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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Deep Freeze by John Sandford (Virgil Flowers #10)

Deep Freeze (Virgil Flowers, #10)Deep Freeze by John Sandford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:   Class reunions: a time for memories—good, bad, and, as Virgil Flowers is about to find out, deadly—in this New York Times bestselling thriller from John Sandford.

Virgil knows the town of Trippton, Minnesota, a little too well. A few years back, he investigated the corrupt—and as it turned out, homicidal—local school board, and now the town’s back in view with more alarming news: A woman’s been found dead, frozen in a block of ice.

There’s a possibility that it might be connected to a high school class of twenty-five years ago that has a mid-winter reunion coming up, and so, wrapping his coat a little tighter, Virgil begins to dig into twenty years’ worth of traumas, feuds, and bad blood. In the process, one thing becomes increasingly clear to him.

It’s true what they say: High school is murder.

Read as an audio book.

LOVED this latest installment! I'm from Minnesota, I've been ice fishing, I've experienced the -3*F, I know what it's like to bomb around on a snowmobile, I know what it's like to pull all those layers of clothes on. Not many authors write about winter - and Sandford nailed it! ...of course he did, he's from here.

Virgil is back in Trippton, where the President of the bank was found dead in the river by the sewage plant and someone is making pornographic Barbies. You, the reader, will know who the murderer is, and it is an absolute HOOT watching Virgil go around and interview people in truly classic Virgil style. There is one point in the book a character totally nails the small town rumor mill, that some how ends with the Sheriff leading a Satanic cult. Oh my gosh, I was laughing my ass off!

I don't know how Sandford does it, but he manages to capture people to a "T", the wild speculation, the internal panic, and the lies they come up with - to see it all spelled out on the page by such an accomplished author is delightful.

The only thing I didn't like was the last paragraph. Didn't care for the direction that points future Virgil books in and was a bit too parallel to the Davenport books. Yup, now you have to read it to find out what the hell I'm talking about.

If you've been reading the Virgil Flowers series, you'll probably enjoy this one. Recommended.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Recipe Review from 12/3/2017

Pretty uneventful week all around so I'll jump right to recipes!

The Meal Plan for week of 12/3/2017
Sat (L) leftovers           (S)  Creamy chicken quesadillas
Sun (L) Chicken Wild Rice Soup leftovers  (S) Poblano Stew
Mon (yoga)l leftover stew
Tues (yoga) Hamburger Steak and Tots
Wed - leftovers
Thurs (yoga) - Chinese
Fri - Quinoa Chili

Lol - I realized I moved around the meal plan mid-week and didn't note what I actually made when.  So the above is what I think I did.   Maybe...

Creamy Chicken Quesadillas  (Ckng Lght, Oct 2017)

This is perfect for leftover chicken or turkey.  This comes together quick;y, so it's perfect for a weeknight.  For a flavor boost, sub shredded pepperjack or a Mexican blend cheese for the mozzarella.  I used Franks Hot Sauce - the hot sauce adds a nice background zing more so than straight up "heat".   And as I was typing this, I was thinking some banana peppers would have been awesome in this, but that's me and my taste buds. 

photo from

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted chicken stock
1 cup coarsely chopped spinach (about 1 1/2 oz.)
1 tablespoon hot sauce (such as Cholula)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast, shredded (about 1 1/4 cups)
4 ounces preshredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)
4 (8-in.) whole-wheat flour tortillas
Cooking spray
1 ripe avocado, quartered

1) Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium. Sprinkle flour over pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Slowly add stock; cook 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently. Remove pan from heat; stir in spinach, hot sauce, salt, pepper, chicken, and cheese.

2) Heat a large skillet over medium. Divide chicken mixture evenly over half of each tortilla. Fold tortillas in half over filling. Carefully coat both sides of quesadillas with cooking spray. Add 2 quesadillas to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned and cheese is melted. Repeat with remaining quesadillas. Cut each into 4 wedges. Serve with avocado.

Chicken and Poblano Stew with Polenta (Ckng Lght, May 2017)  gluten free
I did make this as a weeknight dish.  It's borderline between taking too long to get it on the table and acceptable amount of time for a weeknight. 

First off, half and seed the poblano peppers first, then oil and place on a foil lined sheet under the broiler.   Round peppers don't "char" very well.  Because of this,  darn peppers took the longest and were the last thing to go into the final pot.

Because I use regular polenta, I did start this first, then moved into the peppers and the rest from there.   Oh, I had one oops!  What I thought was a chipolte pepper in my freezer, was slightly freezer burned tomato paste, not realizing this until too late.  I ended up adding a tsp of ground Adobe pepper in lieu of the chipolte. 

When all was said and eaten, this was a nice change for using shredded chicken (or turkey).  Recommended.

photo from
3 poblano peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups thinly sliced yellow onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
8 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chopped tomato
2 tablespoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle chiles in adobo
(I used 1 tbsp)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
4 ounces skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast, shredded (about 1 cup)
3 cups whole milk    (I used half chicken stock and half water)
3/4 cup uncooked quick-cooking polenta  
(I used regular polenta and cooked according to directions on package)

1. Preheat broiler to high.

2. Place peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet; rub with 1 1/2 teaspoons oil. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened on all sides, turning occasionally. Wrap peppers in foil; let stand 10 minutes. Unwrap; remove skins and seeds. Coarsely chop peppers.

3. Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high. Add onion, oregano, and garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Add tomato, adobo sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in peppers, juice, and chicken; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until slightly thickened.

4. Bring milk to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low; add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and polenta, whisking constantly. Cook 2 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly. Place 3/4 cup polenta in each of 4 shallow bowls; top each serving with 3/4 cup chicken mixture.

Hamburger Steak with Onion gravy  (Ckng Lght, Nov 2017)
This is a major departure for me from my my usual recipes in that I made something with beef (not a fan).   I also departed from the recipe a bit by using tater tots instead of mashed potatoes - I had a bag in the freezer from a different dish that didn't get made and wanted to use them up.  Mmm...tater tots! 

I did use pasture raised beef, but venison or buffalo would also be quite tasty in this.  I added some garlic salt and onion power to the meat before cooking.   I'll say, this was actually quite tasty (I'm sure it was because of the tater tots).   I did have to thicken the gravy a bit more - I like mine thick - but the overall flavors really complemented everything nicely.  I would consider making this again.    

Serve with mashed potatoes and haricote verts.

Step 1  Divide beef into 4 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Sprinkle patties evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; swirl to coat. Add patties; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned; remove from pan.
Step 2  Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add vertically sliced onion; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned and tender. Sprinkle onion with flour; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add stock and remaining salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Return patties to pan; reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and cook 5 minutes or until gravy is slightly thickened. Sprinkle with green onions, if desired.

Quinoa and Roasted Pepper Chili  (Ckng Lght, Nov 2017)  vegetarian, gluten free, SPICY
 Interesting!  As I was cut and pasting from the Cooking Light website, I was wondering where the chili in adobo sauce went.  I pulled out my magazine and noted where was in the paper version, but it's missing from online.  Not sure which is correct.  I would say, if you DON'T like heat, skip it!

I also dropped the amount of chili powder because mine is Penzey's "Medium-Hot" and we definitely taste it.  I also used the whole can of vegetable juice (V-8) because we don't drink it and the chili seemed too thick without it.

This was a weeknight meal for us and it came together in about 45 minutes.  I liked the flavors of this, use your favorite chili beans or add and extra can.   Adjust the heat to your tastebuds or the little tastebuds in your house.   Recommended

photo from
2 poblano chiles
4 teaspoons olive oil
3 cups chopped zucchini
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder  (I used 1/2 tbsp because mine is "medium hot")
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
Magazine recipe had 1 tbsp chopped chipolte chili in adobo sauce here.
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes with chipotles, undrained
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup low-sodium vegetable juice  (I used the whole can)

1) Cut bell peppers and chiles in half lengthwise; discard seeds and membranes. Place halves, skin sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet, and flatten with hand. Broil 10 minutes or until blackened. Place in a paper bag; fold to close tightly. Let stand 10 minutes. Peel and coarsely chop.

2) Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add zucchini, onion, and garlic; sauté 4 minutes. Stir in chili powder, cumin, and paprika; sauté for 30 seconds. Add roasted peppers and chiles, 1/2 cup water, and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until quinoa is tender.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Recipe Review from 11/27/2017

I started out strong in the meal department this week, but with something going on nearly every night, my energy levels petered out by the time I hit Friday.   Pasty's are a standby for busy nights, just the frozen meat filled pastry into the oven, set oven to 350* and walk away for an hour.   Then I make some gravy and dinner is served. 

Next weeks meal plan is a bit more robust. 

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L) leftover SW Chicken Skillet (S) leftover turkey dinner
Sun (L) leftover turkey dinner (S) leftover Smokey Lentil Stew
Mon (yoga/bkgrp/Legion)  leftovers
Tues (CISMA mgt) - Roasted veggies and sausage   Brats and beans

Wed (I was out) leftover brats
Thurs (yoga)  pasty with gravy
Fri - take n bake pizza

Lunches - Chicken Wild Rice Soup

Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup  (Ckng Lght, Oct 2017)  **gluten free option
After simmering down the turkey carcass for stock, I used the leftover meat in this dish below.  Silly Cooking Light, suggesting rotisserie chicken during Turkey month - at only 6oz (which approximately the amount that will fit in my rubbermaid sandwich container) it's not worth purchasing a 4lb chicken.

This comes together very quickly, it's a tich on the bland side (which is entirely okay!), and can be made gluten free by subbing you're preferred thickener.  Or skip the flour and flour options entirely.  Also of note, I did NOT use pre-packaged, pre-cooked wild rice, but cooked my own from scratch while assembling the rest of the dish.

I would make this again!  Recommended. 
5 bacon slices, chopped   (I skipped)
1 cup chopped onion1 cup thinly sliced carrot
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 (8-oz.) package presliced cremini mushrooms
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 cup water
4 cups lightly packed chopped curly kale
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 (8-oz.) package precooked wild rice (such as Simply Balanced)  (I made my own)
1 cup half-and-half
1 1/2 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1/3 cup)

1.  Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high. Add bacon to pan; cook 4 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings. Add onion, carrot, and celery to drippings in pan; sauté 3 minutes. Add thyme, mushrooms, and garlic; sauté 5 minutes. Add stock and 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add kale, salt, and pepper; cook 3 minutes. Stir in chicken and rice.
2.  Combine half-and-half and flour in bowl, stirring with a whisk. Stir into soup; cook 2 minutes or until thickened. Top with bacon.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey

The Shell CollectorThe Shell Collector by Hugh Howey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  The ocean is dying. The sea is growing warmer and is gradually rising. Seashells have become so rare that collecting them is now a national obsession. Flawless specimens sell like priceless works of art. Families hunt the tideline in the dark of night with flashlights. Crowds gather on beaches at the lowest of tides, hoping to get lucky.

Supreme among these collectors is Ness Wilde, CEO of Ocean Oil. Ness owns many of the best beaches, and he keeps them to himself. It's his fault the world turned out this way. And I aim to destroy him.

My name is Maya Walsh. You might be familiar with my shelling column in the Times. I was working on a series of pieces about Mr. Wilde, when out of the blue, he called. He says he wants to talk. But I don't think he's going to like what I have to say.

Read for book group.

This began with an interesting, if not somewhat popular, premise of the effects of climate change. The oceans have risen, life in New York City and else where is inexplicably altered, sea life has disappeared. Shells are prized by collectors, even shards, and the price of a perfect shell can run into the millions. When three perfect specimens cross Maya's desk, she knows she now has the means and the method to take down the richest family for having destroyed the world in their pursuit of oil.

This is a story about assumptions and appearances. It's about being the judge, jury and executioner. And it's a story about getting things wrong.

This started out with a strong plot based on the effects of climate changed and how one family brought about the worlds demise by drilling relentlessly for oil. A bit contrived perhaps, as climate is a rather complicated aspect. But, since this is hot topic in the news and at work, I found the relevance of interest.

Then somewhere along the way, it turned into a romance.

What the heck.

What happened to my climate change exploration?

It got boinked in a submarine is what happened.

Okay, shifting gears a bit. It was a decent romance, with the usual hints and allegations and angsty moments. I never really did warm up to Maya, she just kinda grated on my nerves and I can't exactly say why. I liked Ness and his daughter Holly, both straddling the line between being a adolescent and an adult. Money will do that to a person.

And I liked the resolution at the end, it was fitting for where the book started and what it ended up being. Ultimately, an enjoyable enough read, not what I thought it would be, but good enough that I would read more of this author (and yes, Wool Trilogy is on my list).

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Monday, November 27, 2017

Recipe Review from 11/20/2017

Since we returned from Texas on a Saturday, I had Sunday to catch up on grocery shopping and meal planning.  Prepped three meals in anticipation of a short and busy week.  The tomato soup is a repeat of a recipe I made here, this time omitting the basil completely.  Still a favorite for ease of prep and taste! 

No new recipes for Thanksgiving; it was a "keep things simple" theme with roast turkey, roasted vegetables (butternut squash, brussel sprouts, potatoes and onion), dressing, cranberry relish and gravy.  

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L)  tomato soup  (S)  Smokey Lentil Stew
Mon (yoga)  leftover soup
Tues - leftover stew
Wed - leftover stew
Thurs - Turkey Day!
Fri - leftovers

Smokey Lentil Stew  (Ckng Lght, Nov 2017)  vegetarian, vegan option
Easy easy to prepare with great flavor!  It's not "smokey" as compared to say smoked BBQ, or smoked fish, but it has a depth of flavor that is just enjoyable.   This turns more casserole like as the beans continue to absorb the liquid when stored in the fridge.  I did get three dinners out of one dish,  cooking the eggs with each pot rather than all at once.

Cooking Light's blurb:  Dried brown lentils are nutrient-packed, inexpensive, and quick-cooking, making this low-fuss stew perfect for a hearty weeknight dinner. A wealth of aromatics joins forces with smoked spices and tomato paste to create a fragrant broth with a smoky edge. The crowning jewels of this one-pot vegetarian meal are the poached eggs, which cook beautifully in the steaming-hot pot of lentils. Be prepared: You will want crusty bread to dip into the runny egg yolks and sop up the remains.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
photo from
1 cup chopped carrots
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped (about 5 cups)
1 1/2 cups dried brown lentils
4 cups unsalted vegetable stock
2 1/2 cups water
5 large eggs**  Can easily be omitted

1)  Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium. Add onion and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, smoked paprika, cumin, salt, black pepper, and red pepper; cook 1 minute. Add kale and lentils; cook, stirring often, until kale begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add stock and 2 1/2 cups water; increase heat to high. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.

2) Form 5 indentations in soup. Crack eggs, 1 at a time, into a small custard cup. Gently slip 1 egg into each indentation. Cover and cook over medium-low until egg whites are set, about 6 to 8 minutes. 

Southwest Chicken Skillet (Budget Bytes Blog) gluten free
I had leftover shredded chicken, I had two open bags of rice, I had salsa.  All I needed as a can of beans and I had lunches for the week!   This is pretty versatile, add some extra seasonings such a cumin or oregano, serve in a bowl or a wrap, top with your favorite Tex-Mex toppings. 
photo from Budget Bytes
Both the Husband and I noted this comes out a bit dry, so something like sour cream or salsa might be needed.  Or add a splash of water if just reheating in a bowl. 

1 cup uncooked long grain white rice* (do not sub brown rice)
1 cup salsa
1.5-2 cups precooked shredded chicken** 
15 oz. can black beans (I used pinto)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 cup shredded cheese 
2-3 green onions, sliced 

1) In a large skillet (I used a large pot), combine the rice, salsa, chicken, black beans (drained), chili powder, and chicken broth. Stir until everything is evenly combined.

2) Place a tight fitting lid on the skillet, turn the heat on to high, and let the skillet come to a full boil. As soon as the skillet comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Make sure it is simmering the entire time, turning the heat up slightly if needed (you should be able to hear it simmer quietly).

3) After 15 minutes, turn off the heat, and let it rest with the lid in place for 5 more minutes. Finally, remove the lid, and fluff the mixture with a fork. All of the liquid should be absorbed and the rice should be tender. Sprinkle 1 cup of shredded cheese over top, replace the lid, and let it sit for a few minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Meanwhile, slice the green onions. Sprinkle the green onions over the melted cheese and serve hot. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Private: Royals by James Patterson and Rees Jones (Private #12.5)

Private Royals (Private, #12.5)Private Royals by James Patterson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: James Patterson’s BookShots. Short, fast-paced, high-impact entertainment.

Jack Morgan is visiting Peter Knight and the team in the London branch of his investigation agency, Private.

At a cocktail party the night before the Trooping the Colour parade for the Queen’s 90th birthday, Jack receives a phone call from the Duke of Aldershot saying that his daughter, Abbie, has been kidnapped. He needs Private on the case – one word to the police and Abbie will be killed.

Jack will have to find Abbie before 11:00 a.m. the next morning, or the kidnapping will turn to murder.

Read this as an audio book.

This is definitely a short, faced paced book - all of three disks.

In a nutshell, Morgan is back in London to visit Peter and perhaps catch some of the Queen's Birthday celebrations. When Peter receives a call that the Duke of Aldershot's daughter has been kidnapped and her body guard is killed, everything goes pear-shaped for Private.

This read a bit like fan fiction. I would have liked to have seen a bit more to the plot because there were some leaps the characters were taking that left me going "Huh?". Granted, at three disks (roughly 125 pages) I know I shouldn't expect a lot, but it would have helped.

Plot is pretty basic and you know who's the antagonist almost right from the start. Which had me rolling my eyes a bit when Morgan is lamenting, "We've been deceived!" You never looked for the body.

I did enjoy the dual narrators so characters and accents stayed true. That can make a big difference when a book is being listened to.

In a nutshell, this was perfect for traveling, light on substance and big on entertainment. Not the best written in the Private series, but fun to revisit previous characters and (hopefully) be introduced to some new ones. Recommended if you've been reading the Private series.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Texas 2017

Last week found the Husband and I on yet another adventure:  Texas Hill Country!


The Theme:  BBQ!  Based off of this online article:   18 Texas BBQ Joints to Try Before You Die
Destinations:  Canyon Lake, San Antonio, Llano, Wemberly, Driftwood, Austin, and Lockhart.

Saturday - Departure Day!  After a bit of a rough start Saturday morning, where I woke up at 3a only to find that our flight out of Duluth was cancelled, which meant we would completely miss our connecting flight in Minneapolis, and thus our Noon arrival in San Antonio.   Argh!  It was a weather related delay, the ticket agent was most accommodating, and we (and the luggage!) did make it to San Antonio by 830p Saturday night, and the Canyon Lake Resort by 10pm.  As long as we were on the ground in Texas, WITH the luggage, I was satisfied.

Sunday - get our bearings day/hang out.  We went and got a handful of groceries and settled in to watch a bit of football.  Not very exciting, I know, but after a day like Saturday, we desperately needed it.

Monday - San Antonio was the destination.  Weather was a beautiful 78* and sunny.  We strolled around the Alamo, lunch outside on the Riverwalk, and then went and walked around the oldest of the Missions - San Juan Capistrano.  That brought us up to about 330p, where we called it a day and we headed back to Canyon Lake to miss the heaviest of rush hour.

San Juan Mission, San Antonio

Tuesday - was a scheduled "down day" and the destination was Llano.   We stopped at a great winery near Johnson called Texas Hills Vineyard where we found out the owner is originally from White Bear Lake, MN, and her brother still lives there.   Neat!   This was by and far, our favorite winery.

Anyhow, Llano has the the #3 ranked BBQ joint in Texas: Coopers BBQ Pit.   It was a true Texas BBQ joint, complete with all the pit smokers outside.  You pick your meat of choice from a guy outside, he puts it on a tray and then you go in and get your sides.  What shocked us, was for being an unassuming, rough around the edges place, how expensive it was.   I got four pork ribs, D picked beef ribs and a little piece of brisket, two small sides of mac and cheese and blackberry cobbler - $75.00.  My four ribs alone were $21.  YIKES!   Talk about a shocker!  We did bring back leftovers that became supper, which helped, but still, NOT an inexpensive place.  We also learned that while the meat looks small in the cooker, once it's on your place, it's grown exponentially and now it's HUGE, which is how we ended up with leftovers.

More wandering around Hill Country, stopped at Driftwood Estate Winery and we eventually made our way back to Canyon Lake.

Driftwoods Vineyards
Wednesday - I had Austin on the agenda, but we never made it.  We ran out of energy and scaled back our plans.  Bottom line, neither of us wanted to drive into Austin which isn't that far from where we ate lunch in Driftwood - but it still would have been 35 minutes and then several hours at the Library, and an hour drive home and we just didn't have the umph.  LBJ Library can be another trip.

So we crawled around Wemberly, we ate lunch at another fabulous BBQ joint in Driftwood called  The Salt Lick,  went to Duchman Family Winery where we enjoyed a glass of wine while playing a toss the bean bag game, stopped at a yarn store in Wemberly on the way back so I could get a skein of yarn wound (which I forgot to do before I left Duluth ARGH!) back to Canyon Lake and a soak in the hot tub.  Gotta love 75* in November!  
Boots! at Wemberly

Thursday - Lockhart and Black's BBQ was Thursday's destination!  Blacks was #1 ranked BBQ joint in Texas according to that on-line article we were working off of.  This was good, really good.  From Lockhart we went to McKinney Falls State Park just outside of Austin and crawled around the rock formations.  Feeling a bit parched in the 80* temps, we stopped at Middleton Brewing on the way back.   While their names are witty and they've one a few medals, neither one of us cared for their beer.  A bit to hoppy and bitter for our tastes. 

Lower Falls - McKinney State Park, Austin

Bouldering Rocks and evidence of El Camino Real de los Tejas

Friday - pack-up and clean-up day!  We hung around the resort until about 430p in the afternoon, then loaded up the car and headed to Gruene (pronounced "Green") and the Gristmill.  After some initial apprehension about getting into the restaurant due to the shear number of cars and people, we had no problems.  Oh my GOSH!  What a great way to wrap up a week!  Sitting outside while the sun set, enjoying a fantastic meal, was just splendid.   Unfortunately, it was too dark to get any good pictures. 
Afterwards, we slowly made our way to San Antonio in backed up traffic (accident and construction), a brief moment of tempers flaring as we attempted to navigate the whole airport interchange and poorly marked exits, we made it to the hotel.   

Saturday was a 3am start, to give us time to return the rental car, catch the shuttle, deal with the check luggage counter, airport security and EVERYTHING went absolutely smoothly.  Plan was early into Minneapolis saving us a mad mad dash across the terminals.  Flight into Duluth was smooth, our ride was waiting and we were home by Noon. 

When we left at 3a, it was 69*.  When we landed at 11a, it was 8*.  

I miss Texas already...

Wemberly, TX

Monday, November 13, 2017

Recipe Review from 11/6/2017

By the time your reading this, I'm off on new adventures!  Come back next Monday and see what fun things I'm up to now! 

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L) grilled cheese and soup  (S) pizza
Sun (L) Red Beans and Rice  (S) Posole and corn bread
Mon (yoga) leftover Posole
Tues - leftover Posole
Wed (PIE training in Brooklyn Center)  leftovers
Thurs (yoga/Obedience training) - leftovers
Fri (off/furnace service) 

Red Beans and Rice (Ckng Lght, Oct 2017)  gluten free
I do love a good Cajun/Creole inspired dish...except for the kidney beans.  Not a fan of kidney beans.  But!  Lots of other good beans I can substitute.  I went with Great Northern, and made a big batch.  I admit, I over cooked them - I did the brine/pre-soak as suggested by Cooks Illustrated, then slow cooked for about 6-7 hours.  When I tasted about hour 5, they were a tich crunchy.  So I thought another hour or so would be good and whoops!  Overdone.  Oh well, still usable.  You could also sub two cans of beans instead of cooking from dried.

Everything else comes together in a jiffy.  I recommend serving with hot sauce or siracha if you like a bit more heat. 
Photo from

8 ounces andouille chicken sausage links, halved lengthwise and sliced
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 cup sliced carrot
10 garlic cloves, chopped
3 cups cooked red kidney beans, rinsed, drained, and divided (see Master Dried Beans)
**I used great northern beans
3/4 cup unsalted chicken stock
3/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 cups hot cooked brown rice

Step 1) Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add sausage; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in onion, celery, bell pepper, carrot, and garlic; cook 8 minutes.

Step 2) Mash 1/2 cup beans with a fork. Add mashed beans, remaining 2 1/2 cups beans, stock, and ground red pepper to sausage mixture in pan. Bring to a simmer; cook 8 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1/4 cup parsley and vinegar.

Step 3) Divide rice among 6 bowls; top evenly with bean mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup parsley.

Easy Pork Posole (Ckng Lght, Nov 2017) gluten free
Easy peasy indeed!  This was super tasty, can be made and served in about 40 minutes from chopping to serving, and is great for a chilly Fall or Winter evening.  I loved the flavors in this - the ancho and oregano flavorful but not spicy.  The quinoa was a neat addition, thickening the soup quite nicely and an extra protein hit.  I LOVE hominy!  What more can I say other than...


Oh, and I served this with a side of warm cornbread slathered in butter and honey.  Mmm...

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground pork
photo from

1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 (14.5-oz.) can unsalted diced tomatoes
1 (25-oz.) can white hominy, rinsed and drained
5 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
1/2 cup uncooked tricolor quinoa
6 tablespoons queso fresco, crumbled
1/3 cup shaved radishes
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves

Step 1) Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium. Add pork; cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add onion, garlic, oregano, ancho chile powder, salt, and pepper; cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add bay leaf, tomatoes, hominy, stock, and quinoa; increase heat to high. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, covered, until quinoa is cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. 
Step 2) Discard bay leaf. Ladle soup into 6 bowls; top evenly with queso fresco, radishes, and cilantro.

Coming back to add...oh my gosh, this would be PERFECT for my office SOUP-er Bowl Cookoff!


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Hour Game by David Baldacci (Sean and Michelle #2)

Hour Game (Sean King & Michelle Maxwell, #2)Hour Game by David Baldacci

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  He's copying famous serial killers.
And the HOUR GAME has just begun...

A woman is found murdered in the woods. It seems like a simple case but it soon escalates into a terrible nightmare. Someone is replicating the killing styles of the most infamous murderers of all time. No one knows this criminal's motives...or who will die next.

Two ex-Secret Service agents, Sean King and Michelle Maxwell, have been hired to defend a man's innocence in a burglary involving an aristocratic family. Then a series of secrets leads the partners right into the frantic hunt that is confounding even the FBI. Now King and Maxwell are playing the Hour Game, uncovering one horrifying revelation after another and putting their lives in danger. For the closer they get to the truth, the closer they get to the most shocking surprise of all.

Read as an audio book.

Premise of the book is Sean and Michelle are faced with two challenging mysteries. One is the serial killer who is methodically murdering people and noting the time on a watch and each victim represents another infamous serial killer. As the body count slowly grows and they closer to figuring out who's behind this, tempers begin to fray. The second mystery is who stole from Remi and Bobbly Battle's secret compartments, and where did the items go? Remi wants her things returned pronto, and has indicated she is willing to kill to get them back.

I have very mixed thoughts on this book. The two interwoven mysteries don't leave any room for guessing and supposition. You would think this would lend itself to a book that just flew by, but I confess, it was moments of excitement followed by tedium where I started to debate if I wanted to start skipping a bit. Which is a bit surprising given just how much was going on in this book.

And speaking of skipping, I've noted before *I'm* not a fan of knowing what the antagonist is doing. John Sandford is another author that does this and it's just not a technique I enjoy. I did start punching the fast forward button when "The Man" was plotting, planning, and killing. Not my cuppa tea.

The other plot devise I am not a fan of is the multiple endings - and this applies to books AND movies. One ending, thank you very much. I lost count of the endings in this one...granted, numerous plots to wrap up, but end it, don't drag things out.

I did think the FBI came across as egotistical and stuffy, and as seen through Sean's eyes, rather stupid. Which they are not, and I do get tired of law enforcement being portrayed as idiots in mystery books.

So, I enjoyed the book because I really like Sean and Michelle's characters. Even in book two, I'm still not getting any overt sexual tension of a future romance to come (even though I know what eventually happens because I did read book #5 first...). They work well together, their characters balance each other out, they fight and bicker, and they have unequivocally have each other's backs. I really like that balance and partnership. Very refreshing.

Ultimately, when everything was said and done and all threads were played it, it was a decent book. I'll read the next one.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Recipe Review from 10/30/2017

Another couple of slow weeks.  Previously, the Husband "smoked"/cooked an 8lb pork roast with a side of mashed rutabegas, which for two people is a lot.  So it was pork leftovers for the duration of the week, and he finished off the remainder in sandwiches this past week.

Then winter came and slapped us upside the head with a very blustery snow and wind storm a week ago Friday.  The winds started somewhere up in Ontario, came rip-snorting across Lake Superior, and washed out the portions of the Lakewalk, the road on Brighton Beach, flooded businesses and homes in Canal Parkand Park Point, dumped 9-10" of snow in the higher elevations of Duluth and rain in Superior.  Yes, snow in MN, rain in WI, right across the border.  Gotta love what that Lake can do!

And I made a few new dishes. 

Sat (L) leftover pork  (S)  pizza
Sun (L) leftover pizza  (S) Quick Texas Chili
Mon (yoga) leftover chili
Tues (Chili Cook-off at work)  Tumeric Chicken and Chickpea Soup
Wed (Obedience class) leftover soup
Thurs (yoga) leftovers soup
Fri (yoga)

Slow cooked 15 Bean Soup (modified from ATK Slow Cooker Revolution). First reviewed the recipe here.    gluten free, vegetarian option**

I made this back in March and really enjoyed it.  Though the first time around I forgot to add the Swiss Chard and tomatoes.  Says something about a dish when you can miss two ingredients and it still turns out great!   This time I omitted the bacon and added kale and the tomatoes.  DELISH!

This is so easy to make - chop, plop, and walk away for 9 hour or so.  IF you have time in the morning, it would be perfect for after work or weekend activities.  I made this for lunches for the week and it just kept getting better each day.  Recommended!

1 onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
12 ounces cremini mushroom2, de-stemmed, cleaned and quartered
8 oz 15-bean soup mix, flavoring packet discarded, beans picked over, and salt soaked
4 oz bacon (about 4 slices)**
1 oz dried shitake mushrooms, chopped (recipe called for porcini, my stores don't carry porcini so I subbed and used the whole package)
2 bay leaves
8 oz Swiss Chard lactino kale, stemmed and leaves sliced
1 (14.5 Oz) can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped  diced tomatoes

1. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Coat with cooking spray/oil of choice.  Add onion, garlic, and thyme and cook until onion is just softened.  Transfer to slow cooker.

2. Stir broth, mushrooms, soaked beans bacon, dried mushrooms 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.  Let soup settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from surface using a large spoon.  Remove bacon and bay leaves.

4. Stir in Chard and tomatoes, cover and cook on high until chard is tender, 20-30 minutes more.  Season to taste and serve. 

Quick Texas Chili  (Ckng Lght, Sept 2017)  gluten free option**
Don't be put off by the ingredient list, it's mostly spices and seasonings.  The only chopping is the steak.   I did add a can of chickpeas because my steak was smaller than the 12oz called for, and the chili was a bit soupy without something added.  And chickpeas because that's what I had on hand.

This can be flavorful without being "hot" if you need to adjust for little or sensitive tastebuds.  Just use a milder chili powder and omit or reduce the ground red pepper.

And this is one time where yes, this actually came together in about 30 minutes.  Good for a weeknight dinner!  

photo from
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
12 ounces flank steak, cut into 3/4-in. pieces
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour** 
2 tablespoons unsalted tomato paste
1 tablespoon molasses
2 cups unsalted beef stock
1/2 cup dark beer
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium Worcestershire sauce
**I added 1 can of chickpeas

2 cups hot cooked brown rice
1/4 cup light sour cream
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup sliced radishes
4 lime wedges

Step 1 - Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil and the next 6 ingredients (through oregano) in a microwave-safe bowl; microwave at high 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds.

Step 2 - Sprinkle steak with 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss with flour. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high. Add steak; cook 6 minutes. Add spice mixture; cook 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and molasses; cook 3 minutes. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, stock, beer, and Worcestershire. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.

Step 3 - Divide rice and chili among 4 bowls. Top evenly with sour cream, onions, and radishes; serve with lime wedges.

Tumeric Chicken and Chickpea Soup  (Ckng Lght, Nov 2017)  gluten free
Another easy peasy soup, that can be simplified even more if you have some leftover rotisserie or baked chicken on hand!  Which I did!  If you have some shredded chicken ready to go, just skip to Step 2.  

I actually didn't make any alterations to this dish (other than the pre-cooked shredded chicken).  While this was flavorful, it seemed to be lacking something.  Maybe some cilantro instead of basil?  More basil?  Cumin?  I dunno.  

Anyhoo, recipe notes about 50 minutes to make this dish as written, 30 minutes if you have cooked chicken on hand.   Great for these chilly Fall evenings we've been having up here.  Recommended.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
photo from

1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped onion
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
2 (15-oz.) cans unsalted chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup canned light coconut milk
1/2 cup torn fresh basil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Step 1 - Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high. Season chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Transfer to a plate.
Step 2 - Reduce heat to medium. Add bell pepper and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add turmeric, ginger, garlic, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook 1 minute. Add stock and chickpeas. Return chicken to pot; increase heat to high. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
Step 3 - Place chicken on a cutting board, and use two forks to shred; return to pot. Stir in coconut milk, basil, and lime juice; cook 5 minutes.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Zero World by Jason M. Hough

Zero WorldZero World by Jason M. Hough

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Published in rapid succession, Jason M. Hough’s first three novels, The Darwin Elevator, The Exodus Towers, and The Plague Forge, earned mountains of praise and comparisons to such authors as James S. A. Corey and John Scalzi. Now Hough returns with a riveting near-future spy thriller that combines the adrenaline of a high-octane James Bond adventure with mind-blowing sci-fi speculations worthy of Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Technologically enhanced superspy Peter Caswell has been dispatched on a top-secret assignment unlike any he’s ever faced. A spaceship that vanished years ago has been found, along with the bodies of its murdered crew—save one. Peter’s mission is to find the missing crew member, who fled through what appears to be a tear in the fabric of space. Beyond this mysterious doorway lies an even more confounding reality: a world that seems to be Earth’s twin.

Peter discovers that this mirrored world is indeed different from his home, and far more dangerous. Cut off from all support, and with only days to complete his operation, Peter must track his quarry alone on an alien world. But he’s unprepared for what awaits on the planet’s surface, where his skills will be put to the ultimate test—and everything he knows about the universe will be challenged in ways he never could have imagined.

October's book group book.

Premise of the book is Peter Caswell is a secret agent who never remembers his missions. He knows he assassinates people, he has a body count, but the specific missions are wiped from his memory shortly after completion. Memory wipes are painful and disorientating. After Peter's most recent assignment, his handler contacts him with a Priority job and he's shuttled off into space to investigate a salvage crew who stumbles upon something much, much bigger than mere junk: a weapons research vessel. Next breath Peter finds himself elimiating the salvage crew and being shunted down some kind of worm hole to a Earth-like planet. His mission - kill the only survivor of the research vessel. Easy for someone like Peter, except when it's not...

This was a fun read. That being said, there were some parts that just flew by, and a couple spots were the plot kinda dragged. When we discussed this at book group, all of us had some concern with the shear number of day's Peter went without eating or drinking. We liked how the different earths had different bacteria's that prevented Peter consuming food, but for the amount of activity he was doing we all questioned the biology of it. And that was taking his implants ability into account.

Melni was an interesting character and refreshingly, NOT a love interest. She could stand her own ground and did with gusto. She was a great way to visualize and show how the two planets were different: language, customs, politics, geography and more.

The little twists and turns, which I shan't elaborate upon here to avoid spoilers, were, in my humble opinion, quite delightful. A couple things I didn't see coming which made the plot all that much more enjoyable.

Ultimately, a solid scifi story that had a couple of questionable aspects but not enough to detract from the overall fun.

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