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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Nation by Terry Pratchett


I am a HUGE fan of Terry Pratchett's work. If a new book is released, it’s usually in my hands within a couple of months. Nation isn’t set in the Discworld universe, which is a bit of a departure for the author.

Mau is a young boy/man, who was on his way back to his tiny island after his coming-of-age trial and discovers his Nation - everyone - has been swept away by a huge tidal wave. Daphne is a young girl on her way to meet up with her father who has become governor of some outlying colony. Her ship was caught in the same wave, deposited on Mau’s island, and she is the only survivor.

It is the story of two people who have to learn how to survive, communicate, help other survivors, govern and defend the island and people from pirates, cannibals, and colonization. It’s also a story that strongly questions religious beliefs and why God does what he does. Mau repeatedly wonders how a caring god could allow his family, his Nation, to be destroyed.

This is marketed as a young adult book, which really surprised me after reading it. It’s rather weighty in the philosophical, moral, and theological departments. But yet, it is not really an adult book either. The two main characters are both in their pre-teens who due to life’s circumstance (one very large wave) are now rulers of a small island community and what they must do to survive. A coming of age story in other words.

The ending was more mature than what I would find in most young adult books, but it certainly wasn’t your typical conclusion where they all lived happily ever after - at least not in the way most people would envision. But Pratchett does a wonderful job of addressing that as well.

So I did enjoy Nation, but it’s not one of my favorite Pratchett novels.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Recipe Review from 11/17/08

As the weather outside grows frightful, the meals inside are delightful! Temperatures dipped down into the single digits last week. I don’t remember which morning it was, but when I dashed across the yard to the garage it was a measly 5*. Happily, it warmed back up into the 30's by the weekend.

But what a great excuse to make some soups and stews!

Picture from Eatingwell.com

Cream of Turkey and Wild Rice Soup (Eating Well, Dec 08, pg 28) 4.5
I really liked the simplicity and ease of this soup. I planned ahead and bought a rotisserie chicken and divided it up for the two recipes this week (do you know how HARD it is NOT to eat a fresh rotisserie chicken?!) I had some portobelo caps on hand that needed to be used up so they were my mushrooms, and I used Swiss card for the celery and added some of the tops in for extra vitamins. Actually, I need to add here that the Husband did final assembly, I just prepped. I also cut back on the chicken and doubled the wild rice. I also used regular wild rice that I had pre-cooked and froze for just this purpose.

The onion, Swiss chard, mushrooms, and carrots were all briefly sauteed. The flour was added and warmed, and finally the broth poured in and thickened. Last, the chicken and rice. This was the perfect consistency, made about 4 or 5 servings, and had a nice creamy flavor. I would definitely make this again.

Sweet and Spicy Chicken and White Bean Stew (Ckng Lght Nov 08, pg 186) 3.0
In theory, this should have been spectacular. In reality, it came out tasty like Lemon Pledge. I place the blame firmly on the lemon grass. This used up the remainder of the rotisserie chicken, and was combined with potato and white beans (from our garden!). This was more stew-like than the previous soup, with flavors from cardamom, cloves, turmeric and lemon grass to name a few. I must give credit where credit is due, the Husband assembled this one for our lunches for the week, but I picked out the recipe. .

Again, I think the would have been really good if we had just skipped the lemon grass. As it is, we are picking out the lemon grass bits or eating around them. Some flavors just aren’t meant to be in a soup.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Waste Lands by Steven King


It took me a bit longer to finish the third book in the Dark Tower series - in part because I became busy and didn’t have much reading time during the week and in part it was because this one moved a bit slower.

The book begins with Roland training Eddie and Susannah to be Gunslingers. Susannah graduates when she shoots the antenna dish of a gigantic cyborg bear that is trying to eat Eddie. It is here the trio picks up the Beam, a line of energy that will take them to the center of the world and eventually to the Dark Tower.

The downside is, Roland is having problems with a split in his personal time-space continuum - part of his brain is saying one reality happened and the other half is saying it didn’t. He’s beginning to crack. Eddie is having strange dreams, dreams of the boy Jake that Roland may or may not have actually killed in book 1. Susannah is the only sane one left. Yet, in his own world, Jake is also having difficulties with a split personality, but he seems to be handling it a lot better, accepting what his brain is telling him and acting on it.

There is so much going on in this book that I don’t think even a nutshell could hold a summary. We see the birth of the key that will pave the way for Jake to enter Roland’s world and cure the split in time. Jake holds another key - a pair of books in this case - for getting them to the Dark Tower via Blaine, a psychotic monorail train. And there is little Oy, a billy bumbler (think racoon) with a great big huge heart for Jake.

So this story really isn’t about Roland. And it’s not really about Susannah. It seems to focus on Eddie and Jake and the World that has Moved On.

Did I like this one? Yes. I didn’t think it was quite as strong as book 1 and 2, but that was because I like the bits with Roland. However I did like the bit with Blaine - a train/city who’s slowly gone psycho over the last 800 years. Very creepy and futuristic. I look forward to reading book 4.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Recipe Review from 11/10/08

Ahhh, a lull between the busy weekends! The weather has been fairly overcast, a bit windy and definitely on the cool side which has kept our outside activities a bit curtailed. Tonight I heard lows of 10*! Yikes! But this is a great excuse to make some chili’s, bake a chicken dinner and make a big pan of lasagna - which is exactly what we did.


Vegetarian Chili (Ckng Lght Sept 08, pg 88) 4.5
I really liked this chili. It was super simple to bring together, it doesn’t matter what beans I used and it tasted fantastic. The consistency was perfect, chunky tomatoes, lots of beans, and nice and saucy. Assembly consisted of sauteing onion, green pepper and red pepper. To this the seasonings were added and briefly toasted. Then I added the broth, tomatoes and beans. The beans I used were jacobs cattle (from the garden), black beans, and garbanzo beans. I loved the creaminess of all three. Since my Jacobs cattle needed to be cooked, I simmered this for an hour - recipe called for only 30 minutes, which is fine if using canned beans. I served this with some sweet corn muffins (Ckng Lght, Jan 2007, I think), and a bit of sour cream and cheese for toppings.



Chicken Baked over Mushroom Dressing (Eating Well, Dec 2008, pg 61) 4.0
I had Veteran’s Day off and thought this would be a splendid opportunity to make a nice dinner for my Veteran, and the idea of cooking the chicken and the stuffing at the same time intrigued me. A 4 - 4 1/2lb baking chicken is seasoned. I followed the recipe and used salt and dried thyme, but really, any herbal seasoning would work. This is placed breast down in a 9x13 baking pan and roasted for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, onions, a variety of mushrooms, and red pepper are sauteed with some salt, sage and oregano. This mixture is added to whole wheat bread cubes and everything is doused with chicken broth.

The chicken is pulled out and the nasty fat removed from the bottom of the pan. Then the stuffing is spread evenly in the bottom and the chicken added back in, to bake right side up. This actually worked pretty well. I did have to add extra broth as it baked, as my little chicken didn’t have enough juices to keep everything nice and moist. I liked how I could bake everything in one pan. I would make this again in the future with one adjustment - I would halve the stuffing. A 9x13 pan makes way too much. And some gravy would have been nice.



Parmesan and Root Vegetable Lasagna (Ckng Lght, Nov 18, pg 116) 4.0
Gripe #1: Where’s the roots?!? Recipe called for two veggies - sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Only one of those is a root vegetable so we added parsnips. Yum.

Gripe #2: Huge amount of prep with a fairly substantial baking time. 45 minutes to roast veggies. 30 minutes to bake with cover on. 20 minutes with cover off. Many thanks to the Husband for starting this one! Seriously - he prepped the veggies before I got home which was an immense help, and it still took another hour to finish prep and bake.

Order of assembly:
Cube and bake root vegetables with a cup of chopped onion. 45 minutes.

Bring 4 cups of milk to simmer with nutmeg, cloves, bay leaf and onion. Let stand 15minutes.

Grate 5 oz of Parmesan (note to self, buy pre-grated next time or have Husband grate). 10 minutes

Strain onion and bay leaf from milk; return to heat and add flour to thicken. Remove from heat and add cheese. 15 minutes.

Put no-boil noodles in the bottom of 9x13 pan (what’s this with only 3 noodles!? Use 5 at least.) Layer veggies, mozzarella cheese and white sauce. Repeat. Needed more mozzarella.

Baked covered at 400* for 30 minutes. Baked uncovered for 5.

Eat.

Despite all the putziness, this was really good. I served warm sourdough bread as the side and it was almost an ideal meal. A spinach salad would been a perfect addition. I would make this again using my modifications and buying pre-grated Parmesan.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Knitting Projects # 22 & 23; Update and Completed

For October, I was working on a pair of socks as part of Socktoberfest over on Ravelry. I got one sock finished, and a good start on sock number two. As I mentioned in Wednesdays post, we did a trip across the state to deer hunt and visit the Husbands family. The thing about visiting his family is it entails A LOT of sitting. I used to get real fidgety, but knitting really came through for me this weekend. I was able to finish the toe on the first sock (still having problems with that kitchner stitch) and get a good start on the second. I am a bit disappointed because I wasn’t able to start in the same spot color wise so the striping is off a bit. Oh well.



Pattern: Sensational Knitted Socks, Baby Cable
Needles: Guage #2, dps
Yarn: Wisdom Yarns, “Boston”

My sock needles are too small to knit with in the car, so I worked on re-doing the Husbands hat. The pattern was running rather large. I cast on 120 sts for a “large” size per the instructions, and it was HUGE, even for his noggin. Since I was so close to being done with it, I just frogged out enough to start a new hat in a “medium” with 108 sts cast on.



I finished the hat on Tuesday night. The "medium" was still a bit big, but I told the Husband we can always run it through the wash to shrink it down if he wants. I also wasn't happy with the decrease instructions, but I'm wondering if I read them incorrectly. I did what the directions said, but in hindsight, I think I translated them wrong.



Pattern: Ely Hat by Theresa Gaffey Designs
Guage: #8 cir
Yarn: Malabrogio Yarns (oh so soft and yummy!)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Unfinished Business

The Husband and I did our yearly road trip to Fergus Falls for deer hunting and to visit his relatives. I don’t mind the four hour drive, I love the scenery and how it changes as you go straight across the state and now that I’ve learned how to knit, it’s a great way to get some serious stitching done. But something was niggling me on this trip: years ago, and I mean like 5 or 6 years ago (I remember this because one of the hounds was a puppy) I started a cross stitch project – a bouquet of trillium's - and I took it with me on one of these cross state trips. Two years ago I pulled it out with great intentions, but it got slid back into the bag to rest quietly, forgotten again.



When we got back, I decided it was waaayyy past time to finish it. Much to my surprise and delight, I had it done in under an hour. I don't know why I dallied so long!

Which made me think of my other languishing projects and hence, the title of this post. I rooted around in my cross-stitch storage bin and found this one:



I hesitate to tell you how long it’s been tucked away or when I started it, but I know it's been at least 20 years (I was still in high school!). It still has the old circular hoop marks on it and I switched over to the wooden frames about 10 years ago.

Then there is this one, a needlepoint project that I fell in love with. I think I stopped working on it because the side pillars weren’t looking good to me. I thought about switching floss, but I already had a quarter of it done and that was a bit much to rip out. It’s a large project too, measuring a foot and a half across the top and sides - not a good project to transport around.




And my last project here is finished, but now I wonder what the heck I’m going to do with it. It is one of six castles in a series and I haven’t made the other five. I’m not certain I want to make the other castles. What to do. What to do.




So there they are. My unfinished stash confessions.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Root Vegetable Stew with Herbed Dumplings

Small recipe review this week. The Husband was out of town at the beginning of the week and we were both out of town Friday through Monday. And I got lazy mid-week and we went out to eat one night, I was just too pooped to deal with cooking and dishes. I'm not certain what I'm going to make next week - I've been too busy running around getting ready for the weekend.



Root Vegetable Stew with Herbed Dumplings (Eating Well, Dec 08) 4.5
The Husband made this last Wednesday night with very tasty results. This is a very versatile recipe that calls for 2 lbs of assorted root vegetables so you can tailor it to your tastebuds: beets, celeriac root, parsnips, rutabagas, carrots and turnips. We used sweet potato (he doesn't like beets), with parsnips and carrots from the garden.

He noted that the recipe called for making things in two pots, but after reviewing the directions, he said it was easily done in one. He sauteed the kielbasa (our substitute for Italian or Sweet sausage) and set aside, then he sauteed the onion and added everything else. The Husband noted that he did boil the carrots and parnsips a bit longer than called for - the last time we cooked with them they weren’t quite done. For the spinach we used up some of the last of the chard greens from the garden

While the soup was simmering, he made the dumplings. The recipe calls for cake flour and whole wheat pastry flour, but he just used regular for each. Our dumplings weren't what I would call heavy, but they didn't turn out exactly light either. The consistency was very similar to bread which I thought held up well in the soup, better than other flour dumplings we've made in fact.

I would make this again - I think it would be lovely for company on a chilly day.

The Husband made this last Wednesday night with very tasty results. This is a very versatile recipe that calls for 2 lbs of assorted root vegetables so you can tailor it to your tastebuds: beets, celeriac root, parsnips, rutabagas, carrots and turnips. We used sweet potato (he doesn't like beets), with parsnips and carrots from the garden.

He noted that the recipe called for making things in two pots, but after reviewing the directions, he said it was easily done in one. He sauteed the kielbasa (our substitute for Italian or Sweet sausage) and set aside, then he sauteed the onion and added everything else. The Husband noted that he did boil the carrots and parnsips a bit longer than called for - the last time we cooked with them they weren’t quite done. For the spinach we used up some of the last of the chard greens from the garden

While the soup was simmering, he made the dumplings. The recipe calls for cake flour and whole wheat pastry flour, but he just used regular for each. Our dumplings weren't what I would call heavy, but they didn't turn out exactly light either. The consistency was very similar to bread which I thought held up well in the soup, better than other flour dumplings we've made in fact.

I would make this again - I think it would be lovely for company on a chilly day.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King


Book Two of the Dark Tower series.

Book two picks up right where Gunslinger leaves off. Roland, the last Gunslinger fell asleep sitting on the beach and woke up a bit on the groggy side. Next thing he knows, a lobstrocity has munched his right hand and foot. And book two is off and running. Roland knows he going to come across three doors, and three people behind those doors, on his quest for the penultimate Dark Tower. This is that story.

Okay, so I'm really simplifying the plot here, but I simply cannot do justice to Kings prose. After reading The Gunslinger in one sitting, I was leery if book two would be as engrossing - it is. The world to me is definitely a cross between a spaghetti western, Zelazny's Amber series, and an epic fantasy.

And it's the small things that really make this story click - such as the cocaine addict Eddie who fights a gun battle buck nekked. King has Roland acknowledge this feat, in the middle of battle, which makes it that much more poignant.

I had read one review for this book, in which the reader thought book two was darker. I have not found it so - the whole series has a darkness to it, but there are dry, wry, tidbits of humor sprinkled through out.

Thank heavens Amanda lent the whole series to me, I think I'm going to be reading them straight through.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Recipe Review from 10/27/08

Oh my oh my. What an exciting week! Our local and state elections were as exciting as the national one. Still, I’m glad all the campaigning is over - we may now resume our regularly scheduled programs called life.

To play catch-up from Monday, here’s last weeks recipe review:



Ziti with Tomatoes and Spinach in Gorgonzola Sauce (Ckng Lght Sept 08, pg 148) 4.5
This was an excellent dish with great flavor that came together very quickly. I did have a couple of substitutions - campanelle pasta for the ziti, swiss chard for the spinach and some baby portobelo tossed to use them up. While the pasta is boiling, I briefly sauteed the mushrooms, tomatoes and garlic. To this was added the Gorgonzola cheese and a splash of ½ n ½ to make it nice and creamy. When the pasta was complete, it was added to the pan and coated in the sauce and vegetables.

Only one complaint about the recipe itself - the directions call to make the sauce first then boil the pasta. Very misleading because the sauce is then cooling while one is waiting for the pasta to cook. The two can be done simultaneously.



Roasted Parsnip Soup (Eating Well, Nov/Dec 08, pg 80) 3.5
The Husband made this recipe and had a few complaints about it - the directions call to clean and core the parsnips. He felt not only was this a pain in the patooie, but unnecessary as well. In past recipes, we have never cored our parsnips. Second, the roasting didn’t seem to soften the vegetables as the recipe indicated. Perhaps a longer recommended roasting period is necessary or a combination of roasting and boiling. There was supposed to be a balsamic vinegar reduction drizzled over the top, but that was more work than he/we wanted to deal with for just dinner.

So the soup ended up a bit granular - almost with a cream of wheat consistency. We liked the peppery flavor, and it was perfect for these fall nights, but we both agreed it could have been better.

Pumpkin Muffins (Ckng Lght Annual 07, pg 396) 3.5
I happened to have all the ingredients on hand so I whipped up a batch of these for a yoga book group meeting this past Sunday. Due to the addition of molasses, these were a bit stronger in the flavor department than I would have liked - the molasses being tempered by buttermilk, brown sugar, pumpkin and a heck of a lot of spices. They did bake up very moist with a nice open crumb. I did substitute craisins for raisins because many folk just do like raisins in their baked goods (me being one of them). I am waffling if I would make them again - they were good, but not really what I like in a pumpkin muffin.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Tenth Muse by Judith Jones

Today is usually recipe review day, but I left my recipe list at home as I dashed out the door. And typically I have my posts all ready to go for Monday, needing only to upload the photos, but I was computerless this weekend, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I can't work ahead for the week.

So instead of recipes (which I will post for Wednesday) I will review a book about food and recipes: The Tenth Muse by Judith Jones


This was a very quick and interesting read - I finished it in a couple of days. Judith Jones is the editor who brought the world Anne Frank’s Diary and Mastering the Art of French Cooking and many other well known cookbooks in the 1950s, 60's and 70's. She was there to ride the wave of French cooking and good home cooking in general and eventually international cooking in America at a time when jello molds and cream of mushroom casserole’s were a standard.

Jones doesn't dwell too long on any one particular chef or author, but keeps the story lively by keeping to the highlights. We are introduced to her passion for French food (or perhaps I should say good food) as a young woman in France in the late 40's early 50's, how she came to be an editor for Knopf and her quest to cook well.

While I enjoyed the book, a couple items did manage to irritate me: at times I found the tone a bit condescending - if you didn’t aspire to cook French, then you really aren't a true cook. If you are from the Midwest, you really just don't know how to cook - after all, Midwesterners only eat out of cans and apparently this was proven on a trip to rural Iowa and Minnesota. Well excuuuusseee us Midwesterners for not living in NYC. Her writing style, while enjoyable to follow, often had small holes where some item of information was left wanting and would either be provided later or not at all.

Other than that, I found the book to be a neat look at the history of the cookbook, how influential a small group of people (Judith Jones, Alfred Knopf, Julia Child, Mariann Cunningham, James Beard and others) were in shaping the course of appetites in America. This book also dovetails very nicely with My Life in France by Julia Child, as the histories overlap. So if you are looking for a mellow yet enjoyable book to read on vacation or for a lazy day around the house, this would be a good choice.