado
1 tablespoon canola mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
8 Bibb lettuce leaves (about 2 oz.)
8 tomato slices
  1. Using a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut a hole from the center of 4 bread slices. Discard bread rounds or reserve for another use.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium. Add bacon; cook 6 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high; cook 2 minutes or until crisp. Place bacon on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour bacon drippings into a bowl and reserve.
  3. Combine avocado, mayonnaise, and salt in a small bowl; mash to combine. Stir in bacon.
  4. Add half of reserved bacon drippings to pan over medium-high. Place 2 cut bread slices in skillet; break 1 egg into each hole. Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon pepper on each egg. Cook 2 minutes or until eggs begin to set. Carefully turn bread; cook 2 minutes or until eggs are set. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining half of bacon drippings, cut bread slices, eggs, and pepper.
  5. Spread avocado mixture evenly over 4 uncut bread slices. Top each with 2 lettuce leaves, 2 tomato slices, and 1 egg-in-a-nest bread slice.


Part of Grill 1x - Eat 3x!  Menu
Grilled Caponata Sandwiches (Ckng Lght, July 2017)  vegetarian
I only made two of the three meals as part of the Grill 1x Eat 3x menu.  I will say, grilling that many veggies almost challenged my grill, and later, how to store everything in the fridge.  Still it all worked out and it was admittedly nice knowing all I had to do was assemble and eat.

These were darn tasty when all was said and done (which took about an hour - start this on a Sunday night).  I loved the fresh veggies, briny olive tapenade, creamy mozzarella combination.  I could see doing this on a smaller scale during hot weather.  Recommended! 

2 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/2-in.-thick slices
2 medium yellow squash, cut lengthwise into 1/2-in.-thick slices
1 medium eggplant, cut lengthwise into 1/2-in.-thick slices
photo from cookinglight.com
1 medium red onion, cut into 3/4-in. wedges
4 ounces mini bell peppers (about 8)
3 green onions
Cooking spray
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Panini:
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 1/2 teaspoons capers, drained
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
4 (3 1/2-oz.) ciabatta rolls, halved lengthwise
3 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

  1. To prepare vegetables, preheat grill to medium-high (about 450°F). Coat first 6 ingredients with cooking spray; arrange on grill grate. Grill green onions 2 minutes; remove from grill and chop. Grill remaining vegetables 5 more minutes, turning occasionally. Remove stems and seeds from bell peppers; discard. Reserve 4 bell peppers and 4 red onion wedges; cut remaining vegetables into 2-inch pieces.
     
  2. Place chopped green onions, oil, juice, 1 tablespoon water, salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and garlic in a food processor; process until smooth. Combine grilled vegetables and green onion mixture in a bowl. Reserve 4 cups vegetable mixture for Farro Burrito Bowls and Grilled Vegetable Frittata.
  3. To prepare panini, place reserved 4 bell peppers and 4 red onion wedges in food processor with olives, capers, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and ground red pepper; process until smooth. Hollow out top and bottom halves of rolls, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread bell pepper mixture over bottom halves of rolls; top with remaining grilled vegetables, mozzarella, basil, and top halves of rolls.
  4. Coat grill grate with cooking spray. Place 2 sandwiches on grill; top with a cast-iron skillet. Grill 2 minutes on each side or until cheese melts. Repeat procedure with remaining 2 sandwiches.

Farro Burrito Bowls  (Ckng Light, July  2017)  vegetarian
First time I made this, I didn't do the "dressing".  I was tired and neglected to check the recipe.  Ya know, it was still tasty.  I did the dressing for the leftovers, and it definitely added a delightful flavor boost to the dish.  So...you could go either way and it would be good.

Farro was also a "new to me" grain.  I did do my research - you want to look for pearled farro for ease in cooking.   If you're not sure - ask!  Regular farro requires and overnight soak or it won't soften when you cook it.  The flavor is slightly nutty, almost like barley, but not.  I can see using farro in other dishes as a substitute for barley or wheat berries.

Recommended!

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
photo from cookinglight.com
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons honey
3/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups cooked farro
2 cups grilled vegetable mixture from (grilled caponata panini), coarsely chopped

1 (15-oz.) can unsalted black beans, rinsed and drained
3 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
1 medium avocado, sliced
Lime wedges

Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro mixture. Add farro to remaining cilantro mixture; toss to coat.

Divide farro mixture, chopped grilled vegetables, beans, cheese, and avocado among 4 shallow bowls. Drizzle with reserved 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro mixture. Serve with lime wedges.


Slow Cooked Bourbon Baked Beans (Ckng Lght July 2017)  gluten free, vegetarian option**
I made these to go with the grilled duck.  This is super easy to assemble, then walk away till it's time to eat.

Of course, I had to make it a tich more complicated.  I had some dried cannelli beans in the pantry so I bought a cup of pinto, then soaked and pre-cooked my own beans and proceeded with recipe from there (I did the pre-cook several days ahead).   I didn't have enough ketchup on hand so I used 1 cup tomato sauce and 1 tbsp tomato paste and it worked perfectly.  Brandy for the bourbon, plus a splash of vanilla extract.  I space the chili powder - quite frankly, the dish really didn't need it.

Group consensus was positive.  Slightly smoky, tich of zing, a bit saucy.   I would make these again. 


photo from cookinglight.com
3 center-cut bacon slices, chopped**  skip to make vegetarian
Cooking spray
2 (15-oz.) cans unsalted cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 (15-oz.) cans unsalted pinto beans, drained and rinsed
I used 1 cup dried (each) pinto and cannelli beans, and precooked them.
2 ripe peaches (about 1 lb.), peeled and finely diced (about 2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, minced 1/2 cup organic ketchup
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tbsp tomato paste 
1/2 cup bourbon  (I used brandy + 1 tsp vanilla extract). 
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add bacon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove bacon from skillet.

Coat inside of a 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Add bacon, beans, and remaining ingredients. Stir well.

Cover, and cook on LOW 4 to 6 hours  (I cooked for 6+) Keep covered until beans are ready to serve.

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