Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cookish: Fixing a screw-up

So, a few days ago, I made some Amish Friendship Bread, but it didn't turn out quite right. It just didn't taste the same and it was rather dry. So, what to do? I didn't want to just throw it away, but it wasn't all that tasty.

The solution? Bread pudding. The bread is already cinnamon-y and sugar-y--a great start. Of course, you can make bread pudding with any bread, preferably a little stale. French bread, challah, brioche--take your pick. I had about a loaf and a half of friendship bread, which I cut into large cubes. I tossed these cubes in 1/2 stick of melted butter and placed the cubes in a 9-in. square baking dish. In a bowl, I mixed 4 eggs with a scant 3/4 cup of sugar and a hearty sprinkle of cinnamon--keep in mind that the bread already had sugar and cinnamon in it, so if you are using regular bread, you may want to increase the quantity of both. I also added 2 tsp of vanilla, but I'd up this to a tablespoon next time. Add a pinch of salt. Heat up some milk--I used 3 cups, but it made too much liquid, so I think I'd just heat 2 cups next time. Add the warm milk to the eggs and pour the mixture over the bread cubes. Sprinkle the top with coarse sugar and bake in a 375-degree oven. Begin checking after 25 minutes, but it will probably take 30 to 40 minutes to set up.

It was quite yummy! Next time I might bake it in a bigger dish for a better crunchy top to squishy middle ratio. Mmm-mmm, good.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bookish: An Echo in the Bone

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon is the latest book in the Outlander saga. I don't recommend picking this up if you have not already read the other books in the series. I think you would be hopelessly confused and not very invested in the characters. This book picks back up in the midst of the impending revolution. There is a lot of side plot this time with Lord John and Willie--not all of which makes that much sense if you haven't read all of the Lord John books, but it's ok. The book drags a bit in the middle, after Jamie and Claire first attempt to get to Scotland (unsuccessfully) and then they just slog around while you are screaming "Get ON WITH IT! You are supposed to be in SCOTLAND!"

But I digress...

There is also some fun interactions with Bree and Roger, though again, there is a dry spell in the middle.

Things REALLY pick up at the end, though, and Diana totally leaves us hanging at the end! Makes for a very exciting ending; unfortunately, we've got many years to wait for the resolution.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bookish movie: Disney's A Christmas Carol

Go see it in 3D--you won't regret it. This is a story that has been told countless times in myriad variations. We all know it, right? Ebeneezer Scrooge, the original grinch, is a miserly, miserable old man who hates Christmas. He is given a chance to redeem himself and change his terrible ways. He is visited by three ghosts and comes to the realization that he must change his life. Instead of trying to create a new variation on the theme, the filmmakers actually stuck fairly close to Dickens's orignial tale. The dialogue is very good and true to the story and the animation is quite interesting. A word of warning: the ghosts are creepy, scary, and menacing, for the most part. This is not really a movie for little bitty kids--it is a ghost story, after all. The animation is a little weird at times, and I don't think it would be as compelling if not in 3D--so spend a few extra bucks and see it that way!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cookish: What's for Dinner?

Talapia and Cous Cous

Talapia fillets
Creole Mustard
Salt and pepper
Canola or Vegetable oil
Chicken stock
Whole wheat (or regular) cous cous

This is a really simple meal, and it is really easy to keep all the ingredients on hand so you can make it whenever you need a quick, tasty supper. If your talapia fillets are frozen, defrost them. When they're defrosted, pat them dry. Meanwhile, put a couple tablespoons of oil in a skillet (enough to cover the bottom) and heat to medium-high heat. Put 1 cup of chicken stock OR 1 cup of water and a boullion cube into a small saucepan and turn on high heat to bring to a boil. Back to the fish. Brush the fish with a thin coating of creole mustard (or dijon, or whatever kind you like). Spread some cornmeal on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Coat the fish in the cornmeal--a light dusting. When the oil is hot, add the fish and fry for a few minutes on each side until golden brown and the fish is cooked through. When the stock comes to a boil, add a handful or two of frozen peas. Let it come back to a boil, stir in cous cous, cover, and let sit off the heat for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Serve the cous cous and fish with a salad, and you've got a quick, easy supper, that is very simple to scale up or down for the number of people you have for dinner. Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bookish: The Prophecy of the Sisters

First, we need to talk about marketing campaigns. This book is REALLY being pushed by its publisher. They sent out packages to possible reviewers with puzzle pieces and a little cardboard book thingie that the pieces fit into, spelling out the prophecy from the book., just to get people thinking about the book before actually reading it. Then, about a week or two later, the actual book arrived. They also gave out ARCs at conferences. The ARC that came in the mail also had a dust jacket on it. That is almost unheard of, and very expensive. They are really putting some marketing $$$ behind this book, so you should hear a lot about it.

The book is about twins who are part of a long line of twins that are part of a prophecy and could bring about the end of the world. One twin is good, the other...not so good. Due to a trick in their delivery, they are each fulfilling the role in the prophecy contrary to their nature. The storyline is interesting, and there are sufficient creepy parts. Some plot points are very obvious, though, and the story does not always read like it is in the time period it is supposed to be set in.

The book did not make it obvious from the outset that this was not a self-contained story, but there is at least one more book, and I figure it is probably at least a trilogy. The lack of resolution was VERY annoying, but I guess the fact that I wanted to know what the ending would be points to the fact that the story was intruiging. Not the best thing I've read lately, but interesting enough.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cookish: What's for dinner?

Creamy Linguine
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1/4 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 bunch asparagus
1/2 box whole wheat linguine
olive oil
tarragon (optional)
1/2 cup cream
chicken stock

Saute mushrooms & onions over medium-high heat. Let the liquid in the mushrooms cook out and continue cooking until liquid cooks off. Don't add salt until after mushrooms are sauteed. When mushrooms are brown and liquid has cooked off, push them to the side, add some more oil (or butter) and a couple teaspoons of flour. Let flour cook for a minute, then add some chicken stock and stir. Add salt and pepper. Add asparagus and a couple pinches of dried tarragon (optional). As sauce thinkens, add some more stock, and then a couple of handsful of peas and the cream. Stir. Allow peas and asparagus to cook. Add some parmesean cheese. Taste for salt and pepper.

Boil about 1/2 box of linguini. Reserve some of the pasta cooking liquid before draining. Toss with sauce, loosening with pasta water or chicken stock as needed.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bookish Review: Crazy for the storm

I picked up an ARC of this book at a convention and probably would not have read it otherwise. It was a bit slow to start and the lack of quotation marks drove me crazy. (Why do people think that is a good stylistic choice? Use quotation marks!)

The book is about Norman Ollestad. As a child, he was on a trip with his father and his father's girlfriend when their plane crashed in the mountains. He was the only one to survive. The book is even more so about Norman's unorthodox childhood and the way his parents raised him and how that enabled his survival. It certainly was an interesting way to grow up, on the beach in California, learning how to surf and ski and survive the occasional wrath of his mother's boyfriend.

So, the book was not bad, once you get past the no quotation marks. This book has been getting a lot of buzz, and has even been called one of the best books of the year. I do not agree with that, but it was interesting.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bookish Review: My Sister's Keeper

This is the first book I have read by Jodi Picoult (and no, I haven't seen the movie). I must say, Picoult is a very good writer. The story was compelling, and I had to force myself to put it down at night so I could get some sleep. The story revolves around a child who was genetically engineered by her parents to be a donor for her older sister, who has leukemia. Eventually, the younger daughter decides to sue her parents for the right to make her own medical decisions about her body, and possibly stop being a donor for her sister, who will likely die without her help.
There are lots of complex ethical questions raised in this story, in addition to the interesting famil dynamic. Having a sick child in the family has obviously put a strain on everyone and the middle child, a son, tries desperately to stand out by spiralling deeper and deeper into deviant behavior. Even the lawyer assigned to the case has issues he must work through.
The ending definitely has a twist, and I am still not sure how I felt about it, but I could not put the book down and will probably read something else by Picoult in the future. Recommended.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Cookish: What's for dinner?

Corn chowder
4 ears of corn
1 small onion
1 carrot
2 large red potatoes
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
chicken stock

Chop up the onion and carrot and begin to sweat in a pan with some olive oil. (Alternatively, you can brown some bacon in the pan and cook the onion and carrot in the bacon drippings. Mmm...bacon.)

Cut the kernels off of the ears of corn. An easy way to do this and catch the kernels is to put a small bowl inside a larger bowl, rest the cob on top of the small bowl and cut down. You can also use a bundt pan to do this, sticking the cob in the middle, but I don't have a bundt pan.

Put the corn in with the onion and carrot and grate in the garlic. Add a small splash of stock to help the corn cook. Add salt and pepper

Meanwhile, put the corn cobs in a pot and cover with stock (or water). Boil for about 15 minutes, to get all the flavor from the cobs. I think it was 3-4 cups. I used some homemade stock I had in the freezer. This is really easy, honestly. The next time you get a rotisserie chicken or roast a chicken, save the bones. Put them in a pot with another water to cover. Add a carrot, celery (if you have it), an onion, a clove or two of garlic, some sal & pepper, thyme, oregano, bay leaves--basically whatever herbs you want, and then bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, turn it down and let it simmer for a couple of hours. Strain out all of the stuff and you've got some tasty stock on your hands. It takes almost no effort, just time, and you paid for the chicken--you might as well get everything out of it.

Back to the soup. Remove the cobs from the stock. At this point, I would add about half of the corn mixture and blend until smooth, then add the rest of the corn so the soup is chunky but not too chunky....except that my hand blender died on me, so all the corn went in as is.
Chop up the potatoes into bite-sized chunks and boil in the soup until tender. (Likewise, you could blend up the potatoes in the soup or leave them as chunks...or leave them out all together.) Once the potatoes are done, mix a bit of the broth with some cornstarch and then pour into the soup. Bring the soup back to a boil and let boil for a minute or two so the cornstarch can thicken the soup a bit. Take the soup off the heat and stir in about 1/4 cup of cream (again, this is optional, but I had cream on hand, so why not?)

There you go! You could easily add chicken, crab, crawfish, or shrimp to this. It would be tasty. You could also leave out the potatoes, add some chiles and perhaps some black beans and you'll have a tex-mex corn soup.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bookish: To Kill a Mockingbird

So, I finally got around to reading Harper Lee's classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. I was never assigned this in school and somehow never read it (or saw the movie) until now. I must say that its status as a classic is fully deserved. The story of two kids growing up in a small Southern town with no mother and an older father whom they don't always understand (and whom they call by his frst name). Their father becomes involved in representing a black defendant in an unfair rape trial, and reading about the trial and the town's and the children's reactions to it is compelling. The trial is important and a big part of the book, but the book is also just about growing up and trying to understand the world you were born into. It's about kindness and not judging others or fearing the unknown. I did wonder, after the trial and after the death, where Harper Lee was going with the remaining 7 chapters or so, but she wrapped things up quite nicely. There is some language in the book, but it is indicative of and appropriate to the time period.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bookish: Road Dogs

I have never read a book by Elmore Leonard before, but this one apparently uses characters from three of his other novels. I imagine that fans of those books will enjoy this one as well. I, however, did not. The book is about a couple of criminals who get out of jail and head to California. One is a bank robber and the other is a Cuban gangster. They are both involved with a psychic con artist who is trying to make big bucks off of both of them. The bank robber is also being watched by an FBI agent who is convinced he is going to rob another bank. There are smaller-time thugs involved as well. The problem was, I just didn't care...about any of the characters, about any of it. They seemed stupid, and they're all criminals--who really cares? I was also just not a fan of the writing style, jumping back and forth between characters. The whole thing was a yawn for me, but like I said, if you liked the characters before, I think you would like them again....I guess.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bookish: The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline is an Enola Holmes mystery. Enola is the 14-year-old sister of Sherlock Holmes, hiding from her brothers as they desire to send her to boarding school and take away her freedom. A master of disguise and deduction, much like her famous brother, in this book she is investigating the disappearance of her landlady, a deaf and dotty old bird that it seems no one would want to kidnap. The book is fun and well-written. It's a short, quick read with a feisty female lead. A good choice for young mystery fans.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bookish: Spandau Phoenix

Yet another Greg Iles novel. This is a different one, a historical conspiracy thriller involving a WWII mystery. I had some problems with this. First, I made the mistake of taking this book on my beach vacation. This is not a beach read, and I found it hard to concentrate on it. It's a little heavy. The second problem: I know the basics of WWII, but I am by no means an expert. I know Hitler, Himmler, the Holocaust, Auchwitz, etc., but I was not familiar with Spandau or Rudolph Hess, which is some pretty important information for understanding this book. So, I didn't really know how much was fact and how much was fiction. I found it very annoying that there was not even a historical note at the end elucidating this information. So, the book is well-written and interesting, based on the idea that Hess's flight to Great Britan had greater implications than perhaps first realized and that the prisoner locked up in Spandau Prison was never Rudolph Hess, but rather an imposter. The main meat of the book is set in Germany and South Africa long after WWII, but before the destruction on the Berlin Wall. It involves Nazis, atomic bombs, secret identities, and secret societies. I think WWII buffs would get more enjoyment out of it than I did, but not a bad read overall. I didn't enjoy it as much as Iles's modern-day Southern thrillers, though.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cookish: What's for dinner?

Chilaquiles are delicious, cheap, and easy. What more do you want? Note: I do not claim that these are in any way authentic. But, they are yummy.
veg oil
1/4-1/3 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 can crushed tomatoes
1-2 chipoltle peppers
1 bay leaf
tortilla chips
sour cream

Chop the onion finely. Saute in oil til translucent. Use your microplane to grate the garlic. (You do have a microplane, right? Get one, you'll love it.) Add the tomatoes. Chop up the chipoltle and add to your tomatoes. Add a sprinkle of oregano, a bay leaf, and some salt. Don't add too much salt; you'll be adding the tortilla chips to this, which are pretty salty. Let simmer for a bit, then taste. Up the seasoning as needed.

Fry or scramble an egg or eggs, depending upon how many you are feeding. I recommend a fried egg, sunny-side up, if you like eggs that way. The runny yolk will mix with the sauce--delicious. Scrambled eggs are good, too.

Add several handfuls of chips to sauce, crushing slightly as you add them. Let the chips soak up the sauce and soften a bit, but don't let them disintegrate completely. Spoon up some chips & sauce into a bowl.

Serve with egg on top & cheese. Sour cream optional. Yum!
I'm really sorry I don't have a finishing shot on this one, because it looked delicious. But, again, my camera battery failed me.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bookish: The Quiet Game

Another one from Greg Iles. This is more of his usual fare. Set in Natchez, MS (Iles's home turf), this follows lawyer Penn Cage, as he returns home after the death of his young wife, seeking some comfort for his distraught daughter. Life in Natchez isn't all sleepy and peaceful, though, and Penn must soon discover a way to extricate his father from a blackmail situation. On top of that, he soon finds himself drawn into a decades-old murder case that may or may not have civil rights ties. The famous white lawyer returning home to take up the case of a dead black man draws a lot of attention in Natchez, and not all of it is friendly. Soon, his life and his daughter's life are in danger and trying to get people to talk about what happened is like juicing an apple with your bare hands. As Penn digs deeper, he finds ties to a very powerful man in Natchez--one he'd like nothing more than to destroy.

Penn Cage is a recurring character for Iles, and this volume is a satisfying read. Some plot points scream "male author" (e.g. Penn's new, very young love interest, just months after his wife's death), but the book is quite good and not as disturbing as some of Iles's books.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bookish: The Shack

You have probably heard of The Shack. Or maybe you have been living under a rock. Initially self-published, it spread like wildfire and became a New York Times bestseller.

So, here's the thing: I knew it was about God, but I thought it would be more allegorical, with a deeper God meaning. That's not it. The guy goes to a shack and literally meets God the Father ("Papa"), Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

It also reads like a self-published piece. Not enough editing, stilted dialogue, reactions that don't exactly ring true.

So, it just didn't speak to me. The fact that God is love and loves us is not a big, crazy revelation for me.

But the book has touched a lot of people. I just can't recommend it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cookish: Simple Supper

Ready for a simply declicious supper? You need lettuce, roasted potatoes, and eggs. Ready?

1. Roast some potatoes.

New Potatoes
Olive oil
Garlic or garlic powder/granulated garlic (because I was somehow without fresh garlic in the house--a true sin)

Preheat oven to 425. Quarter your new potatoes and finely chop some onions. Toss in a bowl with olive oil, oregano, parsley, granulated garlic, salt and pepper. Be generous with the salt--potatoes need salt. Put on a rimmed cookie sheet or baking pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes.

2. Soft boil an egg or eggs (depending upon how many you're serving. One egg per person.)

Bring water to a boil. Add the egg and simmer for about 4 minutes for a runny yolk. You want a runny yolk--trust me. Put eggs under cool running water and then peel egg(s). Here's a hint: use old eggs. Not rotten, people! Just older. It means there's more space between the egg and the shell, which means they are easier to peel.

Soft-boiled eggs are not the easiest thing to peel, so I offer an alternative to soft-boiled egg: a poached egg. Just as good. Just remember the runny yolk. Trust me on this.

3. Make a salad. Toss some simple greens (I use just green-leaf lettuce, but romaine or bibb lettuce would be good too) with some white wine vinegar, a little olive oil, and some salt. Keep it simple.

Put it all together now:

Salad in a bowl. A few roasty-toasty potatoes on top. Egg on top of that. Break egg with fork and yolk spills out....mix it all around. Yum.

I apologize for the lack of pictures. My camera battery has betrayed me. I hope to have the situation remedied soon.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bookish for Kids: Escape Under the Forever Sky

Escape Under The Forever Sky is a story of an American girl living in Africa with her ambassador mother. Lucy has friends and likes where she lives but she deaires freedom. Her mother is very worried about her safety, and thus puts serious restrictions on where she can go and what she can do. Of course Lucy decides to rebel against this, but she quickly learns her lesson the hard way when she is kidnapped. She decides she must escape from her kidnappers and find her way home, even though she is far from the city and does not know exactly where they have taken her. Her adventure as she escapes is exciting, though I thought it was over a bit too quickly. Of course, this is written for a young audience and perhaps the author was anticipating short attention spans. Not bad, overall.

PS-I liked the cover on the ARC better than the final cover. Just FYI.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cookish: What's for dinner?

Tasty Broccoli Quiche

Adapted from


2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, minced (you can use more if you like)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups chopped fresh broccoli
1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (or your choice)
4 eggs, well beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Parmesean cheese

If you buy pie dough not already in the pan, place it in a pie plate and crimp the edges.Aww, it's pretty. Preheat your oven to 350. Chop up your onions, garlic, and broccoli. Saute in the butter til tender. Meanwhile, mix up the eggs, milk, salt, black pepper, and melted butter.Add the sauteed veggies to the pie crust and sprinkle the cheddar on top.
Pour on the egg mixture and sprinkle some parmesean on top, just for good measure. Place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the center is set and the top is golden and delicious.

Eat it up. Yum!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bookish movie: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The 6th Harry Potter book is one of my favorites, so I was really looking forward to this movie. I made two mistakes:

1. I re-read the book right before going to see the movie. This makes all of the changes and discrepancies all the more obvious, and I knew I was going to regret it, but I couldn't help myself.

2. My hopes were too high. For some reason, I was thinking the movie would be very true to the book, even though none of the movies really have been since Chris Columbus left the project.

So, the special effects were great; there were a number of laughs; the girl playing Lavender was spot-on. It was an enjoyable movie. The kids are really growing up, and it's very cute to see.

Problems: Changes. The beginning was different--I could get over that. There's lots of little plot changes, too that I could look past, even though I do think the way Ginny and Harry get together in the book is infinitely better than in the movie. Then, they insert a scene at The Burrow that has no basis in the books. It was a big scene, too, and just seemed out of place and weird. I might have been able to get over that, but then they left out the big battle at the end! WTH! So, the invented Burrow scene took its place? That just does not work and was the biggest disappointment to me. I liked the movie more until that happened and since it is right at the end of the movie, it pretty well spoiled it.

They also left out major important plot points that are necessary for the 7th book, so I am not sure how they are going to work that out. The battle is pretty freaking important. Fenrir Greyback? Completely unexplained. Fleur and Bill? Wait, who? Percy? Not even a mention. Kreacher being inherited by Harry? Nope. There's a new Minister of Magic? No hint of that in the movie. Voldemort's parents? No flashback. The other objects that might be Horcruxes? No clue. Some of that probably could have been left out, but all of it? Yikes. I'm not sure how much sense the movie will make to those who haven't read the book. Probably most of the meaning will come through, but some things will seem very abrupt, I think.

So, I am SOOO glad they are splitting the 7th book into 2 movies because they have so much to fit in. The movie was good, don't get me wrong, but it could have been so much better. Seeing it at the opening showing (yes, I went at midnight and still got up for work in the morning) added to the atmosphere and was quite fun.

I will go see it again on IMAX, and being a little further removed from reading the book might make it more enjoyable.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bookish Review: The Footprints of God

The Footprints of God is a strange story for Greg Iles...a bit more philosophical/theological than his usual fare. The book focuses on the question of whether a computer can be built to match the processing capability of the human brain, whether artificial inteligence is possible. In this case, an elite team of scientists have been gathered by the government not to create artificial intelligence, but to build a supercomputer that can capture human intelligence. An advanced MRI provides a complete map of a human's brain, including all of that person's memories, emotions, and motives. They are striving to build a computer that can bring this map to life--creating a human consciousness that will never die. But once it is created, can it be stopped?

The book is entertaining and interesting, if a little strange. It does bring about a lot of questions about God, humanity, and how far science should go. Set in North Carolina (Iles tapping into his Southern roots yet again) and New Mexico, as well as Israel.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bookish Review: The Seduction of the Crimson Rose

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose is the 4th book in a series by Lauren Willig. The books follow hapless grad student Eloise Kelly as she tries to uncover the identity of the Pink Carnation and other similarly-named flowery spies (think the Scarlet Pimpernel). The books all have two levels: Eloise and her research and her ever-deepening romance with a decendant of one of the flowery spies, and a past romance Eloise uncovers in her research. The books are light and funny romances with a bit of intrigue and danger.

This particular one follows Mary Alworthy, a beautiful and wily girl who lost her best chance at a good suitor to her sister, as she teams up with the slimy and seductive Sebastian, Lord Vaughn. The more time Mary and Vaughn spend together trying to ensnare the Black Tulip (a.k.a. the bad guy), the more they are drawn together. But when Vaughn's dead wife shows back up, and the Black Tulip draws ever nearer, things get a little complicated.

Fun series. Start with The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. They are better in order

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cookish: What's for dinner?

I guess we can call this an attempt at lo mein.
1/4 onion
8 oz mushrooms
2 carrots
olive oil
garlic clove
1 pkg frozen snow peas
3/4 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup water
1 boullion cube
sesame oil
sesame seeds
1 tsp chili-garlic paste
2 pkg soy sauce (take-out size)
1 heaping tsp hoisin

Chop onions and sweat in oil w/ a little salt. Sice mushrooms, add to onions, and saute. Add 1 cup water and boullion cube; let simmer and begin to reduce. Cut carrots into matchsticks or circles, add to pan and allow to cook for a few minutes. Grate in garlic (using your handy microplane. You have one, right?); add chili-garlic paste. Mix cornstarch with soy and add to the veggies. Add snow peas and peas. Add cabbage (I used the plain green stuff, but you could use napa). Add hoisin sauce and a drizzle of sesame oil. Toss with 1/2 pkg of whole wheat thin spaghetti. Top with sesame seeds, and enjoy!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bookish: The Omnivore's Dilemma

So, I read the Young Reader's Edition of Michael Pollan's much-lauded manifesto on the state of food. Why? Because I got a free ARC at a conference, and the information is the same as the adult version; it's just written on a lower level. The book was great--compelling, interesting, and truthful. It didn't read like propaganda; rather, like Pollan had set out to find the truth, and he found it. Agriculture in America is not a pretty thing these days. It is extremely unusual to find Ma and Pa Farmer working their land, raising animals and different crops--it just doesn't work that way anymore. These days, with government subsidies and the insane dependence on corn, it doesn't pay off to grow multiple crops or raise multiple animals. Pollan visits big corn farms, big cow farms, big organic farms--which are better because of the lack of pesticide, but still not as great as you might imagine--an industrial farm raising "free range" chickens that never leave the coop, and a small, local farm that works the way farms used to work--the way they SHOULD work. Pollan even hunts and gathers his own food, to get the full picture of how food can be obtained.

Warning to parents: your kids may want you to change the way you shop after reading this book. But if you read it too, you may want to change the way you eat. An interested, eye-opening read. Recommended, in either version.

Bookish for Kids: Battle of the Labyrinth

This the the 4th book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan. It is the summer before Percy turns 15 and he has yet another school orientation before heading off to camp. Again, monsters disrupt his orientation and the school is left believing he firebombed a cheerleader. Percy and Annabeth return to camp, only to find that Kronos is growing stronger and the Titans' revolt is imminent, Grover is about to lose his searchers' license, Clarisse is capable of being almost nice, and Annabeth must lead the others on a quest through the labyrinth if they are to have any hope of saving the camp from Luke's invasion. So, Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Tyson head into the labyrinth, but they soon find they can't find their way without a mortal guide, so Percy calls on his friend Rachel Elizabeth Dare, which does not make Annabeth happy. Also, there is still the problem of Nico, son of Hades, who still blames Percy for the death of his sister. Nico could be an ally to the camp or he could be a very powerful enemy, and he is being influenced by a dangerous spirit.

Lives are at stake, as usual, and there is the added "girl drama" with both Annabeth and Rachel possibly wanting to be more than friends with Percy, not to mention an encounter with Calypso.

Yet again, the allusions to Greek mythology add to the fun. The big battle fulfilling the prophecy will happen in the fifth and final book in the series, available now, though I have not yet read it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bookish for Kids: Fortune's Folly

Fortune's Folly by Deva Fagan is a new book recommended for ages 12 & up. Ever since Fortunata's mother died, the magic has left her father and though he once made beautiful shoes, his creations are now hideous and nearly impossible to sell. Fortunata does not believe in magic and tries to convince her father that he can make the same shoes he did before, but he cannot even see the difference.

In trying to save her father and herself, Fortunata gets mixed up with a band of fortune tellers and she soon finds herself in the unenviable position of creating a prophecy to help a prince find his bride...and being forced to make it come true.

As she goes on the quest with the prince, she soon falls in love with him herself. But, if she doesn't find him the princess her invented prophecy predicts, her father will be put to death. What's a girl to do?

The story is fun, sweet, and well-written. Not completely original, but what story is. A good read for fairy-tale fans.

Uncookish: Kashi Frozen Dinners

Ok, so I am generally an advocate of homemade meals, or at least semi-homemade. But sometimes you have been up since before 5 am and riding on planes all day to try to get home and you are hungry. And there is little in the fridge. And a trip to the store sounds like death. So, what to do?

You could do far worse than Kashi's Lemongrass Cocnut Chicken.
Find it in your frozen section. I really wasn't expecting much from this, I'll be honest. It's "all-natural." It has whole grains, 18 g of protein, and 7 g of fiber. I was expecting cardboard covered in dirt. But, it was actually...good. Delicious, even. Or maybe I was just sleep-deprived and desperate for nourishment. Seriously, though, it was well-seasoned, with a bit of spice, some tang from the lemongrass, and sweetness from the coconut. I didn't even need to add salt. (Probably because of the 680 mg of sodium--it is processed food, people.) It really did have good flavor, and it's relatively good for you. I think the price is around $5.00--sorry, I don't know for sure. You could definitely do worse when shopping for a frozen dinner.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cookish: What's for dinner?

Quick Chicken Stir-fry


¼ cup soy
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tsp sweet hot mustard
½ tsp chili garlic sauce
½ tsp ground ginger
1 clove garlic
1 tsp honey

1 chicken breast
2 carrots
2 cups cabbage (I used the pain ol' green stuff, but napa would be good, too)
1/2 cup peas
¼ cup water
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs oyster sauce
Sesame seeds, optional
Chop up your chicken into small pieces. Stir together the marinade ingredients.
Toss the chicken with the cornstarch and add to the marinade.Slice up carrots and shred cabbage (Not on the same cutting board as the chicken. But you knew that, right?)

Put enough olive oil to cover bottom of pan. Heat over medium-high heat. Add the chicken & marinade. Cook chicken, remove from pan. Add veggies and ¼ cup water. Cook until most of the water has evaporated and the veggies are crisp-tender. Add the chicken back to the pan, along with 1 tbs sesame oil and 1 tbs oyster sauce.

Serve over Jasmine Rice and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Notes: This was pretty tasty, but a little salty. Next time I will try adding hoisin instead of oyster sauce at the end.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bookish Review: Curse of the Spellmans

Another great story from Lisa Lutz. We rejoin the crazy Spellman gang for another adventure. Again, family members are trying to keep secrets from one another, but in a family of private investigators, the truth always comes out. Rae has befriended the detective who investigated her disappearance in the last book, but when she runs him over with his own car, the relationship is strained. Izzy is busy investigating the new neighbor, whom she suspects of having a dark secret. Her investigation lands her in jail--more than once. Luckily, she has an octogenarian lawyer friend who may be able to help her out.
Meanwhile, David's marriage is falling apart, mom and dad keep going on "disappearances" that they both secretly hate, and Izzy is falling hard for Detective Henry Stone, whose goal in life is to keep Rae from turning out like her sister.
The humor and mystery are still there, with the added romantic possibility that you just have to cheer for. An awesome second installment--Revenge of the Spellmans is next on my list.

Bookish Review: Vampire Diaries: The Return: Nightfall


It is with a very heavy heart that I write this review. Let me start by saying that I was a HUGE LJ Smith fan as a teen--I read them all. And, I loved the Vampire Diaries quartet. As anyone who read Smith's work probably knows, her final series came down to the book that was supposed to be the finale, and then she just...stopped writing. No new book, year after year. Fans all over were heartbroken.

Then came 2009. And a new LJ Smith book! Hear the choirs of angels rejoicing! But, is it the much-awaited finale to the unfinished series? No. It is a new book in a series that was finished. But we liked the characters, so let's jump in!

Or not. If you are a true and loyal LJ Smith fan, let me suggest never picking up this book and forgetting it was ever written. Reread the original books instead; you'll thank me.

This book seems to ignore the original mythology of the series, is not true to the characters, and has several plot points that just don't make sense. I have heard from other readers that they suspected a ghost writer, it was so unlike her original work. I understand publishers wanting to cash in on the Twilight phase--and I loved these books long before Twilight was even dreamed of--but rushing to print an unneccessary sequel that doesn't even make sense is not the way to do it.

I am now unsure if I even want her to finish the other series, if it is going to be like this.

I will now forget that I ever read this book.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cookish: What's for Dinner?

Turkey Empanadas

I was inspired by Thursday Night Smackdown (Warning: The language on this blog is rated R. But it is funny.) I even used her empanada dough:

For the dough:
3 c. AP flour
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (note: I used salted butter and left out the pinch of salt. Next time, I will use salted butter and add a little extra salt. I like salt, ok?)
1 egg
1 tbsp. white vinegar
up to 1/3 c. ice water (I believe that I used about 7 tbs, but I lost my notes, so who knows?)
pinch of salt

Put the flour, butter, egg and salt into the FoodProcessor and pulse until the mixture is crumbly and the butter is pea-sized.

Looky! I actually took pictures for you. Don't make fun of my ancient Cuisinart.

Add the vinegar and 2-3 tablespoons of water, pulse a few more times. Keep adding ice water and pulsing until the dough just starts to pull together - you don’t want so much water that you end up with one big, wet dough ball. Dump the dough out onto your work surface and briefly knead/mush it around until it comes together. Flatten it into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

While refrigerating, you can get to work on the filling.


1/4 onion
3 garlic cloves
1 carrot
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 lb ground turkey
1 can canellini beans
1 cup tomatillo salsa
chili powder
cheese (optional)

Dice your onion. Saute in a skillet with a little olive oil

While onion is cooking, dice your carrot and chop or grate your garlic. Add to the onion, along with cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add and brown your ground turkey. When turkey is browned, stir in beans and add 1 cup of salsa.

Pre-heat your over to 425.
When 30 minutes have passed, roll the dough out to 1/8 inch thick and cut out rounds the size of your choice. I don't actually have a biscuit cutter or anything, so I just traced a small plate with a paring knife. Add a spoonful of stuffing to the center of each round. I also sprinkled some mozarella cheese (because it was what I had) before sealing. It didn't add too much. I think I'd use a stronger cheese next time and maybe stir it into the filling rather than sprinkling on top. Moisten the edges with water and fold the rounds in half. Crimp the edges closed with a fork to seal. I also cut small steam vents in the top.
Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown. Let rest for a few minutes before biting in so you don't burn your tongue off! Serve with a salad. Sour cream would be good, too.