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Friday, September 28, 2007

AAallll Aboard!

A fine opportunity came to pass last weekend: #2719, a working steam engine, was offering rides on our local North Shore Scenic Railroad. The Hubby and I invited the parents for a ride on this relic from days gone by.

Here's a bit about the engine as printed on this website:

Steam locomotive #2719 has returned to Duluth/Superior, an area she served well during her working career on the Soo Line Railroad. The high stepping Pacific 4-6-2 pulled passenger and freight trains from the Twin Ports to depots and yards throughout the Midwest. Built in 1923, the engine carried troops to WW II and the Korean War and ran until 1959, growing old as the last working steam engine in Wisconsin.

It was with some apprehension weather wise we approached last Saturday; the week previous had been a series of deluges, windy and cold. However, the day dawned sunny with a few wispy clouds way up high. We couldn't have asked for better temperatures!

The train left the station at 10:30, and we settled into the 4th passenger car. As it rumbled up the tracks we watched Duluth go by, Lakeside and eventually moved up onto the North Shore. We pulled into Two Harbors right at lunch time and had two hours in which to find some lunch. We quickly walked 7 blocks up to the Vanilla Bean Cafe, had a short wait (was a popular spot for the train-goers) and enjoyed BLT's, homemade Chicken Wild Rice soup, meatball sandwiches and french dips. Everything was very tasty. We stepped next door to the bakery and bought some small delectables (turnovers, scones and a pumpkin cookies) for the ride back.

The train left the station at 2:30...sort had a bit of difficulty navigating the incline to switch tracks and had to back up into the station several times before making a run at it. Soon enough we were on the right track and headed back to Duluth. We sat on the upper level of the passenger car on the way back and observed to the Mother that the ideal view was actually the "land side" of the car, not the "lake side". The "lake side was mostly blocked by trees and offered very little in the way of any "lake view". With the "land side" we were able to observe a great variety of things.

We arrived back at the station at 5:00 and not wishing to let such a beautiful day go, we concluded with some shopping at Figters, a lake walk and pizza at Bulldog Pizza. A delightful day!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

This is the book groups selection for October, a bit of a departure for us since we tend to lean heavily toward the science fiction and not so much in the way of fantasy. I think we've read less than 5 fantasy's since the groups inception in 1999:

  • A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  • War for the Oaks by Emma Bull
  • Olympic Games by Karen What
  • The Simarillion by JRR Tolkien
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

So it looks like this would make our 6th fantasy in 8 years. Buy why did we select this one? Well, simply put, we like Neil Gaiman. We have previously read American Gods and Neverwhere and enjoyed both of them. Gaiman has some very interesting concepts and his writing style is amniable with the groups personality.
So it was thus that Stardust made it through our convoluted voting process. This was a very quick read, but a really good one. For me, this was a classically written fairy tale, with a bit of modernism thrown in. What it wasn't was the wishfull thinking of some modern day character who was thrust into a fairy world. No, hardly that.
The story revolves around young Thomas, who has lived his 18 years in the town of Wall. The town is thus named for a very large, stone wall of unknown origins separating the town from the other side. Every nine years the people of Wall may pass freely through the one and only gate and partake in the fair. Thomas was not allowed to do so upon his ninth birthday, and was in fact sent far away until the fair had come and gone. Young Thomas loves Victoria Forester, and one night, feeling emboldened, asks for her hand in marraige. She laughs at him, and says he may have whatever he desires if he goes to fetch the falling star. Not one to be easily daugnted, he does, but his journey takes him far, far beyond the walls solid borders and he learns much in the months that he is gone.

Gaiman has such a beautiful writing style; it's simplicity is it's strongest asset. Unlike many, many authors of today, he didn't go on and on ad nauseum describing something, but kept it short and very sweet. The refreshing dialog only enhanced his prose and the overall story was wonderful for it.
Will I see the movie? I don't know. I do know that there are significant devations between the book and the movie, which were done with intent. I may, just to see how the screen writer Gaiman worked with interpreted his tale, and I may not, because I did so enjoy the story.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Recipe Review 9/25/07

To partially quote a friend, Woot! We're cooking now! Thanks to the Hubby, our new recipe sampling has begun to increase. And it is wonderful that the weather is cooling off and we can use the oven again to bake a few tasty treats.

New recipes from the past week:

Apple and Parsnip Soup (Irish Pub Ckbk, pg ) 6
This turned out very good, but it would have been even better with the spices toned down. Alas, the Hubby did not realize that the Penzey's Hot Curry needs to be cut in half for recipes because it is indeed, a bit on the spicy side. Now I thought the dish still turned out very good, and topped it with sour cream and with toasted pepitas. The recipe is pretty simple: parsnips, apples, potato, curry powder, onion, and broth. Cook and blend together (LOVE that immersion blender!). I brought it for lunches for a couple days and we had it for dinner for I think 2 meals.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies (Every Day with RR, Sept 07) 6
I wanted to bring something fallish for our 8th anniversary for book group, and I know the group likes pumpkin. I've made chocolate whoopie pies and it was past time to try the pumpkin variety. Very simple to whip up and baking time was only 10 minutes. I had everything washed up and drying as they came out of the oven. They are delightfully pumpkin-y, and the cream cheese frosting center was a nice counter point to the pumpkin spices. The only complaint I heard (and I shared it) was they were on the heavy side. Still, I would make these again, perhaps making the little cakes smaller, as they are a fun treat for fall.

Snickerdoodles (Ckng Lght Sept 07) 6
For me, snickerdoodles are the quintessential fall cookies. Next to a nice soft ginger cookie that is. These also were a snap to make, and I had everything washed as well by the time I baked both sheets. The recipe neglected to advise the cook to squish the little balls, but fortunately I realized I needed to do so. I did bake these about a minute too long, so they were a bit more crispy than the Hubby or I care for (or for that matter the book group because they went after the pumpkin whoopie pies and chocolate chip cookies first). Still, these are a great size and I would make them again. In fact, with the frozen leftover's I'm contemplating making ice cream sandwiches out of them with the caramel ice cream I need to use up. Mmmm...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews

This was just a quick fun murder mystery. Meg goes home for the summer to organize three weddings she’s participating in: her Mother’s, her brother Ron’s and her best friend Eileen’s. All three brides are totally nutsy: Meg and her sister don’t understand why their mother is getting re-married (they still don’t understand why she divorced their Dad), Eileen cannot commit to a theme (she eventually does Renaissance) and nobody likes Ron’s future wife Samantha.

Then the unfortunate happens - a murder right off the back doorstep of Meg’s mothers house. Meg’s Dad (a physician by trade, retired,) sets off to convince the local sheriff that this was indeed a homicide. As the days tick by, bridal parties are poisoned, brakes are tampered with, lives are threatened, peacocks have taken up residence in the neighborhood and Meg is falling in love with the towns most un-eligible bachelor, Michael, who happens to be gay.

While the final "who done it" was a bit rushed and implausible, the rest of the quirkiness of the characters makes up for it. Fun to read and I'll be looking to borrow the others in the series.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Recipe Review 9/17/07

When I started blogging over a year ago, I didn’t think I really had that much to say. But as the weeks churn by, I find myself looking forward to my next posting whether it’s a recipe review, a knitting update or a book summary. And just as eagerly I peruse other bloggers posts, enjoying being invited into their lives to admire projects, drool over recipes, and oooh and ahhh over pictures of different places. I also love figuring out what I’m going to post next, trying to keep topics separated and diverse, which is easier said than done!

So, it is with much excitement that I am finally able to post a new recipe review after nearly a month of no new recipes. I had some help with these, the Hubby put in a request to make dinner once a week - how can I refuse a great offer like that? Hopefully now that all the summer excitement in my world has calmed down to just manic, I can settle back into making new dishes. Sorry about the lack of pictures - hopefully soon I'll get back into photographing our creations.

Enchilada’s (Every Day with RR, Aug 07, pg 62) 7
These were pretty good and fairly simple to make. What I liked in particular was how thick the sauce came out. I bought a rotisserie chicken ahead of time and had the Hubby shred and split the meat for another dish. The chicken was re-heated after sauteing some onion and spices, then mixed with tomato sauce and three chipolte peppers. I had some concerns about adding three, and I should have listened to my inner voice because the sauce was a bit on the spicy side when all was said and cooked. But, a generous dollup of sour cream tamed the flame. I would make these again with modifications.

Bacon, Blue Cheese and Courgette Soup (Irish Pub Cookbook, pg 58) 8
This is the first dish the Hubby selected and it was delicious! Bacon is fried in some olive oil to flavor the oil and then half of it was removed for garnish later. Onion and zucchini are nicely browned and softened to which is added 2 med baking potatoes and chicken stock. Everything is brought to a vigorous simmer till the potatoes are done. Bring out the immersion blender! This was the Hubbies first time with this must have gadget - the contents of the pot are blended till smooth, to which half and half and blue cheese crumbles are added and brought to temp. This soup was even better in the following days as the flavors really melded. He wants to make this one again.

Mac’s Pub Brown Soda Bread (Irish Pub Cookbook, pg 95) 5
This bread has potential, but it needs some tweaking first. The Hubbie's first comment was to add all the liquid ingredients at once, rather than parceling it out piecemeal as directed. He/we also had problems getting it to cook all the way through - it didn’t help that we are still getting used to the nuances of our gas stove. The final bread baked up very nicely, but it tasted rather flour-y. I’m not certain if this was just how it tastes or if the ingredients need some tweaking. But since we are moving into fall, it will be easier to experiment with some additional baking sessions.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Knitting Project #4 Dishcloths!

While at Minicon in April, I noticed my friend was busily knitting away at a couple of small-ish projects. Intrigued (I was plugging away at a scarf and a hat), I watched for a while then curiosity got the better of me (it's like reading the paper with someone else...the section they are reading is always more interesting than your own) so I had to inquire.

She was working on a couple of dishcloths. I fell in love with the little projects, the way the colors and patterns slowly reveled themselves into these delightful dishcloths. She gave me one pattern, a neat mock basket weave, with instructions on what kind of yarn to buy and where I could get it. Dishcloths are made from 100% cotton, usually a "Sugar-n-Cream" brand or a "Peaches-n-Cream" brand. I found "Sugar-n-Cream at my local Michaels for something like $1.49 for a 2oz skein.

I'm hooked! Here's a sample of what I've made:

Alex’s Cloth

#7 needles
Sugar-n-Cream yarn in Daisy Ombre and Potpourri Ombre
1 skein
8.5" x 8.5"

I really liked this pattern. Super simple and it looks really nice.

#7 needles
Sugar-n-Cream yarn in Faded Demin
1 skein

This is where I learned that I really need to loosen up my knitting. I knit tight, incredibly tight, and I have to say the cool thing about working with this cotton yarn was I was forced to learn how to loosen my stitches.

(hmm...the light color is supposed to be yellow)
# 7 needles
Sugar-n-Cream yarn in Lt Blue and Yellow
1 skein = 2 cloths @ 8.5" x 8.5"

This is the one Gail was puttering on at Minicon that grabbed my attention. This was a devious little cloth. The first time I made it I ripped it apart no less than three times and there was no way I was going to let such a small project get the better of me. Now I’ve made four of this pattern and it takes me about 3 hours per cloth.

Depending on the pattern, one dishcloth takes very little time at all - something like 3 or 4 hours or a day depending on how many distractions you have. I'm thinking these will make some great "Special Occasion" gifts, wrapped up neatly with some taffeta and a bar of homemade kitchen soap on top (no, no, I'm not making my own soap!). Or with a bottle of wine or kitchen gadget. I've found a slew of patterns on the internet and on the little skeins of yarn so I will have lots of variety to play around with. So now rather than just doing patterns and colors all random, I need to start focusing on complimentary combinations and the intended recipients kitchen colors.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Milwaukee, WI, restaurants

I thought I was going to have some new recipes to review by now, but it seems that I just haven’t been able to get into the kitchen as much as I would like. In part this is because the Hubby and I took a trip to Milwaukee, WI over Labor Day weekend and in part just because life got busy. It happens.

Downtown Milwaukee as seen from the waterfront. Looking at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
So in lieu of recipes, I thought I would re-cap some of the great places we ate on our trip:

Club 22, Shawano, WI
A rustic supper club with a German emphasis. The Hubby and I were easily the youngest patron’s in the place by a good 20 years (I’m not counting the bartender or the bus girls) and we did elicit a few stares from the regulars. Most of the week they have a German-American menu, but on Friday they had one of the most diversified fish fry’s I’ve ever seen: walleye, perch, lobster, and I forget the other two. The Hubby ordered a ribeye steak in with caramelized onions and blue cheese and I had the beer battered perch. Both were really good.

A Latin American restaurant of an Un-spellable Name, Milwaukee, WI
We found this place as while searching for an Italian restaurant. We did find the Italian place but decided we were not dressed nicely enough and moved on to more appropriate establishments. This place was a lot of fun and really, really good. Duane had (I’m not even going to try to recall the Spanish names) a seared porkchop slathered in an absolutely fantastic sauce. I went with something called the Seven Steps to Heaven (or close to that) where it was corn pancakes layered with wilted spinach, pureed squash, cheese all to make seven layers. This was covered in a cream sauce of some sort which really melded all the flavors. I think my favorite was actually one of the salsa’s we were served - it had undertones of chocolate and chile with ground up peanuts (I couldn’t taste ‘m!) and tomatoes. The handmade margarita’s were darn tasty too.

Mader’s German Restaurant, Milwaukee, WI
This restaurant has been touted as one of the best known German restaurants in the nation. It certainly was an interesting experience. The ambiance was old-world, with the dark wood work, heavy wooden tables and Germanic decor. I think we hit an "off" night as service was incredibly slow. It was my observation that they were very short handed in the waitstaff and cooking department - it took us 2 ½ hours to get our meal.

When the meal finally came, it was very good. Duane had the tenderloin rouladen with spatzle and red cabbage and I had a neopolitan portabella: portabella mushroom layered with wilted spinach, chevere with some kind of sauce all served over spatzle. The only complaint with mine was that it didn’t actually get served with Chevere as advertised, I think it was provolone. I would have prefered the Chevere but it was still really tasty.

Waterstreet Brewery, Milwaukee, WI
After a less than successful attempt at finding a brewery to tour (all three we tried were closed on Labor Day Monday) we settled for a microbrew pub for some grub. This one was perfect - great ambiance with the old stone from the previous building as walls, historic pictures of Milwaukee adorning the walls, and inside and outside seating (we chose inside) with big glass windows to people watch. We ordered a beer flight to share, working our way through eight samples that the microbrew makes. Duane ordered a mettwurst and kielbasa plate with deep fried spatzle while I had a warm bacon and chicken salad. Both dishes were fantastic. The chicken tenders on mine were juicy tender, the warm bacon dressing didn’t overwhelm the rest of the salad and the bits of egg complemented everything so well. I would eat here again in a heartbeat.
Miller Stadium, Brewers vs Pirates. Brewer's won 7-4.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Glasshouse by Charlie Stross

I reviewed Accelerando last year about this time. I didn’t finish Accelerando, it was... not very good. So when I saw that Stross was nominated for a Hugo this year I was less than enthused about reading this book. Much to my delight, Glasshouse was an excellent book. I don’t know why, but it reminded me of some of Heinlein’s books.

Robin wakes up from his most recent memory wipe at loose ends and perplexed about why he wiped everything. While he is in rehab he meets Kay, a four armed gal also recovering from memory wipe and finds out about the Yourdon-Fiore-Huanta project. An experiment to recreate the "dark ages" of 1950-2020. The experiment runs for three years after which they will get a substantial sum of money. Robin and Kay decide to give the project a whirl, hoping to meet-up on the inside.

When Robin wakes up next he has become a she - Reeve - and he/she has no idea where Kay is. In the first meeting of his co-participants, Reeve is required pick a "spouse" for this project and matches up with Sam. From here, it is a spiral into an appalling situation - the "parish" is awarded points for behavior befitting the time period both individually and collectively. This includes how often they have sex with their partner, how they dress, how they behave in public, mandatory church attendance and how often they interact with other people. Reeve quickly realizes that all the women are fertile and there is no contraceptives anywhere to be bought. Gears start turning and she begins to realize that they have all signed on for something much, much worse than a mere sociology experiment. And the more she finds out, the more her past memories start to resurface.

This was a very interesting read - the setting was rather unique (Reeve finds out they are on an old spaceship prison, known as the Glasshouse, where there is only one way in or out); the concept of a future generation not understanding how a past generation lived was very relevant and the attempt to re-create that society morbidly fascinating. The science in this was intriguing, that people could live hundreds of years and when they became tired of one existence, they could wipe their memories and become someone - something - else.

Of the three Hugo nominees I was able to read before the Hugo Awards (previous post), this one was the strongest.

The other nominees in the Novel category were:
Eifelheim - Mychael Flynn
His Majesties Dragon - Naomi Novik
Rainbow’s End - Verner Vinge
Blindsight - Peter Watts

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Hugo Award Winners, Nippon 2007

Here they are!

Novel Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge
Novella "A Billion Eves" by Robert Reed (Asimov's Oct 2006)
Novelette "The Djinn's Wife" by Ian McDonald (Asimov's July 2006)
Short Story "Impossible Dreams" by Tim Pratt (Asimov's July 2006)
Related Book James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon by Julie Phillips
Dramatic Long Form Pan's Labyrinth Screenplay
Dramatic Short Form Doctor Who "Girl in the Fireplace"
Editor, Long Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor Books)
Editor, Short Gordon Van Gelder (Fantasy and Science Fiction)
Pro Artist Donato Giancola
Fan Writer Dave Langford
Semi Prozine Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong and Liza Groen Trombi
FanzineScience-Fiction Five-Yearly edited by Lee Hoffman, Geri Sullivan and Randy Byers
Fan Artist Frank Wu
Campbell Award Naomi Novik

Thoughts? Comments? You can link to the nominees by following the Worldcon link on the left or click on the scifi label...I think I posted the novel nominee's when they came out. Ironically, I just posted my thoughts on Rainbow's End by Vinge yesterday, and on Thursday I will be commenting on Glasshouse by Stross (nominee in Novel).

Monday, September 3, 2007

Rainbow’s End by Verner Vinge

Oy vey. I had high hopes for this book. I really did. I absolutely loved A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky, but Rainbow’s End really didn’t stand up to my expectations.

In the not too distant future, the secret powers that exist in the European Union discover a nefarious plot by accident and after much research, he contacts his allies in the India and Japan. Together, they devise a plan to infiltrate the nefarious plot and discover what exactly is going on.

Meanwhile, Robert Gu has undergone the miracles of modern medicine and has been completely restored from his long slow slide into Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, he was one in a thousand whose system accepted a rejuvenating system and he now has the body of a much, much younger man. However, he was not well liked before his illness due to his abrasive personality and he has once again managed to alienate his son’s family.

However, young Miri Gu and her friend Juan decide he is not a lost cause and plan to help Robert out of his funk. Miri works behind the scenes while Juan enlists Robert as his partner in school. Juan will teach Robert the new technology in exchange for writing lessons. As all this is happening, Robert is approached by the Mysterious Stranger with promises to bring back Roberts former talent for poetry if Robert helps out the Library Cause.

And somehow all these plots come together at the end, but boy, was it a slow journey.
If memory serves me right, this is up for a Hugo this year. I’ve only read one other Hugo nominee at this point and it was a brain candy fantasy (see link here).

In some ways this was an interesting look at what future technology might have in store for us - computers are worn as clothing and contact lenses, books are irrelevant because everything can be found on the web, a person doesn't have to show up for anything in person, they can simulate being there remotely and some diseases - but not all- can be reversed or cured.

And I guess it was also an interesting look at how a second chance at life can change a person and how others can't accept that. That did make the book more realistic. Robert Gu had to come to accept his poetry talent wasn't coming back with his rejuvenation. His ex-wife, who's osteoporosis was untreatable, couldn't accept this change and remained bitter and alienated.

This was also July’s book group selection. The group really liked this book so that made me odd person out this go around.

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