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Monday, February 19, 2018

Las Vegas 2018

We went on a little trip!  We visited family!  We saw some cool stuff!

This was not my/our first trip out:
2007 - Sister and I came out to scope out wedding venues for her wedding
2008 - Sister's wedding
2015 - General vacation and to visit family
2018 - Specifically to visit family

We flew out on Wednesday because flights were a tich cheaper.   Then I realized it was Valentines Day and I didn't want to impose on any plans my Brother and his wife might have had, plus we can always use a day to decompress a bit, so I found a good deal for the Luxor on the Strip, so we could take advantage of nearby restaurants without having to get a cab.

Thursday the Brother picked us up mid-afternoon and we enjoyed family time!

Friday we went and check out the Nevada/Las Vegas Veteran's Memorial, tried to checkout a distillery (they were open...but closed) and at at Phat Phranks, and awesome Mexican place the brother and his wife frequent.   Veteran's Memorial was very impressive. 

Saturday we went to Hoover Dam!  When we were here in 2008 they were building the by-pass bridge, so this was an opportunity to go see what the finished bridge looks like.  It was really impressive being able to walk the entire span of the bridge and look down 800+ feet into the Gorge below.  Then the Brother took us by an incredibly ugly "art" exhibit out in the desert that perplexes us all (someone painted large rocks and stacked them).  I didn't bother taking a picture.  Lunch was at a really good BBQ restaurant named Lucille's.

Sunday was a trip out to the Mt. Charleston area, to see the Cold War Memorial.  It's part of a new (2015) Forest Service complex, welcome center.  I, personally, thought there would have been more informational boards on it, but it was a bit sparse in that regards - as in one board.  Still, it was neat to see both memorial and visitor center.   Lunch plans kept changing due to restaurants being closed (a common thing out here with family-owned restaurants on a Sunday) and we ended up at Chicago brew pub. 

And that, was our trip!  Good family time, got to see some sites, and got away from the snow and cold for a while.

The Strip from afar.  What you don't see in the pic, is the wind blowing about 30mph and trying to dislodge us from the tiny hill.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Recipe Review from 2/5/2018

Several recipes this week, but I have to admit, I was winging most of these.  I had leftovers that needed to be used up, I was a bit short on time, so I got creative.  Go me!  Downside, I forgot to take any pictures...  boo!    Oh well. 

Meal plan from week of 2/5:
Sat (L) leftover quinoa  (S) leftover curry
Sun  (L) Enchiladas    (S) homemade pizza
Mon (yoga) enchiladas
Tues - enchiladas
Wed - pasty
Thurs (yoga) homemade pizza
Fri (yoga) - homemade soup

Enchiladas (modified from ATK Slow Cooker Revolution)  gluten free  
Moving into the weekend, I had a significant amount of shredded chicken and sauce leftover from the Chicken Mole Tacos (reviewed last week).  I pulled a page from ATK's book, and turned the leftovers into a pan of enchiladas.  I will note, I thought the enchilada's were better than the original dish.

I took the mole sauce, strained it, and re-heated.  Then I proceeded with part of ATK's recipe below for the enchiladas.

2+ cups of mole sauce from Slow cooked Chicken Mole, Cooking Light, Jan/Feb 2018, strained.

2 cups shredded chicken
2 cups shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack or pepper Jack cheese
**I used cohita cheese
1/2 cup minced cilantro
1 (4oz) can pickled jalapenos, drained and chopped
12 (6 inch) corn tortillas

1) Preheat oven to 350*.  Lightly oil a 9x13" pan and set aside.

2) Finely shred leftover chicken if not already shredded.  Add chopped pickles and cilantro and mix well.  Add 1 cup of sauce if necessary.   **Recipe added 1 cup of shredded cheese here - I skipped.

3) Using warmed tortillas (either on the stove, in the microwave, or grill), quickly fill each tortilla and roll to close.  Place each tortillla in a prepared pan until filling is gone, stacking tortillas if necessary.

4) Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas, and sprinkle with remaining shredded cheese (I sprinkled with cohita cheese).  Cover and bake until heated through 10-20 minutes.   Serve with your favorite toppings! 

Homemade Bean and Ham Soup  (my kitchen!)  gluten free
This was a result of having a bunch of stuff in the fridge and pantry that needed to be used up.   I will admit, Husband assembled, I ate.  Yum!

3 cups chicken broth
3 cups water
3 cups pre-cooked great northern beans
1 cup chopped previously cooked and shredded ham hock
1 onion, chopped
1 cup baby carrots (roughly), diced into small disks
1 tbsp tomato paste

(keeping in mind, I have no idea how the Husband cooked this, but this is how I would have assembled...)
1) saute onion, carrots, oregano and tomato paste 
2) add broth and water, beans and ham hock
3) bring everything to a simmer.  Adjust seasonings and serve. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Recipe Review from 1/29/2018

Temps continue to fluctuate between 20* and -20*.   Just don't know what to wear dashing out the door in the morning - looks like it'll be nice, but then the windchill comes and smacks ya upside the cheeks and Brrrrr! 

Still good weather for slow cooked meals! 

The Meal Plan from week of 1/29/18:
Sat - out and about in the AM, dinner and hockey game in the PM
Sun (L) leftovers   (S)  Chicken Curry and naan
Mon (yoga/book group)  Sweet potato bowl
Tues - leftover curry
Wed - Chicken Mole Tacos w/cornbread
Thurs (yoga)
Fri (off!)

Zesty Kale and Sweet Potato Salad (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2018)  gluten free, vegetarian
This was easy to pull together, very versatile (swap out ingredients, add different veggies, or toss in some beans), and flavorful without being overly spicy.  You can serve this warm, room temp or cold.  I made this for my lunches for the week, so I was eating it cold and enjoyed every bite.

I actually made this as written, only subbing spinach for the kale.  I didn't find this "zesty", expecting a bit more heat from the spices, but it wasn't lacking for flavor.  I would make this again.


photo from
1 pound diced peeled sweet potatoes (about 3 cups)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided1 teaspoon chili powder, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 large red bell pepper, quartered
1/2 cup unsalted roasted almonds, chopped
2 teaspoons grated lime rind, divided
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 cups hot cooked quinoa
4 ounces baby kale, chopped (about 4 cups)
(I used baby spinach instead of kale)
1 ounce Cotija cheese, crumbled (about 1/4 cup)
1 ripe avocado, sliced

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Combine sweet potatoes, 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a bowl; toss. Arrange sweet potato mixture on one side of an aluminum foil–lined baking sheet. Place bell pepper on other side of pan; drizzle with 1 1/2 teaspoons oil, and toss to coat. Bake until potatoes are tender and peppers are lightly charred, about 30 minutes, stirring potatoes once halfway through. Remove pan from oven. Cut bell pepper into strips.

Cook almonds in a small skillet over medium until toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon rind, and sugar; cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute.
Whisk together remaining 5 teaspoons oil, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, remaining 1 teaspoon rind, juice, and cilantro in a bowl. Divide quinoa among 4 bowls; top evenly with kale, sweet potatoes, and bell pepper. Drizzle with juice mixture; top evenly with coated almonds, Cotija, and avocado. Serve with lime wedges.

Slow Cooker Chicken Mole Tacos (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2018)  gluten free
Don't be put off by the long ingredient list - this comes together very quickly.  Once the ancho's have soaked and been seeded, everything is plopped into a blender, given a good puree, and poured over the chicken in the slow cooker.  Cook until chicken is tender, shred, and serve.  Yup. That simple. 

Now, I did use a quartered chicken for this dish - because I have something like 20 hand processed chickens in my freezer - and it worked out "okay".  Little bones and gristle from ribs and knuckles kept cropping up in the finished product which detracted a bit.

Do save the sauce - I used leftover chicken and the sauce to make a pan of enchiladas that I will review next week.  I will say, I thought the enchiladas were better than the tacos.  So, recommended because I got two tasty weeks out of one dish.

Slow Cooker Curried Chicken and Rice (modified from ATK Slow Cooker Revolution)  gluten free option**
I liked the flavor of this dish, I liked the rice and cauliflower ( so much.  Not a fan of cauliflower), I like the ease of prep. 

I didn't like how the chicken turned out and this was entirely on me.  I used a quartered chicken - one of our hand raised, home processed - and I don't know if it was the slow cooker, the coconut milk or the chicken, but it turned out tough.  I did have to add some shredded chicken I had on hand in the freezer (whew!) because I also ran significantly short. 

I would make this dish again, but I would use the chicken thighs as recommended.  I was also trying to think of a way to skip the chicken and make this vegetarian, but other than doubling the cauliflower, I'm drawing a blank.  If you have any suggestions, send them my way!   

2 cups onion, minced
1 jalapeno chili, stemmed, seeded and minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp minced or grated fresh ginger

1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp garam masala
3 tbsp AP flour (or your GF substitute**)

1 (14 oz can) light coconut milk

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs  (I used a quartered chicken)

2 cups instant rice  (DO NOT use regular rice, or regular basmati rice, it needs to be instant)
1/2 head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
1 cup frozen peas
3 tbsp sliced almonds
2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro

1) Heat 2 tbsp oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onions through garam masala and cook until vegetables are soft and slightly browned (8-10 minutes).  (My notes - ghee would be a good substitute for the oil here.)  Stir in flour or flour substitute and cook for 1 minute.  Slowly stir in coconut milk , scrapig up any browned bits, and smoothing out flour lumps.  Add to slow cooker.

2) Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to slow cookers.  Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4-6 hours.

3)  Break up  or shred chicken with a wooden spoon or a couple of forks (or, if using a quartered chicken, remove, let cool, bone, shred the meat, and add back in after the rice is cooked.) . Stir in rice, cover and cook on high until rice is tender, 20-30 minutes.

4) Cook cauliflower either in the microwave or on the stovetop (I roasted in the oven), until softened.  Stir in cauliflower and peas and let sit until heated through.  Serve with almonds and cilantro (I served with Naan).  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Dark Orbit by Carol Ives Gilman

Dark OrbitDark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Reports of a strange, new habitable planet have reached the Twenty Planets of human civilization. When a team of scientists is assembled to investigate this world, exoethnologist Sara Callicot is recruited to keep an eye on an unstable crewmate. Thora was once a member of the interplanetary elite, but since her prophetic delusions helped mobilize a revolt on Orem, she’s been banished to the farthest reaches of space, because of the risk that her very presence could revive unrest.

Upon arrival, the team finds an extraordinary crystalline planet, laden with dark matter. Then a crew member is murdered and Thora mysteriously disappears. Thought to be uninhabited, the planet is in fact home to a blind, sentient species whose members navigate their world with a bizarre vocabulary and extrasensory perceptions.

Lost in the deep crevasses of the planet among these people, Thora must battle her demons and learn to comprehend the native inhabitants in order to find her crewmates and warn them of an impending danger. But her most difficult task may lie in persuading the crew that some powers lie beyond the boundaries of science

Read for January book group.

Even after discussing for book group, I'm still waffling on what I think of this selection. Even as I sit here writing my review, I'm having difficulties in trying to sum up the premise of the book: was it about the different ways to travel through space? Was it about our ability to see or not see and how we perceive what "sight" is? Was it about trust? Was it ultimately, just a story?

Instead of summarizing the book, I'll look at a handful of predominant characters:

Sara. Exoethnologist. Travels through space using what I came to think of as a souped up transporter. Her last job was a bust, she's a disgrace to the university she was working for and her mentor asked her to participate in a mission to a distant planet as an observer.

Thora. Emissary in exile after she incites a revolt on Orem. Now a sensory scientist. Thora is cool, reserved and distant, and perplexed when Sara tries to befriend her. Then Thora finds herself lost and blind among the indigenous peoples of the strange planet and everything changes again.

Atbatlow. Security officer. A very uninspiring character who stands around looking imposing, threatening, and serves the function of telling the scientists "no". It was his characters job to make things as difficult as possible.

The Doctor, who's name I've already forgotten. He's in charge of a ship full of people and seems to only have rudimentary supplies. We found the weird in book group.

Moth and Hanna - our two natives who interact with Thora and Sara. Each are serve the same function but in different places. On the ship, Sara and Moth explore what it is to see. On the planet, Hanna and Thora explore what it means to be able to see. "Sight" means completely different things to each.

And this is where I started having some issues with the book. For a far future space faring, space traveling society, to automatically assume giving someone "sight" is a good and righteous thing was as far off base as Thora's situation on Orem. I found the ship of people to be arrogant in their assumptions "sight" was a good thing for Moth. This bit bugged me a lot.

Conversely, Thora - as someone who studies the senses - spent quite a bit of time whining about her lack of visual sight, even as Hanna was pointing out everything around her. Yes, I understand it's one thing to study the senses when you have all of yours in tact, and thus, finding oneself sightless in a cave is going to be very traumatic. But the incongruity struck me as a bit odd.

However, I did find Sara's attempts to teach Moth how to see, and trying to describe to Moth what she was seeing, fascinating. (Aside - again, for a space faring society, wouldn't there be protocol in place for this situation? Seems like a bit of a lag in the science research...). Things that sighted people take for granted: depth perception, perception of color, dimensions, and more. Looking at it from Moth's viewpoint was probably one of the better parts of the book.

Ultimately, I found the book to be rather disjointed, hopping from one concept to the next, with thin threads loosely connecting everything together and even after writing this review, I'm still not exactly sure what the book was driving at. Still, I was entertained and I can't complain about that.

Recommended with some reservations.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 22, 2018

Recipe Review from 1/14/18

Slow cookers were out in full force this past week!  I made a batch of stock for the Chicken Ramen Soup and because I'm not vegetarian - I just like to eat less meat - I also used it in the chili.  Chili was for us and only us.  

I have decided though, that I do need to get a second large slow cooker.  My small one just isn't big enough for most dishes I'm making these days.  And since I've started making stock in the slow cooker, that's occupying the large one.  Stay tuned for slow cooker updates!

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L)  leftovers  (S)  Asian Ribs
Sun (L) pasty  (S)  leftover Ribs
Mon (yoga) (L) Me - out  (S)  Asian Chicken Soup
Tues (yoga) soup
Wed (yoga) soup
Thurs (yoga) soup
Fri (??)

Lunches - Vegetarian Chili

Asian Ribs (ATK Slow Cook Revolution)
If you haven't figured out by now...I really like this cookbook.   I've had reasonably success with just about everything I've made and I love the variety.  This cook book contains a handful of recipes that I've made more than once.

This dish falls in the middle of the spectrum right now, and that could be because the ribs I used weren't quite right for this dish.  But I had them in the freezer and I wanted something other than ribs in basic BBQ sauce.

Front end assembly was decent - chop and plot.  Back end is where it got putzy:  pull ribs out of liquid and set aside, separate fat and reduce liquid mixture, glaze ribs and broil (and this is where my fire alarms go off...), keep glazing and flipping ribs until "brown and sticky" (with windows open and husband standing under alarm waving a towel), and serve with extra sauce.

Tasty?  Oh, yes.  Definitely tasty, wonderful Asian flavors.  But I admit the extra 45 minutes of "prep" at the end was...annoying.   So NOT a weeknight meal unless you have some extra time once you get home.

Recipe is a bit long to type out, so you'll have to check out the book from the library.

Chinese Chicken and Ramen Soup  (modified from ATK Slow Cook Revolution)  gluten free option
I've had my eye on this recipe for a while and decided to finally make it - I had nearly everything on hand anyway, I made a fresh pot of stock the day before, and substituted some Udon noodles I had in the pantry for the ramen.  Just a few things (like the star anise pods) to grab from the store.

Husband had some hiccups with this one though - I used my smaller slow cooker, which did NOT fit 8 cups of broth, two cups of onion, carrots and a quartered chicken.  Husband improvised and cooked the meat separately that didn't fit, then we shredded and added to the soup.   He noted the meat did not cook in four hours, so that was also finished separately and added back in.  We cooked the Udon noodles separately as well (sense a theme?).

And on top of all that...I forgot the napa cabbage.  Oy.

Yet, this was pretty darn tasty.  I admit to being a bit put off by the smell of the Star Anise, it made the soup smell very 'black licorice-y' which I can't stand the taste of.  But the soup itself didn't taste like black licorice.  If anything it was very chicken-soup like, with notes of Asian flavor, and a bit on the bland side.  I found a squirt of Siracha helped.

I would make this again, using my large slow cooker and remembering to add the cabbage...

2 cups onion, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp ginger, grated and divided
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup carrots, sliced 1/4" thick
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
2 star anise pods  (use one if you don't like black licorice)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
(I used a home-grown chicken, quartered, wings and back removed)
2 (3 oz pkg) ramen, flavor packets discarded (I used 1-6oz pkg Udon noodles, cooked separately)** gluten free noodles can be substituted, but cook according to direction on package.
1/2 medium head Nappa cabbage, sliced
optional  2 scallions, sliced thin  (I skipped)

1) Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, 1 tbsp ginger and cook 2-3 minutes.  Add tomato paste, red pepper flakes and cook until tomato paste is fragrant. Add to slow cooker.

2) Combine broth, carrots, soy sauce, sugar, star anise and bay leaves in slow cooker.  Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to broth mixture.  Cover and cook on low 4-6 hours.

3) Remove chicken to a platter or cutting board, let cool slightly and shred meat.   Let soup settle and remove fat with a large spoon.  Remove bay leaves and star anise pods. 

4).  IF using noodles other than raman, cook noodles according to direction on pan, until al dente, add to soup with cabbage.  IF using raman, add to slow cooker with cabbage, cover and cook on high 3-8 minutes.

5)  Return meat to slow cooker, add remaining ginger, season and serve with additional soy sauce or siracha if desired.  

Vegetarian Chili (modified from ATK Slow Cooker Revolution)  gluten free
The title in the cookbook is Vegetarian Black Bean Chili, but the Husband isn't wild about black beans.  First modification was to substitute pinto beans.  Second modification was to cut back on the chili and chipolte - I have Penzey's "medium-hot" chili in my pantry and it can pack a punch. Chipolte can go either way and be super spicy or just flavorful.   Third modification was to brine the beans ahead of time. I have calcium rich well water and sometimes, the beans just don't cook all the way.  Soaking the beans ahead of time in a salt water solution has helped significantly. 

End result - this was pretty tasty and...a bit bland.  Go figure!  I would make this again though, super easy to prep and I enjoyed the chili flavors and consistency.  Perfect for these cold and snowy days.

2 cups onion, chopped
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped
2 jalepeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced
9 garlic cloves, minced (I grate mine)
3 tbsp chili powder (I used 1 tbsp Penzey's "medium-hot" and I should have done 1 1/2 tbsp)
4 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth (I used chicken broth)
2 1/2 cups water
1 pound (2 1/2 cups) black beans (I used pinto)
10 oz white mushrooms, trimmed and halved if small, quartered if large
1 tbsp minced canned chipolte chili in adobo sauce  (I used just the sauce)
2 bay leaves
1 (28 oz) can whole tomatoes, drained and cut  (I used 1 28oz can diced tomatoes, drained)
2 tsp minced fresh cilantro  (drat!  I forgot! And I even had some in the fridge...)

1) Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add onions, bell peppers, jalapenos, garlic, chili powder, mustard seeds, cumin and oregano and cook until vegetables are softened and slightly browned (8-10 minutes).  Stir in 1 cup broth to release any browned bits and transfer to a large slow cooker.

2) Stir water, beans, mushrooms, remaining broth, chipoltes and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until beans are tender 9-11 hours on low or 5-7 hours on high.

3) Remove bay leaves.  You can at this point remove 1 cup of beans, mash and return to slow cooker, but I thought it was perfectly thick the way it was.  Add drained tomatoes and let heat through.  Stir in cilantro if desired, and serve.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Last Mile by David Baldacci (Amos Decker #2)

The Last Mile (Amos Decker, #2)The Last Mile by David Baldacci

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Convicted murderer Melvin Mars is counting down the last hours before his execution--for the violent killing of his parents twenty years earlier--when he's granted an unexpected reprieve. Another man has confessed to the crime.

Amos Decker, newly hired on an FBI special task force, takes an interest in Mars's case after discovering the striking similarities to his own life: Both men were talented football players with promising careers cut short by tragedy. Both men's families were brutally murdered. And in both cases, another suspect came forward, years after the killing, to confess to the crime. A suspect who may or may not have been telling the truth.

The confession has the potential to make Melvin Mars--guilty or not--a free man. Who wants Mars out of prison? And why now?

But when a member of Decker's team disappears, it becomes clear that something much larger--and more sinister--than just one convicted criminal's life hangs in the balance. Decker will need all of his extraordinary brainpower to stop an innocent man from being executed.

Read as an audio book.

In this second installment, Amos is on his way to start a new job as a citizen consultant with the FBI near Quantico. He hears about Melvin Mars case in Texas, a young and upcoming college football star who was wrongfully convicted of murdering his parents 20 years ago. Another death row inmate has confessed to the murders and the case is under investigation. Decker talks the team into investigating this case, and was seems straight forward on the surface leads to much darker things underneath.

I found this book engaging. If you've read Baldacci before, you'll know it's never as straightforward as it seems. This was no different...well, a little different in that it wasn't a pending global terrorist threat. The historical twist was a nice addition.

The reader is introduced to some new characters that comprise the "team" (my apologies if I'm butchering spelling, I did say this was an audio book): Melvin Mars took a roll front and center; the psychologist - Mary(?) who joined the team on the pretense of studying Decker; and one FBI agent who was rather forgettable and mostly just played the role of superior condescending FBI agent. Of course, Alex Jamison and Bogart are back from book one.

Now please not I said this book was engaging, I didn't say it was perfect. The plot is a tich over the top (but they all are, which is part of the fun of reading, right?), the plot holes are a lot like Swiss cheese, I found I kept questioning Melvin's behavior post-incarceration, and everyone's role is to support Decker as he solves the mystery. The supporting characters do not "grow" in this book, in fact, one character disappears for about a quarter of the book. So if you are looking for emotional connection with characters, you are not going to find it here.

Roy Mars, our antagonist and Melvin's father. Not sure what to think of his role in everything and looking back, I found his character to be a bit cheesy. A "man in black" who flies under the radar and nobody knows his real name. Is he a friend? Or foe? Nobody really knows.

Melvin, Melvin, Melvin. 20 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He's released to the recognizance of the FBI. Then he's fully pardoned after a brief trial. While I liked his character, I had a hard time believing his behavior once released from prison. Something didn't quite jive for me - a lack of anger or hardness or similar.

And finally, Amos Decker. We see some personal growth in his character in this second book - Jamison gets him on a diet and we see him sticking to it. He's starting to exercise and turns a cheek to the comments about his obesity. And we see him starting to re-learn empathy. But at the end of the day, it's all about Decker and what *he* needs to do. Oddly, it doesn't bother me here as it does with other books and characters (Harry Bosch series, Wallander series).

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book and narration. I was happily entertained on my commute and that's really all I'm looking for. Recommended on that basis.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 15, 2018

Recipe Review from 1/7/17

Week in review!  It was cold!  It snowed!  I almost hit a telephone pole sliding down the hill! But I didn't, so all is well.  Whew! 

Two recipes to review this week: one a slow cooker recipe that was a bit different in that it didn't use cream or flour to thicken the broth.  We kinda liked it better that way.  And one homemade pizza that was easy and darn tasty. 

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L) Leftover lentil soup  (S) instant soup mix
Sun (L) Turkey and Wild Rice Soup  (S) Blacklist for WDSE party
Mon (yoga)  leftover wild rice soup
Tues - leftover instant soup
Wed (yoga) - leftover wild rice soup
Thurs (yoga) - more leftover wild rice soup
Fri - homemade pizza

[Turkey] and Wild Rice Soup  (modified from America's Test Kitchen, Slow Cooker Revolution) gluten free, dairy free

I'm always exploring new versions of wild rice soup and this one has been on my radar for a while.  I did modify this to use a whole chicken from the freezer that was comparable in weight.  I also had most of the ingredients on hand (minus the celery) so I could make this without a grocery run.

What I really liked about this dish is no dairy and no flour thickener that are frequently used in a wild rice soup.  Even with out those two ingredients, this turned out hearty and thick, if not a tich on the bland side (my fault, I forgot to add the salt and pepper).

2 cups onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup + carrots, diced (I use baby carrots, cut into little "coins")
2 celery ribs   (didn't have)
2 bay leaves
2 lbs chicken, quartered (recipe called for 2lbs of bone in turkey thighs, skin removed, I used a quartered chicken, skin on)
1 cup wild rice, rinsed
2 tbsp parsley, chopped

1) In a large pan over medium heat, saute onions, garlic, tomato paste and thyme until onion is just softened.   Add to slow cooker.

2) Add broth, carrots, celery, and bay leaves to slow cooker, season poultry with salt and pepper and nestle into liquid and vegetable mixture.   Cover and cook until poultry is tender, 6-8 hours on low or 5-7 hours on high. 

3) Remove poultry to a plate and cool slightly.  Remove bones and shred into bite sized pieces.  Remove and fat that has settle to the surface of the liquid using a large spoon.  Discard bay leaves.  Stir in rice and turkey, let cook for 30 -45 minutes or until rice has "popped" and is tender.  Season and serve.

Pizza with Olives, Aleppo Pepper and Fresh Mozzarella  (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2018) vegetarian
I've been eyeballing the fresh pizza dough at the co-op for a while now, and when I saw this recipe I knew I had to buy some and give it a try.  This was, simply, awesome!  And I will probably be making it again this coming week (I have leftover mozzarella and basil to use up). 

I did make one significant change - I used a can of petite diced tomatoes and drained well instead of a can of whole.  I just don't care for the texture and chunkiness of whole canned tomatoes.  

I can't really comment on how long it took to make this as I was multi-tasking and putting away groceries and doing dishes, but it does come together fairly quickly.  Not a heck of a lot of chopping.


1 (28-oz.) can unsalted whole peeled tomatoes  (I used petitie diced, and drained well)
3/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon crushed Aleppo pepper, divided
1 tablespoon plain yellow cornmeal
12 ounces fresh or frozen thawed prepared whole-wheat pizza dough
4 ounces small fresh mozzarella cheese balls (bocconcini)
1 ounce coarsely chopped pitted kalamata olives

1) Place a pizza stone or baking sheet on center rack in oven; preheat oven to 450°F. (Leave stone in to preheat.)
2)  Pour tomatoes into a colander set over a large bowl; squeeze and break into chunks. Reserve liquid for another use. Stir together tomato chunks, salt, 1/4 cup basil, 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper in a bowl.
3) Sprinkle cornmeal on a piece of parchment paper. Roll pizza dough on cornmeal into a 14- x 8-inch rectangle or a 12-inch circle. Spread tomato mixture over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Top with cheese balls and olives. Leaving pizza on parchment paper, place onto hot pizza stone. Bake at 450°F for 10 minutes or until crust is done and cheese is bubbly. Brush edges of crust with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil.
4) Sprinkle with remaining basil and remaining Aleppo pepper. Cut into 8 slices.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Year in Review 2017

Highlights from 2017
(or, My Year in Review) 

Tucson, AZ

U of A Mirror Lab

Tuscon Museum of Art



Corvallis and Portland, OR
Newport, OR

Yahutz, OR
Benton Lane Winery
Texas Hill Country/Canyon Lake


and PUPPY!!
Kepler, Springer Spaniel out of Kinni River Kennels

And we welcomed Baby Grace into the world in October!

New Books Finished  (Novels, Novellas, Novelettes, Short Stories)
2017 - 122  (29857 pages approximately
2016 - 119 (32652 pages)
2015 - 89 (25726 pages)
2014 - 89 (28442 pages)
2013 - 98    (28277 pages)
2012 - 129  (32617 pages)
2011 - 115  (30365 pages) 
2010 – 80   (21848 pages)
2009 – 45   (16094 pages)
2008 – 45   (14456 pages)

New Recipes Tried
2017 - 100
2016 - 133
2015 - 98
2014 -  109
2013 -  125
2012 -100 
2011 - 95
2010 – 82
2009 - 92
2008 - 129
2007 - 120
2006 - 103
2005 - 137
2004 - 143
2003 - 154

Miles Biked:
2017 - 25   (see photo of puppy above...)
2016 - 250  I just couldn't fit in those last 50 miles!  Still...better than 2015.  I did do the Mesabi Ride again this year. 
2015 - 50    Oh,  this was just dismal...
2014 - 292 road   Lots and lots of spin, stopped keeping track
      Jane Addam's Trail 
      Mesabi Trail Ride
2013 - 300 road (628 spin miles - yes, higher spin than road. Very sad.)
2012 -  572.5 road  (568 spin)
      Heartland Trail, MN - 38 miles
      Badger State Trail, WI - 56 miles
      Mesabi Trail Ride, MN - 68 miles
2011 - 470 road  (755 spin)
      Menominee River Century - 50  miles
      Mesabi Trail Ride - 50 miles
2010 – 701 personal best!
      Split Rock Century (my first!) - 100
2009- 250

Miles Hiked:
2017 - 20-ish
2016 - 11  Just the Telephone Pole Hike in Sabino Canyon. 
2015 - 15  (just two hikes this summer)
2014 - 20ish
2013 -20
2012 - 20
2011  - 40+   
2010  - 48

...and there was some knitting!  But I can't find my pictures so you'll have to take my word that I finished a few things. 

Have a splendid 2018!  Please stay tuned for more recipes, book reviews, travel adventures (one coming up in February) and odds and ends! 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Recipe Review from 1/1/2018

I kinda hit the ground running at the start of the new year so I needed some simple dishes to fill the week. Add in temps that are staying stubbornly below 0*F (-18*C), meals also needed to be WARM. Chili is always a good go-to. 

The Meal plan for week of 1/1:
Sat (L) Lentil Soup  (S) leftover pulled pork
Sun (L) leftover soup  (S) Potluck
Mon (L) out    (S) Chili
Tues - leftover chili
Wed - leftover chili
Thurs (yoga)
Fri (Climate Change presentation)  Chinese take-out

Lunches - Double sesame noodles (me);  sandwiches for the Husband

Double Sesame Noodles (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2018) 
I needed something simple for my lunch for the week,and it served the dual purpose of using a couple of pantry/freezer items:  leftover rotisserie chicken and a package of udon.   Because this was for my lunches, I was concerned about the noodles getting soggy over the week, so I stored them separately.  I needn't have worried - the sauce isn't so liquidy that the noodles would have been compromised. 

I really liked this dish.  It was nicely flavorful, easy to assemble and transport, and perfectly filling as a lunch.  I can see making this again, especially during the summer months. 
photo from

6 ounces soba noodles  (I used udon)
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons sambal oelek or Sriracha
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1 cup chopped green onions
8 ounces shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast

Step 1 Cook soba noodles according to package directions; drain and rinse with cold water.
Step 2 Combine tahini, water, toasted sesame oil, fresh lime juice, sambal oelek or Sriracha, and kosher salt in a large bowl. Add noodles, thinly sliced red cabbage, chopped green onions, and shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast. Toss gently to combine. Serve at room temperature.

Cinnamon-laced Chili  (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2018)
Don't be intimidated by the ingredient list, it's mostly seasonings and spices.  The only chopping is the meat, onion, poblano and garlic.  What needs to be taken into account is the 45 minute simmering time on top of 20 minutes of prep, so this isn't the best dish for a weeknight (unless you got home early...).

While tasty, this wasn't may favorite chili.  I did sub pork for the beef (I'm still not a fan of beef).  It's a tich runny for my tastes, and would have been better served over rice to sop up some of that extra sauce. 

photo from
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cubed ]
(I used country style pork ribs)
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups seeded and chopped poblano chile (about 2)
8 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (I used 2 tsp dried)
1 tablespoon unsalted tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cinnamon sticks
1 (15.5-oz.) can unsalted black beans, rinsed and drained  (I used homemade, pre-cooked navy beans)
2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon sliced fresh chives
Step 1  Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high. Add beef, and cook 8 minutes or until browned on all sides, turning occasionally. Place on a plate.
Step 2  Add onion, poblano, and garlic to Dutch oven, and cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add oregano, tomato paste, and cumin, and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute and 30 seconds. Stir in stock, paprika, vinegar, brown sugar, Worcestershire, salt, and cinnamon sticks; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Add browned beef, cover, and simmer 45 minutes or until beef is tender, stirring occasionally.
Step 3  Remove cinnamon sticks; discard. Stir in beans; serve. Sprinkle each serving with shredded cheese and chives.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Recipe Review from 12/25/2017

Happy New Year!  

OMGosh!  Cold cold week!   Though in all honestly, I take the -22* temps over the 6 feet of snow poor Erie Pennsylvania received.  Yikes! 

Cold temps mean warm hearty meals.  Add in a potluck for work and it was a week of leftovers.  Yum!

The Meal Plan
Sat (L)   leftovers  (S) gumbo
Sun (L) polenta and bolognese  (S) beer cheese soup
Mon (Off) (L) polenta with leftover bolognese    (S) Smothered pork chops
Tues -  pork chops
Wed (Potluck) uff! Full!   pulled pork for potluck
Thurs (yoga)  leftover soup
Fri - leftover mashed potatoes and pulled pork

Lunches - Creamy Lentil Stew

Smothered Pork Chops  (modified from  ATK TV Book Cookbook)  gluten free option**
This was pretty good, if not a tich putsy and the 30 minute simmer in the middle was a bit unexpected (I misread the directions).  I used some organically raised pork chops so these were a bit leaner and smaller than what the recipe calls for.   My note would be, watch the total cooking times for your chops, because times will vary. 

The recipe never noted what to do with the bacon bits after cooking, so I tossed on the chops right before serving.

I did serve this over buttermilk mashed potatoes, there is definitely enough gravy to cover chops and potatoes.  I would make this again,  I don't know that I would do this for a week night meal unless I had a tich extra time, but would be good for the weekend.

3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4" pieces
2 tbsp flour** 
1 3/4 cups chicken stock (I used 2 cups)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 (7 oz) bone-in rib loin pork chops, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thin and trimmed of fat
2 medium yellow onions, halved ad sliced thin (about 3 1/2 cups)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp fresh parsley  (I skipped)

1) Fry bacon until crisp, set aside.  Reserve 2 tbsp bacon fat, adding oil if there is not enough.

2) Whisk flour into bacon fat and cook over medium-low until golden (about 5 minutes).  Whisk in broth and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and set aside.

3) Heat 1 tbsp oil in a 12" skillet (I used a 14" skillet, 12" was too small).  Dry chops with a paper towel, make two slits about 2" apart on outer fat layer, and season chops with pepper.  Brown chops, 3 minutes per side, and set aside.

4) Add 1 tbsp oil to skillet and heat till shimmering.  Add onions, 1/4 tsp salt and water, scrapping any brown bits and cook until lightly browned, about 5 are minutes.  Add garlic and thyme, cook 30 seconds.  Add pork chops and cover with onions.  Add sauce, bay leaves and any accumulated meat juices.  Cover and simmer over low heat until chops are tender, about 30 minutes.

5)  Uncover and let sauce thicken (mine was nice and thick at this point).  Discard bay leaves, season to taste and serve over mashed potatoes or egg noodles.  

[Squash] Beer Cheese Soup (Ckng Lght, Oct 2017)  gluten free
Let me say this right off the bat:  this is NOT "Beer Cheese Soup".  This is Squash soup with beer and cheese.   I'm from Wisconsin, now living across the border in Minnesota.  I know what beer cheese soup should taste like and THIS was NOT it.

It tasted like squash soup. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch #20)

Two Kinds of Truth (Harry Bosch, #20; Harry Bosch Universe, #29)Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Harry Bosch is back as a volunteer working cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department and is called out to a local drug store where a young pharmacist has been murdered. Bosch and the town's 3-person detective squad sift through the clues, which lead into the dangerous, big business world of pill mills and prescription drug abuse.

Meanwhile, an old case from Bosch's LAPD days comes back to haunt him when a long-imprisoned killer claims Harry framed him, and seems to have new evidence to prove it. Bosch left the LAPD on bad terms, so his former colleagues aren't keen to protect his reputation. He must fend for himself in clearing his name and keeping a clever killer in prison.

The two unrelated cases wind around each other like strands of barbed wire. Along the way Bosch discovers that there are two kinds of truth: the kind that sets you free and the kind that leaves you buried in darkness.

Read as an audio book.

Whoo. Book started out on the wrong note for me when Harry was a complete asshat during the start of the investigation by the San Fernando police department into the murder of two pharmacists. Can a character get anymore condescending and righteous toward his "co-workers" than Harry? I haven't found one yet.

So I gritted my teeth through the first several disks as Harry treated his fellow detectives like imbeciles who don't know how to do their job. Because, as I've noted before, "only" Harry knows how to be a detective.

I continued to roll my eyes when Harry went undercover. Harry's behavior was so implausible to me it was like watching a car collision in slow motion - it could only end one way. surprises there.

I had further issues with Bosch not telling his daughter Maddie he was going undercover because he "didn't want her to worry" (foreshadowing, anyone?) He kinda told Haller, who should have told Maddie when Maddie was frantically calling everyone to find out where Bosch was, but no, no one told Maddie and when they did finally connect, he tells her more than he told the DEA and San Fernando Police detectives. W.T.F?


I also found Bosch to be a sanctimonious git when it came to the resolution of allegations that he - Bosch - planted evidence in a nearly 20 year old case. Haller did what Haller does best, and when Bosch found out how Haller manipulated the system (it was brilliant, actually...), Bosch got his knickers in a bind. Seriously - Haller just blew the whole prosecution out of the water and Bosch was indignant. W.T.F?


So. Not my favorite in this series. I wasn't thrilled with the prescription drug plot and and the second plot of planting evidence was a bit too pat. A "gimmie" mystery if anything because readers of this series know it will end only one way.

Recommended if you're reading the whole series. Start at the beginning if you haven't read the Bosch books yet.

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