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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Monster Hunters Vendetta (#2) by Larry Corriea

Monster Hunter Vendetta (MHI, #2)Monster Hunter Vendetta by Larry Correia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Accountant turned professional monster hunter, Owen Zastava Pitt, managed to stop the nefarious Old One’s invasion plans last year, but as a result made an enemy out of one of the most powerful beings in the universe. Now an evil death cult known as the Church of the Temporary Mortal Condition wants to capture Owen in order to gain the favor of the great Old Ones.
The Condition is led by a fanatical necromancer known as the Shadow Man. The government wants to capture the Shadow Man and has assigned the enigmatic Agent Franks to be Owen’s full time bodyguard, which is a polite way of saying that Owen is monster bait.

With supernatural assassins targeting his family, a spy in their midst, and horrific beasties lurking around every corner, Owen and the staff of Monster Hunter International don’t need to go hunting, because this time the monsters are hunting them. Fortunately, this bait is armed and very dangerous...

Book number two was a teeny bit slow to start, then picked up a full head of steam, and there was no stopping the action until the monsters were dead.

Corriea once again combines a beautiful, nay, brilliant, blend of Lovecraftian monsters, vampires (who don't sparkle), Gnomes with an attitude, zombie bears and elephants with zingy one-liners, wit, humor and lots of ballistics.  Our favorite Monster Hunter International organization locks horns not only with The Old Ones (can one lock 'horns' with a blimp sized tentacled overinflated squid god?) , but also with the Federal agency Monster Control Bureau as Owen and his gang wade through treachery and deceit and very old secrets.

Loved this book for the shear escapism of it all.  At one point I wanted to jump up off the couch and pump my fist in the air and shout "GO Franks!", but restrained myself to merely giggling madly.   If you've read the book, you'll know what I mean. 

Strongly recommended if you've read book one.  

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Mission, TX!

Presidents Day weekend had me on the road to Misson, Texas, to visit the Folks.  For me, it's a fair jaunt, basically going from the Canadian border to the Mexican border.  Pretty neat, in my opinion.

Mission/McAllen/Brownsville metropolis is very different from my corner of the world, straddling the border between two distinctly different cultures yet very integrated.  More and more I'm regretting my six years of high school and college German - Spanish would have been so much more practical.  Oh well. 

The RV park was very nice and is gated at night for several reasons: illegals, coyotes, and havelinas being the primary reasons.  Living near the Canadian border, I see Border Patrol cars quite frequently; however, in Mission they are a police presence unto themselves.  Not infrequently the helicopter(s) would be flying over head at any time of the day or night.  Patrols could be found in trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, boats and on horseback absolutely everywhere.  Very different from what I'm used to. 

So, my travels:
Wednesday I left work early to catch a shuttle to Minneapolis for an overnight stay.  The 3am alarm Thursday morning to catch a 5am flight was a bit brutal.  I sojourned from Minneapolis, to Houston, to Brownsville and was on the ground by 1030am.  From there we had an hour and a half drive back to Mission, where they are staying at the Bentsen Palm Village RV Park, stopping for lunch on the way.  The afternoon was relaxing and talking.

Friday we went down to South Padre Island: visited the Sea Turtle Sanctuary and Rehabilitation center (amazing things happening in this small facility!), walked on the beach, and stopped in at the Birding Center.  85* and sunny was a far cry from the -20* and snow I left in Minnesota.  

South Padre Island looking East

Birding Center


Saturday we went out for breakfast, ran a few errands, then we biked around the Benston Rio Grande Valley State Park which is now a World Birding Center. No traffic allowed - you can walk, bike or hop a tram. We biked 8 miles!  Yes!  I was biking!  Yaaaayyy!!!  I learned this is a HUGE area for birders, lots of migratory birds come through here in addition to the year round feathered residents. 

Benston Rio Grande Valley State Park (post 2010 flood)
Sunday - we did a nature trail hike in the State Park in the morning, then relaxed in the afternoon on the "patio". Went out for a really good Mexican dinner, then another small walk around the park before retiring for the evening.

Benston Rio Grande Valley State Park, nature/birding trail

Monday - We toured the butterfly sanctuary (a few present, we were a bit early for the migration), the original mission for Mission, and then lunch on the Rio Grande.  Laundry in the afternoon so I had some clean clothes to come home in and just relaxed outside.  Absolutely beautiful breeze with temps still in the high 80's.

Butterfly's are hard to photograph

Dad checking out Mexico, there was a really nice park across the way, but it was ruined in the 2010 floods.

And Tuesday had me traveling back home, going from 85* and spring to 30* and nearly a foot of new snow.  Weather report says we're going to get hit again with 10 more inches of the wet heavy variety.  Joy. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

We had a little snowstorm...

...this past week.  It was 9" of snow, which isn't much in the greater scheme of things, but the 40mph winds made it problematic.  When I went out to assess if the Husband and I were going to be able to get out of the driveway, I was confronted with this:

A 4' high snow drift.  Andy's glad he's not the one who has to shovel.
Ben from the other side wondering why I'm not done yet.
The Canyon.  The snowbank at the very end is about 6' tall. 
We were snowed in yesterday, no doubt about it.  Plow guy finally came about 9pm with a bobcat and pushed our driveway open.  Those snowberms are now about 12' tall and I can't even guess as to how wide - that's gonna be a lot of water come this spring! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher (Dresden #11)

Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, #11)Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  When it comes to the magical ruling body known as the White Council, Harry keeps his nose clean and his head down. For years, the Council has held a death mark over Harry's head. He's still thought of as a black sheep by some;and as a sacrificial lamb by others. But none regard him with more suspicion and disdain than Morgan, a veteran Warden with a grudge against anyone who bends the rules.

Like Harry.

So when Morgan turns up asking for help, Harry isn't exactly eager to leap into action. Morgan has been accused of treason against the White Council;and there's only one final punishment for that crime. he's on the run, he wants his name cleared, and he needs someone with a knack for backing the underdog.

Like Harry.

Now Harry must uncover a traitor within the Council, keep a less than agreeable Morgan under wraps, and avoid coming under scrutiny himself. And a single mistake may cost someone his head.

Like Harry.

"Read" as an audiobook and I couldn't stick those CD's into the player fast enough.  Stop lights are my friends - extra listening time!  In fact, I finished the last CD sitting in my garage.  

As this series has progressed, the writing style and plot development have definitely improved.  There seems to be less organized chaos and more methodical character and background building.  Things are following a logical formatting which I appreciate. 

In Turn Coat we have Warden Morgan showing up battered and beaten on Harry's doorstep with him pleading for sanctuary.  Harry, despite his intense dislike and mistrust of Morgan, shelters him without many qualms.  But this illusion of shelter can't be maintained when everything starts to point right at Chicago: we have Shag-nasty (an evil skinwalker of Native American construct who wants Morgan), the White Court is involved when Thomas is kidnapped and Magdalene is out for vengeance,  Captain of the Guard Anastasia finds out Harry has Morgan and is now caught between the two people she cares about the most, and the White Council will have someone's head on a platter by the end of the day whether that person is innocent or not.  Nothing is what it seems to be.

Lots going on, well coordinated cast of characters, good character development, nicely plotted out.  Only a couple of detraction's in the way of loose ends and in that I figured out the "who done it" almost immediately.  Recommended, but advise starting at the beginning of the series.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Recipe Review from 2/10/14

This was supposed to have been posted on Monday, while I was away having an Adventure, but I couldn't access Blogger for some reason while I was gone (system refused to acknowledge my password..grrrr!) so this is posting a bit late.  I'll write about my Adventures later this week! 

The Meal Plan:
Sat -   (S) nada, still to full from a very late lunch.
Sun - (B) Pancake Day!  (L) Leftover Sausage-Spinach Rice Bowl  (S) Chicken Cordon Bleu
(Sun - make lunches, chili and cornbread for end of week)
Mon -   leftover cordon bleu
Tue -leftover cordon bleu
Wed -   Husband - Chili and cornbread
Thur - leftover Chili
Fri - leftover Chili

Lunches - Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup, crackers, fruit, nuts, Luna bars

Chicken Cordon Bleu Pasta (Chef in Training Blog)  gluten free option**
Another recipe passed along from my friend Tess.  She did use the GF option.  Both my friend and I lightened the dish as best we could (notes below) without detracting from overall consistency.  This was outstanding.  Husband went back for thirds kinda good!

A tiny bit putzy, but not too bad - as the bacon baked, I got the water boiling for the pasta, and cooked the chicken.  While the chicken rested before slicing, I started the cream cheese softening.  Everything came together kinda quick, but then I was able to clean-up the kitchen and rest while the dish baked.  This does make a 9x13 pan, and I am so looking forward to leftovers! 

  • 10-12 oz. penne or ziti pasta
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 (8 oz) block cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder more or less to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt more or less to taste
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded swiss cheese separated
  • 2 chicken breasts cooked and cut into strips
  • 3/4 cup bacon cooked and chopped
  • 3/4 cup diced ham
  • bread crumbs

  •

  • 10-12 oz. penne or ziti pasta
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 (8 oz) block cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder more or less to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt more or less to taste
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded swiss cheese separated
  • 2 chicken breasts cooked and cut into strips
  • 3/4 cup bacon cooked and chopped
  • 3/4 cup diced ham
  • bread crumbs

  •

  • 10-12 oz. penne or ziti pasta
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 (8 oz) block cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder more or less to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt more or less to taste
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded swiss cheese separated
  • 2 chicken breasts cooked and cut into strips
  • 3/4 cup bacon cooked and chopped
  • 3/4 cup diced ham
  • bread crumbs

  •

    10-12 oz penne or ziti pasta**
    2 cups heavy cream  (I used half n half)
    1 (8oz) block cream cheese  (I used "lite")
    1/2 tsp onion powder or to taste
    1/2 tsp garlic salt or to taste
    1 1/2 cup shredded Swiss Cheese separated
    2 chicken breasts cooked and cut into strips
    2/3 cup bacon cooked and chopped  (I used four slices, baked, then chopped)
    3/4 cup diced ham 
    bread crumbs

    1. Cook pasta according to directions.  Drain.  Add a little olive oil after drained and stir around so noodles don't stick.
    2. Heat cream cheese on stove over medium-low heat until melted.  Stir in heavy cream and stir until combined.  Add onion powder and garlic salt (to taste).  Stir in 1 cup Swiss cheese until smooth consistency.
    3. In a 9x13 pan, layer noodles, chicken, bacon and ham.  Pour sauce over top.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese and bread crumbs.
    Bake at 350* for 15 minutes or until heated through. 

    Fast Chicken Chili  (Ckng Lght, Sept 2012)   gluten free 
    Yes, this is actually pretty fast!  I did use my own dried beans from the garden, so a bit more pre-planning was necessary.  Which just entails making sure I toss those beans into the slow cooker in the morning, on low, so they can cook for about 4 hours.  Everything else is just chop and plop.  It smelled lovely - unfortunately, I will be off on Adventures and this will be for the Husband while I'm away so I won't know how it tastes. 
    • 1 tablespoon canola oil
    • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used chicken thighs)
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
      photo from
    • 1/2 cup vertically sliced onion
    • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
    • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
    • 3 cups no-salt-added canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained  (I used my soldier beans)
    • 1 cup water
    • 2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chiles, undrained and divided
    • 1 (14-ounce) can fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
    • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
    • 1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
    1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil. Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add chicken; sauté 4 minutes. Add onion and next 5 ingredients; sauté 3 minutes. Add 2 cups beans, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 can chiles, and broth; bring to a boil.
    2. Mash 1 cup beans and 1 can chiles in a bowl. Add to soup; simmer 5 minutes. Serve with cilantro and lime.

    Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup  (Source?? Came from friend Tess)   vegetarian option, gluten free
    Another chop, plot and cook dish.  This could be done in the slow cooker, adding the cream and seasonings after blending. 

    8 servings 

    1 Tablespoon olive oil 
    2 Maui onions or other sweet white onion, chopped. (I never use this much) 
    6 cups chicken or vegetable stock or canned low-salt broth 
    2 medium red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams) peeled, chopped 
    2 large carrots, chopped 
    1 large leek (white and pale green parts only), chopped 
    1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
    1 cup whipping cream  (I used half n half)
    2 teaspoons brandy 
    2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint 
    1 teaspoon grated lemon peel 
    ½ teaspoon grated lime peel 
    Pinch of chili powder 

    Heat olive oil in heavy large Dutch oven over med-high heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 10 min. Add stock, sweet potatoes, carrots, leek and ginger and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 35 minutes 

    Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Return puree to Dutch oven. (I just use an immersion blender.) Add whipping cream and heat through. 
    Mix brandy, mint, lemon peel, lime peel and chili powder into soup. Season with salt and pepper.

    (Soup can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring soup to simmer before continuing.) 

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

    Storm Front by John Sandford (Flowers #7)

    Storm Front  (Virgil Flowers, #7)Storm Front by John Sandford

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Jacket Blurb:  In Israel, a man clutching a backpack searches desperately for a boat. In Minnesota, Virgil Flowers gets a message from Lucas Davenport: You’re about to get a visitor. It’s an Israeli cop, and she’s tailing a man who’s smuggled out an extraordinary relic—an inscribed stone revealing startling details about the man known as King Solomon.

    Wait a minute, laughs Virgil. Is this one of those Da Vinci Code deals? The secret scroll, the blockbuster revelation, the teams of murderous bad guys? Should I be boning up on my Bible verses?

    He looks at the cop. She’s not laughing. As it turns out, there are very bad men chasing the relic, and they don’t care who’s in the way or what they have to do to get it. Maybe Virgil should start praying.

    "Read" as an audiobook.  I love Eric Conger as the voice of Virgil.  I love his intonation and delivery and is an absolute delight to listen to.  I think that's what carried the plot in Storm Front, because after a while, the story began to feel like Vaudeville rather than a mystery-thriller.   Not a murder-mystery, nobody was killed, but a mystery-thriller slap schtick:  "Who's on first", "What?", "'No, Who.'"  "Who's where?" "On first.".  Yeah.  Like that.

    Which brings me to my next point - I found it interesting that this was a thriller where there was no murder.  Everything revolved around one man who stole an artifact and how easily he was able to elude everyone.  Which is not surprising - I think even Virgil commented on how annoying it was looking for someone who didn't want to be found.

    Where it got a bit over the top was the last third of the book, where the substantial cast of characters - the elusive thief;  his daughter; the two Israeli women; the Lebanese student and his 'guest', the Nutcracker; the globe-trotting reality show Treasure Hunter, the other Treasure Hunter; and the rural red-neck woman named "Ma" with 5 kids who wants Virgil to "scratch her itch" - begins to come together much like a slow moving drain starts to unclog.  Slowly at first then with gathering momentum, culminating in a watery sucking sound and eventually leaving bits of detris scattered about. 

    Ultimately a light, entertaining thriller, full of deception, wit, and wisecracks that only Sandford can deliver.  If you're expecting something along the lines of Dark of the Moon (Flowers #1), then you'll be disappointed.   Sit back and enjoy the story.

    View all my reviews

    Monday, February 10, 2014

    Recipe Review from 2/3/14

    A pretty uneventful week all in all both activity wise and weather wise.  We did watch the Olympic opening ceremonies and have caught a few of the events.  We don't have cable so we're pretty limited with what events we can see. 

    It was, however, a good week meal wise.  Several super easy and fast meals to recommend!

    The Meal Plan
    Sat - leftovers  (S)  Chipolte Black Bean Chili 
    Sun (L) leftover chili  (S)  Take-n-bake pizza for Super Bowl!   (make lunch soup)
    Mon - leftover chili
    Tues - Chicken in Beer Sauce and Brussel Sprouts (assuming sprouts haven't composted)
    Wed - I get leftover chicken
    Thurs - Sausage, Spinach and Rice
    Fri - leftovers

    Lunches - Slow cooked Barley, Bean and Veggie Soup, crackers, fruit, luna bars and nuts.

    Spiced Rubbed Chicken  (Ckng Lght Sept 2012)  gluten free
    This was a DOH! moment:  I had everything all set to make Chicken in Honey Beer Sauce, I was pulling together seasonings, and realized I was making the Spiced Rubbed Chicken recipe on the opposite page in the cookbook!  Not wanting to waste ingredients, I went ahead with the Spiced Rubbed Chicken and served it with some blue-cheese mustard.   Wow, really good combination!

    Super simple recipe.  I would not call this one "kid friendly" as the seasonings can be pretty intense for heat-sensitive adults.  I butterflied my chicken and pan-seared (my grill is currently under about 4' of snow and it's 0* outside).  Served with roasted brussel sprouts.

    photo from
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 2 teaspoons Hungarian sweet paprika
    • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
    • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves $
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • Cooking spray
    1. Combine first 7 ingredients. Brush both sides of chicken evenly with oil; rub with garlic. Sprinkle spice mixture evenly over chicken; coat with cooking spray. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan, and grill for 5 minutes on each side or until done.

    Roasted Brussel Sprouts   (Ckng Lght Nov 2012)   vegetarian, gluten free
    Sometimes all a recipe is, is a nudge to use an ingredient languishing in the fridge, freezer or pantry.  That was this recipe with my sprouts that I bought back in December.  Yes.  December.  I knew they were in the drawer, but just kinda kept dismissing them.  This was the encouragement I needed to use those sprouts up!

    Nothing spectacular about this: it's a basic roasted veggie recipe sprinkled with cheese at the end.  My only comment would be to watch your cooking times.  Smaller sprouts won't need the full 20 minutes.

    photo from
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
    • Cooking spray
    • 1 ounce pecorino Romano cheese, shaved (about 1/3 cup)
    1. Preheat oven to 425°.
    2. Combine olive oil, salt, black pepper, and Brussels sprouts in a medium bowl; toss well to coat. Divide Brussels sprouts mixture evenly between 2 small roasting pans or jelly-roll pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes or until Brussels sprouts are browned and crisp-tender, rotating pans after 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle Brussels sprouts evenly with cheese. Serve immediately.

    Chipolte Black Bean Chili  (Ckng Lght Nov 1995)   gluten free, vegetarian
    Easy peasy chili should be the name of this one!  Chop a bit of onion and garlic, open a few cans, plop and cook!  Dinner on the table in 30.  Flavors are bright and flavorful.  Perfect for a chilly Fall or Winter weekend.  A side of cornbread would be perfect accompaniment. 
    • 1 teaspoon olive oil
    • 1 cup finely chopped onion 
      photo from
    • 6 garlic cloves, minced
    • 2 tablespoons chili powder
    • I added 1/2 tsp cumin 
    • 1 teaspoon minced drained canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
    • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
    • 1/8 teaspoon salt
    • 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained
    • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans no-salt-added whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped  (I used 2 14.5oz cans of diced tomatoes)
    • 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained
    • Cilantro sprigs (optional)
    1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add chili powder and next 6 ingredients (chili powder through green chiles); bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes. Ladle chili into individual bowls, and garnish with cilantro sprigs, if desired.

    Sausage-Spinach Rice Bowl (Ckng Lght, April 2012)  gluten free
    Super easy and very tasty.  If you don't liked spinach, substitute some lightly steamed broccoli.  I like spinach so I stayed with that.  I did cut back on the garlic to three cloves as I don't care to still be tasteing my dinner hours later.  This is perfect for an evening where you don't want to put a lot to time into a dish, yet don't want to eat out.   Serves 3
    photo from
    • 1 (8.8-ounce) pouch precooked brown rice (such as Uncle Ben's)
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 6 ounces hot turkey Italian sausage, casings removed
    • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
    • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
    • 1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
    • 1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved (about 1/4 cup)
    1. Heat rice according to directions.
    2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add sausage and pepper; cook 4 minutes or until sausage is browned, stirring to crumble. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add spinach; cook 30 seconds or until spinach begins to wilt, tossing constantly. Stir in rice; cook 1 minute or until heated. Sprinkle with cheese.


    Barley Bean Vegetable Soup  (Saavy Vegetarian Blog)  vegetarian/vegan
    Don't be put off by the lengthy ingredient list or wordy directions.  This is a pretty simple soup.  I'm not entirely sure the barley absolutely needs to be pre-cooked - I've never done that before - but decided to follow directions this go around (unusual, I know!).  I bought canned chickpeas and then used my own dried beans (soldier beans).  I pre-cooked my beans in the slow cooker, with filtered water, a bay leaf AND the barley.   I ended up with two cups of liquid (note, I halved the amounts below) and supplemented with a cup of broth I had in the freezer.  

    FOR A 8-10 QT SLOW COOKER  (I halved for a 4-5 quart slowcooker)
    • 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans, OR 1 16 oz can, drained and rinsed
    • 1 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans, OR 1 16 oz can, drained and rinsed
    • *Bean cooking directions below
    • 1/2 cup pearl barley, directions below, soaked 4 or more hours, or pre-cooked 45 minutes in 3 cups water
    • 6 cups TOTAL liquid from these sources: water, bean cooking liquid, barley soaking liquid
    • 2 Tbsp olive oil or other cooking oil
    • 2 med. carrots, peeled & diced
    • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
    • 2 celery stalks, diced
    • 1/2 lb green beans, 1" slice
    • 1/2 red pepper, seeded and diced
    • 1/2 green pepper, seeded and diced
    • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced, OR 1 pinch cayenne (use the whole pepper if you like heat)
    • 2 thin slices fresh ginger, peeled and minced, OR 1/2 tsp dried ginger
    • 1 -2 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled and minced OR 1/2 tsp powdered garlic
    • 1 tsp each: basil, thyme, marjoram, paprika
    • 1/2 tsp ground fennel
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 1 unsalted veggie bouillon cube
    • 2 - 3 Tbsp unsalted tomato paste
    • 1 Tbsp Braggs, soy sauce or miso
    • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
    *How To Cook Beans:  Note: If you're going to soak and cook beans, it's worth making extra, to freeze in small amounts for future vegetarian meals.
    1. Sort and clean the dried beans
    2. Soak the beans in hot water for four hours, or overnight in cold water
    3. Drain and rinse
    4. Place in medium saucepan, cover with cold unsalted water
    5. Bring to boil uncovered, boil for ten minutes, skim the foam
    6. Cover and simmer for 2 hours
    7. OR cook 9 minutes at high pressure in a pressure cooker
    8. Slow cooker or Crockpot: After boiling and skimming, cook for 6 - 8 hours on low
    How To Cook Pearl Barley:
    1. Wash, rinse, then soak barley 4 hours in hot water, or refrigerate overnight in 3 cups water
    2. OR cook for 45 minutes in 3 cups water
    3. Don't discard the barley soaking or cooking water - it should go in the soup, as part of the TOTAL liquid
    Barley Bean Soup Directions:
    1. Heat oil on medium in a 6 - 8 qt pot
    2. Chop carrots, potatoes, celery, pepper & green beans
    3. Increase the heat a bit, and sauté 5 minutes
    4. Add spices and sauté another few minutes
    5. Add the barley + soaking or cooking water
    6. Add the beans + enough of the cooking liquid to suit you
    7. Add tomato paste + bouillon cube
    8. Bring to boil, cover and simmer 20 - 30 minutes, until veggies are nicely tender
    9. Add more water as needed for desired consistency
    10. Add Braggs, soy sauce or miso & fresh minced herb
    11. Optional: Add salt + pepper to taste
    1. Slow Slow Cooking: You can either sauté the veggies and spices first, then add to the crockpot, or just throw everything in cold, set the crockpot on low, cover and cook for 6 hours. Add the fresh herbs, salt & pepper + Braggs or soy sauce at the end of cooking 
    2. Quick Slow Cooking: Sauté veggies & spices as above, transfer to preheated Crockpot with hot beans, barley & liquid. Simmer 2 - 3 hours on low. Keep your eye on it for the first time, as cooking times vary with crockpot size and make. Add the fresh herbs, salt & pepper + Braggs or soy sauce at the end of cooking 
    Recipe Tips:  Since this recipe makes a BIG pot of soup, it's perfect for feeding a crowd. 
    The beans and barley can be soaked overnight or while you work, to save cooking time, and the soup can go in the slow cooker or crockpot, once the vegetables are sautéd - or skip that step, and just throw everything in the crockpot! Of course you can also use canned beans - just be sure to drain and rinse them first to get rid of the excess salt.

    Friday, February 7, 2014

    Sweet Tea Revenge by Laura Childs (#14)

    Sweet Tea Revenge (A Tea Shop Mystery, #14)Sweet Tea Revenge by Laura Childs

    My rating: 2 of 5 stars

     Jacket Blurb:  Theodosia Browning’s dear friend, Delaine Dish, has asked her to be a bridesmaid for her wedding. But when the big day arrives, everything seems to be going wrong. First, a massive storm is brewing over Charleston. A bad omen? Second, Delaine’s maid of honor is late for the ceremony. And finally, the groom not only has cold feet—his whole body is cold. A murderer has crashed the wedding.

    As Theodosia comforts a devastated Delaine, she needs to sort out the suspects on the groom’s side from the suspects on the bride’s side. One thing soon becomes apparent—revenge won’t be the only dish served cold at this wedding. And if Theodosia doesn’t watch her step, a cold-blooded killer may have a rude reception in store for her…

    After my "falling out" with Agony of the Leaves (#13), it was with great reluctance and hesitation that I read Sweet Tea Revenge.  And unlike the rest of the series, I decided to get this from the library.

    It was a dark and stormy afternoon, the lightening cracked overhead, the rafters shook from the thunder. Theodosia, our heroine with hair prone to frizzies in humid weather and owner of the Indigo Tea Shop, has been roped into maid of honor for Delaine Dish's whirlwind, shotgun wedding at the rundown and slightly haunted Ravencrest B&;B.  The guests are assembled in the drawing room, the bridesmaids are in the hallway, the bride is ravishing in white, the no where to be found.  Until Theo finds him gasp!...DEAD! 

    While Sweet Tea Revenge did not leave me wanting to hurl the book across the room in utter disgust as I did with Agony of the Leaves, it certainly didn't leave me wanting to read more.  We have a totally insensitive photographer, a detective so cliched as to be ridiculous, a bi-polar bride,  a Tea Shop run by three people, one of which seems to spend most of her time running out during the height of the lunch hour to interview people in an investigation she was told to stay out of (of course).  But you can't trust the police to do their work after all...

    I muttered about this in my previous review: one person simply cannot run a full service kitchen and  single handedly cater events for hundreds of people, while going to school.  For the type and amount of food coming out of that "cozy" kitchen, this is completely unrealistic.

    The authors portrayal of Detective Tidwell and the police is still insulting.  The ATF agent hitting on Theo during a very busy lunch hour during an active investigation was incongruous given the circumstances (busy lunch, just met, investigation, not a romance).

    Theo herself has been turned into a frizzy headed ditz, who seems to spend more time running around in a panic, than logically working her way through events. At least in this episode, she learned to call 911. 

    With an overly robust cast of characters the southern charm of Charleston, the Low Country and the Indigo Tea Shop, was lost to whirlwind events and loose ends.

    View all my reviews

    Wednesday, February 5, 2014

    The Black Ice by Michael Connelly (Bosch #2)

    The Black Ice (Harry Bosch, #2)The Black Ice by Michael Connelly

    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Jacket Blurb: Narcotics office Cal Moore's orders were to look into the city's latest drug killing. Instead, he ends up in a motel room with a fatal bullet wound to the head and a suicide note stuffed in his back pocket.

    Working the case, LAPD detective Harry Bosch is reminded of the primal police rule he learned long ago: don't look for the facts, but the glue that holds them together.

    Soon Harry's making some very dangerous connections, starting with a dead cop and leading to a bloody string of murders that wind from Hollywood Boulevard to the back alleys south of the border. Now this battle-scarred veteran will find himself in the center of a complex and deadly game - one in which he may be the next and likeliest victim.

    I read this as an audio book, the narrator is Dick Hill - who also does the Wallander books.  The similarities between Kurt Wallander and Harry Bosch are cliched.  Shall I name the cliches?  I think I shall.

    Slightly depressed cop/detective

    Busted in rank/and or disciplined

    Sleeps with the grieving widow

    Sleeps with the hot coroner

    Disregards authority

    Authority doesn't know their ass from their head so it's okay to disregard them

    Does things his own way because authority doesn't know their ass from their head

    Keeps secrets

    And surprise! Pisses everyone off and always right.

    I think I nailed them all. 

    Now that I have that off my chest, this was a moderately interesting mystery that bounced between LA and Mexico.  This wasn't so much about the drug trade as the title implies, but crooked cops and drug lords.  There was one OMG! moment that I can't talk about, but relates to the rest of the series.  Now that was cool.  But I can't talk about it.   Unfortunately, one OMG moment cannot carry a plot, and the cliches were rolled out like the actors at a Hollywood red carpet event. 

    Despite my complaints with book two, I will read (via audio book) the next in line.  I have an objective here that relates to the OMG! moment, but which I cannot speak of.  Oddly, the mystery that really isn't is what is keeping my attention in this series so far. 

    So, recommended with reservations.

    View all my reviews

    Monday, February 3, 2014

    Recipe Review from 1/27/2014

    Another week that started out bitterly cold, like -22* with a -40* windchills and ended bitterly cold.   Not complaining though, better than the freak snowstorm that hit the southeast corner of the states.

    Pups are getting cabin fever - Tuesday night I bundled myself up and took them out back for a 20 minute snowshoe.  Wednesday bundled up and went down to the lake for a solid 30 minute run (well, then ran, I walked).   Didn't help.  Ben-pup was still misbehaving in boredom - he wants to be outside freezing his paws while eating yucky things.   I don't want him eating yucky things.

    One fun adventure to report on: the Sea Caves on Wisconsin's Bayfield Peninsula in the Apostle Island National Lakeshore are accessible this year.   We bundled up the pups on Sunday and day tripped over - really, a great opportunity and fun to do.  The sheer number of people walking out was astounding: we estimated at least 1000 people walking to/from and the Park Service folks said this was a "slow" day.   Everyone seemed really happy to be outside, enjoying the view.  Several people stopped to comment on our dogs and say 'hello' to the pups.  Pups were decked out in their neon orange booties and we heard more than one "Ohhh!  Lookit the booties!"  or "How do you keep them on their paws?"  It was well worth the drive and walk on a sunny and chilly Sunday!

    The Boat Access Point - Sea Caves in the distance. Tiny dots are people.

    Ice formation from water dripping of the stones.

    Rock and ice, icicles form from water moving through the rock.

    Looking out from one of the caves.

    Which brings me to last weeks meal plan:

    Sat - (L) leftovers   (S) American Legion Chili cook-off  (long story short: ended up being tomato soup and grilled cheese for supper, not much of a cook-off).
    Sun - (L) grilled cheese and soup  (S) Creamy Chicken Casserole   (made soup for lunches)
    Tues - Sloppy Joes on diced potatoes
    Wed - leftover chicken for me
    Thurs  -leftover sloppy joes
    Fri - leftovers

    Lunches - Slow Cooked Quinoa and Squash soup with crackers, fruit, luna bars and nuts

    Which came to three new dishes this week, two recommended, one with reservations.

    Creamy Chicken and Broccoli Casserole  (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2014)  gluten free option**
    This is very quick to assemble and tastes...well, hearty but not heavy.  My qualifier - I don't have a microwave so I had to steam/blanch the broccoli.  I also find it ridiculous to pay for prechopped/sliced things so I chopped my own onion as well as the mushrooms.  The mushrooms moreso because you can't really wash sliced mushrooms off and they are quite dirty.  Bleck.  A minor amount of prep time added - maybe 30-40 minutes to make from start to finish.  

    Otherwise - lovely, creamy, warm dish for a blustery cold evening.  Cheddar cheese adds a nice touch on top.  This made enough for three dinners for two of us. 
    • 1 (12-ounce) package steam-in-bag broccoli florets
    • 1 tablespoon canola oil
    • 1 cup prechopped onion 
      photo from
    • 2 (8-ounce) packages presliced mushrooms
    • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour**
    • 1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
    • 12 ounces chopped skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast (about 3 cups)
    • 1/2 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt 
    • 1/4 cup canola mayonnaise 
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup) 
    • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
    1. Preheat broiler.
    2. Prepare broccoli in microwave according to package directions.
    3. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and mushrooms; cook 12 minutes or until mushrooms brown and liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle mushroom mixture with flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in milk. Bring to a boil; cook 3 minutes or until thick and bubbly. Stir in broccoli and chicken; cook 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Stir in yogurt, mayonnaise, pepper, and salt. Top evenly with cheeses; broil 2 minutes.

    Sloppy Joe Pie  (Mpls Star Tribune, Jan 23, 2014)   gluten free option**
    I forgot to buy a pie crust and I forgot to by frozen corn.  I only had 1 pound of meat, not the 1 1/2 pounds called for.  So, I served over diced potatoes, I used mixed vegetables, and I cut back the ingredients to account for less meat.  Taste-wise, it turned out just fine, probably most comparable to a hamburger hash.  Husband liked it;  it wasn't my cuppa tea.  Tasted better as leftovers, but still not my thing. 

    Recipe Note:  This flaky, one-skillet savory pie isn't really a pie at all, in that it just has a top crust.  But no one will miss the buns, guaranteed.  Adapted from "The Big Book of Pies and Tarts". 

    1 refrigerated pie crust, softened as directed on box  **  (I substituted frozen, diced potatoes)
    1 1/2 lb bulk turkey or pork sausage  (I used venison)
    photo from Mpls Star Tribune 1/24/14

    1 medium onion, chopped (~1/2 cup)
    1 cup frozen corn, thawed  (I used mixed veggies)
    1 cup chunky-style salsa
    1/2 cup chili sauce
    2 tbsp packed brown sugar
    1 (4oz) can chopped green chilies  (I used 1/2 a can)
    2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro optional

    Heat oven to 450*.  Unroll pie crust on ungreased baking sheet.  With sharp knife, cut into a circle to fit the top of the pie pan.  Cut out squares for a checker board pattern.  If desired, place cutouts on crust to decorate, securing each with small amount of water.  Bake 9-11 minutes or until crust is light golden brown.

    In a 10" skillet, cook sausage and onion over medium high heat 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until sausage is no longer pink.  Stir in corn, salsa, chili sauce, brown sugar and chilies.  Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally, until corn is cooked and sauce is desired consistency.

    Stir in cilantro.  Place warm crust over top of skillet and serve.

    Quinoa and Squash Soup (Mpls Star Tribune, Jan 16, 2014)   gluten free, vegetarian option
    Combining three! of my favorite things: quinoa, squash and the slow cooker!   This dish is so easy as to be almost silly.  Chop, plop, cook, puree, eat.   Lovely flavors reminiscent of  Thai or maybe Moroccan cooking.  Ease off on the cayenne pepper or skip completely as this does lend some heat to the dish.  This made enough for four lunches for two of us for the week.  Absolutely perfect for cold weather yet eating light!

    Recipe note:  This recipe fits in a 4-5 1/2 qt slow cooker.  From the "Great American Slow Cooker Book" by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.  

    photo from Mpls Star Tribune 1/17/14
    5 c low-sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth   (I used 1 qt vegetable broth)
    4 cup (1 1/4lb) peeled, seeded and chopped butternut squash  (mine was about 2lbs)
    1 can coconut milk (light or regular)
    1 medium yellow onion, chopped
    3/4 cup white quinoa, rinsed (I had less than this so I used 4 cups broth)
    2 1/2 tsp curry powder
    3/4 tsp salt  (or to taste)
    about 1/2 tsp caynne (I used 1/4 tsp and I had plenty of zing!)
    plain yogurt and minced chives for garnish

    1. Mix the broth, squash, coconut milk, onion, quinoa, curry powder, salt and cayenne in the slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or until squash and quinoa are very tender. 
    2. Puree the soup. 
    3. Cover and cook on low another 15 minutes to heat through.  Garnish and serve. 

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