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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows by JK Rowling

I wasn’t sure if I should even review this. I mean, really, everybody and their second, third and fourth cousins, mothers, fathers, siblings and friends, have read this book. But, I thought about it and decided I should because it is a book I read this year.

So. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. First off, I still don’t care for the title. Hallows in the book refers to three very magical items that when brought together will cheat Death. I kept thinking that Hallows meant a place, such as Godrick's Hollow, not a bunch of trinkets to be found.

Anyway, that was my major gripe with the book. Like the majority of opinions I have read on this topic, I felt this was possibly Rowlings best book yet. Though Potter and the Goblet of Fire was pretty darn good too. I thought Rowling had some nice plot surprises, she tied off several loose ends very satisfactorily, and overall it was very well written, keeping the reader engaged and interested all the way through (unlike several other books I have read lately).

Let’s see, what else. Well, I also liked how the Professor Snape conundrum was resolved, I liked how the final battle was played out and I liked how she brought back the house elves. I didn’t like the "great quest" bit in the middle (Harry, Hermonie and Ron go on a quest to find the horcruxes and they spend months wandering around from place to place), I didn’t like the lack of emotion (with the exception of Dobby) when people were bumped off - I just kind of shrugged and thought, eh, another one gone - and I really didn’t like the "17 years later" at the end. Too pat. Didn’t work for me. I can understand the need to "wrap things up" so there wouldn’t be speculation about another book or pirated copies that sort of thing, but it...wasn’t quite right somehow.

So there it is. I read the series along with the rest of the world and ya know, overall, it was a pretty good story.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Recipe Review 8/27/07

I made two really good recipes this past week in between yoga classes, errands and one work get-together. The bar recipe was actually for the work group - it’s gluten free as one fellow has a gluten allergy and I like to make sure he has something appropriate.

Lentils with Chickpeas and Couscous (Vegetarian Times ala Culinary in the Country) 8
This was really good. A lot happens all at the same time, but here’s how it all came together: a pot of French lentils cooks for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, couscous prepped with a ½ cup of golden raisins and set aside. Then onions and carrots are sauteed in a bit of olive oil and combined with chipolte salsa (yes, salsa from a jar!), tomato paste, cumin, and cilantro. These last four items were supposed to be processed together in a food processor, but I thought that was silly and just put them all in the pan. To this is added the chickpeas and the mixture simmers for about 10 minutes. The lentils are added last of all.

This was spicy flavorful, but not in an eyeball sweating kind of way. The couscous mixture adds an almost sweet counterpoint to the curry sauce. I will be making this again.

Gluten Free Seven Layer Bars (from a co-worker; source unknown) 8
Wow, oh wow. These are the farthest thing from a "light" recipe as you can get...well, almost. I did use low-fat sweetened condensed milk. Rich, gooey, sweet, and utterly decadent. Good for group gatherings. It’s pretty simple - melted butter, rice Krispies, coconut, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, Heath bar chips, sweetened condensed milk, walnuts (I’m sure it’s the nuts that make these healthy...). The directions weren’t very clear on when I was supposed to add the melted butter, so I just poured it over the top just before adding the sweetened condensed milk. I think it would have been better poured after the coconut layer, but they still turned out fantastic anyway.

What little leftovers remained when home with a very happy co-worker.

And further follow up in the pantry reduction department:
  • regular couscous - went into the Lentils and Chickpea curry above
  • "heart healthy" bisquick - went into my first batch of waffles! I would have prefered to make some homemade, whole grain variety, but I am sticking to my intent of reducing extra pantry stuff. I froze 4 waffles for quick breakfasts for later.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pantry Reduction, Continued

Back in May I did a month (a month and a half actually) of "pantry reduction" with the intent of cleaning out some of the various accumulated foodstuffs. I am happy to report back that I am still working on this. Bit by bit the freezer and dry foods drawer is getting cleaned out. But boy, it sure is a slow process!

I haven’t made much - *ahem* read nothing - new lately to post about, so I thought I would touch on what I’ve managed to use up.

1 pkg lake trout (caught and vacuum sealed Fall 05). I planked this on a cedar board with fresh oregano from the garden. The Husband was just happy to eat the fish. I don’t care for Lake Superior Lake trout so I had salmon.

Homemade ravioli’s. I made a rather large batch of these last summer (forgetting to add the marscapone cheese) and it’s been slow going working my way through them. I bought a jar of Barilla spaghetti sauce and added fresh garden zucchini and some sliced mushrooms to make it a chunky sauce.

Tropical Banana Cream Muffins; recipe was from Culinary in the Country and I made it late Spring. I shouldn't have let these sit so long in the freezer as the last couple tasted a bit stale.


And now for something completely different - I did try something new: I froze grapes! Ooo, are these seductive tasty little buggers. I bought a batch of red grapes, washed and patted dry and placed on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. I inadvertently forgot about them so they sat in the freezer for about 4 days. No harm done. I have been reading that frozen grapes were good - yes, yes they are.

And, in the gadget department, I finally (being the last person in the States to do so) bought my household a waffle maker! I found a small Cuisinart Belgian waffle maker at Cooks on Crocus, Grand Ave, St. Paul for $20.00! Perfect for my budget and my storage room. No waffles have been made yet though. I'm hoping I will have time this weekend. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 20, 2007

I heart Uncle Hugos

This weekend brought a whirlwind trip to the Cities with the Hubby. It started back in June or July when my Bro invited us to a baseball game on Saturday. It ended up including a Thursday night Minnesota Zephyer dinner train ride, a Friday Morning yoga workshop - for me, not the Hubby, he went to Midwest Brew Supplies while I did flexybendy things; a trip to Grand Ave and my favorite stores and just general hanging out; a Saturday morning yoga workshop, a trip to Uncle Hugos (which is what this post is going to eventually get to) and the baseball game. In between all these adventures we dealt with more road construction than I ever thought possible. When I made my hotel reservations, there was still a 35W bridge. Incredible what can happen in mere weeks. We wiggled through construction on:
  • 694 between Central Ave and Lord Knows Where it Ended
  • 36 is still closed
  • 35w
  • 280 was down to single lanes N & S
  • Lake Ave is still under construction in two spots
  • and I94 was shut down for 3 miles right between 280 and 35W

Urk is all I have to say. But! I did get to ride the lightrail to and from the Twins game. That was fun. Crowded, but fun. I highly recommend it.

But I DID get to go to Uncle Hugos (which is the main objective of my post today) and it was a very successful trip! The books I turned in for store credit equaled $25.00. I picked up 5 used books and the Hubby wanted a new copy of Starship Troopers so we bought that new. Paid $1.00 total for my purchases.

  • The End of the Matter Alan Dean Foster
  • Flinx in Flux Alan Dean Foster
  • Bloodhype Alan Dean Foster
  • 40000 From Gahenna by CJ Cherryh (hardback! $4.oo!)
  • The Boy Who Would Live Forever by Frederick Pohl (recommended at a couple convention panels)
  • and Starship Troopers by Heinlein
  • Black Powder Wars by Naomi Novik (Book III)

Did I mention how much I like Uncle Hugos? :)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds

I wasn’t really looking forward to reading this book so soon after finishing Pushing Ice, but as it was for book group for July’s meeting, I felt I should at least start it. I had about 1/3 of it completed by the meeting.

Dan Sylveste is an archeologist and governing leader on the planet Resugam, except that he is over thrown and spends the next 20 years in luxury confinement working on his archeology projects. Khouri is a ex-soldier who woke up one day from reefer sleep to find herself on a planet far, far away from the war she was fighting in and from her husband. She is now an assassin-for-hire in the game Shadowplay, one of the best.

Khouri is contacted by the Mademoiselle who recruits ger to go kill Dan Sylveste for the secrets he carries with him and for his knowledge about the aliens he has been studying. However, the ship that is carrying her to Resugam wants Dan alive to fix their Captain who caught the Melding Disease and is now kinda growing into his ship. Meanwhile, something called the Sun Stealer has downloaded itself into Khouri's implants and she is waiting for it to do something nasty.

Like Pushing Ice, Reynolds seems to go on and on with his descriptions. Except this time he’s added in flashbacks. Lots of flashbacks. Flashbacks that explain something he explained at least two times before. It grew tedious. The story itself was okay, but it could have been a lot better with out so much extraneous, repetative, description.

At least now I can say that I read something by the GoH for next years Minicon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Recipe Review 8/13/07

Another quiet week recipe wise. We seem to be eating a lot of very simple things and many salads and I’ve already posted about salads. The following dish was very simple to pull together, but used a lot of dishes. I wasn’t real thrilled with the dishes part as it was rather warm out and I didn’t want to be standing in the kitchen any more than I had to. But the meal was very tasty and perfect for the warm weather.

Garden Shrimp Pasta (Ckng Lght, Aug 07, pg 178) 7
Angel hair pasta is tossed with shrimp, tomatoes, oregano and basil and a vinaigrette type dressing in this light dish. I used ½ the shrimp called for (originally 2lbs!) and inadvertently ½ of the tomatoes - I forgot to chop the second one, darn it. I really liked how light and flavorful this dish was and it was just as tasty as leftovers the next day. I served it with the salad below and a bit of crusty bread.

Tossed Salad with Avocado and Cashews (Ckng Lght, Aug 07, pg 234) 7
Avocado in a salad! I never even connected how tasty this would be! This came with a very basic lime and olive oil vinaigrette that was drizzled over lettuce (from the garden) cashews, avocados, tomatoes (my addition) and green onions. Again, very fresh and bright tasting. Perfect for hot weather.

I’m not sure I’m going to have any recipes for next week as the Husband and I are making a run to the Cities for a dinner train and a baseball game. Hopefully the following week I’ll have at least a couple new things to talk about and perhaps it will cool off enough to start baking again!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pushing Ice by Alistair Reynolds

I found this book in the HHH airport when I was flying out for Las Vegas. I already had 5 books with me, so I’m not sure why I needed a 6th. Especially when I hadn’t started the July book groups selection, which just happened to be by the same author.

Pushing Ice starts off with Captain Bella Lind. A moon around Saturn, Janus, has decided to up and leave and her ship is the closest one that can follow it. She puts it to vote amongst her crew, then they go. It’s about here were I begin to question her abilities as a captain: you are either in charge or you are not. What’s with this voting business? Anyway, the follow the ex-moon, and one of her crew members and close friends, Svetlana, who is in charge of the engines (eh, Scotty?) comes to her with the news that the powers that be have no intention of them making it back to safety and that they have fooled around with their gas gauges to make the crew think that they can. Svetlana and Bella argue, and Bella must do what she thinks is in the best interest of the crew. Svetlana loses - poorly, I might add.

They are forced to land on the Janus, which is rapidly moving out of the known solar system, they know they have no chance of ever making it back and their only chance of survival is to establish a colony. Svetlana, still harboring a grudge, exiles Bella to the outer fringes of the habitat and confines her there for the next 13 years. Yes. Bella spends 13 years in solitary confinement while Svetlana builds a colony on Janus that is their only hope of survival.

Enter aliens. They contact the colony (which is now growing and having babies and etc, etc,) with the desire to harvest raw materials from the inside of the ex-moon. Svetlana says yes, and through the aliens they find out that they are in a long tube of time and that something like centuries have passed back on Earth. They think they are being held like specimens in a zoo by some other alien, but they don’t know for sure. Svetlana, still harboring a grudge, is persuaded to let Bella back into the colony, which she grudgingly does with lots of angry complaining.

And Bella somehow ends up back in control. A third alien party is threatening. Svetlana has left the main habitat with her followers and have gone further into the ex-moon. The sky is falling! The sky is falling...!

And I completely lost interest. Reynolds appears to do these very large build ups, then BAM! Everything culminates in the last 50 pages. Except that the first 500 weren’t that interesting. He is long on description, long on repetitive explanations and the characters just weren’t interesting. I couldn’t get over the fact that Bella really couldn’t run a ship with absolute authority, that Svetlana could harbor such a deep grudge so for 15 years, and I also found it implausible that someone could survive solitary confinement on a hostile planet for 13 years.

Needless to say, I didn’t finish this book. And I won't now, since I handed it off to the Husband while he was a Ft. McCoy and the book didn't come home with him. Oh, shuckey darn.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Recipe Review 8/6/07

With so much going on this past week I only had time to make one new recipe and it made a decent amount of leftovers so I didn’t have to worry about finding time to cook. Well, I probably wouldn’t have cooked anyway given how warm and humid it was, plus with all the fresh summer squash and lettuce I have in my garden right now I would have made salads.

But, as usual, I digress from the review!

Falafel Patties with Goat Cheese Sauce (source - Ckng Lght BB??) 8
These were very easy to make and bake. I made the recipe even simpler by using two cans of chickpeas rather than soaking my own. The recipe also called for shredding one WW pita to add to the patties, but I just used some stale-frozen bread crumbs I had on hand so I wouldn’t have to buy a whole package of pitas. It made about 24 - 1"x 1/2" patties, which I placed on a oiled baking sheet and grilled them for 15 minutes flipping once (again, not turning on the oven when it’s 85* outside!).

The goat cheese was blended with yogurt and garlic to make the sauce, and a relish of seeded tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers and seasoning was quickly pulled together. I served everything over a bed of chopped lettuce, using the relish and goat cheese as a dressing of sorts. Overall, this was light and refreshing, and made several lunches and dinners for two when combined with a bit of crusty bread and fruit. My only very minor complaint was the patties were a bit dry and could have benefited from a splash of olive oil during the assembly process.

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