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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Minicon 2014: Pirates and Airships

Or, also known as Mincon 49

This would make number 20(!) for me!  I can't believe I've been to that many.  Wow. 

This year's motto was Pirates and Airships - blending the scifi theme with the guest artists passion for pirates (Arrr!).  Don Maitz did the original Captain Morgan logo (not the new one) - how cool is that!

I had some initial trepidation about this programming, but I ended up finding more to go to than I initially anticipated, didn't get to some panels that I wanted to see,  and had a very relaxing and enjoyable convention.  

Friday:
Slide Show: Pirates by Don Maitz   (Artist GoH)   Explore the art of Don Maitz and his work surrounding the swashbuckler. What was the inspiration for these works?

Opening Ceremony

Saturday:
Why Fairy Tales are for Adults Again  Fairy tales survive by adapting across culture and history, and don't belong only to children. Their themes and tropes can be found in "adults only" media like Game of Thrones, True Blood, and Once Upon a Time. Fairy tales have been used by parents to establish a moral compass by "scaring children into good behavior;" how can this type of storytelling be used to examine cultural anxieties or to benefit adults as well?

 Local References in Urban Fantasy  Minneapolis and Minnesota feature in several literary works. What about our culture, our climate, and our geography makes for interesting stories? How does an author use location to engage the reader?

History of Prester John  From the 12th to 17th centuries, the legends of priest-king Prester John were popular in Europe. The story captured the imagination of Europeans, who translated it into many languages and embellished upon the original story. What made this story go viral (by medieval standards)? How did the legend influence exploration, European expansion, and exploitation? Cat Valente has written two Prester John novels, The Habitation of the Blessed and The Folded World, with a third novel forthcoming (hopefully). She has also uploaded a YouTube video, Prester John: International Man of Mystery, explaining the history of the medieval legend of Prester John, as told by action figures.

2014 Hugo Nominations Broadcast LIVE! at Minicon, the 2014 Hugo Shortlist Nominations and the 1939 Retro Hugo Award Nominations. 

SFSqueecast   Guest of Honor Catherynne M. Valente, Elizabeth Bear, Michael Thomas and Lynne Thomas bring the legendary SF Squeecast to Minicon    Stay tuned for the live podcast from this panel!  It should be a hoot.  There was whiskey involved.  

Dinner was at The Eat Shop in Plymouth.  A 20 minute drive from Bloomington, but well worth the trip.  A nice selection of local beers on tap, nice ambiance, and a good menu selection.  We got there early and had the place to ourselves.  Recommended!


Sunday
I didn't attend any panels on Sunday, but I did hone my new cribbage skills and fit in a Corepower yoga class!  Not really scifi related, but a great way to top of my weekend.   

The one downside to the weekend was finding out my fellow book group member and long standing Minicon icon (he was there for all but the first Minicon), Blue (aka, Louis Fallert) had passed away in February.  May he rest in peace. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Recipe Review from 4/14/2014

I started the week off with a batch of homemade bread (Whole Grain Wheat from The New Complete Book of Breads by Bernard Clayton).  I last made this recipe 4/9/2005.  This uses bulger, wheat bran, whole wheat flour, honey, molasses, sesame and sunflower seeds for a truly nutty flavor.  I timed the bread to finish the same time as the Smokey Lentil Soup - talk about a fabulous lunch on a blustery overcast day!

The week ended with my annual trip to Bloomington and Minicon!  More on that in a separate post.  

Le Schedule/Menu:
Sun  (L) Smokey Lentil and Bacon Soup  (S) Chicken Jumbalaya
Mon (Yoga) leftover chicken
Tues - leftover chicken
Wed (Bullseye canceled due to SNOWSTORM)  grilled cheese and tomato soup 
Thurs (Yoga)  VIP pizza (local pizza chain - take and bake)
Fri - Sun (MINICON!) 

Smokey Lentil and Bacon Soup  (Great American Slow Cooker Bookgluten free
This was fabulous.  Thick and stew-like, hearty lentils touched lightly with bacon and smoked paprika.  I'm really loving smoked paprika and need to order more from Penzey's.  When I served this for supper, I poached a couple of eggs to serve on top - soooo good!  I don't know what more to say about this dish other than fantastic and I wish I had made a slightly larger pot.  This fed two of us for four meals (one supper, three lunches) . 

 For a 4 qt slow cooker
12 oz slab bacon (I used 2/3 pgk of thick cut bacon slices)
2 small onions, chopped
photo copyright of SciFi with a Dash of Paprika
2/3 cup carrots, chopped
6 cups (1 1/2 qts) slow sodium chicken broth
1 1/4 cups brown lentils (I used 2 cups)
2/3 cup drained, no-salt canned diced tomaotes
1 1/2 tbsp no-salt tomato paste
1 1/2 tbsp mild smoked paprika
3/4 tsp black pepper

1) Fry the bacon bits in a large skillet over medium heat until brown and crisp, stirring occasionally (between 6-10 minutes).  Use a slotted spoon to transfer bits to slow cooker.   I baked my bacon slices in a 350* oven about 30-45 minutes until crisp.   I set bacon aside and drained off 2 tbsp drippings into a 12" skillet.  Remainder of drippings I poured off into my bacon grease container for use at a later date.  Baking bacon makes the best drippings for saving.  

2) [Heat bacon fat over medium-high heat.]  Add onions and carrots to the bacon fat in the skillet; cook stirring frequently, until onions are translucent, between 3-5 minutes.  [At this point, I added the tomato sauce and paprika, sauteing until warm and fragrant.]  Scrap contents into the slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.

3) Cover and cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 7 or until lentils are tender.

**Recipe suggested serving with a poached egg:  poach eggs in warm water until yolks are barely set.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer eggs to soup bowls.  This was really good!


Chicken Jambalaya  (Great American Slow Cooker Book)   gluten free 
Another winner!  Your choice of sausage will dictate how spicy the dish is, and can further be adjusted with a bit of hot sauce. This turns out very stew-y and thick. 

This will need at least one stirring, if not two, to make sure the all the rice is incorporated into the liquids and to minimize sticking to the “hot” side of the pot.  This turned out perfectly spicy for adult taste buds.  If there are little taste buds in the house, perhaps use polish or kielbasa OR, if there are Hot Heads present, serve with extra hot sauce on the side.   I’m not a green pepper fan so I subbed edmamae (needed to use it up anyway) or perhaps add some frozen, chopped, okra about 30 minutes before serving.  


for a 4-5 qt slow cooker
1 1/4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
8 oz Andouille Sausage (or similar), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 cups no-salt added canned diced tomatoes
1 small (3/4 cup) onion, diced
3/4 cup green pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped (I used edmamae)
3/4 cup long-grained white rice
1/2 cup celery (I didn't have any)
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce (or similar hot sauce)
2 bay leaves

1) Combine everything in the slow cooker.  Stir.
2) Cover and cook on low for 5 hours, or until the rice is tender and the stew has thickened a bit.  Discard the bay leaves before serving.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin (A Song of Fire and Ice #5)

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire #5)A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  In the aftermath of a colossal battle, Daenerys Targaryen rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way east--with new allies who may not be the ragtag band they seem. And in the frozen north, Jon Snow confronts creatures from beyond the Wall of ice and stone, and powerful foes from within the Night's Watch. In a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics lead a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, to the greatest dance of all.

Game of Thrones (1st ed 1991)
A Clash of Kings (1st ed 1998)   yup...7 year wait.
A Storm of Swords (1st ed 2000)  whew!  2 years.
A Feast for Crows (1st ed 2005)  damn, 5 years this time.
Dance with Dragons (1st ed 2012)  another 7 year wait.  Was it worth it?  No, not really.


My plot summary (I'm assuming you've read the first four or have a passing acquaintance with the series):

Tyrion went from point A to point B and really didn't accomplish anything other than being the most interesting part of the book despite nothing happening!

Jon stayed at the wall and pissed everyone off. 

Stannis marched on Bolton and got stuck in the snow, "Winter is coming!"

Reek got stuck between Bolton and Stannis.

Bran got stuck in a cave.

Daenerys spends most of her time wringing her hands, "But I'm just a young girl!" while everyone is telling her to take the damn dragons and wreak some havoc and chaos!  What good are dragons if you can't inflict some mayhem? 


It's almost as if the multiple plots have gotten out of control and GRRM doesn't quite know how to pull all the various strings back in to make a strong cohesive story. 

This was a rather grandiose, overly bloated, transition book about feasts lavish enough to make the Food Network envious, clothing descriptions to rival Project Runway, a Kim Kardashian-style (aka - pointless) wedding, and guts/shit/flux/flies and carnage enough to turn a strong person off their dinner. 

Ultimately, there was a lot of repetitive statements, such as "words are wind" and "being as useless as nipples on a breastplate". People were kinda moving around on the playing field unless they were stuck in the snow or bobbing around at sea. As for the numerous endings - which all felt the same - the reader is left once again clutching at their breast, gasping for air, wailing and tearing their hair at the cliffhangers.  

Well, no, not really that bad; mostly I just tossed the book aside in disgust, knowing that it may very well be another 5 years before we know who lives and who dies, and by that time I just won't care.   Actually, I don't care now - too many years pass between the books and I'm losing interest.

Reek. Reek, the book was weak.



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Monday, April 14, 2014

Recipe Review from 4/7/2014

Not much to say about this past week - it's spring in northern Minnesota, or as I like to call it "the Season of Mud" so outside activities are a bit restricted at the moment.  We did check out the Duluth Home Show with the thought of talking to some contractors about a possible kitchen remodel.  We were there about 3 1/2 hours, didn't get to everything, but I did come away with three names.  If they don't call me this week, I will start calling start after Easter.

Dogs are revealing in the warmer temps, returning birds, and emerging squirrels and chipmunks. Several critter holes have been now been excavated.  I'm not enjoying the early season doggie baths. 

Only two new recipes for this week.  I had hoped to grill the brats outside, but didn't have an opportunity to clean the grill, so the start of grill season will have to wait a bit. 

Le Schedule/menu:
Sat - Home Show/Jazz at Toga/dinner out with parents
Sun - Chicken and Chickpea Stew for lunches
Mon (yoga) leftovers 
Tues (defuzz) - Brats and side  
Wed (am yoga/D shoots) - leftover chicken
Thurs (yoga) - leftover brats
Fri -out

Lunches - Minestrone Soup

Chicken and Chickpea Stew (Great American Slow Cooker Bookgluten free
Delicious! Delicious! Delectible!  Chicken was fall apart tender, the spices reminiscent of maybe Morocco or Spain, and perfect served over some brown rice.

 I used a 4qt slow cooker.

1 14 oz can no-salt added canned diced tomatoes (I used petite diced)
1 14 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 sm onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp saffron
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp minced fresh oregano
t tbsp olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
1/2 tsp salt
3 lbs bone-in skinless chicken thighs (I used 1 1/2 lb boneless skinless)

1) Stir the tomatoes, chickpeas, onion, parsley, paprika, cloves, cinnamon, saffron, and pepper in the slow cooker.
2) Mix the oregano, olive oil, garlic, and salt in a small bowl; smear this paste over the chicken thighs.  Set them into the slow cooker so their partly submerged.
3) Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 7 hours, or until the meat is fall apart tender.  


 Root Vegetable Minestrone  (Ckng Lght, March 2014)  gluten free and vegetarian optional**
This was outstanding!  Super easy to assemble, fantastic taste.  We both loved how thick and stew-like this turned out - nothing like your 'classic' minestrone soup which is very brothy.  This was thick and saucy which really highlighted the sweetness of the vegetables.  I'm not certain it necessarily supposed to be so thick, but that's how mine turned out and I loved it.   I almost made this twice - but decided to hold off for another week or two.
  • 5 center-cut bacon slices, chopped (I skipped the bacon and just sauted the veggies in some rendered bacon fat I had saved)
  • 1 1/3 cups chopped peeled butternut squash
    photo from cookinglight.com
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrot 
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsnip  (I used a turnip)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 4 teaspoons unsalted tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 2/3 cups (1 can) unsalted chicken stock 
  • 1/4 cup uncooked ditalini pasta
  • 3/4 cup 1 14.5 oz can unsalted cannellini beans, rinsed and drained 
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  1. Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan; reserve 1 tablespoon drippings in pan. Increase heat to medium-high. Add butternut squash and next 8 ingredients (through garlic) to drippings in pan; sauté 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken stock, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in uncooked pasta; cook 10 minutes. Stir in cannellini beans, salt, and pepper; cook 2 minutes or until vegetables and pasta are tender. Divide soup evenly among 4 bowls; top evenly with bacon.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Back Spin by Harlan Coben (Myron Bolitar #4)

Back Spin (Myron Bolitar, #4)Back Spin by Harlan Coben

My rating: 4 of 5 stars




Jacket blurb:  Kidnappers have snatched the teenage son of super-star golfer Linda Coldren and her husband, Jack, an aging pro, at the height of the U.S. Open. To help get the boy back, sports agent Myron Bolitar goes charging after clues and suspects from the Main Line mansions to a downtown cheaters' motel--and back in time to a U.S. Open twenty-three years ago, when Jack Coldren should have won, but didn't. Suddenly Myron finds him self surrounded by blue bloods, criminals, and liars. And as one family's darkest secrets explode into murder, Myron finds out just how rough this game can get.

"Read" as an audiobook.  In fact, I "read" the first CD twice, it was that enjoyable.

Myron has become entangled in the world of golf.  Jack Coltrane is on the cusp of winning the tournament he choked on 22 years earlier.  His wife is the LPGA top player.  His son has been kidnapped.  Win refuses to help for personal reasons.  Esperanza will help, but she wants to become a partner in MB Sportreps when she graduates law school.  It's up to Myron to untangle this tangled bag of golf clubs and he does it with wit, humility, and dogged determination.

I simply enjoyed this book.  The narrator is absolutely perfect for the voices, conveying the haughtiness of the upper crust in Win's character and Myron's more humble roots.  You can really see Esperanza rolling her eyes at Myron as she snarks back at him.  The writing really pulls the reader along, alternating between laugh out loud and baited breath anticipation. 

My commute mantra became "please let me hit a red light, I need a red light!"  Wish I could get these consistently on audiobook from the library, but the system seems to be hit or miss. 

Highly recommended.



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Monday, April 7, 2014

Recipe Review from 3/31/14

Two back to back snowstorms - one with two days of 40mph winds and an inch of snow; one with 6" of the heavy wet stuff that gave me my worst commute of the year, and then promptly melted later in the afternoon.  Gotta love spring. 

We ended the week with temps hitting 50*!  Was nice enough that I pulled my porch chair and table out and sat outside while the pups ran around.  Rest of the week is supposed to be in the 40's, which would be very welcome indeed! 


The Meal Plan for the previous week:
Sun - Pulled Pork Sandwiches with pickles and baked fries
Mon (yoga)  leftovers
Tues (yoga) leftovers
Wed (yoga am/Bullseye league) Minestrone Soup  Out for Pizza
Thurs (yoga) leftovers
Fri - leftovers
Sat - out with Parents

Lunches - Corn and Potato Soup, Fritos, fruit, luna bars, yogurt, nut cups.



Sweet BBQ Sauce  (A Sweet Pea Chef Blog)
I'm not a fan of pre-prepared BBQ sauces as more often than not, they are full of High Fructose Corn Syrup and other preservatives.  Bleh.  BBQ sauce is also remarkably easy to make and delightfully variable - maybe a traditional sauce, or a mustard sauce, how about a white BBQ sauce?  This one below is a sweet-hot barbeque sauce that I found via Pintrest.

I doubled the recipe for my 4lb pork shoulder roast. It was definitely tangy-zingy-sweet and doubled, was the perfect amount for the quantity of meat I had.  What I wasn't counting on was eating pulled pork for four meals!  Maybe a 3lb roast was too much for the two of us. 

1/2 cup ketchup
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. molasses
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/8 tsp. ground mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
kosher salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the above ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine well. Refrigerate at least 15-20 minutes prior to using, if possible.

**My notes - I did heat the sauce for about 15 minutes to get the honey and molasses to combine and some of the spices to release their flavor.  Then I popped it into the fridge until I was ready to use it.  


Creamy Corn and Chicken Soup (Great American Slow Cooker Cookbook)  gluten free
 A riff on corn and potato soup that ups the protein with the addition of some chicken.  A chop, plop, puree dish that was most satisfactory.  For my bacon lovers out there, some crumbled bacon on top would have really rounded out the flavors nicely. 

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 qt chicken broth
4 cups corn (fresh or frozen)
1 cup thinly sliced leeks (rinsed and drained)
1 cup baking potato, diced  (I used baby reds)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 half and half 

1) Put chicken breasts on the bottom of the slow cooker.
2) Add everything except half and half.
3) Cover and cook 2 1/2 hours (low) 5 hours (hight)
4) Remove chicken breasts and set aside. Puree remaining ingredients until smooth or desired consistency.
5) Cube chicken breasts and return to pot.  Add cream.  Cover and cook an additional 15-30 minutes.


 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #4)

The Last Coyote (Harry Bosch, #4)The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Jacket Blurb:  Harry Bosch's life is on the edge. His earthquake-damaged home has been condemned. His girlfriend has left him. He's drinking too much. And after attacking his commanding officer, he's even had to turn in his L.A.P.D. detective's badge. Now, suspended indefinitely pending a psychiatric evaluation, he's spending his time investigating an unsolved crime from 1961: the brutal slaying of a prostitute who happened to be his own mother.Even after three decades, Harry's questions generate heat among L.A.'s top politicos. And as the truth begins to emerge, it becomes more and more apparent that someone wants to keep it buried. Someone very powerful....very cunning....and very deadly.Edgar Award-winning author Michael Connelly has created a dark, fast-paced suspense thriller that cuts to the core of Harry Bosch's character. Once you start it, there's no turning back.

"Read" as an audiobook.  Narrator was Dick Hill.

Two stars for the portrayal of the main character, four stars for the plot.  Average being three stars.  

By the end of the first chapter, I detested our protagonist, Detective Bosch.  A self-centered, arrogant, obnoxious, rude, character which I simply could not sympathize or empathize with, nor, ultimately care about.  I don't know why anyone would like this man or call him a "friend" given how poorly he treats people.  I can't fathom any police department putting up with the behavior demonstrated in this book (and previous), including assaulting a supervisor, assaulting an investigator, illegal use of resources while on leave, inability to work with a team.  He insults everyone he talks to, treats them as idiots, accuses them of some perceived slight to his character, frequently shouts at them, and to top it off, only Bosch knows what's right. Everyone else is an ignorant putz.  I'm seething at Bosch's behavior just typing this review.

My second complaint with the book was the excessively long "love scene" between Bosch and Jasmine.  Tedious, boring, and gratuitous - if I wanted a soft porn romance book, I'd read a soft porn romance book.  I want a mystery-thriller.  There are other ways to have a couple connect meaningfully that doesn't involve sex.

The only reason I finished this book was the plot - the plot was interesting.  A cold case with interesting twists and turns, of perceptions being righted, and ultimately, the truth coming out.  Not a pleasant truth, mind, but that's usually the case.  That was very well done.

Was the plot enough to carry the book...barely.  Not sure I could recommend this one.



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