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Friday, September 28, 2012

Certain Prey by John Sandford (#10)

Certain Prey (Lucas Davenport, #10)Certain Prey by John Sandford


My rating: 3 of 5 stars


From Goodreads:  In the 10th installment of his popular Prey series, John Sandford (a.k.a. John Camp) pits his popular antihero, Lucas Davenport, against a pair of cunning killers unlike any he has encountered before.


Attorney Carmel Loan is preternaturally beautiful, intelligent, and ambitious. When she becomes infatuated with fellow barrister Hale Allen, she isn't going to let a little thing like his being married get in her way. A quick meeting with an ex-client sets up the hit on Hale's wife, Barbara. The professional killer, Clara Rinker, is one of the best in the business. Smart, attractive, with a gentle Southern drawl, no one would suspect her of being a top Mafia hit man... er, hit person. When she takes the Allen assignment, she figures it will be easy money for a day's work. But things go wrong from the beginning. Loan's ex-client made a tape of the meeting, and is shaking her down for money. Worse, the shooting of a witness--a cop--brings deputy inspector Lucas Davenport into the case. Somehow Davenport has not only linked Loan to the killing, but seems to have a lead on Rinker as well. Carmel and Clara team up to clean up the loose ends, which includes getting Davenport off their back by whatever means necessary.

Davenport gets to match wits against a professional hitwoman and a lawyer who is known for her ruthlessness. Carla's character and personality - our hitwoman - seemed to waffle between hard ass bitch and uncertain teenybopper. Portrayed initially as cold and methodical, when with Carmel she seemed to let the lawyer sweep her along rather than trusting her instincts. Carmel was just psycho.

This is another book where we get to see inside the killers heads. I'm not wild about this as a plot devise. I'd prefer not knowing every. single. move. the antagonists are making and thinking.

I'm still waffling if this is a book about villains making bad decisions and the cops being very lucky, or if this is a battle of wits between a couple of very smart villains and a smarter Davenport.




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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lost Fleet: Relentless by Jack Campbell (#5)

Relentless (The Lost Fleet, #5)Relentless by Jack Campbell


My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Goodreads.com:  After successfully freeing Alliance POWs, "Black Jack" Geary discovers that the Syndics plan to ambush the fleet with their powerful reserve flotilla in an attempt to annihilate it once and for all. And as Geary has the fleet jump from one star system to the next, hoping to avoid the inevitable confrontation, saboteurs contribute to the chaos.

This one started out a bit slow, with our good Captain Dejani rah rahing! our Captain Geary who seemed to be in a bit of a funk. We still have unrealistic (in my opinion) antagonism between Co-President Rione and Captain Dejani: Rione jealous of Geary confiding in Dejani on ship matters, and Dejani jealous of Rione being on the ship at all. Recall, we have unrequited love between Geary and Dejani, but because Dejani is Geary's subordinate, and he doesn't want to ruin her 'honor', they remain all very proper. Rione feels she has dishonored herself by sleeping with Geary when - unbeknownst to her - her husband could still be alive somewhere in the universe. Puh-leze!<\i>


Once we worked our way through all that Victorian romantic tension, we have the Syndics desperately trying to stop the Alliance fleet from getting home, aliens on the universal doorstep, and someone internally trying to sabotage the fleet AND murder Geary. That's when the story really started picking up.

Enjoyed this one, buzzed through it in a couple of days. Not a real 'heavy' scifi, lots of space battles, a decent space opera all in all. Recommended if you've read the first four in the series.





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Still NOT a Happy Blogger

Okay, waded through the "How To's" and "Help" stuff Blogger has online, enlisted the aide of a computer programmer (not kidding), and my cool sidebar information should be back up. 

At least that's what Blogger is showing me in it's "Live View" window in my template display work area.  And it does show up...on my work computer and my very helpful computer programmer's computer.  Put up a new cool background too.

But the sidebars don't show up on my laptop. 

Stupid IE and Windows.

Stupid computers.

Monday, September 24, 2012

NOT Happy Blogger...

...Seems to have done some updating.  Which is screwing with my template.  The template SAYS it is displaying my side bars.  It shows in the layout.  I can move them around.  But it does NOT actually display LIVE. 

I've even gone so far as to do a new template and layout.  Nope. Nada.  Nothin'.

So all my cool stuff on the side is missing at the moment.

There is great frustration on my part. 

NOT a happy camper.

Recipe Review from 9/17/12

The temperatures dropped (plummeted?) from balmy 65-70* to the mid 50's and below freezing in the mornings.  Time to start taking down the garden!  Add in my bookgroups 13th Anniversary and the Husbands birthday and this called for a bit of baking!

Four recipes rounded out this week.  Nice! 


For lunches:

Kristin's Crockpot Stew (Source unknown)
Not a new recipe, but one worth sharing. This is a stew I grew up on and I have no idea where the original recipe was from. It's simple - toss everything into the crockpot and walk away. It's hearty, and makes at least 8 servings. It can easily be doubled and modified to suit your tastes.   I don't care for beef anymore, so I'm typing up the original version and what I prefer now. I've tried this with non-Campbell soup's, but it just didn't taste like it should. Can also be made vegetarian by omitting the meat and adding extra veggies. The liquid from the meat and veggies add plenty of liquid, but if you want to thin it out, add 1-2 cups of water to taste. Start with one cup.

**note, veggie quantities are approximate. I just chop and toss until it 'looks right'.

Beef Stew
1 lb beef stew meat, cut into bite sized pieces
1 can cr. of mushroom soup (or cr. of celery)
1 can cr. of chicken soup
1 can tomato soup
6-8 baby red potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
1 heaping cup of carrots, cut into bite size pieces
1 onion, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 bay leaf

Put everything into the slowcooker. Add 1 cup water if desired. Cook on low 6-8 hours or high for 4 hours. Serve with a good crusty bread. Great in a sourdough soup bowl if you have access to them.

Chicken variation
1 lb chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
1 can cr. of celery soup
1 can cr. of chicken soup
1 can tomato soup
6-8 baby red potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
1 heaping cup of carrots, cut into bite size pieces
1 onion, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 bay leaf



For Bookgroup:
Decadent Double Chocolate Bundt Cake (Ckng Lght, Mar 2008)
I learned the last time I brought a 'fancy' desert to celebrate a bookgroup anniversary to avoid the chocolately layered goodness because between transit the layers rather slid.  Kept it simple with this bundt cake.  Easy to transport, easy to serve.  Topped the individual pieces off with whip cream. 

I was a bit perplexed by the glaze directions - I have a hard enough time getting a bundt to come out of a pan, and then to dump a bunch of glaze over the bottom?  I omitted that bit, and just poured the glaze over the top.  When all was said and done, for as much flavor as the glaze had on it's own, it sure wasn't very pronounced on the cake.  Disappointing. 

Category Winner: Desserts, Cooking Light Ultimate Reader Recipe Contest.
"The cake has a delicate chocolate flavor, so it's not overpowering. I enjoy the special glaze the most. Although I wrote the recipe to say "cool completely," the cake tastes delicious served slightly warm about a half-hour after you have inverted it from the pan." —Barb Combs, Fort Collins, CO

Glaze:

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup chocolate-flavored liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • photo from cookinglight.com
    Cake:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (about 13 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk
  • 2/3 cup semisweet chocolate mini chips
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

  • 1. To prepare glaze, combine first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Cool completely.

    2. Preheat oven to 350°.

    3. To prepare cake, drizzle oil into a 12-cup Bundt pan; coat pan thoroughly with a pastry brush. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons flour, shaking out excess. Coat prepared pan with cooking spray.

    4. Place 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and 6 tablespoons butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add eggs and egg whites, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

    5. Lightly spoon 3 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 3 cups flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt), stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture and milk alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix after each addition. Beat 2 minutes. Fold in chips. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Swirl batter using a knife.

    6. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Immediately pour glaze over cake. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack 30 minutes. Invert cake onto a serving plate; cool completely. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar.

    For Suppers:
    We have a winner!  This was easy to assemble, tasted good, and can be modified to fit whatever you are in the mood for.  Don't like olives?  Skip'm!  Substitute a crumbled Italian Sausage instead.  Don't like olives or sausage?  Toss in some zucchini.  It's that kind of recipe.  This is a nice change to the traditional spaghetti sauce/marinara sauce. 

    8 ounces uncooked fettuccine  (I used a whole 12 oz box.  Really...what am I going to do with 4oz of leftover noodles?)
    photo from cookinglight.com
    4 quarts boiling water
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    3 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic   (I used one clove of garlic for maybe 1 tbsp; don't care to taste garlic at 1am)
    1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed
    3 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
    1/4 cup oil-cured olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
    1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    1/4 cup small fresh basil leaves
    1/2 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved

    1. Cook pasta in 4 quarts boiling water with 1/4 teaspoon salt for 8 minutes or until noodles are almost al dente. Drain pasta through a sieve over a bowl; reserve 1 1/3 cups pasta cooking water.  (I only used 1 cup; 1 1/3 seemed like too much)

    2. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic; cook 2 minutes or until very fragrant and tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and tomatoes; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in reserved 1 1/3 cups pasta water; bring to a boil. Add cream cheese; stir until smooth. Add pasta, olives, and red pepper; cook 3 minutes or until pasta is al dente, tossing to coat. Divide pasta mixture among 4 shallow bowls; top each serving with 1 tablespoon basil. Divide Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly among servings.

    Julianna Grimes, Cooking Light
    AUGUST 2012
    I had some rice noodles in the pantry and summer squash in the fridge that all  needed a dish.  This seemed like it would be worth a try, even though I've struggled with cooking the rice noodled properly so they don't turn into a gummy mess.  Because my chicken thighs were still fairly frozen when I stared this one, I changed the order of assembly and would recommend doing so even if your birds are not little bricks of ice. 
    This turned out pretty good and my noodles were not the usual mass of ricey glop.  I did realize that this dish would be awesome with plain raman noodles.  I was so-so on the cilantro sauce and I think that could easily be skipped.  Do pull out the siracha sauce - perfect way to add more heat for those who like it.
    Last note - boneless skin on thighs don't exist in my corner of the world, and to heck with even trying to find someone to de-bone them in the store.  I bought bone in, cooked as directed but did not slice.  I just served one thigh along side the noodles.  In all honesty, this was some of the best chicken I've made yet! 
    Ckng lght notes: Using the cilantro stems for the base of the sauce (instead of throwing them in the trash) is a flavorful way to stretch a buck or two. If you can't find skin-on boneless chicken thighs, purchase bone-in and bone them yourself or have the butcher do so.
    photo from cookinglight.com

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 (4-ounce) skin-on, boneless chicken thighs  
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil


  • 4 ounces uncooked rice vermicelli      (sugg sub - raman noodles; cook according to dir on pkg)


  • 1 1/2 cups cilantro stems (about 1 bunch)
  • 1/4 cup no-salt-added chicken stock (such as Swanson)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 fresh Thai chiles    (I subbed one jalepeno - store didn't have Thai)


  • 1 1/4 cups chopped yellow squash (about 1 medium)  (I subbed two patty pan squash)
  • 6 ounces baby bok choy, halved and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 8 lime wedges

  • 1. Preheat oven to 425°.

    2. Combine 1/4 teaspoon salt, cilantro, and next 5 ingredients (through chiles) in a food processor, and process until well blended.

    3. Heat a large stainless steel skillet over high heat. Sprinkle chicken evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add chicken, skin side down; cook 3 minutes or until skin begins to brown. Remove chicken from pan. Pour oil into a small bowl; reserve oil. Return chicken to pan, skin side down. Place pan in oven; bake chicken at 425° for 4 minutes. Turn chicken over, skin side up, and bake an additional 2 minutes or until done. Remove chicken from pan; place on a cutting board. Let chicken stand, skin side up, 10 minutes. Cut chicken into slices; keep warm.

    4. Cook the noodles according to package directions, and drain. Sprinkle noodles with 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss well to combine.

    5. Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add reserved oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add squash, bok choy, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt; sauté for 3 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender, stirring frequently. Stir in soy sauce. Divide noodle mixture evenly among 4 bowls. Top each serving with 1/2 cup squash mixture, 1 chicken thigh, and 2 lime wedges. Drizzle the sauce evenly over servings.

    Friday, September 21, 2012

    Agony of the Leaves by Laura Child (Tea Shop #13)

    Agony of the Leaves (A Tea Shop Mystery, #13)Agony of the Leaves by Laura Childs


    My rating: 2 of 5 stars


    From Goodreads: The opening of the aquarium is a major Charleston event, and Theodosia has been hired to cater tea, scones, and sandwiches for the private party to honor dignitaries and big buck donors. Things are going swimmingly, until Theodosia escapes the party for a momentary rest, only to discover the body of a man entangled in a net, drowned in one of the aquarium's state-of-the-art tanks.


    To make matters worse, the victim is Theodosia's former boyfriend Parker Scully. The EMTs on the scene think Parker's drowning was an accident, but when Theodosia notices what look like defense wounds on his hands, she realizes that someone wanted Parker dead. The local police aren't keen on hearing her theory-especially because of her ties to the victim-so Theodosia knows that if she wants Parker's killer brought to justice, she'll have to jump into the deep end and start her own investigation...

    Every now and then again I enjoy just turning the brain off and reading some fluff mystery. The Tea Shop books usually fit that requirement perfectly. However, this time I had problems with aspects of the book that in the past I can usually accept with a cuppa tea and a munchie. At first I thought this might be because I've been reading a lot of police procedurals lately...but it wasn't the amateur sleuthing that pushed my buttons. It was the managment of the Tea Shop and characters themselves.

    For those of you not familiar with this series, the premise of the books are: we have Theodosia as store owner, Drayton as Master Tea blender, Haley as cook extraordinaire. These three people run a full fledged Tea Restaurant and Store. The back kitchen is described as "cozy". We have locals, tourists, and groups dropping in for full tea and meals. There is NO way one person can make the types of meals in the size of the kitchen described and feed the volume of people coming through that store. ON TOP of catered events, retail work, event planning and - in the case of Haley - going to school full time. The menus, while fabulous, were again, implausible given the size of the kitchen and only having one person doing all prep and cooking.

    So, three people basically run a full fledged restaurant. If the author had kept the cooking to baked goods, and maybe simple wrap sandwiches or basic tea sandwiches, that I could probably swallow. You start to get into lobster bisque...you lost me. It has become so unrealistic as to become implausible and thus, I'm bounced out of the story.

    Additionally, this book had so many loose ends floating at the end it felt frayed like a pair of knatty jeans. The mystery was lost in all the events the Tea Shop was catering. We had the Aquariums donor recognition benefit, Aunt Libby's fundraiser, the Coffee and Tea Expo, a fully catered impromptu Japanese Tea Ceremony, a photographic scavenger hunt, and I think I'm missing one or two.

    The simple southern charm that drew me to these books was lost in a plethora of over the top recipes, unrealistic event planning and unbelievable restaurant management.





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    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

    7th Sigma by Steven Gould


    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    From Goodreads.com:  Welcome to the territory. Leave your metal behind, all of it. The bugs will eat it, and they’ll go right through you to get it…Don’t carry it, don’t wear it, and for god’s sake don’t come here if you’ve got a pacemaker.

    The bugs showed up about fifty years ago--self-replicating, solar-powered, metal-eating machines. No one knows where they came from. They don’t like water, though, so they’ve stayed in the desert Southwest. The territory. People still live here, but they do it without metal. Log cabins, ceramics, what plastic they can get that will survive the sun and heat. Technology has adapted, and so have the people.

      Kimble Monroe has chosen to live in the territory. He was born here, and he is extraordinarily well adapted to it. He’s one in a million. Maybe one in a billion.


    September's book group selection.
    In 7th Sigma, Gould builds an extraordinary SF novel of survival and personal triumph against all the odds
    The premise of this one intrigued me: a future earth where US nano-technology got out of hand and created self replicating “bugs” that consume metal. They seem to be more prevalent in the Southwest than elsewhere in the States or world. The book also surprised me - I didn’t realize it was a YA book until after I started.  So it goes with book group selections - I don't always read the blurb when we vote. 
    I enjoyed the simplicity of the plot and characters while some of the morality was a bit heavy handed. It relies on Japanese philosophy as taught through martial arts with some Buddhism thrown in. Christianity was portrayed as bad or evil. Our young hero, Kimble, a streetwise urchin who is picked up and taken under Sensei Ruth’s tutelage learns through hard work and hard lessons what it means to grow up in a harsh land where stepping on a ‘bug’ could mean immediate death, where men take the law into their own hands, and to rely on doing the right thing even if it might seem contrary to orders.
    Morality aside, it was the world setting that really drew me in. Loved the idea of metal eating, self-replicating bugs. That to go out into the Territory with any kind of metal on or in your person could spell your immediate death. Clay, ceramics, plastic, cement reinforced with fibers, leather, Velcro…these spell a survival of sorts. And if the Territories aren’t for you, you can live behind the Barrier with all its modern conveniences.

    But this isn’t about the Barrier. It’s about Kimble, life, and bugs.

    I recommend this selection if you just want an enjoyable SF read.

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    Monday, September 17, 2012

    Recipe Review from 9/10/12

    Oh glorious fall!  Beautiful temperatures, brilliant blue skies, crisp mornings.  And I do mean crisp.  Had our first kiss of frost this past week.  Not enough to kill anything, but enough to keep the winter and summer squash, kale, and tomatoes covered.  Trying to keep stuff on the vine as long as possible, which means that by the time you read this on Monday, temps will have dropped to the 50* with snow possible.  Bleh...too early for the "S" word!!! 


    Missouri Corn Chowder  (Ckng Lght BB)
    Moving into September seems to hearld the beginning of soup season.  As the garden hits its peak (at least up here in N MN), it's time to be thinking of ways to use all that produce we planted.  The Vegetable Lasagna I posted about last week was one such recipe.  This is another.  I also added one diced patty pan squash just to bulk things up a bit and use up some more produce.  You will note, no potatoes in this one - just lots of good veggies.  The corn is plenty sweet so you don't need to add any sugar  - just a tich of salt to make all the flavors behave. 

    To make this vegetarian, skip the bacon completely and substitute vegetable broth.  Can be made GF if you use cornstarch or arrowroot instead of flour as a thickener. 

    This made 8 lunches for us.

    3 bacon slices, chopped
    1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
    1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
    1/2 yellow bell pepper, chopped
    5 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 9 ears) or frozen, thawed
    2 medium onions, chopped
    2 celery stalks, chopped  skipped. Lazy.  I could have used some Swiss Chard stalks. 
    1/3 cup all purpose flour
    4 cups (or more) chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
    3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
    1 cup whipping cream  half n half works just fine and cuts back on some of the fat
    Ground white pepper

    Saute bacon in heavy large pot over medium heat until fat is rendered and bacon begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Combine 1/4 cup of each bell pepper in small bowl and set aside. Add all remaining bell peppers, 2-1/2 cups corn kernels, chopped onions and celery to pot and saute until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle flour over and stir 5 minutes. Gradually mix in 4 cups chicken stock. Add thyme. Cover and simmer until soup thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

    Stir cream into soup. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Season with salt and white pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover reserved bell peppers, remaining corn and soup separately and refrigerate.)

    Saute reserved bell peppers and remaining 2-1/2 cups corn in medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until heated through, about 4 minutes.
    Bring soup to simmer, thinning with more stock if desired. Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with sauteed corn and pepper mixture and serve.

    Thursday, September 13, 2012

    Easy Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #11)

    Easy Prey (Lucas Davenport, #11)Easy Prey by John Sandford


    My rating: 4 of 5 stars


    From Goodreads.com:  In this episode, Davenport is called to a house after an A-list party has taken place there. Alie'e Maison, a top model, has been found strangled, and evidence shows that she ingested drugs and recently made love--most probably to a woman. Before Lucas leaves the house, things get even more complicated: a second body is found stuffed in a closet with a deep dent in the skull. In addition, one of Lucas's own men had been at the party and is now a suspect.


    As always, Lucas's own life is not exempt from complications. An ex-lover comes back into his world--a woman he has never been able to forget--and she has secrets of her own. Also making an appearance this time out is a childhood friend to whom he turns for advice about women and life. Sister Mary Joseph, born Elle Kruger, is a professor of psychology and one of the computer brains who helps Lucas design his software. He calls her Nun the Wiser, and he often turns to her for spiritual as well as more concrete advice. Lucas is going to need all the help he can get to unravel his case as secrets pile upon secrets and the ground constantly shifts under his feet.

    Easy Prey is another powerful link in this chain of muscular, exciting thrillers by one of the most distinguished practitioners in the field
    I really enjoyed this audiobook - definitely on par with some of the first Davenport books. For once, Sandford didn't keep interjecting what the killer was doing. In fact, in the one and only spot where we had a 'look' at the murder's point-of-view, it felt out of place and incomplete. That glimpse could have been left out completely without any detriment to the plot. It was also a nice change of plot devise that there wasn't any huge shoot-out at the end.


    My only other complaint was with the jacket description - the only thing the blurb got right was the house party and the murders. I really don't like misleading covers. Sets up a false impression of the book that is hard to dispel - I keep waiting for the thing on the jacket blurb to happen, which it never does, and I'm left feeling quite annoyed.


    You'll have to read the book yourself to find out what I'm referring too. I can't say too much more about this one lest I give anything away. A nicely convoluted book that had me happy I was hitting red lights on my daily commute.





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    Monday, September 10, 2012

    Recipe Review from 9/3/12

    If you haven't caught up on last weeks adventures, drop down a couple of posts and check out my trip to Chicago.   Fun trip!  I'd like to go back and do more touristy stuff like Navy Pier, a White Sox or Cubs game, a bus tour of downtown, go up the Sears Tower (or whatever it's named now), a boat tour of Michigan...well, you get the idea.  Lot's of stuff to do.

    Hit the ground running on Tuesday and started the week with this recipe for lunches:

    Red Lentil Dal  (modified from Ckng Lght Sept 2012)
    I greatly modified this recipe as you can see if you click on the link in the recipe title.  I wanted the Dal part for lunches, but it only served four, so I bulked it up by adding grilled eggplant (that we grew!) and basmati rice.  I also subbed Swiss Chard for the spinach as I have two beautiful rows growing in my garden.  This comes together very quickly and was perfect for temps that started creeping southward this week. 


    5 cups water, divided
    photo from cookinglight.com
    3/4 cup dried small red lentils 1 tablespoon canola oil 3/4 cup chopped onion 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger 1 tablespoon minced garlic 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon garam masala 1/2 teaspoon curry powder 2 serrano chiles, minced 2 ounces spinach Swiss Chard (about 4 cups loosely packed)   Optional - on small eggplant, sliced and grilled, or cubed and roasted.  Optional - serve over cooked basmati rice.    1. To prepare dal, combine 3 cups water and lentils in a bowl. Let stand 20 minutes; drain.

    2. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil; swirl to coat. Add the chopped onion; sauté 3 minutes. Add ginger and next 6 ingredients (through serranos); sauté for 30 seconds. Add lentils and remaining 2 cups water to pan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 23 minutes. Stir in Swiss Chard spinach; cook 2 minutes or until spinach Chard wilts.

    3. Stir in eggplant.


    Summer Vegetable Lasagna  (Mpls Star Tribune, Aug 2012)
    Temperatures got chilly over the weekend and turning on the oven to warm the house and stomach seemed a good thing to do.  This dish comes together fairly quickly if you follow mise en place.  Chop and prepare everything, then start cooking.  You can start the sauce while the veggies finish.  Clean-up once it's in the oven.  The author isn't kidding when she notes the sauce is runny - and it does get soaked up by the noodles.   The Husband thought this was a bit on the bland side; to add a tich of spice or heat add some red pepper flakes to the vegetables.  Serves 6 is accurate. 


    Serves 6.
    Note: Creamy, cheesy and packed with fresh summer vegetables, this white-sauce version of lasagna will please even the youngest members of the family. If you're looking for the kind of zip only tomato sauce can provide, feel free to add 1/2 cup of your favorite marinara to each layer. Using no-boil lasagna noodles eliminates the time-consuming step of precooking the pasta. Don't worry if the sauce seems too runny, the no-boil noodles need that extra moisture and will absorb it during the cooking process. From Meredith Deeds.

    • 1 tbsp. olive oil
    • 1 c. onion, chopped
    • 1 c. corn kernels
    • 1 medium zucchini, diced
    • 1 medium yellow squash, diced
    • 1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 3/4 tsp. salt, divided
    • 1 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry  I used some fresh Swiss Chard and Tuscan kale from the garden, cooking it in the same place as the spinach. 
    • 1/3 c. flour
    • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
    • 2 c. low-fat milk
    • 2 c. low sodium chicken broth
    • 1 c. part-skim ricotta cheese
    • 1 c. low-fat mozzarella cheese, grated
    • Cooking spray
    • 12 no-cook lasagna noodles (8 oz.), divided
    • 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

    In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the corn, zucchini, squash, red pepper, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook for another 3 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add the spinach and cook for another minute, breaking up the lumps of spinach with the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and set aside.

    In a medium saucepan, whisk together the flour, black pepper, nutmeg and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Add the chicken broth and continue whisking until smooth. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Cook 1 minute or until mixture thickens slightly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

    In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese and mozzarella.

    Spread 1 cup sauce over bottom of a 9- by 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles over the sauce (you may have to break one of the noodles in half lengthwise in order to fit them in the pan). Spoon 3/4 cup sauce evenly over noodles. Dot the top of the noodles evenly with one-third cheese mixture, then one-third of the vegetable mixture. Repeat layers twice, ending with noodles. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan cheese.

    To freeze: Cover the dish with a layer of plastic wrap and two layers of heavy-duty foil. Freeze for up to two months. Before baking, thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Proceed as directed below.

    To bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover with foil and bake for 60 minutes. Discard the foil. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.


    Friday, September 7, 2012

    Lost Fleet: Valient by Jack Campbell (#4)

    Valiant (The Lost Fleet, #4)Valiant by Jack Campbell


    My rating: 3 of 5 stars


    From Goodreads: “Black Jack” Geary has ordered his fleet back to the Lakota Star System where the Syndics nearly destroyed them, a desperate gamble that may give them a fighting chance of survival—or tear them apart.




    I found this book to be more engaging than the previous two. I don't know if it was because the book starts with a space battle, or if characters and situation seemed to finally be meshing. Whatever combination of factors it was, I felt more drawn into the story line with one exception - I believe I noted in Book 3: Courageous, that I wished the author would just space Co-President Senator Rione. Halfway through Valient I just wanted to space the woman. The petty jealousy building between Captain Desjani and Rione just did not work for me. Rione wanted everything and yet nothing from Geary. He couldn't give her that. She was jealous of his professional relationship with the ships Captian, yet as a character building scheme, it just didn't work. Rione was too conflicted, too uptight, and too demanding to work as a believable character. If you want someone to like you, don't chew their ass off every time you get them alone in their cabin.



    My other complaint is the constant hero worship, the "You were brought back from the Stars to lead the Alliance to victory!" And "You were brought back to remind us what honor really was...". The author seemed to stick in these rah rah moments that felt a bit like, well, political speeches. Or something similar. Made me roll my eyes.



    Okay, one more gripe. The women kept talking about Geary taking their 'honor' because they were attracted to him, slept with him, or harbored secret love for him. Point - it was established that most of this society had forgotten what honor was. Point - felt very 'old fashioned' for a woman to be worried about her 'honor' in this far future society where they are Co-presidents and Captains of starships. That just didn't fly with me.


    So, overall, pretty good. The jealousy between the two women was old fashioned and over done. Recommended if you've read the first three in the series.


    View all my reviews



    Wednesday, September 5, 2012

    Chicon: Worldcon 2012

    Worldcon 2012: Chicago, IL.   Aug 29-Sept 3.

    This is my sixth Worldcon and I can safely say, definitely in my top three....perhaps even number one.  I need to let the trip gel a bit before finally deciding.

    2000 - Chicago, IL
    2004 - Boston, MA
    2008 - Denver, CO
    2009 - Montreal, Canada
    2011 - Reno, NV
    2012 - Chicago, IL

    My friend and I met at O'Hare airport on Wednesday where our adventures began.  We took the train from the airport to downtown, where you climb from subterranean depths to the surface much like a jet-lagged mole, disorientated and blinking, only to stagger out onto the street underneath Chicago's famous "L" line and towering skyscrapers.  Completing the lack of orientation to where anything is or in what direction you should go.  A friendly local got us pointed in the right direction and we trotted off to the Hyatt hotel, right on the Chicago River. 



    Since the convention didn't start until Thursday, and we had plenty of daylight left, exploring was first order of the afternoon.  We headed off to Millennium Park and its numerous gardens, the famous reflecting Jelly Bean, and the fountain made famous in the 1980's TV show Married with Children. 



    Thursday morning we signed up for an Architechtural Boat Tour on the Chicago River; 90 minutes of slowly cruising the turbid waters while looking ever upward at a fantastic history of Chicago as seen through its buildings.  Then it was off to the convention! 



    Panels of Note:
    Thursday
    Sometimes Things go Wrong in Space     yes, yes, they do.  A discussion of things that have gone wrong on many many space missions.
    GoH Reading: Mike Resnick

    Friday
    Hubble Space Telescope  Images from the Hubble.  AWESOME
    End of the Space Shuttle Era    Really, it's all I've ever known....
    Mary Shelley's Frankenstein   A discussion of Frankenstein.  Very good.
    Exoplanets, Exobiology, Extensions of SF    Brain was starting to shut down at this point.  Was good, but I was tired and losing interest.
    And the Alder Planetarium   which would have been even better with about 500 less people!  Since this was a free event for the con (except for the $5.00 to pay for the movie), it was packed. 




    Saturday
    The Lives and Deaths of Stars    MORE images from the Hubble and its sisters.  AWESOME!!
    The Art of the Cover Pose   this was hilarious.  Check out Jim C. Heins website on the inspiration for this panel:  Jim Heins Strikes a Pose
    Extrasolar Planets
    Curiosity: The Mars Science Laboratory
    Best New SF&F Authors of the 21st Century   much to my satisfaction, I've read quite a bit of the authors mentioned, but did come away with a few new names.  

    Sunday
    Galaxies, The Universe  MORE images from the Hubble and its sisters  AWESOME!!!
    Ceres, Our Nearest "Dwarf" Planet
    Guest Astronaut Interview:  Story Musgrave   Omg!  Go read his autobiography NOW! 
    Future Worldcons Strut Their Stuff   San Antonio 2013, London 2014, (up for bids) Helsinki, Orlando, Spokane 2015
    Hugo Award Ceremony

    Monday
    Travel


    So, a plethora of great programing to choose from.  If anything, it was a bit overwhelming and I felt a strong urge to clone myself so I could be in more than one spot at the same time.  I did lean heavily toward the science panels this go around.  The presenter for the Hubble panels (Christan Ready) was a great presenter and really, who doesn't enjoy a  slide show from the depths of space? 

    Okay, so far all I've done is gush about the convention, but I'll touch on a couple of less than stellar aspects too: 
    Elevators.  5000 people using 6 elevators.  You do the math.  Kudo's to the hotel staff/security for making this a smooth as possible endeavor.

    Consuite.  Again, my thanks to the volunteers who tried, but the consuite was found to be lacking.  It was smelly, often in need of cleaning, empty bins when I did swing through a couple of times, unhygienic, and, in my humble opinion, should not be set up to feed a convention. 

    Hugo Award Ceremony.  One of the Big Events that I look forward too, and while Chicon did make an attempt to shorten this (much appreciated), it was still 2 1/2 hours long, in a stuffed auditorium.  People were three deep along the walls.  I would have preferred to have watched this via hotel TV from my room, in my jammies, like they did in 2000, rather than making a mad dash during the last "thank-yous" for the doors and 6 elevators. 

    Chicago's restaurants.  We ate at a different place just about every day (breakfast being the exception).  I can honestly say no particular meal was a "shout out".   Lots of just mediocre dinners.  Disappointing for the area. 

    Next on deck: San Antonio, 2013!

    My ever present traveling companions, the Pirate Ducs!


     



    Monday, September 3, 2012

    Recipe Review from 8/26/12

    By the time this is posted, I should be on my way back from the 70th World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, IL.  Wednesday I hope to have a post about my adventures in the Windy City. 

    I had time for a  new recipe before I left on vacation.  Not wanting to spend a lot of time in the kitchen with the beautiful weather we were having, plus I needed to pack and clean house before I left, I had some simple dishes on the meal plan. 

    Open Faced Fried Egg Sandwiches with Onions and Mushrooms (Ckng Light Aug 2012)
    Easy and a nice step up from the "Mc-sandwich" I usually make for breakfast.  Nice enough to have for a light lunch or supper in fact!  As usual, I deviated from the recipe.  I just caramelized the onions, lightly browned the mushrooms, fried the eggs, and assembled.  I also used English muffins for the base since I not only forgot to by some artisnal bread while at the store, but I didn't have another purpose for artisnal bread even if I had bought it.  English muffins worked just fine.  I also halved this recipe since there was just two of us.  I would totally make these again.  Yum!
    photo from cookinglight.com
    4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots, divided    (I used regular onions)
  • 1 (8-ounce) package presliced cremini mushrooms  (I sliced my own)
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine  (Skipped - I didn't want to open a bottle of wine for 2 tbsp)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 teaspoons refrigerated pesto
  • 4 (1 1/2-ounce) slices multigrain bread   (English muffins)
  • 2 ounces grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1/2 cup)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 8 (1/4-inch-thick) slices beefsteak tomato
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

  • 1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add 2/3 cup shallots; cook 3 minutes. Add mushrooms; cook 4 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add wine, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and salt; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 2 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, stirring occasionally. Remove mushroom mixture from pan; keep warm.
    2. Return pan to medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add remaining 1/3 cup shallots; sauté 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove shallots from pan; keep warm.
    3. Preheat broiler to high.
    4. Spread 2 teaspoons pesto over one side of each bread slice. Top each slice with about 2 tablespoons cheese. Broil 2 minutes or until cheese melts; keep warm.
    5. Return pan to medium heat. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Crack eggs into pan, and cook 4 minutes or until whites are set.
    6. Top each bread slice with 2 tomato slices. Divide mushroom mixture evenly among bread slices, and top each serving with 1 egg. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, shallots, and basil.