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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Child of Fire by Harry Connolly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From  Book One in the Twenty Palaces Society. Ray Lilly is living on borrowed time. He’s the driver for Annalise Powliss, a high-ranking member of the Twenty Palace Society, a group of sorcerers devoted to hunting down and executing rogue magicians. But because Ray betrayed her once, Annalise is looking for an excuse to kill him–or let someone else do the job.

Unfortunately for both of them, Annalise’s next mission goes wrong, leaving her critically injured. With the little magic he controls, Ray must complete her assignment alone. Not only does he have to stop a sorcerer who’s sacrificing dozens of innocent lives in exchange for supernatural power, he must find–and destroy–the source of that inhuman magic.

What a fun book. An urban fantasy set in the Pacific Northwest (why does the Pacific Northwest attract all the paranormals in urban fantasies I wonder?) where our protagonist Ray ponders what it means to be a disposable tool and the mortality of his actions while kicking some serious bad ass. I thoroughly enjoyed his outlook on life (jaded); his internal philosophising (did he do the right thing?); and how he can do so much damage with so few tools (ghost knife is awesome!).

My one complaint with the book - and this is more my quirk than a reflection on the author's writing - I got a bit tired of the constant running around after the bad guys or conversely, running away from the bad guys. It read a bit like a action movie where the action is non-stop and all CGI'd. That being said, I still enjoyed the book and went and downloaded book two the next morning.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

Recipe Review from 2/13/12

A strange week for sure.  Tuesday was Valentines Day and we, as usual went very low key. I made the Indian Curry Dish below, bought a small Chocolate Ganache cake from Mt. Royal (Duluth's "fancy" grocery store), and the Husband picked us up some sparkling Lambrusco. 

The week also brought news that the Husband's Dad was not doing well (worse than usual, he hasn't been well for the last year), and by Thursday he passed away.  As I write this, we are waiting news regarding a Memorial Service. 

Two crockpot dishes for the week, both from a new source A Year of Slowcooking or Crockpot365. 

Rice and Beans  (A Year of Slowcooking Blog)
What I liked about both of these recipes is they are plop and cook.  Very little or minimal pre-prep necessary (ie, no pre-cooking veggies or meat).  What I neglected to do was give all the ingredients a good stir before covering so my rice kinda cooked up in a big sheet.  A bit odd, but no biggie and I was able to crumble it up.  Oops!  I see I forgot to add the onion flakes too. Oh well, I did add one cup of corn which I recommend for color.  This made enough for 4 lunches for two of us. 

1 can of black beans  (I used soldier beans because I had some on hand)
1 can of pinto beans
1 cup of rice 

1 can (14.5 oz) of diced tomatoes
1 cup frozen corn (my addition)
1 T olive oil
1/2 t kosher salt
1 t Italian seasoning
1/2 T dried onion flakes

1) put the 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the bottom of your crockpot, and add the rice. Swirl the rice around in the olive oil, until it is coated nicely.

2) drain and rinse the beans, and add them

3) drain the tomatoes, but reserve the liquid in a measuring cup. I got a little under a cup of tomato juice. Add the tomatoes and frozen corn

4) add water to the measuring cup with tomato juice. You need 2 cups of liquid.

5) add seasonings stir well, and cover.

Cook on low for about 6 hours, or on high for 3-4. It is done when the rice is tender. Brown rice or wild rice will take longer to cook than white rice

Indian Curry  (A Year of Slowcooking Blog)
Oh my lucky stars! this was good! The downside was I was in a hurry to assemble this in the morning while pulling breakfast and lunches together for the day.  Prep took about 35 minutes.  It might be less for you if you aren't letting the dogs back in, feeding dogs, making coffee, etc... at the same time. 

The thing I don't care for with using frozen chicken thighs is I can't cut off the fat.  I'm really not wild about the big fat globs and will cut them off...can't do that if the buggers are frozen.  I also think this dish has enough moisture that cut up chicken breast would be fine. 

Loved the flavors on this one!  Was even better over the coming days.  Wished I had thought to grab some naan to serve with. 

1 13.5 oz can of coconut milk (don't use the light, it doesn't taste as good. or use the light and then stir in heavy cream at the end.)
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
4-6 frozen skinless, boneless chicken thighs 
1 T tomato paste
2 T curry powder (not a typo, it's a lot, but it's good. Curry isn't spicy, just flavorful)
1 t ground coriander
1 t ground cumin
1 inch peeled and grated ginger
few dashes of hot sauce (I used Tobasco)  (I skipped)
1 yellow onion. chopped
2 or 3 cloves of smashed and chopped garlic   (I was short on time and skipped)

1 green red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 of an eggplant, peeled and chopped

1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped

Assemble all of your spices, coconut milk, tobasco sauce, and tomato paste. Combine the sauce ingredients in the bottom of your crockpot. The sauce will be a lovely yellow.

Add the chicken, flipping it over a few times to coat it nicely. Pour in the garbanzo beans.

Wash and chop all of the vegetables, and then add to the Crock-Pot. Don't worry about stirring them in the sauce. Let them sit on top of the chicken and steam away.

Cover and cook on low for 7-9 hours, or on high for 4-6. Slowcooker365 notes - I cooked our dinner on high for almost 6 hours. The chicken was fully cooked, but still had shape, and the vegetables were soft and quite nice.

Stir carefully to mix flavors. If you stir too rough, the sweet potato will fall apart.

Serve over rice; (I used brown basmati). 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The White Lioness by Henning Mankell

The White Lioness (Wallander #3)The White Lioness by Henning Mankell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads:  Third in the Kurt Wallander series.  The execution-style murder of a Swedish housewife looks like a simple case even though there is no obvious suspect. But then Wallander learns of a determined stalker, and soon enough, the cops catch up with him. But when his alibi turns out to be airtight, they realize that what seemed a simple crime of passion is actually far more complex—and dangerous. The search for the truth behind the killing eventually uncovers an assassination plot, and Wallander soon finds himself in a tangle with both the secret police and a ruthless foreign agent. Combining compelling insights into the sinister side of modern life with a riveting tale of international intrigue, The White Lioness keeps you on the knife-edge of suspense.
At 14 disks, this was not a short "read". It was, however, engrossing. A very accomplished narrator brought the story to life with small things like sighs, actual chortles and laughs, sounds of disbelief, and a great intonation. I have not Googled him, but I suspect he was bilingual in Swedish which, being a Swedish book, added to the appeal.

I found the point of view transitions to be interesting from a literary standpoint. In some cases, they seemed a abrupt which is a fault of an audiobook - you don't get to see where there is a break on the page, that visual aspect lost to the audio medium. In other instances, the POV changes were well executed and fascinating to listen to. My most notable and favorite example was when Wallander was kidnapped by Mumbasa (sorry if the spelling is off) and taken to a tomb outside of a city - the POV was Mumbasa's and then during an action scene in which we see Kurt running away, the POV runs with him. Nicely executed.

Another interesting aspect of reading a Swedish book is how the author perceives "good guys" and "bad guys" in literature. Here in the States for years, it's been the Russian's as Bad Guys (Hunt for Red October, about half of the Bond books...just to name a few). Well, it seems that the ol' USSR/KGB issues still weighed heavily on some European countries, but with ties to South Africa. Fascinating.

I have a couple complaints with White Lioness: one lies with the expository bits that turned into a lecture on the social ills in South Africa at the time Mandela was just released from prison. They came across as "Insert Lecture Here" rather than as a part of the story. There also seemed to be a bit of "shame on you Sweden" for not standing up more to the ills in the world, but rather due to remoteness of it's geographical local, taking more of a "not my problem" attitude. So I was less thrilled with the lectures as they kept cropping up.

My other complaint was the book just didn't want to end. Yes, one had to tidy up the storyline that took the plot back to S. Africa, but good grief! It just kept dragging on with inept office people, messages being lost, memo's not being received - I'm all for reality, but egads, end the story already!

Recommended if you don't mind the angst-ridden, depressed detective/policeman type mysteries with political commentary.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Recipe Review from 2/6/12

This week started off with a mega-baby shower for my youngest Sis.  Went super simple for this gathering - Taco Bar.  Only thing I did "fancy" was stuff these awesome sweet-hot peppers with little cheese cubes.  The SIL made three batches of great cupcakes: GF "oreo" cupcakes, GF Mohito cupcakes, and regular pumpkin cupcakes.  I think these were the hit of the party.  Yum-o! 

I had more leftovers than I was anticipating (folks must have ate before they came) which worked out in the end since I had NO time to meal plan or get to the grocery store.  Very empty fridge.  Taco's for dinner and/or lunches last week!

By Friday I was ready for something else. One new recipe and a winner at that:

Boundary Waters Wild Rice Soup (Mpls Star Trib, Jan 25, 2012)
Thi should have been on the previous recipe review, but I FORGOT TO BUY THE CHICKEN!   Dinner that night was frozen pasty and baked brussel sprouts, which I managed to burn.  Argh.  Most frustrating.

The ingredient list looks daunting, but this came together very quickly.  In fact, I gave it extra simmering time because *I* wasn't quite done with dishes and setting the table.  This recipe has replaced my standard and I couldn't quite tell you why.  It might be the sherry (which can be easily left out); it might be the combo of veggies, it might be that it remained a velvety creamy soup and didn't turn into rice and chicken casserole...I dunno.  I just really enjoyed this. 

Serves 6.
Note: To toast almonds, spread nuts in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven until almonds are lightly browned and fragrant, about 7 to 10 minutes. From "The Marshall Field's Cookbook."

6 tbsp. 4 tbsp unsalted butter 
• 1 c. diced yellow onion
• 1 small leek, halved lengthwise, rinsed well, and thinly sliced
• 1 1/2 c. sliced button mushrooms  (I ended up using one small can because my 'shrooms went bad)
• 3/4 c. diced carrots
• 1/2 c. flour
• 6 c. chicken broth
• 1 1/2 c. cooked wild rice (save time: make ahead)
• 1/2 roasted chicken, skin and bones removed and meat chopped (1 to 1 1/2 c.)  (rotisserie works perfect!)
• 1 c. heavy cream  half n half
• 5 tbsp. dry sherry  (oops! I used 6 tbsp)
• 2 tsp. salt
• 11/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tbsp. freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley  (2 tsp dried)
• 1 tsp. freshly chopped thyme leaves  (1/4 tsp dried)
• 2 tbsp. slivered almonds, toasted, for garnish  skipped.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add leek, mushrooms and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add flour (and dried herbs if using) and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute. Whisk in chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then decrease heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add wild rice, chicken, cream, sherry, salt, pepper, [parsley and thyme if fresh] and cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes.

Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Ladle into bowls, garnish with almonds and serve hot.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sherlock by PBS Masterpiece Mystery!

This was a three part series released in 2010 by PBS Mystery.  I had to laugh when I saw the first episode - I had actually caught the first 5-10  minutes of this, but not knowing what the heck I had just tuned into, I stopped watching.  Alas, just now did I realized what I had missed!

I have seen just about every version of Sherlock out there;  I confess I have not watched the Basil Rathborne series; but I've seen the Jeremy Brett version several times, in addition to the new Sherlock movie with Robert Downey Jr.  I've read the stories, I've taken classes on them, Sherlock to me is something everyone should read at least once.  Those of us with a leaning toward mysteries, tend to read them several times.

The new series has been modernized, which to some purists may be grounds to hunt down the producers with pitchforks.  Not being a purist, I have to say this was one of the best Sherlock variations I have seen to date (sorry, Mr Downey).   Up till now my standard was Jeremy Brett with Robert Downey Jr a close second.  Sorry gentlemen,  you have to stand aside, Benedict Cumberbatch has surpassed you both.  The producers did an outstanding job in my opinion, blending the traditional with the modern.  Absolutely outstanding.  

Season 1 of Sherlock by PBS Masterpiece Mystery!

In the first episode, we are introduced to our new John Watson, a medical doctor who has been wounded in Afghanistan.  If you are familiar with the books, you will know that Dr. John Watson was indeed a medical doctor who was wounded in Afghanistan.   By happen stance, he is introduced to Sherlock Holmes and they become flatmates at 221b Baker St.  Watson is then dragged into topsy-turvy world of Sherlock's investigations with the Case of the Study in Pink - three bodies have shown up as suicides, when nothing indicates that these people were suicidal.  The one liners, the photography, the delivery of the lines was a delight - we watched it twice in fact.

The second episode was a bit darker, but still retained all the quirkiness from number one.  Sherlock has an idea, and runs after it.  Holmes is in charge of damage control, which may even mean he's left holding the bag.  Literally.  The Blind Banker begins with a trip to a bank.  One of their managers has gone missing.  A room has been spray painted, in a security tight building, in a locked room.  The bank hires Sherlock to figure out how the person got in and out without the camera's catching him.  All this leads to illegal imports from China and the secret organization behind it. 

The third episode.  Ahh, loved this one.  Again, watched it twice.  Opening sequence is great, Sherlock is firing Dr. Watson's pistol at a wall while muttering, "Bored! Bored! Bored!"  In The Great Game someone is threatening to blow up people if Holmes doesn't figure out these little mysteries in a given time.   I felt that in this episode, Dr. Watson's role as Holmes conscious was solidified.  Holmes begins by treating this as a game, but realizes at the end the perhaps Dr. Watson was more correct than he realized. 

Now, if you haven't seen these yet - GO WATCH THEM!    'Nuff said. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dauntless by Jack Campbell (Lost Fleet #1)

Dauntless (The Lost Fleet, #1)Dauntless by Jack Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads:  The Barnes & Noble Review

The Lost Fleet: Dauntless is the first book in a military science fiction saga from Jack Campbell (pseudonym for veteran genre writer John G. Hemry, author of the Stark's War trilogy, A Just Determination, et al.). With its senior command dead and many of its ships crippled and stranded deep in enemy territory, the only hope for the Alliance fleet rests in the hands of Captain John "Black Jack" Geary -- a legendary war hero who, after nearly a century in survival hibernation, has been found in an escape pod floating in deep space and reawakened The war between the Alliance and the Syndicate Worlds has been going on for a century -- and now, as entire generations have lived and died during wartime, no one even knows why the bloody conflict began in the first place. But as Black Jack Geary struggles to come to grips with his almost godlike reputation -- while trying to find a way to somehow extract his fleet from an impossible situation -- he begins to realize that there are dangers in the universe even more perilous than intergalactic war Fans of hardcore military science fiction authors like David Drake, William C. Dietz, and John Ringo should definitely check out Hemry's new series, which -- if the non-ending of The Lost Fleet: Dauntless is any indication -- has many installments to go before its eventual conclusion.

This is book one in the Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell. Capt Black Jack Geary has been found after 100 years in a survival pod floating in space and is re-animated. His revival brings to life his last heroic and low legendary battle against the Syndics and now he finds himself in command of a small Alliance Fleet charged with bringing back a stolen hyperspace. He is both worshipped and loathed in his newly appointed position.

This was a nicely entertaining space opera, with a bit more expository exposition than I care to read in a shorter work. But that is purely a personal thing - others may quite enjoy the science explanations. I was also somewhat dismayed to see how many books this particular voyage is going to entail. I have developed an impatience with sequels that drag out (Robert Jordan anyone?). On the positive side, the books are nice and short which I appreciate.

I also gave thumbs up for a lack of romantic interest in the first book. Yes, the guy has been in suspended animation for 100 years, but kudos to the author for not plopping him in the nearest female’s bed ala Capt’n Kirk style in the first book.

Books two and three are on order.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Recipe Review from 1/30/12

A mostly uneventful week - the Husband and I managed to get out cross country skiing one day.  We finally have enough snow that the groomers did a pass and there was a decent track down.  Then all the snow melted. Oh well.   Took hounds for a walk out back on the 'back 40' which everyone enjoyed immensely.  Husband made a batch of beer titled "Tequila" because he used some agave syrup in it (I had some in the pantry that needed to be used up).   And, a couple of good recipes to wrap up January.  The Husband and I made 12 new recipes over the month - a great way to start the New Year and my goal of 100 new recipes in 2012. 

Enchilada Casserole (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2012)
This was as quick as advertised - about 40 minutes start to finish with time to clean up dishes before sitting down to eat.  I did modify the recipe a bit: start the sauce (as I noted in #1 below) first, then start the meat frying.  Sauce can simmer while meat cooks, then everything is hot during assembly.  I did it as directed (start meat, then make sauce) and even with baking for 20 minutes, it didn't come out of the oven as hot as I care for.  This also made excellent leftovers.  Recipe says Serves 4 - Seriously?  That's some massive wedges!  I don't even eat a piece of pie that big!   Try 6 servings with a side.   

1 pound ground sirloin  (I used ground pork)
Photo from
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium beef broth
1 tablespoon 40%-less-sodium taco seasoning mix (such as Old El Paso)
1 (8-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce
4 (8-inch) whole-wheat flour tortillas
1/3 cup (1 1/2 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese with jalapeño peppers  (doesn't exist up here...)

1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Sprinkle with flour; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add broth, taco seasoning, and tomato sauce to pan. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 1/2 cups tomato mixture to beef mixture; reserve 1/2 cup tomato mixture.
2. Preheat oven to 400°.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and onion to pan; cook 6 minutes, stirring to crumble.
4. Place 1 tortilla in a 9-inch pie plate. Top with 1 cup beef mixture. Repeat layers, ending with tortilla. Spread reserved tomato mixture over tortilla. Top with cheese. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes (at least 20 minutes) or until cheese melts. Cool slightly. Cut into 4 wedges.

Vanessa Pruett, Cooking Light

Spinach and Lentil Soup with Cheese and Basil  (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2012)
We have a winner!  Don't be put off by the 40 minutes cooking time - I was able to clean up the kitchen, set the table, and putter on a couple of other things before adding the last ingredients and serving.  And Oh! So tasty!   For my vegetarian peeps, this can easily be made vegetarian - just omit pancetta and use vegetable broth.   This made 6 servings: one dinner for two and two lunches for two.  With a bit of rustic bread along side to mop up yummy broth, perfect for a winter evening! 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Photo from
1/4 cup chopped pancetta (about 1 ounce)  (I used 3oz prosciutto because I had some in the freezer I wanted to use up)
 1 1/4 cups chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped carrot
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme  (1/4 tsp dried thyme, not buying fresh for that small quantity)
1 bay leaf
1 cup dried brown lentils
3 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth  (I used 4 cups broth - why have a cup of leftover broth in the fridge?)
2 cups water  (drop to 1 cup if using 4 cups broth)
1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach 
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil   (this I did by fresh..fresh basil is a must for this dish)
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add pancetta; cook 1 minute or until pancetta begins to brown, stirring occasionally. Add onion and next 4 ingredients (through bay leaf); cook 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add lentils, broth, and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes or until lentils are tender and mixture is slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Discard bay leaf.

2. Place 2 cups lentil mixture in a blender. Remove the center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape), and secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters), and blend until smooth. Return pureed lentil mixture to pan. Add baby spinach, chopped basil, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and black pepper; stir until spinach wilts. Serve immediately.

David Bonom, Cooking Light

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Surface Detail by Iain M Banks

Surface Detail (Culture, #9)Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Premise of the book from  
It begins in the realm of the Real, where matter still matters.

It begins with a murder.

And it will not end until the Culture has gone to war with death itself.

Lededje Y'breq is one of the Intagliated, her marked body bearing witness to a family shame, her life belonging to a man whose lust for power is without limit. Prepared to risk everything for her freedom, her release, when it comes, is at a price, and to put things right she will need the help of the Culture.

Benevolent, enlightened and almost infinitely resourceful though it may be, the Culture can only do so much for any individual. With the assistance of one of its most powerful - and arguably deranged - warships, Lededje finds herself heading into a combat zone not even sure which side the Culture is really on. A war - brutal, far-reaching - is already raging within the digital realms that store the souls of the dead, and it's about to erupt into reality.

It started in the realm of the Real and that is where it will end. It will touch countless lives and affect entire civilizations, but at the center of it all is a young woman whose need for revenge masks another motive altogether.

This was January's SciFi Bookgroup selection. 

I developed a love/hate relationship with this particular Ian Banks book. As usual, Bank’s books span a galaxy, with big ideas crossing big ships, and even bigger events. It started out fairly strong, introducing the host of characters that would take the reader into the middle part of the book, where it just seemed to bog down in cumbersome descriptions of why the Culture doesn’t like virtual Hell and why they were fighting those who felt it was their right to have virtual Hells and a few personal vendettas along the way.

Banks writes a deft story, interweaving some amazing concepts, ideas, ship names (the best part in my opinion), and usually pretty great characters. Somewhere, there will be a betrayal, because with a cast as big as his, someone is up to No Good. Surface Detail had all that.

As I noted, I had a love/hate thing going on. I thoroughly enjoyed the galaxy setting, the Culture, the ships, and most of the characters. But this one seemed to mire down in it's own gravity well about page 400. I lost interest in nearly every storyline. The only interesting character was one ship and that wasn’t enough to carry me through the next 200 pages. So I fully and readily admit I skipped to the ending…which I have to say was simply outstanding with one caveat. You need to have read Use of Weapons otherwise the ending just won’t make any sense.

So I recommend this one with reservations.

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