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Friday, March 30, 2007

Orphan Star by Alan Dean Foster

This is book three in the Pip & Flinx adventures. I think there are about 12 books in the whole series so you’ll probably see the others popping up as time goes by.

Young Flinx is now 17. Through a strange circumstance he finds himself the temporary captive of a intergalactic merchant named Challis. Challis owes a beguiling stone called a Janus jewel which can be manipulated to do certain things with the right kind of mind. Challis, through extensive research, has found out that Flinx has that right kind of mind. Unfortunately, before Flinx can be ‘persuaded’, he is rescued by Pip (his flying lethal mini-dragon) and a friend. Challis escapes, but he has already eluded to knowing Flinx’s parentage.

Flinx decides he must pursue Challis across the known galaxy to find out what he knows and this takes him back to Terra (aka: Earth). Flinx loses Challis but turns his attention to the Commonwealth Church and their records on every known human and thranx (remember - they look like ants) in existence. There he discovers his record has been tampered with, a violation of Church policy and he interrupts some kind of subterfuge. Invoking an ancient Thranx oath, he persuades a very reluctant young Thranx female to accompany him to a planet that has been placed Under Edict. No one goes in, no one comes out. But there Flinx must go.

These are enjoyable little books. Light on the science, light on the fiction. As the books unfold, you find characters that perhaps you had written off in a previous book suddenly playing a very prominent role in this one. For example, there was a rather minor character in this one who has escaped from her pursuit and further interaction with Flinx and his current characters, but I know who will show up in some later book to do grievous harm. I like these rotating characters - it adds another level of interest to the story.

This isn’t to say the books are perfect, they certainly have their faults, but they are fun and quick to read.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Recipe Review 3/26/07

Okay, after my long explanation about why posting dates don't match when I made the recipe, I was looking over my "drafts in waiting" and realized I had screwed my recipe review posts up. So. I am posting another recipe review this week in an attempt to bring some order back to my drafts. I'll be posting a book review on Friday. Sorry, no pictures this go around.

So the trend continues: a dessert and two main dishes for the week. One for suppers and one for lunches. Last weeks recipes were just sort of eh.

Cakey Brownies (Duluth News Trib, 2/28/07) 4
How? How can you screw up a brownie recipe? By following the directions that's how. I promised the book group I would bring brownies to our next meeting as they have been following my oven adventures from the time the old one died to the installation of the new one. Ironically, just after the Feburary meeting the Duluth paper published a whole article on brownies so I took that as an omen and I made the Cakey Brownies.

What a disappointment! I can only conclude that something was not right with the recipe. These tasted okay, if not a bit rich, but they didn't rise. They didn't spread out (or up). They took 20 minutes longer than the direction called for to finish baking. They just didn't do anything! It wouldn't have been such a big deal but they were for a group (I brought them anyway) and I used up the last of my Penzey's cocoa powder. This recipe got pitched and I will make a new recipe for my sci fi friends in April.

(Adding a note here to say that the book group loved the brownies and they felt nothing was wrong with the recipe!)

Mexican Black Beans and Rice (Ckng Lght Ckbk 1991 c/o CLBB) 6
This was a super easy dish to make - onion, yellow pepper, rice, black beans, and tomato. Saute onions and yellow pepper. Add rice and seasonings. Add black beans and tomato. Serve. That's it. Except for it was incredibly bland. Some salsa and sour cream helped. It also made a lot so I had blandness for the week. Oh well!

Chuncky Red Dal Soup (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 07, pg 170) 7
This was also super easy to make. Saute onion and garlic until softened. Add ginger and seasonings and saute briefly. Add water, lentils, chickpeas and diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes. Add lemon juice and hot sauce. That's it. This was pleasant without being too spicy or too bland.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Recipe Review 3/19/07

It seems I've fallen a bit into a pattern, which is cool - I make my lunches and suppers for the week on Sunday, and if time permits, a desert. Then I'm basically set for the week. I may make something small on Thursdays as that's when I have a free quiet evening.

And you might have noticed that my recipe review dates don't actually match the dates they are posted on. You are entirely correct - I post my recipes the week after I made them. For example, this is titled 3/19/07. This is because this is the week I was making the recipes. Then I post on the following Monday. Odd yes...but it works for me! But let's discuss food rather than dates (unless it is a date that involves food...).

Spiced Roasted Chicken (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 07, pg 195) 7
The temperatures hit 48* on Saturday and how could I not grill something? This recipe called for the chicken to be baked, but there is just something about the smell of roasting meat outside in March that just gets the taste buds excited (and the neighbors envious). This was a very simple recipe - mix together oregano, crushed coriander, salt, cumin and olive oil. Make into a paste and spread under the skin of the bird. I then liberally spread olive oil all over the skin as well and topped with a dash of salt. As I had a 6lb bird (!) I grilled it at 375* for about 2 hours (my thermometer registered 175*).

You'll get a kick out of this! I realized at the conclusion of cooking, while I was admiring the rotisserie like skin and golden hue, that I had cooked my bird upside down! Oops. Oh well, those breasts stayed incredibly moist. I should have taken a picture.

Couscous Salad with Chickpeas and Tomatoes (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 07, pg 172) 6
My eating habits begin to shift this time of year, moving away from heart stews, whole grain breads to more lighter fare. Not wanting another soup this week, I chose this simple yet tasty salad. I did sub Israeli couscous for regular (I prefer the texture and size) otherwise the rest remained the same: chickpeas, diced tomato, feta cheese, calmata olives, parsley and minced red onion all tossed in a very simple olive oil vinaigrette. This dish is very reminiscent of something I've had before but I haven't taken the time to dig through my notes. Still, a very nice lunch when combined with a few crunchy chips and some grapes.

Lemon-scented (Raspberry) Cupcakes (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 07, pg 162) 6
These were a grand prize winner in some Ckng Lght recipe contest and originally made with blueberries. I had impulse bought a little tub of raspberries and decided they would work just as well. For being a grand prize winner, I was slightly disappointed in these cupcakes. I felt the lemon scent was hardly there (and I used fresh lemon rind) and they just weren't very...cupcakeish. The cupcake recipes I reviewed a couple weeks ago were much better.

Now it could also be that I didn't add the frosting. Maybe the frosting made the little cake, but in my opinion a little cake should stand on it's own without frosting.

Roasted Salmon with Fresh Veggies (CL Jan/Feb 07, pg 196) 7

(Darn system is doing that funky thing again.) I really liked this recipe. It was simple, it was quick and most importantly, it tasted good! A baking potato is cut into wedges (please keep in mind I cut this recipe in 1/4's) and is tossed in olive oil with salt and pepper and green beans. The potato wedges are at 450* for 10 minutes. The green beans, tomatoes (also now tossed in olive oil and seasonings) and salmon are added. The salmon is drizzled with Worchestershire sauce and lemon juice and everything goes back in for 18 minutes at 425*. This dish came out perfectly! In fact, I made it again the next night on the grill because my power was out when I got home. Turned out just as good.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Learning the World by Ken MacCleod

This was a Hugo nominee in 1005 (I think) and I wasn't able to read it at the time because it was only in hardback in the States or it was super hard to get ahold of or something like that.

The generation ship The Sky! My Lady, the Sky! has reached Destiny II with great anticipation. The generation kids are raised, trained and ready to get the hell off the ship. Only, as the occupants of the ship quickly discover, the target planet is already occupied! For a ship that comes from a system with no wars, it is quickly divided into two fractions: those who feel they should go ahead and colonize the system anyway and those who feel they should not. We follow most of the action through the eyes of Atomic Discource Gale, a young gal who is truly, "learning the world".

Meanwhile, planetside, the bat-people have come to realize they are not alone in the universe. Devrin, an astronomy and his freind Orro recognize and identify the new object in space and are quickly recruited into the "military" for security purposes. While they are a somewhat technologically advanced species, they do not have flight or spacefaring capabilities. They do discover advanced technology (unbeknowst to them it's nano-techonology) in the the shittles - a dung beetle - and later in the menial labor they call trudges. They and their warring neighbors start gearing up for war with the newly arrived aliens, surmising they must want their planet.

It's was an interesting look at humanity from two sides - an "aliens" point of view and from a generational ship environs point of view. However, I did find the story to be a bit slow and, well, too much of a soap box lecture at some points. Often the bat-people were too human, and I found that a bit improbable. MacCleod did try and make the aliens, well, alien, but many of their mannerisms were still to humanized.

It was an okay story that moved along pretty quick and wasn't overly long.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Recipe Review 3/12/07

A couple recipe reviews back I posted about wheat berries. I now LOVE these delectable little bundles of nutty fiber! They are super easy to prepare, and they freeze and thaw beautifully. I made two recipes using these yummy nuggets.

Cumin-scented Wheat Berry Soup (Eating Well Mar/Apr 07, pg 68) 7
French lentils (remember these from my Lentils and Kielbasa post? Love them too!) are simmered in a vegetable broth till softened (about 30 minutes). Meanwhile, carrots and onions are sauteed with cumin and added to the soup along with chopped red chard and pre-made wheat berries. I loved the nuttiness the berries added to the savory lentils. Chard was also a new ingredient for me and I really enjoyed it. It didn't get bitter like spinach often does and added a lovely green color (plus good nutrients!) to the soup. This made a solid 6 servings for lunches.

Wheat Berry and Black Bean Chili (Eating Well Mar/Apr 07, pg 69) 7
Onions, diced tomatoes, black beans, and wheat berries form the base for this chipolte flavored chili. Another very easy and quick to assemble dish. Saute onions with seasonings, add beans and tomatoes, simmer. Add berries toward the end of the cooking time to heat through. That's it. It's topped with diced avocado which is a lovely counter point to the light spiciness of the dish.

Sweet Corn Muffins (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 07, pg 207) 8
I made these to compliment the chili above. These were really good! The recipe was touted as a "breakfast muffin" and they were perhaps a bit sweet, but I thought they went perfectly with the spice of the chili. Especially warm with a pat of butter and honey. Very quick and easy to assemble with only 20 minutes baking time. I individually wrapped and froze what I wasn't going to eat for lunches at a later time. I would definitely make this recipe again!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

This Immortal by Roger Zelazny

This has also been called ...And Call Me Conrad. This won the Hugo Award in 1966, sharing the honor with Frank Herbert's Dune.

This book reminded me of Guns of Navarone, which was made in 1961. Both were set in Greece with a dashing main character supported by a cast of misfits. However, the Guns of Navarone was set during war time conditions, where as This Immortal was set in the far future after everything had been bombed to oblivion.

Konstantine Karaghiosis Korones Nomikos - but he prefers Conrad - has been around a long time...a very long time. Currently he is the Commissioner of the Earth Office Department of Arts, Monuments and Archives and he has been tasked with escorting the Vegan (alien, not eating preference) Myshtigo on a personal sightseeing tour of the remnants of Earths ruins. Myshtigo is writing a book and Conrad and his fellow friends are under the suspicion that Myshtigo is actually surveying the Earth for future Vegan resorts (aliens, not veggies).

When Conrad is reunited with a compadre from a past mission, the assassin Hasan, he immediately suspects someone is out to kill either him or the alien and a mystery like that cannot be left unsolved. Hasan is hired as Myshtigo's bodyguard, but Conrad knows the old assassin is not above taking conflicting jobs. So, with a dubious bodyguard, a poet, a husband and wife team, and a 'doll' known as "Red Wig", Conrad sets out with the intent of keeping his alien visitor alive. They spend most of their time in Greece.

This was a lot of fun, but then I really enjoy these older books like I enjoy the older war movies. The gals are eye candy. The men dashing and smart. The plot was pretty decent - a destroyed Earth is only loosely populated by a remnant human faction, and the "Hot Areas" are full of mutants. Even this future Greece is full of history, myth, culture and calamity and Zelazny uses it all rather well.

It is interesting to note, and perhaps I just haven't read a lot of Zelazny, but this was one character who would have done well in several stand alone books. Somehow, I'm glad it was just one.

So! I'm now down to four Hugo winners left to be read:
Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norell by Suzanna Clarke
Cyteen by CJ Cherryh
The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge
Dreamsnake by Rhonda McIntyre

Monday, March 12, 2007

Recipe Review 3/5/07 (cont)

Okay, we're slowly catching up here. Here are the rest of February's recipes:

Corn and Kielbasa Chowder (Rachel Ray Everyday, Feb 07, insert) 8
This turned out really tasty. And it was fairly quick to throw together - which I proved by making it the morning I needed it for lunches! I forgot to make it Sunday night, see, so I had to get up a bit earlier on Monday so I would have a lunch for the week.
8 oz of kielbasa is browned and set aside. One large onion is sauteed in some butter, the fond from the kielbasa flavoring it nicely. Once golden, vegetable broth (recipe calls for chicken but veggie was what I had on hand) is added, along with one baking potato. Bring to a boil and simmer until the potato is done. Add 1 cup of half-n-half and thawed frozen corn and bring back to temp, take one cup out and blend it smooth, then add it and the kielbasa back in. It took about 45 minutes total, and most of that was letting it simmer on the stove. I was able to make my breakfast and assemble the rest of my lunch in plenty of time to get out and shovel before leaving for work. Delicious!

Cuban Style Pork and Rice (Eating Well, Mar/Apr 07, pg 64) 6
This was a take on a Spanish Paella, but supposedly with a Cuban flair. It was fairly easy to assemble and I actually had most of the ingredients on hand. I did have to buy the pork chop and the shrimp. A seasoned paste is made from paprika, chili powder, some additional seasonings and some liquid. A boneless cubed porkchop is mixed in then sauted till brown and set aside. Brown rice and onion are added to the pot to "deglaze" the pan and pick up all the seasonings. Add in the liquid, simmer till rice is done. Add in meat and shrimp and pop into the oven for about 20 minutes.

I did have some troubles with the rice taking much longer than written, but I just adjusted accordingly. The biggest surprise was how bland it was. Given the amount of paprika and chili powder I had expected a bit more zing. Not that it wasn't good, just bland. Made about 5 servings.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Happiness is...

...finding my entire Barnes and Noble book order waiting for me on the steps after work!

Hmm, turned out a little blurry. I ordered:

Recursion by Tony Ballantyne

A Feast for Crows by GRR Martin

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

The Graveyard Game by Kage Baker

The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollen

Also included in the stack is a book I bought in Feb that I forgot I had bought because I stuck it in the already read shelf by mistake: Tender to the Bone by Ruth Reichl.

Now where is a snow storm when I need one?

Monday, March 5, 2007

Recipe Review 3/5/07

These are still catch up recipes from my baking extravaganza from the "blizzard weekend". But! They are all new recipes. February's recipe count was 14, awesome - especially with having a partial stove for most of the month.

Yellow Cupcakes (Cooks Illustrated, Jan/Feb 03, pg 25) 8
These turned out excellent! And so incredibly easy! I was amazed I had waited so long to try them. Flour, baking soda, salt are whisked together. Add sour cream, egg, sugar and vanilla. Mix till smooth and ingredients are well incorporated. Bake. Cool and frost or munch on one while still warm. Warm ones sound like this...mmm, mmpf, oh yeah, smack, mmpf...

Chocolate Cupcakes (Cooks Illustrated, Mar/April 05, pg 25) 7
These also turned out very good, tho I was partial to the yellow ones. These were almost as easy, with the added step of gently melting together the chocolate bar, cocoa and butter first. I might have over whipped these as they kinda spread out over the muffin edges rather than baking up. Doesn't matter, it's chocolate and it's good.

I made both cupcakes for work. Each recipe made exactly 12, which I really like - one pan and only one pan. None of this three cupcakes in a second pan business. I frosted both with my stand-by powdered sugar/butter frosting as it's so quick and easy and tastes good; plus I know it will cover 3 doz cupcakes. They were well received on a snowy Monday.

Master Recipe: Wheat Berries (Eating Well, Mar/Apr 07, pg 66) -
As noted, this is just a "master recipe" for cooking wheat berries. Once the berries are cooked and plumped they are used in recipes or frozen for later use. Cooking these was super easy. Lots of water, bring to a boil, simmer for an hour stirring occasionally. Drain and cool. Worked like a charm. Makes about 4 1/2 -5 cups.

Creamy Wheat Berry Porridge (Eating Well, Mar/Apr 07, pg 69) 8
This is one of three recipes I had tagged for the wheat berries. A combination of old fashioned oatmeal, wheat berries, cranberries (in place of the raisins), cinnamon and brown sugar. Milk is brought to a boil and you add the oatmeal and cranberries. Cook for about 3-5 minutes. Add wheat berries, cinnamon and brown sugar and cook till thick. Serve with toasted almonds. Easy, very filling, flavorful with lots of nutty goodness. Much to my surprise, I thought the almonds added a nice bright flavor to everything else. This also re-heats very nicely with some additional milk or half-n-half.

Poached Salmon with Creamy Piccata Sauce (Eating Well, Mar/Apr 07, pg 24) 7
The sauce made this dish. The salmon was poached in a white wine/water mixture (which I made sure was just at a simmer). Meanwhile, a diced shallot was lightly sauteed, then the pan de-glazed with white wine. After a short reduction, lemon juice and the capers are added. At the very end, sour cream is stirred in and slightly thickened. I was so-so on the poached salmon, but loved the sauce. I think grilled or baked salmon would have been better.

As this post got a little long, I'll post the rest of February's recipes a bit later.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Gospel according to Bourdain

Chef Extrodinaire and Travel nut Anthony Bourdain waxes poetic about his favorite food shows and TV personalities on author Michael Ruhlman's blog:

Warning, put your beverage down before reading this. Inhaling the contents of hot coffee can be detrimental to your nose.

PS - Michael Ruhlman wrote The Making of A Chef and The Soul of a Chef both of which I throughly enjoyed.

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