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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Matter by Iain M. Banks

This was February's book group selection.

Matter is set in the Culture Universe, which I find to be absolutely fascinating. The background of
this book is, Sursamen is a Shellworld, a multi-level world created by beings long since gone and populated by a mixture of humans and aliens. At it's core resides the World God, and ancient being that just hangs out.

Prince Ferbin is dragged off to war against the Ninth by his father, King Holse. The battle goes badly and Ferbin flees only to witness the brutal death of his Father at the hands of a traitor. Ferbin flees again, knowing his life is forfeit if he shows his face at court. However, by running he knows he puts his younger brother in peril, but it's the only chance he has of saving Oramen.

Accompanied by his steadfast servant, Holse, Ferbin makes his way to the surface and goes in quest of two people who may be willing to help him avenge his fathers death and save Oraman: one is the person who brought them the technology and the other is his sister, gone 15 years now in service to the Culture.

I'm simplifying greatly here. The concepts that Banks brings to a Culture book are just amazing. The Culture ships are back with their quirks and personalities. We are introduced to Special Circumstances, an organization that likes to nudge developing societies along. We come across a galaxy full of aliens with their own agendas and power struggles who merely tolerate the humans. I also thought Matter was a better read than the Algebraist. The Algebraist, while fascinating, was a slog through a peat bog. Matter was more of a slog through a partially frozen peat bog.

Meaning, these are not quick reads. But I highly recommend them.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Recipe Review

Recipe making has been a bit on the slow side so I haven't had much to report on. I've only been making one new recipe a week for lunches, but the couple I've made have been winners.

Vegetable Korma (Vegetarian Times, Feb 2010) 4.0
The February issue of Vegetarian Times has been a winner for me. I was craving Indian flavors and this one was touted as 30 minutes or less. It was indeed quick, though my rice does take a bit longer. My only complaint was the sauce could have been doubled - but I prefer my Indian saucy. I also used a partial can of whole tomatoes, drained, instead of whole tomatoes.

Vegtables Korma
The only non-traditional thing about his Indian dish is the frozen vegetables. To make it vegan, substitute light coconut milk for the evaporated milk or heavy cream.

basmati rice
2 medium tomatoes, cut into chunks
1/2 small white onions, cut into chunks
1 1/2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
vegetable oil
1/2 tsp garam masala or curry powder
1/4 tsp plus 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
2 tbsp golden raisins
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables such as green beans, cauliflower, carrots, lima beans, and zucchini (12oz) (I used whole bags)
1 7 oz can chickpeas (I used whole can)
3 tbsp fat-free evap. milk
1 tbsp slivered almonds

1) cook rice

2) puree tomatoes, onion, and ginger to past in food processor or blender

3) heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add garam masala and cardamom and cook 30 seconds, or until fragrant, stirring constantly. Add tomato puree and raisins. Simmer 2 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly.

4) Stir in frozen vegetables; chickpeas, if using; and evaporated milk. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 6-7 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Serve over rice. Sprinkle with almonds.

Smokey Split Pea Soup (Vegetarian Times, Feb 2010) 4.0
This was good even with my substitutions. Recipe called for sweet potatoes and split peas, but I had yellow split peas from a previous recipe and some regular potatoes the Folks had left me before heading to warmer climes. I was caught a bit off guard when the recipe said I was supposed to have soaked the split peas overnight, so they only got half a day. I also used up the rest of the canned tomatoes from the recipe above.

1 cup green split peas (I used yellow)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp chopped chipolte chile, canned in adobo sauce
1 large sweet potato (or 3 regular potatoes), peeled and diced (3 cups)
2 medium onions (3 cups)
3 ribs celery, diced (I used Swiss chard)
4 cloves garlic, minced (4 tsp)
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes

1) Soak split peas in large bowl of water overnight

2) Heat oil in 3 qt saucepan over medium heat. Add paprika and chipolte, and stir. Add sweet potato, onions, celery and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 10 minutes or until onions are soft and translucent. Add garlic and saute 2 minutes.

3) Drain split peas, and add to pot with 5 cups water. Bring soup to a boil and simmer 1 hour. Add tomatoes and cook 30 minutes more or until peas are tender.

**My note - I only cooked for one hour total.

This coming week I have plans to make some vegan iced oatmeal cookies (applesauce is thawing as I type), and a squash and mushroom casserole for suppers. I'm still eating the split pea soup for lunches as I made that mid-week and it made about 8 servings.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Fire in the Sun by George Alec Effinger

This book follows When Gravity Fails, which I reviewed here when book group read it in 2007.

From Amazon: Marid Audran has become everything he once despised. Not so long ago, he was a hustler in the Budayeen, an Arabian ghetto in a Balkanized future Earth. Back then, as often as not, he didn’t have the money to buy himself a drink. But he had his independence.

Now Marid works for Friedlander Bey, “godfather” of the Budayeen, a man whose power stretches across a shattered, crumbling world. During the day, Marid is a policeman…and Bey’s personal envoy to the police. His new position has brought him money and power which he would abandon in a moment if he could return to a life of neither owning nor being owned. Which, unfortunately, isn’t one of his options.

It’s also not an issue. For something dark is afoot. Something that is sending the city into chaos. Helping a child-mutilator to avoid arrest. Sending a killer to murder Marid’s partner. Murdering prostitutes and savaging their remains. Signs point to the hand of Abu Adil—the one man in the city whose power rivals Friedlander Bey’s. Whatever happens next, it’s not going to be good news for Marid Audran…

I really enjoyed this book; but I like the dark, murky, mystery stories with the depressed main character trying to figure out who done it while trying not to get killed. Having it set in a futuristic Middle East is just bonus material for me. Arkady Renko from Martin Cruz Smith’s books and Kurt Wallander from Henning Mankells stories are like this.

I do recommend reading the books in order though.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Recipe Review from 1/26/10

Well, the Salmon and Black Bean Tostadas didn't get made again last week. Sheer laziness. It was easier to poach a couple of eggs and make some toast for dinner. Probably would have been just as easy to make the tostadas...((shrug)) oh well. They are on the menu for this week along with a Roasted Red Pepper and Carrot Soup and a Vegetable Korma.

In the meantime, I leave you with this recipe:

Minestrone with Sun-dried Tomatoes and White Beans (Veg. Times, Feb 2010)
I would love to link you to the VT site and original reicpe, but they are most insistent that it doesn't exist. So, you have my modifications as typed below.

This recipe is a bit different - no pasta! But very high in fiber. Flavor was nice and bright, reminiscent of the fall produce bounty with carrots, peas, garlic and beans. I did substitute Swiss Chard for the celery, and added the leaves in as well. Nothing like a bit of extra green in the winter time! One additional thing I have been pleased with regarding VT recipes is they frequently use dried herbs. Easier on the pocket book in the winter time!

1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/2 cups diced onion
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup Swiss chard (with leaves)
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup sliced sun dried tomato (I used in-oil variety)
1 15oz can white beans, drained
1 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp white vinegar

1) Heat oil in 3 qt saucepan over medium heat. Add oregano and basil, and stir 30 seconds. Add onion, carrots and garlic. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until onion is translucent.

2) Add sun-dried tomatoes and cook 5 minutes more. Add white beans and 4 cups water and season with salt and pepper. Bring soup to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add peas and Swiss chard, and simmer for 5 minutes more. Stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper if desired.

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