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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Knitting Update!

Despite the plethora of book reviews lately, my needles have not been idle! During Easter weekend while at Minicon, I cast on for a pair of socks; I've completed 2 of 4dishcloths for the SIL whilest down in Montevideo two weekends ago and number 3 is halfway done as I type this; and I whipped out a quick eyelash scarf. Unfortunately, the afghan has been idle.

Sensational Knitted Socks - Simple Rib
Wisdom Yarns - "Boston"
#2 dps

This pair of socks has actually been started about three times now. First two times the pattern I picked just wasn't working. I set these aside for quite some time, then Minicon weekend I picked a new pattern cast on and was STILL not happy. I had initially chosen a waffle rib, but with the self striping yarn it just wasn't working out. BUT! When I flipped the sock inside out it was a really nice simple rib. Now working somewhat backwards, it was going well until last night when I managed to confuse myself and had to rip out to the heel turn. Oh well. It's back on track now and I hope to have most of #1 done this weekend if I don't get to busy with yard work.

Leisure Arts - Knifty Knit Dishcloths "Stacked Barrels"
Sugar n' Cream in green
#3 and #4 needles.

I've been experimenting lately with the needle size on my dishcloths. The patterns call for No.7's, and I usually use No.6's, but a co-worker did a cloth from KrisKnits that called for No.3's. I loved how it turned out, so I scampered out and purchased a couple smaller guage needles and waa-la! A nice snug dishcloth. The SIL requested four in "Tuscan" colors and I've finished these two in green. Currently on the needles is number 3 in a beautiful mahogany. Number four will be in an off-white/green/brown earth toneish varigated color.

Eyelash Scarf
#17 needles

I have a purple eyelash scarft that was given to me quite some time ago that I absolutely love for Spring/Fall and for the cooler days in the office (doesn't your office get cold?). I picked a couple skeins up over Minicon weekend from 3 Kittens in Maple Grove and after a few fits getting started (this yarn is a PITA!) I quickly had one knit up. I did 12 sts across and I wish I had done 16 or 18. I may rip it out and re-do, but I do have two more skeins (a varigated blue and a lovely green) to do up first.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Recipe Review from 4/20/09

Whew! It's been a super slow couple of weeks for new recipes. I've been running around like a harassed chicken (you can read why here) and when I get a breather I've been either knitting or reading. Meals have been super simple.

Both of the following sounded good, but turned out just okay. I also wish that I would have cut back the portions just a bit. "Serves 4" has been too much for me lately. Will have to work on that in the coming weeks.

Pasta with Artichokes and Fresh Ricotta (Ckng Lght Apr 09, pg 80) 3.0
I did modify this just a little to make prep simpler and I reflected that in the recipe below. I used frozen-thawed artichokes instead of prepping my own. I tried to find "fresh" ricotta - not certain how "fresh" it actually was but I found a tub of something at Cub in the "specialty cheese" section. I used campanelle pasta because I had some in the drawer. Overall, this was simple to pull to gether, but a bit on the bland side. I found I kept adding salt to bump up the taste factor. I think either some red pepper flakes or a dollup of goat cheese would go a long way in the flavor department.

Pasta with Artichokes and Fresh Ricotta
Yield: 4 servings

1 pkg frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1-2 cloves chopped fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups uncooked penne rigate pasta (about 8 ounces tube-shaped pasta or substitute)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shaved fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions, omitting salt and fat. Drain pasta in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic to pan; cook 1 minute. Add artichokes and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cover and cook 10 minutes or until artichokes are tender, stirring occasionally.

3. Combine remaining 1 tablespoon oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, artichoke mixture, pasta, reserved cooking liquid, parsley, and pepper in a large bowl, tossing to combine. Add ricotta in spoonfuls, stirring gently to combine. Spoon 1 1/3 cups pasta mixture into each of 4 bowls; top each serving with 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Noodles with Bamboo Shoots and Shitake Mushrooms (Ckng Lght May 09, 168) 3.0
This recipe really got modified by the time all was said and done. I love Asian noodle dishes, but if I need "hard to find" ingredients (I don't live in an area that carries a lot of Asian ingredients) it doesn't get made. This one I felt I could modify but still keep the essence of the dish.

Well, darn it. I can't find the recipe on-line! It doesn't appear to be posted yet.

Okay, I took ww linguine and cooked it al-dente. It was still a bit uncooked in the center - very important. Set the pasta aside. I then dry-fried firm tofu until nicely browned and set it aside. I added some olive oil to the pan and tossed in one clove of garlic and about a tsp of ginger. To this was added one 4oz pkg of shitake mushrooms and 1 can rinsed and drained bamboo shoots and I sauteed for about 3 minutes. Then I upped the heat slightly and added 1/2 cup of sherry (amontillado) and let it reduce. Then I added 1 cup of vegetable broth and about 1 tsp of siracha chili sauce and added the noodles to the pan and let everything heat back up. Towards the end of this cooking period I tossed in the tofu to warm up as well. Green onions were sprinkled over the top.

I thought this turned out pretty decent and I was glad I added the siracha sauce. It needed a little bit of a kick.

On deck for next week:
Huevos Rancheros Verdes from Eating Well
Chinese and Chicken Noodle Salad from Eating Well

Friday, April 24, 2009

National MS Society - Walk Event

National MS Society - Walk Event: Home

My sister Kate has participated in the Multipule Sclerois Society Walk - Twin Cities for several years now on behalf of her good freind Jen. Jen was diagnosed with a rather aggressive form of MS at a young age, but it doesn't matter when or how a person gets MS, the fact is it is a debilitating disease that affects their quality of life.

Please take a look at the MS Society's secure web page for Team Kate and if you can donate a little something it would be very much appreciated.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

Initially I was looking forward to reading book 4, but after starting it, and starting it again, then setting it aside, and setting it aside again and having made my way through about 2/3 of the book - I decided I wanted to know what was going to happen NOW and skimmed the rest.

To say this was wordy is the understatement of the year. To say the plot moved slowly would be the understatement of the century. Even sitting in an airport for three hours didn't help. This is not to say King can't write, because the writing is brilliant, I felt the plot slogged along in the mire of a world that was moving on.

Book 4 is supposed to be Roland's history. I was...expecting more. To greatly sum up, it was a snapshot of a year in the life of a banished 14yo who falls in love with a young gal who is under a curse. OF COURSE it's going to end badly. We are talking Stephen King here. I guess I wanted to see more of Roland's world rather than just this one desolate place in time.

So it was a rather disappointing read and I was glad to return to the main story line at the end.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Owls Well that Ends Well by Donna Andrews

This is book 6 in the series.

I munch through these mysteries rather quickly, and still needing a brain break after finishing Nova Swing, I consumed book 6.

Premise of the book is Meg and her actor-boyfriend Michael finally decided to buy the Victorian mansion they discovered in a previous book outside of Caerphilly. The house comes at a price though, the previous owner, Edwina Sprocket was an eclectic hoarder and left behind room and rooms and sheds and barns full of various sundries. And there is a lot. Meg and Michael decide to hold the yard sale of yard sales and she enlists her eccentric family to help.

What was going to be the sale of the season turns into the circus of the year when the body of a local antiques dealer is found dead in a trunk. Now it's up to Meg to find out who killer was so she can resume her yard sale as quickly as possible!

Another fun read - quick, full of quirky characters such as "Gordon-you-thief", the Hummel Lady, and the Sombrero Man. One of my complaints with this book was how the heroine seems to live this frantic life running around with her notebook and calling 911 to shout "I've got the killer! Oops, never's not him." Andrews did at a bit more realism this time with a brief argument between Meg and Michael regarding Michael's attempts to get Meg to talk to her mother about decorating the house, but I felt the resolution came a bit quick and fast.

Anyway, I'm not going to pick on the book because the whole point is it's just a fun read.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nova Swing by M. John Harrison

I'm not sure how to describe or review this book and do it justice.

Set in the same timeline as Light, Nova Swing follows an assortment of characters who have come to settle in Saudade (still not sure if this is the planet or the city or the Event Site...): Fat Antoyne and Liv Hula used to fly spaceships, Edith and Emil used to be part of a traveling show, Irene the Mona came from farther up the tract. Now they live in on a backwater world where they can hop in a tank and be whoever or wherever they want to be or go to a gene tailor and create a new persona. But our cast of characters doesn't seem interested in what they can do to themselves, they're interested who they are and who they could have been. They are a group of dreamers.

This is complicated by the Event Site, a place where part of the Kefahuchi Tract fell to ground and warped the way time and space behave. Several of the characters are drawn to it and some are ambivalent, but the Event Site seems to dictate who will do what. Will Fat Antoyne go in? Will Vic ever come out? And what's the deal with the armpit-tattooing serial killer who did in Lens Ashemmans wife?

There are moments of pure brilliance in this book, with great insightful turns of phrases. And there are moments of sheer head-scratchers. I don't care to read a novel and have to sit and decipher what I just read. A good example of this is the blurb on the back of the book just doesn't match what's going on the inside. And I really felt there were too many threads that didn't get resolved. That almost bothers me more than questioning what I just read every couple of chapters.

Still, if you enjoyed Light, you'll probably like this one as well.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Recipe Review from 4/6/09

A rather quiet week for recipes as our household is in a bit of flux and the Husband and I went out to eat a couple of times. As much as I enjoy eating in and making our meals, sometimes I just need a break from the kitchen.

The Husband was super nice and pulled together this very simple chili recipe. I really liked how it turned out - spicy, thick, rich. He did admit we ran out of chili powder so he subbed a combination of seasonings like cayanne pepper and odds and ends he found in the fridge. We didn't save any onion for garnish, but did top it with grated cheese and sour cream. This made about 6 servings (2 suppers and 2 lunches). Some corn muffins rounded out our meal.

Slow-Cooker Beef and Black-Bean Chili
Modified from Everyday Foods 4/09

Prep: 10 minutes Total: 10 minutes, plus slow cooking

There's no need to soak these dried beans because they simmer in the slow cooker. Save a little of the chopped red onion for a fresh garnish.

Serves 4.

1 pound beef chuck, cut into 3/4-inch chunks (we used venison chops)
1 can (15 ounces) tomato puree
1 cup dried black beans, rinsed (or two cans, rinsed and drained)
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1/4 cup sour cream, for serving

grated cheese for serving.

In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine beef, tomato puree, beans, onion (reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish), garlic, chili powder, cumin, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Cover, and cook on high 4-6 hours (or on low 2-4 hours). Serve chili topped with sour cream and reserved onion.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Minicon 44!

Every Easter weekend for the last 15 years, I have met up with Gail and we head over to the Cities for our annual science fiction convention: Minicon. The weekend usually goes like this:

Friday - knitting store (or spice store, or kitchen store, or bookstore...) and lunch. Usually it has been the Yarnery in St. Paul, but Gail found the 3 Kittens Needle Arts in Mendota Heights so we arranged to meet there. What a delightful store! The needlepoint canvas's were incredible - so crisp with beautiful bright colors. I stuck to knitting and picked up 2 skeins of eyelash yarn for a couple of scarves, #3 bamboo needles and a skein of cascade yarn for socks.

Then it was off to lunch! We went to Da Afghan in Bloomington (1/8th mile west of REI in the industrial park for those of you familiar with area). It was so-so. Gail chose the buffet and I went with the menu. Gail noted that the buffet items were rather on the dry side. I had a stewed eggplant and tomato dish with basmati rice that was actually pretty good. We both had chai tea which was excellent and finished the meal with a dessert - baklava for me (yum!) and a puff pastry and ice cream dish for her (looked yum!).

The convention doesn't get started until late afternoon/evening, so we had some time to kill. A walk around Beaver Brook Field (Hwy 100 and American Blvd W) helped with digestion, before heading to the Sheraton. Plus I don't get so fidgity if I've moved around a bit.

It was a good convention this year - the GoH was Karl Schroder; I haven't read his books but I may have to check one out now. The Science GoH was Seth Shotack, an astronomer with SETI. He was really cool to listen to. The Artist GoH wasn't able to make it, but I ended up buying two of his prints and one of his books. Amazing artwork. We usually stay through Sunday, but a family conflict this year had me traveling home Saturday night.

Here's the panels I went to:
Opening Ceremonies
Worlds of Bladerunner - movies influenced by this cult classic movie.
Humor with an Edge - Humor in SF and Fantasy
Which Singularity? - a discussion about the Singularity Event in SF
Steampunk - why does the Victorian age facinate SF&F writers/readers?
Science Fiction Westerns - briefly. I bailed and went to:
SETI Fact & Fiction

As always, I am already looking forward to next year! Though this year I'm going to Worldcon in Montreal and I'm really looking forward to that too.

Friday, April 10, 2009

We'll Always Have Parrots by Donna Andrews

This is book 5 in the Meg Langslow series.

This was just a fun brain candy book and why I liked it in particular was because it was set at a fantasy convention and, having attended SF&F conventions for the past 15years, I could totally relate to the surroundings. The outlandishly costumed fans, boring panels, a dealers room, issues with the hotel, masquerades, auctions...yup, been there, done that!

Premise of the book revolves around Meg and her actor-boyfriend Michael, who is required by contract to attend a certain number of publicity events for the hit fantasy serial show Portafina. Nearly the whole cast and crew are here for this Convention and they are none to happy about it.

Our cast of characters includes the "QB", as she is referred to - who owns the rights to the comic book series, the show and everyone's contract. Not well liked by her castmates, she refuses to come out of her room for her autograph signings and discussion panels. Michael’s good friend and evil nemesis on the show, Walker, just received notice the QB was going to fire him. Nate, the show's writer, can't stand QB because she mangles his scripts. Tabitha is the QB's personal assistant and the only assistant to last more than a week. Ichabod Dully is not who he seems. Chris is the shows weapons master and womanizer. Everyone adores Maggie and Salome the tiger is looking for a new home.

And if the cast weren't enough to contend with, someone let loose the parrots and monkeys and they are now running amok in the hotel.

Yes, the plot has issues, especially with the escaped monkeys, parrots and a tiger on display. Yes, Meg spends the book running about between her booth in the dealers room and trying to solve the mystery. But it was just a fun read anyway.

I find some irony at posting this review today - I'm heading down to Minneapolis for one of my favorite sci-fi conventions this morning!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Knitting Update!

So my poor blanket is lanquishing a bit from neglect, but in my defense, it is not a portable project (I have something like 20 skeins of yarn and I'm using two at any given moment). But that doesn't mean my needles have been idle!

I've finished Finny's hats; one I did "as written" and the other I modified and did smaller stripes. I'm parial to the small stripes. I did enjoy this pattern and yarn, so I picked some up in pinks for the nieces for next fall.

Guageless Hat #106
Cabin Arts pamphlet
#4 dps and circular
Cascade Fixation yarn

And I finished a couple more dishcloths:

Bee Stitch from Leisure Arts Kitchen Bright Dishcloths
#6 needles
Sugar n' Cream yarn

Simple Weave from Leisure Arts Knifty Knit Dishcloths
#4 needles
Sugar n' Cream yarn

The Simple Weave was a bit of an experiment. I've been using #6 needles with the Sugar n'Cream yarns, but my dishcloths still tend to come out on the large and floppish size even tho I tend to knit on the tight side. A co-worker did a dishcloth pattern that called for #3 and #4 needles and I loved how snug it knitted up. I think the #4's worked great, but I'm going to find a pair of #3's and try those.

Oh! Dimensions would help here - the Simple Weave is supposed to be ~9x9" with #7's. I used #4's and the dimensions were 10x10.5". Yea, I think I can safely try #3's.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Recipe Review from 3/31/09

Two recipes from last week; lots of leftovers!

Spicy Asian Stir-fry (modified from Vegetarian Times, Mar 09) 3.5
This was based off of the stir-fry I made a week ago with the whole wheat linguine. I was in the mood for some tofu, and I had plenty of leftover veggies, so I subbed tofu for the pasta and served it over brown rice.

I enjoyed this variation - lightly browned tofu, broccoli, pea pods, boc choy, red pepper, onion all lightly steamed and then tossed with a bit of siracha sauce and hosin sauce. I tell ya, I am addicted to siracha sauce! Hot, spicy, yum yum!

Woot! I found the original recipe! Please note, I skipped the peanuts completely.

Spicy Asian Stir Fry

This recipe is a good way to make the switch from white pasta to whole-grain varieties that offer more fiber and protein. The dish also tastes great as a cold noodle salad.

Serves 4

1 Tbs. peanut oil
8 oz. whole-wheat linguine noodles
1 small onion, thinly sliced (1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
1 small head bok choy, chopped into 2-inch pieces (1½ cups)
11/2 cups broccoli florets
1/3 cup snow peas, halved
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
2 Tbs. hoisin sauce
1 Tbs. garlic-chile sauce
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking water, and set pasta aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until onion is golden.

3. Add bok choy, broccoli, snow peas, and bell pepper. Stir-fry 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, cover, and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in hoisin and garlic-chili sauces. Stir in noodles, adding 1/2 cup reserved cooking water. Add more water if mixture seems too dry. Garnish each serving with 1 Tbs. chopped peanuts.

Enchilada Verde (Vegetarian Times, Mar 09, pg 45) 3.0
This was a simple enough dish that turned out lighter tasting than I thought it would. It made 5 enchiladas for me - I think I bought larger tortillas - and one tortilla served over some fresh spinach with a corn muffin made a perfect meal. I also used whole wheat tortillas to up the healthy factor.

In addition, one cup of cheese is just not enough. You can (and should!) at least double it. I didn't care for the cumin seeds and would have preferred a dash of ground cumin mixed in. I found I would hit these little crunchy bits and I found that unsettling.

Enchilada Verde
Serves 8

1 14.5-oz. can diced fire-roasted tomatoes with green chiles, drained
1 24-oz. container fat-free large-curd cottage cheese
1 cup shredded low-fat taco cheese blend, divided
1 tsp. cumin seeds
8 8-inch fat-free flour tortillas
1/2 cup prepared salsa verde

With a fraction of the calories of part-skim ricotta or queso fresco, rinsed and drained cottage cheese makes an ideal replacement in Mexican dishes, lasagnas, and pizzas.

Rinsing and draining cottage cheese before using it in enchiladas helps reduce the sodium while boosting the creamy texture.

1. Place cottage cheese in strainer or colander and rinse with cold water. Drain 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 13- x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Combine cottage cheese, tomatoes, 1/2 cup shredded cheese blend, and cumin seeds in bowl. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

3. Spoon 1/2 cup cheese mixture down center of 1 tortilla. Roll up tortilla, and place seam-side-down in baking dish. Repeat with remaining filling and tortillas. Bake 20 minutes, or until enchiladas begin to crisp and brown on top.

4. Spoon salsa verde over enchiladas, and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup shredded cheese blend. Bake 10 minutes more, or until cheese is melted and bubbly on top. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Charleston, SC, Day 5

Toward the end of our week on Edisto Island, we signed up for a tour to Charleston. Included in our fee was transportation to and from Charleston, a guided bus tour in Charleston, a tour of the Josef Manigault house, and then lunch and "on your own" time.

The weather man said it was going to be 70* the day of our tour, so I (and apparently others on the bus as well) dressed for 70* weather and gosh darn if it never got more than 60*. We were cold! It was that ocean "breeze" that was keeping the temps down.

Being a bit chilly aside, I loved Charleston! One day just wasn't enough to really tour everything. It would have been nice to have done the bus tour, then to have had a couple more days to go back and crawl around a couple more historic homes, the Citadel, the waterfront and whatever else grabbed our fancy. Alas! We must go back!

Josef Manigault "House"; it was comprable in size to some of today's McMansions.

St. Michaels Church; George Washington attended service here.

Beautiful iron work was prevelent throughout the city.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Edisto Island Tour Day 4 & 6

Middleton Plantation House

The Island we were staying on had it's own rich history to explore and we took advantage of an island tour the resort offered and then toward the end of our stay, we explored some more on our own.

The Island really didn't get built up until the 1980's when the new "Big Bridge" was built. Before that, it was truly the "low country", supporting a small but hearty group of folks. There are also several plantation homes still being lived in on the island, and one is even open for tours. Many of the plantation homes participate in a open house once a year in the fall - now that would have been neat to see. The Island supports several churches that were founded in the late 1700's and the graveyards were amazing to walk through.

Trinity Church, est 1774

The Island has a beautiful State Park (we walked the beach so we didn't have to pay); a 4600 acre Wildlife Management Area with an amazing beach for shells, walking, birding plus the birding opportunities between beach, marsh and woods; a little museum and a very active community that brings in speakers and talks and what-not. Honestly, I could easily have spent my whole week here and not have gone to Charleston and Savannah, it was that beautiful and relaxing.

Botany Bay WMA

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