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Thursday, December 30, 2010

When the Lion Feeds by Wilber Smith

In part one, Sean McCortney and his twin brother, Garrick, are the sons of a wealthy cattle rancher in Natal.  They grow up each a shadow of the other, come of age during the Zulu Wars, and learn what it is to love and to hate.  When Garret believes Sean dead, along with most of his friends and family at the massacre of Isandhlwana, he marries Sean's young love.  After returning from a very lengthy honeymoon, they discover Sean is not only alive, but back at Thanis Kraal ready to assume his role as family head.  Garrick's wife, Sean's former love, has other ideas and Sean rides off into the Veld. 
544 pgs, $7.99 pb


Part two we find Sean hooking up with Duff, a brilliant strategist, and together they amass a fortune in the mining industry, pitting them sovereign to sovereign against two brilliant Jews.  They find that love doesn't always come in pretty skirts, gold is a harsh mistress and sometimes being beholden to no man is more freedom than any money will buy. 

Part three, which in no way actually concludes the series, Sean has seen more heartbreak and misfortune than most men of his age.  With his trusted Zulu warriors, he has slaughtered enough elephants for their ivory to start a new ranch of his own with his Boer wife and child by his side.  But sometimes the universe, or the Veld, has other things in mind.

This was an engaging enough read, touching on those things South African - the Zulu wars, the Dutch influence, gold and diamond mining, cattle ranching, the wholesale slaughter of elephants for their tusks, and the heartache that comes with it all.  But after a while it was rather like reading about waves:  good things are going to happen, and then bad things are going to happen, but then good things happen, and more bad things happen...  it's all unfolding much like a map.  

The first two parts were stronger than part three.  It was as if the author just wanted to wrap things up to set the stage for book two.  And what did happen in part three really didn't fit with the rest of the book, again, a means to conclude book one? 

I did thoroughly enjoy the setting in Africa - the veld, the mountainous country, the dry season, the rainy season, the interaction with the natives, the wildlife.   Sean's relationship with Duff was humorous and engaging and Sean's Zulu friends added a nice touch of wit and counterpoint to the harsh backdrop. 

However, I'm not sure I'm interested enough to pick up Sound of Thunder, which takes Sean off to the Boer Wars and the conflict with his twin brother who's been nursing his hate for 15 years.   By the time I finished, I was at a point where, honestly, I almost didn't care any more - the waves are still going to come, and still going to go.

Recommended if you like long, page encompassing sagas. 



Monday, December 27, 2010

Knitting update: 2010 Christmas Gifts

I've been rather quiet on the knitting front, but that's not because my needles have been idle!  I didn't want to tip my hat (no pun intended!) too early. 

It started with the Bella mittens:
pattern by Subliminal Rabbit
#7 circulars
yarn is Swish Bulky by KnitPicks.  Awesome yarn by the way. 



I found myself with yarn leftover, and, thinking to be crafty, I decided mittens needed a hat.  The Button Tab hat was perfect.  I made four, with three different brims.  The seed-stitch brim was my least favorite because it made the hat rather large.  It was my intent to have the yarns match, but unfortunately, I ran out of the Heathered Green. KnitPicks discontinued that particular color and they didn't have anything to replace it.  So I bought some Swish bulky in a Garnet Heather (not sure if that is the actual color name, but that's what it looks like).   Buttons are made from white tail deer antlers. 


Pattern: Button Tab Hat
#7 circulars
Swish Bulky buy KnitPicks




The verdict?  I think they were happy: 



Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

I did this as an audio book and I'm glad I did.  The reader, whose name I don't recall at the moment, was absolutely delightful!  His voice really brought to life Fat Charlie, Spider, Mrs. Dunwitty, Rosie, Daisy, Grahm Coats,  and all the rest.  It was listening to liquid chocolate, his voice and intonation was that smooth. 

From Amazon.com"Fat Charlie" Nancy leads a life of comfortable workaholism in London, with a stressful agenting job he doesn't much like, and a pleasant fiancée, Rosie. When Charlie learns of the death of his estranged father in Florida, he attends the funeral and learns two facts that turn his well-ordered existence upside-down: that his father was a human form of Anansi, the African trickster god, and that he has a brother, Spider, who has inherited some of their father's godlike abilities. Spider comes to visit Charlie and gets him fired from his job, steals his fiancée, and is instrumental in having him arrested for embezzlement and suspected of murder. When Charlie resorts to magic to get rid of Spider, who's selfish and unthinking rather than evil, things begin to go very badly for just about everyone. Other characters—including Charlie's malevolent boss, Grahame Coats ("an albino ferret in an expensive suit"), witches, police and some of the folk from American Gods—are expertly woven into Gaiman's rich myth, which plays off the African folk tales in which Anansi stars. But it's Gaiman's focus on Charlie and Charlie's attempts to return to normalcy that make the story so winning—along with gleeful, hurtling prose.

"Gleeful, hurtling prose" pretty much sums it up.  More often than not I found myself chuckling at a delightful turn of phrase, at a witty description (downside of audio books, I listen to them in the car and can't write stuff down), or I found myself entranced at another "Anansi" story.   Most people dread the drive into work, but with iPod in hand, I was practically running to the car so I could start the next bit. 

If you've read American Gods, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, Neverwhere and Coraline, you will probably enjoy this one. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

Book two in the Mercedes Thompson series.

From Goodreads.com:  The second installment of Patricia Briggs's paranormal fantasy saga...pits the butt-kicking mechanic/coyote shape-shifter against a foe that is as rare as he is ruthless -- a demon-possessed sorcerer who is also a vampire!



When Mercy agrees to help out friend Stefan (a bloodsucker from the local vampire clan in the Tri-Cities area of Washington State), she has no idea that she is about to inadvertently come face-to-face with an otherworldly creature that epitomizes pure evil. After barely surviving her encounter with sorcerer Cory Littleton, Mercy -- with the help of a small group of supernatural friends -- vows to track down the mysterious Littleton before he can butcher more innocent people. Her mission is twofold: Not only will she stop a mass murderer from killing again but she will also (hopefully) protect the invaluable secrecy of the vampires who live in the Tri-Cities area. But can a shape-shifting mechanic with a thing for Volkswagen cars defeat a monstrosity powered by spirits from the depths of Hell?

Friend Gail reviewed it here as well: Disorganized, As Usual.

Actually, Gail's summary is much, much better than Goodreads. 

Mercedes, aka "Mercy" finds herself caught between the Vampires and the Werewolves of Tri-Cities once again, this time pitting her against a vampire-sorcerer.  The Vampires, Werewolves and Fae are all deathly afraid of this creature, but it seems that everyone has pinned their hopes on Mercy being able to kill it.  Now, this does, at first reading, seem to be at the very best, corny, but oddly, Briggs makes it work and she does it well.  Book two was fast paced, a well thought out plot, and very interesting characters.  And, because this is book two, the characters start to flesh out a bit more (no pun intended). 

My complaint with this book was, because it was book two, that the author had to keep filling in background material covered in book one, for those poor souls who were by chance not fortunate enough to start with book one.  More than once I found myself going yeah,yeah yeah, story already! as the why fore and how were filled in. The downside to a series, I suppose, but I kept wondering if it couldn't have been done a bit more succinctly.

Nuff said. Off to find book three. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Recipe Review from 12/1/10

I fully admit, it's been a couple of very slow weeks in the new recipe department.  I often find, following a longer vacation, that I prefer simpler meals that I can just throw together.  The Husband also had a friend over for a belated Thanksgiving dinner after we returned.  Even though I picked out a 12lb turkey, it took us a solid week to eat through the leftovers! 

But I did find time to make two new dishes:

Carrot Soup (Ckng Lght Mar 2009)
This is such a simple and tasty soup!  Bonus factor - this uses two pounds of carrots so if you are trying to use up those garden veggies, this is the dish for you!  I made it pretty much as written, but I did wish I had taken the time to roast the carrots and onions in the oven to add a bit of extra flavor.  I also think some fresh ginger would have been better than the powdered.   Still, not complaining, it was great for lunches with some cheese and crackers.
Creamy Carrot Soup
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
2 pounds carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of ground ginger
2 cups water
2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons heavy cream, divided

Preparation
1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and carrots to pan; cook 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in salt, pepper, and ginger.

2. Add 2 cups water and broth to pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until carrots are tender. Remove from heat; cool.

3. Place half of carrot mixture and 1 tablespoon cream in a food processor or blender; process 20 seconds or until smooth. Pour pureed mixture into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining carrot mixture and 1 tablespoon cream. Return mixture to pan; cook over medium heat until thoroughly heated.


Pumpkin Waffles (adapted from Ckng Lght by Culinary in the Country)
Sunday has become waffle or pancake day, and to try and prevent it from becoming the same boring pancake or waffle, we bounce around different recipes.  I believe a while back I reviewed the buckwheat pancakes?  Can't remember....  anyhoo, this week was pumpkin waffles!  Really, how can you go wrong with the soft essence of pumpkin and cinnamon, baked golden brown and then slathered in butter and pure maple syrup?  A bit of crunchy bacon on the side and it's almost heaven on a plate. 

Worried about making this and having extras left over?  No problem!  We love to freeze our extra waffles and pancakes and toast them midweek with a poached or fried egg.  Truly the original "Eggo". 

Pumpkin Waffles
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup vanilla soymilk  (or regular milk and add splash of vanilla)
1/2 cup mashed pumpkin
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten

In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and cloves.

In a small bowl, whisk together milk, mashed pumpkin, sugar, oil and egg. Pour into dry ingredients and stir just until moist.

Preheat waffle iron. Using about 1/4 cup of the batter per waffle, pour mixture into waffle iron. Let cook until the steam begins to subside - about 4-7 minutes. Remove waffles and repeat until batter is used up.

Makes about 8 regular sized waffles.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

I was dubious about this series - it was being dubbed as a "must read!" and "national bestseller!" which I tend to avoid like the flu.  However, my friend Gail gave a surprisingly positive review here: Disorganized, As Usual 

From Goodreads.com: Werewolves can be dangerous if you get in their way, but they'll leave you alone if you are careful. They are very good at hiding their natures from the human population, but I'm not human. I know them when I meet them, and they know me, too.



Mercy Thompson's sexy next-door neighbor is a werewolf.

She's tinkering with a VW bus at her mechanic shop that happens to belong to a vampire.  She bought her shop from a fae.


But then, Mercy Thompson is not exactly normal herself ... and her connection to the world of things that go bump in the night is about to get her into a whole lot of trouble

This was a fast paced, well written, urban fantasy.  The Grey Lords have outed the Fae, who now live on reservations because the humans couldn't quite accept them.  Vampires still roam the night, and werewolves try and maintain their pack secrets.  Somehow, Mercedes - or Mercy as she is called - becomes mixed up with all three. 

What I appreciated was the strong heroine.  She kicks butt, knows when to back off, and doesn't spend any time whining (no pun intended) about all the terrible things happening. I can't stand whiny heroines.  The other characters were interesting and balanced enough to compliment Mercedes without detracting from her unique qualities. 

Nuff said.  I'll be reading the next one this weekend....

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Boundary Waters by William Kent Krueger

Boundary Waters, Book 2 in the Cork O’Conner series by William Kent Krueger



Premise of the book, from Amazon.com: Krueger's second novel features ex-sheriff Cork O'Connor of Aurora, Minnesota, and plenty of harsh weather. Here, a top-of-the-charts but depressed, ex-druggy country-western girl singer, Shiloh, disappears into the two-million acres of the Quetico-Superior Wilderness on the Canadian border. Cork, an old buddy of Shiloh's mother, whose murder remains unsolved, heads a search party that includes include two FBI agents, an ex-con, a ten-year old kid, and Shiloh's father. Permeating the tale is the spirit of the Anishinaabe Indians, while the heavy pelts on the muskrats point to a huge, bitter winter ahead. Meantime, some bad guys have tortured to death Wendell Two Knives, the Anishinaabe guide, trying to get him to tell where Shiloh has gone, since they want her just as badly as Cork's search party. Shiloh witnessed her mother's murder, then had amnesia, and through regression therapy seems to have brought up the killer. Was he her mother's lover, a Vegas casino owner named Benedetti, who now wants Shiloh dead? Why was Shiloh's therapist murdered as well? Will Shiloh survive to rebuild Ozark Records into an outlet for indigenous music? Cork remains a spritely, intriguing hero in a world of wolves, portages, heavy weather, and worrisome humans, with a third entry on its way.




This is the third book I’ve gotten on audio tape in this series. I read them a bit out of order – Purgatory Ridge (#3), then Iron Lake (#1) and Boundary Waters (#2). I’m actually glad I did, because if I had gotten to Boundary Waters without knowing something of what was coming, I would have stopped “reading”.  I thought this was about as well written as the "description" above. 


The audio pronunciations aside (not the authors fault but still distracting), there were small things that were just not quite right. Here we have a chase happening in the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) – everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody checked in with the FS, we probably have an illegal cabin, and then we have helicopters and planes flying overhead toward the end. I don’t mind fiction set in real places, but I DO mind when too many liberties are taken with the setting to make it fit the story.


My next complaint lies with the Italian “gangsters” followed by Vegas sheisters descending upon Aurora - one man each claiming to be the father of the missing Shilo. It was like no one thought to get a paternity test yet everyone was convinced they were the father, except her adopted father who knew he wasn't.


There were other issues – the whole spirit wolf and bear following the characters. The obvious clues being dropped to the reader but the characters couldn’t for the life of them, figure it out. Half the people paddling these canoe’s solo – unless you’ve got the right kind of canoe and the experience, then it’s not as easy as it sounds. Nobody thinking to do a police check on all these people making demands until after the fact or after it was too late.


So why did I keep reading? Because I know that Purgatory Ridge was much, much better, and after a while, even despite the inconsistencies and errors, one develops an almost vested interest in the main character and you find yourself hanging on grimly till the conclusion rolls around with something akin to relief. So, on one hand I want to say Not Recommended – just start with book three; But if you like Cork’s character and can tolerate some regional issues, then Reluctantly Recommended.

I need to read some science fiction now....

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Line of Polity by Neal Asher

This is book two in the Agent Ian Cormac series.

From Goodreads.com: Outlink station Miranda has been destroyed by a nanomycelium, and the very nature of this sabotage suggests that the alien bioconstruct Dragon - a creature as untrustworthy as it is gigantic - is somehow involved. Sent out on a titanic Polity dreadnought, the Occam Razor, agent Cormac must investigate the disaster.



Meanwhile, on the remote planet Masada, the long-term rebellion can never rise above-ground, as the slave population is subjugated by orbital laser arrays controlled by the Theocracy in their cylinder worlds, and by the fact that they cannot safely leave their labour compounds. For the wilderness of Masada lacks breathable air ... and out there roam monstrous predators called hooders and siluroynesgabbleducks.

Paperback, 672 pages

Published October 9th 2009 by Tor Books (first published 2003)
ISBN0330512560 (ISBN13: 9780330512565)
Original title: The Line of Polity. Agent Cormac #2, Polity Universe #4

I enjoyed this selection for several reasons: the story moved right along, with neither a huge amount of description, unnecessary background building, or grandiose space-physics explanations; the characters were predominantly interesting; the chapter beginnings, where a woman was reading to her child, were quite humorous; and the world Masada was a delight to read about. 

Items I didn't care for: even though this was the protagonists vengeance against Cormac, Cormac really wasn't the main story.  I would liked to have had him a bit more in the forefront.  There were at least three story lines happening at the same time - which is good because it keeps things moving - but often the number of people in each story line became a bit confusing.  More than once I found myself going, "Now who was so-and-so again?  Oh yeah...that person..."  By page 600, that becomes a bit annoying.  I also struggled a bit with recalling what happened in book one - it's been over a years since I read Gridlinked, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, again the whole who was who and who did what to whom became a bit of a blur. 


I intent to make a point of reading Brass Man sooner rather than later. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

The Husband and I deviated from the traditional goings on this year for a long Thanksgiving week in a warmer destination: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. 

The short version:  85*. Sunny. Sand. Water. Good food. 

The long version:
We flew out so very early on a Saturday Morning - flight was off the ground by 7am, and we were on the ground by 12p.  Customary customs, accosted by timeshare people, made it to the resort by 2ish.  Finally! Something to eat by three.  Our first Mexican meal was seafood - Duane had an outstanding octopus dish and I had something with shrimp. 

The week just flew by; there was sitting on the beach and by the pool, sight seeing on Tuesday, dinner and a show on Wednesday, an early morning charter fishing trip on Thursday and Friday evening was the boardwalk downtown.  I'll let the pictures speak for the week:










Thursday, November 25, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger

Premise of the book, from Goodreads.com:  Chicago cop Cork O'Connor and his lawyer-wife Jo moved back to his northern Minnesota hometown of Aurora to improve their quality of life, but it hasn't worked. Cork became the local sheriff, but lost an election after a disagreement between local Indians and whites over fishing rights turned deadly. Then his marriage broke up, with Jo becoming a successful advocate for tribal rights and Cork reduced to running a scruffy restaurant. As the book starts, Cork is feeling guilty about sleeping with a warm-hearted waitress and still hoping to get back with Jo and their three children. Drawn into the disappearance of an Indian newsboy, which coincides with the apparent suicide of a former judge, O'Connor clashes with a newly elected senator--the judge's son --as well as with the town's new sheriff and some tribal leaders getting rich on gambling concessions.

Mass Market Paperback, 464 pages

Published May 1st 1999 by Pocket Star
ISBN0671016970

Literary awards:  Barry Award for Best First Novel (1999), Anthony Award for Best First Novel (1999) .

I had read #3 in the series first (by accident) and enjoyed it enough to come back and read from the beginning. Downside is I already knew the "background" details and it was just a matter of filling in the blanks. I also agreed with several reviews that book #3 is where Krueger really starts to hit his stride. There was a lot of exposition in this one, a fair amount of the protagonist driving around and getting beat up and then wallowing in his self pity. I had some trouble relating to the Cork O'Connor character because much of what he did he brought onto himself. I also found the mystery itself  a bit weak, the clues - even on audiotape - were right there.

Still, I liked the setting (Northern MN), I liked the imagery (frozen lakes in the winter; the snow storms), and more - and because I have read book #3 - I do like the main character.  I'll keep reading.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2010 Hugo Awards Showcase ed. by Mary Robinette Kowel

This was book groups November pick.  It is a selection of the 2009 novella, novelette and short story Hugo nominees and winners, the idea being the novel gets all the attention, but because the shorts are often in smaller, not as widely read or distributed magazines they don't have a chance to shine.   This is very similar to the Nebula Awards that we like to read each year.


2010 Hugo Awards Showcase Includes:

Novella
•“The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)


•“The Tear” by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)




Novelette
•“Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)


•“The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s Feb 2008)


•“Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)



Short Story
•“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)

•“Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)



Short stories are hard to review because one's taste is so subjective. I'm actually not that wild about shorts, they don't contain enough substance for me. With that being said, there were a couple in here that really stood out. I particularly liked Kij Johnson's and James Alan Gardner's piece and I'm always a fan of Ian McDonald's work. You will probably laugh at the contradiction, but McDonald's work was about the right length. If you've read his stuff you'll understand.

I had already read Pride and Prometheus in the Nebula Award selection and didn't care for it then. The remainder were just sort of eh.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Recipe Review 11/16/10

Balsamic Glazed Pork Chops with Creamy Polenta (Ckng Lght Nov 2010)

Balsamic Glazed Pork Chops with Creamy Polenta
Reduce the vinegar while the polenta simmers so the entire meal is ready and hot at the same time.

Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients

2 cups whole milk
1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup uncooked polenta
3 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened  I used grated Parmesan Regganio
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large garlic cloves, minced
4 (4-ounce) boneless center-cut pork chops, trimmed

Preparation

1. Bring 2 cups milk and broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add polenta. Cook for 20 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring frequently with a whisk; remove from heat. Stir in cream cheese. Keep warm.

2. Place vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half (about 5 minutes).

3. Place a grill pan over medium-high heat.  Warm grill to 350*.  Combine rosemary, salt, pepper, and garlic; rub mixture over pork. Place pork in pan; cook  grill for 15 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing - drizzle with balsamic reduction. Serve with polenta.




Garlic Roasted Kale (Ckng Lght, Nov 2010)
This was outstanding!  I had to reduce amounts significantly to accomodate two people, but easily done.  I also used the balsamic reduction from the pork chops above instead of the sherry vinegar.  OMG...I wish I had made more! 

Garlic Roasted Kale
Roasting kale is amazing—the leaves turn from a dusty dark green to dark emerald with brown-tinged curly edges that crunch. This vegetable side is delicious served hot from the oven; the leaves lose their crisp texture as the dish stands.

Yield: 10 servings (serving size: about 2/3 cup)

Ingredients
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pounds kale, stems removed and chopped
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

Preparation

1. Arrange oven racks in center and lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 425°. Place 2 large jelly-roll pans in oven for 5 minutes.

2. Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl; toss to coat. Divide kale mixture evenly between hot pans, spreading with a silicone spatula to separate leaves. Bake at 425° for 7 minutes. Stir kale, and rotate pans. Bake an additional 5 minutes or until edges of leaves are crisp and kale is tender.

3. Place kale in a large bowl. Drizzle with vinegar; toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Heat Lightning by John Stanford

This is book two in the Virgil Flowers series.


The premise of the book is, Virgil Flowers is only in his late thirties, but he's been around the block a few times, and he doesn't think much can surprise him anymore. He's wrong. "It's a hot, humid summer night in Minnesota, and Flowers is in bed with one of his ex-wives (the second one, if you're keeping count), when the phone rings. It's Lucas Davenport. ‘There's a body in Stillwater, two shots to the head, found near a veteran's memorial. And the victim has a lemon in his mouth. Exactly like the body they found last week.’” The more Flowers works the murders, the more convinced he is that someone's keeping a list, and that the list could have a lot more names on it. If he could only find out what connects them all . . . and then he does, and he's almost sorry he did. Because if it's true, then this whole thing leads down a lot more trails than he thought - and every one of them is booby-trapped.

The wry humor, no-nonsense approach Virgil takes to solving these murders is refreshing. Virgil loves a pretty ass, he likes his hard rock/alternative rock t-shirts, and he thinks outside of the box. I like his character.  It's unconventional, rough around the edges, yet he's not without compassion.

There is also a local appeal to these books - this one starts out with Virgil flying down I94 to I646 to Hwy 36 into Stillwater, MN.  I know these roads, I know were the first scene is set, and it just makes the book more vivid.  It would be similar if a book was set in your City and you could drive the streets with the character.

The problem I had with this book was the murderer was too obvious. I figured out the who-done-it the first quarter of the book, then I had to patiently wait (which is not easy with an audio book) as Virgil worked through everything. I also found the ending to be non-original. Recall book one? Big firefight out in the middle of the prairie? Yup. Big firefight at the end here too – except out in the middle of the woods. A chase scene would have been cool. Still, not enough to dissuade me from reading the next one.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Recipe Review from 11/1/10

Tis the season to make bread again!  I actually started a couple weekends ago with a simple recipe I've made before to get back into the groove of things.  From Bernard Claytons New Complete Book of Bread, which has become one of my three bread bibles:  The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum; The Bread Bible by Beth Hensberger and Bernard Claytons.  Four actually, I forgot Michael Ruhlman's Ratio.   I did manage to run out of bread flour, whole wheat flour and AP flour all at the same time, but a trip to Cub and the co-op fixed that, and then some.  We picked up some Buckwheat flour, Oat Flour and Rye flour to add to our future creations.

Because Clayton's recipes are rather on the wordy side (not complicated, just well written), I'm only going to write the titles and the blurbs:

Rich White Bread (pg 41)- Rich in milk, butter, sugar and eggs, it is deserving of its name.  The loaf is big and plump.  A slice is white and nicely textured.  Toasts beautifully.  Great sandwich bread, as well.

I subbed half WW flour and made it a rich blend bread. 

Egg Harbor BreadThis delicious Amish white bread was brought to the village of Egg Harbor, on the shores of Lake Michigan, by Kathryn Zeller when she came from Ohio to start Butter and Eggs, a fine bakery-deli in this Door County resort community.   The bakery is in an old granary building, and is run solely by the Zellars.  The entire family pitches in during the summer vacations, and then it is back to school in Athens, Ohio where some teach and some attend.  As with so many French boulangers who live over the family-run-bakery, the Zellers live in an apartment above Butter and Eggs.  "At least it's close when I go downstairs at two in the morning to begin my day," Kathyrn says.  Vacationers returning home take with them baskets of the Egg Harbor loaf to freeze and to please family during winter months.  While most breads rise (or proof) only 2 times, this bread gets its texture and lightness from 5 risings in a covered bowl plus one in the loaf pan.

I thought 5 risings would be a pain in the patooie, but it wasn't so bad.  They are in 15 minute increments so I had time to go work on other things and come back when the beeper went off.  The hard part was remembering to reset the timer in between.  Made two beautiful loaves.


Creamy Root Vegetable Stew  (Ckng Lght, Oct 2010)
This was for lunches during the week.  What appealed to me about this recipe was the root vegetable versitility.  Even though it doesn't call for carrots, I could use them instead of the sweet potatoes as called for.  The only thing I needed to buy for this was the turnip and potato.  I also skipped the putting it in a blender silliness - just used my immersion blender until it was the desired thickness.  This would be great for company as it would feed a substantial crowd.   This could be made vegan by skipping the cream at the end.

Creamy Root Vegetable Stew
Pair this rustic stew with a green salad. You can prepare it up to three days ahead.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 cups stew and 2 crostini)

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, divided
2 1/2 cups (3/4-inch) diced peeled Yukon gold potato (about 1 pound)
2 1/4 cups (3/4-inch) diced peeled rutabaga (about 3/4 pound)
2 cups (3/4-inch) diced peeled turnip
1 1/4 cups (3/4-inch) diced peeled parsnip (about 1/2 pound)
2 cups organic vegetable broth
2 cups water
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preparation
1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and 2 teaspoons rosemary; cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Stir in potato and next 5 ingredients (through 2 cups water). Bring to a simmer; cook, covered, 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

2. Place 3 cups vegetable mixture in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Return to pan. Stir in cream, pepper, and salt.


Wild Rice Dressing with Cranberries  (Ckng Lght, Nov 2010)
This was a potential test run for Christmas dinner with the family.  I have a Sib who is allergic to a substantial number of foods and with a couple substitutions, I have have a great side dish. I used water chestnuts for bottled chestnuts (not sure if she can eat these nuts and I couldn't find them anyway). I also halved the recipe - and it still made a ton.  Served it with the fish below.

Wild Rice Dressing with Cranberries
The nutty, almost smoky flavor of wild rice pairs beautifully with game birds and other poultry.

Yield: 12 servings (serving size: about 3/4 cup)

Ingredients
2 cups uncooked wild rice
2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth  used vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 cups whole roasted bottled chestnuts  used sliced water chestnuts
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups halved lengthwise and thinly sliced carrot
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 1/4 cups thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Cooking spray

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Combine rice, broth, 2 cups water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes or until rice is tender, stirring occasionally. (Do not drain.) Place rice in a large bowl; cover.

3. Arrange chestnuts on a baking sheet. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes. Cool slightly; cut chestnuts into quarters.  Skipped.  Subbed water chestnuts.
4. Place cranberries in a small bowl; cover with hot water. Let stand 20 minutes or until soft. Drain and add to rice.  Skipped.  Really not necessary - just toss in with rest of ingredients.  Steam from rice will plump them up a bit.

5. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add carrot, onion, and celery; cook 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in herbs; remove from heat. Add to rice mixture. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, chestnuts, and pepper.

6. Spoon rice mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover and bake at 400° for 10
minutes or until thoroughly heated.




Perfect Salmon  (America's Favorite Fish Recipes Ckbk)
Okay, I needed a different salmon recipe than the maple glazed one I've used the last two times and the southwestern chili rub I think I used the time before that.  Resorting to the handy Midwestern Fish Recipe style cookbook we received as a gift, I found this recipe.  Simple, quick, just what I needed.  EXCEPT!  I had no mayo!  I ended up consulting Michael Ruhlman's blog on how to make my own. 

Perfect Salmon
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 1/4 cup green onions  (other onion works fine too)
1 tsp prepared mustard
2 1/4 lbs salmon (or other fillet) skin on
1/4 tsp garlic powder
salt
pepper

1.Preheat grill to 350*

2. Combine first three ingredients. Sprinkle fillet with salt and pepper.  Spread mayo mixture over fillet and sprinkle with garlic powder.  Grill until fish is done and flakes easily with a fork. 
Mayo!!!
Quite a while back Michael Ruhlman did a video on Deviled Eggs, in which he pontificates about making your own mayo.  He says, quite bluntly, IT'S EASY!  Now Julia Child has also said the same thing.  Yet, I hesitated, until...I needed mayo.  I had eggs.  I oil.  I have an immersion blender.  A whisk would have worked as well, but I needed my mayo NOW. 

Take one egg white (or more) and put in a small bowl.  Start beating.
Add some salt for taste.
Start to slowly drizzle in oil.  Keep beating until egg and oil emulsify, or, in layman's terms, looks like mayo.

Season to taste.


That's it.  I had officially made my own mayo in about 5 minutes (there was a fair amount of consulting the video).  Next time I could do it under three. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Martian Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs

When it rains in a Burroughs novel, the reader gets wet." -- Science-fiction writer Jack McDevitt



From Goodreads.com: Combining otherworldly adventures with elements of classical myth, fast-paced plots with cliffhanging tension, and imaginative fantasy with vivid prose, Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Martian Tales Trilogy helped define a new literary genre emerging in the early twentieth century that would become known as science fiction.

Hero John Carter proves himself against deadly foes in The Martian Trilogy. In the first installment, Carter wins the affections of the "princess of Mars" and the respect of the Martian warlords whom he befriends. The excitement continues in The Gods of Mars when Carter engages the Black Pirates in airborne combat above the dead seas of Mars and leads a revolt to free the Martian races from a religion that thrives on living sacrifices. In the third book, Warlord of Mars, Carter overcomes the forces of evil that would destroy the planet. By the end of the trilogy the Martians all clamor for a triumphant John Carter to be their king.



We read this for book group in October – not sure what most folks thought because we had a small turnout.


When science fiction books dub themselves as “pastiche”, this is what they are referring to. Written about 1920 or so, the character John Carter finds himself first running from an Apache tribe, wounded, and holes up in a cave. He wakes up on Mars, chased by Martians, taken as an honored guest and reviled prisoner. Carter falls in love with a Martian Princess, effects her escape, and well, I won’t ruin what happens next.


Cheesy? Definitely. Fun? Totally. If you can look at the story from the perspective of when it was written, we are looking very much at some of the first speculative science fiction. And while with today’s knowledge it may seem trite, unbelievable, and farfetched, back then it would have been quite adventurous. I also thought his creation of a variety of ‘aliens’ was pretty darn innovative.


Now, I will also say – a confession if you will – that I have not finished Gods of Mars nor Warlord of Mars. I can really only take so much constant swashbuckling before I need a break. I needed a break.


If you have read S.M. Stirlings: In the Court of Crimson Kings, you would probably enjoy this book.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Recipe Review from 10/25/10

Last week was chilly week to be sure, with a blast of winter that took everyone by surprise.  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we experienced a record low barometer reading; 28 millibars I think it was - usually you see that in a hurricane.  And winds up to 50 mph.  Heavy wet snow.  Power outages.  Really, those power guys don't get paid enough when they have to go out in yucko weather like that. 

I'm hoping for a tiny reprieve of warmth to finish pulling in the last of the garden stuff.  I have a few statues out, some flower fences, and the water hose.  I just hope I didn't ruin the hoses.  Drat and bother. 

But, with all of that going on, the Husband made the following and we both gave it two thumbs up.  Drat and bother again - sorry forgot the pics.

Moroccan Lentil Stew with Raisins  (Vegetarian Times, Oct 2010)
I picked this one due to its simplicity to assemble - a pre-made lentil soup, chickpeas, crushed tomatoes; pretty much dump and simmer.  I even had the onions pre-chopped in the fridge from an earlier recipe so the husband wouldn't even have to prepare those.  I did substitute golden raisins for regular.  The recipe didn't denote which variety and the seasonings said golden to me.  This does turn out as a sweeter recipe, between the raisins and the cinnamon, but I think that was why we both really liked it.  Different than the traditional "Midwestern" stew. 

To appease the carnivore in my Husband, on a serving by serving basis we would saute up some venison kielbasa and then warm up the stew over the top of that.  Now THAT was an outstanding combination - made it just a bit more hearty and stretched the stew over the week.  I would make this again for company or ourselves in a heart beat. 

Moroccan Lentil Stew with Raisins
This exotically flavored stew can be stretched to feed a crowd when ladled over rice or potatoes.

Serves: 6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 18-oz carton prepared lentil soup (such as Dr. McDougalls)
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup raisins
2 tsp ground cinnamon or more to taste
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
6 tbsp plain non-fat Greek yogurt or soy yogurt, optional

1. Heat oil in medium sauce pan or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add onion, and saute 3 minutes or until softened and translucent.  Add garlic, and cook 1 minute, or until garlic is softened, but not browned, stirring constantly. 

2. Stir in tomatoes, soup, chickpeas, raisins, cinnamon, cumin and red pepper, if desired.  Bring stew to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. 

3. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes, or until mixture is reduced and sauce has thickened, stirring often from bottom to prevent sticking.  Garnish with yogurt if using. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Different Scifi Review...

Saturday found the Husband, myself and the Parents at the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra for an evening with the music of John Williams.  Now, this doesn't seem very scifi'ish, but given that this very prolific composer did the musical score for Star Wars, ET, Jaws, Superman, Close Encounters, Indian Jones, and Jurassic Park (just to name a very select few) I figured it rated a review.

The concert opened with Star Wars.  Classic.   Simply classic.  However, as I sat there in an orchestra hall that was about a bazillion degrees, I felt something was missing (other than air movement and air conditioning).  I decided the orchestra just wasn't big enough for this particular piece - there just wasn't the resounding overtones that make this song "Star Wars".  

The conductor was a hoot for this performance - engaging the audience and providing some great commentary on each selection and interjecting a lot of humor into the evening, which I think was great given the number of kids and young adults in the audience.  The second selection was Jaws, and the tuba kept doing the da dum and the conductor would wave his hands and say not yet! not yet!  While I have never seen Jaws, I could appreciate the chilly undertones this music conveyed. 

We then moved on to Empire of the Sun - a supposed fusion of oriental and English tones to denote both cultures.  I felt the oriental tones were significantly lacking and we were left with mostly a variation of Handel.  The Duluth Symphony Choir however, was outstanding. 

This segwayed into Schindler's List, with its haunting violin melodies.  The principal violinist did an outstanding performance.  I think this was my favorite selection of the evening. 

The conductor talked a little bit about Saving Private Ryan, and how Mr. Williams did not watch significant parts of the movie for this due to some of the gruesome war scenes.  Yet he was still able to match mood to movie and did a resplendent job.  The Choir accompanied on this piece as well.

The next selection was Amistad, accompanied by the Duluth East Women's Chorale and the Duluth Symphony Choir.  Now this really reflected the fusion of English classical and African tribal more so than Empire of the Sun.  

The last selection before intermission was Superman, and the brass section got to stand up and pull off their shirts to show the Superman T-shirt underneath.  Cute. 

Intermission provided an opportunity for a costume contest in three categories - little tykes, teens and adults.  Three winners were selected from each and they got their picture taken with the guest conductor.   There were some well thought out costumes - several Indiana Jones, several Princess Leia and Padme's, a couple Harry Potter characters, C3PO, Anikan's, well, you get the idea. 


With break over (an the hall no less cool) the orchestra did a rendition of the Harry Potter theme song and then a selection from one of the other movies.  A good illustration of William's style - grandiose sweeping themes.   

And how can we have an evening without ET?  I could have skipped this one in favor of, well, anything else but I'm in the minority here.  Didn't like ET.  No fault of the orchestra or conductor.

The audience was informed that for Jurassic Park William's didn't want to make music for another "monster movie" and instead wanted to acknowledge the nobility of the dinosaur.  I felt you could really feel the vast open spaces with the tropical plants and the almost Eden atmosphere at the start of the movie when they take a fly-over of the island.  Well done.

Star Wars Phantom Menace.  I think that's what it was.  By this point I was getting very fidgety - I was hot, my feet were hot, it was super stuffy, I just wanted to go.  However, the conductor must have had some espresso at intermission because he was still in fine form and in fact, encouraged the audience to wave around their light sabers (yes, they were selling light sabers in the hallway that changed lights was you shook them).  Kinda cool.  

Encores.  Like extra innings in a baseball game, I despise encores.  However, you couldn't do An Evening with John Williams and NOT do Indiana Jones.  Conductor ran off, we all applauded, he ran back on with his fedora and bullwhip, and away we went into a rousing rendition of Indian Jones.  However, I wondered if this wasn't a last minute add-on because there were a couple of noticeable "oops!" from the brass section.


My main criticisms with the evening were actually centered around the hall itself - besides the atrocious heat, they had these lights set up to beam pretty patterns onto the ceiling and walls, but folks on the main floor wouldn't be able to see them and all they did for the folks in the balcony was make it hard to see the orchestra.  It was like having 6 flashlights pointed at you from the sides of the stage.  And due to the angle of the ceiling, the patterns weren't all the noticeable.


However, lest you think me cranky, it was overall a delightful evening and I am very glad I went. 




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