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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Explorer by CJ Cherryh

Explorer (Foreigner, #6)Explorer by C.J. Cherryh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book number 6 in the Foreigner Universe - this is in no way a stand alone book for those of you not familiar with the series.

I'm not sure I can adequately describe a book that is the cumulation of the five books that preceded it. Bren Cameron, our Atevi liaison and now appointed "Lord of the Heavens", embark on a joint Atevi-Human space voyage to the stranded Reunion station.  Lies, falsehoods and politics that span decades are the basis for current animosities.  What the ship finds upon arrival is an alien entity, a paranoid station, and fear and resentment that's been simmering for over ten years.

This book starts out a bit slow as the reader needs to travel with Bren, his Atevi bodyguards, the Dowager-ajji and her ward, and the human crew on the ship to Reunion Station. The First-Captain is an angry resentful woman, the Second-Captain - Bren's friend and cohort from the Ajji's court - bears the brunt of First-Captain's anger and resentment as he uncovers more lies and reveals them to Bren and the Atevi.  A fair amount of discussion, yelling, contemplation and angst make up the first half of the story.

When the ship finally pops into space near the station Reunion, that's when the reader is treated to some joint human-Atevi action, where Bren needs to figure out logistics from a human perspective and employ Atevi techniques to carry out the mission.  The reader is steadily pulled along in what becomes, in my opinion, a page turner that is hard to put down.

Recommended if you've read the first five.  Which I also recommend.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Recipe Review from 5/20/13

It began as a very busy, rainy week and ended with a three day weekend where we were actually able to get out into the yard and garden and get some much needed work done.  I'm fairly certain we crammed in a months worth of yard work in two days, but since this was the first opportunity to even do anything, we had to take advantage of that.  Garden beds got tilled, emptied the compost bins and tilled those right into the garden beds, ripped apart one flower bed, replanted some overgrown iris, cleaned out a second flower bed off the front porch, pruned raspberry canes, and did some landscaping around the Man-barn.

Nothing was planted - ground was still too cool and wet.  Hopefully in another week.  Set out a couple of my porch ornaments and emptied out last years flower pots. 

Luckily, what with everything going on,  I had some simple recipes ready to go for lunches and suppers.  I recommended both of these below. 

Quinoa Corn Salad with Cilanto  (Ckng Lght BB)   Gluten Free, Vegetarian
This was a snap to pull together and the flavors reminiscent of  the southwest.  I made this for lunches for the week so it does keep and carry well.  This would be perfect for a picnic or potluck (might have to double for a potluck).  I did drop a couple of ingredients which I didn't want to pay for, and I didn't think the hot sauce was necessary.  If you have some hot heads in your house, have some hot sauce on the side for them.  I plan on making this dish again - maybe even adding some shrimp if for supper. 

Grains are often overlooked in the salad department. This cool, south-of-the-border salad is an excellent alternative to rice in a Mexican spread. Quinoa was one of the acient staple foods of the Inca civilization and is now being cultivated in the U.S. It has the highest protein content of all the grains and is also a very good source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, B vitamins, and vitamin E. Quinoa is quick and easy to cook. The only fussy part involves an initial rinsing to rid the grain of bitterness. One of the many endearing qualities of quinoa is the cute little spiral impressed upon each individual grain when it's have to see it to believe it!

Serves 6 (exactly)

1 cup (240 ml) quinoa
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) water
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) salt
2 1/2 cups (600 ml) corn, fresh or frozen
1 small red onion, minced
2 1 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
3 tbsp (45 ml) lemon juice
3 tbsp (45 ml) lime juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) chopped cilantro
3 scallions, minced
2 tbsp (30 ml) finely minced chives
1 tsp (5 ml ) salt
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) Tobasco sauce, or to taste  not necessary

Step 1:
Place quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse thoroughly with cold, running water. Bring water to boil in a small pot, add the quinoa and salt and bring to a boil again. Cover and reduce heat to low for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and keep the pot covered for an additional 5 minutes. Strain off any excess liquid and spread the quinoa out to cool on a tray while preparing the remaining ingredients.

Step 2:
Steam or lightly saute corn until just tender and cool to room temperature. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and gently toss. Season with additional salt, pepper or hot sauce to taste. Serve with fresh lime wedges.

Pasta with Herbs, Tomatoes and Peas  (Ckng Lght, June 2013)   Vegetarian, GF if sub pasta
Another dish that was quick and easy to assemble - perfect for the Husband on one of my yoga nights!  I enjoyed the spring-time flavors of the tomatoes and peas.  We did add a drizzle of a "Tuscan-herb" olive oil over the top for just a slight flavor boost, but really, this was good "as is" and can be on the table in under 30 minutes. 
photo from

  • 8 ounces uncooked penne pasta (I used rigatoni)
  • 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 ounce fresh Parmesan cheese, shaved (about 1/4 cup)
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Add peas during last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain.
  2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add garlic; cook 4 minutes or until garlic begins to brown, stirring occasionally. Increase heat to medium-high. Add tomatoes to pan; cook 1 minute. Add pasta mixture, salt, and pepper to pan; cook 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. Stir in basil and parsley. Sprinkle with cheese.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Dragon Never Sleeps by Glen Cook

The Dragon Never SleepsThe Dragon Never Sleeps by Glen Cook

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  For four thousand years, the Guardships have ruled Canon Space - immortal ships with an immortal crew, dealing swiftly and harshly with any mercantile houses or alien races that threaten the status quo. But now the House Tregesser has an edge: a force from outside Canon Space offers them the resources to throw off Guardship rule. This precipitates an avalanche of unexpected outcomes, including the emergence of Kez Maefele, one of the few remaining generals of the Ku Warrior race-the only race to ever seriously threaten Guardship hegemony. Kez Maefele and a motley group of aliens, biological constructs, an scheming aristocrats find themselves at the center of the conflict. Maefele must chose which side he will support: the Guardships, who defeated and destroyed his race, or the unknown forces outside Canon Space that promise more death and destruction.

May 2013 bookgroup selection.

This was a difficult plot to get into.  An overly complex ship naming convention, a political hierarchy that was not immediately clear, planetary systems with long names that began with letters and ended with numbers, cities that I couldn't figure out if they were cities or planets,  a cast of characters scattered across a substantial universe, and that same cast of characters who had cloned themselves so more than one copy is running about.  Toss in 'artifacts', lost races, aliens, and Guardships, and it was almost enough to stop reading right there.

IF...if you can get past the first 100 pages, then it starts to make sense, and by about page 150 the plot is rolling along quite nicely.  But I felt that first 150 pages was a flat out slog and if I may infer from the comments my Dad was dropping, he felt the same.  Not the best way to start a book in my opinion.

But, after page 150 the family intrigue, the political intrigue, the humor - starts to pull the reader along and it becomes a grandiose space opera and I found the pages turning more quickly.  The author did tie up all the lose ends to my knowledge, though in the complexity of the subplots, I may have overlooked something.  Now whether those subplots were resolved satisfactorily, will be up to the reader ascertain, but I was satisfied.

Recommended with reservations.

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Recipe Review from 5/13/2013

I had a busy week that had me teaching 7 yoga classes - my usual four plus three more. It was supposed to be eight, but only one person showed up for a sub class and they were willing to join the class across the hall.

Then both the Husband and I took Friday off to go see Star Trek!  Had a lovely date-lunch then movie and still got home with some nice evening time to relax.  Saturday was a whirlwind of activity: The Husband and Dad had their yearly charter fishing trip, I had yoga class.  The boat caught four fish and a good dose of sea-sickness.  Sunday the Husband and Dad went and did campsite maintenance on their "Adopt a Campsite" on the Superior Hiking Trail while I stayed with Mom, who is one week into recovering from knee surgery and has limited mobility.

So it is, only two recipes to review from last week: 

Open-Faced Chicken Sandwiches with Artichoke Pesto (Ckng Lght, May 2013)
I'm usually not a fan of the whole "open-face" sandwich.  I find them messy and awkward to eat - you can't really pick them up like a true sandwich, and why even add the bread if you have to cut them up?  But!  I love artichokes and this looked pretty simple and I needed simple this past week.

photo from
  • 3 (8-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • Cooking spray 
  • 6 ounces drained canned artichoke hearts
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved and divided (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons canola mayonnaise 
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 6 (1-ounce) slices multigrain bread 
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  1. Preheat broiler to high.
  2. Cut each chicken breast half in half lengthwise to form 2 cutlets. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done.
  3. Combine artichokes, 3 tablespoons cheese, nuts, mayonnaise, oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and garlic in a mini food processor; pulse until coarsely ground.
  4. Place bread slices on a baking sheet; broil 1 minute on each side. Spread 2 1/2 tablespoons pesto on each slice. Slice chicken; place 3 ounces on each bread slice. Top evenly with remaining 5 tablespoons cheese and parsley.

Shrimp Fr Diavolo (Advertisement in Ckng Lght, May 2013)
I had the spaghetti.  I had the shrimp.  Just needed a jar of marinara sauce and I was good to go.  And it is that quick.  It was one of those recipes where I thought, Why didn't I think of something like this?  My only suggestion would be to use more shrimp.  Half a pound just wasn't enough.

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (or more to taste)
6 oz whole-grain spaghetti
4 cups (24oz jar) of marinara sauce
1/2 fresh or frozen (thawed) large, raw, shelled shrimp
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

1.  Cook spaghetti according to directions on package.  Add shrimp to pasta during last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain and return to pot.  Keep warm.
2.  Heat a 12" skillet on medium until hot.  Add sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and crushed red pepper and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add marinara sauce.
3.  Combine sauce and pasta, tossing well to coat.  Serve.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

After months of counting down, torturing everyone with updates on how many weeks/days/hours I was till the opening of Into Darkness, I finally got to plunk my tush in a seat, kick back, and enjoy the show.

Plot summary from Paramount Pictures: When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis. With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew. 

And enjoy it I did!  The movie starts fast, moves fast, with fast action and even faster ships.  We have a BIG ship facing off against the suddenly little Enterprise, which was very cool.  We had ships popping out of oceans, crashing into oceans, and fighting in warp drive.

Lots of homage to the original Trek movies - which I won't spoil here - and could almost have been the detraction to the movie.  On one hand, it's new to anyone under oh, 30, and for anyone over about 40, a nice way to tip the hat so to speak to the franchise.  But perhaps a bit overdone?

I LOVED the antagonist, John Harrison and how the movie actually made you wonder if he really was the bad guy.  Dark, brooding, and sexy, I was rooting for him anyway.   

Less romantic crap in this installment which I highly approve of. Not wild about romance in my scifi. On the other hand, we did have our crew connecting in more meaningful ways as they try and understand each others motivations. 

It was well done, it had it's "ahh....ummm's", and I enjoyed every minute, even when they managed to jerk those tears out and I knew damn well what was actually going to happen. 

If you like Trek, if you like scifi, and if you like action, you'll like Into Darkness.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Firewall by Henning Mankell

Firewall (Wallander, #8)Firewall by Henning Mankell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jacket blurb: Stopping to get money from a cash machine one evening, a man inexplicably falls to the ground: dead. A taxi driver is brutally murdered by two teenaged girls. Quickly apprehended they appall local policemen with their total lack of remorse. One girl escapes police custody and disappears without trace. Soon afterwards a blackout covers half the country. When an engineer arrives at the malfunctioning power station, he makes a grisly discovery. Inspector Kurt Wallander is sure that these events must be linked - somehow. Hampered by the discovery of betrayals in his own team, lonely and frustrated, Wallander begins to lose conviction in his role as a detective. The search for answers leads Wallander dangerously close to a shadowy group of anarchic terrorists, hidden within the anonymity of cyberspace. Somehow these criminals seem always to know the police's next move. Wallander finds himself fighting to outsmart them In their gripping police procedural about our increasing vulnerability in the modern digitalized world

I have come to the conclusion that Kurt Wallander is a lousy policeman and detective.  He continuously snarls at his team, "I don't care! Do what I say!", he doesn't tell his team OR is supervisor key points in an investigation, he sneaks around behind everyone's back, he has anger management issues, untreated chronic depression, and harasses people at 3am in the morning because he wants the answer NOW but then is irritated when someone calls him in the middle of the night. 

Wallander believes he is the most experienced member on the force, the only detective who can solve crimes and no one else knows what he does.  Bull. Shit.  The more I read these, the more find him an unpleasant person.

No, I amend that - the more I am coming to detest Wallander as a main character. I can't even empathize with his point of view anymore because he is such an ass to everyone around him.  His wallowing in self pity, self destructive behavior, lashing out in anger at his team and witnesses does not sit well with me at all.  I'm just short of saying to heck with the series.

An example - I repeatedly noticed he would ask a team member, "Did you investigate X?"

Team member would reply, "No, should I?"

Wallander, "No, it doesn't matter. Go investigate Y."

Team member, whining, "But I don't have time to investigate Y, I'm working on Z."

Wallander, shouting, and slapping the table, "I don't care! Do what I say!"

Team member, placating, "All right! All right!"

Wallander, "Well, don't just stand there!"

So why do I keep listening to these (audiobooks)?  Because the look at the Swedish police system and societal beliefs as seen though the eyes of the author are actually quite fascinating. An example - Wallander is shocked that two young girls could commit a brutal murder.  And is further shocked when Ann-Britt Hoglund explains to him that young girls don't have a place in society anymore and are lashing out because of it.

But even this glimpse of Swedish society as seen through the pen of the author might not be enough to continue with the series.  I enjoy the plots, I detest the main character. Not sure I can recommend this one.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Recipe Review from 5/6/13

Oh joy! Happiness!  We made it to 75*F (24*C) this week!  I can't say enough how nice it was to feel the sun again, to be able to walk outside and be comfortable.  Even the dogs are happier.

Warmer weather also means we can get out cycling again. Roads are a bit on the sandy side, even out in the country, so we're using the cyclecross bikes.  After a couple good rainstorms to wash all the winter sand/salt off, then we'll switch to our road bikes.  

Tho of course I mention the warmer weather and the temps immediately drop back to 32*F (0*C)...sheesh.  

Several new recipes this week. 

Basic Waffles (Gluten Free Bible)  GF, Vegetarian
Excellent!  Just the way we like waffles: lightly crisped outside, soft, slightly sweet flavor, not heavy and bready.  These were not only GF, but fairly low in sugar as well - 1 tbsp granulated sugar and the sugars found naturally in the plain Greek yogurt - go with Greek for a thicker consistency and added protein boost.  I did add a "flavor hit" with 1 tsp of almond extract.  This may be my "go-to" recipe from now on, they were that good.

2 tbsp butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used Chobani, plain)
1/2 cup milk (I used goat milk)
1 tsp almond or vanilla extract (optional)
1 cup Gluten Free All Purpose Flour Blend
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat waffle maker.
2. Beat eggs in a large bowl till light and fluffy.  Whisk in yogurt and milk and extract if using.
3. Combine flour blend, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
4. Gradually whisk liquid mixture into flour mixture to make a smooth batter.  Whisk in melted butter.
5. Ladle batter into heated waffle iron and cook until crisp and browned.   Serve immediately.  Leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen and reheated in a toaster oven until crisp. 

Curried Quinoa and Broccoli (Ckng Lght BB, modified) GF, vegetarian
This was supposed to be made with couscous, but I forgot to check to see if I had any couscous before I headed off to the grocery store.  You guessed it!  Went to make the dish and I was totally out of couscous.  Decided to substitute quinoa instead - worked great!  Flavors were reminiscent of the Middle East, with a hit of sweetness from the craisins.  Good summer dish. 

  • 1 3/4 cups water  2 cups water
  • 1 cup uncooked couscous    1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups small broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/4 cup raisins craisins
  • 1/4 cup dry-roasted cashews, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon bottled minced fresh ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
1. Bring water and quinoa to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Boil 15 minutes or until water is absorbed.  Fluff with a fork.  Cover and set aside.
2. While couscous quinoa stands, steam broccoli florets, covered, for 3 minutes or until tender. 
3. Combine couscous, broccoli, onion, and next 10 ingredients (onion through chickpeas), tossing gently. Sprinkle with cheese.

 Jambalaya (Ckng Light Dec 2004)  GF if watch stock ingredients
The blurb touted this as "good for busy weeknights or after a day of holiday shopping" (it was in a December magazine).  I would have to disagree with that assessment - this took over an hour from start to finish and I had most of the ingredients prepped ahead of time.  This dish is good for a weekend when you want leftovers for lunches or suppers.  Also good for feeding a crowd. 

My only change was to used regular andouille sausage instead of smoked turkey.  I also needed extra water for the rice - watch while cooking and check for doneness. The Husband did some research on Jambalaya and found that this version is a Creole dish, which cooks the meat ahead of time, uses the "trinity" of vegetables, and adds tomatoes.  With a dash of hot sauce on the plate, this got two thumbs up. 
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil 
  • 1/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces 
  • 1/4 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chopped smoked turkey sausage (about 4 ounces) (I used andouille)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 2 3/4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained 
  • 1/4 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and chopped
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and black pepper. Add chicken to pan, and cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove chicken from pan; cover and keep warm. Add sausage to pan; cook 5 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Add 1 cup onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic; cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 12 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.
  2. Stir in rice; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth, paprika, thyme, and red pepper; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Add chicken and tomatoes; cook, uncovered, 10 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Stir in shrimp; cover and cook 5 minutes or until shrimp are done. Remove from heat, and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Sprinkle with green onions.

Shrimp and Creamy Grits  (modified from The GF Bible)  GF, Pesco-Vegetarian
This ended up being greatly modified from the original recipe, which called for the vegetables to be slowcooked for 4 hours, the shrimp slow cooked for 15 minutes, and the grits/polenta to be cooked separately.  Yeah, well, I misread even that much and it all got made on the stove.  This is a combination of flavors that I simply love, and the polenta alone could quickly become comfort food. 

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced orange bell pepper
1/2 cup diced celery (about 2 stalk)
1 cup diced onion
1 tbsp butter or oil
1 lb raw, peeled and deveined shrimp
1 1/2 cups polenta or grits  (quick-cook or regular is fine)
4 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1) cook polenta or grits according to directions on package or using your preferred method.  Add 4 oz of shredded cheese, stirring until melted and set aside.

2) Heat butter or oil in a pan over medium-high heat.  Add onion.  Cook until starting to brown.  Add peppers and celery.  Cook until soft.  Add shrimp, cook until opaque.

3) Plate polenta or grits, put veggies and shrimp over top.  Sprinkle with extra cheddar cheese if desired. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Phantom Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #18)

Phantom Prey (Lucas Davenport, #18)Phantom Prey by John Sandford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: A widow comes home to her large house in a wealthy, exclusive suburb to find blood everywhere, no body, and her college aged daughter missing. She's always known that her daughter ran with a bad bunch. What did she call them - Goths? Freaks is more like it, running around with all that makeup and black clothing, listening to that awful music, so attracted to death. And now this.

But the police can't find the girl, alive or dead, and when a second Goth is found slashed to death in Minneapolis, the widow truly panics. There's someone she knows, a surgeon named Weather Davenport, whose husband is a big deal with the police, and she implores Weather to get him directly involved. Lucas begins to investigate only reluctantly; but then when a third Goth is slashed in what is now looking like a Jackthe- Ripper series of killings, he starts working it hard. The clues don't seem to add up, though. And then there's the young Goth who keeps appearing and disappearing: Who is she? Where does she come from and, more important, where does she vanish to? And why does Lucas keep getting the sneaking suspicion that there is something else going on here . . . something very, very bad indeed?

Davenport's starting to realize that it isn't all fun and games chasing the criminals after he is shot in an ambush outside a bar while trying to find a young missing woman.  The thought that he might not be there to jump Weather's bones or watch Sam and Letty grow up, gives our detective pause for thought in an unusual insightful moment.

Outside of these intimate thoughts, this was an intriguing novel. The plot twisted and turned in interesting ways, keeping my attention fully engaged.  The reader does know partway though who-done-it, but the fascination lies in how Davenport figures this one out.   It is also one of those murder-mysteries where I can't say a heck of a lot lest I drop an unwanted spoiler.  A sub-plot interweaves itself through the main plot providing a bit of levity in what could become a very uncomfortable storyline.

My biggest complaint with the book was the conclusion to the main storyline - felt like a total cop-out.  Pun intended. 

Still, this may be my favorite Davenport book.  Good balance between personal insight, humor, intrigue and overall resolution.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spock is Audi Here!

Scifi geekiness doesn't get much better than this!  
9 days till Star Trek: Into Darkness 
(jumping up and down in excitement here!)  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Recipe Review from 4/29/13

Still waiting for spring.  The little birds chirrping outside tell me it's here, but I think we're all having a hard time beleiving it when it's 30*F (0*C) and sleeting.  

Mixed recipe reviews this week.  While the end product turned out, I seemed to have had issues with assembly.  Sorry, only on picture this week!  Bought a new gluten free cookbook and one recipe is from the news paper and, ultimately, I just forgot to snap a few pictures of the finished products 

Beer Muffins with Cheddar Cheese  (Star Tribune, 4/11/13)
A miscalculation in my meal planning had me scrambling a bit on the weekend.  A note at the bottom of this recipe caught my attention: good with creamy tomato soup.  I thought, "I have tomato soup!" I didn't have fresh dill but meh, it'll work.  And it did.  Fast assembly, best fresh out of the oven, good reheated.  My only complaint was they had a bit of a 'flour-y' or 'dough-y' taste that I couldn't explain. Husband didn't seem to get that impression.

The author serves her beer muffins with cream of tomato soup. They would have been equally good with chili or a beef and beer stew.  From Lauren Chattman. 

2 c unbleached flour
2 tbsp packed light brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup lager-style beer
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled, divided
1 c shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill

Preheat oven to 375*.  Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt.  Stir in the beer and 4 tbsp of melted butter until a rough dough forms.  Stir in 3/4 cup cheese and dill.  Divide batter amongst muffin cups.  Drizzle remaining butter over top.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top.

Bake until the muffins are golden and toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry, about 18 minutes.

Cool in pan 5 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool another 5 minutes.  Serve warm. 

Cornmeal-Pecan Pancakes  (The GF Bible)
A side bar in the recipe noted to use finely ground cornmeal to prevent grittiness.  As we were grinding our own, I made sure to grind fine.  However, I think the recipe should have noted 'cornmeal flour' because even with a fine grind, the initial batter was soup.  I ended up adding 2/3 more rice flour to get the batter even close to pancake consistency.  The liquid to flour ratio does seem a bit off in this so adjust flour as necessary.

However, these are quite tasty and I will be making them again with adjustments- like grinding my corn even more. 

1 c yellow cornmeal (flour consistency)
1/2 c sugar
1/4 rice flour (+ extra as needed)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 c milk (soy milk/almond milk or dairy free ok)
1 egg
1 tsp canola oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 chopped pecans

1) Combine cornmeal, sugar, rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg in a large bow; mix well. Combine soymilk, egg, oil and vanilla in a medium bowl; whisk until smooth. Add liquid to cornmeal mixture; stir until smooth batter forms.  Stir in pecans.

2) Spray a non-stick skillet or large griddle with cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat.  Spoon 2 tbsp batter onto hot griddle for each pancake; spread to a three inch diameter.  Cook until tops of pancake are bubbly; turn and cook 1 minute or until bottoms are lightly browned.  Serve warm.

Cajun Chicken and Rice (GF Bible)
A recipe similar to a family favorite, but without the "cream of" soups.  Fairly quick assembly - brown the chicken on the stove, set aside; bring rice broth and veggies to a boil, put everything in a baking dish and bake.  Except...I ended up with soup again.  Sense a theme in my week?  I bake rice in the oven all the time.  350*. 1 hour.  What was this recipe?  350*. 1 hour.  Except again, I ended up with more liquid than I should have and the rice was still a bit al dente.  WTHeck?  Must have been the chicken juices. The rice absorbed most of the liquid over the coming days and I thought the leftovers were better than the original dish. 

4 chicken drumsticks, skin removed
4 chicken thighs, skin removed
2 tsp Cajun seasoning (or seasoned salt, or just salt and pepper)
2 tsp salt (omit if used above)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 (14oz) can chicken broth
1 cup uncooked rice
1 medium green bell pepper,diced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp tumeric

1. Preheat oven to 350*.  Lightly coat 9x13" baking dish with non-stick spray.

2. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with seasoning.  Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 8-10 minutes or until browned on all sides.  Remove from skillet.

3. Add broth to skillet; bring to a boil, scraping brown bits from bottom of pan.  Stir in rice, peppers, green onions, garlic, thyme and tumeric.  Pour into prepared baking dish and place chicken on top.  Cover tightly and bake 1 hour or until chicken is cooked through (or until rice has absorbed all liquid).  Serves 6. 

Quinoa and Roasted Corn (GF Bible)  GF, vegetarian
This was outstanding.  Assembly goes very quickly and the light 'dressing' really adds just the perfect amount of brightness.  I used red pepper instead of cherry tomatoes as I don't care for how tomatoes make a dish watery.  This made enough for 8 lunches total.  Could be easily doubled to feed a group or potluck luncheon.  Recommended. 

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
vegetable oil
1 cup chopped green onions, divided
1 tsp salt
1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes or chopped plum tomatoes *drained
(I used diced red pepper)
1 14oz can black beans, drained
1/4 tsp grated lime peel
juice of one lime or 2 tbsp lime juice
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper

1. Place quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse well under cold water (this removes any saponin which makes it taste bitter).  Put in a sauce pan and cover with two cups cold water.  Bring to a boil over high heat; cover and simmer 15-18 minutes or until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender.  [Note - I let stand, covered, for about 10-15 minutes to let the moisture finish absorbing; makes for a better end product in my opinion.]  Transfer to a large bowl.

2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add corn and cook 10-12 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.  Stir in 2/3 cup green onions and salt, cook 2 minutes.  Add corn to quinoa.  Gently stir in tomatoes (or red pepper) and black beans.

3.  Combine lime peel, lime juice, sugar, cumin and black pepper in a small bowl.  Whisk in remaining 1 tbsp oil until blended.  Pour over quinoa mixture; toss lightly to coat.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup green onions. Serve warm or cold.

Mexican Wedding Cookies (Ckng Lght BB)
Husband had a "Cinco de Mayo" potluck at work last week and I thought I could whip up something simple like Mexican Wedding cookies.  Little did I know just how many variations are on this shortbread style biscuit!  I found the one below and tripled the batch.  Being spring, I decided to go with orange flavoring.  Optional flavors are struckout below.

After all was baked and cooled, the orange flavor was nice and bright.  I didn't roll the cookies in the powdered sugar, but just sifted a bit over the top of each.  I hate excessive powdered sugar on my baked goods. 

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar (I didn't sift and it worked out fine)
2 tsp water (or orange juice)
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground toasted almonds or pecans
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon or 1/2 tsp finely shredded orange, lemon or tangerine peel
Powdered sugar

In a large mixer bowl beat butter or margarine until softened. Add powdered sugar and beat till fluffy. Add water and vanilla and beat well. Stir in flour, nuts and cinnamon, or citrus peel.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass dipped in powdered sugar. (If necessary, chill dough till easy to handle) Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 18-20 minutes. (Mine were done in 16) or till lightly browned on the bottom. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then remove and dust cookies lightly in powdered sugar. Cool thoroughly on wire racks.

One batch makes about 18 - 1" cookies

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Movie: Oblivion

What a plethora of scifi movies coming out this year!  Oblivion, Star Trek, Superman, Enders Game, and a couple more whose names escape me.

Saturday was proving to be cold, overcast, and rainy so it was perfect for a trip into town to run neglected errands and catch a movie.  I talked the Husband into Oblivion as a precursor to Star Trek in two weeks.

Right off the bat, I don't have strong feelings one way or another about Tom Cruise.  It seems people either like him or loathe him, but ultimately it must be admitted, the guy can make a good movie.

Plot summary:  Jack and Bika are the last two technicians assigned to watch the hydroplants converting a devastated Earth's water resource to fuel before making the move to Titans's moon to join the rest of humanity.  Five years of constantly fighting the "Scav's ", who keep taking out the drones protecting the hydroplants, has left Jack wondering if he really wants to leave.  But a downed NASA ship causes him to question everything he has ever known and throws him into a conundrum of epic proportions.

We both enjoyed the movie.  The pacing was good, the premise was interesting, the visual effects weren't too over the top, the backdrop was very cool, and I enjoyed the plot even though it pulled from about five other science fiction flicks.  I will also say that *I* found Oblivion a bit predictable and made more than a couple muttered "didn't see that coming..." under my breath.  With only 6 people in the theater I wasn't worried about being overheard. 

The movie isn't without a few faults, such as the rescued Julia having ready access to a skin-tight pilots suit when a moment before she's in a tank top.  And it seems you can't have Tom Cruise in a movie without putting him on a motorcycle.  There are more, but I am reluctant to go complaining too much when I was happily entertained on a rainy afternoon and would watch it again. 

Go see it.  Recommended. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Deep State by Walter Jon Williams

Deep State (Dagmar, #2)Deep State by Walter Jon Williams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: In THIS IS NOT A GAME, Dagmar found that the Alternate Reality Game she was writing was being manipulated by a killer, and in her own turn manipulated the game players in order to solve mysteries and unmask the villain. In the sequel DEEP STATE, that progression continues. Once again, the boundaries between game and reality are breached, and Dagmar finds herself using game techniques to manipulate real-world events. Except that the stakes have risen - instead of solving a crime, Dagmar now finds herself in the geopolitical realm, trying to manipulate an entire nation.As in TINAG, Dagmar finds herself drawn farther and farther into the action in order to set things right. She finds herself in physical danger, and must utilize her own inner strength and her ability as a game Puppetmaster to escape death

This was book 2 in the Dagmar series.  Reading book one is a must.

This read a bit like a travelogue and history of Turkey which I thought straddled the line between interesting and annoying.  It was interesting in that I knew the author visited Turkey quite some time back and blogged about it.  It was annoying in that it made aspects of the story read like an organized bus tour. “And on your right, Ataturk Park….”

Now the reality of the political aspects of the book were  a bit scary - the use of social media to drive dissension and revolution.  I think what touched a nerve was the idea that a person, persons, or a government could actually manipulate the masses through technology to the extent that they would organize into a rebellion.  Sound familiar, anyone?  It’s happened.

Some of the computer technology stuff was very interesting, the search to find modems that didn’t have USB ports, or keyboards from a certain year, fascinating stuff the evolution of our technological resources. 

As for the story itself, I was disappointed but I couldn’t tell you exactly why.  It was a bit too similar to This is Not a Game when people around our protagonist started getting killed in their beds - it lost the refreshing, "this is kinds of different" feel to it and became a rehash of the first book.  The plot was  this long drawn out build up, some stuff happened, and then it was over.  It took me a couple of days to write my review because that was about it.

So, recommended with reservations. 

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