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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  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

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:

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

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

•“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

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


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)

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


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)

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
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)

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

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

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. 
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 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. 

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