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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Gathering Prey by John Sandford (Davenport #25)

Gathering Prey (Lucas Davenport, #25)Gathering Prey by John Sandford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  They call them Travelers. They move from city to city, panhandling, committing no crimes—they just like to stay on the move. And now somebody is killing them.

Lucas Davenport’s adopted daughter, Letty, is home from college when she gets a phone call from a woman Traveler she’d befriended in San Francisco. The woman thinks somebody’s killing her friends, she’s afraid she knows who it is, and now her male companion has gone missing. She’s hiding out in North Dakota, and she doesn’t know what to do.

Letty tells Lucas she’s going to get her, and, though he suspects Letty’s getting played, he volunteers to go with her. When he hears the woman’s story, though, he begins to think there’s something in it. Little does he know. In the days to come, he will embark upon an odyssey through a subculture unlike any he has ever seen, a trip that will not only put the two of them in danger—but just may change the course of his life.

"Read" as an audiobook.

Gathering Prey starts strong, stays strong, and ends strong. The items below are my reflective of my personality quirks more than anything with the book.

I don't care for Lettie and I haven't since she was introduced. She plays a predominant role in this book, and I noticed there was speculation that the author might do a spin-off series featuring her. Now, she did provide a good contrast between her life of privilege - that of driving a Mercedes, the Neimann Marcus jeans, the unlimited American Express at REI - and the life of Skye, the life of a traveler, where you are busking for your next meal and sleeping in cars.

If you are on the squeamish side, this book begins with a rather major murder scene that sets the tone for the atrocities that Pilate and his Disciples participate in. This particular murder had me wincing a bit.

Remember, I'm 'reading' this as an audio book. I got fidgety about 2/3 of the way through, when Davenport is in the Upper Peninsula ('da Uoo Pee' for us locals). The book was building up to this point, the multi-state man hunt is starting to formulate and it was becoming a cat and mouse game between Davenport and Pilate. As I popped in disk #7 - with two more disks to go - I was getting to a serious, "Let's get on with it already!" attitude. The chase scene was more drawn out than I cared for.

The rather drawn out ending also felt a bit like a western of old with the big shoot out - the circle of wagons were drawn (in this case cars), everyone is hunkered down with guns in their homes (or the bar, with beer and brats), and now it's down to who has the most ammo.

I also found the foreshadowing rather obvious, and it was a matter of how long it would take for the anticipated event to unfold.

What wasn't lacking in this book was the wry wit, the dry sense of humor, the witty comments. There was just enough to offset the seriousness nature of the man hunt and the frustration against the bureaucracy. Davenports "fuck it" attitude is showing through and I almost like this laid back, "I don't give a shit" attitude.

Definitely recommended if you've read the first twenty-four books. Don't start with this one if you're new to the series.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 28, 2015

Recipe Review from 12/21/2015

Last week was a rather uneventful week all the way around.  Quiet at work, quiet at home.  I over planned slightly on the Meal Plan not realizing how much the Slow Cooker Enchilada dish was going to make.   A Roasted Red Pepper and Potato soup was pushed back to another day.

Next week, the Husband is on deck for meal planning!   We'll wrap up the year with a final recipe count and start fresh in 2016.   

The Meal Plan:
Sun (book group pm) (L) leftover bean soup  (S) Slow cooked chicken and quinoa enchiladas
Mon (yoga/Legion)   (S) leftovers
Tues -Fried Rice
Wed - leftovers
Thurs - Roasted Chicken, stuffing, veggies
Fri - leftovers
Sat - leftovers

Lunches - Slow cooker chicken and quinoa enchiladas

Slow cooker chicken and quinoa enchiladas  (Bobbi's Kozy Kitchen via Pinterest)  gluten free*
First, definitely watch the cooking times on this, especially if you know your cookers runs hot.  Mine overcooked by about half an hour.

Otherwise, assembly is very quick, the most time consuming bit frying the chicken (or turkey).   I did speculate using chicken thighs straight up, but decided to make recipe as written.  I think thighs would work fine.  While I don't care for ground meats, this worked okay for me because the ground meat texture was lost in the quinoa texture.  We did turn these into burritos for lunches, which worked well since they could be eaten warm or cold.   Recommended.

This made about 5+ lunches for two of us.  Perhaps closer to six lunches?  
photo from Bobbi's Kozy Kitchen Blog
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 can (15-ounce) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 can (15-ounce) diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped (depending o the heat level you want)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can (10-ounces) enchilada sauce (check for gluten)
  • 2 tablespoons Mexican chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

  1. In a large skillet, cook the ground chicken until no pink remains. Place in the slow cooker.
  2. Add in the uncooked quinoa, the black beans, frozen corn, diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, and jalapeno, water, enchilada sauce, chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 3 hours or until the liquid is all absorbed into the mixture.
  3. Remove the lid and stir everything again. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Stir in the half the cheese and sprinkle the other half on top. Replace the lid and let the cheese melt. Top with the chopped green onions and cilantro.

Fried Rice  (Gimme Some Oven by Pinterest)  gluten free, vegetarian optional
As long as you make the rice a day or so ahead of time, this comes together pretty quickly.  I will also note right upfront, use the LARGEST frying pan you have! My 12" was on the small side and the rice steamed more than toasted.

I also used one cup of frozen mixed veggies (peas, carrots, green beans and corn) in liu of the carrots and frozen peas.  I wanted to add some shrimp to this, but I didn't get home in time to thaw (and peel) the shrimp.

This tasted really good and how I like my fried rice.  It's a versatile recipe - add some ham/spam, some drained baby corn, pea pods, what have you to suit your tastebuds.   I strongly suspect I will be making this again.   Highly recommended.

  • 3 Tbsp. butter, divided
    photo from Gimme Some Oven blog
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups cooked and chilled rice (I prefer short-grain white rice)
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 Tbsp. soy sauce, or more to taste
  • 2 tsp. oyster sauce (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil

Heat 1/2 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until melted. Add egg, and cook until scrambled, stirring occasionally. Remove egg, and transfer to a separate plate.

Add an additional 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and heat until melted. Add carrots, onion, peas and garlic, and season with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes or until the onion and carrots are soft. 

Increase heat to high, add in the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter, and stir until melted. Immediately add the rice, green onions, soy sauce and oyster sauce (if using), and stir until combined. 

Continue stirring for an additional 3 minutes to fry the rice. Then add in the eggs and stir to combine. Add the sesame oil, stir to combine, and remove from heat.

Serve warm.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Crux by Ramez Naam (Nexus #2)

Crux (Nexus, #2)Crux by Ramez Naam

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Blurb:  Six months have passed since the release of Nexus 5. The world is a different, more dangerous place.

In the United States, the terrorists – or freedom fighters – of the Post-Human Liberation Front use Nexus to turn men and women into human time bombs aimed at the President and his allies. In Washington DC, a government scientist, secretly addicted to Nexus, uncovers more than he wants to know about the forces behind the assassinations, and finds himself in a maze with no way out.
In Thailand, Samantha Cataranes has found peace and contentment with a group of children born with Nexus in their brains. But when forces threaten to tear her new family apart, Sam will stop at absolutely nothing to protect the ones she holds dear.

In Vietnam, Kade and Feng are on the run from bounty hunters seeking the price on Kade’s head, from the CIA, and from forces that want to use the back door Kade has built into Nexus 5. Kade knows he must stop the terrorists misusing Nexus before they ignite a global war between human and posthuman. But to do so, he’ll need to stay alive and ahead of his pursuers.
And in Shanghai, a posthuman child named Ling Shu will go to dangerous and explosive lengths to free her uploaded mother from the grip of Chinese authorities.

The first blows in the war between human and posthuman have been struck. The world will never be the same.

Read for December book group. Book two in the Nexus Series.

Crux picks up right were Nexus leaves off. Our cast of characters has been scattered to the four winds: captured by the ERD, avoiding capture in China and Vietnam, entrenched in American politics, held captive in a tower in Saigon, and held captive in a sequestered computer system.
And, as with most middle books (Two Towers comes strongly to mind), this is a pure transition book. It's a matter of getting the characters in place for what's to come, the epic battle so to speak. And, as with transition books, we have the atrocities or moral high ground that drive everyone forward.

Crux does ask the moral questions; is something that can be used for so much good, worth the price of those who will use it for ill? If something like Nexus can help [autistic] children, monks, individuals become so much more, does the cost of people using it to control to rape, kill, maim and murder balance that goodness out? Who has the right to determine who is in the "right" and who is in the "wrong". Who gets to be judge, jury and executioner?

The book also touches on change and the fear of change. In many ways, this is a non-AI singularity event, an "uplifting" with out the help of an outside artificial intelligence, and, not surprisingly, much humanity doesn't accept that uplifting very well. With labels of 'post-human', monsters, purging, by those who fear this event, and transcendence by those who accept and embrace the new mind-state.

The book walks and interesting line between what is "right" and what is "wrong", what is moral, and what isn't. Through the plot, the author asks the question who defines that morality? Is the use of the Nexus okay to stop the use of Nexus? Where or when is it okay to use the Nexus to torture those who also have Nexus, forcing them to self purge the system? Who decides who's the 'good guy' and who's the 'bad guy'? Does anyone have that right?

Crux really is a battle of wills being fought by people who truly believe they are in the right, that they know best for everyone else. Hmm...not unlike many current events today.

My one (small) complaint with the book was the overall plot structure followed a similar format to book one. Establish characters, move characters around, heavy on the climatic guns blazing action scene at the end.

Otherwise, highly recommended. A solid follow-up to Nexus and a book that gives a person pause for thought.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 21, 2015

Recipe Review from 12/14/2015

The big news from this past week is our new fridge arrived!  The delivery guys were awesome about getting that behemoth (it's by no means the largest fridge out there, just big to me) into our small house. New fridge looks absolutely fantastic, I love the side by side and water/ice dispenser, and it really pulls the whole remodel together.  I'd post a picture, but my phone doesn't seem to want to talk to my computer. (Now posted below!! 12/23/15)

The other big news, but not picture worthy is the new washer was delivered the same day.  Our former washer decided to stop working Thanksgiving weekend, a repair woman inspected the machine a week later and gave it last rites.  I went back to the same place I got the refrigerator, ordered a wash machine, and arranged delivery for the same day.  After three weeks of hitting the laundromat or borrowing the Folks machine it was super nice to have access to my own washer again.

And in between that excitement, I made a few meals:

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L)  Slow Cook Chicken and Stuffing  (S)  Butternut Alfredo Pasta
Mon (yoga)  leftovers
Tues (fridge/washer) leftovers
Wed - Slow cooked Sausage and Bean Soup
Thurs (yoga) - leftovers
Fri - leftovers
Sat - Christmas with the Family

Lunches - sandwiches, crackers, fruit, yogurt, luna bars...the usual

Crockpot Chicken and Stuffing  (The Cozy Cook via Pinterest)
After being overly ambitious the week before in my meal planning, I wanted some simple dishes.  The chop, plop, and walk away kind.  This fit the bill...mostly.  I struggled with the cream-of-soup, and after reading through some of the comments, I subbed a can of mushroom gravy.  Not sure if I traded one "evil" for another... 

I also used one smaller pkg of chicken thighs (only 4/pk, not the usual 6/pkg).

photo from The Cozy Cook blog
  • 1(10.5) ounce can of cream of chicken soup (or use cream of mushroom soup, it’s less salty)
  • 8 oz. sour cream
  • 1 (6 oz.) box Stove Top stuffing mix*
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 (16 oz.) bag frozen green beans
  • 3-4 large chicken breasts, salted and peppered if desired.

Place the chicken on the bottom of the crock pot.

Mix together the soup, sour cream, stuffing, half of the water, and place over the chicken.

Place the string beans either on one side of the crock pot or over the stuffing. You'll want to mix the stuffing periodically if possible- I don't mind mixing the string beans in with the stuffing but if you'd prefer that they remain separate, place the string beans more to the side.

Cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 6-7.

*No need to cook the stuffing mix prior to adding to crock pot

Author notes:
I like to try to mix the stuffing periodically if I can, just to keep it blended and to mix the moisture around. If the stuffing seems too moist for your liking, leave the lid off the crock pot for the last 30-40 minutes of cooking, or until your desired consistency is achieved.

I love adding diced sausage, onions, and celery to my stuffing- even dried cranberries are delicious! You can also add onion tops toward the end of the cooking process- (YUM.)

This meal is delicious with some whipped potatoes prepared on the stovetop! 

Butternut Alfredo Pasta  (Joyful Healthy Eats via Pinterest)  gluten free and vegetarian option
This came together fairly quickly - helped along because my squash was already pre-cut and just needed to be pulled out of the freezer.

Just a couple of noteables - I chopped and fried the bacon first, removed from pan and set aside.  Then I sauted the onion in 1 tsp-ish of the rendered bacon fat (having drained off any excess) and proceeded from there.  Seemed silly to dirty another pan when I could use the bacon for some flavoring.  I also used 1 lb of regular pasta - in fact, I used 1/2 lb of elbows and 1/2 lb of rotini.  A bit of pantry reduction.  Worked just fine.

This turns out creamy, savory, and darn delicious!  Made enough for two meals for two of us.  
  • 4 strips of applewood bacon**  (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
    Photo from Joyful Healthy Eats blog
  • 1 cup diced red onion (I used regular)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 cups butternut squash cubes
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken stock
  • 1½ tablespoon diced fresh sage (I used 1 tsp dried)
  • 1½ tablespoon diced fresh thyme (I used 1 tsp dried)
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • salt to taste
  • 2 lb. gluten free pasta (author used quinoa pasta)  (I used 1 lb regular pasta)

In a large skillet add the butter and red onion. Saute until slightly soft, about 1-2 minutes.

Next add in the garlic, saute for 30 seconds, stir and add the butternut squash, chicken stock, sage, and thyme. Stir and cover. Cook until the butternut squash is fork tender, about 8-10 minutes.

When the squash is tender, add the squash to a food processor along with the milk and salt to taste. Puree until smooth.

In the meantime heat a small skillet to medium high heat, add the diced bacon to the pan and saute until the bacon is crispy. About 4-5 minutes. When the bacon is done, place it on a paper towel lined plate to let the grease drain.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add gluten free pasta, cook according to directions, (6-8 minutes) do not overcook.

Drain pasta and add butternut squash sauce to the pasta, gently toss together and top with crispy bacon. Serve!

Slow Cooked Sausage and Bean Soup (Betty Crocker via Pinterest)   gluten free
This is super easy and hits the spot on a damp, cold, Fall or Winter day.   Easy enough that it could be assembled in the morning before heading out for work - assuming you're an early riser.  Otherwise, make the night before and toss into the fridge before you head out for the day.  Nicely flavored, good balance between meat, beans and veggies.  Good with a bit of crusty bread to sop up last bit of soup in bowl.

Made enough for four meals for two people. 

Photo from
  • 1 lb small red potatoes, each cut into 8 pieces (about 3 cups) 
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced (2 cups)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup) 
  • 1 medium stalk celery, sliced (1/2 cup)
  • 2 cans (15 oz each) navy or cannellini beans, drained, rinsed (I used two 16oz can beans)
  • 1 carton (32 oz) Progresso™ chicken broth (4 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves 
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1lb fully cooked kielbasa sausage, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1/4-inch slices 
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


  Spray 3- to 4-quart slow cooker with cooking spray. In cooker, mix all ingredients except sausage and parsley.
Cover; cook on Low heat setting 8 to 9 hours.
Stir in sausage and parsley. Cover; cook on Low heat setting 30 minutes longer or until sausage is hot.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Recipe review from 12/7/2015

It rained.  Then it snowed.  Then it got warmish (33*).  And misted a bit more.  Misting this morning in fact.  While this is causing the skiers, snowboarders, snowmobiler's, and outside hockey rinks angst, I'm quite happy with the weather. 

The somewhat ambitious Meal Plan:
Sun (L)  Pea Soup   (S)  Spaghetti Squash Lasagna
Mon (yoga)  leftoverws
Tues - leftovers
Wed - [Bison] Taco Dish
Thurs (yoga)  pasty
Fri (yoga)  pasty

Lunches - White chili, Fritos, luna bars, yogurt, fruit...the usual

Ground Beef Taco Skillet  (FitMom blog via Pinterest)
I have to admit, I didn't care for this, and the reason why is I just don't care for ground beef/bison.  It's a personal thing, not a recipe thing.   The Husband, however, enjoyed this.   This is super quick, prep to table in about 30-40 minutes.  Flavoring is about perfect, but we would have preferred a tich more heat.  This would be a good dish for little tastebuds because there's not a lot of heat or spice seasonings.  

I served this with a side of spinach and homegrown sprouts, with salsa as the dressing. This would also be good over rice or in soft taco shells. 

1 lb lean ground beef  (I used bison)
photo from FitMom blog
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow and/or 1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large zucchini, quartered and sliced
½ red onion, diced
1 can of diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes, drained
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp chili powder
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
Fresh cilantro, chopped, to taste
optional 1 can diced green chilis (if you like spicy!)
  1. In a 12" skillet, break up and brown ground beef, drain excess fat once beef is browned.
  2. Add in veggies and seasonings and cook until onions are translucent.
  3. Top evenly with cheese and cilantro
Serving Suggestions
Serve over brown rice or in a whole wheat tortilla (add 1 yellow for 21 Day Fix)
Top with hot sauce

Pea Soup with Shrimp and Pepper Confit   (adapted from Nic Stellino, PBS Create)
Sometime after we moved back into the house and sometime after we finally hooked the TV back up (which was actually a period of several months), I caught a marathon on PBS Create.  Loved the show!  Most of the recipes I caught were actually approachable and doable by the average person.   First one I went off and tried was a variation of his creamy mac and cheese with shrimp.  Omg.  Yum!

Then I caught the soup episode, which I've linked to above.  I could do these recipes.  The fanciest thing he used was an immersion blender.  The most complicated ingredient - maybe the shrimp.   The most difficult technique, none - it's all basic kitchen skills of chopping, sauteing and simmering.

I noted the ingredients and I made the pea soup with a couple of modifications.   Note, amounts are approximate and you can increase or decrease to taste.  This made enough for two meals for two of us, and one more bowl as leftover.  It will depend on how "soupy" you like your mixture. 

1/2 cup onions, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup carrots, diced

1/8 - 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2- 1 tsp dried thyme

1-2  cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/8 cup brandy, sherry, marsala, OR sweet wine

10oz-1lb peas (frozen works just fine)
1 quart chicken stock

1/2 cup chopped bacon (about 2 slices)
1/2 cup chopped shrimp
1/4 cup yellow peppers
1/4 cup red peppers
1/2 cup onion
1 clove garlic, chopped

1.  Heat oil in a small or medium stock pot over medium high heat.  Saute onions, celery and carrots until slightly softened but not browned.

2. Add red pepper flakes and thyme, saute 30 seconds.

3. Add garlic.  Saute 1 minute (don't burn)

4.  Add [brandy] and reduced to a glaze.  (This took less than a minute)

5.  Add peas and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil and simmer 45 minutes.  With an immersion blender, blend to a "perfect" consistency (what ever that might be for you).   **For Nic, it was well pureed, then pushed through a strainer to get out any overly lumpy bits, and then simmered a bit more.  I skipped that bit. 

6.  For the Confit:  Cook bacon until crispy but not burned.  Remove from pan, and set aside.  Drain out excess bacon fat leaving about 2 tsp.  Add peppers, onion and garlic, saute until lightly softened but not browned.  Add shrimp, saute until just cooked, about 1-2 minutes.  Add bacon back in.

7,  Ladle soup into bowls, dollup with confit mixture, and add a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve!

White Chili [with Avocado Cream]  (Ckng Lght Oct 2015) 
This was lunches for the week.  A bit putzy to toss together - it will definitely consume an hour or more including clean up.  Don't skip the cilantro if possible.  I forgot to add it early in the week, came back and did so, and it really makes a difference.   I did skip the avocado cream because I didn't want to futz with another container in the lunch box. 

Overall, pretty good.  Now, I say this knowing that I'm not overly wild about ground meats.  The Husband was quite happy.  I would also up the spice/heat a bit if you are a hot head.  I did find this a tich on the bland side.  With the avocado cream topping, this would be good for company and could easily be made ahead of time for such an occasion. 

1 serrano chile
1 jalapeño pepper
1 medium onion, peeled and halved 
4 cups unsalted chicken stock, divided 
photo from
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 teaspoons adobo sauce
1 chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce
2 (15-ounce) cans unsalted cannellini beans, rinsed, drained, and divided
5 1/2 teaspoons olive oil 
8 garlic cloves, minced 
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 pound ground pork
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used 1.75 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs)
3 cups fresh white corn kernels 
1 (15-ounce) can unsalted chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 cup half-and-half 
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, divided
1 tsp kosher salt
1 medium ripe peeled avocado 
1/3 cup light sour cream 
3/4 cup diced tomatillo
1. Preheat broiler to high.

2. Arrange first 3 ingredients on a foil-lined baking sheet. Coat with cooking spray. Place pan on middle oven rack; broil 15 minutes or until charred on all sides, turning occasionally. Wrap peppers in foil; let stand 5 minutes. Peel peppers; discard peels, stems, and seeds. Combine peppers, onion, 1/2 cup stock, flour, adobo sauce, chipotle, and 1 can cannellini beans in a blender; process until smooth.

3. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Add cumin, oregano, and coriander to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Add pork; cook 4 minutes, stirring to crumble. Stir in onion mixture and remaining 3 1/2 cups stock. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Add chicken to pan; cook 5 minutes. Stir in remaining can of cannellini beans, corn, and chickpeas; cook 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in half-and-half, 1/2 cup cilantro, and 1/3 cup juice; cook 3 minutes. Stir in 2 1/4 teaspoons salt.

5. OPTIONAL.  Place avocado in a small bowl; mash with the back of a fork. Stir in sour cream, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons juice, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt. Serve chili with remaining 1/4 cup cilantro, avocado cream, and tomatillo.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna (Ckng Lght, Dec 2015)  gluten free, vegetarian option
Noting up front, this is a weekend dish and plan on about two hours from start to finish, including clean-up.  

What I liked about this dish was it was a riff more on a baked spaghetti than lasagna.  The squash flavors work well with Italian, and I liked adding the cheeses to make it a bit more substantial than straight up "spaghetti".   What I didn't care for was the prep time, but, I knew that going in. 

DON'T skip the squishing the water out of the squash bit otherwise you will end up with spaghetti soup.  And if you sub mushrooms like I did, make sure to saute until the majority of the water has bubbled out.

This made enough for two meals for two of us.   Leftover "boat", is easily stored in the fridge and just scoop out filling before reheating. 
  • 2 small spaghetti squash (about 1½ pounds each)   (I used one large squash, weight unknown, but it was big)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 (8-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
  • ½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese  (I used cottage cheese)
  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about ½ cup), divided  (I used fresh mozzarella because I had some to use up)
  • 8 ounces 93% lean ground turkey  (I used 80z cremini mushrooms, stems removed, and coarsely chopped)
  • 1½ cups lower-sodium marinara sauce (such as Dell'Amore)
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about ¼ cup)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Cut each squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds; discard. Place squash halves, cut sides up, on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 50 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Scrape inside of squash with a fork to remove spaghetti-like strands. Place strands on a clean dish towel; squeeze until barely moist.
  3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add garlic; cook 30 seconds. Add spinach; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Remove from heat. Combine spinach mixture, squash strands, ricotta cheese, salt, and half of mozzarella cheese in a medium bowl.
  4. Return skillet to medium-high heat. Add turkey to pan; cook 4 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Add marinara sauce; cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Increase oven temperature to 425°.
  6. Spoon sauce evenly into the bottom of each squash half. Top evenly with squash mixture. Sprinkle evenly with remaining mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese. Bake at 425° for 20 minutes.
  7. Preheat broiler to high (keep squash in oven). Broil squash 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese is golden brown and bubbly. Remove from oven; let stand 10 minutes. 
photo from


Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly (Bosch #14/Haller #2)

The Brass Verdict (Harry Bosch, #14; Mickey Haller, #2)The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Things are finally looking up for defense attorney Mickey Haller. After two years of wrong turns, Haller is back in the courtroom. When Hollywood lawyer Jerry Vincent is murdered, Haller inherits his biggest case yet: the defense of Walter Elliott, a prominent studio executive accused of murdering his wife and her lover. But as Haller prepares for the case that could launch him into the big time, he learns that Vincent's killer may be coming for him next.

Enter Harry Bosch. Determined to find Vincent's killer, he is not opposed to using Haller as bait. But as danger mounts and the stakes rise, these two loners realize their only choice is to work together.

Read as an audio book. Whereupon starting disk #4 I discovered the disc was totally busted! GAH! People! If a disk is broken, LET THE LIBRARY KNOW! Sheesh.

Okay, rant over. After a four week wait, I was able pick up where I left off.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will say the narrator brought so much life to the characters. Great voice, intonation and inflection.

Brass Verdict had more twists and turns than the Pacific Coast highway. Just when I thought I had things figured out, I would be surprised (and delighted) by another twist in the plot.

After a year's absence recovering from a gun shot wound to the gut and a subsequent painkiller addiction, Mickey finds himself heir to a cohorts law firm and cases. This might be the break Mikey is looking for - an established practice complete with a "franchise" case. The cash-cow in this situation being the famous director, Walter Elliot. Walter is accused of murdering his wife and wifes paramour.

What happens during the course of the trial, is Mikey finds out waaayyy more than he should about his client, and those revelations shake his beliefs to the core.

Haller also finds himself butting heads with Detective Harry Bosch, who seems convinced that Haller isn't as innocent as he seems in the sudden acquisition of the law firm and it's cases. Bosch is true to form, and is a arrogant, pushy ass. Bosch can't seem to accept that Mickey doesn't know what the heck is going on with the newly acquired cases, and that Mickey will defend and protect the client-council privileged.

As the Walter Elliot trial moves forward, the reader is brought along for one heck of a ride.

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Recipe Review from 11/30/15

Oi.  What a week.  We had a service man out for the well because the water pressure in the house has been all over the place.  Come to find out it was the clogged filter on the new in-house water filter we had installed back in June.  Thought those were supposed to last a year...nope.  Only 3-4 months.  Easy fix.

We had a service fellow out for the furnace because something was smelling funky.  Called my propane provider to do a service check and describe the problem...nope!  It's a heat exchange and you need to call the installer.  Call the installer, they whine and snivel and blame the oil provider but ultimately get me on the schedule.  But then the part doesn't come in so they cancel.  But then the part shows up via speedy delivery three hours later so we're back on.  And ultimately it wasn't even the heat exchanger but rusty nozzles!!  Urk.  But, furnace is running better, which is all that matters.

THEN the wash machine broke.  Service woman pokes around underneath, runs the machine, hooks gizmos up and calls me down to the basement.  Not good news.  Give the machine last rites and get a new one.

Which I did on Saturday after spending two hours at the laundromat.   The good news there is they can deliver it on the same day as my new fridge, thus saving us from an extra delivery charge and from having to take two days off.

And in between alllll of that, I made a few new recipes.  

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L)  leftover meatloaf and potatoes  (S) leftover spicy veggie hash
Mon (yoga) leftover butnut rice pilaf and green beans
Tues - Butternut Squash Tart
Wed -Fried rice and (spam)
Thurs (lunch with friend/yoga pm) - leftovers
Fri - (Virginia) leftovers
Sat (both out)      (S) ??

Lunches - Root vegetable and lentil soup, bread, luna bars, yogurt, fruit

Chard-Studded Root Vegetable and Lentil Soup (Vegetarian Slow Cooker)  vegetarian, gluten free
I have a feeling I made this before.  I also have a feeling I made this before and didn't care for it then.  Husband and I didn't care for it now.  So I will make a note in the cookbook accordingly this time and highlight it in yellow. 

This had the potential to be good - it has ingredients I like with the lentils, carrots, celery, onion, potato and Swiss Chard.  But something was lacking and I can't put my finger on exactly what -maybe more root vegetables?  It might be the shredded potatoes would have been better cubed.  Perhaps spinach instead of the more bitter Swiss chard (or perhaps I should have blanched or pre-cooked the chard a bit?).  And the broth comes out looking like dirty dishwater and tasted not much better.

Not recommended without significant tweaking. 

1 onion, diced
4 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp cracked black peppercorns
1 cup lentils (brown or green)
6 cups vegetable broth
1 potato, shredded
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, dissolved in 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 cups packed, shredded swiss chard, stems removed

6 cups water (I used chicken broth)
5 cups Swiss Chard, stems removed and thinly sliced

Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard Tart with Olive Oil Crust (Ckng Light, Dec 2015)   vegetarian
NOT recommended for a weeknight dish, but due to overly ambitious meal planning, this ended up as a weeknight dish.  This is a solid 2 hours from start to table, including washing dishes.   Now, I did save some time by having my squash  pre-chopped, so I could pop the squash and crust into the oven at the same time.  That helped a lot.  While squash and crust cooked, I prepped the rest of the filling.  When everything was in the oven for the final 30 minutes of baking, I washed dishes and set the table.

RECOMMENDED as a dish however.  This was very tasty.  My one complaint (other than the prep time) is the crust does need a bit more oil than called for - or some additional pinenuts.  While the crust held together, I had predominant "flour" taste that I didn't care for. 

I only had one minor substitution - I had half chard/half spinach.  

Cooking Light is being REALLY pokey about putting their recipes on the website, and this one is just too long to type out.  I'll try to remember to come back and post, but if not,

Fried Rice with Crispy Spam  (Ckng Lght, Dec 2015) vegetarian option**
Yes, you read that correctly.  Spam.   Note: original recipe doesn't call for Spam, but for ham.  I didn't want to buy 2oz of ham when I had a can of Spam in the cupboard.  Yes.  I eat Spam.  I like Spam a lot in fact.  It's a nice change from sausage and bacon on Pancake Sundays.  And I felt the flavor of Spam would work perfectly in this dish, which it did. 

So.  Now that you've gotten over your shock, I'll move on.   The other thing of note is I have no idea where a person would get pre-prepared boxes of rice.   My recommendation - make the rice a day or two in advance.  It makes for a better fried rice.  Which is what I did.

2 1/2 tbsp dark sesame oil, divided
2 oz ham, diced (I used Spam)
4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup (1/2 inch) sliced green onion
1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed
1 (6 oz) pkg fresh spinach
2 (8.8 packages) pre-cooked brown rice
2 tbsp soy sauce

1.  Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 1 1/2 tsp oil to pan and swirl to coat. Add ham, cook three minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally.  Remove from pan and set aside.

2. Add 1 1/2 tsp oil to pan, swirl to coat.  Add eggs; cook 1 minute or until soft-scrambled, stirring constantly.  Place eggs in a large bowl and set aside.

3.  Add 1 1/2 tsp oil to pan, swirl to coat.  Add onions, saute 1 minute.  Add edamame and spinach; cover and cook 2 1/2 minutes or until spinach wilts, stirring occasionally.  Add vegetable mixture to eggs in bowl. 

4.  (IF using pre-prepared rice)  Knead rice packages to separate rice.  Add remaining 1 tbsp oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add rice, stir to coat.  Pat rice down into an even layer and cook three minutes.  Stir rice, pat rice down into an even layer, and cook additional 3 minutes.  (MY NOTES - I had to stir constantly to prevent sticking with my homemade rice)

5.  Stir in egg-vegetable mixture with soy sauce.  Sprinkle with ham.

Serves 4. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein

Saturn RunSaturn Run by John Sandford

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: The year is 2066. A Caltech intern inadvertently notices an anomaly from a space telescope—something is approaching Saturn, and decelerating. Space objects don’t decelerate. Spaceships do.

A flurry of top-level government meetings produces the inescapable conclusion: Whatever built that ship is at least one hundred years ahead in hard and soft technology, and whoever can get their hands on it exclusively and bring it back will have an advantage so large, no other nation can compete. A conclusion the Chinese definitely agree with when they find out.

The race is on, and an remarkable adventure begins—an epic tale of courage, treachery, resourcefulness, secrets, surprises, and astonishing human and technological discovery, as the members of a hastily thrown-together crew find their strength and wits tested against adversaries both of this earth and beyond. What happens is nothing like you expect—and everything you could want from one of the world’s greatest masters of suspense.

Read as an audiobook. Narrated by Eric Conger, who has also read the Virgil Flower's series by John Sandford. I absolutely love Conger's voice, but for the first half hour or so my brain kept trying to stick Virgil in space, which gave me the giggles big time. Which meant I had to re-listen to the first 30 minutes. Which wasn't helped by Sanders - Sandy - Darlington kinda looking and acting like Virgil.

So I didn't get off to a good start on this book and I still get the giggles.

The library also had this advertised as an 8 disk set. Imagine my surprise when it showed up as 13 disks. And only two weeks to "read" - I had to upload it to my iPod to finish it.

This next complaint is totally my quirk - there was too much scientific exposition in the first half of the book. One of my issues with some scifi is the author(s) spend a great deal of time telling me how a heating exchange unit works, and how the reactor is going to vent heat into space where the particulates will be captured and recycled and so on and so forth. So I found a goodly portion of this book reading like a science manual with a thin veneer of fiction. It was a matter of letting the words wash over me as the brain checked out.

Ultimately, I found this to be a tedious read. More than once I thought about just ending the book as I never really did find myself engaged. I didn't care who got to Saturn first. I didn't care if they got home. I didn't care what the Chinese did or didn't do to the Americans. When the Nixon suffered her first personnel loss, I was ambivalent. So the Chinese were plotting to take over the Nixon - go for it, it would make the story more interesting.

I, basically, just. didn't. care. for the entire first half of the book.

Then the next quarter of the book became moderately more interesting and I let the story spool out, finger hovering over the kill switch as I debated about sticking in a different audio book.

The last quarter of the book grabbed my attention and held it. This is where the story really culminated, where it finally hit its stride and it was running. There are some great twists and turns in those final chapters as everything plays out.

So I really don't know what to say about this book. I ran through the whole gamut from bored, to mediocre interest, to "that's cool"!    Was putting up with the tedious first half worth the ending?  Maybe?  It'll depend on if you like a lot of science in your fiction. 

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Recipe Review from 11/23/2015

This week lead into Turkey Day, which we celebrated with the Folks and youngest sister, her Husband and the nephew and niece.  My contribution was:  GF Pecan Tassies, Pumpkin pie, a no-bake Creamy Pumpkin Pie and the Butternut Wild Rice Pilaf that I cooked for potluck a couple weeks ago.  All tried and trues. 

Regular dinners were several quick meals that made a couple servings each.  I'd have to say, I'd recommended everything this go around.  Delish!   

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) leftovers   (S)  Roast Beast with potatoes
Mon (yoga/bkgrp/Legion)  leftovers, out
Tues - One pan pasta
Wed - leftovers
Thurs (L) clean out fridge leftovers   (S) Turkey Day!
Fri (L) pasty  (S) Mini BBQ meat loaves
Sat - (L) leftover meat loaves  (S)  Spicy Veggie Hash

Lunches - (The Husband)  Roast Beast   (Me)  Lentil and Squash Chili  (last week's recipe)

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes (The Spiffy Cookie via Pinterest) 
I made these for Pancake Sunday.  I was in the mood for waffles and pumpkin.  A quick google on Pinterest and this seemed like the recipe to make.  I did one thing different - I skipped whipping the egg white.  Yeah, it probably would have made the waffles a bit lighter and fluffier, but I wasn't in the mood for extra dishes.

Recipe did indeed make 6-8 waffles.  It will depend on your waffle iron and how thick or thin your batter is.   I had two waffles leftover that I tossed in the fridge for later in the week. 

I served these with banana slices, chopped pecans and maple syrup.  YUM! 

Yield: about 6 large

1 cup milk
1 egg, separated
Photo from
1/2 cup plain pureed pumpkin
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg

  1. Preheat waffle iron.
  2. In a large bowl, combine milk, egg yolk, pumpkin, vanilla, oil and brown sugar together. Place egg white in a separate smaller bowl and beat with a hand mixer until firm peaks form. Set aside. Pour in remaining dry ingredients to the wet and slowly incorporate. Fold egg whites into waffle batter.
  3. Spray waffle iron with non stick cooking spray. Pour about 1/2 cup of batter onto waffle iron. Close the top slowly. Cook about 2 minutes or until waffles are crispy. {I like crispy waffles, so I cook mine a little longer so they get a lot of color. You can cook yours how you like them.}
  4. Serve immediately with butter and maple syrup.

One Pan Pasta with Artichokes  (Ckng Light, Dec 2015)  vegetarian**
Sorry,  no link or pic for this dish.  Not yet posted on the Ckng Lght Website.  Magazine is out, recipes just aren't up yet as of 11/30. 

This was ready in about 20-30 minutes from start to table.  I'm not in a local that has access to fresh pasta, so I used some I found in the refrigerator section:  green vacuum sealed package by the ravioli and tortellini.

I also recently discovered that cottage cheese makes a most acceptable substitute for ricotta, so I did so in this dish.   I skipped the frozen artichokes and used canned.  There are small, fresh mozzarella balls that work perfectly for this.  I recommend those.

Overall, tasty.  Very tasty.  Highly recommended. 

Serves 4.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
8 oz mushrooms sliced or pre-sliced  (I used cremini)
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 1/2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups frozen artichoke quarters (I used one can, drained and rinsed)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 (14.5 oz) can unsalted fire-roasted tomatoes
1 (9 oz) package refrigerated fresh fettuccine
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta (I used cottage cheese)
3 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into small pieces
1/4 cup torn fresh basil

1. Preheat broiler to high.
2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil, swirl to coat.  Add onion, mushrooms, and garlic to pan;  cook 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add stock, artichokes, salt, pepper, tomatoes, and pasta to pan, and bring to a boil. Stir to combine.  Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes or until pasta is tender.  Dot pasta mixture with mozzarella and ricotta.
4.  Place pan under broiler.  Broil mixture 2 minutes or until cheese melts. Sprinkle evenly with basil. 

Mini BBQ Meat Loaves with Blue Cheese Smashed Potatoes (Ckng Light, Dec 2015)
Sorry,  no link or pic for this dish.  Not yet posted on the Ckng Lght Website.  Magazine is out, recipes just aren't up yet as of 11/30. 
A couple of substitutions/alterations:  I used 16oz buffalo instead of 8oz sirloin and 8oz Italian sausage and I skipped the green onions and added 2 cloves of garlic.  I also did 1 1/2 lbs potatoes instead of 1 lb.   Rest made as directed.

This actually came together as quickly as noted in about 40 minutes.  Potatoes and meat loaves can cook at the same time.  Now, I'm not a ground meat eater per se, but even I had to admit these were tasty.  I liked the smaller size and how crispy the outside turned out.     I would consider making these again, and would make them for company if I had some green veggies along side.

Serves 4.  

1 lb small red potatoes, cut into quarters (I used 1 1/2 lbs)
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk (I increased as necessary for creamy potatoes)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 oz blue cheese crumbles (ha! add's BLUE CHEESE!)

8 oz mild turkey Italian sausage **
8 oz 90% lean ground sirloin **
   ** I used 16 oz ground buffalo
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/4 cup whole-wheat panko
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup-lower sodium bbq sauce

1. Preheat oven to 350*

2 Place potatoes in a medium saucepan filled with water.  Bring to a boil; cook 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain, Return potatoes to pan.  Add buttermilk, salt and cheese; mash with a potato masher to desired consistency.  Keep warm.

3. Coat 8 muffin cups with cooking spray.  Combine sausage, sirloin, carrot, green onions, panko, black pepper, and egg in a large bowl, stirring just until combined.  Divide sausage mixture evenly among prepared cups.  Make a (1/2 inch deep) indentation in the center of each meatloaf with 2 tsp bbq sauce.  Cook for 15-20 minutes or until a thermometer inserted registers 160*.  Serve with potatoes.

Spicy Veggie Hash (Ckng Lght Dec 2015)  vegetarian
Given the amount of meat based dishes that show up this particular weekend (Thanksgiving), I needed something veggie to balance things out.  This looked tasty and was touted as quick to assemble.  And yes to both.

A couple of notables - I skipped the fresh oregano.  Seriously, I'm not paying $4.00 for a 1oz pkg of herbs.  I'll sub dried.   I also did a mass combine toward the end of this dish - I put the adobo sauce and black beans right over the potatoes, and once the green beans were cooked, I took the whole pot and tossed right over everything and gave it a good stir.   I served the tomato, cheese and seeds on the table so the Husband could top his own. 

This did turn out a bit on the spicy side which I attributed to the adobo.  Ease back if you and yours are not hot-heads.   The rest of the flavors are bright, creamy and perfect for a warm Fall vegetable dish. 

2 tbsp olive oil
3 cups diced peeled sweet potato (about 1 medium-large)
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
3/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cups water, divided (I used chicken stock)
1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
1 tbsp adobo sauce  (or to taste)
1 (15oz) can black beans rinsed and drained
2 oz (1/2 cup) queso fresco, crumbled  (I used goat cheese)
1/4 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds (I lightly roasted)
1 plum tomato, seeded and diced

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil to pan; swirl.  Add potato, oregano, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add cumin, cinnamon, red pepper, and garlic; cook 1 minute.  Add 1/2 cup water, cover, reduce heat and cook 5 minutes. Uncover and cook 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.

3. Bring remaining 3/4 cup water to a boil in a saucepan.  Add remaining 1/4 tsp salt and green beans, cook 4 minutes.  Stir in adobo sauce and black beans.  Place 1/2 cup potato mixture in each of 4 shallow bowls; top with 1/2 cup bean mixture, 2 tbsp cheese, 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds, and tbsp tomato.  Serves 4. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night ValeWelcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  From the creators of the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast comes an imaginative mystery of appearances and disappearances that is also a poignant look at the ways in which we all struggle to find matter where we live.

Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked "King City" by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Everything about him and his paper unsettles her, especially the fact that she can't seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City and the man in the tan jacket before she herself unravels.

Night Vale PTA treasurer Diane Crayton's son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane's started to see her son's father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier, when they were both teenagers. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.

Diane's search to reconnect with her son and Jackie's search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: "King City". It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures...if they can ever find it.

I am a HUGE Night Vale fan. Have been since the podcast hit the airwaves. So I was really looking forward to reading the book for book group.

The book, while embodying Night Vale, lacks something as the written word. This would be (and was from what I heard when I listened to the first chapter) probably better as audio. As a book...I lost interest in the characters and plot and ultimately, did not finish. I'm right about halfway through - I put it down one weekend and never went back to it.

My main contention was I didn't care about the characters. They did not engage me, they did not interest me. Jackie is running around with a piece of paper in her hand from the Man in a Tan Jacket with a Deerskin Suitcase. The paper says King City. Diane is trying to figure out how to communicate with her morphing teenage son Josh, while pursing her ex - Troy - who seems to be showing up all over town. Jackie and Diane are somehow linked, but you know what...I didn't care.

And that was the crux of my problem with the written book - it didn't engage me. I had no empathy for Diane and her son. I really wasn't interested in Jackie. The only folks I had any interest in were Old Woman Josie and the Erica's, the Vague yet Menacing Government Presence and Carlos.

All the components of Night Vale are there - the Vague yet Menacing Government Presence, the Hooded Figures, Cecil, Carlos and his gang of scientists, the interns at the radio station, The Glow Cloud (All Hail!), The City Council...every thing from the podcast makes an appearance.

But not as an engaging plot.

Again, this might be better as an audiobook - it is narrated by "Cecil" who has a fabulous voice. But written? Didn't work for me.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Recipe Review from 11/19/2015

Winter has arrived.  We had 12*F on the porch this fine Sunday morning.   A bit chilly for my tastes, but! on the positive side, a great excuse to stay inside, watch a bit of football, read and knit.  In between the laundry and general cleaning that is.    A week of decent dishes, all in all.  

The Meal Plan:
Sat (L) leftover soup  (S) prosciutto wrapped fish
Sun (L) leftover soup  (S)  baked spaghetti
Mon (yoga)  leftover spaghetti
Tues (PM yoga)  leftover spaghetti
Wed -leftover spaghetti
Thurs (yoga) Tacos!
Fri - leftover tacos!
Sat - Dublin's for lunch

Lunches - Leftover Tuscan Stew (previous post); then
Butternut squash chili,  cornbread muffins 

Baked Spaghetti (Simply Recipes via Pinterest)
I will say upfront, this is a weekend recipe.  There is nothing quick about this dish - expect at least an hour prep on top of an hour baking.  I did a couple of notable things:  I used hot Italian sausage because I like things with a bit more flavor zing.  I had some cottage cheese in the fridge so I used that instead of ricotta.  Some of the comments on Simply Recipes indicated this is a perfectly fine substitute, so what the heck?  Why not?

This could also be made meatless very easily by either dropping the meat completely, or dropping the meat and upping the mushrooms and adding some more veggies.

Overall, it was tasty, but I would have liked a bit more sauce to go with it.  It made good leftovers - very easy to reheat.  Again, I would have liked it a bit more saucy.  I would have an extra jar on hand to heat up and serve along side.  

There are a slew of assembly pictures and more notes on  Simply Recipes.

  • 3/4 lb vermicelli pasta or thin spaghetti (I used angel hair)
  • 1 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage (I used hot Italian)
  • 1/4 pound shiitake or cremini mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped, about 1 1/2 cups
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups or 24 ounces of marinara or meatless tomato sauce*
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil plus more for greasing the casserole dish
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese (I used cottage cheese)
  • 2-3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Put a large pot of water on the stove on high heat. Add salt to the water, about 2 Tbsp for 6 quarts of water. While the pasta water is heating, continue with the next steps.

2. Break up the sausage into clumps into a large sauté pan. Turn the heat on, to medium. Slowly cook the sausage, breaking it up into smaller pieces with the a wooden spoon. The slow cooking will help the fat render out. Cook until the sausage is cooked through, no longer pink anywhere, and lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain the fat from the pan (not into your sink or you may clog it!)

3. Add the chopped onions and mushrooms to the pan. Increase the heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent and the mushrooms have given up some of their liquid. Add the minced garlic and red chili pepper flakes, and cook a minute more.

4. Add the marinara sauce and the 1 1/2 cups of water to the pan with the onions and mushrooms. Add the sausage back to the pan.  Add the Italian seasoning and chopped parsley.  Bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to a very low simmer on the lowest simmer setting on your stovetop.  Cook for 10 to 15 minutes or so while you make the pasta.

5. By this time your pasta water in step one should be boiling. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, uncovered, at a rolling boil, for 5 to 6 minutes, al dente. Note that the pasta will continue to cook and absorb some of the sauce when it is in the casserole dish in the oven, so the pasta should be al dente. When ready, drain the pasta and rinse in cold water.

6. Place the cooled pasta in a large bowl.  Toss with olive oil, then the Parmesan, then 2 beaten eggs. It's easiest to do this with your (clean) hands.

7. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Rub the inside of a 13x9 inch casserole dish (a Pyrex dish works great) with olive oil. Spread 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of the casserole dish.

8. Place half of the pasta in an even layer in the casserole dish. Cover with half of the sauce. Then dot the sauce with all of the ricotta cheese. Sprinkle half of the Mozzarella over the ricotta layer. Layer again with the remaining pasta, the remaining sauce, and the remaining Mozzarella.

9. Cover with foil and bake for 40 min at 350°F. Remove the foil and bake an additional 20 minutes uncovered. Remove from oven and let rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

Lentil and Butternut Squash Chili  (Little Broken blog via Pinterest)  gluten free, vegetarian option*
Fairly quick to assemble, especially if you have the squash pre-chopped.  Which I did.   You could also use frozen pre-chopped squash - don't thaw before using, just add to pot and bring to a simmer.  While it doesn't "look" like a conventional chili, it certainly tastes like one.  I liked this a lot

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • medium onion, chopped
    photo from Little Broken Blog
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large bell pepper (any color), chopped
  • 2 cups dry brown lentils
  • 3 tsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. dry oregano
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 (14.5 oz.) cans [petite] diced tomatoes
  • 1 dry bay leaf
  • 7 cups chicken stock* 
  • 3 cups cubed butternut squash
  • 2 (15 oz.) cans pink beans or small red beans (I rinsed and drained, and added 1 extra cup of stock to mixture)
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper, as need
  1. In a 6-quart heavy duty stockpot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and chopped bell pepper; saute for 5-6 minutes or just until the vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add lentils, cumin, oregano, chili powder, and salt. Cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and stock. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered for 20 minutes or until lentils are soft around the edges but firm to bite. Add butternut squash and continue to simmer for 15 more minutes. Add beans and cook for additional 5 minutes or just until beans are heated through and squash knife tender.
  4. Discard the bay leaf. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust as needed.
  5. Serve hot with your favorite toppings, such as chopped fresh cilantro/parsley/chives/green onions, sour cream, shredded cheese, tortilla chips or chopped avocado.

Fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes (Ckng Lght Dec 2015)   vegetarian
Putsy.  This used three bowls for assembly: one for flour, one for buttermilk, one for egg whites.   Add in griddle pan, anything extra (sausage, bacon, eggs) and suddenly you have a sink full of dishes on a weekend morning. 

A decent pancake, but worth the egg white business?  Not in my opinion.  

3.5 oz white whole-wheat flour (about 3/4 cup)
3.4 oz all-purpose flour (about 3/4 cup)
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp salt  (seriously, who does 3/8's?)
1 1/2  cups low-fat buttermilk
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp canola oil
3 large egg whites

1.  Measure flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda into a large bow and stir with a wisk.

2. Combine buttermilk and yolks into a bowl;  stir with a whisk.  Gradually add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture; stir with a whisk just until moist (batter will be slightly lumpy).  Stir in oil.  Let stand 15 minutes.

3.  Place egg whites in a bowl; beat with a mixer until medium peeks form.  Spoon half of the egg whites into batter and gently fold in.  Add remaining egg whites; gently fold into batter.

4. Heat non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Spoon 3 tbsp batter per pancake onto griddle.  Cook 2 minutes or until edges begin to bubble and bottom is browned.  Turn cakes and cook 2 minutes more or until done. 

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