Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Starting the long weekend off with a bang (of sorts)

Harvey Wallbanger Cake from the kitchen of Ann Harwood Bryce
1 package 2-layer size orange cake mix
1 3¾-ounce package instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
½ cup orange juice
2 tbsp vodka
½ cup cooking oil
½ cup Galliano

1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp Galliano
1 tbsp vodka

In large mixing bowl, combine cake mix and pudding mix. Add eggs, oil, juice, Galliano and vodka. Beat on low speed for 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed for 5 minutes, scraping bowl frequently. Pour into greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or pour into 2 greased and floured 9-inch round pans and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool in pan for ten minutes. Remove to rack and pour on glaze while cake is warm.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The naming of cookbooks

The cookbook officially has a name -- Cook Until Done: A Collection of Recipes and Stories from Family and Friends.

This sage and elucidative advice was given to me by my father when I called him the first time I decided to make meat loaf on my own.  At least I am pretty sure that it was meat loaf.  It could have been bread.  But it is usually meat loaf when I tell the story, so I am going to stick with meat loaf.

I have come across the same and similar direction in quite a few of the recipes I am collecting.  "Bake in moderate oven."  "Bake at 375" (with no indication of length of time).  Or sometimes the temperature is left out.  "Bake one hour."  There is the occasional admonishment of not overcooking or undercooking, but generally there is an assumed level of kitchen sense.

The more I cook and experiment, the more I understand these vague directions -- you get a feel for how things look and smell at various stages -- but I still understand the wish and need for specifics when approaching a recipe for the first time, so as I write and revise I am attempting to fill in the details and come up with descriptions for what "done" might mean, as well as the methods for achieving it.

I just hope I can do it without testing every single recipe.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Today's find: Orange Muffins

Because I thought that this recipe was more fun than the banana bread recipe which did not have bananas in the ingredient list.

Orange Muffins from the kitchen of M. Corbitt, from the recipe file of Ann Harwood Bryce

Makes 3 dozen small muffins

1 cup butter or margaine
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
Grated rind of 2 oranges
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
Juice of 2 oranges

Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs.  Beat until well mixed.  Dissolve the baking soda in buttermilk and add it, alternating with the flour, to the egg mixture.  Add orange rind.  Fill well-buttered muffin tins 2/3 full.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.  Mix orange juice and brown sugar.  Spoon over muffins and remove them from tins immediately.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Omelette w/ portabella mushrooms, red onion and medium cheddar cheese

3 eggs, well beaten with a splash of milk
Handful chopped baby portabella mushrooms
Handful finely chopped red onion
4 slices medium cheddar cheese**

Over medium heat, saute onion and mushrooms in a bit of butter and olive oil until soft -- 3 or 4 minutes.  (I read somewhere recently that adding olive oil keeps the butter from burning.  Very handy tip.)  Add a little pepper if you like.  Salt is not necessary.  There is plenty of salt in the butter and cheese.  Scrape into small bowl and set aside.  Return pan to heat.  Add a little more butter.  (You can use non-stick spray if butter is not your friend.)  When butter has melted, pour in the beaten eggs.  Cook, without flipping, until eggs are almost set.  Spread onions and mushrooms over one half of the eggs.  Layer cheese over mushrooms and onions.  Fold eggs up over mushroom, onion, cheese mixture so that you have a sort of half moon of egg with the goodies in the middle.  Lower heat slightly to prevent burning.  Once you think that everything will hold together, gently flip the omelette.  Use a spatula rather than the courage of your convictions.  After another minute, turn off heat.  Serve omelette on warmed plate.  (It may seem like a minor detail, but a warmed plate makes a big difference.  Run it under warm water.  Set it on the stove while cooking if it won't be in the way.  Or pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so.)

**Swiss would be better, but cheddar is what I had in the fridge.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

For your next Kentucky Derby Day -- you know, to go with the hat

Kentucky Bourbon Chicken from the kitchen of Ann Harwood Bryce

8 chicken breasts
Salt & Pepper & Paprika to taste
½ cup butter
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 ounces bourbon
2 10-ounce cans cream of chicken soup
¾ tsp curry powder
Parsley and almonds for garnish

Dust chicken with flour, salt, pepper, paprika.  Saute in hot butter.  Brown and place in casserole.  Saute mushrooms, and add to chicken.  Add bourbon to skillet to deglaze.  Stir in soup and curry.  Stir until smooth and thick.  Pour over chicken.  Sprinkle parsley and slivered almonds over top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours.

(I can’t help thinking that the garnish of parsley and almonds should be added either late in the baking or just before serving.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Risotto redux

It's never a good idea to go to the grocery store when hungry and without a list, but I haven't been grocery shopping in a while, wasn't enthusiastic about anything that is in the freezer, and was pretty much out of symbiotic ingredients, so I decided to risk it.

I came home with some cheese (of course), zucchini, breaded whitefish from the seafood counter, a bag of risotto, red onions and baby portabella mushrooms.  There were a few other things, too, but they didn't go into dinner.

I chopped up a cup of the portabellas and sauteed them for a couple of minutes in a bit of butter and olive oil in a spacious frying pan.  (As Julia says, don't crowd the mushrooms or they won't brown.  Same goes for meat, I have noticed.)  I moved the pan off the heat, got out a sauce pan and sauted half a red onion (chopped) and two cloves of garlic (also chopped) in a bit of oil.

I have discovered that all you really need is enough oil or fat to coat whatever you are cooking.  The big puddles called for in a lot of recipes are completely unnecessary, especially when working with a food with fairly high moisture content (i.e. mushrooms or zucchini).  The moisture released by the food keeps everything moving around and not sticking, but a little oil still gives it that yumminess.

A cup of risotto joined the onion and garlic, followed shortly by a cup of vegetable stock.  Again with the stirring until absorbed noted in the previous recipe.  Then a cup of a Riesling which wasn't too impressive on its own but turned out to do very good things for risotto.  Then another cup of stock.  And a bit more wine for good measure.  The mushrooms when in right near the end of all of the adding and stirring of the liquid.

I cubed up a bit of muenster cheese and added that over the top when I served the rice.  The mostly steamed zucchini was a nice complement.  The fish was a bit nondescript, but not bad given that I bought it pre-breaded.  But the risotto was the star.

All in all, not bad for an improvised Tuesday night dinner.  Not bad at all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Expanding culinary horizons

There is a magical, mystical dessert popular in New England called a Whoopee Pie.  Through the magic of Facebook, and East Coast friend introduced a Midwestern friend to this tasty treat, so I thought I would post a recipe.  The below recipe comes from my mother-in-law and is quite famous at least within family circles (and I would guess that they were popular with the neighborhood kids as well as her sons).

This little dessert is often a choice for variation on flavors of both cake and filling, but I prefer the classic.

A photograph of the actual recipe
Whoopee Pies from the kitchen of Joyce Poole
2 3/4 cups sifted flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour milk
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup cocoa

Add hot water to cocoa. Cream shortening and sugar. Mix dry ingredients. Add eggs and vanilla to shortening and sugar mixture. Add dry ingredient mixture with milk, alternating in steps. Add cocoa paste and mix until smooth. Drop by tablespoons [on greased baking sheet]. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.

2 1/2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla

Cook milk and flour until smooth. Cool. It will be very thick. Cream sugar and shortening. Add milk and flour paste and whip until smooth.

Assembly instructions (not included in the recipe):  Let cakes cool.  Take one, spread with a thick layer of filling and top with a second cake.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The daily recipe

More than a third of the way through the first stage of my cookbook project is probably a bit late to come up with the idea of posting a recipe a day, but I am going to do it anyway.  And I may post more than one a day because, well, sharing is fun.

I have moved on to recipes from my mother's side of the family, and even though I have no idea who Jane might be, I thought these cookies sounded like fun.  (Remember, at the outset I am typing up recipes pretty much as they are written, so the directions might be a little ... informal and assume that the cook knows more than he or she does.  After all, if these recipes were familiar to the people I got them from, they probably didn't need a lot of detail.  Or perhaps it is simply a matter of general cooking and baking skills being more common in the days before Lean Cuisine.)

Ranger Cookies from the kitchen of Jane
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
2 cups quick oatmeal
2 cups cereal, such as Rice Krispies or bran
1 cup coconut
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped nuts

Cream shortening and sugars.  Add vanilla, salt and eggs.  Sift together flour, soda and baking powder and add to creamed mixture.  Add oatmeal, cereal, etc.  Mix well and form into balls.  Bake 12 minutes at 350 degrees.  These cookies will be soft, but will harden later when cool.  Makes about 7 to 8 dozen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

An Ode to Risotto

Okay, so I don't write odes, but the risotto I just made is definitely poetic.  Yum!

1 cup risotto
2 chopped shallots
1 chopped clove garlic
2 Tbsp salted butter
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup Savuignon Blanc
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh broccoli

Saute shallots and garlic in butter and oil for about 3 minutes -- fragrant with a little color, but not too brown.

Add risotto and cook for 2 minutes.

Add one cup of stock.  Cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring somewhere between often and continuously to keep the risotto from sticking.

Add the other cup of stock.  Keep going with the cooking and stirring.

When mostly absorbed, add the broccoli and mix in well.

Add the wine, and go repeat the cooking and stirring process until most of the liquid is gone.

Turn off the heat -- but don't remove from burner -- cover and let rest for 5-10 minutes to let the broccoli cook a bit more.

I didn't add any salt or pepper because the butter and stock had salt in them, and I don't care for pepper, but you certainly could.

Goat cheese crumbles would have been a good garnish, but I didn't have any, so I ate it as is.


I think that it would be excellent with roasted or grilled chicken.  You could use beef or chicken stock instead of vegetable.  I had notions of mixing in pesto, but in the end I didn't.  I might with the leftovers, though.

When was the last time you saw a recipe which called for suet?

Well, here's one in case you decided you were missing out.

Green Tomato Mincemeat from the kitchen of Helen Hoffman Babione

1 peck green tomatoes, chopped fine. Drain off juice and measure. Take same amount of hot water [as drained off tomato juice, I think]. (Throw juice away.) Add 2 tbsp salt.  Boil a few minutes. Drain. Do this three times. [By "this" I think she means add hot water and salt, boil and drain.]  Drain well, and then add following:

1 peck chopped apples
5 pounds brown sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 cup suet (ground)
2 tsp each nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves.
1 pound seeded raisins
1 pound seedless raisins

Boil together until thick. Care while hot.

(Then what?? Put it in a pie? Pour it over the intruders storming the castle? Eat it right out of the pot with the biggest spoon you can find?  And can you even buy seeded grapes any more?  Or apples measured in pecks?  Or a five pound bag of brown sugar?  A lot of these recipes are definitely about stocking up.  Suet isn't hard to come by.  The woodpeckers and squirrels that live -- or at least eat -- in the backyard love it.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Aristocratic Pickles

Having decided to turn NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) into CkBkWriMo (Cookbook Writing Month), I am madly writing about various food experiences and typing up family recipes.  I had to get to the third recipe before I got more than one line of directions, and it's a doozy.  Enjoy.

Aristocratic Pickles (based on the handwriting, from the kitchen of Helen Hoffman Babione)

One gallon medium size pickles sliced thin, put in brine to float an egg for six days.  Stir once a day.  Then drain. Boil in water to cover pickles with alum (?) size of an egg for ten minutes.  Then drain.  And cover pickles with 2 tbsp (word I can't read) of ginger for 10 min.  Then drain and boil in the following until transparent

1 quart vinegar and 1 pint water
3 pounds granulated sugar and 1 tbsp celery seed
1 tbsp whole cloves
1 tbsp allspice
1 stick cinnamon

Put spices in bag except celery seed

Add slightly more vinegar and water syrup is very close

(I think that this might be my favorite use of eggs ever -- as brine density barometer and unit of measure.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The morning's cooking adventure

I am most of the way through reading and savoring The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rosetto Kasper and Sally Swift, diligently marking recipes to try with one color of sticky note and advice with another.  I was rather impressed with my accomplishment until I discovered that there is a sequel/companion: The Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends.

As a side note, if you don't listen to the weekly radio program on your local npr station or online, and you love preparing and eating food, you are missing out.  I have developed a tradition of listening to the Turkey Confidential episode of the show as I prepare the Thanksgiving meal, and it enhances the holiday wonderfully.  The host's approach to food and cooking has the alchemical and experimental qualities which appeal to me.

I love vegetable soup and lentil soup, but I have trouble making the broth come out as thick and hearty as I would like, and if I want the taste to be truly savory, I usually have to add meat.  No more.  Thanks to Lynne Rosetto Kasper, I have found the recipe for soup that tastes just right.  I think that the keys to the yumminess are tomato paste, paprika, wine and portobello mushrooms.  I have made two batches so far.  Bliss.  I don't even have to put cheese on top.  That's how good it is.

But soup is not the day's cooking adventure.  Eggs are.

I love eggs.  They are one of those foods with elemental versatility.  They go into dishes to help bind things together, they add depth to salads, and they provide a stage for showcasing all manner of foods in the form of omelettes and quiches.  They get a bad rap because of the cholesterol, but they are a wonderful source of protein, so if you are worried about cholesterol, just don't eat a million of them.  Apply appropriate moderation.  Or make an omelette with one whole egg and two parts eggs beaters or whites or substitute or whatever.  (Though between you and me, I would wonder what and egg substitute has in place of the cholesterol that might be just as bad, if not worse.)

Every once in a while, I like a plain, hard boiled egg, still warm from the pan, sliced in half and sprinkled with just a hint of sea salt.  No fancy combinations or processes or ingredients.  Just the egg.

Among the recipes in How to Eat Supper which intrigued me are two involving hard boiled eggs.  One is sauteed deviled eggs and the other is for sauteed hard boiled eggs.  I had some eggs in the refrigerator which were reaching a dubious age, so I boiled them yesterday.  I ate two as a snack and the other three went back into the fridge until I decided what I wanted to do with them.

This morning, as I was casting about for what to have for breakfast, I remembered the eggs and the recipe for sauteeing them.  I decided to forgo the bread crumb and garlic topping, and I had to substitute basalmic vinegar for white wine vinegar, but the result was interesting in a good way.

Word to the wise (this is the adventure part): room temperature basalmic vinegar added to olive oil which is hotter than you think it is leads to a rather impressive flambe in a hurry.  Luckily, the eggs were not yet in the pan, so I waited for things to settle down, washed and dried the pan, and started again with a lower flame and more attention.

A little olive oil, a little vinegar.  Heat until vinegar bubbles.  It doesn't take long, I promise.  Cut hard boiled eggs in half and slide into pan, cut side down.  Saute for a few minutes and then turn over.  The eggs will have a nice glaze to them.  The eggs adopted the sweetness of the basalmic vinegar nicely, and I ate them with sauteed zucchini and mashed potatoes.  The resulting flavor medley on the fork  was surprisingly savory, causing me to ponder other possible saute baths for hard boiled eggs.

Score another one for the incredible, edible egg.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Springsteen post

This post is in a continuous state of flux as I discover and rediscover reasons that the music and lyrics of this man speak to me so clearly and on so many levels, but earlier tonight I found myself once again speaking from heart and soul and decided it was time to make one more pass, one more revision, and then set it free, at least for a while.

I begin with a few words not my own.  Set the scene.  Offer a bit of context.  Or at least prove that it's not just me.

Excerpted transcript from the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors presentation/celebration:

Jon Stewart: "I am not a music critic.  Nor historian.  Nor archivist.  I cannot tell you where Bruce Springsteen falls in the pantheon of the American songbook.  I cannot illuminate the context of his work or its roots in the folk and oral history traditions of our great nation.  But I am from New Jersey.  And so I can tell you what I believe, and what I believe is this:  I believe that Bob Dylan and James Brown had a baby.  Yes.  And they abandoned this child -- as you can imagine at the time, interracial same sex relationships being what they were -- they abandoned this child at the side of the road, between the exit interchanges of 8A and 9 on the New Jersey Turnpike.  That child is Bruce Springsteen. 
I didn't understand his music for a long time ... until I began to yearn ... until I began to question the things that I was making and doing in my own life ... until I realized that it wasn't just about they joyful parade on stage and the theatrics.  It was about stories of lives that could be changed.  I was working in a bar in New Jersey as you would imagine, in central Jersey right off route 1, and every night when I closed the bar, I would get in my car, and I was driving at the time a 1976, off brown Gremlin.  The Gremlin was a car that was invented for two reasons: one, birth control for young males, and two, it was invented so that the Pinto wouldn't feel so bad about itself.  But I would get in my car every night, and I would put in the music of Bruce Springsteen, and everything changed.  And I never again felt like a loser.  When you listen to Bruce's music, you aren't a loser.  You are a character in an epic poem ... about losers.  But that is not the power of Bruce Springsteen.  It is that whenever I see Bruce Springsteen do anything, he empties the tank.  Every time.  And the beautiful thing about this man is he empties that tank for his family.  He empties that tank for his art.  He empties that tank for his audience.  And he empties it for his country.  And we on the receiving end of that gift are ourselves rejuvenated, if not redeemed.  And I thank you."

I remember hearing of Bruce Springsteen when I was younger.  I remember the popularity of Born in the U.S.A., but, having grown up in a house where the soundtrack was classical, jazz and a bit of folk, popular, rock 'n' roll music was a mostly foreign language to me.  I listened to what was easily accessible on the radio and mostly just goggled at the "alternative," cutting edge music that my friends listened to because I couldn't understand most of the lyrics, and it generally sounded like noise to me.  I just figured that I wasn't cool enough to get it.

I remember being something of a fan by the time Human Touch and Lucky Town arrived on the scene -- the title track of each are two of my favorite songs to this day -- and those two recordings formed the foundation of the relationship, but it wasn't until I was well into college that I became a truly devoted follower.  And it happened at a very specific moment.

While I don't remember the specific cause(s) of that day's stress, the overall level was through the roof.  I needed escape.  I needed out of my own head.  I detached the speakers from my little boombox and set them on the floor facing each other.  I lay down between them, closed my eyes and listened to The Ghost of Time Joad from beginning to end, letting the music and the lyrics just flow into my ears and through the rest of my body.

From that moment on, Bruce Springsteen (with or without the E Street Band) has been my refuge, my haven, my muse, my perspective, my drug of choice.  Whatever was happening, whatever I was going through -- good or bad -- there was Bruce ... and eventually Patti, Nils and Soozie in their own rights.  In fact, Patti has had almost as much of an impact on me as her husband has.

My first live Springsteen experience was in 1999, in Boston.  I paid an obscene amount of money (given my income level at the time) for two tickets, and the experience was worth every penny.  I don't have too many isolated, specific memories from that concert other the feeling of the music and the words rising up through the soles of my feet, and the tears which sprang to my eyes during "Thunder Road."  I left the arena thinking that either no one should have that much fun doing his job, or everyone should.

It was amazing, but it is the second concert that I attended which is my next specific, vivid memory, taking place almost exactly ten years later, also in Boston.

Part of the Magic tour -- I attended by myself -- and it was one of the best nights of my life.  I hadn't been sleeping well.  Work was extremely stressful.  There were various kinds of chaos in my world, much of it self inflicted.  I couldn't really afford to go, but I missed the Rising tour, and it was one of those times when I decided I needed to do something about actually living my life rather than just getting through it.  

People expressed concern that I would venture into Boston at night on my own and tried to convince me that I should take someone with me.  All of their concern made me a little nervous about my little adventure, but my relationship with Bruce was very personal and intimate.  I wasn't much interested in sharing.  This was something I was doing for me.

So I scalped a ticket, got brave, drove to the Sullivan Square station and hopped on the T.  My seat was high, but I had a clear view of the stage.  Every light went out in the place, and I was barely even able to register just how dark it was when the question "Is there anybody alive out there?" snarled through the sound system and shivered through me from the soles of my boots to the roots of my hair.  The subsequent opening chords of "Radio Nowhere" assured me that I was indeed alive, more so than I had been in quite a while.  In the next breath I surrendered completely to the music, letting it swallow me whole.  

I only got a few hours of sleep that night, but I slept like the dead and awoke refreshed and rejuvenated, still feeling alive.

I hadn't listened to Magic beyond "Radio Nowhere" (which had been released as a single prior to the release of the entire album), so I wasn't sure if not knowing all of the words to all of the songs would be a detriment, but I appreciate it more having heard some of the songs for the first time live.  The concert was a fantastic introduction.

My only regret was that I didn't pony up for a ticket for the second night.  I didn't make that mistake again.  On the Working on a Dream tour, I attended two concerts in Boston, one in Hartford and one in Mansfield.  I even braved the insanity of Gillette stadium in Foxboro.  Not sure if I will ever do that again, not even for Bruce.  The new stuff grows on me -- especially Magic -- but it is hard to top "Jungleland" in concert or the full rock band version of "Ghost of Tom Joad" or the electricity of Nils' solo in "Youngstown."  That man knows how to make a guitar scream poetry.

Right about the same time I attended the Boston Magic tour concert, I picked up Patti Scialfa's most recent release (probably as a result of same), and I have come to love her music almost as much as I do her husband's.  She's got some lyrics which speak to me strongly.  From there I have branched out into Soozie Tyrell and Nils Lofgren as well, but I always return to Bruce and Patti.

Because of the way that Bruce channels music, is music while onstage, especially with the band, my preference is for live performances, or recordings thereof ... with one notable exception.  The Seeger Sessions surprised me.  It was a revelation.  They weren't playing music.  They were making music.  I love it more than the concerts I have heard from the Sessions tour.

Now, with the passing of first Dan Federici and more recently Clarence Clemons, the recordings -- whether of a live concert or a studio session -- take on yet another level of meaning.  They have become a memorial, a monument and a legacy to a relationship bonded by the music and the lyrics which told their "New Jersey fairy tale."  The final sentence of Clarence's introduction to his book Big Man and Tall Tales is "Without Scooter there is no Big Man."  While the loss of Phantom Dan was certainly painful, I can't help but wonder what might be next for Scooter without the Big Man, but I will be watching and listening to find out.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Dinner - where the whole is so often greater than the sum of the parts

You didn't really eat lunch, even though you took a lunch break, so you make sure to leave work on time and hurry home to prepare a real meal, even though you aren't really sure what might be sufficiently edible in the house.

Open the fridge and take out a zucchini, a summer squash and a red bell pepper.  That's a good start.  Next take some homemade pesto out of the freezer.  You keep it in ice cube trays for easy portioning.  One tray is still about half full.  Set it on the counter to thaw.  If it is too much, you will have leftovers.  Open the cabinet to decide on pasta and discover a jar of marinated artichoke hearts and a can of salmon.  You decide on thin spaghetti and put a pot of water on to boil.  Toss in a bit of sea salt, but no olive oil.

After you chop up the squash and red pepper, combine it in a bowl.  Put half a stick of butter in your favorite little copper sauce pan to melt and press three cloves of garlic into it.

When the water boils, drop in the pasta.  Thaw the pesto the rest of the way in the microwave and stir in some magic cheese.

Open the can of salmon, drain and place in a bowl.  Chop up some artichoke hearts.

When the garlic butter is ready, spread it on two slices of asiago bread and top with local baby Swiss cheese made from raw milk.  Then toast.

Mix cooked pasta with pesto, adding a bit of the artichoke marinade.  Drizzle a bit of olive oil into the still hot pasta saucepan and throw in a few handfuls of the squash pepper mix and saute for just a few minutes, grinding in a bit of sea salted dried garlic.

You assemble the meal -- pesto pasta first, then sauteed vegetables, then chopped artichoke hearts, then chunks of salmon, then crumbled Moody Blue cheese for a bit of bite.  Take the garlic toast out of the toaster.  Finally, you pour a glass of chilled white wine --Riesling perhaps, but Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio if you must -- sit down, and enjoy.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Taking God out of the Pledge of Allegiance ... and the rest of the government?

I am not religiously opinionated enough to have much of a preference as to whether we are one nation (ha!) under God or just under the flag, but I am a fan of consistency (as well as an observer of irony and hypocrisy -- my own and others').

Ever since I first saw an American flag inside a Catholic church, I have laughed at the notion of a separation between church and state in this country.

I am not so much concerned about whether there is a separation or not (though I do think that it is a lovely idea).  Partiots can be religious, and religious folks can be patriotic.  My issue is with the saying of one thing and doing the opposite.

If there is no God in the pledge, then there should be no "God Bless America," and certainly no swearing in of witnesses, supreme court justices or presidents of the United States with their hands on a Bible.  While I don't know the oaths by heart, I am sure that God is mentioned in each and every one of them.  And given that the Bible is the religious book used for these ceremonies, it is a very specific Christian God (who, I might mention, is the same God as Yahweh and Allah, but that is a whole other suject) we are talking about here in a land where the law guarantees the right to worship who and how you choose -- a God who requires absolute loyalty.  It is not enough to believe in Him, worship Him, follow Him in your own life.  You must also insist on the impossibility of the existence and validity of any other deity.  Anyone who believes anything else is not only wrong but, unless converted, doomed to a torturous eternal afterlife (in which he or she probably don't even believe, which I have always found to be a bit of a stretch).

We can't have God in school (which also means that teaching creationism is out), but he is allowed in every court in the land?  All of those judges and lawyers (and probably quite a few of the witnesses, defendants and plaintiffs) in those courts have spent a major portion of their lives in school (and possibly in a church of some sort as well), where religion and God apparently don't belong, but then they go to work and have to invoke God every day.

Is whoever is insisting on this particular edit really thinking the situation all the way through?  Or is the expectation that one instance will not have any ripple effect?  Help me out here.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Being a bit reactionary

Someone sent me this link:

which led me here:

Initially my reaction went into a reply e-mail, but I think I will go ahead and post it here.

I tend to have issues with this sort of thing.  [Edit to add: By "this sort of thing," I mean discussions of feminism in pretty much any sense of the word.]  Or at least a different point of view.

It's not that I think that gender inequity isn't a problem in pretty much any arena, but I am not sure how much good it does to point out such things over and over and over.

I'm not saying this well.

I mean, it's important to recognize that there is an issue, but there is a risk of just ending up whining, "It's not fair!"

Sure, people are idiots and chauvinists and bigots.  And a lot of those idiots and chauvinists and bigots are probably men.  Do women (and a few enlightened men) really think that they are going to change men just by pointing out to them over and over again that they are wrong in the name of educating them?  It's the same core issue I have with the war between the species.  As long as women insist on trying to change men, they aren't really going to get anywhere.  They might get superficial change.  But if you make him give up beer and cigars and red meat, he is either going to end up resenting you or consuming those things on the sly and lying to you about it, or both.

(And really that philosophy applies to trying to change anyone who doesn't want to change or be changed, no matter the gender.  Ultimately, you can only educate people who are willing and open minded enough to learn, even if they don't agree.)

The same applies in various professional arenas.  Quit whining about how hard it is to be respected or get ahead or make your mark or be taken seriously because you are a woman.  Sure, being a woman puts you at a disadvantage in a lot of situations, but, as my mother used to say (much to my unending frustration and consternation) "You can look at this two ways ..."  You can whine and cry and bemoan your situation, or you can buck up, be positive and make the best of it and get the job done.  Take ownership.  Take action.  Make a positive difference.

Don't be a great female science fiction writer.  Be a great science fiction writer.  Hell, just be a great writer.  Bring to the table whatever it is that makes you truly unique, and do what you have to do to get where you want to go.  Isn't that what a man would do?  Prove that he is better than everyone else?  Or maybe prove that he has the right connections or enough money so that he doesn't have to be better than everyone else?

You have to be a bit sneaky, er, creative to compensate for misperceptions and preconceived notions.  If you think that your scifi isn't selling because you are woman, then write under a male pseudonym.  If you refuse to compromise in any way and insist that the world must accept you as is in all of your female glory, just remember that you are asking a lot of other people to change the way that they think -- which is likely to be seen as a compromise from their perspective -- without changing anything about the way you think.  You gotta give to get, honey.  Doesn't matter if you are right or not.  Everyone else is entitled to the same freedom of expression and opinion that you are demanding.

If you think wearing a short skirt and a low cut blouse to a meeting with a publisher or agent with get you the deal, then go for it.  Okay, there was probably a better way to put that last suggestion, but the point is to play to your strengths.  Find your angle.  Find your way to work the system to your advantage.  Learn the game and the rules from the inside out, and then figure out how to break them without getting caught.  Level the playing field.  It's what the men do.  Not that women should become men because that would be boring and defeat the point of struggling to shine in the first place.  But I do think that they should learn from them.  Take a page from their book, revise it and make it better.  That's what writers do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sink or Swim -- a ramble

Writing Assignment
Arabella Hicks - The Fiction Class

This is an exercise in learning how to write a climactic scene.

A boat sinks during a storm, and only ten of its passengers make it onto a lifeboat.  One by one the survivors are knocked off until, after a month at sea, only two survivors are left.  There is not enough food for both of them, and one of them is going to have to get rid of the other.  One of them is a teenage girl who is very strong for her age, but she is blind.  The other is a musician from a successful boys' band.  He is twenty-six years old and smaller than the girl.  Who will survive?  Write the final scene.

(The Fiction Class by Sara Breen page 73)


Initial reaction: Seriously?  A life boat with enough food for a month?  Not to mention water.  A blind girl and a boy band singer?  Who freakin' cares?  After a month starving at sea and offing eight other people, they are both insane.  They struggle and both fall overboard to drown.  I see no other way out unless they figure out how to work together.  If they have not been found yet, they aren't going to be in this modern age.  The shipwreck would be known.  The area would be searched.  I'm all for imagination, but this is just insane.  No thank you.  I just can't get past the month in a lifeboat idea.

... Or maybe I can.  But they still both die.  they don't fight for one to win over the other.  They fight because one wants to give up, and the other wants to survive.  One tries to stop the other from capsizing the boat, and they both go over.  Or they make a murder suicide pact, and the suicide can't go through with it.  Or the murderer commits suicide instead, leaving the other to starve.  Except that a murderer needs a weapon.  Unless we're back to just a battle of sheer strength, and one drowns.

Shipwrecks are hard to come by these days.  What kind of boat were they on to begin with?  Something big enough to have a lifeboat, rather than just life preservers.  And big enough to have enough food for ten people for a month, if one person dies every few days.  I'm back to thinking that a boat that big can't go down without someone knowing about it because there would be radio contact of some sort.  Until the storm or the ice berg or whatever hit, and all of the electronics drowned.

Did all of the electronics really drown?  If there was time to gather food and this is a modern story (based on the successful boy band singer -- not that there weren't successful boy bands before the age of gps and cell phones and whatnot because back in the day, when they were all young, the Beatles and the Stones and the E Street Band were all bands made up of boys), are you telling me that no one figured out a way to bring a cell phone of some sort?  Of course, it may not work, and the battery will eventually die.  But wouldn't it be worth trying to get some sort of signal and some sort of bearing on land and then work together to try to move the boat and that direction, gauging according to the path of the sun once the battery/signal gives out?

And over the course of the month, if they are truly out on open water, everyone hasn't died of exposure?  Or in another storm?  And throwing a body, or eight, overboard hasn't attracted some sort of carnivorous sea creature?

I mean, how does this work?

"Okay, we're on a boat.  There are ten of us.  We've got a bunch of food, but clearly not enough for the long term, so we're going to have to start pushing people over.  Or you can always fall in on your own.  Who wants to go first?"

And it would seem to me that whoever pushes the first person over would be the obvious second victim.  Then the seeds of suspicion are sown.  Who is the next pusher?  The next pushee?  Madness won't be too far behind suspicion.

Why are the two kids left?  How did they outlast the grownups?

Okay.  Let's see.  Where were we?  Oh yes.  Billy and Jane are the last ones in the lifeboat.  They sit on opposite ends staring at each other.  Well, Jane is blind, so her stare is kind of directionless, but Billy stares at her intently, watching every move as intently as she listens for him to make even the smallest sound of movement.

Each one knows that there is no way out.  They have been on this lifeboat for a month with no sign of rescue. The food and water are almost gone, along with hope.  But hope survives on belief rather than food and water, so it is more tenacious.  As long as they keep hoping, there is a chance, right?  You read about miraculous, impossible stories all the time.  People survive car crashes, being lost in the woods or on a mountain, animal attacks and storms.  It happens.  If it can happen to those people, why can't it happen to me?

Billy and Jane have the same thought at the same time.  "I can survive this.  I'm going to be the one who makes it."

"I have been blind since birth.  Look at everything I have had to overcome.  I have had to deal with a major handicap every single day.  That makes me strong and resourceful."

"I was just a poor kid from a town no one had ever heard of.  I left home at sixteen and headed to Hollywood.  I worked all sorts of horrible, demeaning jobs and sang and danced every chance I got because that is what I was meant to do.  I started with nothing, and now I am part of one of the most popular bands ever!  That makes me strong and resourceful."

Then they have another thought at the same time: "But am I strong enough and resourceful enough to kill another person?  And what if I succeed and get the last of the food?  Then what?"

Jane: "I'll be all alone in a boat on open water in the middle of nowhere.  If I win, I'll live a little longer, but how much longer?"

Billy: "If I can beat her in a fight, then I will be really alone.  Will someone really find me?  What's the use of being the last man standing if I still end up as fish food?"


Nope.  It's not sparking anything for me.  If there is no reason to think that either one will survive, what is the point of having one outlast the other?

Any ideas out there?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lunch in Paris

Writing Assignment
Arabella Hicks - The Fiction Class

Think of a person from history who intrigues you.  Napoleon?  Cleopatra?  Martin Luther King?

Write a two- to three-page description of that person eating a meal.  What would s/he eat?  How would s/he eat?  What would s/he be thinking about as s/he ate?  Would someone be sharing the meal with him or her?  What would they talk about?

Remember: Bring Your Character to Life!

(The Fiction Class by Susan Breen, page 41)


I wonder if I could have two famous people eating together.  Would they have to be from the same era?  Yes.  My little fantasy lunch could work.  (Note: I know very little about the two characters in this little scene but am somewhat in the process of researching them both, especially the lady, given my ongoing fascination with things Parisian.  The only information I confirmed was the possibility/accuracy of the date as it related to each character's life and career.)

The year is 1925.

Paris in the spring.

Ernest Hemingway is working on The Sun Also Rises.  Most of the time he is hanging out on the Left Bank, but today he is taking a break and finds himself strolling through a more upscale part of town.  His untucked shirt, open collar, rolled up sleeves and wrinkled trousers earn him a few sidelong glances, but the young writer is lost in thought and pays them no heed.  He soaks up the warmth of the spring sunshine, letting it burn off his hangover.

As he passes a cafe, his attention is arrested by a striking woman sitting at a table, smoking a cigarette and sipping a cafe au lait.  As he watches, a waiter brings her a plate of fruit, cheese and bread.  She nods her thanks, a faint smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.  Large sunglasses and an elegant hat hide the rest of her expression -- the rest of her face, in fact.

She sets down her coffee cup, puts out her cigarette, and as she turns her attention to the food in front of her, she says, "Would you care to join me, or do you prefer to just stand there and gape?"

Her English is accented but fluent, and her voice hints at velvety smolder underneath her elegant attire.

"Even a Frenchman would not be so rude ... or so sloppily dressed.  You must be American."

Not easily discomfitted, our hero is startled into at least standing up a little straighter, but he smiles rakishly and accepts the invitation, accepting a seat across from his enchantress, glad to have permission as well as the opportunity to study her a little more closely.  Beneath the hat and glasses is a delicately made up face, a single strand of pearls and a distinctive, square-cut but tailored jacket which is becoming the lady's trademark.

While the rude, sloppily dressed American is trying to determine the lady's age, the waiter appeared at his elbow.


"I don't suppose you have whiskey in this place."

"Non, monsieur."  The waiter's disdain is evident.

"Fine.  A bottle of wine and whatever the lady is having."

"Bien sur."  The waiter bows slightly and disappeared.

The author turns back to his companion to see that smile again -- subtle, beautiful, mysterious.

"Only an American would be drinking so early in the day, right?"

"Only something so vile as whiskey, yes.  But wine with lunch is perfectly French."

"Bien sur," he grins.

At that, she actually laughs -- a light, musical sound which only deepens his enchantment.

"Gabrielle Chanel," she introduces herself, extending a hand which he stares at for an instant before he decides to try to take it and graze the knuckles with a kiss as he had seen Frenchmen do when they were trying to seduce some innocent young thing traveling abroad.  The clumsy gesture earns him another smile.

"Ernest Hemingway."


"Gabrielle ... that's a lovely name."

"Friends -- and some admirers -- call me Coco."

He thinks about that for a minute.  "I prefer Gabrielle, if you don't mind.  Or should it be Madame Chanel to this ill-mannered, sloppily dressed American?"

"Gabrielle suits me just fine, Monsieur Hemingway."

He smiles at the sound of his name translated into her accent -- Em-een-gway.  "Ernest, please.  Speaking of suits, that's a sharp one you're wearing."

"Merci.  It is one of my favorite designs."

"Your design?  You're a fashion designer?"

"Oui, monsieur.  Indeed I am, although I wouldn't expect someone like you to take notice of such things."

He is almost offended until he sees her smiling again.

"Just because a man looks as if he can barely dress himself doesn't mean that he can't appreciate a beautiful woman, and I'd wager that is the entire point of your designs."

"One of the points, but certainly not the only one."

The waiter returns with the food and wine, as well as another cafe au lait.  Hemingway downs half a glass of wine in one gulp and ignores the food.

"Not the only one?"

"Non.  Of course not.  A woman should dress first and foremost for herself.  If she does that and knows what she likes and what flatters her body and her style -- perhaps even her mood -- then the appreciation of others will follow naturally.  If she doesn't appreciate herself, there is no reason that anyone else should either.  If she does, natural though it may be, the appreciation of others isn't even necessary."

As he listens, Hemingway takes a large bite of cheese and bread, washing it down with the rest of the wine in his glass.

"But," Chanel smiles again, a little mischievously this time, "a little appreciation ... stopping a man in his tracks, for example, never hurts."

Had she not been wearing the sunglasses she might have looked demure, even fluttered her eyelashes, but behind those dark lenses it was impossible to tell.  Hemingway laughs.

"No, I suppose it doesn't, though I would think that a ragamuffin American like me would be easy prety.  Are you telling me that this works on my more cultured, sophisticated French counterparts?"

"Bien sur!  But be careful in assuming that all Frenchmen are sophisticated."

"Fair enough."

she selects a cigarette from a monogrammed silver case, and he lights it for her.  They sit in companionable silence, and he drinks another glass of wine -- a little more slowly this time, clearly enjoying the taste and soaking up his surroundings.

Cigarette finished, his companion rises.

"It has been a pleasure, Monsieur Hemingway, but I must get to an appointment.  I do hope we meet again."

He stands as she does.  "The pleasure was mine, Madame Chanel."

He watches her walk away, as she no doubt intends him to do, and returns to his lunch to find that the waiter has so kindly left him the check to pay.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Raising a glass to new beginnings

I keep complaining (mostly internally) about not getting enough writing done, and about not writing consistently.  This past weekend, I typed over 7500 words.  The problem, if it is really a problem, is that everything was written for an audience of one.  Audience of two might be more accurate sinceI keep rereading what I wrote.  Over the course of today, I wrote another thousand words which will likely never be read by anyone but me.  (In this case, that's a good thing.)
7500 is a lot of words for a not quite forty-eight hour period.  Respectable at any rate.
Somewhere in either a NaNoWriMo or Script Frenzy conversation, I read about wasting one's word count on writing other than the project at hand -- chatting, e-mailing, posting to various social networking sites, sending text messages -- and I realized that when I really get going, either due to concentration or because I get really emotionally fired up about something, word count isn't the problem.  The problem is where I channel it and how I use it.
Some things can't really be helped.  Those probably fifty e-mails I send every day at work, for example.
Other things shouldn't be helped.  Writing in my journal is cathartic for me.  It helps me figure things out and work through problems and deal with various emotional crises and conundrums (conundra?).  I have set up a private blog or two in the past where the posts can only be viewed by select, invited individuals.  I think that kind of writing is good, too.  It tends to be the most creative writing I do that someone else sees.  That particular audience has disappeared, however.
The time has come to broaden my writing horizons, and my audience.  I'm not much of a social butterfly.  I'm a nerdy little hermit who tends to worry about being noticed by strangers, but even in my tiny little corner of the world, I know that there are a few people listening, so maybe it is time that I speak up and let my voice carry just a little farther, and maybe a few other people will hear me and think that what I have to say is interesting.
Or not.  But I definitely won't know if I don't try.
There are certainly plenty of opportunities and possibilities out there.  I have heard rumors of Camp NaNoWriMo.  And I have a Script Frenzy screenplay I have never finished.  As well as the first nanowrimo novel.  I could finally figure out how to write rpg characters, maybe even become a dungeon master if I decide that I like it.
A good bit of what I write might still stay hidden for a while, but in the meantime, I am going to take another shot at blogging.
After all, as Julie Powell says in Julie and Julia, "I could write a blog.  I have thoughts."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Connections and Discoveries

There was a time when I read pretty much nothing but books about books -- novels about books, to be more specific.  I am pretty sure that it started with The Little Country by Charles de Lint and went from there.  Every once in a while I would mix it up with a non-fiction sort of book about books, such as So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson.  I found novels and mysteries and fantasy and chick lit.  I have read a pile of such books, and there are still plenty on my "to read" list.  The novel I started writing the first time I participated in National Novel Writing Month involves books.

Phases like this are extremely common for me.  I find something that I like -- a genre, a game, a hobby, a musician, a style of clothing, a food, a television show or movie, a historical period, even a person -- and become, well, obsessed.  I immerse myself in the subject until I am practically drowning or until something else comes along and attracts my attention.  I keep wandering through my various interests with varying degrees of enthusiasm, adding new ones along the way.  Eventually I might even become fairly well versed in a subject.

Some time after I had read a bunch of books about books, I encountered the title Alligators, Old Mink and New Money, and I was off learning about vintage fashion.  Target Underwear and a Vera Wang Gown followed, along with a few others.  Last year's reading list saw a reappearance of vintage fashion with A Vintage Affair and Dreaming of Dior, and since books/stories about fashion which are not art/coffee table books more focused on the photos than the text, I have been on the lookout for another "vintage" read.

Today's trip to the bookstore introduced me to The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean, and it turns out that I have encountered Ms. McKean before.  She is the founder of, of which I am a fan, and the author of the blog, which I came across at some point after reading Dreaming of Dior.  It was like seeing a familiar face in a crowded room or learning something completely new about a longtime acquaintance.  It's fun.

The first twenty pages or so have me interested in reading more, especially since the protagonist adores vintage clothes but feels out of place trying to wear them, even when they fit and suit her, and ends up reverting to her t-shirts, comfortable jeans and sneakers.  I feel the same way.  I love fabulous, stylish, couture and vintage clothing and shoes, but the view always seems better from the outside than when I look in the mirror.

The day's other discovery is that Dame Judi Dench has written a memoir.  I'm generally not much for the stories of famous people I don't know, but I can't imagine that Dame Judi doesn't have some fantastically witty and insightful observations about life.  She has performed on stage, screen and television and done everything from Shakespeare to Fleming (as in Bond, whom she takes delight in referring to as "a sexist, misogynistic dinosaur" -- yay!).  In the process, she has won every award given for such performances.  She clearly loves her work (even if she doesn't love everything she does), and I am excited to find out what she has to say.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chronicles of Narnia, part 1 (and 2)

There are spoilers in here for those who have not read the books or seen any of the film productions.

So far so good.  At first I was wary of this whole "reading order" idea, but as soon as I read The Magician's Nephew, which is about the creation of Narnia, I understood.  (The religious themes and undertones which have always eluded me are much clearer as well.)  I finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe last night and am about to start The Horse and His Boy.

Now that I look at it, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe should probably be The Wardrobe, the Witch and the Lion as Lucy discovers the wardrobe first, then Edmund meets the witch, and only when they are all in Narnia do they (and the reader) meet Aslan the lion.

The first time I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I was in second grade, and I remember the book being incredibly beautiful and magical and heartbreaking.  I wanted to have tea with Lucy and Mr. Tumnus.  I despised Edumund for his allegiance to the witch and wasn't nearly as willing to forgive him as his siblings were.  And my heart broke when the witch killed Aslan.  I remember seeing it all so clearly in my imagination.

This time around, however, I had to work harder to conjur the images.  The story seemed so much simpler (not to mention shorter).  I can't decide if it is a factor of growing up (or at least getting older) or a result of knowing the story fairly well already.

Further bulletins after I read more chronicles.

(And I haven't forgotten about Rostropovich.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Howl's Moving Castle (first the book)

As part of my anime education, I received a dvd of Howl's Moving Castle as a Christmas gift.

Reading the credits on the back of the box informed me that the Hayao Miyazaki film is based on the novel Howl's Moving Castle by Daina Wynne Jones.  I had heard of the film, and I had heard of the author, but I had not heard of the novel.  As I have wanted to read something by Ms. Jones for some time but had simply not made a selection, I decided that this was my chance, and picked up a copy from my favorite haunt.

By the time I had made it through chapter two, I was convinced that this was yet another instance of finding and reading the right book at the right time.  The literary stars aligned, and knowing better than to ignore the signs, off I went on a delightful adventure.

(It turns out that there are two other "Howl" books -- Castle in the Air and The House of Many Ways.  My local library had both of them, so I can continue my exploration when the time comes, but I decided to begin at the beginning.)

Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters, and she is left to work for her step mother (who is by no means wicked, although perhaps a bit self-centered and exploitive) in her father's hat shop after her father passes away, and her sisters are sent off to apprentice, one to a witch and the other to a bakery.

Despite a gift for trimming hats, Sophie's life is frightfully dull and sheltered until one day she displeases the Witch of the Waste, who turns Sophie into an old woman as punishment for her honesty.  (She tells the vain witch that a particular hat to which she has taken a fancy does not suit her at all.)

Afraid to face her family and tell them what has happened, Sophie strikes out on her own.  On her way out of town, she rescues a dog who is tangled in a hedge and rights a fallen and somewhat dilapidated scarecrow.  (Pay attention.  These things become important later on in the story.)  When night falls and she finds herself out in the cold, Sophie takes refuge in the moving castle of the wizard Howl, who has a reputation for eating the hearts or stealing the souls (the stories are never quite clear) of innocent young girls, a fact which would have terrified Sophie as the young woman she had been but does nothing to deter her as an old crone as she seeks out a comfortable seat beside a warm fire.  Besides, in addition to the comfortable seat beside a warm fire, Howl might be able to lift the witch's curse.

Once inside the castle, which turns out to be far less impressive on the inside, she talks her way past Howl's apprentice, Michael, and befriends -- well, strikes a bargain with -- Calcifer, the fire demon who is bound to Howl and living in his fireplace.

Yes, I understand.  It sounds a bit far fetched -- an old woman striking out on her own and preferring to take her chances with wizards and demons than stay with her own family, but Jones infuses Sophie with a great sense of purpose and determination, even if she is not entirely sure of her direction or destiny, that you can't help but be on her side both to support her on her journey and to follow her to see where it leads.

Besides, that is just the beginning.  There are kings and princes and other wizards and lady loves, and it turns out that the same witch who put the spell on Sophie (who can't tell anyone about it, by the way) is after Howl as well, which is why Calcifer has to keep the castle on the move in the first place.

The elements of an entertaining story are all here -- a varied and engaging cast of characters, complete with mistaken and confused identities, and a plot rife with plans (good and evil), accidents, mishaps, magic, mayhem, and a bit of romance.  There is even a visit or two to a mythical place called Wales, where people travel by loud horseless carriages and children entertain themselves with magical boxes plugged into walls.

The ending itself works out well, even if the final approach to it becomes more than a little convoluted.  I had trouble keeping track of characters' goals and motivations, especially the hidden ones which I got the feeling I was somehow expected to figure out before the final revelations, but I have never been good at that sort of thing.  The solutions to mysteries are often a surprise to me, but then I don't put a lot of time and effort trying to get to the end before I, well, get to the end.  I read to be told a story, not to second guess one or write it myself.

The next bit of fun will be to see what Miyazaki's film adaptation has to offer.  Stay tuned.

Culinary alchemy

What the recipe said:
1/2 c red wine vinegar
1 1/2 to 2 tsp sea salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp white or black pepper
1 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp French Dijon or yellow prepared mustard
1/2 tsp thyme
1Tbsp honey

Combine ingredients, whisking or blending together well.

What I did:
3/8 c red wine vinegar
sea salt (did not measure)
white pepper (did not measure)
1 c extra virgin olive oil
4 or 5 tsp prepared Irish Stout mustard
A little bit of honey (maybe 1/2 tsp)
A few shakes of a Mrs. Dash onion/garlic/spice mixture

The way more mustard was to balance the entirely too much vinegar.  My first taste test made my eyes water.  The little bit of honey was a test to see if sweetness would balance the vinegar a bit more quickly than the mustard.  And the Mrs. Dash was because the first recipe called for some herbs, and I thought "Onions and garlic go well with mustard, so in we go!"

I reduced the oil and vinegar because I didn't want to make too much (as I tend to do when following a recipe), especially if it didn't turn out.

The reason for the experiment in the first place was a general lack of salad dressing in the house.  A fantastic side benefit was that the dressing was fairly thick and was delightful over asparagus -- a reasonable substitute for or alternative to the trickier to make hollandaise sauce.

My first attempt at homemade salad dressing was definitely a success ... and I discovered that a lot of the same experimental principles of cooking apply.  Choose your own salad dressing adventure!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A bit more depth and breadth to go with the previous post

Things I want to do or finish this year, from general to specific, and in no particular order.  I am not big on New Year's Resolutions, but it can't hurt to have some sort of plan.
  1. Read LOTR.  Yes, I am a geek and a nerd, and no, I have never readLOTR.  I made three attempts to read The Hobbit.  I tried to watch the Peter Jackson films, and couldn't make it through the first one, but I am learning about role playing games (specifically Dungeons & Dragons), and the references and influence are everywhere.  I think that it is time that I find out and understand what people are talking about.
  2. Read The Chronicles of Narnia.  I read two or three of them a long time ago, but never finished the entire series.  Watching the new Disney films makes me want to go back, reread and finish, in part to compare to the film offerings and in part to simply enjoy the stories.  (I am not particularly interested in the religious themes, perceived or otherwise.)
  3. Learn about anime (and manga).  It's a fascinating art form which has eluded my interest for some time, but then someone introduced me toCowboy Bebop, and I became intrigued.  It's not nearly as isolated an art form as I thought it would be, although I am not sure why I am surprised.  References I have come across mean thatNeuromancer by William Gibson and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick (in graphic novel, novel and film form) have moved further up the reading list.  I have discovered anime based on Shakespeare and Dumas and Kurasawa, and I discovered that Howl's Moving Castle was first a book by Diana Wynne Jones before Hayao Miyazaki filmed it.
  4. PMP certification -- at least the training.  I am not as sure about taking the exam and completing the certification because I am not sure if it is something that I really want to do and/or maintain and because I am not certain the the work I have been doing for the last four years really qualifies as project management.  (The online course I am going to take should help in that respect.)
  5. Possibly find a new job.  Depends on how number 4 goes.
  6. Read x number of the fabulous cookbooks I have on my cookbook shelves and try y number of recipes from each.  X and y need to turn into actual numbers, but I am making this list somewhat off the cuff, and the cookbook library is not nearby, so this item will require future expansion and clarification.  I received a lovely book about soups as a Christmas gift, and books by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid and by David Tanis have been beckoning for a while.  Making flatbread on unglazed kitchen tiles definitely needs to be on the list.  I think that one new recipe a week might be a reasonable goal.  Also, I have a lovely collection of recipes from family and friends which I have begun compiling in a cookbook so that they are easier to find, use and share than they are on recipe cards and photocopies and in folders.  I want to finish the cookbook this year.  (I am using if anyone is interested and thus far am quite impressed with the application.)
  7. Clean out the storage unit.  I am down to the hard part as most everything in there is stuff I want to keep, but don't really have space for in the house.  It has been two years, however, and I wanted to get it done in one year.  Actually, I wanted to get it done in six months, but I knew even at the time that that idea was just plain silly.  Some tough love is definitely called for.  As a corollary, but I don't think quite deserving of its own item, I need to get the stuff off the porch and organize the whole upstairs better.
  8. Largely due to a buy one, get one free sale (and a few other coupons/deals), I went on a bit of a graphic novel buying binge, so I have a nice, healthy stack.  I should get those read.  I might even try to go back and finish reading Batman: Hush, which I put down after a shocking revelation and have never picked up since.
  9. Use the Wii.  I finally got my own little tv, and a bunch of games for Christmas, so I should play with my fancy, expensive little toy.
  10. Write.  I did better last year with the blog than I think I ever have, so I need to keep the progress moving forward.  One of last year's quasi-goals was to write something about every book I read and every film I saw.  It only sort of worked, but it makes for a good starting point.  April can be Script Frenzy, and November is National Novel Writing Month.  There is an unfinished screenplay which needs work, and the beginnings of two novels which could do with some serious attention.  The web site offers a number of courses which intrigue me, and that might be a good summer project, depending on their schedule.
  11. Read.  Related to 1, 2 and eight, not to mention the reading challenges I have signed up for, but my basic goal of a book a week remains the same.
  12. Knit.  I started several projects intended as Christmas gifts, and only one got finished.  I need to finish the others.  I also want to finish the fabulous sweater coat which I started ages ago.  My mother has received two scarves thus far, and likes them so much that she wants an afghan.  I don't think that is a realistic 2011 project for a number of reasons, but I'll put it on the radar just for fun.
Twelve months in a year, and twelve projects/goals.  Not exactly a one for one sort of setup, but a bit of symmetry or balance.  Sounds like a good start to me.  Time will tell how it goes.

New year, new list, new plan, new post

Well, here it is, January 1st once again.

I am not big on New Year's as a holiday, but it is a delightfully convenient benchmark.

A new year means that it is time to start a new reading list.  Since I have yet to achieve it (although I did get closer last year with thirty-four), I think that I am going to stick with the same goal of a book a week.  I am going to mix it up just a bit -- or perhaps give the plan just a bit more focus -- by participating in at least one reading challenge.

While I have never been much of a horror fan (although I think that more of what I read qualifies as horror than I think), I have become a definite fan of urban fantasy.  Last year saw me reading quite a bit of urban fantasy written for young adults and finding it at least as sophisticated and engaging as anything I have pulled off the main science fiction and fantasy bookshelves, so I see no reason not to continue the trend.  Therefore I am joining Book Chick City's Horror and Urban Fantasy Reading Challenge 2011.

She also has a Mystery and Suspense challenge that I am going to join because I used to read quite a few mysteries but got away from doing so as I discovered various sub-genres of science fiction and fantasy (i.e. steampunk and urban fantasy).  I think that it will be a challenge to get back to it, and it will also be interesting to find titles which qualify for both challenges.

Even if none of the titles cross over, 24 urban fantasies and 12 mysteries sets a goal of 36 books total, which is 2 more than my 2010 achievement and thus a good starting point.

I also think that it will be just as much fun to see what books from other genres distract me from these two challenges.

There are plenty of other book challenges out there, if urban fantasy and suspense aren't your thing.  Start here: or do a web search for reading challenges.  Or start your own.  It will be fun.

Enough blogging.  Time to start reading.