-->

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The Martian ChroniclesThe Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 4 of 5 stars






Jacket blurb:  Leaving behind a world on the brink of destruction, man came to the Red planet and found the Martians waiting, dreamlike. Seeking the promise of a new beginning, man brought with him his oldest fears and his deepest desires. Man conquered Mars—and in that instant, Mars conquered him. The strange new world with its ancient, dying race and vast, red-gold deserts cast a spell on him, settled into his dreams, and changed him forever. Here are the captivating chronicles of man and Mars—the modern classic by the peerless Ray Bradbury.

Another SciFi classic I had not read and with Ray Bradbury's passing this past year, decided I needed to fix this oversight.  Even better, I was able to talk my bookgroup into reading it as well. 

A fascinating book.  A series of short stories that are set up to take the reader through time.  We start with the Martians themselves and the first Men to land on Mars - not Mars as "We" know it, but a very fictional Mars.  Then the growth of Martian towns and cities ala Old West style, where the menfolk come first to tame the land, and the missionaries follow, and then the women in search of husbands.  But War on Earth calls everyone home and we see the abandonment of Mars and the downfall of Earth.  And lastly, Mars as a refuge, a place safe from the ravages of war and a chance for a few to start over.

The attitudes of the 1940's and 1950's are strongly present, giving this book more of a historical view of scifi  than anything more current.  The colors, design, the Martians, life on Mars, are all seen through the lens of speculative fiction before anyone really knew much about the planet. Social attitudes of the day are well ingrained.

Bradbury's writing style is interesting.  I enjoyed the weaving of some characters into future stories.  I found the theme of Fahrenheit 451 a surprise here in this book on Mars.  I think Bradbury (not having read much about the man or his work) must have been quite fearful about the loss of the freely written word.

If you enjoy a historical look at speculative science fiction, then I recommend this selection.  Read Fahrenheit 451 as well.





View all my reviews

Monday, February 25, 2013

Recipe Review from 2/18/13

A busy week for me work and yoga-wise.  I volunteered to sub some extra classes and at one point I was leading 7 classes this week!  One teacher was able to pick their class back up so in the end it was only 6.  Whew! 

I've had two audiobooks on hold at the library - one since Dec 30, the since other mid-January.  My mid-Jan request finally came in on Friday!  Happy day!  This is one of the longest waits I've had for an audiobook, not counting a new release.  I'm beginning to suspect the Dec 30 one is either out on inter-library loan or is lost. 

Just a couple new recipes for the week.  I was keeping things really simple with emphasis on leftovers.


 Classic Pad Thai  (Ckng Lght, Mar, 2013)  Vegetarian option
This turned out pretty good, actually, it was the best tofu I've made to date!  I forgot to thaw my chicken , but went ahead and made the dish anyway.  I will note, I moved when to make the rice noodles - if you make ahead and set aside, they tend to turn into a solid mass.  Not cool.  Don't skip the banana pepper bit - that was really tasty!  I noted below what I skipped (like I don't do peanuts and I forgot to buy the green onions). Ultimately, I thought this turned out good, it was fairly quick to make, and we had enough for leftovers for one.  It's a bit different than Pad Thai with a red sauce, but I like both variations.
Photo from CookingLight.com
  • 6 ounces uncooked flat rice noodles (pad Thai noodles)
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons sugar, divided 
  • 2 tablespoons very thinly sliced banana pepper
  • 3 ounces extra-firm tofu, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice 
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (2-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken thigh, cut into thin strips 
  • 4 cups fresh bean sprouts, divided
  • 3 green onions, trimmed, crushed with flat side of a knife, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon small dried shrimp
  • 1/4 cup unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  1. Combine vinegar and 1 tablespoon sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add banana pepper; set aside.
  2. Place tofu on several layers of heavy-duty paper towels; cover with additional paper towels. Let stand 20 minutes, pressing down occasionally.
  3. Combine remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, lime juice, and next 3 ingredients (through fish sauce). Combine eggs and salt, stirring well.
  4. Heat a large wok over high heat. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons oil; swirl to coat. Add garlic; stir-fry 15 seconds. Add chicken; stir-fry for 2 minutes or until browned. Add pressed tofu; cook for 1 minute on each side or until browned. Pour in egg mixture; cook 45 seconds or until egg begins to set around chicken and tofu. Remove from pan; cut into large pieces.
  5. Prepare the noodles according to package directions; drain.
  6. Add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil to wok; swirl to coat. Add 2 cups bean sprouts, green onions, and dried shrimp; stir-fry 1 minute. Add noodles and soy sauce mixture; stir-fry for 2 minutes, tossing until noodles are lightly browned. Add reserved egg mixture; toss to combine. Arrange remaining 2 cups bean sprouts on a platter; top with noodle mixture. Sprinkle with peanuts and cilantro. Serve with vinegar mixture.



Cheesy Penne with Broccoli  (Ckng Lght Mar, 2013)    Vegetarian;  Can be made GF if sub the pasta and flour thickener. 

This was seriously quick and easy to make.  I had some ingredients to use up so marscarpone was subbed for the cream cheese, and evaporated milk for the regular.  I thought this could have used just a bit more "zing" as it turned out on the bland side for my tastes.  Perhaps a pinch of cayanne or pepper flakes?  Extra sharp cheddar cheese would also add a bit more background taste.  If for little tastebuds, keep as is.  Made enough for two of us for dinner, with one serving left for leftovers.   Would probably feed four - we were a bit hungry...
Photo from CookingLight.com
  • 8 ounces uncooked mini penne pasta (or any tubular pasta; I used regular penne)
  • 5 cups broccoli florets (about 1 medium head)
  • 1 1/3 cups fat-free milk, divided
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 tablespoons 1/3-less-fat cream cheese 
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2.5 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2/3 cup) 
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. During the last 3 minutes of cooking, add broccoli to pan; drain. Place pasta and broccoli in a large bowl.
  2. Combine milk and flour in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Cook 5 minutes or until slightly thickened; remove from heat. Add 2 tablespoons Parmesan and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Add cheese mixture to pasta mixture; toss. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher (Harry Dresden #3)

Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars




Jacket blurb: In all his years of supernatural sleuthing, Harry Dresden has never faced anything like this: the spirit world's gone postal. These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly. Someone-or something-is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc. But why? If Harry doesn't figure it out soon, he could wind up a ghost himself.

This series is pure brain candy for me.  I'm not looking for a lot of substance from these books, I want my urban fantasy action fast, fun and interesting and this series is hitting all those criteria.

So, now that I've gushed, I will voice my tiny complaints, but remember, I'm really not looking for a literary masterpiece here.  I want to be entertained.

So, to begin, we suddenly have a sidekick appear in book three.  It was nicely explained that this particular fellow (Michael, very righteous guy) helped Harry kill a evil Sorcerer prior to the beginning of the book, and now he's helping with an unexplained ghost problem.  Still, a little disconcerting.

Harry is put through the wringer, is assaulted, tormented, and eventually ends up nekkid...again.  Amusing the first time, moderately interesting the second time, third time, it's time to get a new plot devise.  Seriously. And wizard or no, the human body can only take so much abuse.  He should be suffering from PTSD by now or at least the manifestation of aches and pains from so much physical strain.

Someone has to do something really dumb at least once in the book and cause Harry no end of problems.  Susan, the girlfriend, nicely stepped forward to do so. 

With all that being said, I felt the authors writing and characters really started to settle into place in this book.  The pace of the plot just drew me along, I enjoyed the dialog, and was happily entertained.



View all my reviews
  


Monday, February 18, 2013

Recipe Review from 2/11/13

This weekend we were up on Snowbank Lake, just north and east of Ely, MN and just a stones throw from the Canadian Border.   Saturday morning was a balmy -25*F (-32*C) out on the lake at 8am.  Thank heaven's the Husband rented an ice house this year! The high did creep up to about 12*F (-11*C) which was quite pleasant actually, especially when snowshoeing.  

Sunday morning was about -5*F (-20*) on the lake, but the wind was howling about 30mph with snow flurries.  Brought the dogs inside the house with us what with no sun to keep the car warm. My Ben-dog was freaked about the holes (maybe the propane smell?) for about 1/2 an hour, then hounds calmed down and curled up on their pillows. Andy-dog just took it all in stride. 
A busy week behind us and a busy week for me ahead.  Lots of extra yoga classes this week as I sub for folks on vacations. 


 Marinara Poached Eggs  (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2013)
I just realized I've made a slew of recipes from the Jan/Feb issue of Ckng Lght.  Must have been a decent issue!

I've had variations on this before, and technically, this recipe was supposed to use a slow-cooked homemade marinara sauce.  Which I intended to do, until I saw I needed 9 cups of peeled and chopped plum tomatoes.  Ah, no.  Not in the middle of winter.  I used jarred sauce for this recipe and added some sauted mushrooms and caramelized onions.  English muffins rounded out the meal.  Nice comfort food after a long busy day. 
Photo from CookingLight.com
  1. Bring marinara and crushed red pepper to a simmer in a skillet. Make 4 wells in marinara; crack 1 egg into each. Cook, covered, 6 minutes or until desired degree of doneness. Serve with toast.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth

Blood Oath (Nathaniel Cade, #1)Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars




Jacket blurb:  Zach Barrows is a cocky, ambitious White House employee until he's abruptly transferred out and partnered with Nathaniel Cade, a secret agent sworn to protect the president. But Cade is no ordinary civil servant. Bound 140 years ago by a special blood oath, Nathanial Cade is a vampire. On the orders of the president he defends the nation against enemies far stranger-and even more dangerous-than civilians like Zach could ever imagine.

I picked this up one evening and before I knew it I was a third of the way through the book.  A quick read that just pulled me along with an engaging and interesting set of characters.  It is set in Washington DC, so everyone is an asshole, but to different degrees.  I liked that roughness.  I liked that our vampire didn't sparkle, made people pee their pants, and wasn't perfect. 

My main criticism was with the cliche's - the inside political traitors were a bit over the top, the new kid on the job who has to be a hero and screws up, and of course we had to bring in the Islamic extremists.  Three plot elements that tend to be over done.

We also have so many loose ends waving around in the wind at the conclusion, that the ending wasn't really the ending, but a convenient way to set up our cast of characters for coming books.  And I do mean plural "books".  In this regards it kinda felt like a James Bond episode where we know Dr. Evil will be back, and this time the Bond Girl herself has a bone to pick with our hero, perhaps with a wooden stake to the heart.  And the Love Interest has run off into the night to resurface a different episode and kick the Bond Girls butt.  And our trusty sidekick will get into trouble again, it's just a matter of time...


But most importantly, I liked it.  It was a decent first book and I look forward to seeing how the characters and writing develops in further books.



View all my reviews



Monday, February 11, 2013

Recipe Review from 2/4/2013

May I present....The Barn!

Sorry, not the best pic.  The snow had just started...
Warmer weather brought our Barn guys back and they finished the outside siding and installed the garage door.  The ice and nails still need to be cleaned up on the inside floor, and I heard a rumor that they will bring some gravel for the outside of the garage door to make a little ramp - but that won't be till later this spring/summer after road restrictions are off.

More snow arrived on Sunday, nothing like they had out East, thankfully.  But enough that snowblowing and shoveling will be necessary. 

And couple new recipes last week!  Both of these are "Superfast" as in taking under a half hour from start to finish.

Browned Butter Gnocchi with Broccoli  (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2013)      Vegetarian
This did come together quickly, and could easily be halved, but I wanted leftovers so I made the full amount (thus noting, it could easily be halved).  I would have liked just a bit more butter flavor, so maybe increasing the butter while leaving the olive oil the same?  The magazine noted that alternative vegetables could be swapped out if you or your family don't like broccoli.  I would recommend staying with the brightly colored veggies and avoiding cauliflower otherwise you will end up with a dish of white.  I recommend keeping the pine nuts, they added a nice nutty flavor to the rest of the dish. For the leftovers I did add some marinara sauce. 


(Again, easily halved)
photo from CookingLight.com
  • 2 (16-ounce) packages prepared gnocchi (such as Gia Russa)
  • 5 cups chopped broccoli florets
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
  • 1.5 ounces shaved fresh pecorino Romano cheese (about 1/3 cup)
Preparation
  1. Cook gnocchi in a large Dutch oven according to package directions. Add broccoli during last minute of cooking; cook 1 minute. Drain.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and oil; cook 7 minutes or until butter browns. Add gnocchi mixture and pepper to pan; toss to coat. Spoon about 1 1/2 cups gnocchi mixture into each of 6 shallow bowls. Sprinkle each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons pine nuts and about 2 teaspoons cheese.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Broken Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #16)

Broken Prey (Lucas Davenport, #16)Broken Prey by John Sandford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Jacket Blurb: The first body is of a young woman, found on a Minneapolis riverbank, her throat cut, her body scourged and put on display. Whoever did this, Lucas Davenport knows, is pushed by brain chemistry. There is something wrong with him. This isn’t a bad love affair.

The second body is found three weeks later, in a farmhouse six miles south. Same condition, same display—except this time it is a man. Nothing to link the two victims, nothing to indicate that the killings end here.

“This guy…” Lucas said. He took a deep breath, let it out as a sigh. “This guy is going to bust our chops.”

And soon he is going to do far, far worse than that…



Broken Prey has a well woven plot with fascinating complexities that had me wondering how all the threads were going to come together.  'Read' as an audiobook.


I especially applaud in the first section of the book, having the murderer 'check in' with the Star Trib reporter instead of a running an internal monologue where the reader can see what he's up to.  I'm not wild about the plot device where the reader is exposed to what the antagonist is thinking and doing and in this particular book, the antagonist is a creep.  But about 2/3 of the way through, that changed, and I have to reluctantly admit, I don't think the book would have worked as well as it did if the reader hadn't been exposed to the antagonists thoughts and actions at that point.   

We also have our first appearance of Shrake and Jenkins in the Davenport books (that I can recall) as we also see them in the Flowers series - but I need to remember to stop trying to make the two 'universes' mesh.  It was good to see Davenport struggling with the realization that not everyone around him wants to stay on with the force.  I liked the human touch of him trying to cope with the fact that yes, Slone wants out, he is tired of the grind and horrors he witnesses as a cop, and Davenport might have to let his co-worker and friend go.

This is a hard one to review because of the way the plot is woven - if I say too much, I may ruin it for someone else, though I'm probably the last person to be reading this series.  I will say our murderer was truly squicky and had me wincing more than once.  There are also several rather graphic depictions that are not for the squeamish and had me going eew!  However, unlike Mind Prey (#7), I didn't have to set this one aside.  This might be my favorite Davenport, if not number one, then number two.   





View all my reviews


Monday, February 4, 2013

Recipe Review from 1/28/13

Three days of good weather allowed our Barn-guys to finish the house wrap, put the windows in, and start siding.  They nearly got three sides finished before the cold weather came back with a vengeance, like -20*F  (-28*C) with the same for a windchill.  The siding is a really nice shade of red, almost a weathered red, with white trim.  We're going with a white barn door.

-19*F (-28*C) at 7:15am on 2/4/13.  A bit chilly, yes.

South side of the Barn, with man-door and window installed


West side (or back) of Barn; upper window installed


This week was lining up to be a busy one, so it was crock pot dishes and stews for meals.  I needed things that could be made ahead of time, were easy to reheat and would last several days.  Ultimately, only one new dish, but I'm posting two - the second dish is worthy of a second mention.



Chicken Stew with Shallots, Cider, and Butternut Squash (Ckng Light, Jan/Feb 06)  GF option
Repeat dish, from January 2006.

This came up on Ckng Lght BB and grabbed my attention.  It was only when I consulted my '07 Annual that I realized I had already made it.  Still, I needed something for lunches, this was noted as being good and quick, so Chicken Stew it was.  Don't let the curry put you off, this is more flavor than heat.  This can also be made GF if you opt to saute the chicken without the flour coating and then thicken the liquid with cornstarch or arrowroot.

I forgot to grab the sparkling cider at the store, so we subbed a beer.  Chicken stock would also work fine, but the cider does add a nice background note.  I do recommend sticking with sparkling cider, as regular cider can be a bit overpowering.

Six servings is about accurate.  I think we ended up with 7 total.

Lightly spiced with curry, this thick stew pairs well with steamed rice and a green salad. Fermented cider, also called hard cider, is usually found in the beer section of grocery stores and liquor stores. Nonalcoholic sparkling dry cider makes a good substitute.

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 cup sliced shallots (about 6 medium)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 ounces)
1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
3/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
2 cups fermented dry cider    I forgot to buy the cider, so we subbed a lighter beer. 
1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup water
2 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 pound)
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add shallots; saute 5 minutes or until tender and golden brown. Add curry powder; saute 1 minute. Spoon shallot mixture into a large bowl.

Place 1/3 cup flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add half of chicken mixture; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Add browned chicken to shallot mixture. Repeat procedure with remaining chicken mixture, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Add cider to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Combine 1 cup broth and 1 tablespoon flour, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Add broth mixture, remaining broth, and water; bring to a boil. Stir in chicken mixture, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in squash. Simmer, uncovered, 55 minutes or until chicken and squash are very tender and sauce thickens. Spoon about 1 cup stew into each of 6 bowls; sprinkle each serving with 2 teaspoons almonds and parsley, if desired.

Yield: 6 servings

Jeanne Kelley
Cooking Light, JANUARY 2006 



Butternut Squash with Mushrooms and Pasta  (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2013)   Vegetarian option
I modified this one rather substantially.  First, I dropped the chicken completely.  Then, to assemble the sauce, I melted 2 tbsp butter, and lightly sauted the flour before adding the recommended stock.  Once it started to thicken slightly, I seasoned with salt and pepper and added the marscarpone.  I set this aside while the veggies and pasta finished cooking then combined.

Result? Very good!  This could be a versitile dish - try swapping out some butternut and replacing with cauliflower or broccoli.  Or bring back in the chicken; roasted shrimp would also be good.

This is the recipe as posted on Ckng Lght: 
copyright by Scifi with Paprika.
  • 8 ounces uncooked cavatappi pasta
  • 12 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces 
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, divided 
  • 1 cup unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson), divided
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 4 cups peeled (1-inch) cubed butternut squash
  • 1 1/2 cups (1-inch-thick) slices shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 (3.5-ounce) packages shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Preparation
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.
  2. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat; coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add chicken to pan; sauté 4 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Add stock to pan; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, mascarpone, and 2 tablespoons parsley.
  3. Preheat oven to 450°. Combine squash, shallots, garlic, and sliced shiitake mushrooms. Drizzle vegetable mixture with olive oil; toss. Transfer squash mixture to a small roasting pan; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Bake at 450° for 20 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Add vegetable mixture to pasta mixture; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle with chives, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.