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Monday, June 29, 2009

Texas 6/09

Last week the Husband and I spent a week in central Texas enjoying the sights of the "Hill Country", melting a bit in the heat, and staying cool in a couple of caverns. This was my first trip to Texas; the Husband has spent time at San Angelo AFB when he was full time military waaayyy back in about '87-'88. If you were to ask him though, he would say that doesn't count.

Was it hot? you ask? YOU BETCHA! According to our gracious hosts Neil and Dee at the San Gabriel Bed and Breakfast, central Texas is currently experiencing their third hottest summer on record. By 10:00a, it would be 85*. By noon thermometers were hitting 95* easy. By 2:00p in the afternoon it would be a toasty 100* to 105*. We were in Austin one day when they hit a record setting 105*. If you could stay in the shade, it honestly wasn't that bad. At least I didn't think so. Still, I sprayed copious amounts of sunscreen on my pale Minnesota skin just to be safe.

I'll break the trip down into a couple of postings otherwise this will get a bit long.

Sunday we made our way from Killeen, TX (a short 35 minute commuter flight from Dallas-Fort Worth) to Georgetown, TX. When we were deciding what to do and where to go, we decided that Georgetown seemed centrally located and had several nice B&B's to choose from. I picked The San Gabriel House because it was across the street from a private collage which I thought would make for a nice place to walk around in the evenings.

Dee made what I consider to be a perfect breakfast: fruit, egg of some kind, small side of meat and scone or English muffin. I didn't go away hungry and I wasn't overfed! Each morning before breakfast - which we liked to have at 9:00 so we weren't rushed, we ARE on vacation after all - a carafe of hot water with cream and tea would be set in the "common" area upstairs for us. So we could get dressed and read the paper and just hang out before going downstairs for a formal breakfast.

Out of all the B&B's which we've stayed at (which I think is five now), I have to say this one was my absolute favorite. I felt very comfortable just hanging out, I loved breakfast and the tea service, it was a beautiful home, and we had the place to ourselves! It helped that we were there mid-week.

So Monday was supposed to be a more laid back, hang-out, kinda day to recover from traveling. We decided to visit a local vineyard that touted a small bistro - can't get much more mellow than that, right? Alas, upon arriving, we discovered they were closed on Mondays. Plans quickly changed, we found a taco stand in the next town for some lunch then headed to Longhorn Cavern State Park because being underground seemed to be the Right Thing To Do.

This was a neat cave that dated back to the 1930's and had a CCC history. A guided tour lasted about 1 1/2 hours and it certainly didn't seem that long. And they didn't disappoint - partway through they did the whole plunge the group into darkness bit (and it is amazing just HOW dark the absence of light really is).

On our way back to Georgetown, we swung by Buchannan Dam but really couldn't get a good view of it. It is one of the only arch style dams left in the States and they don't make them this way anymore because they are so incredibly labor intensive.

Dinner was kept simple because by this point we were hot and tired. We kept it local both in location and style and went to the County Seat Restaurant. Basic cafe/diner food in a restored historic building. I will say though, my Southern Style Chicken was excellent (sides weren't) and the peach pie was YUM-MEE!

Next post: Austin, TX

Friday, June 26, 2009

Saturn's Children by Charles Stross

I heard the author read from this at Worldcon in Denver in 2008. It sounded interesting then. It wasn't so interesting a year later. Yes, it is a tribute to Heinlein, and I *like* most of Heinlein's works. However, I just couldn't get into this one.

I found the main character - an obsolete sex robot named Freya - to be rather dimwitted and annoying. I found the pages of explanation to be a distraction. It was almost as if it was a thinly veiled excuse to write a sf soft porno. I won't go into details as there are too many to cite.

Mostly I had to agree with my friend Gail's opinion: Disorganized As Usual.

I'm glad I got this one from the library and I see now why my local library didn't even bother stocking it - I had to get it from inter library loan.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Recipe Review from 6/15/09

I have a new FAVORITE grilled cheese sandwich! Oh my yes, these were just delicious. I didn't make them on the grill as directed, but on the stove and I just put another heavy pan on top - like a panini press. I used a hearty whole grain bread and I skipped the dijon mustard because I was to lazy to open a new bottle.

It wasn't hard to find the arugula/spinach mix, but if you can't you can just use straight spinach. Much to my surprise, the arugula stayed nice and fresh all week. I plan on having salads with whatever doesn't go into my sandwich. It's a nice change from straight spinach.

Just make sure you slice those tomatoes nice and thin!

Grilled Tomato and Brie Sandwiches (Ckng Lght, June 09)

These sandwiches make the most of juicy, flavorful summer tomatoes. Serve with grapes, carrot sticks, or pita chips.

4 servings (serving size: 1 sandwich)

8 (1-ounce) slices 100% whole-grain bread (about 1/4 inch thick)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, halved
2 teaspoons country-style Dijon mustard
4 ounces Brie cheese, thinly sliced
1 1/3 cups packaged baby arugula and spinach greens (such as Dole)
8 (1/4-inch-thick) slices beefsteak tomato
Cooking spray
1. Prepare grill to high heat.

2. Brush one side of each bread slice with oil; rub cut sides of garlic over oil. Spread 1/2 teaspoon mustard on each of 4 bread slices, oil side down. Top each bread slice with 1 ounce cheese, 1/3 cup greens, and 2 tomato slices. Top each with remaining 4 bread slices, oil side up.

3. Place sandwiches on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 2 minutes on each side or until lightly toasted and cheese melts.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This book is one of the five novel nominees for a Hugo Award this year. Voting is happening now and the winners will be announced at Worldcon in Montreal, Quebec in August - which I happen to be going to! Very exciting.

The rest of the novels are:
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
The Graveyard Game by Neil Gaiman
Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
Saturn's Children by Charles Stross
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Coming-of-age books seem to be somewhat popular this year in the nominations. This is the fourth one I've read where the main character was under the age of 18. However, the similarity ends there with the Graveyard Book.

Nobody Owens (Bod for short) was a toddler when his family was murdered by the man Jack. Somehow, this tiny tot survived because he was waddling up the street and into the graveyard when Jack slipped into his room. At the pleading of the tot's now deceased tot's mother's ghost, the denizens of the graveyard agree to protect and raise the boy. However, the tot's mother doesn't give them the boys name - there was no time - so Mr. and Mrs. Owens name the boy Nobody.

With the help of Silas, Nob's guardian, and the rest of the graveyard, they teach Nob his numbers and letters, how to call for help in several languages, how to Fade, Dreamwalk, and project Fear. But Nob is growing up and is beginning to learn of the living world beyond the graveyard, where Jack still waits...

I absolutely LOVE how Gaiman's works just pull a person along. I find his stories unconventional and enjoy them even more because of it. Deftly woven, a great sense of subtle humor and interesting illustrations. I might have enjoyed this more if I hadn't just read two other coming of age novels, but that is in no way a poor reflection on Gaiman's Graveyard Book.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Garden Update!

Hooray! We hit 82* this past weekend! It was wonderful...a light wind kept the bugs down and made for working outside an absolute delight!

As of Sunday, this is what is up and growing:
Swiss chard
some marigolds

Planted as plants:
brussel sprouts
tomatoes (I had to snip off some flowers already!)

Still waiting on:
summer squash (one has come up...)
winter squash
soldier beans (just replanted on Sunday)
great northern beans
rest of marigolds

Half of garden with tomato "greenhouse"

Since the garden is in I can now concentrate on small putsy projects around the yard. I finished planting my container pots on Saturday, put in some moss roses by my Japanese pagoda, finished the landscaping off the side/front of the porch (big HOORAY!, washed out Ben's pool, put up the kennel shade, watered the compost piles and added some enzymes to help with composting, watered everything and measured out my next landscaping project - a retaining wall along side the garage. I have the rocks, I just need to start digging the trench.

Finished landscaping!

So now it's just a matter of keeping up with the mowing, working on the projects and watering!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Recipe Review from 6/15/09

Woot! Two more new recipes to add to the tally this week! I would like to do some baking one of these days, but I think I may have to wait for a while as it is officially WARM now outside. I also got some inspiration from EveryDay Food on the PBS Create channel for some great summer salads. I will have to get off my duff and look up the recipes on-line.

From last week:

Oven-Baked Sopes (gluten-free)
and Zucchini-Corn Filling
(May/June Vegetarian Times, pg 72) 4.0
These were really tasty. A tiny bit putsy in the assembly department, but nothing that was overly annoying. The Sopas come together super fast and while they are baking, the filling can be prepped. I also halved the Sopes because I really didn't need 24. Halving made 8, but I could have been making mine larger than I should have. I also know that I didn't flatten them nearly enough.

The zucchini filling was one of a couple recommended fillings - but really, you could do anything you wanted to.

Oven-Baked Sopes
3 cup masa harina
1/4 cup parmesan cheese (optional)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 large egg, beaten
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup grated monterey jack cheese

1) Preheat oven to 350* and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2) Whisk together masa harina, parmesan cheese, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Stir in 2 1/2 cups hot water until mixture forms soft dough. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in egg and oil.

3) Roll 1/4 cup dough into a ball. Press into 3" disk on prepared baking sheet. Press and indentation into center of disk using small drinking class (use a bit of oil on glass to prevent dough from sticking). Repeat.

4) Bake 10 minutes, or until sopes begin to look dry. Sprinkle each with 2 tbs monterey jack cheese. Return to oven and bake 5-10 minutes more or until cheese has melted. Top with your favorite topping.

Zucchini-Corn Filling
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped (~1 cup)
6 cloves garlic (I used 3)
2 medium zucchini, cut into small cubes (~2 cups)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn
1/2 cup cooked black beans
1/4 cup cilantro
2 tbsp lime juice
chili powder for sprinkling
1/2 cup crumbled cheese of choice for sprinkling (I used goat cheese)

Heat oil in skillet and add onion and garlic. Saute until translucent. Add zucchini and corn. Cook about 7 minutes or until softened. Add black beans, cook about 2 minutes. Add lime juice and cilantro. Spoon onto Sopes and sprinkle with cheese.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Recipe Review from 6/1/09

Well, I had a new record last month: I made only 2 recipes the entire month of May! Shocking, I know. That is almost unheard of for me! It wasn't that I was lazy; I had a lot going on, plus a trip to Grand Marais, and I was doing a bit of a pantry clean out. The cupboards aren't quite bare but there is less than before. But this month is starting off a bit better for me.

Well...sort of. I attempted to make some raspberry scones Sunday morning but when the came out of the oven I realized something was amiss. I then remembered I forgot to add the baking powder. Bother. Into the trash they went!

Wheat Berry Salad (CkngLght, June 09, pg 164) 4.0
I loosely followed the recipe on this one - they made it a lot more time consuming than necessary. What is the fascination with cutting up your own artichokes? Obviously freshness, but for me it is a matter of time. I am already often eating dinner at 8:30 at night and I don't want to be putzing around with cutting and chopping when I can skip right to the cooking. So I subbed frozen artichokes. I also cooked the wheat berries as I usually do totally skipping the whole soaking bit just fine - 4 cups water to 1 cup berries, bring to a boil and simmer for one hour. Add water as necessary.

This dish can also easily be made Vegan by omitting the procuitto, or be jazzed up a bit with some added feta. It was tasty warm, and tasty at room temp for lunch the next day. It made 4 servings as noted.

Wheat Berry Salad
4 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

1 cup uncooked wheat berries (hard winter wheat)
5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
4 medium artichokes
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
Cooking spray
1 (1-ounce) prosciutto slice, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons jarred roasted kalamata olives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1. Place wheat berries in a medium bowl; cover with water to 2 inches above wheat berries. Cover; let stand 8 hours. Drain. Place wheat berries in a saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above wheat berries. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook, uncovered, 1 hour or until tender. Drain.

2. Preheat oven to 450°.

3. Combine 2 teaspoons juice and 1 teaspoon oil in a small bowl. Trim about 2 inches from the top of each artichoke; cut artichokes in half horizontally. Brush cut sides with juice mixture; sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt. Arrange artichokes, cut sides up, on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; bake at 450° for 15 minutes. Turn artichokes; bake 15 minutes or until artichokes are browned and tender. Cool slightly. Peel stem; trim an additional 1/2 inch from the top. Discard outer leaves. Remove fuzzy thistle from bottom with a spoon; quarter artichoke hearts.

4. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add prosciutto; cook 3 minutes or until browned. Add onion; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in prepared wheat berries, remaining 1 tablespoon juice, remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, artichokes, olives, parsley, chives, and rosemary. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Summer Herb Relish with Halibut (Vegetarian Times, May/June 09) 3.0
The "relish" is from VT, the fish was my idea. The relish is part of a dish I plan on making later in the week - grilled eggplant. Yum! Anyway, the relish is a mixture of parsley, oregano, capers, pinenuts, olive oil, wine vinegar and water all blended together "until smooth". I think I should have added a bit more olive oil because while it was "smooth" it really clumped together and wasn't very spreadable per se.

Like I said, this is from a recipe for grilled eggplant, to which I will be adding goat cheese and probably balsamic vinegar (my idea).

Also on deck are some Mexican Sopas (think little pizza's) with corn and zucchini and possibly a Rhubarb Strusel Bread. The rhubarb is HUGE this year and is need of some thinning. Lucky me!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Silly Quizes

Okay, I got sucked into this too: Which Fantasy Writer Are You? (

Your result for Which fantasy writer are you? ...

J K Rowling (b. 1965)

My Score: -23 High-Brow, -13 Violent, -5 Experimental and -7 Cynical!

Congratulations! You are Low-Brow, Peaceful, Traditional and Romantic! These concepts are defined below.

J K Rowling is the creator of one of the present's great cultural icons, Harry Potter, and one of the best selling authors of all times. The Harry Potter books, beginning with Harry Potter and the Philosoper's Stone (1997) and concluding with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007), set off a re-newed interest in reading in general among children, as well as increasing the perceived commercial potential of fantastic literature for children. Rowling achieved this by returning to good old story-telling (owing a lot to Roald Dahl, the grand old master of British children's books) and by being unafraid of mixing grand emotions and serious messages with comedy and adventure in her fiction, a combination that has made her books equally loved by readers of all ages. Though the value of her books is sometimes questioned by critics, it's obvious that she has been able to entertain literally millions of readers of all ages all over the world. This makes her one of the most admired fantasy writers of all times.

You are also a lot like Robert Jordan.

If you want some action, try J R R Tolkien.

If you'd like a challenge, try your exact opposite, Mary Gentle.

Your score

This is how to interpret your score: Your attitudes have been measured on four different scales, called 1) High-Brow vs Low-Brow, 2) Violent vs Peaceful, 3) Experimental vs Traditional and 4) Cynical vs Romantic. Imagine that when you were born, you were in a state of innocence, a tabula rasa who would have scored zero on each scale. Since then, a number of circumstances (including genetical, cultural and environmental factors) have pushed you towards either end of these scales. If you're at 45 or -45 you would be almost entirely cynical, low-brow or whatever. The closer to zero you are, the less extreme your attitude. However, you should always be more of either (eg more romantic than cynical). Please note that even though High-Brow, Violent, Experimental and Cynical have positive numbers (1 through 45) and their opposites negative numbers (-1 through -45), this doesn't mean that either quality is better. All attitudes have their positive and negative sides, as explained below.

High-Brow vs. Low-Brow

You received -23 points, making you more Low-Brow than High-Brow. Being high-browed in this context refers to being more fascinated with the sort of art that critics and scholars tend to favour, while a typical low-brow would favour the best-selling kind. At their best, low-brows are honest enough to read what they like, regardless of what "experts" and academics say is good for them. At their worst, they are more likely to read what their neighbours like than what they would choose themselves.

Violent vs. Peaceful

You received -13 points, making you more Peaceful than Violent. This scale is a measurement of a) if you are tolerant to violence in fiction and b) whether you see violence as a means that can be used to achieve a good end. If you aren't, and you don't, then you are peaceful as defined here. At their best, peaceful people are the ones who encourage dialogue and understanding as a means of solving conflicts. At their worst, they are standing passively by as they or third parties are hurt by less scrupulous individuals.

Experimental vs. Traditional

You received -5 points, making you more Traditional than Experimental. Your position on this scale indicates if you're more likely to seek out the new and unexpected or if you are more comfortable with the familiar, especially in regards to culture. Note that traditional as defined here does not equal conservative, in the political sense. At their best, traditional people don't change winning concepts, favouring storytelling over empty poses. At their worst, they are somewhat narrow-minded.

Cynical vs. Romantic

You received -7 points, making you more Romantic than Cynical. Your position on this scale indicates if you are more likely to be wary, suspicious and skeptical to people around you and the world at large, or if you are more likely to believe in grand schemes, happy endings and the basic goodness of humankind. It is by far the most vaguely defined scale, which is why you'll find the sentence "you are also a lot like x" above. If you feel that your position on this scale is wrong, then you are probably more like author x. At their best, romantic people are optimistic, willing to work for a good cause and an inspiration to their peers. At their worst, they are easily fooled and too easily lead.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Framed in Lace by Monica Ferris

Framed in Lace is book two in the Needlecraft series by Monica Ferris.

Excelsior, MN is excited, the historic Hopkins ferry is being raised from the bottom of the lake for renovation. But when the boat is floated the surface, the divers find a skeleton - who would have thought they were literally raising the dead! Unfortunately, the evidence is bare bones and covered in lake muck. As far as the police can stitch together, the boat sank in 1949, the victim on board was a woman, and near the body is a piece of lace like fabric.

The investigator comes to Betsy with a picture of the lace and asks her to post it in her store for identification. As Betsy begins to listen to the stories being woven together, she starts to find a common thread that isn't making any sense. The more questions she asks, the more things start to unravel in her small community.

Another fluff mystery - great for vacation or a quick evening read. It took me longer to figure out "who done it" in this one so I felt the tale was more deftly written than the first book. I also like the fact that the "murder" happened long before Betsy ever arrived in town. I get tired of the "Mystery She Wrote" syndrome where it seems like a body is dropping dead every couple of weeks right in front of the heroine.

Good if you like the Midwest, knitting and needlepoint.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

This book is one of the five novel nominees for a Hugo Award this year. Voting is happening now and the winners will be announced at Worldcon in Montreal, Quebec in August.

The rest of the novels are:
Anathem by Neal Stephenson
The Graveyard Game by Neil Gaiman
Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi
Saturn's Children by Charles Stross
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Zoe's tale is set in the same universe as the Old Man's War, Ghost Brigades, and the Last Colony. Zoe is the adopted daughter of John and Jane from the previous books and Zoe's Tale is a rehashing of Last Colony as told from Zoe's POV.

That's it.

Okay, I give Scalzi points for writing a YA book from the viewpoint of a teenage girl who is Queen to an alien race. I award points for taking the same story and turning it 180* and retelling it from a different character's view.

But really, I was looking forward to picking up a story about Zoe in later years, after her and her family were forced to leave Roanoke and she grew up and went on to do great things or something. For myself, it was a mildly interesting read that I probably wouldn't have finished if it wasn't for the Hugo Awards.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Happy June! Garden update

Well, I think I have set a new record - I made exactly two new recipes the entire month of May. I honestly do not recall the last time I made so few. Wow. Why so few? I just haven't been in a cooking/baking mood; I've been outside working on garden and landscaping and by the time I'm done it's almost 8:30pm at night; and I was gone for four days over Memorial Day weekend.

Good news - the garden is almost completely in! I just have the tomatoes, peppers and brussel sprouts to plant; and one bed to dig up and plant to dried beans (Great Northern variety).

To date I have planted:
radishes (up)
carrots (up)
lettuce (up)
swiss chard (up)
snap peas
summer squash variety
butternut squash
soldier beans

Flowers (from seed)
marigolds (some came up - I was a bit too early with these)
moss flowers

The landscaping around the house is nearing completion. I just have to apply a bit more sand then I can put the plastic down and start hauling the rocks. It's just one side of the house that's left - whew! If I get off my tush and get outside (rather than sitting here blogging) I should be able to get some sand moved today.

THEN! I can start with the retaining wall on the north side of the garage. I think it will go quickly once I get the Dad out to help with the base layer. Once that bottom row is in it's just plunk! plunk! plunk!

And there is the never ending lawnmowing. Typically during June I'm mowing 2x a week. I have one lawnmower in the shop right now and they said it would be three weeks before it's done! I sure hope my second lawnmower doesn't poop out!

So there it is. No recipes but a garden update. I hope to pick up on the recipes again once the gardening/yardwork calms down. Vegetarian Times and Cooking Light both had some yummy looking recipes that I would like to try.

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