.

.

June 29, 2020

Music Monday #12 - Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

Time for another Music Monday with Rod. During this period of "sheltering in place," I thought it would be fun to share a personal music video on Mondays. My hope is that some of my family and friends will join in with their own videos for a virtual music tour.

Rest, nature, books, music... Such is my idea of happiness. ~ Leo Tolstoy

June 27, 2020

Quick Zucchini Saute

Quick Zucchini Saute
Photo Credit: Smitten Kitchen



As a child, I was a fairly picky eater and it wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I learned to enjoy mushrooms and onions. Even then, I wasn't a fan of squash or zucchini and if you're anywhere near my age, you grew up when zucchini, like most vegetables, was overcooked to the consistency of mush. It wasn't until I started cooking it, usually in a stirfry (resulting in a perfectly cooked piece of tenderly crisp zucchini) that I realized just how delicious it can be. And yet, the vegetable has never been a regular item on our weekly menus. 

Until now. 

I discovered this amazingly simple recipe on Smitten Kitchen a month or so ago and we've had it already at least three or four times. It's the perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken, fish, pork or steak. I've followed the recipe exactly as written, but after reading some of the comments on Deb's blog, I think I'll try a few of the suggestions (listed in my notes below). If you don't care for zucchini, I highly recommend giving this recipe a try. Even the pickiest eater will ask for seconds!


Ingredients:

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (see my notes)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced almonds
1 medium or 2 small zucchinis, cut into 1/8-inch matchsticks
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Peelings of pecorino romano or parmesan cheese, to taste (optional)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high and add enough oil to coat the pan well. Heat the oil until hot but not smoking, then add the almonds to the pan. Cook them, stirring, until the almonds are golden-brown, approximately a minute or two. Don’t skimp on this step; they provide a depth of flavor that carries the whole dish. Add the zucchini to the pan, tossing it with the oil and almonds until it just begins to glisten, about one minute. The idea is not to cook the zucchini so much as warm it so it begins to soften. Season well with salt and pepper, slide onto a plate, top with cheese (if using) and immediately dig in.

My Notes:

The first time I made the recipe I used 2 tablespoons of oil and thought the zucchini was a bit too greasy. 1 tablespoon of oil is plenty.

Be very careful when browning the almonds. You don't want them to burn!

Don't skip the cheese.

I haven't tried it yet, but I'll bet this would be delicious topped with a fried egg.

A spritz of fresh lemon juice or zest would also be good.

If you don't have romano or parmesan on hand, feta or goat cheese would work, too.

Click here to read more about this recipe (including step-by-step photos on the zucchini prep) on Smitten Kitchen.

Click on the link in my sidebar for more of my favorite recipes.

Please visit The Intrepid Reader 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.

June 26, 2020

Looking Back - Bridget Jones's Diary

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.




Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
Fiction
1999 Penguin Books (first published in 1996
Read in October 1999
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"123 lbs. (how is it possible to put on 4 pounds in the middle of the night? Could flesh have somehow solidified becoming denser and heavier? Repulsive, horrifying notion), alcohol units 4 (excellent), cigarettes 21 (poor but will give up totally tomorrow), number of correct lottery numbers 2 (better, but nevertheless useless)..."

Bridget Jones' Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget's permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement — a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR.

Over the course of the year, Bridget loses a total of 72 pounds but gains a total of 74. She remains, however, optimistic. Through it all, Bridget will have you helpless with laughter, and — like millions of readers the world round — you'll find yourself shouting, "Bridget Jones is me!"

My Original Thoughts (1999):

Good. Not great, but entertaining and funny. Laughed out loud a few times. The single life problems grew tiresome and cliched, at times.

My Current Thoughts:

This book was so popular when I read it, but after thumbing through my copy, I know I won't read it a second time. The movie was pretty good, as I recall. 

June 22, 2020

Music Monday #11 - The Water is Wide

Time for another Music Monday with Rod. During this period of "sheltering in place," I thought it would be fun to share a personal music video on Mondays. My hope is that some of my family and friends will join in with their own videos for a virtual music tour.

Rest, nature, books, music... Such is my idea of happiness. ~ Leo Tolstoy

June 20, 2020

Marie-Helene's Apple Cake

Marie-Helene's Apple Cake
Epicurious

One of my cousins posted a photo on Instagram of this apple cake not once, but twice last month. It looked delicious, and she said it was very easy, so I did a quick Google search and found it on Epicurious. I made it a few days ago and my family LOVED it. They were practically begging me to make it again--the next day! It's the sort of recipe you can whip up pretty quickly, so I'm sure it won't be long before we get to enjoy again. I'm tempted to try it with fresh peaches, as well.


Ingredients:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples, peeled (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum (optional)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preparation:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the springform on it.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.

Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they're foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it's coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it's even.

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it's fully opened, make sure there aren't any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

The cake can be served warm or at room temperature, with or without a little softly whipped, barely sweetened heavy cream or a spoonful of ice cream. Marie-Hélène's served her cake with cinnamon ice cream and it was a terrific combination.

The cake will keep for about 2 days at room temperature and, according to my husband, gets more comforting with each passing day. However long you keep the cake, it's best not to cover it - it's too moist. Leave the cake on its plate and just press a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper against the cut surfaces.

Serves: 6-8

My Notes:

I used Fuji, Honeycrisp, Gala and Opal Sweet apples. It's good to have a variety so you get both sweet and tart flavors.

I didn't have any rum and didn't notice its absence. I served it with vanilla ice cream and think a small drizzle of caramel sauce would be a good addition.

Click on the link in my sidebar for more of my favorite recipes.

Please visit The Intrepid Reader 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.

June 19, 2020

Looking Back - I Capture the Castle

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.




I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Fiction
1948 Atlantic Monthly Press; Little, Brown and Company
Read in September 1999
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle's walls and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has "captured the castle"-- and the heart of the reader-- in one of literature's most enchanting entertainments.

My Original Thoughts (1999):

Very entertaining! Reminded me of Jane Austen and the Brontes. I laughed out loud several times and was surprised by the unpredictable ending. Couldn't put it down; didn't want it to end. Old-fashioned story of love & romance.

My Current Thoughts:

I don't remember too much about this book, but it's one I've been meaning to re-read. I have a lovely old hardcover copy on my shelf and will have to add it to my list of suggestions for my book club for 2021.

June 17, 2020

The Nickel Boys



The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Fiction
2019 Doubleday
Finished on June 15, 2020
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is a high school senior about to start classes at a local college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”

In reality, the Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors. Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold onto Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.

The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision with repercussions that will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at the Nickel Academy.

The book is based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children.

I received a copy of The Nickel Boys for my birthday and decided to add it to my stack of books for this year's 20 Books of Summer reading challenge. Colson Whitehead's previous novel, The Underground Railroad, has been on my radar since it was first published, but I hadn't heard much about this newer release, which is based on the real story of the Dozier School in Florida. 

The hardcover edition is just over 200 pages and a fast reader could finish it in one sitting. I'm not terribly quick, but the first half was so compelling, I zipped through the book in two days. Whitehead's detailed descriptions of the brutal treatment of the boys (both Black and white) in his fictionalized juvenile reformatory are not for the faint of heart. I felt a great sense of foreboding as I read, and noticed that I was holding my breath as I turned the pages. The second half of the book jumps back and forth between past and present, which I found somewhat disruptive and confusing, but once I finished the book, I understood Whitehead's reasoning for that format and applaud him for the startling conclusion. This is a tough, but important book, and while I'm not sorry I read it, it's not one that I enjoyed.

June 16, 2020

Glass Houses



Glass Houses by Louise Penny
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #13
Mystery
2017 Minotaur Books
Finished on June 12, 2020
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent!)

Publisher's Blurb:

When a mysterious figure appears in Three Pines one cold November day, Armand Gamache and the rest of the villagers are at first curious. Then wary. Through rain and sleet, the figure stands unmoving, staring ahead.

From the moment the creature's shadow falls over the village, Gamache, now Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Quebec, suspects it has deep roots and a dark purpose. Yet he does nothing. What can he do? Only watch and wait. And hope his mounting fears are not realized.

But when the figure vanishes overnight and a body is discovered, it falls to Gamache to discover if a debt has been paid or levied.

Months later, on a steamy July day, as the trial for the accused begins in Montréal, Chief Superintendent Gamache continues to struggle with actions he set in motion that bitter November from which there is no going back. More than the accused is on trial. Gamache's own conscience is standing in judgment.

In her latest utterly gripping book, number-one New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny shatters the conventions of the crime novel to explore what Gandhi called the court of conscience. A court that supersedes all others.

Last month I read and loved A Great Reckoning (#12 in the Three Pines series), which I claimed was my favorite book by Louise Penny. Well, this remarkable author continues to impress and I now say that Glass Houses is her best. I loved how she carefully constructed the narrative of this installment, merging the events leading up to and after the murder with the courtroom drama, teasing out small bits of information, yet never revealing the identity of the defendant. Unlike most novels that shift between past and present (typically with alternating chapters), Penny seamlessly transitions between the time periods, often mid-chapter. As soon as I finished the last page, I quickly flipped back to re-read several sections in order to spot the clues and connect the dots that the author, who is a master of misdirection, so carefully hid. This fast-paced page turner, with all its twists and turns and fully realized characters (oh, how we love these characters!), is worthy of all high praise. I can't wait to go back and listen to this one on audio. Outstanding!

Favorite Passage:
She had always been his wife. He’d known that the first moment he’d seen her. He knew her, that first moment. Through the ages. Through the lifetimes. Every other relationship might change, flow, morph into another guise, but his relationship with Reine-Marie was absolute and eternal. She was his wife. And he was her husband. Forever.

June 15, 2020

Music Monday #10 - Jesus Was a Capricorn

Time for another Music Monday with Rod. During this period of "sheltering in place," I thought it would be fun to share a personal music video on Mondays. My hope is that some of my family and friends will join in with their own videos for a virtual music tour.

Rest, nature, books, music... Such is my idea of happiness. ~ Leo Tolstoy

June 14, 2020

Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit
Photo Credit: Epicurious


It's been at least 40 years since I first tasted Welsh Rarebit, but something triggered that childhood memory and I decided to scour the Internet, in search of an authentic recipe that didn't resemble an open-faced toasted cheese sandwich. This recipe from Epicurious comes as close to what I remember my mom making for us, although we always ate it with toasted English muffins and crispy bacon. I also like to add a thick slice of tomato (placed on top of the muffin, followed by the bacon and cheese), but I draw the line at poached eggs or avocado. 

Ingredients:

16 (1/3-inch-thick) diagonal baguette slices (See my notes)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup porter or ale
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard (Coleman's)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 large egg yolk

My Additions:

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Crispy bacon 
Sliced tomato
Dash of Tabasco

Preheat broiler.

Spread one side of bread slices with 2 tablespoons butter (total), then arrange slices, buttered sides up, on a baking sheet. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat until golden brown, 1 to 4 minutes. (See my notes)

Melt remaining tablespoon butter in a 1-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, then add flour and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Add beer and milk in a stream, whisking, then whisk in mustard, pepper, Worcestershire, and cheese. Bring to a simmer over moderately low heat, whisking, then simmer, whisking, until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and immediately whisk in yolk. Serve cheese sauce on toast.

My Notes:

I use one whole English muffin (toasted but not buttered) per serving.

I include Worcestershire sauce and a dash of Tabasco to add a little bite to the sauce. 

In a pinch, I have used Negro Modelo instead of a porter or ale. I think any dark beer will work just fine, but nothing hoppy like an IPA.

Yield: 4 servings

Click on the link in my sidebar for more of my favorite recipes.

Please visit The Intrepid Reader 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.

June 13, 2020

California Road Trip 2019 - Hornbrook (Part III)

October 2019
Hornbrook, CA
Blue Heron RV Park

Here are a few more photos from our stay along the Klamath River. I really enjoyed watching the great blue heron, as it fished along the banks of the river. Although there wasn't a lot to do other than sit and relax (or hike up the hill behind the park), it was one of our favorite places to camp.

Click on images for larger view.
















June 12, 2020

Looking Back - Dear Exile

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.



Dear Exile: The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean by Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery
Nonfiction
1999 Vintage
Read in September 1999
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A funny and moving story told through the letters of two women nurturing a friendship as they are separated by distance, experience, and time.

Close friends and former college roommates, Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery promised to write when Kate's Peace Corps assignment took her to Africa. Over the course of a single year, they exchanged an offbeat and moving series of letters from rural Kenya to New York City and back again.

Kate, an idealistic teacher, meets unexpected realities ranging from poisonous snakes and vengeful cows to more serious hazards: a lack of money for education; a student body in revolt. Hilary, braving the singles scene in Manhattan, confronts her own realities, from unworthy suitors to job anxiety and first apartment woes. Their correspondence tells--with humor, warmth, and vivid personal detail--the story of two young women navigating their twenties in very different ways, and of the very special friendships we are sometimes lucky enough to find.

My Original Thoughts (1999):

Good. Not great, but not bad. Entertaining. Quick read. 

My Current Thoughts:

I have no idea what led me to this book. Maybe, as a letter writer myself, I was drawn to the correspondence between these two women, but I don't remember a thing about their lives or this book.

June 11, 2020

California Road Trip 2019 - Hornbrook (Part II)

Saturday & Sunday, October 19-20, 2019
Hornbrook, CA
Blue Heron RV Park

We spent most of Saturday relaxing at our camp site catching up on various projects and reading by the river. The sun eventually came out and it warmed up to about 60 degrees. There were a few fishing boats out on the river in the morning, as well as a Great blue heron (which was also fishing) on the shoreline. The sound of the river was so soothing and with only a few other RVers, it was very peaceful.

Sunday started out cold and cloudy, but no rain, so after chatting with our neighbors about their 40' Winnebago Journey (too big for us, but fun to see the interior), I took a walk up the hill behind the RV park and got a great view of the surrounding area. We spent most of the afternoon relaxing by the river and caught a great sunset later that evening. 

Click on images for larger view.












































June 10, 2020

20 Books of Summer


Cathy at 746 Books is hosting a summer reading challenge (read more here) and I've decided to use this as motivation to read more from my stacks. I pulled 20 books off my shelves for a variety of reasons (book club picks, rereads, books with summer in the title, books I received for Christmas, BLM books, and a few that I've had for a long time but haven't made the time to read) and am going to attempt to read from this collection over the course of the summer, ending on Labor Day. Since I typically read 2-3 books in print (and 2-3 books on audio) each month, I'm setting the bar fairly high. Which would you recommend that I start with (or skip altogether)?



June 9, 2020

The Kind Worth Killing



The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Mystery/Thriller
2015 Blackstone Audio
Read by Johnny Heller, Karen White, Kathleen Early, Keith Szarabajka
Finished on June 6, 2020
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A devious tale of psychological suspense involving sex, deception, and an accidental encounter that leads to murder. Fans of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train will love this modern reimagining of Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train from the author of the acclaimed The Girl with a Clock for a Heart—which the Washington Post said “should be a contender for crime fiction’s best first novel of 2014.”

On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the stunning and mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing very intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage that’s going stale and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. Ted and his wife were a mismatch from the start—he the rich businessman, she the artistic free spirit—a contrast that once inflamed their passion, but has now become a cliché.

But their game turns a little darker when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.” After all, some people are the kind worth killing, like a lying, stinking, cheating spouse. . . .

Back in Boston, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they begin to plot Miranda's demise. But there are a few things about Lily’s past that she hasn’t shared with Ted, namely her experience in the art and craft of murder, a journey that began in her very precocious youth.

Suddenly these co-conspirators are embroiled in a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, one they both cannot survive . . . with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.

After I read Swanson's thriller Her Every Fear a few years ago, several friends suggested I read his early book The Kind Worth Killing. Many of those bloggers said it was better than Her Every Fear and now that I've read this one, I have to agree. I didn't like any of the characters, but thoroughly enjoyed this noir thriller, which is full of twists and turns that kept me guessing up until the very end. The audiobook is well done with a strong performance by four narrators, although there were a couple of times when I wasn't sure if I was hearing from Lily or Miranda's point of view. Other than that one minor complaint, this is a compelling, tautly crafted story. Highly recommend!