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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. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell

Maybe I should reconsider reading three books at one time…plots and characters become neglected and then it’s a matter of making sure I have the right plot in my head and remembering who is who. At least book #3 is a scifi book – that’s pretty easy to keep straight. But I read Purgatory Ridge and this one at the same time and that got to be a bit much in the police-thriller category. 

This is Book #2 in the Kurt Wallander series. The premise of the book is (from Sweden, winter, 1991. Inspector Kurt Wallander and his team receive an anonymous tip-off. A few days later a life raft is washed up on a beach. In it are two men, dressed in expensive suits, shot dead. The dead men were criminals, victims of what seems to have been a gangland hit. But what appears to be an open-and-shut case soon takes on a far more sinister aspect. Wallander travels across the Baltic Sea, to Riga in Latvia, where he is plunged into a frozen, alien world of police surveillance, scarcely veiled threats, and lies. Doomed always to be one step behind the shadowy figures he pursues, only Wallander's obstinate desire to see that justice is done brings the truth to light.

Wallander is seriously always a step behind. In the foggy depths of his depressed brain - where he’s still lamenting the loss of his police partner, his divorce, his estranged relationship with his daughter and trying to cope with his father’s dementia - he’s fallen in love with a woman in Latvia, and more than “a desire to see that justice is done” is he wants to save her. Perhaps a psychological manifestation that if he can’t save anything else in his life, perhaps he can save this woman.

Seriously, Kurt Wallander makes Arkady Renko (Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith) look like he’s on uppers and Marad Audran (George Alex Effinger) the epitome of normal.  Still, there is something about the Swedish landscape and Kurt's dogged determination that keeps me turning the pages.  

Recommended if you don't mind a gloomy landscape and a depressed cop.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Recipe Review from 10/18/10

We had another beautiful week in the 60*s, ten degrees above normal for this time of year and nobody up here is complaining!  But today, as I write this, it has turned very blustery with sporadic misty-rain.  I had hoped to fit in a bike ride but just not going to happen.  Probably not a bad thing, since I am popping the advil after a very vigiourous yoga workshop yesterday that has left a slew of muscles complaining - admittedly, I'm just not used to spending that much time attempting to balance on my forearms.   The best part of the day was coming home and the Husband had dinner ready:

Moroccan Lentil Stew with Raisins   (Vegetarian Times, Oct 2010)
The simplicity of this dish attracted my attention.  I've thrown a couple of complicated dishes at the Husband lately (for him to make), and I figured I was pushing my luck and needed something uber simple.  I even had the onions pre-chopped in the fridge! Bonus!  The flavors of this are different - intriguing almost - as it is almost  sweet for a stew with the cinnamon and golden raisins.  I had him saute some venison kielbasa and add it to just the bowls to make it a more hearty dish, though it is plenty good just on it's own.  I would definitely make this again.

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

Serves 6 (seriously)

1 tbsp oil
1 cup chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 tbsp)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 18-oz cartons prepared lentil soup, such as Dr. McDougall's)  found in the natural section at Cub
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup raisins or currants  I used golden raisins
2 tsp ground cinnamon or to taste
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
optional: non-fat plain yogurt of choice

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

2. Stir in tomatoes, soup, chickpeas, raisins, cinnamon, cumin and red pepper flakes.   Season with salt and 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 desired. 

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus  (Ckng Lght, Oct 2010)
I have a fondness for hummus sandwiches, on nice soft homemade bread with provolone cheese, sprouts and tomato, and my favorite hummus recipe is actually from Cooks Illustrated.  Downside is, that recipe is just a tich putsy and sometimes I need something less complicated.  This one attracted my attention for just that reason.  However, while simple, it did lack the depth of flavor the Cooks Ills. has.  Pros and cons to everthing I guess.  Perhaps with some tweeking I can combine the best of both recipes.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Makes: 2 cups
1/3 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup chopped bottled roasted red bell peppers, rinsed and drained
1tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (15 1/2-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth.

Quick (Grouse) Tikka Masala  (Eating Well, Sept/Oct 2010)
Originally had planned to use chicken thighs for this recipe, but the Husband went grouse hunting and came home with two birds.  Grouse is easily overcooked, and I thought the combination of a light sear and then a slow simmer would be ideal.  It worked really well.  In addition, I would make this recipe again using chicken - I liked the flavors and how easily it came together with just a bit of  prep work.  Made closer to 6 servings than the suggested 4, but that could have been because I added 8oz of quartered mushrooms (fridge clean-out).

Oh - almost forgot to add, of all the darn times to run out of garam masala it was when I needed 4 tsp!  Luckily I have Indian Home Cooking by Raghaven Iyer which had a recipe for making my own.  Have spice grinder will make spices! 

Quick Chicken Tikka Masala 
One of the most popular Indian dishes in the U.S. and the U.K., chicken tikka masala usually involves several steps including marinating and grilling the chicken before simmering in a curried tomato cream sauce. We’ve simplified it to a one-skillet dish and lightened it by increasing the vegetables, omitting the butter and using less cream. Serve with brown basmati rice and, for dessert, dates.

4 servings, 1 1/2 cups each
Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

4 teaspoons garam masala (see Note)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 pound chicken tenders
4 teaspoons canola oil, divided
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sweet onion, diced
4 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, undrained
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

1.Stir together garam masala, salt and turmeric in a small dish. Place flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of the spice mixture and dredge in the flour. (Reserve the remaining spice mix and 1 tablespoon of the remaining flour.)

2.Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

3.Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil in the pan over medium-low heat. Add garlic, onion and ginger and cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the reserved spice mix and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Sprinkle with the reserved 1 tablespoon flour and stir until coated. Add tomatoes and their juice. Bring to a simmer, stirring and breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring often, until thickened and the onion is tender, 3 to 5 minutes.

4.Stir in cream. Add the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook over medium-low heat until the chicken is cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Garnish with cilantro.

Eating Well Note: Garam masala, a blend of spices used in Indian cooking, usually includes cardamom, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, fennel, cumin and coriander. It is available in the spice section of most supermarkets.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Purgatory Ridge by William Kent Krueger

Not a lot of scifi books lately!  I picked this one up as an audio book for the drive to Door County, WI, but we didn’t fit it in. So instead I’ve been listening to it on my drive into work and on the weekends while sitting out on the porch knitting. At first I was…dubious, at best, about the topic. I know Aurora, MN. I know logging. I know old growth white pines. I’m quite familiar with the landscape of Northern MN and the North Shore. But, even forgiving the reader for mispronouncing Little Marais (the ‘s’ is silent – Mar-ay. Not Mar-ay-ass) I found myself being pulled into the story.

This is the third book in the Cork O'Connor series.  The premise is (from Not far from the small town of Aurora (population 3,752) lies an ancient two-hundred-acre expanse of great white pines, sacred to the Anishinaabe and known to them as Minishoomisag (Our Grandfathers).

Wealthy industrialist Karl Lindstrom does not have a reputation as a sensitive environmentalist, and some members of the Anishinaabe tribe are concerned about the proximity of the trees to his lumber mill. So when an explosion at the mill results in the death of a night watchman, it's obvious whom suspicion will fall upon.

Cork O'Connor, in the throes of straightening out his life and repairing his marriage, is asked by his successor as sheriff to help with the investigation. His sense of community obliges him to accept, but Cork has distinctly mixed feelings about the case. For one thing, he is part Anishinaabe himself. For another, his lawyer wife, Jo, represents the tribe.

Meanwhile, in a secluded house that overlooks the lakeside home of the Lindstrom family, a reclusive shipwreck survivor and his sidekick also seem to be harboring some resentment of their own against the industrialist. And it soon becomes clear to Cork that harmony, both at home and in the town, will be on the back burner for some time.

First, it wasn’t a night watchman who was blown-up. It was a town local. Second, Cork I don't recall Cork being asked to help with the investigation. He just tagged along. I hate blurbs that falsely embellish. Anyway, what we end up with is a three way mystery: Who killed the local in the bomb blast and who was responsible for the bomb blast? Who is Eco-Warrior and are they responsible for the bombings and attempts on Karl Lindstrom’s life? And lastly, who would kidnap Karl’s wife, inadvertently taking Corks wife and son as well?

Now some of the logging/environmental aspects had me rolling my eyes. It made the logging industry in N MN look callous and really, between the Industry, County, State and Fed’s, trust me – old growth white pine would not be clear cut. In addition Kruger kept referring to the Anishinaabe reservation outside of Aurora. There is no reservation outside of Aurora. I’ve looked at the maps, I know the area, I’m fairly certain there is no Indian reservation there. I don’t mind fiction taking some liberties, but that one bothered me. Perhaps that is a downside of knowing the setting of the book.

I guess what I am trying to say is I enjoyed the book, with reservations based upon setting more so than plot. The plot was good and kept me guessing right up until the “Wow - coool!” moment when everything clicked. I've noticed it takes me longer to figure out the "who done it" when I'm listening as opposed to reading ti.  I’ll probably see if the library has the next one in the series in audio. A nice way to spend my tedious morning commute.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Recipe Review from 10/11/10

Another fabulous week weather-wise.  Daytime temps are still in the 60*, which is a good 10-15* warmer than normal.  We should be in the 50*s for October.  Hiking has been fabulous, I'm still getting one bike ride in on the weekends, yard word continues, and I've been trying to take some time to just sit in the sun on the porch.  Though the Asian beetles are rather pesky - they bite!  A couple of dishes below to herald the cooler fall evenings:

Eggplant Bolognese
I was in the mood for spaghetti, but not traditional spaghetti with Prego sauce.  This caught my eye and I had a portion of the ingredients on hand.  This was very quick and simple to assemble - especially if you mise en plase all the ingredients ahead of time.  Then while the sauce is undergoing it's final simmer, you start the water, boil the noodles and set the table.  I even had time to do the dishes!  This made a lot, but I wanted the leftovers.  Very tasty and hearty. 

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 1 cup sauce, about 3/4 cup pasta, and 2 teaspoons basil)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 cups chopped onion
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 pound ground sirloin
8 cups chopped eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
10 ounce uncooked whole-wheat fettuccine
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup small fresh basil leaves  (I skipped)


1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and beef; cook 10 minutes or until beef is browned, stirring to crumble beef. Add eggplant, garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook 20 minutes or until eggplant is very tender, stirring occasionally. Add tomato paste; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; cook 1 minute, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes as necessary. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and red wine vinegar.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions, adding 1 tablespoon kosher salt to cooking water. Drain. Toss pasta with sauce; sprinkle with basil leaves.

Chicken, Mushroom & Wild Rice Casserole  (Eating Well, Oct 2010)

Photo from

The Husband was super awesome and made this for us last week. He was less than thrilled with the prep (“putzy”) and end result (“disappointing”). I thought it tasted good, the earthiness of the mushrooms highlighted with the aroma of sherry. The Husband elaborated in that a casserole is by definition easy to throw together and inexpensive. This was neither – utilizing sherry, leeks, 1 ½ lbs of mushrooms, 2 pounds of chicken and parmesan cheese. I countered with there was no quintessential “cream of mushroom soup” - which he despises. I did substitute 1lb of chicken breasts with 1 lb of chicken thighs. It’s just going into a casserole after all.   This made a 9x13 pan so plenty of leftovers or great for a crowd.

Chicken, Mushroom & Wild Rice Casserole
From EatingWell: September/October 2010

In Minnesota, chicken, mushrooms and wild rice are often bound together in a casserole with cream of mushroom soup. We forgo the sodium-rich canned soup and make a light, creamy sauce that gets depth of flavor from dry sherry and Parmesan cheese. If you already have cooked chicken, use 4 cups and skip Step 2.

8 servings
Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours

• 2 cups water
• 1/2 cup wild rice
• 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 leeks, chopped and rinsed
• 1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, sliced
• 1 cup dry sherry (see Note)
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 cups low-fat milk
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
• 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
• 2 cups frozen French-cut green beans
• 1/2 cup sliced almonds  (I skipped - I think those little crunchy onions would have been good)

1. Combine water and rice in a small heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, place chicken in a large skillet or saucepan. Add lightly salted water to cover and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the middle, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a clean cutting board and let cool.

3. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until just starting to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until their liquid has been released and has evaporated, 12 to 14 minutes. Add sherry, increase heat to high and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle the vegetables with flour and stir to coat. Add milk; bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Stir in Parmesan, sour cream, parsley, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch (or similar 3-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.

5. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Spread the rice in an even layer in the prepared baking dish. Top with the chicken, then green beans. Pour the sauce over the top and spread evenly. Sprinkle with almonds.

6. Bake the casserole until it is bubbling and the almonds are golden brown, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Tips & Notes from Eating Well

• Make Ahead Tip: Prepare through Step 5; cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month (defrost in the refrigerator for 2 days before baking). Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then bake at 350°F for about 1 hour.

• Note: Sherry is a type of fortified wine originally from southern Spain. “Cooking sherry” sold in many supermarkets can be high in sodium. Instead, get dry sherry that’s sold with other fortified wines at your wine or liquor store.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Garden Takedown 2010

Almost ready for winter - oregano bush and carrots in the foreground.
 With first frost several Sunday's ago (temps dipped down to 28*) it’s time to start wrapping up the garden. Since day time temps have been in the high 60's, we’ve got a good start this year – corn has been done for over a month, hot peppers longs since picked and pulled, dried beans came out a couple weeks ago, winter squash came out two weeks ago, and zucchini and tomatoes this past weekend. We bought a small tiller last year and that is making a big difference – both in speed of fall bed prep and saving my back.

We still have a fair number of fall crops in, one of the blessings of living in a northern climate (zone 3-4). Carrots, parsnips, onions, cabbage, Swiss chard, and kale all do well into mid to late October depending on the year. In fact, we can over winter our parsnips right in the ground and enjoy them come spring.

Rainbow Swiss Chard, Kale, and Cabbage

Fall garden prep goes a bit beyond just picking – there’s the processing part too. Even the winter squash needs to sit outside to cure a bit before we can bring it in and store it in the basement. I love growing dried beans; so very versatile with good shelf life, but it takes time to shuck the little buggers. The husband and I took advantage of a beautiful fall day, sat on the porch in the sun while doggies ran around and shelled two paper grocery bags of Northern Beans. We would have had more but some late fall rains drowned out part of the bed. Still, final weight was just over 4lbs. Not bad!

We have about 10 winter squash of various sizes. Not a record, but not the worst either (that was last year with one small squash). 

I've already mentioned we've canned zucchini relish and hot peppers.  Next up will be apples.  They are already indicating they are not going to store well this year so I need to start drying some, make pies out of others, and perhaps can or freeze some more applesauce.  We have several bags of frozen cherries and raspberries to make into some fall cobblers.  Yum! 

Summers last hurrah - the clematis is still blooming!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Patrick Rothfuss Visits Duluth

On Tuesday evening, on very short notice, fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss made a stop in Duluth while visiting Northern Wisconsin.  I noted in my previous post that we don't get any scifi-fantasy authors up here.  In the 11 years I've been going to book group, he's technically second. The first scifi guest author (who shall remain nameless) was so bad he doesn't count.  To this day the book group agrees his book was the worst we have ever read.  I'm not kidding here.

So.  Patrick came, he read two selections, and signed books.  The first reading was from his college years when he was doing a column for the college paper.  He had a good point - for him  it was a precursor to modern day blogging.  The second selection was from his forthcoming book The Wise Man's Fear (Day 2 in the Kingkiller series).  Patrick was adamant that this book will be released on time in March, 2011.

As I said earlier, I have not read Day 1: In the Name of the Wind.  I'll get around to it eventually - I keep hoping we'll vote it in at book group but until one steadfast person is in absentea, that probably won't happen.  That and we had to wait till it came out in mass paperback. 

Now I noted Patrick read two selections, but he also talked and answered questions from the audience of about 40 people.  I found him to be engaging, comfortable in front of a group, and humorous.  He engaged the group for about an hour, then took a break before starting to sign books.  I departed at that point, not getting in line fast enough to get a copy of his children's story nor desiring an autograph. You will notice in the picture that the background looks suspiciously like a clothing store - B&N stuck us out in the hall at the mall, right across from Old Navy.  Poor Patrick had to compete with mall music, people walking by and no microphone.   If he could survive this, I suspect in not too long he'll be showing up at some local conventions.

Patrick kindly posing for pictures

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Superior Hiking Trail Organized Hike, Oct 9

Waterfall in the Fall sun

Saturday found the Husband and I joining S and J and 35 other folks for an organized hike from Sonju Lake Rd to Finland Rec Center on the Superior Hiking Trail.  The lovely Joy from Hartley Nature Center in Duluth was our naturalist, though she admitted her passion is geology.  Which is great because I love rocks.  Temps were easily in the high 60's, low 70's, with a subtle lake wind to keep one cool. 

We all congregated at the Finland Rec Center for our pre-hike speech and to ask for a volunteer to be the Sweep. The Sweep's responsibility is to make sure everyone gets off the trail safely and the hike coordinator is to make sure the Sweep gets off the trail safely. 

Speeches and introductions complete, we all piled into as few cars as possible and made our way to Sonju Lake.  Everyone was quickly on the trail - there was 7 miles to be hiked.  We brought the hounds, and being in the back of the group was not working out so well.  D managed to get ahead, but it took me longer to catch up.  

This segment is rolling, but not challengingly so.  Once up on the ridges, you pass through maple forests - now with all the leaves down in a brown carpet broken only by the tree trunks and the sky - with a few scenic overlooks that span the Sawtooth Mountains.  No lake views on this portion.  There are two lakes the trail passes, great places to pause and reflect on the calm inky water and the golden tamaracks reflecting in them. 

The Husband and I did this in about 4 hours - most folks seemed to hit the parking lot at 4 1/2.  And the Sweep made it in at 5 hours.  A group of us then rendevouxed at the Rustic Inn for a fabulous dinner complete with awesome pie.  And I do mean awesome pie - cranberry pear ala mode. 

Swimming dog on Egge Lake

Home again by 8:30p, unload and call it a day.  October doesn't get any better than this.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Recipe Review 10/4/10

All I can say is Wow.  What a beautiful October we've been having up here!  Highs in the 70's, sunny, almost no wind.  The leaves have completely fallen off the trees now, with only a few golden aspens and red oaks hanging on.   Still biking, which is fabulous; trying to get some yard work done between the biking and hiking - I admit, I want to play.  And taking some time to sit out on the porch in the weekend morning sun, knit and listen to an audio book while the hounds chase squirrels.

I want to start transitioning to fall recipes; you know, the casseroles, baked pastas, something roasting slowly in the oven, but it's just been too warm.  I've had to settle for 'tweener dishes such as the Fall Vegetable Curry below:

Fall Vegetable Curry  (Ckng Lght Oct 10)
I love Indian flavors and this one called to me as soon as I opened the magazine.  The problem...the Husband does like cauliflower.  The solution...I subbed parsnips!  Fresh from the garden even.  This came together fairly quickly once everything was peeled and diced.  I used part Hot Curry (Penzey's) and part Sweet Curry (also Penzey's) for a nice blend but not overly spicy.  I cooked up some basmati rice on the side with a touch of saffron.  Delish! 

Total: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 cup curry and 2 tablespoons yogurt)

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup diced peeled sweet potato
1 cup small cauliflower florets
1/4 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
1/2 cup organic vegetable broth (such as Swanson)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup plain 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt
1. Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato to pan; sauté 3 minutes. Decrease heat to medium. Add cauliflower, onion, and curry powder; cook 1 minute, stirring mixture constantly. Add broth and next 3 ingredients (through tomatoes); bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with cilantro; serve with yogurt.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Patrick Rothfus: Author Reading and Signing in Duluth

First, I will say straight up that I have not yet read Mr. Rothfuss's book: In the Name of the Wind.  However!  I want to support any scifi-fantasy author that manages to make it to Duluth.  We are really off the beaten path up here and don't get very many (ie: none) scifi/fantasy authors.


Tuesday, October 12th
7:00pm – 10:00pm
Barnes and Noble
Duluth, MN 55811

His website:  Patrick Rothfuss

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dark of the Moon by John Sandford

This was my first time "reading" Sanford (I did this as an audio book) and I thoroughly enjoyed this selection. Of course, when any story is set in a known local the reader tends to derive a bit more enjoyment from the story. This was no different and I had fun tracking the character's movements around Southern Minnesota and the Twin Cities.

However, the gentlemen reading the story on the audio tape wasn't from Minnesota (or Iowa or South Dakota) and inadvertently mangled a couple of city pronunciations. Gave me a chuckle at any rate, but nothing to detract from the quality of the book.

The premise of the book, from Goodreads:  Virgil Flowers-tall, lean, late thirties, three times divorced, hair way too long for a cop's-had kicked around for a while before joining the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. First, it was the army and the military police, then the police in St. Paul, and finally Lucas Davenport had brought him into the BCA, promising him, "We'll only give you the hard stuff." He'd been doing the hard stuff for three years now-but never anything like this. In the small town of Bluestem, where everybody knows everybody, a house way up on a ridge explodes into flames, its owner, a man named Judd, trapped inside. There is a lot of reason to hate him, Flowers discovers. Years ago, Judd had perpetrated a scam that'd driven a lot of local farmers out of business, even to suicide. There are also rumors swirling around: of some very dicey activities with other men's wives; of involvement with some nutcase religious guy; of an out-of-wedlock daughter. In fact, Flowers concludes, you'd probably have to dig around to find a person who didn't despise him. And that wasn't even the reason Flowers had come to Bluestem. Three weeks before, there'd been another murder-two, in fact-a doctor and his wife, the doctor found propped up in his backyard, both eyes shot out. There hadn't been a murder in Bluestem in years-and now, suddenly, three? Flowers knows two things: This wasn't a coincidence, and this had to be personal. But just how personal is something even he doesn't realize, and may not find out until too late. Because the next victim ... may be himself.

As for the story itself, I thought it was fairly well written, with enough leads and trails to keep me guessing till fairly late in the story who the antagonist was. Granted, you are introduced to the slimeball in the first chapter, but to pull him out from the other characters as seen from their point of view was not so easy.  I appreciated that. 

The protagonist, Virgil Flowers, is your typical flawed detective, but in a rough appealing sort of way that for once didn't involve being a closet drunk or fanatically depressed - which is what I usually read (Martin Cruz Smith, George Alex Effinger, Henning Mankell).

So setting, character development, and plot made this a worthwhile book. Just don't listen to it while driving though a major metropolitan area or you may just miss your exit...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Recipe review from 9/27/10

Fall has been spectacular up here in N MN.  The trees have been a blanket of yellow, rusts, and reds and the weather?  Absolutely gorgeous.  We had our first hard frost on Sunday morning and alas, I had neglected to cover my chard and kale.  The kale may be okay, the chard...some got nailed and the rest seems okay.  I'm hoping to put up my little portable greenhouse and try and extend the season on the two leafy veggies.  Meanwhile, a couple of good Fall recipes:

Maple Glazed Salmon (Ckng Lght, Sept 2010)
We decided to purchase a box of salmon from a local family who does award winning maple syrup then goes up to Alaska and fishes for salmon.  I've been buying a fillet here and there from the store, but we liked enough to go for a 22lb box.  Rogotzke's  Syrup and Salmon.  Oh my, to say this salmon is good doesn't even come close to describing how flavorful this fish is!  We used the recipe below, grilled it and finished the maple syrup glaze of in the broiler.   Ironically, I also used their maple syrup - I've been buying it for years and seriously, dear foodies, this syrup is good enough to drink straight!  Better on pancakes and waffles tho.  They did win first prize at the State Fair this year. 

Maple Glazed Salmon
Put together a big batch of the spice rub, and keep it in an airtight container; use it to add flavor to meat and fish on weeknights.
Total: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 fillet)

1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ancho chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 (6-ounce) Alaskan salmon fillets
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons maple syrup

1. Preheat broiler.

2. Combine first 6 ingredients; rub spice mixture evenly over flesh side of fillets. Place fish on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray; broil 6 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Brush fillets evenly with syrup; broil 1 minute.

Autum Chicken Stew (Eating Well, Sept/Oct 2010)
The Husband was kind enough to make this soup for us from the chicken we grilled earlier in the week.  We weren't thrilled about the pasture raised chicken - it turned out a bit on the dry and unflavorful side.  I wouldn't have minded dry, because we could easily be blamed for overcooking, but, no flavor?  Something lacking in the chicken's diet there.  So into the stew pot it went.  With the exception of the broth, everything else came from our garden.  

Autumn Chicken Stew
6 servings, 1 1/2 cups each

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into bite-size pieces
1 large onion, chopped
4 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

1.Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until just cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

2.Add the remaining 3 teaspoons oil to the pot. Add onion, parsnips, carrots, rosemary, salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add broth and apples; bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Return the chicken to the pot and stir in vinegar.

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