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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton


Knit One, Kill Two is a fluff mystery. Kelly Flynn finds herself back in Fort Connor, CO, for the funeral of her murdered aunt, Helen. There Kelly meets a menagerie of people who quickly become her friends: Mimi, who runs House of Lambspun a knitting store; Steve, carpenter, architect, handyman; Jennifer, real estate agent; Lizzie and Helen, retired teachers and sisters; Lisa, physical therapist; and Burt, retired policeman.

Kelly, tasked with having to clean out her aunts house and prepare it for sale, discovers there’s more to Helen’s murder than meets the eye. Her Aunt’s beloved family heirloom quilt has gone missing. Her aunt took out $20,000.00 in an dubious loan just before her death, but the money is nowhere to be found. Kelly, a corporate accountant is now fully suspicious about the circumstances of Helen’s death. Shortly after befriending a long lost cousin, Martha, Kelly finds out in the morning paper that Martha was murdered as well.

With the help of her new friends, whom she meets with every day at the House of Lambspun, Kelly not only learns how to knit, but solves the mystery of the two deaths.

Did I mention this was a fluff mystery? It is. It’s a fun little story that almost dives into the world of fantasy. Really now - how can all these people work such flexible jobs that allow them to continuously pop into the knitting store? Seriously. I also found that there were too many characters, there was nothing to really distinguish them from each other and their characters were all rather flat. Less would have been more here. Being a knitter, I found the rate that all these “working people” were finishing projects the likes of sweaters simply incredible to the point of disbelief. And let us not forget the introduction of the future love interest, to whom Kelly took an immediate dislike.

Still, I liked the Colorado setting, the knitting theme was cool - I totally understood the whole sensory color overload when Kelly walks into the knitting store for the first time - and at least in this mystery, the heroine doesn’t act like a stupid ninny and confront the villain alone (like another theme mystery I like to read) only to require rescue by said love interest. I’ll read the next couple and see how this series fleshes out.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Recipe Review from 7/21/08

Whoo-ee! Five recipes last week! The Husband and I were on a roll (tehe, no pun intended!).


Curried Lentil, Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard (Ckng Lght BB c/o New York Times) 4.0
We planted Swiss Chard this year and right now it is about the only thing in the garden that is doing well. So I have been on a quest for Swiss Chard recipes and I found this on on the Ckng Lght BB. What I liked even more about this recipe was the only thing I had to buy was the sweet potato.

This was super easy to make. Saute onion, add spices (garam masala, curry powder, a few other things), add veggie broth, sweet potato, lentils and simmer for about 30-45 minutes, or until potato and lentils have softened. Add chopped chard and cook till wilted. This didn't recommend any side dishes, so I made up some basmati rice and served it over that. Very tasty indeed. This also made a lot, so I divied it up into some smaller tubs to have upon my return from Denver.



Cheesy Grilled Eggplant Sandwiches (Every Day with RR, Aug 08) 4.5
Every now and then again I like a different kind of grilled cheese. This one grabbed my attention the moment I saw the picture. Thin layers of Jarlsberg cheese, proscuttio and eggplant and lovingly grilled. Yum! Super easy to make. Thinly slice (and peel if you want, I do) a small eggplant. Lightly spritz some oil on each side of the rounds and season with pepper. Grill till soft. Meanwhile, layer proscuitto and Jarlsberg cheese on some peasant or artisanal bread. Place grilled eggplant on the prepared bread, combine into sandwiches and grill till cheese is soft and bread nicely toasted. Eat! As RR would say, Yum-O!



Trout and Zucchini Kebabs (Every Day with RR, Aug 08) 4.0
The Husband was in charge of making this dish. Trout as a sub for swordfish, zucchini and nectarines. The trout was marinated in some homemade ginger ale (7-up mixed with some freshly grated ginger) before everything was combined on the skewers. He was rather dubious about the grilled nectarines, but after all was grilled and served, we decided they were quite tasty. The whole dish turned out very good and easy enough for a weeknight.



Grilled Chicken Tostadas (Ckng Lgnt, July 08, pg 182) 4.0
It's been a while since I've done anything with chicken, and this sounded different and tasty. I had a slew of modifications going on here, as I missed important "marinate for 30 minutes" bits and it was getting rather late at night. A red onion is thinly sliced and mixed with orange juice, red wine vinegar and salt. This is marinated for 2 hours.

The chicken was supposed to marinate for 30 minutes in a sauce, but I realized that too late so I said screw it. I combined the marinade ingredients - subbing a chipolte chili for a unknown Mexican paste - in a sauce pan and brought to a simmer and set aside. Then I attempted to pound out the chicken breasts, only to make a mess on the counter and said screw-it to pounding out #3. They went on the grill.

Meanwhile, several corn tortillas are lightly sprayed with olive oil and set aside to await their turn on the grill. The Hubby brought in the chicken breasts for me to shred and took the tortillas out to toast. I shredded all three and then combined with the marinade, making it more of a sauce to cover everything. I think this was the way to go. Very flavorful.

These were served with Monterrey jack cheese (sub for queso fresco), avocado, lettuce, and the pickled onions. Duane liked his tortillas softer, like a soft taco where I liked the crispy flat tortilla. I would make these again, with all my modifications.

Mint Margaritas (Ckng Lght, July 08, pg 185) 2.0
When I picked out the Chicken Tostadas, I thought Mexican! Margaritas! And knew there was this Mint version just a page over. I whipped this up. Well...I didn't get it into the freezer in time for dinner so first serving was "on the rocks". Eh. Didn't grab my fancy. Incredibly sweet. So when I had the leftovers the next night I pulled the bag out of the freezer, tossed additional ice into the glasses and added a splash more tequila before serving. Better, but still not good. I couldn't finish mine. Next time I'll stick with my traditional margaritas.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Silly Fun

What Middle Earth Race do you belong to Quiz

Dunedain


You scored 0% Size & Strength, 71% Morality, 47% Aggression, and 71% Intelligence.

Congratulations, you're one of the Dunedain. You scored high on size & strength, high on morality, low on aggression and high on intelligence. The Dunedain are all that remains of the once great line of men from Numenor. Described as tall, with dark hair and grey eyes, the Dunedain are much greater in stature and spirit than common men. Those of high rank are possessed of enhanced wisdom and occasional prophecy, in addition to just being bigger and stronger. Aragorn himself was described as being 6'6" and was one of only three warriors to come out of the Battle of Pelennor Fields completely unscathed. (Incidentally, only one of the three was not Dunedain). He was also able wrest control of the Palantir from Sauron using just the force of his will. Summary: Dunedain = Bad Ass.

FYI, your polar opposite is the Orc. You know, those nasty little critters you've been beating the living hell out of since you were three. Yeah, those.


I inflicted this test on the Husband too. I think he was in a bad mood as he scored as the Balroc!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Knitting Projects #14 (cont), 15, 16, 17

I have posted on the side bar my “On the Needles” box, and it is true that sock #2is "still on the needles", but I’ve managed to finish a couple of other projects in the interm. Project #15 is still my first set of socks. Sock No. 1went well(thanks to Gail and her on-line direction translations), and I cast on its mate a while back. This past weekend I finished the heel flap and heel turn.

Here is what I got sidetracked with:

Project #14 More Scrappy Dishcloths. I needed a quick easy project for my day trip to 4th Street Fantasy Convention back in June and dishcloths are my quick easy projects. I’m still working through my little leftover skeins and came up with these:



I tried a couple new-to-me techniques - using two kinds of yarn and carrying them along and alternating them. Mostly it was a way to use up those partial skeins. I just can't bring myself to throw those bits away. I think the two cloths turned out all right. I have one more I want to make with this pattern to complete the set.

Pattern: Nifty Knit Dishclohs by Leisure Arts, “Simple Diamonds”
Needles: #6
Yarn: leftover Sugar and Cream

Project #17 Awareness Soap Bag
I’ve been thinking a little travel soap bag would be nice for camping or the gym, where I could have my washcloth and soap all in one then have a way to let it dry. I’m thinking a carabine to hook it on to the outside of my bag/camping gear should work dandy. Then it’s also handy when one might need just a quick hand wash.

There is an awareness ribbon on the side, but it doesn’t show up very well in the picture. I will make this bag again, but skip the ribbon pattern and do the tie differently. A super great way to use up those little skeins and it only takes a hour or two to finish.


Pattern: Awareness Soap Bag from knittingcentral.com
Needles: #6
Yarn: 3 varieties of leftover Sugar and Cream.

Project #18 The Nephews Hat

The Nephew had a birthday this month and K2 told me he’s been wearing his pumpkin hat to daycare in 80* weather! Well, if the little guy is going to be wearing hats, I thought I would make him a lighter weight one. At first I wasn’t thrilled with the pattern, but when I was done, it made a neat bold spiral. The Nephew is going to be getting a second hat as well, but I haven’t cast it on yet. I better get knitting! I will have to ask K2 to send me a pic of him in it - he's such a cutie!


Pattern: Regia London Beanie
Yarn: Regia 4ply self striping
Needles: #3 circular and dps

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Odyssey by Jack McDevitt


This was July's book group selection. We've also read Chindi by McDevitt to mixed reviews, so I was surprised when this one made it through our convoluted voting process.

Pricilla Hutchins is still with the Academy, this time as manager of the space research agency, the Academy. The Academy is in trouble, their motives and need being questioned by government and big business alike. Meanwhile, out beyond the immediate boundaries of the solar system, pilots are seeing “moonriders” – big, black, spheroid objects that fly in formation. The people on Earth don’t believe there could possibly be such a thing (despite independent sightings) and the Academy is further ridiculed.

An opportunity presents itself in the way of a partially sponsored mission to drop monitoring boxes to watch for these unbelievable objects in space. Gregory McAllister, news journalist and good friend of Hutch, agrees to go on this mission, along with a Senators daughter and the Academy’s political liaison, Eric. While out in space, Hutch and McAllister, find more than the possibility of “moonriders”, they find asteroids being thrown at Earth projects and a threat to the whole of space itself.

Okay, this ones a bit melodramatic, but it is a sci-fi mystery thriller. This is the third book of McDevitt's I’ve read (the other two being Chindi and Omega) and I found this one to be more interesting. The plot wasn’t the greatest, but the story didn’t seem to drag on as it did in the other two. I found myself interested enough to keep turning those pages. McDevitt seems to have a theme in his books, or at least the three that I’ve read now – big mysterious object in space is threatening humanity (or might threaten humanity) and Hutch and McAllister must save the world. So all in all, I liked this book.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Recipe Review from 7/14/08

Between a three day yoga workshop down in the Cities (Matthew Sweeney at the Yoga House) and a trip to Goegibic, MI, to visit the Grandpa, I made exactly one new recipe. It tasted good, but got demerits in the instruction department. And I forgot to take a picture, darn it.

Miso-Sesame Noodle Salad (Vegetarian Times, June 08, pg 50) 3.0
The little blurb talks about how this is a cold noodle salad, but the directions said nothing about serving it cold. So I didn’t. My first act was to substitute vermicelli for the called-for Asian or rice noodles. This is the main reason I don’t make Asian dishes much – so many call for somewhat obscure-to-me ingredients that I only use once or twice. While the water for the noodles came to a boil, I pureed tofu, miso, ginger, lemon juice and a jalapeño pepper in my food processor. Noodles are now happily cooking, so I sautéed up the remainder of the tofu and set it aside, then sautéed the eggplant, bell pepper and snow peas and mushroom (oyster – the shitake looked unappetizing in the bin).

This is where the directions seemed incomplete: it called for tossing the veggies and the noodles, but never said when to add the tofu-miso “dressing”. I erred on the side of caution and served it separately. Both the Husband and I liked the flavor and colors of the dish; I didn’t like the vague directions. Still, I would consider making this again now that I know what I feel I should do. I halved this and it served two for dinner with enough for one lunch.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Have Space Suit Will Travel by Robert Heinlein

I "read" this one this weekend on my way to and from the Twin Cities for a yoga workshop. I'm really enjoying these books on tape, what a great way to do something while driving!

I’ve started and erased this review a couple of times now. I just couldn’t think of what I wanted to say about Have Space Suit. I finally decided I needed to break it into two parts - one, the story itself and two, Heinlein’s tirade against society.

Have Space Suit Will Travel is set in the 1950's and is one of his juvenile pieces of literature. Kip Russell dreams of going to the stars, and when Skyway Soap has a contest for best lingo with the prize being a trip to the Moon, Kip collects and submits 5000 entries. He doesn’t win the trip to the moon, but a space suit instead. If he returns the space suit to Goodyear by September, he will receive $500. But Kip upgrades and fixes said suit over the summer and when out on a walk on night (in the suit) is abducted by aliens.

Kip fins himself on one heck of a space adventure involving “wormfaces”, the Mother-Thing, and his genius side-kick, 10 year old PeeWee. He finds himself on the Moon, Pluto and eventually beyond the Milky Way Galaxy in front of a galactic court to defend the human race. It was this part of the story that was fun and adventurous. I didn’t perceive this as a “coming of age” book that is so common in scifi and fantasy, but just a light space opera aimed at young adults.

Where the book became annoying was Heinlein’s tirades against the states educational system. He denigrates the public education system (one of his common themes in his books), and Kip is smart enough to teach himself advanced mathematics, geometry and physics but yet must “settle” for going to the local state (read - inadequate) college because he isn’t good enough to get into MIT. I do get tired of Heinlein’s diatribes against the ills of 1950's society (Starship Troopers is another fine example - great book, hidden agenda). But if it really bothered me, I wouldn’t be reading Heinlein.

The other issue I had with the story were the long, and I do mean long, graphic descriptions of how a space suit works, or Kip describing in mathematical terms how he is going to escape (again, part of Heinlein’s soapbox), and so on. Perhaps I’ve become rather shallow and jaded, but if I were a young adult, this book would probably bore the heck out of me. As an adult, I could appreciate (I didn't say 'like') his social commentary and what he was trying to get across.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Recipe Review from 7/7/08

Just a couple of dishes from last week, but these were a lot of fun - grilled pizza! From scratch! Oh, this was so much fun. I did have some initial trepidation about the pizza dough, but it turned out just perfect.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough (Eating Well, July/Aug 08) 5.0
This is a combination of whole wheat, AP flour and cornmeal, mixed with water, yeast, salt and a tich of sugar. The dough is kneaded until baby-bum smooth and allowed to rise for an hour. This ended up being a bit longer as I needed to get the grill going. Then it is shaped, placed on a peel or cookie sheet (liberally sprinkled with cornmeal) and slid onto the grill. I grilled it on a gas grill for about 10 minutes at roughly 350* to 400*.

The first one I made stuck to my cookie sheet and kinda glumped off onto the grill - more angst as I tried to quickly spread it out. The second one I used a lot more cornmeal and it slid off beautifully.

The directions call for flipping the dough - not as hard as I thought it would be - as it is like a flatbread - and then put on the respective toppings. You do have to work quickly as all your heat is escaping. I thought for sure the dough would be tough or slightly burnt from all this time on the grill, but it was crispy with a nice tender inside. Just the way the Husband likes it.

So I made two variations on this:


Eggplant Parmesan Pizza (Eating Well, July/Aug 08) 4.0
Using the pizza dough recipe from above, the toppings were: a marinara sauce, garlic, grilled chopped eggplant, kalmata olives and thinly sliced Parmesan cheese. I thickened my marinara sauce with a bit of tomato paste because I like my sauce a bit thicker. I didn’t care for the raw garlic spread right on the dough and next time I would take the time to saute it and add it to the sauce to temper the bite a bit. This turned out really good and was a nice variation on your basic pizza toppings.


Nacho Pizza (Eating Well, July/Aug 08) 4.0
Again, using the pizza dough recipe from above, the toppings this time were black beans pureed with garlic (sauteed this time) and jarred roasted red peppers. Lucky me! I had a half jar on hand that needed to be used up. This forms the “sauce”. The rest of the toppings were a chopped pickled jalapeno - which I also had on hand! - monteray jack cheese, chopped tomato and fresh Swiss chard from the garden. I forgot to get some sour cream, so I used an avocado I had on hand to spread on afterwards. Yum!

I will definitely be making pizza like this again! So easy, and they offered an oven variation as well.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Halting State by Charles Stross


Book #5 for the Hugo Nominee.

This was a delight to read. The story is set in independent Scotland in 2018. Everyone has direct and constant access to the web through their glasses and walk around in a constant twitch as they hammer away on virtual keyboards. Hayek Associates, a small start-up gaming company, has discovered their software has been infiltrated and the virtual bank they oversee has been robbed by a band of orcs and a dragon. Sergeant Sue Smith is first on this bewildering crime “scene”. Next to come along is Elaine, a sword wielding forensic accountant. She realizes she needs some additional help and has her current employer hire Jack, an unemployed gaming programer, to train her in the nuances of game space.

The chapters alternate between the three characters POV in second person. This worked...and it didn’t. You would be reading from Jack’s POV, chapter changes, POV changes, but it would take a couple pages to shift into the new character mentally. Personally, I liked Jack’s character, especially his constant reference to his “mummy lobe”. This was his overdeveloped sub-conscious that would cause him to blurt out things, be ultra honest and “do the right thing”.

Another aspect I really enjoyed was Sergeant Smith’s CopSpace capability. The police force had a overlay feature that could be dropped down on reality and allow them to see crime as it is happening, assess how honest people are answering questions, and access all sorts of files while out on the beat. Super cool.

Stross does throw a lot of gaming and computer abbreviations at the reader, and sometimes that got to be a bit much (since I am neither a gamer or a “graphic information specialist”). The story is fast paced and does throw a lot at the reader, and for once, I did not guess the ending ahead of time. There are a few niggling bits that were left unresolved, but I can live with those. This was as good as or better than Glasshouse. Check it out!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Recipe Review from 6/30/08

Did everyone have a good holiday weekend? Lots of sun and fun I hope. It’s been a busy week and my dishes made some great leftovers so not as much to report on this week.


Middle Eastern Chickpea Platter (Eating Well, July/Aug 08, pg 30) 5.0
This was a fantastic dish on so many levels. It was vegetarian (I’ve been trying to cut back the meat consumption in our house), it was so easy and quick to prepare, it tasted great, and we had enough for a second meal the next day.

Cubed eggplant (I used Japanese and peeled them) and garlic are briefly seared in olive oil. To this is added chickpeas, parsley and a tahini mixture of lemon juice and water and everything is briefly warmed then set aside.

On a large platter arrange thinly sliced tomatoes, feta, olives, thinly sliced red onion and wedges of pita pockets or folds. Add the chickpea mixture and serve. It is honestly that simple and delicious.

Picture from EatingWell.com

Tijuana Torta (Eating Well, July/Aug 08, pg 32)
This one grabbed my attention because it was BEANS and I could make it into lunches. Black beans are mashed with salsa, a bit of pickled jalapeno and cumin to make a hummus type paste. We used a tomatillo salsa because I had it on hand from a different dish. Then mash an avocado with lime juice and onion. The recipe called for shredded cabbage, but I used my standard broccoli slaw. The beans are spread on a baguette or in my case, a cibiatta loaf, then topped with the avocado and slaw. Something a bit different and refreshing for these warm summer days.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Brasyl by Ian McDonald


Hugo nominee #4.

I couldn’t finish this one either. This is set in Brazil with three different time lines: 1300's, 2006 and 2036. I made it 1/3 of the way through and honestly, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what the premise of the book is. I spent most of my attention trying to decipher what all the Portugese meant - which is my main gripe. I’m from Minnesota. I speak a Canadian dialect. I used to be somewhat fluent in German. I know a smattering of Spanish. Portugese? Forget it. There was just too much of the language thrown in, I don’t know how to even pronounce it and when I can’t pronounce something, even in my head, my brain begins to just gloss over it. This makes me irritated.

The only time line that was even interesting me was the one set in the 1300's with a Jesuit priest. I almost felt like skipping ahead and just reading that bit, but I have a feeling I would be missing some thing vital and be even more frustrated.

Perhaps Brasyl has a spectacular ending, I’m just not going to get there.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Feed by M.T. Anderson


Blue from my book group has brought this selection to the table several times, but so far it has been eliminated in our voting process. After several months of this (yes, months - we are a persistent group), curiosity go the better of me and I picked it up as a audio book from the library for my drive down to the Cities and back (for a SciFi Convention no less!).

This was curiously...different. It is considered juvenile fiction (ages 14+) but I seriously think this should be 16+ due to language and "mild adult situations".

I've cut and pasted the GoodReads.com description below. I just don't have a good way to summarize this peculiar and interesting book:

"This brilliantly ironic satire is set in a future world where television and computers are connected directly into people's brains when they are babies. The result is a chillingly recognizable consumer society where empty-headed kids are driven by fashion and shopping and the avid pursuit of silly entertainment--even on trips to Mars and the moon--and by constant customized murmurs in their brains of encouragement to buy, buy, buy.

Anderson gives us this world through the voice of a boy who, like everyone around him, is almost completely inarticulate, whose vocabulary, in a dead-on parody of the worst teenspeak, depends heavily on three words: "like," "thing," and the second most common English obscenity. He's even made this vapid kid a bit sympathetic, as a product of his society who dimly knows something is missing in his head. The details are bitterly funny--the idiotic but wildly popular sitcom called "Oh? Wow! Thing!", the girls who have to retire to the ladies room a couple of times an evening because hairstyles have changed, the hideous lesions on everyone that are not only accepted, but turned into a fashion statement. And the ultimate awfulness is that when we finally meet the boy's parents, they are just as inarticulate and empty-headed as he is, and their solution to their son's problem is to buy him an expensive car."


Titus, the main character, meets Violet on the Moon, and through her he learns there is a world beyond what's being pumped into his empty head. Violet knows how to write on actual paper, and she knows several "languages" (computer languages). She has an interest in the world beyond the domes and dead seas they live in. Violet wants to experience things beyond the Feed.

I really enjoyed this book. It was my first audio book and it was a positive experience. The actor did a great job conveying the apathy and emotion of the various characters in the dialog. Now I just need to join Blue in convincing the rest of the book group to give this one a try...