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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gridlinked by Neal Asher



A most excellent book! A faced paced science fiction book as science fiction should be written in my opinion. A bit space opera, a bit interstellar intrigue, a bit cyberware. The kind of book I like to read.


Paraphrased from Goodreads.com: Cormac is a legendary Earth Central Security agent, the James Bond of a wealthy future where "runcibles" (matter transmitters controlled by AIs) allow interstellar travel in an eye blink throughout the settled worlds of the Polity. Cormac is nearly burnt out, "gridlinked" to the AI net so long that his humanity has begun to drain away. He has to take the cold-turkey cure and shake his addiction to having his brain on the net. Now he must do without just as he's sent to investigate the unique runcible disaster that's wiped out the entire human colony on planet Samarkand in a thirty-megaton explosion. With the runcible out, Cormac must get there by ship, but he has incurred the wrath of a vicious psychopath called Arian Pelter, who now follows him across the galaxy with a terrifying psychotic killer android in tow.

This is the first book with Ian Cormac, agent extroidinaire. I believe there are now 5 more books in the series. Whew, there is much I wish to discuss about this book, but don't want to give anything away.

Go read the book! 'Nuff said.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Recipe Review from 3/15/10

Another most excellent recipe week! The downside was the weather had turned absolutely delightful (think 55* for Northern MN!) and I found myself playing outside till the sun went down. Which meant dinner was happening at 8:30p at night. Oops. Need to work on that timing a bit.

Both these dishes made very good leftovers, which is what I'm after these days. In addition, I'm still focusing on recipes that are using up pantry items - wild rice in the frittata and the last of 2009's squash in the risotto. Another bonus with both of these were the remaining ingredients were inexpensive - mushrooms, eggs, barley, shallots. I bought some bread to fill out the lunches and that was about it.

My only complaint is neither of these were exactly quick in the preparation aspect - time needs to be alloted to cook the wild rice as well as the squash, hence the late night dinners.



(Photo from CookingLight.com)

Barley, Butternut Squash, and Shiitake Risotto (Ckng Lght, Mar 2010)
Like risotto in texture but not in cooking method, this one-dish meal's creaminess is underscored with the addition of Taleggio, a soft Italian cheese. You can substitute Brie if you like.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)
Time: took about 2 hours total

Ingredients
3 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps (about 1/2 pound)
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1 cup uncooked pearl barley
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2/3 cup white wine
3 1/2 cups organic vegetable broth (I used 2 cups veggie broth and 1 1/2 c H20)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 ounces Taleggio cheese, diced (I used Brie)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 450°.

2. Combine squash, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss well to coat. Arrange squash mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 450° for 25 minutes, stirring once.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; saut├ę 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Transfer mushroom mixture to a bowl; keep warm.

4. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan. Add onion; saute´ 4 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add barley and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add wine; bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed. Add broth, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until barley is tender and liquid is nearly absorbed. Remove from heat; add cheese, stirring until cheese melts. Stir in squash, mushrooms, and thyme. Serve immediately.


(Photo from EatingWell.com)

Mushroom & Wild Rice Frittata (EatingWell, Jan/Feb 2010) 4.0

Packed with a flavorful medley of chewy wild rice and three kinds of mushrooms, this satisfying frittata is perfect for Sunday brunch. Don’t worry if you can only find one kind of mushroom—the richly aromatic top of baked Parmesan and crisp prosciutto will make up for it.

Ingredients
Wild Rice
2 cups water
1/2 cup wild rice (see Note), rinsed
1/8 teaspoon salt

Frittata
5 large eggs (I used seven eggs total and used the whole egg)
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
1 pound mixed mushrooms (cremini, white button, shiitake), sliced
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
4 thin slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces), chopped



Preparation
To prepare wild rice: Combine water, rice and salt in a small heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the rice is tender with a slight bite, 40 to 50 minutes. Drain; you’ll have about 1 1/2 cups cooked rice.

To prepare frittata: About 30 minutes after you start cooking the rice, beat eggs and egg whites in a large bowl with parsley, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg.

Position rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler.

Heat oil in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, preferably cast-iron, over medium heat. Add onion and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper; cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in rosemary, then add mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until they release their liquid and the pan is dry, 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low; stir in the rice.

Pour the reserved egg mixture evenly over the rice and vegetables. Partially cover and cook until set around the edges, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan and prosciutto. Place the pan under broiler and broil until the eggs are set and the top is nicely browned, about 2 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Tips & Notes
Make Ahead Tip: Prepare the rice (Step 1), cool and store airtight in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Ingredient note: Regular wild rice takes 40 to 50 minutes to cook. To save time, look for quick-cooking varieties, which can be on the table in less than 30 minutes, or instant wild rice, which is done in 10 minutes or less.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross



Because I despise retyping summaries and this one does a good job of summarizing the book:

From Amazon.com: In this alternately chilling and hilarious sequel to The Atrocity Archives (2004) from Hugo-winner Stross, Bob Howard is a computer ├╝bergeek employed by the Laundry, a secret British agency assigned to clean up incursions from other realities caused by the inadvertent manipulation of complex mathematical equations: in other words, magic. In 1975, the CIA used Howard Hughes's Glomar Explorer in a bungled attempt to raise a sunken Soviet submarine in order to access the Jennifer Morgue, an occult device that allows communication with the dead. Now a ruthless billionaire intends to try again, even if by doing so he awakens the Great Old Ones, who thwarted the earlier expedition. It's up to Bob and a collection of British eccentrics even Monty Python would consider odd to stop the bad guy and save the world, while getting receipts for all expenditures or else face the most dreaded menace of all: the Laundry's own auditors. Stross has a marvelous time making eldritch horror appear commonplace in the face of bureaucracy. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information


**Spoiler Alert!***

I have mixed feelings about this book. I love the quirkiness, the snarkiness, and the not so subtle one-liners. I grew annoyed with the Bond-theme, and I like Bond, I've seen'em all (except maybe a couple of the newer ones).

I really like the whole idea that there are these computer geeks (ie, Bob) who specialize in demonology and fight off Cthulu daemons from other dimensions with their iPhones. However, I was irritated that there was all this sexual tension between the two main characters then pffitt! book done.

More often than not I found myself skimming along wondering when the characters were going to stop getting shoved around and start doing some shoving of their own.

So, as I agreed with Disorganized, As Usual, it needed more Lovecraft and less Bond. Still, if you liked Atrocity Archives, you might like this one. You'll just have to read it and decide for yourself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Recipe Review from 3/8/10

I was out of town this past weekend and didn't get to do my usual Sunday morning blogging. Instead, I was at day three of a three day intensive yoga workshop with a Bryan Kest as guest instructor. It was an absolute blast.

But I digress (as usual!). I made two really good dishes last week:

Gypsy Soup (Moosewood Ckbk by Mollie Katzen) 4.0
This soup came together very quickly and is a "whatever's in the cupboard" recipe. The idea is you substitute same color foods - for example the sweet potato, I used some leftover squash I had in the fridge. I also used canned diced tomatoes for the fresh because I didn't want to putz around peeling tomatoes, I swapped peas for the bell pepper, and used Swiss Chard for the celery including the leaves - great way to add some leafy green veggies.

This was outstanding and I would make it again. It made about 7 servings. It would also freeze well if you didn't want so much of the same leftovers in one week.

Gypsy Soup
1 Tablespoon Olive oil
3 Tablespoons Broth
2 cups onion -- chopped
2 cloves garlic -- minced
2 cups sweet potatoes OR squash -- peeled and chopped
1/2 cup celery or Swiss chard -- chopped
3/4 cup bell pepper -- chopped (I used peas)
1 cup chopped fresh tomato (or 1/2 can diced)
1 1/2 cups (one can) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups Vegetable broth
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 dash cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1 Tablespoon tamari (skipped)
1 dash cinnamon

In a large pot, saute onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, and celery in olive oil and 3 Tablespoons broth for about 5 minutes. Add seasonings, except the tamari, and simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Add remaining vegetables, chickpeas, and tamari. Simmer another 10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender to taste.



Cod with Tomato Cream Sauce (EatingWell January/February 2010) 4.0
This recipe surfaced on the CL bulletin boards and I'm glad it did. Super simple and great taste. I did halve the recipe, but wish I had kept the sauce at full portions because I like things extra saucy. I served it over Israeli couscous. I'd make this one again with halibut when it comes into season.

Cod with Tomato Cream Sauce
This silky tomato sauce with a touch of cream makes mild-flavored cod sing. Serve with: Farro or rice and a salad of mixed greens.
4 servings | Active Time: 25 minutes | Total Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients
•1-1 1/4 pounds Pacific cod (see Note) or tilapia fillets, cut into 4 pieces
•3 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
•1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
•1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
•1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
•1 shallot, chopped
•2 cloves garlic, minced
•3/4 cup white wine
•1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
•1/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
•1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

Preparation
1.Season fish with 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallot, garlic and 1 teaspoon thyme; cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 1 minute. Add wine, tomatoes and the fish to the pan; bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until the fish is cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the fish to a large plate; keep warm.

2.Whisk cream and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add to the pan, along with the remaining 1 teaspoon thyme and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Divide the fish and sauce among 4 shallow bowls.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Knitting Update!

Finally, a couple of finishes! Yeah yeah, it's been a while...but I've been busy! That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it. Yeah...busy... ;)

Nordic Mittens by Paton Yarns
#4 circulars
Paton Decor Yarn in Soot and Pink (acrylic/wool blend) from Fabric Works in Superior, WI



This was my first attempt at stranded knitting or Fair Isle knitting. Once my left hand understood what it needed to do, these were a lot of fun. The only perplexing thing was how small they turned out. One of my fellow Chicks with Sticks also did her's on #4's and they didn't turn out anywhere near as small as mine did. In hindsight, I should have checked to verify that my needles were actually #4's. I will be doing these again. Super quick.


Stockinette Socks
#1 circulars
Cascade Heritage Prints from Three Kittens in Mendota Heights (delicious yarn!)



Picture really doesn't to the colors justice in any way shape or form. The yarn is a deep cranberry with hints of darker spots and blueish flecks. Lovely!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Two Harbors Snowshoe Hike 3/6/10

On Saturday, about 20 people gathered in 39* temps just outside of Two Harbors, MN, for an organized Superior Hiking Trail snowshoe hike. The great things about these organized hikes are you can hike alone or with part of the group, and everyone has transportation from one end of the trail segment to the other. It is a good way to hike segments that would otherwise be avoided because of transportation logistics.



This is a new segment of trail, just put in in the last year or so. We met at Co Rd 301 just outside of Two Harbors, shuttled up to Gun Club Road, and hiked back. It was a very enjoyable 3.4 miles. The snow remained mostly firm except at the beginning and the end where it was more exposed to the sun.



I would like to get back and hike this one in the summer - the trail follows Silver Creek for most of the length and it would make a great quick summer get away.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Guided Snowshoe Hike!

(Snowshoeing the Split Rock river 2009)

I didn't think of posting this earlier (drat and bother!) but there is an organized snowshoe hike on a new segment of the Superior Hiking Trail Saturday! Weather should be decent as they are predicting drizzle for the evening.

The hike facilitator has already scouted the trail and reports back that it is in good condition. It took him only 90 minutes, but he has 4' long legs and covers some serious ground. Give it two hours for us normal legged people.

From the Superior Hiking Trail website:

March 6 Showshoe Hike 10:00 a.m. New section - Gun Club Road to County 301 Trailhead
3.4 miles. The trail moves through mixed forests to scenic Silver Creek, following the creek with views of snow-draped white pine on the opposite bank. Meet at the County Road 301 Trailhead. At Hwy 61 milepost 28.5, turn left on Lake Co. Rd 3 and go 2 miles. Turn left on Lake Co. Rd 301 (Fors Rd) and go 0.3 miles to the parking lot on left.

All SHTA hikes begin at 10:00 a.m. rain or shine. All hikes are free of charge and open to the public. Each hike is led by a member of the Superior Hiking Trail Association and includes an orientation and briefing by an area naturalist. Wear sturdy boots or hiking shoes, bring lunch, beverages and insect repellant.

Invader by CJ Cherryh


Book two of the Foreigner series.

The premise of the book is pandhi Bren Cameron is hastily called back to the Atevi government and politics when the starship Phoenix suddenly appears in the sky above the planet after a 200 year absence. Bren must now deal with an Atevi population who fears the ship is going to burst upon them with death rays, his predecessor Diana Hanks presence which is in violation of the Treaty established after Phoenix abandoned the planet the first time, and his own government which to all outward appearances has cut him off. To top off his difficulties, he finds out his girl friend has married someone else.

For starters, this is not an action filled book. The reader spends most of the time wallowing in Bren's musings about what it is to be the only human in the Atevi world, how he must constantly guard his expressions and watch his emotions because he cannot afford to mix human emotions with Atevi thoughts.

However, Invader is much better than Foreigner. It pulls the reader right along: Bren is not sitting around wallowing as he was in the first one, but seems to actually have a part in the action this time. Don't get me wrong - there is still a fair amount of self-pity wallowing going on as he tries to work though his girl friends marriage - but it has a context.

My biggest complaint is Bren always asking about his guards, "Where is Banichi? Where is Jago?" About halfway through the book I wanted to shout at the main character - "They're not here! Get over it!" I did get tired of Banichi and Jago popping in and out - that seems to be the extent of what the do, except in a firefight. Then they are suddenly there and Bren is still asking about one or the other.

But overall, a delightful read, not to sloggish for a Cherryh book and I already have the next one on order.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Recipe Review from 2/22/10

Well, this post wraps up February's recipes. I did better than I thought - six new recipes for the month. Same as January. By no means by best ever, but not bad. And! I actually baked! I can't recall the last time I did that.

Squash Duxelle Casserole (Vegetarian Times, Feb 2010) 4.0
I had picked this dish about two weeks ago as part of my ongoing pantry reduction. The only thing I needed to buy was mushrooms. However, life being what it is, I finally got around to making this this past weekend. A bit putzy, but not bad. I'm not going to type this one out because it's a bit long and I'm miffed at VT for not getting their recipes on their website so I can link to them.

This recipe calls for about 2 lbs of thinly sliced squash (my thanks to my neighbors who left me three beautiful squash on my porch last fall - this was the last one of the bunch), layered between finely chopped mushrooms and a cheesy sauce. The gravy like sauce was made with milk and flour and seasoned with nutmeg, and should have been doubled. Not nearly enough sauce. Yet, this dish was delish! I loved the earthiness of the mushrooms and shallots against the sweetness of the squash, with a backdrop of nutmeg for spiciness. This would be a good holiday dish.

Iced Oatmeal Cookies (Veg Times Feb 2010) 4.0
It's been a while since I've baked; and it's been longer since I've baked vegan. Result - YUM! Oat flour is mixed with baking powder and baking soda, cinnamon and a dash of salt. In a separate bowl, a tich of butter (I did use real butter, not fake as called for) was blended with brown sugar and white sugar. To this is added applesauce, vanilla and flaxseed meal that was soaked in water. Toss in oatmeal and craisins. Bake and top with powdered sugar mixed with lemon juice.

As I used my homemade applesauce, I did drain for about 2 hours before using. I read somewhere that draining helps improve the consistency of baked goods when subbing applesauce for oil. Would I make these again! You bet! I probably will later this week. It makes a fairly small batch (about 18 cookies)


Black Bean Soup (Eating Well, Feb 2010) 4.0
I needed a soup for lunch this week, and I wanted something super simple and super quick. I was tempted to just buy some Amy's canned soups, but I found this recipe. AND I had 2 cans of black beans in the pantry plus a jar of open salsa in the fridge! Awesome.

Onion is cooked till translucent, or in my case, lightly caramelized. Chili powder and cumin are added and toasted. Toss in salsa, beans and water. Simmer 10 minutes or so and puree with my FAVORITE kitchen tool - my IMMERSION BLENDER! Taste was perfect, consistency is a bit thin, but I'm not going to complain.