Search This Blog

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Prador Moon by Neal Asher (Polity #1)

Prador Moon  (Polity Universe, #1)Prador Moon by Neal Asher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  The Polity Collective is the pinnacle of space-faring civilization. Academic and insightful, its dominion stretches from Earth Central into the unfathomable reaches of the galactic void. But when the Polity finally encounters alien life in the form of massive, hostile, crab-like carnivores known as the Prador, there can be only one outcome — total warfare! Starships clash, planets fall, and space stations are overrun, but for Jebel Krong and Moria Salem, two unlikely heroes trapped at the center of the action, this war is far more than a mere clash of cultures, far more than technology versus brute force... this war is persona.

January's book group selection. Book one in the Polity series. 

I've already read Gridlinked, Line of the Polity, Brass Man, and Polity Agent, which are in the Agent Cormac series.  Polity comes before those in a loose timeline. 

This book starts off gripping, becomes thoroughly engaging, and is a lot like a twisty windy covered water slide: you know you're going somewhere fast, it's intense, and will end with a big Splash!

For starters, the Prador were some of the creepiest, nastiest aliens I have read about in a long time. I loved that they were crabby-things with a completely different social structure, drives and desires than your basic "humanoid" alien.

The plot was layered:  the main plot - the Prador want to take over the Polity Universe and the humans and human worlds (for food for themselves and possible slaves if they can get the biology figured out).  The anti-AI movement feels anything would be better than being subservient or ruled by the AI and are helping the Prador.  We have two characters who were giving non-Polity approved augmentations with incredible computing power: a protagonist and an antagonist.  Our hero, Jebel, having lost his love in the first attack, has become a Prador killing machine, and when everything comes down to the runcible gate at Trajeen, it becomes very interesting indeed. 

I really don't have much in the way for criticism, actually.  This is the kind of book I really like to read:  good aliens,  no love story, good pacing, interesting future technology that wasn't explained in excruciating detail, and can be read as a stand alone book. The plot and characters were well thought out and the world building solid and fascinating.  

This is the kind of book that would be great for traveling because it will keep you engaged during your two hour wait at the airport.  Or, keep up well past your bedtime.

Highly recommended. 

View all my reviews

Monday, January 26, 2015

Recipe Review from 1/20/2015

A rather uneventful week where our work schedules had me moving the meal plan around a bit.  I had to drop the slow cooked butternut squash risotto originally planned because we (oddly enough) didn't have the time for it.  It only cooks for three hours so a bit problematic if neither one of us are home. 

The three recipes we did make were all quite good, especially the ham soup.  Best I've ever made.

The Meal Plan:
Sun (L) soup and grilled cheese  (S) Veggified Spaghetti
Mon (yoga) grilled cheese
Tues -leftovers
Wed - (AM yoga) pasty with peas and gravy
Thurs (Grand Rapids/yoga) take n-bake pizza
Fri - Lemon Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl
Sat (L) leftovers

Lunches - Slow Cooker White Bean and Ham Soup

Slow Cooker White Bean and Ham Soup  (eHow Food Blog)
This was the inaugural use of our new 7 quart slow cooker and it worked splendidly.  Initially I thought it might even bee too be big for this dish, but it was perfect.  I loved the locking lid, I loved how the lid hinged, and the food was simmering quite nicely by late afternoon.

I did pre-cook my beans separately, and I recommend this method if you have hard water in your area.  I have a high calcium content in my water which is problematic, and I've solved the 'crunchy bean' dilemma by using filtered water and pre-soaking/cooking.  For this recipe I covered my beans in filtered water, added one bay leaf, brought to a boil, covered and walked away.  Two-three hours later I came back, drained and rinsed, and then added to the soup already in progress.  My beans turned out absolutely creamy.  Simple! Delicious!  

I'm not a big ham fan, but I have to say this was probably the best ham soup I've ever made.  Recommended!
  • 1 large ham bone
  • 1 cup chopped ham
  • 1 cup white onion, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. Great Northern beans, rinsed
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 12 ounces pale ale
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup fresh shaved parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup baby arugula
  1. In a large slow cooker stir together the ham bone, ham, white onion, celery, carrot, garlic, beans, broth and beer.
  2. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or until beans are tender.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Ladle into bowls, top with shaved Parmesan and baby arugula

Read more :

1 ham bone
1 cup chopped or diced ham (I used 1 lb because that's what I had frozen)
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb Great Northern Beans (not sure what variety I had - from last years garden)
6 cups chicken stock (I used duck stock)
12 oz pale ale (we used one of the husband's home brews, was not a pale ale)
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup fresh shaved Parmesan cheese (skipped because gets messy reheating in lunches)
1 cup fresh arugula

Put ham bone and next 9 ingredients (through salt and pepper) into slow cooker.  [Note: I sauted my aromatics first then put them in slow cooker.  Entirely optional.].  Cook on low 6-8 hours or until beans are tender.

Serve with shaved Parmesan and arugula if using.   

Note:  I have hard water, as do many places in the country.  Chicken stock tends to be high in sodium - even the "low sodium brand". Both of these factors can contribute to uncooked, crunchy beans.  To prevent this, I cooked my beans separately, then added partway through the slow cooking process.   This will affect how broth-y your final soup is, so adjust liquid accordingly if you want a less brothy soup. 

Whole Grain Spaghetti with Veggi-fied Meat Sauce (Ckng Lght, Jan/Feb 2015)  gluten free option
This was OUTSTANDING!  Seriously, really good.  I'm flagging this one and it might become my go-to spaghetti sauce.  Chunky, sauce-y, a bit zingy because I subbed mild Italian sausage for ground beef (bland, people! bland!) and I upped the red pepper flakes just a bit.  Other than the sausage swap for beef, I didn't change a thing.  This would be a perfect sauce for summer garden produce.

Go make it right now!

6 oz whole grain spaghetti (I used Barilla)
1 cup finely chopped onion
photo from

8 oz 93% lean ground beef (I used Italian sausage)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup finely chopped zucchini
8 oz cremini mushrooms, finely chopped
1 (14.5oz) can unsalted diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (I used Parmesan)

1) Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat.  Drain and keep warm.   (My notes - start pasta water after you start cooking sauce below.  Easier to let sauce sit and simmer than it is to keep pasta warm.)

2) While pasta cooks (see note above), heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Add onion, beef (or sausage), and garlic; cook four minutes, stirring to crumble beef (or sausage).  Add zucchini and mushroom; cook 10 minutes or until most of liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally.

3) Place tomatoes in a mini food processor, pulse four times until almost smooth.  Add tomato paste, oregano, and red pepper to pan; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in tomatoes; reduce heat and simmer five minutes or until slightly thickened.  Stir in salt/pepper to taste.  Serve sauce over pasta and top with cheese.

Lemon Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2015)  gluten free - watch the soy sauce!
This was fairly quick to make and I deviated from the original recipe a bit for simplicity.  My notes are written below because I still can't link to the original recipes (not posted as of this date).  I did use brown rice, though raman or soba noodles would also be tasty (but not gluten free).  I only had two chicken breasts, not the three called for.  If you double the sauce, it will easily accommodate four.

This was nicely tangy, I didn't add any sriracha sauce for heat, and this made for a well rounded weeknight meal. I  didn't find this lemony, which was fine. One could get fancy with the rice and make (or buy) stir fried rice, but I thought the sauce was tasty enough for plain.  Recommended.
photo from

Cook:  1 cup brown rice according to directions on package. 

Combine: 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce and 1/2 tsp cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a wisk.  In a small sauce pan, combine 2 tbsp dark brown sugar, 4 tsp mirin (sweet rice wine) (I used tequila)  and 2 tsp lemon juice.  Add soy sauce to sugar mixture and bring to a boil.  Cook until thickened, stirring frequently.

Prepare: Pound 3 (6oz) chicken breasts to 1/2" thickness, and season with salt and pepper.  Heat a large sauce pan to medium-high heat and drizzle with 2 tbsp oil.  Add chicken to pan, cooking 4 minutes each side or until done.  Drizzle each side with soy sauce mixture during cooking. Reserving 1 tbsp for serving. 

Prepare:  Veggie of choice (recipe called for broccolini).  I used zucchini and sauteed at same time as chicken. 

Serve:  Drizzle remaining soy sauce mixture over chicken, rice and veggie. 

  • 1 large ham bone
  • 1 cup chopped ham
  • 1 cup white onion, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. Great Northern beans, rinsed
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 12 ounces pale ale
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup fresh shaved parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup baby arugula
  1. In a large slow cooker stir together the ham bone, ham, white onion, celery, carrot, garlic, beans, broth and beer.
  2. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or until beans are tender.
  3. Salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Ladle into bowls, top with shaved Parmesan and baby arugula.

Read more :

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben (Myron Bolitar #7)

Darkest Fear (Myron Bolitar, #7)Darkest Fear by Harlan Coben

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: Myron Bolitar's father's recent heart attack brings Myron smack into a midlife encounter with issues of adulthood and mortality. And if that's not enough to turn his life upside down, the reappearance of his first serious girlfriend is. The basketball star turned sports agent, who does a little detecting when business is slow, is saddened by the news that Emily Downing's 13-year-old son is dying and desperately needs a bone marrow transplant; even if she did leave him for the man who destroyed his basketball career, he wouldn't wish tsuris like that on anyone. And he's not at all interested in getting involved with Emily again, not even to track down the one mysterious donor who may be able to save the boy. But when Myron learns that Jeremy Downing is his own son, conceived the night before Emily and Greg Downing married, he embarks on a search for someone who disappeared a lifetime ago. And what he finds leads him to a powerful family determined to keep an old secret, a disgraced reporter who may have plagiarized a novel to create a serial killer, a very interested FBI agent, and a missing child.

Read as an audiobook. This one left me scratching my head more than anything, after all was said and read.  It came across as jumbled, with too many competing plots and implausible scenario's.  The plots felt rushed, glossed over and overly complicated.

So, I'll try and elaborate with out too many spoilers - my main contention throughout the book was the journalist's - Sam Gibb's -  culpability.  He knew who the "Sow the Seeds" killer was.  Had always known.  Would he not be an accessory to murder on the grounds of aiding and abetting despite his "oath" to never reveal a source?  Thus, days later I found myself discussing the actions and culpability of this character with a lawyer friend of mine.  I had to know if what had happened, could actually happen and what the ramifications would be.  He pointed out that a sign of a good book or movie is one that you find yourself contemplating days later.  

My second contention was Big Reveal Number Three, with Myron, Win and the Suspect just sitting in a production booth talking about how it all came down. It was too much blah blah blah for me.  "You did this and you did that, we know the truth..."  Too much telling and not very interesting telling at that.

Despite my contentions, I still enjoyed this selection.  The topics of kidnapping, being manipulated, and the exploration of multiple father-son relationships were engaging enough to keep me popping in the next CD.  It is a fast "read", a mere 7 disks which is pretty short compared to the 12 and 13 disks I usually get.

Overall, recommended; especially if you've read previous Bolitar selections.

View all my reviews

Monday, January 19, 2015

Recipe Review from 1/12/15

An uneventful week overall.  Husband has started work with H&R block for tax season, my work has been busy which keeps me happy, a bit of yoga on the side and that's about it.   So I'll jump right into...

...The Meal Plan
Fri - Skillet Pizza
Sat (L) leftover Farmhouse Chowder Soup   (S)  Hosin-Lime Glazed Salmon
Sun (L) leftovers  (S)  Cuban Pork with Yellow Rice
Mon (yoga/Husband work mtg)  leftovers
Tues - Chicken Piccatta
Wed (AM yoga) - leftovers
Thurs (yoga) - leftovers
Fri - leftovers

Sausage and Kale Pesto Skillet Pizza  (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2015)  vegetarian option
This review was for the previous week's meals. I was hoping Cooking Light would have January/February's recipes posted by now, but they don't.  I'll try and remember to come back and put the links in along with some pictures. 

A couple of deviations from the original recipe - we made our own crust, and I omitted the sausage and used red pepper instead.  The downside to the homemade crust was it was definitely a Chicago Style and for a 10" skillet, too thick.  I started it on the stove and finished baking it in the oven for 20 minutes at 350*, rather than broil.

photo from
10 oz refrigerated fresh whole-wheat or whole grain pizza dough
3 oz pork Italian sausage, casings removed
3 oz curley Kale, chopped (about 3 tightly packed cups)
2 tbsp water
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds
2 large garlic cloves, minced and divided
1/4 cup EVOO, divided
1 oz Parmigaiano-Reggiano Cheese, grated (I used Parmesan)
2 oz shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 1/2 cup)

1, Place dough on counter at room temp; cover to prevent drying.

2. Preheat broiler to high.

3. Heat a 10" cast iron skillet over medium high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Add sausage; cook 3 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble.  Remove sausage casing from pan.  Add kale, 2 tbsp water and sugar to pan; cover and cook 2 minutes or until kale wilts.  Place kale on 2 layers of paper towels; squeeze out excess moisture.  Wipe pan clean with paper towels.

4.  Place nuts and 1 garlic clove into food processor; pulse until finely chopped.  Add 2 tbsp oil; process until almost pastelike (add 1 - 1 1/2tbsp water if necessary).  Add Parmesan; pulse until just combined.

5. Heat skillet over medium-high heat.  Roll dough into a 10 1/2" circle.  Add 1 tbsp oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Fit dough in pan. Top evenly with pesto; sprinkle with sausage and mozzarella.  Cook 2 minutes over medium-high heat or until browned on the bottom.  Place pan in the over; broil 2 minutes or until cheese melts.  Cut into 8 wedges and serve.   Serves 4 (2 slices each). 

Hoisin-Lime Glazed Salmon with Bok Choi Slaw (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2015)  gluten free** watch soy sauce and hoisin
Recipe called for 20 minutes from start to finish for this dish, I think I clocked it closer to 30 minutes, which is still really good for a very nice meal from start to plating.  The boc choy salad was crisp and refreshing, with just a bit of zing from the sriracha sauce.  Much to my surprise, the broiled salmon actually turned out!  I usually don't have much success with my broiler.  This time it worked perfectly, and the hoisin-lime glaze was seriously good.

What I liked most about this recipe was it used the Asian ingredients I already had on hand.  Hoisin sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce and sriracha.  The basics.  I also felt the glaze would be outstanding on chicken or pork, so you might see some variations on this down the road.

2 cups thinly sliced bok choy
1//2 cup grated carrot
photo from Scifi with Paprika blog
1/2 cup sliced red bell pepper
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp dark sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp Sriracha
1/2 cup dry roasted unsalted cashews
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp fresh lime juice (I used bottled)
1 garlic clove, grated
4 (6oz) salmon fillets (about 1" thick)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 cups hot cooked brown rice

1) Place bok choy and next five ingredients in a large bowl; toss to combine.  Sprinkle with cashews.

2) Place a jelly-roll pan on upper rack in oven.  Preheat broiler to high (leave pan in oven).

3) Combine hoisin, juice, and garlic in a small bowl.  Sprinkle salmon with salt, and lightly coat with cooking spray (I use olive oil).  Place salmon on preheated pan; broil 6 minutes.  Brush salmon with 1 1/2 tbsp hoisin mixture.  Broil an additional 2 minutes or until desired degree of doneness.  Brush salmon with remainder of sauce.  Serve with rice and slaw.

Charred Lemon Chicken Piccata  (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 2015)  gluten free option**
This felt just a wee bit putzy in the assembly - chop and set aside, pound and set aside, cook and set aside...  But the end result I have to say was really good.  Bright lemon flavor and tangy capers married with a bit of white wine and chicken stock, everything nicely seasoned with herbs.  This took about 45 minutes from start to end, about 10 minutes more than recipe had estimated. 

This would have been outstanding over some egg noodles, something to catch all that yummy sauce.  I served it with peas, which not only made a veggie serving, but the green was so nice and bright in the middle of winter.  Peas tasted really good in the sauce too. 

2 small lemons cut into thin rounds
4 garlic cloves, halved
4 (6oz) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded into 3/4" thickness
1/2 tsp salt, divided
photo from
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1 tsp grated shallot
1/2 tsp grated garlic
1 oregano sprig (I used 1/2 tsp dried oregano)
1 thyme sprig (I used 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
1/2 cup dry white wine  (Like a Pino Grigio)
1 cup unsalted chicken stock
1 tsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1) Combine lemon slices, sugar and garlic in a medium bowl.

2) Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add tsp oil, swirl to coat.  Add chicken to pan and cook 4 minutes on each side or until done.  Place chicken on a plate.  Add 1 tsp oil to pan; swirl to coat.  Add lemon mixture to pan; cook 1 minute or until lemon slices are lightly browned, turning occasionally.  Return lemon mixture to bowl.

3) Wipe pan with paper towels.  Heat pan over medium high heat.  Add 1 1/2 tsp butter to pan, swirl till butter melts.  Add shallot, 1/2 tsp grated garlic {and oregano and thyme sprigs if using} and cook 1 minute.  Add wine to pan, scraping to loosen browned bits.  Bring to a boil; cook 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates.  Add dash of salt, stock, flour [dried thyme and dried oregano], stirring with a wisk.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes or until liquid is reduced to about 2/3 cup.  Remove pan from heat {remove oregano and thyme sprigs if using}.  Stir in remaining butter and capers until butter melts.  Return chicken to pan with any juices and coat with sauce.  Serve. 

Cuban Ropa Vieja (modified; The Frugal Gourmet: Our Immigrant Ancestors)  gluten free
This was probably my least favorite meal of the week, and only because of the cut of meat I selected.  Talk about fatty! I don't recall ever seeing this much fat on a shoulder roast.   When I inquired at the grocery store what would make good pulled pork, the butcher recommended the Boston Butt or shoulder.  Well, the butt cuts were like 6lbs each and I only wanted 3lbs.  So I went with a shoulder.  Fatty. Fatty. Fatty.   Next time I'm heading to the meat market.

I also cooked this in the slow cooker for convenience, and that's reflected in the recipe below. 

1 - 3 1/2 lb beef chuck or pot roast (I used pork shoulder)
olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic; peeled and [cut into quarters]
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry wine

Rub meat with oil, salt and pepper.  With a sharp knife, poke small holes in meat and push quartered garlic into meat.  Heat a skillet over medium high heat and coat with cooking spray.  Sear meat on all sides.

Place sliced onions on bottom of slow cooker.  Place meat on top of onions.  Put more onions on top of meat.  Add 1/2 cup water.  Cover and cook 4-6 hours on high, or 6-8 hours on low.

Remove meat from juices; cool slightly, then shred.  Remove onions from juices and set aside.

In a skillet coated with cooking spray and heated to medium-high, lightly saute green pepper.  Add shredded meat, onions, tomato sauce, salt, wine and bay leaf.  Heat through and let simmer about 10-15 minutes.  Serve over Yellow Rice (below).

Yellow Rice (modified; The Frugal Gourmet: Our Immigrant Ancestors) vegetarian; gluten free
This came together very quickly using regular white rice, and it made a lot, which I really liked.  Flavor was good, peas and pepper added some bright color, and it was just...good comfort food.  

2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (I grate)
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp paprika
pinch saffron (or 1 tbsp Annatto oil) (I used saffron)
2 cups white rice
4 cups water.

1) Heat a 4 quart heavy covered pot  and add the oil, garlic, onion and bell pepper.  Saute for a few minutes until the vegetables are tender.  Add the remaining ingredients, cover and simmer over low heat 20-25 minutes until the rice is tender and liquid is absorbed.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Interlude: doTerra Essential Oils

Note: This is a duplicate of the same posting as found on my Namaste from Duluth blog, dated 1/19/2015.  

I have taken the plunge into the world of quality essential oils.  Back in 2007 I made the switch to cleaning with more "natural" products:  baking soda, vinegar, essential oils, etc.  You can read my post on it How I Learned To Clean My House, Part I  and How I Learned to Clean My House, Part II.

Seven years later, I'm still cleaning with vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils.  The only thing that didn't work/hasn't worked for me was the homemade toilet bowl cleaner, and I strongly suspect it's due to the calcium and mineral content in our well water.  I can cope with buying store bought for that.

Recently I have taken the next step in DIY cleaning products and bought doTerra essential oils.  I have been researching several brands, including Mountain Rose, Young Living, Wyndmere, while using Aura Cacia and and a brand whose name I forget - real memorable, eh?

I've talked to two separate doTerra representatives (one who I liked, one who I didn't), I've talked to a soap maker, and fellow yogis at yoga workshops.  I received a free 5ml bottle of doTerra Basil at the  Minneapolis YogaFit Mind Body Conference last June, and because I'm not one to waste, I've been using it.

So why the upgrade?  Because I want to start using oils on more than my kitchen floor and in my bathroom.  If I'm going to be squirting stuff on my counters or cutting boads, and putting oils on myself (or my Husband) and breathing them in, I want to make sure they don't have the chemicals I'm trying to avoid in conventional store bought products.  

doTerra seems to be the top in quality and environmental commitment.  So I went with them.

These are my observations to date:
Basil - This was my introduction to doTerra.  I've been using it on my achy knees, and more recently a strained knee tendon.  I put a couple drops on my knees at night, focusing on the uber tender tendon and rub in.  I was dubious at first - was it really making a difference in the morning?  Or was it my imagination?  The evening I forgot, I noticed the next morning. Yup.  It was making a difference.  Wow. 

Melaleuca (Tea Tree) - I still use this one for cleaning.  I add numerous drops to my homemade soft scrub as a disinfectant (be sure to let mixture sit on surface for a couple minutes to do it's thing!).  I also keep a squirt bottle of water and oil as a natural bathroom air freshener spray.  For, you know, "those" moments.  No chemical air freshener concoction in my bathroom - phew

Lavender - Ditto Tea Tree above.  I used this in my first DIY diffuser with a vase of water and rattan sticks, but it wasn't the best system and eventually, my sticks got moldy.  Bleh.  With my Petal Diffuser I can freshen any room with tap water and a couple drops of lavender.  Not that I'm saying my puppies can be, ah, fragrant... (skunks, anyone?)

I also have problems sleeping through the night and lavender has shown benefits to helping provide a more restive sleep.  Something we all could use more of! 

Lemon - reading the literature on quality lemon oil, it sounds like this is perhaps one of the most versatile of the single blend oils.  I'm embarrassed to say, I haven't even scratched the surface with what I can use this one for.  So far I've used it to wash the kitchen floor as a disinfectant, de-greaser, and deodorizer.  I did NOT get the usual "ugh, lemon pledge!" reaction.  My kitchen smelled bright and spring-like!  Yay!  (I won't tell you about the grossness I pulled out from under my fridge in my spurt of spring cleaning, but even there got a good disinfecting.)   I look forward to to using this one more.

Breathe Blend - this oil I've been putting in my bedside diffuser (the one I bought).  First time I put in too many drops by accident and it was a bit overwhelming.  But the combination of humidity and the blend has become a nighttime favorite.  I'm waiting to see if this helps the Husband and his sinus's which do suffer during the dry winter months.  This blend is also touted as providing more restful sleep, which is something I need, as I mentioned above. 

OnGuard (a 'Thieves Blend").  doTerra's blend of orange, cinnamon, cloves, eucalyptus, and rosemary.  Mmm!  Yummy!  I use this one on my hands as a disinfectant and on my feet especially after any gym visit.  Currently I'm trying it mixed with a bit of water for gym use, but I'm thinking I'm going to go "straight" when this mixture is finished.   I have a little bottle I carry with me that I can shake a few drops out for a quick "disinfectant".  My palms smell sooo good!  This will come with me for any airline travel this year.

I'm still experimenting with Frankincense, Oregano, Peppermint, and DeepBlue and DigestZen (both blends).  I'm not a fan of Peppermint, but everyone seems to rave about how fantastic it is.  I don't have a lot of tummy troubles, but DigestZen could be handy for traveling, especially to Mexico.  DeepBlue is like say, Tiger Balm or maybe BenGay - good for those sore muscles.  I know it was a hot seller at the YogaFit Conference.  Lol and duh!  I should be using this one after TRX and Kettlebells on Fridays!  Need to toss it into the gym bag, I bet this would be awesome after a sauna. 

I'm super excited about this new step and direction.  With a handful of single oils and a couple of blends, I can see so much application in household application and my personal wellness.

Want to know more about doTerra and the oils they offer?  Check out the link on the left hand side of the page to my doTerra webpage.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Minority Council by Kate Griffin (Matthew Swift #4)

The Minority Council (Matthew Swift, #4)The Minority Council by Kate Griffin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Matthew Swift, sorcerer, Midnight Mayor, is in charge. Or so he'd like to think. London, being London, is having its issues. Drug use is rampant. Teenage vandalism is driving away business. Violent crimes are on the rise. Once upon a time, Matthew Swift wouldn't have cared. Now it's his mess to clean up.

Especially when the new drug on the market is fairy dust and the production process involves turning humans into walking drug labs. And when the teenage vandals are being hunted by a mystical creature. And when the petty criminals of London start dying by magical means.

It becomes clear that not only is this Swift's mess to clean up, but someone is trying to tell him how to do his job. Now he has to sort out who's behind the crime wave and who's interfering in his business. Swift has a lot of old enemies and few friends. If he's going to save London from a rising tide of blood -- he's going to have to learn his lessons and fast.

I love the Matthew Swift books.  I find them consistently solid, peppered with fascinating insights into the human psyche, and interwoven with that British sense of humor I've always enjoyed. 

Our hero, Matthew, is flawed and reluctant to assume the mantle of his job responsibilities.  His apprentice, Penny, is one kick ass sorceress with a heart of tarnished gold who is the perfect counter to Matthews often dark outlook.  The supporting cast of characters are varied and multifaceted, the monsters we meet are fascinating, an the setting of a city rife with modern magic of electricity/garbage/graffiti is a nice change from the usual pointy eared elves and woodland magic.  I love the urban grittiness. 

I also appreciated how Matthew's character develops in this book.  He has to begin to take ownership of his responsibilities.  He is forced to step up to the plate and BE the Midnight Mayor.  He has to accept a little help from his friends.  He steps up his mentoring Penny.   And, along the way, he makes new friends.  Can I just add here that Kelly was wonderful?  I love Kelly as much as I love Penny.

And through everything that is thrown, hurled, sicc'd , injected, or fired at Matthew, he still remains true to himself despite what the Electric Blue Angels want. 

Highly recommend this whole series. 

View all my reviews

Monday, January 12, 2015

Recipe review from 1/1/2015

A posting in which we start the 2015 Recipe Count off with...a slow cooker dish!  For my regular readers, this should come as no surprise.  Yes, I have 'a thing' for my slow cooker.  Best. Invention. Ever.  Or at least right up there with some really important ones.  Like my Immersion Blender.  Also. Best. Invention. Ever. 

Weather continues to be cold.  And blustery. And cold and blustery.  Had a small reprieve of some lovely temps and light snowfall for ONE day, but alas, didn't stay.

I've also had quite the selection of birds visiting my feeder, including the usual blue jays, chickadees, pine siskins, evening grosbeaks, nuthatches, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker; and the unusual with a Pileated woodpecker.  I've been trying to snap a picture of this fine red-headed gentleman, but the camera just doesn't like taking a picture through a screen.

And to the gist of this posting, the Meal Plan and review!

Sat (L) leftovers  (S) slow cooked Lazy Man's Stuffed Cabbage
Sun (L) Husband - leftover Shepherds Pie   (S) - leftover cabbage
Mon (yoga) leftover cabbage
Tues - pasty
Wed (AM yoga) Salmon and ramen noodles
Thurs (yoga) leftover soup
Fri - Skillet Pizza  (Will have to review next week...)

Lunches - Farmhouse chicken chowder

Lazy Man's Stuffed Cabbage (modified from Slow Cooker Revolution by ATK)
This was anything BUT lazy.  I used three pans: one to steam the cabbage (don't have a microwave), one to cook the rice, one to saute the onions and tomato mixture.   One bowl to mix the meat, bread and milk, and the various implements, meat baller, knives necessary for prep.  And this was before we even got to the slow cookers!  Of which I needed TWO because once again, mine was too small.  But large one is on its way.  Yay!

So, to say this was heavy on the prep and pots, a definite YES.   Was it worth it?   Maybe.  The Husband had three servings the first meal so that says something.  And it was good, the meat is incredibly tender, lightly spiced, and off-sets the tangy cabbage and tomato sauce perfectly.  The tomato sauce mixture turns out thick and saucy and is the perfect consistency to cover everything but yet not overwhelm.   A artisanal crusty bread is the perfect accompaniment for this dish - I made homemade popovers which worked well with their buttery-eggy goodness.

1 2lb cabbage, cored and cut into 1" pieces

1 lb ground beef (I used ground turkey)
1 lb bratwurst, casings removed  (I used venison brats)
1/4 cup whole milk (I used half n half)
2 slices good sandwich bread (I used an english muffin)
2 cups cooked rice

1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
 3 tbsp flour (or thickener of choice)

28 oz can tomato sauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1) Coat slow cooker with vegetable oil.  Steam cabbage, stirring occasionally until softened (15-20 minutes).  Drain, cover, and set aside.

2) Heat 2 tbsp oil in 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook until onions are softened and lightly browned.

3) Transfer half of onion mixture to large bowl set aside.

4) Stir flour into skillet with remaining onions and cook over medium high heat for one minute. Stir in tomato sauce, sugar, and vinegar, scraping up any browned bits and season with salt and pepper.

5) Add bread and milk to bowl with onion mixture and mash to paste with fork.  Mix in ground meat, bratwurst, rice, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper to taste.  Using hands, mix till well blended.

6) Spread 1/2 cup sauce over bottom of prepared slow cooker.  Pinch off one-third of meat mixture** into tablespoon sized pieces and drop over sauce.  Spread one-third of cabbage over meat.  Spoon on-third of remaining sauce mixture over cabbage.  Repeat layers.  Cover and cook until beef is tender, about 4 hours on low.  Let casserole cool 20 minutes before serving.

**I used a 1" scoop to make little meatballs.  Was faster than pinching and plopping.  

Farmhouse Chicken and Corn Chowder (modified from Slow Cooker Revolution by ATK)
The Husband assembled this dish so I can't comment on prep.  I did one significant modification and that was have him skip frying the bacon and to just use some bacon grease for flavor (yes, I keep a small jar of clean bacon grease just for things like this.  Definitely worth the effort - which is to say, no effort at all.)   We also skipped the 1/2 cup of heavy cream because I was out of half n half and only had sweetened coconut milk on hand.

I made this primarily for lunches.  This is clean tasting and thick without being bogged down in "cream".  A cornbread or rustic bread would be the perfect accompaniment.   This also makes a lot - I think we got about 8-10 servings out of it. 

2 slices bacon, minced  (1 tbsp bacon fat)
1 onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, diced
photo from Scifi with
 1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (or thickener of choice)
5 cups low-sodium chicken stock/broth
1 lb red or yellow potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 carrot, peeled and diced  (we use baby carrots)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
1 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 (15oz) can creamed corn
1/2 cup heavy cream (we skipped)
2 tsp minced canned chipotle chili in adobo sauce
3 tsp basil or cilantro (optional)

1) Heat bacon grease in pan over medium high heat.  Add onion and cook until soft.  Add garlic, tomato paste, and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in flour and cook for one minute.  Whisk in 2 cups broth, scraping up any browned bits; transfer to slow cooker.

2)  Stir remaining 3 cups broth, potatoes, carrot and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Season chicken with salt and pepper and nestle into mixture.  Cook and cover until chicken is tender, 4 -6 hours on low.

3) Shred chicken by either removing from cooker and shredding, or by gently breaking up with a wooden spoon (it should be tender enough that it breaks apart just with spoon, thus saving time and dishes).

4) Saute red pepper until softened.  Add creamed corn and heat through.  Add to soup, let cook 30 minutes to let flavors meld (and to clean kitchen and set the table!).  Stir in cilantro or basil if using and serve.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly (McCaleb #2/Bosch #7)

A Darkness More Than Night (Harry Bosch, #7; Terry McCaleb, #2)A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb:  Terry McCaleb, the retired FBI agent who starred in the bestseller "Blood Work," is asked by the LAPD to help them investigate aseries of murders that have them baffled. They are the kind of ritualized killings McCaleb specialized in solving with the FBI, and he is reluctantly drawn from his peaceful new life back into the horror and excitement of tracking down a terrifying homicidal maniac. More horrifying still, the suspect who seems to fit the profile that McCaleb develops is someone he has known and worked with in the past: LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch.

Read as an audiobook.  As I noted in the title, this book was Terry McCaleb #2 and Harry Bosch #7 in their respective series.  Narrator changed again since Angels Flight (#6), though this might have been done on purpose since most of the book was from McCaleb's point of view?  I don't know, I'm speculating here.

I really enjoyed this book.  The way the investigation and the court trial slowly unrolled was perfectly paced.  The two investigators points of views was an interesting technique to use, and dare I say, a nice break from our pure cranky-pants Bosch point of view.  I found the way McCaleb would tease at a thread and pull it to see where it would lead interesting, but that also lead to my main complaint with the book:

The murder-mystery set up was too obvious.  Like, smacked over the head with a book obvious in my opinion.  I had the who-done-it figured out almost immediately and had to (im)patiently wait to see if I was correct (which I was).  So, pacing was still good, foreshadowing more of a sunny day than any kind of mystery, the two main characters interacting well done.

My other complaint with this book was I thought the ending was about 5 chapters too long.  Sometimes it's nice to have  "wrap up" and character resolution, but in this case it came across like the author just couldn't figure out where to cut it off. 

Recommended, especially if you've read the first 6 Harry Bosch books. 

View all my reviews

Monday, January 5, 2015

Recipe Review from 12/29/14

This post will wrap up my recipes for 2014.  Overall, an pretty good year cooking wise.  Lots of great dishes (Fluffy Cornmeal Pancakes!  My favorite!),  a handful of "meh" meals (it happens), and a realization that I DO need a larger crockpot.  It should be on it's way as of this posting.

And, as usual, another busy week:  New Year's Eve gathering, had to teach yoga class New Year's Day (thanks happy I could make the 50 mile round trip for a 50 minute class), and a staff meeting/open house at the Studio.  

The Meal Plan:
Sunday - Shepherd's Pie
Mon - leftovers
Tues - leftovers
Wed - leftovers/New Year's Eve gathering at Steve's place
Thurs (L) in town  (S) crockpot stuffed cabbage
Fri - leftovers
Sat - leftovers

Lunches -  Chicken, Quinoa and Butternut soup, crackers or fresh bread; apples, yogurt, nuts

Shepherd's Pie (modified Slow Cooker Revolution by ATK)
For touting the ease of a slow cooker, this was a putzy dish.  Mix meat with milk and bread, cook till brown.  Put in slow cooker.  Cook onion and veggies till soft, add spices, make a roux, add broth, cook till thick.  Add to slow cooker.  Add peas at end.  Make potatoes, add to top.

However, this is one time I will say the putzy was worth it!  A beautiful thick sauce full of tender meat crumbles, sweet carrots and onions, savory but not overly so.  And my mashed potatoes turned out awesome!  The Husband thought I had even peeled them they had turned out so creamy smooth!  Ha!  No peeling potatoes in my house!

2 lbs ground beef (I used turkey)
2 slices good quality white bread
photo from Scifi with a Dash of Paprika.blogspot
1/4 cup half n half

2 onions, diced
10 oz mushrooms, cleaned, de-stemmed and quartered
1 cup carrots, diced
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/3 cup flour
1 2/3 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup half n half
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup frozen peas

3 cups mashed potatoes of choice

1)  Mash bread and milk.  Add beef (turkey) and mix well with hands.  Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat, and if necessary, working in batches, saute until meat is no longer pink.  Drain and move to slow cooker.

2) Saute onions, mushrooms, carrots until softened.  Add tomato paste and cook until veggies are evenly coated.  Add flour and cook for one minute until veggies are evenly coated.  Add broth and stir until flour is disolved and sauce starts to turn thick.  Let bubble to thicken.   Add to slow cooker.

3)  Stir in half and half and soy sauce.  Cook on low 6-8 hours.  Add peas and heat through.  Can top with mashed potatoes in the slow cooker, or top individual bowls with mashed potatoes. 

Slow Cooked Butternut Squash, Quinoa and Chicken  (leelaliscious blog via Pinterest) gluten free
Easy enough to throw together.  Frustrating when I realized my slow cooker wasn't big enough yet again.  I had to leave the canned tomatoes out and add later, and I couldn't add 1 cup of stock.   So yes, this makes a lot.  This will easily feed a crowd.

This turned out thick and stew like, which is our preference.  It was not as flavorful as I would have thought given the spices, then I realized when typing this I might have inadvertently halved the curry and parsley.  I don't remember now... oh well.  I think it could use a bit more zing as is.   This is a lovely blend of sweet squash, succulent chicken, and nutty quinoa.  We served this with a fresh baked loaf of Sour Dill Bread that the Husband made, but any crusty bread would be perfect.

1 tablespoon olive oil
photo from blog
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts  (I used 6 chicken thighs)
1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 6 cups)  (I used about 2 lbs)
14 ounces (1¾ cups) diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
7 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup quinoa, (rinsed and drained!)

1. In a small pan heat the olive oil, then saute chopped onion and garlic until lightly browned.

2. Place chicken breast in the bottom of the slow cooker. Add all other ingredients on top of chicken and cook on high for 3-4 hours or 7-8 hours on low.

3. When finished cooking, discard bay leaf. Take out chicken breasts and shred with 2 forks etc. Return shredded chicken to stew and stir to combine everything evenly.

4. Serve topped with fresh parsley.

Sour Dill Rye Bread  (Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads)

photo from Scifi with a Dash of Paprika.blogspot

The sour in this comes from the use of pickle brine.   The Husband used some of his naturally fermented pickle juice and the dill and dill seed came from this summers garden.  The loaves didn't rise as much as they "should" have and the speculation is twofold. A) our house is on the cooler side (62*F) today, for example, and B) the salt from the brine might have been too much when combined with the salt from the recipe and killed the yeast action or C) a combination of B and the ingredients not being at room temp. 

The loaves he did get were lovely though.  He upped the caraway seeds so I commented that this tasted more like a soft-crumb Irish Soda Bread than "dill-y".   The recipe called for the dough to be cooked directly on a cookie sheet, which The Husband did, and experienced sticking when it came time to remove from pan despite the cornmeal base.  Parchment paper highly recommended.

I'm not going to type this recipe out - it's like two pages long.  Clayton's book should be readily available from your local library or inter-library loan if you wish to give this tasty bread a try. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

One Rough Man by Brad Taylor

One Rough Man (Pike Logan, #1)One Rough Man by Brad Taylor

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Jacket Blurb: 
They call it the Taskforce. Their existence is as essential as it is illegal. Commissioned at the highest level of the U.S. government. Protected from the prying eyes of Congress and the media. Built around the top operators from across the clandestine, intelligence, and special forces landscape. Designed to operate outside the bounds of U.S. law. Trained to exist on the ragged edge of human capability.

Pike Logan was the most successful operator on the Taskforce, his instincts and talents unrivaled-until personal tragedy permanently altered his outlook on the world. Pike knows what the rest of the country might not want to admit: The real threat isn't from any nation, any government, any terrorist group. The real threat is one or two men, controlled by ideology, operating independently, in possession of a powerful weapon.

Buried in a stack of intercepted chatter is evidence of two such men. The transcripts are scheduled for analysis in three months. The attack is mere days away. It is their bad luck that they're about to cross paths with Pike Logan. And Pike Logan has nothing left to lose.


Read as an audiobook.  Which probably skewed my opinion of this book because the main narrator (there were two) made our female protagonist a whiner who questioned everything, despite the fact that a total stranger was busy saving her ass.

To say I detested this book would be a fairly accurate review.

Character-wise I liked 'Pike' Logan.  I could have done with out Jennifer.  Then the plot went down hill for any kind of plausibility - and I say this KNOWING I read scifi and fantasy.  The book lost credibility when Jennifer scampers up and down the side of a building three times, then tells Pike she trained with Cirque de Soliel for three months.  Just because you trained as a performer does NOT give you the ability to climb up and down a two story building three times. 

The whole premise that Pike and Jennifer needed to be "terminated" was utterly contrived and well. stupid. 
I could also make the argument that this was a romance disguised as a political thriller. Damsel in distress, down on his luck Hero turns into a shining knight.  We have abduction, fleeing, little tremors of realization that "ooo, she likes me!".   Romance. 

The book also jumps around fairly frequently - like in paragraphs - from point of view to point of view.  A little jarring, but I could see the author was trying to keep the timeline cohesive and all the characters moving forward at the same rate.   

The only part of this book I liked were the terrorists. 

Can't recommend this one.  Unless you like political thrillers, then maybe you'll have better luck than I.  I'm going back to police procedurals.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Year in Review: 2014

For the last several years, I've done a Year In Review.  A way for me to look back at places I visited, books read, recipes reviewed, paths hiked and miles biked.  No Worldcon this year, it was in London and if I'm going to go to Europe, I don't want to be sitting in a convention.  Otherwise, 2014 was busy as usual:

Stockton, IL  
Kraft Family Reunion

Miss Ellie joined us in July

Corvallis, OR
To visit my Sister and her family! 

New Books Finished  (Novels, Novellas, Novelettes, Short Stories)
2014 - 88 (28442 pages)

2013 - 98    (28452 pages)
2012 - 129  (31079 pages)
2011 - 115  (29456 pages) 
2010 – 80   (21848 pages)
2009 – 45   (16094 pages)
2008 – 45   (14456 pages)

New Recipes Tried
2014 -  109
photo from blog; recipe from ATK
Fluffy Cornmeal Pancakes!   My favorite!  

2013 -  125
2012 -100 
2011 - 95
2010 – 82
2009 - 92
2008 - 129
2007 - 120
2006 - 103
2005 - 137
2004 - 143
2003 - 154

Miles Biked:
2014 - 292 road   (lots and lots of spin, stopped keeping track)
      Jane Addam's Trail 
      Mesabi Trail Ride

2013 - 300 road (628 spin miles - yes, higher spin than road. Very sad.)
2012 -  572.5 road  (568 spin)
      Heartland Trail, MN - 38 miles
      Badger State Trail, WI - 56 miles
      Mesabi Trail Ride, MN - 68 miles
2011 - 470 road  (755 spin)
      Menominee River Century - 50  miles
      Mesabi Trail Ride - 50 miles
2010 – 701 personal best!
      Split Rock Century (my first!) - 100
2009- 250

Miles Hiked:
2014 - 20ish  (I forgot to keep track!)

2013 -20 (Hike Leaders or Naturalists on all three...)
2012 - 20
2011  - 40+   
2010  - 48

Knitting Projects completed
(see this link for details and pictures):

Thistle dishtowel
Three in One Tweed dishtowel
dishclothes (right)
Clockwork Scarf
Dustland Mits
Hoodie toddler blanket
Hypatia cowl
Dimity cowl
Birdies Fingerless Mitts
Te Ara Fingerless Mitts
Ribby Wristers Fingerless Mitts
Morning Walk Headbands (3)

Popular Posts