Monday, September 29, 2014

Weekend Rewind 9/29/14

No recipe review for this past week.  With the weekend trip to the Cities the weekend before, a very busy week, and the adventures this past weekend, I kept suppers and lunches super simple. 

The Meal Plan:
Mon - Yoga/Book group/Legion Mtg
Tues - leftover Five Bean Chili (see Recipe Review from 9/15/14)
Wed - Spagetti with eggplant and zucchini (from the garden!)
Thurs (Yoga) - leftover Chili
Fri - leftover Spagetti
Sat - (Hiking)  Brats and Bonfire!

Lunches - bagel sandwiches, apples, nut and pretzel cups,  luna bars...the usual.

The weather this past weekend was unseasonably warm.  Probably the warmest it got all summer, or close to it!  We easily hit 80* (30*C).  We took advantage of the warm weather and participated in a Superior Hiking Trail "Guided" Hike.  It's not really guided....more facilitated like.  We hiked from the lower chalet at Spirit Mountain to Becks Rd, following the ridge the entire way and over Barton's and Ely's Peak.  It was rather toasty up on top those rocks!  Total distance of 6.2 miles.  This is perhaps one of the more rugged segments of the SHT:  lots of rock outcrop combined up and down terrain; but also some of the most beautiful with overlooks encompassing Lake Superior, the St. Louis River, and northern Wisconsin. 

Old Stone Bridge at Magney-Snively recreation area

Crick in the Fall
Ely's Peak looking south across the St. Louis River to Northern Wisconsin. 

We had our good friend Steve and my Folks out for brats and a bonfire later that evening.  Could not have asked for more perfect weather and company! 

Sunday we continued to take advantage of the nice - and hot - weather.  The Husband did come brush and tree clearing along our rather long driveway, while I tackled some garden beds.  Peas, cucumbers, and carrots came out (peas and cucumbers being mostly dead), added some coffee grounds to a fallow bed, tilled where I pulled the peas and cucumbers, then had a go at my grass infested iris bed.  Most of that has been pulled and weed, I'll put back a few iris, but mostly it will be converted to daylilies and other annuals. 

Because weeding isn't very interesting, here's a few pics of my gardens and sunflowers. 

 My front porch as we move into fall - little fern leaf marigolds in front, eggplant on the left side of the porch, tomatoes on the right.  I don't think the tomatoes are going to ripen. 

Feelin' sunny today!  My patch of little sunflowers.  Only about 5' high and 5-7" across. 

After two days in the sun, in temps I'm not used to, I'm feeling a bit toasted as I write this.  And now a front is moving through - it's dropped 10* in the last hour... poo.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs (#1)

Déjà Dead (Temperance Brennan, #1)Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 Jacket blurb:  In the year since Temperance Brennan left behind a shaky marriage in North Carolina, work has often preempted her weekend plans to explore Quebec. When a female corpse is discovered meticulously dismembered and stashed in trash bags, Temperance detects an alarming pattern and she plunges into a harrowing search for a killer. But her investigation is about to place those closest to her her best friend and her own daughter in mortal danger...

A new to me series - I've known for a while that the TV show "Bones" is very loosely based off of Reich's books, and I've heard the books are good, so it seemed like the time to check one out.  I "read" this as an audiobook, and once again the narrator made a world of difference!  Loved Barbara Rosenblat, the intonation and cadence she brought, the French language rolling off her tongue like melting chocolate, she really brought the characters to life.  Really enjoyed listening to her and thus, the story.

I liked that this was more of a investigative police procedural with a healthy does of forensic investigation than a typical mystery. I liked the anatomical dissection and breakdown, the "behind the scenes" aspect, the reasoning something out over just blunt force "run someone into the ground".  Mostly.

Where the plot fell short - and I understand that this was a first book - began when Temperance was wandering around an abandoned monastery grounds, in the dark, in the woods, in the rain and found a bag of bones.  Seriously?  Just...typical stupid female heroine dumb.  She is portrayed as a very intelligent woman and even for her, dumb. In addition, the actual likelihood of finding a bag of bones, in the dark, in the rain, in an unfamiliar woods is incredibly unlikely.  I have wandered around the woods, in the rain, in the dark (not by choice - military training) and no, a person is not going to "accidentally" stumble on a buried bag of bones.  Yanked me right out of the story and yo! authors! don't yank your readers out of the story!

I also do not find the excuse of "Oh, I couldn't get a hold of Ryan and didn't want to wait 10 minutes for him to come back from the loo, so I decided to take matters into my own hands, and thus set out to follow this very dangerous killer on my own." an intelligent or attractive feature in a female protagonist. What rational woman is going to go chasing after a man who is brutally killing and dismembering women on her own? 

So I was disappointed in what I consider the quintessential stupid heroine moves - not telling people where she is going, going out at the wrong time of [night], taking matters into her own hands (especially when she's working for the police department), and not trusting her partners.

Last rant - why does a woman always get a dose of sedative when she starts to cry in the hospital?  Really?  Let the poor woman vent her emotions without drugs!

Okay, now my last rant - foreshadowing was more like a train whistle screaming "yo! this is gonna happen!".   Very little subtlety in my opinion.

Despite my complaints above, I did enjoy the story.  Again, I loved the audiobook narrator, I love the setting in Montreal, I loved the forensic side of things.  If the author can move away from some of the standard female tropes in forthcoming books, I'll like the series even more. 


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell (#1)

Tarnished Knight (The Lost Stars, #1)Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  The authority of the Syndicate Worlds’ government is crumbling. Civil war and rebellion are breaking out in many star systems despite the Syndic government’s brutal attempts to suppress disorder. Midway is one of those star systems, and leaders there must decide whether to remain loyal to the old order or fight for something new.

CEO Artur Drakon has been betrayed. The Syndic government failed to protect its citizens from both the Alliance and the alien enigmas. With a cadre of loyal soldiers under his command, Drakon launches a battle for control of the Midway Star System—assisted by an ally he’s unsure he can trust…

CEO Gwen Iceni was exiled to Midway because she wasn’t ruthless enough in the eyes of her superiors. She’s made them regret their assessment by commandeering some of the warships at Midway and attacking the remaining ships still loyal to the Syndicate empire. Iceni declares independence for the Midway Star System on behalf of the people while staying in charge as “President.” But while she controls the mobile fleet, she has no choice but to rely on “General” Drakon’s ground forces to keep the peace planet-side…

If their coup is to succeed, Drakon and Iceni must put their differences aside to prevent the population of Midway from rising up in rebellion against them, to defend Midway against the alien threat of the enigma race—and to ferret out saboteurs determined to reestablish Syndic rule…

A decent spin-off from The Lost Fleet Series, picking up where "Black Jack" Geary comes through defeated Syndicate territory on his way to meet the alien race.  There is some assumption here that the reader has read the Lost Fleet Series. 

CEO Gwen Iceni and CEO Artur Drakon have successfully staged an overthrow of the remnant Syndicate hold in the Midway Star System, placing now President Iceni and General Drakon in charge of ground and mobile forces.  It's an uneasy truce between the two as they try to solidify their power base and preempt future Syndic attacks. 

What I wasn't expecting, in part how the previous series were written and in part due to the cover, is that this series really isn't about General Drakon.  It's about President Iceni.  Quite frankly, I'm so-so about her as the predominant character. I found General Drakon to be much more interesting.  I'm also not real thrilled about another "love triangle"/romance starting.  That trope is starting to feel a bit canned in these books.

My main complaint with the series was the over use of the terms "snakes" and "vipers" to describe the Syndic power structure being dismantled.  For example:

"Did you get the snakes in the main control room?"
"Yes, sir, we managed to kill all the snakes."

"Good, we don't want any snakes reporting back to the vipers about our activities."

"No sir, we didn't leave any snakes alive, and we'll interrogate any workers we found to make sure they aren't covert snakes."


But my quirks aside, this series has the potential to be just as interesting as Lost Fleet and perhaps a bit more interesting than Beyond the Frontier, if only because we have some new characters to follow. 

Recommended if you've read Lost Fleet series - you'll need the background information. 

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Recipe Review from 9/15/2014

Temperatures continue to dip into the 40's at night, and we're lucky if they get above 60* during the day.  At least we're not poor Tuscon, getting hit with a tropical storm!  Egads...

Weekend was spent down in the Cities.  I did a yoga training session on Friday, then the plan was to celebrate the Husband's birthday and our anniversary.  We ended up here Gasthof Zur Gemutlichkeit for supper on Friday night. OMGosh!  Best German meal I've had in ages!  We got the Bavarian Platter for two and honest to god - it was enough to feed four: (two of each meat) Rouladen, pork schnitzel, porkchops, brats, spatzle, mashed potatoes, red cabbage and kraut.  Leftovers did come "home" with us.  I had packed a cooler so it got filled with ice and the leftovers were just as tasty. 

We did end up fitting in a quick trip to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on Saturday.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we were so close distance wise!  So much has changed since we were last there 15-18 years ago.  New buildings, new flower displays, fall colors absolutely resplendent against a blue sky.  We even did the 3 Mile Drive which we've never done (did they even have it so many years ago?) and saw some new things.  If I can figure out how to transfer my pics from my phone to my computer, I'll post some picks.  

In the mean time, the Meal Plan! 
Mon: Five Bean Chili
Tues: Five Bean Chili
Wed: Broiled Honey Glazed Chicken Thighs and rice
Thurs: leftover chicken and rice
Fri: Twin Cities!

Five-Bean Chili  (Ckng Lght, Sept 2014)  gluten free, vegetarian
A hearty, yet light, chili really doesn't get much simpler than this.  Bit o'chopping, lots of plopping, plenty of simmering.  Eat.  Or, make ahead, re-heat, eat.

OMGosh...I just realized I completely forgot the canned tomatoes!  Ah-hahahaha!  I didn't even notice!  (snort and giggle!).  Okay, tomatoes aside (pun intended), I subbed hominy for the kidney beans because I don't do kidney beans; I added celery because it's really good in chili, and skipped the jalepeno which actually ended up in another dish.

It was still really good, especially with some hot-out-of-the-oven cornbread. 

Photo from cookinglight.com
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 cups prechopped onion 
  • 1 cup chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup celery (my addition) 
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
  • 4 cups stemmed and torn kale
  • 3 cups organic vegetable broth
  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can unsalted diced tomatoes, undrained 
  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsalted black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsalted kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can unsalted chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15.8-ounce) can unsalted Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (16-ounce) can unsalted pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  1. 1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add onion and carrot; sauté 10 minutes or until tender. Stir in tomato paste and next 5 ingredients (through paprika); cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add kale and remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer 45 minutes.

Broiled Honey Glazed Chicken Thighs (MamaEatsClean Blog) gluten free
This came recommended, the picture looked fantastic...recipe was disappointing.  The broiling worked just fine - I did have to reduce cooking time from what she noted.  Mine only took about 15 minutes total, including basting.   The flavor was meh, the so-called glaze a watery mess, and the thighs turned out more greyish than golden brown.   I did serve these over rice and forgot to add some kind of veggie to the plate (it was late and I was tired).   It wasn't that the dish was inedible, it was more flavorless and unappealing visually.  Probably won't make again.

(Serves 3)
photo from MamaEatsClean blog
  • Marinade - marinade overnight or for at least 4 hours
  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbsp gluten free soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • dash of pepper
  • 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • Baste
  • 1 Tbsp Honey
  • 1 Tbsp Organic Apple Cider Vinegar
1) Mix oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and pepper together and pour over chicken thighs. Put in the refrigerator to marinate. Stir a couple of times to ensure entire thigh is being marinated evenly.
2) Put rack in oven so its is approximately 7 inches from broiler. Turn oven to broil (high) and let preheat.
3) Put chicken in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes on first side. Turn. Bake on second side for 8 minutes. Turn.
4) Microwave honey/apple cider vinegar for 20 second to warm and mix. Baste chicken with honey mixture and bake for an additional 1 minutes. Turn again. Baste and bake second side for an additional 1 minute.
5) Remove from oven and baste again with juices from the pan.
I baked for a total of 20 minutes and they were perfect but adjust for your oven. Serve and enjoy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

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

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Killer Instinct by Joseph Finder

Killer InstinctKiller Instinct by Joseph Finder

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Recipe Review from 9/8/2014

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

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

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

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

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