March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

Annie can't wait to meet the Easter Bunny! ;)

March 23, 2013

Mango, Avocado and Chicken Salad (Gordon Ramsay)

It's getting to be that time of year when I start to crave lighter meals for dinner. I've grown weary of winter and I've had more than my fill of soups, stews and chili, so last weekend I pulled Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite cookbook from the shelf and opened to the Healthy Working Lunch section. Ramsay's Mango, Avocado and Chicken Salad turned out to be an excellent dinner option and one which I predict will find its way into our weekly menus in the coming months. The salad is quick, easy and amazingly delicious. Next time, though, I'll go ahead and make the full 4-serving recipe so we can enjoy it for lunch the following day.

Salad (serves 4)

2 medium, firm but ripe mangoes
2 ripe avocados
squeeze of lemon juice
10 oz. - 2/3 lb. smoked chicken breasts
7 oz. mixed salad leaves
2 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted (optional)


2 Tbsp. orange juice (1 medium orange)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice (1 medium lemon)
1 Tbsp. whole grain mustard
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. avocado oil (or olive oil)
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh away from the seed into thin slices. Arrange on four serving plates.

Halve the avocados and remove the pit. Peel of the skin and slice the flesh into strips. Squeeze a little bit of lemon juice over the flesh to prevent discoloring. Arrange over the mango slices.

Shred or cut the chicken into thin slices and divide between the plates. Neatly pile the salad leaves in the middle.

For the dressing, whisk the ingredients together in a bowl, season with the sea salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the dressing over the salad and serve, topped with a handful of toasted pine nuts.

If preparing this salad for a packed lunch, pack the dressing and salad in separate containers. Combine just before eating.

My Notes:


I used part of a rotisserie chicken, but grilled or roasted chicken would be just as good. I also added some shrimp, which I pan-seared in a little bit of olive oil. If you want a cold salad, prepare the chicken and shrimp ahead of time and chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the salad.

Since I made the salad right before serving, I skipped the squeeze of lemon juice on the avocado slices. I didn't notice any browning, but this might become an issue if the salad is prepared for a packed lunch. I also added some cut-up tomato (because it's impossible for me to eat shrimp and avocado without tomatoes!), but refrained from adding any additional vegetables.

I prepared the salad dressing ahead of time, using a glass jar with a lid. Store it in the refrigerator to chill and shake well before pouring.

I didn't have avocado oil, so I used olive oil.

The toasted pine nuts are an excellent topping. I also added some homemade cornbread croutons. 

If you're not sure how to cut a mango, check out this video.

Please visit Beth Fish Reads for Weekend Cooking.

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend.

March 21, 2013

Sharp Objects

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
2006 Crown Publishing Group
Finished on 2/10/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

To say this is a terrific debut novel is really too mild. I haven’t read such a relentlessly creepy family saga since John Farris’s All Heads Turn as the Hunt Goes By, and that was thirty years ago, give or take. Sharp Objects isn’t one of those scare-and-retreat books; its effect is cumulative. I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them. Then, after the lights were out, the story just stayed there in my head, coiled and hissing, like a snake in a cave. An admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights.(Stephen King)

From the Author’s Website:

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

With its taut, crafted writing, Sharp Objects is addictive, haunting, and unforgettable.

This was one disturbing, yet compelling, read! After reading Gone Girl (which I loved), I decided to try one of Flynn’s earlier novels. In spite of figuring out who the killer was early on (something I’m normally never able to do!), I thought Sharp Objects was quite entertaining, but more than a bit disturbing, especially with regard to Camille’s cutting and the murders. The twist at the end helped make this book a winner. Now on to Dark Places!

March 16, 2013

#Estellagram - Week Two


Girl Scout cookies and tea.
Not my usual reading snack, 
but it's too early for wine and nuts.

Day 10
Reading Space
One of three favorite spots inside.

Day 11

Reading Helpers

Day 13

Day 13
(with selected processing)

Day 14
Other Pastimes

A week in photos. Go here for more information and follow me on Instagram (lesscher). As usual, click on the photo for a larger view.

March 10, 2013

The Lost Art of Mixing

The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister
2013 G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Finished on 1/30/13
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)


Publisher’s Blurb:

In this luminous sequel, return to the enchanting world of the national bestseller The School of Essential Ingredients.

Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There’s Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn’t learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al’s wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect….

Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given. A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind—and links that break—The Lost Art of Mixing is a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.

Just like a delicious meal at one of my favorite restaurants, Erica Bauermeister’s novels are consistently pleasing and something to which I look forward with great anticipation. I received an ARC from the author several months in advance of its publication, but held off reading it until I had the chance to reread The School of Essential Ingredients. After listening to that lovely novel, I eagerly picked up this sequel and quickly devoured it, in spite of my efforts to savor it as slowly as possible.

Readers of Bauermeister’s previous works will recognize the short story-like style, in which she intertwines the individual stories of her characters to create a cohesive and satisfying novel. There weren’t quite as many culinary references this time around, but I was nonetheless happy to return to Lillian’s restaurant, with its familiar cast of characters, as well as the new additions to the group. As is her fashion, Bauermeister describes the method in which a recipe is created, rather than simply including the ingredients and written instructions. My mouth began to water as I read the following passage. Even without specific measurements and quantities, I think I can recreate this chowder without too much difficulty:

Lillian collected the salt pork and butter and heavy cream from the walk-in refrigerator, thyme from a pot on the windowsill, dried bay leaves from a glass jar in the row arranged along the wall. She turned on the heat under the pot and added the salt pork, which softened and began to brown. Her stomach grumbled; she remembered she hadn’t eaten breakfast and cut a slice of bread, taking occasional bites as she sliced through the hard white flesh of the potatoes.

She removed the cracklings from the pot and added butter and chopped onion, the smells rising up—onion never her favorite thing in the morning, but sometimes a chef didn’t have a choice. She poured in chicken stock then dropped in the potatoes, bringing the liquid to a boil and stepping away while they cooked. No point in pot-watching.

She returned to the walk-in refrigerator, using the intervening minutes to assess the food inside while her mind played with menus for the week. Leftover roasted red peppers and zucchini could be the beginnings of a pasta sauce; extra polenta could be sliced and fried in butter and sage. For all the glamour of restaurants, the underlying secret of the successful ones was their ability to magically repurpose ingredients, a culinary sleight of hand that kept them financially afloat and would have made any depression-era housewife proud.

Sensing the time, Lillian grabbed a package wrapped in butcher paper and headed back to the prep area. The chunks of potatoes had softened. She smashed one against the side of the pot to thicken the broth, and then unwrapped the package.

As the white paper folded back, the smell of cod rose sinuously toward her, briny and green, the essence of old fishing nets and ocean waves.

Check out all these wonderful events! (Logo and list borrowed from the author’s website.) It’s times like this that I wish I lived in the Pacific Northwest. We’re actually going to be in Oregon in late May and Seattle (Kingston) in mid-June, but unfortunately it looks like our timing is off by just a hair. If I could, I’d head over to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. The Griffin bookstore is a delightful shop!


Seattle, Washington
It’s About Time Writer’s Series
talk on The Writer’s Craft (Turning Memories in Memoir)
Ballard Branch Library
Thursday, March 14th, 6 pm

Bellevue, Washington
Literary Lions
fundraising dinner for King County Libraries
Hyatt Regency Bellevue
Saturday, March 23, 6 pm

Cannon Beach, Oregon
Get Lit – Author Weekend
Panel, Q&A and other assorted activities
Cannon Beach Book Store
April 12-14

Bellevue, Washington
Cooking class
Sizzleworks Cooking School
Monday, April 15th, 6 pm

Kirkland, Washington
Reading and conversation with Jennie Shortridge
Parkplace Books
Monday, April 29th, 7 pm

Port Townsend, Washington
Reading and conversation with Jennie Shortridge and Carol Cassella
The Writer’s Workshoppe
Saturday, May 4th, 7 pm

Eugene, Oregon
Reading and conversation with Jennie Shortridge
University of Oregon – Duck Store
Wednesday, May 8, 6:30 pm

Portland, Oregon
Reading and conversation with Jennie Shortridge
Annie Bloom’s
Thursday, May 9, 7 pm

Welches, Oregon
Reading and conversation with Jennie Shortridge
Wy’East Bookshoppe
Friday, May 10, time tbd

Sunriver, Oregon
Reading and conversation with Jennie Shortridge
Sunriver Books
Saturday, May 11, 5 pm

Corte Madera, California
Reading and conversation with Jennie Shortridge
Book Passage
Monday, May 20th, 7 pm

San Juan Island, Washington
Reading and conversation with Jennie Shortridge
Griffin Bay Bookstore
Saturday, June 1, 7 pm

Wenatchee, Washington
Reading and conversation with Jennie Shortridge
Wenatchee Library
June 13, 7 pm

Leavenworth, Washington
Reading and conversation with Jennie Shortridge
Leavenworth Library
June 14, 7 pm

Leavenworth, Washington
Signing with Jennie Shortridge
A Book For All Seasons
June 15, 1-3 pm

Quillisascut, Washington
Special weekend cooking class opportunity
Quillisascut Farm
July 18-21
more details at:

March 9, 2013

#Estellagram - Week One

A week in photos. Go here for more information and follow me on Instagram (lesscher). As usual, click on the photo for a larger view.

Day 1

Day 2
TBR (To Be Read)
Multiply by 25!

Day 3

Day 4
Some of my all-time favorite novels.

Day 5
Nonfiction Favorites (Part I)

Day 5
Nonfiction Favorites (Part II)

Day 6
My current read and a few favorites. 
Weird that I don't keep a lot of mysteries,
 once I've read them. 

Day 7

I can definitely do this! I can't believe I'm not stressing about editing and capturing the perfect shot with my 35mm. It's so easy to use my phone (an Android) and take a single shot every day. Easy-peasy!

March 6, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Snowshoeing in Colorado
(at an elevation of almost 9,000!)

March 4, 2013

The Orchardist

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
2012 HarperCollins Audio
Reader: Mark Bramhall
Finished on 1/23/13
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher’s Blurb:

At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, a solitary orchardist named Talmadge carefully tends the grove of fruit trees he has cultivated for nearly half a century. A gentle, solitary man, he finds solace and purpose in the sweetness of the apples, apricots, and plums he grows, and in the quiet, beating heart of the land—the valley of yellow grass bordering a deep canyon that has been his home since he was nine years old.

Everything he is and has known is tied to this patch of earth. It is where his widowed mother is buried, taken by illness when he was just thirteen, and where his only companion, his beloved teenage sister, Elsbeth, mysteriously disappeared. It is where the horse wranglers—native men, mostly Nez Perce—pass through each spring with their wild herds, setting up camp in the flowering meadows between the trees.

One day, while Talmadge is in town to sell his fruit at the market, two girls, barefoot and dirty, steal some apples. Later, they appear on his homestead, cautious yet curious about the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, Jane and her sister, Della, take up on Talmadge’s land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Yet just as the girls begin to trust him, brutal men with guns arrive in the orchard, and the shattering tragedy that follows sets Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect them, putting himself between the girls and the world, but to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.

Writing with breathtaking precision and empathy, Amanda Coplin has crafted an astonishing debut novel about a decent man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart. Transcribing America as it once was before railways and roads connected its corners, she weaves a tapestry of solitary souls who come together in the wake of unspeakable cruelty and misfortune, bound by their search to discover the place where they belong. At once intimate and epic, evocative and atmospheric, filled with haunting characters both vivid and true to life, and told in a distinctive narrative voice, The Orchardist marks the beginning of a stellar literary career.

It’s been well over a month since I finished listening to this book and I am still haunted by the characters. Coplin’s debut novel, with its spare prose and strong sense of place, is an evocative work in the tradition of Kent Haruf (Plainsong and Eventide) and Cormac McCarthy (All the Pretty Horses and The Road). If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know about my love for anything written about or set in the Pacific Northwest. As I read the opening line of the publisher’s blurb (in the ARC, which I happen to have in addition to the audio version), I felt a strong sense of anticipation for a beautifully crafted piece of literature set in one of my favorite places in this country. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed. However, I believe this tender story would be more effective in print, rather than audio. I don’t have any complaints about the reader (who I thought did a decent job), but as I flipped through the ARC, I became more aware of the distinctive narratives between Talmadge, Della and Angelene (and how they are physically separated within the printed page), and thus was more able to appreciate the beauty of Coplin’s writing, which can be difficult to do while driving around town or listening as I work. Coplin is a talented writer and storyteller and I look forward to her next endeavor. Perhaps a sequel, as I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to Angelene.

Here are just a couple of my favorite passages:
Around her the garden was in verdant bloom; the smell of the air was almost sickening with odor, and although it was late in the day the last bees were industrious in the crocus bulbs, the birds had started their racket in the trees. There was a shadow over most of the grass, and for a moment Caroline Middey did not remember what month it was, or her age; and then she remembered, and knew that she was nearer to death than any of her young enterprises—and why should this surprise her? But the knowledge seemed new—she was going to die, like all the others, and the knowledge was absorbed by the garden, which simultaneously cradled her and drew her out of herself, into the perfume, into the noise.

He felt an ambiguous desire rise in him when she left the cabin, and he knew she was out there among the trees, working in her slow way that he hesitated to remedy because the slowness denoted something deeper within her that he did not want to penetrate or to steal. The slowness had to do with the deliberation that would always be with her, that gravid, searching countenance. She would never say that she loved, because they did not use that type of language; they did not say “love,” for instance, or “beautiful,” or any descriptive language at all. At times, commenting upon the sky at dusk, he would call it “pretty,” and she would nod her head, once, in agreement. When she entered a room that he occupied, or he entered an orchard row in which she worked, they did not greet each other with words but touched an appendage of the other with their eyes, and could tell by the other’s expression or posture if they were pleased or discomfited or bothered, or if they were sated by the day’s weather or by the other’s presence. They intuited these things about each other as one decides about one’s own body: thoughtlessly, organically.

Recently in his sickness she took his hand in hers when she sat on the edge of the bed, and leaned and kissed his eyebrows, separately, like unsentimentally massaging a leg that is cramping.

He woke to the empty cabin, to the wall spangled with afternoon light. Behind everything was the sound of the creek—the creek that came from the mountain and flowed into the river north of Wenatchee—and above the sound of the creek was the sound of the ash trees shaking in the wind. The trees bordered the pasture, which was filled with long grass, uncut and uneaten by any horses. The sound of water and the sound of the wind in the trees, which were fed by the creek and so were partial to the creek, occupied Talmadge as he slept and woke. It was a sound highly expressive, highly communicable. He listened and thought, Yes, Yes.

Talmadge, said Angelene. It had taken all evening to come up with what she was going to say. She sat on the edge of the bed. She said: Tonight the sky is the color of new plums. …

Final Thoughts: Amanda Coplin has written a remarkable novel, worthy of re-reading and one to share with friends or discuss with your book club. I’m also now intrigued with Wenatchee, Washington... Adding it to our retirement road trip list.

Click here to read a Seattle Times interview with the author. 

Click here to listen to an interview with Coplin on OPB (Oregon Public Broadcast).

March 2, 2013


This sounds like fun and since it's all about reading, how could I refuse?! I'll post a weekly recap throughout the month, but you can also follow me on Instagram (lesscher). 

To learn more, visit The Estella Society here.