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Friday, November 30, 2007

Forty Thousand in Gahenna by C J Cherryh

Quite some time ago, I read and reviewed Cyteen (a 1989 Hugo winner) and told the book group about it. Chris proceeded to recommend 40,0000 in Gahenna, and after hunting down a used copy at Uncle Hugo’s - it’s out of print - I finally got around to reading it.

The story begins with a select group of humans and 40,000 azi being secretly loaded onto military transports to quietly colonize the planet Gahenna. Scientific survey reports from the planet indicate it is habitable, with the only life forms being the large lizards, dubbed calibans and their smaller counterparts, the aerials. Those who volunteered were briefed about the time schedule for back up supplies and that their mission is to establish a base on the river the scientific team dubbed Styx.

It comes as no surprise to the reader that there is no second supply ship coming, and for all practical purposes, they (and several other similar missions) have been purposely abandoned. In the coming pages, Cherryh divides the book up into generations, so the reader is not following one character, but several characters offspring. What follows is...not what one would expect. The large lizards known as calibans (divided into the browns and the greys) and the smaller aerials play a huge part in the lives of the what become the native Gahennen’s and as the colony is "rediscovered" and observed, they witness things that can’t be explained in any regular scientific book.

I enjoyed this book. It wasn’t as gripping or compelling as Cyteen was, it wasn’t as tedious to read as Downbelow Station, and it was better than the whole Han and Kif books. If you liked Cherryh's works, you'll like this one.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Recipe Review and Pantry Challange!

I trust everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving. For the first time in five years, I did not host the Big Meal. The honors when to the Mother this year as they recently moved into my neighborhood and it made sense to have the Big Meal there. For one, they have the room and the big table, and two, no hounds for my allergy prone sister to deal with.

But that is not to say I haven’t made any new dishes! No! Indeed not! In fact, the Pantry Challenge tied in quite nicely with the many meals made this past weekend.

Pantry Reduction for 11/19/07:
Cranberries from 2004
Pumpkin from 2005 (went in pumpkin pie - already reviewed recipe here)
Goat cheese (expiration date of Nov)
Butternut Squash from the garden (‘07)
(Confession - I did throw away the frozen watermelon cubes and the smelt from 2001. Ew.)

Let’s start with dessert:

Apple-Cranberry Pie (CI Nov/Dec 07, pg 24) 7
I knew I had two packages of vacuum sealed cranberries frozen in the freezer. What I didn’t realize was how old they were! The date (yes, I date things!) was...2004. Ooo...much embarrassment. This pie would be perfect to use up one bag: the cranberries are combined with oj, sugar and spices and brought to a boil and then simmered on the stove until they reach a jelly-like consistency. As they are cooled, peeled apples are combined with arrowroot (my substitution for cornstarch because I was out) and spices and then simmered on the stove till sticky-glazed. Now this was a major departure from the recipe. The recipe had one doing the apples in the microwave, but I don’t own a microwave and had to modify greatly. Later I read the article that accompanied the recipe and they didn’t recommend simmering the apples because it made them mushy. My apples were mushy to begin with, so eh, do what works.

Other than I think I need to start pre-baking my bottom crusts, reports were very favorable toward this pie. The cranberries added a nice sweet-tart counter point to the apples. I would make this again. Very festive.

Glazed Brussel Sprouts (Duluth News Trib, Wed, Nov 14, Taste Section) 5
This sounded really good, but I confess I managed to screw this recipe up. First, I cut the butter in half, but forgot to cut the brown sugar in half as well. Glaze ended up very runny. Then I over cooked the sprouts. I think this would have been really good if I had paid more attention to my cooking and less to cleaning up dishes.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallots (Fine Cooking, Nov 07) 8
I’ve made similar squash dishes and they don’t get much easier than this. Peel and cube a butternut squash. Peel and quarter four shallots. Toss with extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and crushed fresh rosemary. Bake. Eat. Yum!

However, the best dish of the weekend wasn’t even a turkey dish! This dish was fantastic and has now become my favorite BBQ Beef recipe:

Barbeque Beef Subs (Everyday with Rachel Ray, Dec/Jan, pg 60) 9
First, I did greatly modify the recipe to make it in the crockpot rather than on the stove top. As the recipe directed, I did cube the beef into 2" chunks and browned them on the stove before putting them in the crock pot. I deglazed the pan with some beer (water or beef stock would also work) and added the liquid to the beef. Cover and cook for 8 hours on low.

Meanwhile, combine ketchup, cider vinegar, brown mustard and brown sugar, and warm to blend the flavors. Refrigerate till later. When the beef is done, drain and shred. Add pre-prepared sauce and re-heat. Now here is what really made these stand out (beside the sauce), slice and warm a french baguette, add bbq and serve. Oh. My. Goodness. Fantastic.

I served these with broccoli slaw (broccoli slaw, mayo, sour cream, white wine vinegar and crushed red pepper). When I ran out of baguette, I tried some ciabiatta take-and-bake rolls and those were just as yummy. Leftovers were delicious.

One other note - the recipe as written had some quantity issues. It called for 6 lb beef brisket (!) - I bought 3.5 and that was enough for about 4 meals (with two sandwiches apiece). And even though I halved the beef quantity, there wasn’t enough sauce so I had to double the sauce.

And last, but not least:
Squash, Black Bean and Ricotta Tamales (Eating Well, Dec 2007, pg 89) 7
Ole! A bit of prep on the front end, but a very tasty meal on the back end. This was also venturing into new territory for me - tamales - all the corn stalks and wrapping and what not. But with all said and done, I would do it again.

The dough - masa flour, ricotta, corn grits, oil, baking powder and water are mixed together and set aside.

The filling - pureed squash, black beans, canned diced green chilies, and goat cheese.

Corn stalks are soaked until pliable (note - it takes more than 30 minutes as the recipe states). Dough is smeared down, a dollup of filling placed on top and everything carefully rolled and tied into a nice little bundle. Steam for an hour and eat.

I thought they turned out a tich on the dry side, but I am informed that tamales are like that. I served with some steamed asparagus and a nice meal was had by all.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Knitting Project #7 - Elfin Hat

This fall I decided to make the little tykes in my world some knitted hats, so I found myself a book with some hat patterns, obtained the necessary materials and picked a pattern. Then I got sidetracked by all the little pumpkin and squash hats as posted here, so it took me a while to get this one done.

This was a somewhat challenging pattern in that I could not for the life of me figure out how to do a cable-cast on. I still haven’t figured it out, but after ripping the project apart no less than three times (it could have been four) I decided to go with whatever happened. The other thing I decided I wasn’t real wild about, and this comes from my inexperience as a knitter, was the yarn and gauge were waaayyyy to small. The pattern called for 100g of yarn and I know I only used about 25g of it on #3 needles. So this hat isn’t real thick or hefty, but it should be a nice weight to wear under a hood for running to the mall or grocery store.

I don’t think I am going to make anymore of this style - the other tyke’s head has gotten too big and the pattern just didn’t enthuse me enough to want to do it again. I've also been promised some better pictures, so check back later to see the awesome little guy who received this hat!

Yarn: Wisdom Yarns "Chicago" 75% wool/25% nylon; 100g
Gauge: #3
Purchased at: Playing with Yarn
Pattern: Not Just Socks for Kids by Sandi Rosner "Elfin Hat"

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Boy Who Would Live Forever by Frederick Pohl

This book follows many years after Gateway, which I also read many years ago...well, July of 2006 actually. I read Gateway for book group, and we appreciated and enjoyed the concepts and ideas Pohl presented. About the same time (2006 that is) at either Minicon or Worldcon The Boy Who Would Live Forever was brought up at several panels as a "must read" recommendation. I dutifully wrote it down where it remained on paper. It was a recent trip to Uncle Hugo’s where I found a used copy and snatched it off the shelf.

The premise of The Boy brings us back to the Gateway universe. Young Stan talks a cousin into going to Gateway to try their hand at striking it rich. Instead, after returning from their first voyage, they find that the mystery if the "Heechee" has been solved and in fact, they have been discovered. All further trips are henceforth cancelled. Stan’s cousin returns to Istanbul with Stan’s and his meager earnings, while Stan remains on hoping for a slot on an exploratory ship.
It is with no small amount of luck that Stan is awarded a slot on a two person ship to the Core (the center of the black hole where the Heechee live) with Estella. Their initial welcome was less than warm, but soon they are set up in a house of their own and meeting people. Estalla becomes pregnant - which does play a role toward the end of the book. I’m still not certain that guys should be writing about pregnancy, but I’ll give Pohl credit, he did a good job of portraying it from both sides.

Meanwhile, the reader meets Marc Antony. Computer AI extraordinare. His main programing is as a chef for real people, uploaded people and the Heechee. Oh, and when he’s not cooking, he’s saving the universe. I really liked him - he was probably the most interesting character presented.

By and by, Marc Antony meet Stan and Estalla, Stan and Estella find themselves in a bit of a spot and the three of them (with the help of a few other characters) save the Core from certain demolition by a lunatic.

I’m greatly simplifying here, there were so many little sub-plots that wove in and out of the main plot that I really can’t do them justice in one small blog. However, I did enjoy this book. It had a lot going on, it moved around a bit, it had interesting interactions between the AI’s, Heechee and people. Even the science was plausible (Pohl discusses that briefly at the end) to a great extent. And certainly it had it’s drawbacks - it bounced around a lot which made following some of the plots a bit distracting; new sub-sub characters would be introduced 2/3 of the way through which often left the reader wondering if one was ever going to get to the end of the book (one of my trepidations, finding out a book doesn’t really end in 800 pages).

Worth reading? Definitely, especially if you enjoyed Gateway.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Recipe Review and Pantry Challange!

Date: 11-12-07

Mission: Recipe Review and Pantry Reduction
To find that forgotten, misplaced, buried, long ago forgoten pantry item and find a recipe to use it up!

This weeks items:
Pumpkin (frozen 10/05)
Squash (1 of 29 harvested from this year’s garden. I’ve given away about 10, time to start using the rest)
Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup

The Recipes:
Pumpkin Pecan Pie (Penzey’s Spices Catalog, Holiday 07) 8
Okay, maybe this was cheating a bit starting with frozen pumpkin, but it’s Fall and nothing goes with a Fall Sunday dinner better than a fresh baked pumpkin pie. And this was a really good one. Super simple to assemble - mix pumpkin, sugars, spices, egg and put into a pie crust. Bake. Meanwhile, mix brown sugar, pecans and chilled butter until crumbly. Add to pie and bake 25 more minutes.

This turned out really good. The streusel topping was one of the better toppings I’ve had, though the Hubby felt there was a bit too much. A bit of fresh whipped cream would have tempered the sweetness a bit, but as it was, delicious!

Mashed Potatoes and Root Vegetables (Cooks Illustrated, Nov/Dec 07, pg 9) 8
Can’t have a Fall Sunday dinner with out some kind of mashed potatoes. I had some parsnips and carrots in the crisper so I just needed a few potatoes. This was another easy and great dish (thinking Thanksgiving worthy here!). In a large saute pan, melt butter until foamy, add diced parsnips and carrot and saute until browned. Add a bit of chicken broth and potatoes and steam (yes! steam!) until done (about 25 minutes). Mash with warmed ½ n ½. Serve. The only way I deviated from this recipe was I didn’t peel the potatoes. This makes a lovely, slightly chunky mashed potato that’s just a tich bit different. Yum!

Pinner’s Pork Roast (Penzey’s One, Vol 1, Issue 5) 8
And of course, the meat! A 3.5lb roast is seasoned with olive oil and a dry rub mixture consisting of Penzey’s Northwoods Seasoning, thyme, cracked rosemary, garlic powder, and onion powder. I let this sit for about an hour, then baked at 325*/350* for two hours with a splash of chicken broth in the bottom of the pan to help keep it moist. Not only was it nice and moist, but I had enough drippings to make a pork gravy (I am gravy impaired and this actually turned out!). Lot’s of yummy leftovers for the week.

Butternut Squashed - Baked.
Peel and cube 1 butternut squash. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake 45 min at 350*. Eat! This has become one of my favorite ways to prepare squash. It bakes up so nice and you can season it anyway you like. Super simple and super tasty.

Sesame-Whole Wheat Bread (The Bread Bible by Beth Henspergers, pg 82) 6
I needed some bread for the week and the Hubby requested something whole wheat. Often I find, when picking a bread recipe, so much depends on what I have available in the cupboard - it seems like I am always missing one little ingredient or another. The first recipe I picked out I didn’t have any sunflower seeds. For this one I had everything necessary. A pretty basic recipe that had three different rises: one for the slurry, and two for the dough. There was an error in the recipe where I had to wing it a bit, when making the ww slurry, it called for milk in the instructions, but gave no amount in the ingredients. I estimated one cup and it worked okay, I made note that if I make this again to perhaps do ½ -2/3 cups. What was unique about this bread was the cornmeal and sesame seeds called for.

Overall, this made a decent loaf, a bit on the dry side but that could have been due to milk quandary (and perhaps a bit over baked).

Swiss Chard and Lentil Soup (reviewed previously on my old Yahoo site) I pulled this out to have with grilled cheese. Quick, simple, warm. Also happens to be my lunch today.

Next weeks mission: goat cheese and dried pinto beans!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The End of the Matter by Alan Dean Foster

Book #4 in the Pip and Flinx series.

After a years absence, Flinx returns to Moth and a very brief visit with Mother Mastiff. He has decided to pick up looking for his father and after talking to Mother Mastiff he learns she wasn’t the only bidder all those years ago when he was sold. His travels take him into the bowls of Moths other bureaucracy, the auction houses, where a kindly gentleman recalls a giant of a man with white hair and a gold earring - and a minidrag like Pip.

Shortly after receiving this information, Flinx obtains the alien Abalamahalamatanra - Ab for short - and heads out for the planet Alaspin. Alaspin is the homeworld of the minidragons and Flinx is looking forward to finding his father and seeing his pets homeworld. But things don’t go quite according to plan.

This was a pretty decent sequel. It moved right along, it had an interesting alien, and it brought back a couple of likable characters that were introduced in a previous book. What I didn’t care for was the plot seemed to really ping about. The book opened with a looming "big catastrophe" that was threatening three highly populated planets. Then we picked up with Flinx and his quest. At the end, well, the two plots came together and "big imminent catastrophe" well, was easily and somewhat accidentally solved.

Okay, I’m going to ruin the story line a bit here...they stopped a rouge black hole from eating the three planets by finding a mythical ultra-weapon left by a long since deceased race (which they just happened to leave behind) and the protagonists managed to set off at the right time to crate a white hole which sucked the matter out of the black hole and created a new galaxy.

Still, I enjoyed the book and will be reading the next one.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Knitting Project #6: The Pumpkin Hat

A while back (August? September?) my sister put in a request for a pumpkin hat for her little boy. She had seen some on her travels to Door County, WI, and decided the little tyke needed one. Being a novice knitter, I had no idea where to even find a pattern, so I put in a request for help on the Ckng Lght BB and several people graciously offered links to several patterns.

I picked this one, as it seemed to match my skills and could be readily done in a short period of time. Not only was this a simple pattern, it was a lot of fun. I ended up making two pumpkin hats (one for the nephew and niece), but two "acorn" hats as well. One acorn hat went to the nephew and one to a friends little guy. All these tykes are about the same age, give or take a couple of months.

The Nephew (16 mo)

The Niece (13 mo)

Pattern: Pumpkin Hat Knitting Pattern
Yarn: Lamb’s Pride, 85% Wool/15% Mohair (4 oz)
Autumn Harvest and Turkish Olive
Gauge: #9 circular and dpn’s

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