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July 30, 2020

Kingdom of the Blind



Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #14
Mystery
2018 Minotaur Books
Finished on July 23, 2020
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

When a peculiar letter arrives inviting Armand Gamache to an abandoned farmhouse, the former head of the Sûreté du Québec discovers that a complete stranger has named him one of the executors of her will. Still on suspension, and frankly curious, Gamache accepts and soon learns that the other two executors are Myrna Landers, the bookseller from Three Pines, and a young builder.

None of them had ever met the elderly woman.

The will is so odd and includes bequests that are so wildly unlikely that Gamache and the others suspect the woman must have been delusional. But what if, Gamache begins to ask himself, she was perfectly sane?

When a body is found, the terms of the bizarre suddenly seem less peculiar and far more menacing.

But it isn't the only menace Gamache is facing.

The investigation into what happened six months ago—the events that led to his suspension—has dragged on, into the dead of winter. And while most of the opioids he allowed to slip through his hands, in order to bring down the cartels, have been retrieved, there is one devastating exception.

Enough narcotic to kill thousands has disappeared into inner-city Montréal. With the deadly drug about to hit the streets, Gamache races for answers.

As he uses increasingly audacious, even desperate, measures to retrieve the drug, Armand Gamache begins to see his own blind spots. And the terrible things hiding there.

Another winner by Louise Penny, although it won't land on my list of favorites in this series. I figured out one of the major plot points early on and as others have mentioned, grew weary of the repeated phrase,"junkies, trannies and whores." I have one more installment to read in this series (A Better Man) and then I'll be caught up and ready for her new book (All the Devils Are Here), which is due out in September.

July 27, 2020

Music Monday - Taking a Break



Due to an unfortunate mishap on his bicycle, Rod is taking a break (pun intended) from Music Monday. "Closed fracture of proximal end of left humerus." Translation: Two broken bones in his upper left arm, near his shoulder. We see the orthopedic specialist tomorrow afternoon.

July 25, 2020

Fruit Galette

Daily life as a retiree hasn't changed too much since the pandemic began, but I have been more inspired to try new recipes since we aren't eating out nearly as often as we once did. Since I do most of the cooking, I rarely take time to do any baking and when I do, it's typically cookies, cakes or cobblers. Never pies. I honestly don't think I've ever made a pie crust from scratch and most of the pies I have made (back in the 80s) were most likely made with graham cracker crumbs.

Thanks to my discovery of some great recipes by Deb of Smitten Kitchen, I now feel more confident about pie dough. Or, should I say, galette dough. This past month I made a strawberry galette, not once, but four times! I found an easy and delicious recipe (Any-Kind-Of-Fruit Galette) and gave it a try with strawberries and rhubarb. Next I tried her Blue and Red Berry Ricotta Galette, making it for three separate gatherings (socially-distanced, of course). I used strawberries each time, but added rhubarb to one and raspberries to another. Today I made one with fresh peaches!




Both recipes are very similar; the only difference is the substitution of ricotta for yogurt or sour cream and the amount of berries. The Smitten Kitchen recipe includes a template should you decide to make the galette in the shape of a star. Click the link below for the template.




Pastry

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Zest of half a lemon
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup ricotta, plain yogurt or sour cream
3 tablespoons cold water

Filling

2-3 cups berries or chopped fruit (I used sliced strawberries)
3 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar (use the lower amount if your fruit is especially sweet)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Juice of half a lemon
Pinch of salt

Glaze

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water
1 heaping teaspoon turbinado or coarse sugar for sprinkling

Dough:

Whisk the flour, salt, sugar and zest together in the bottom of a large bowl. Work the butter into the flour with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles a coarse meal and the largest bits of butter are the size of tiny peas.

Stir ricotta and 3 tablespoons water together in a small dish and pour into butter-flour mixture. Stir together with a flexible spatula as best as you can, then use your hands to knead the mixture into a rough, craggy ball. Wrap in plastic and flatten into a disc. Chill in the fridge for 1 hour or up to 48 hours, or you can quick-firm this in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Galette:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On a floured counter, roll the dough out into a large round-ish shape, about 14 to 15 inches across.

Transfer dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet; I like to fold my dough gently, without creasing, in quarters then unfold it onto the baking pan.

Stir together all of the filling ingredients and spoon on to the dough, leaving a 2- to 3-inch border uncovered. Fold this border over fruit, pleating the edge to make it fit. The center will be open.

Whisk egg yolk and water together and brush over exposed crust. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake galette for 30 minutes or golden all over. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10-15 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature, preferably with vanilla ice cream.

Galette keeps at room temperature for a few days and up to a week in the refrigerator.

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.

July 24, 2020

Looking Back - Plainsong

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.




Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Fiction
1999 Vintage
Read in November 1999
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver.

In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they've ever known.

From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition.

Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a novel to care about, believe in, and learn from.

My Original Thoughts (1999):

A wonderful book. Quick read. Marvelous characters. Humorous, yet serious and thought-provoking. Memorable. Would make a great movie.

My Current Thoughts:

I'm surprised I didn't give this book a perfect 5/5 rating. I remember that I loved it and the subsequent books in Haruf's Plainsong trilogy. It's time to re-read all three!

July 23, 2020

The Confession Club



The Confession Club (Mason #3) by Elizabeth Berg
Fiction
2019 Random House
Finished on July 14, 2020
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

In a captivating novel from the bestselling author of The Story of Arthur Truluv, a group of women in Mason, Missouri discover that best friends are made by sharing secrets.

It all started as a supper club, a group gathering monthly to share homemade dinners, until the night one woman made a startling revelation. After that, the "Confession Club" decided to meet weekly to feast not only on dinner, but on admissions of misdeeds, embarrassments, and insecurities.

When Iris Winters and Maddy Harris are invited to the club, they find that it's just what each of them needs. Iris hasn't yet told anyone about the unlikely man who has captured her attention, and Maddy has come back home to escape a problem too big for her to confront.

The Confession Club is a heartwarming and illuminating book about women, friendship, and how sharing the secrets we're afraid of revealing can actually bring us closer.

Ugh. This was such a disappointing read. I've read the previous novels in this trilogy and while I enjoyed The Story of Arthur Truluv and loved Night of Miracles, this final installment was pretty much a waste of time.The dialogue between the women during their club meetings was ridiculous and at times a few members sounded less like adults and more like preteens. Even the premise of the club felt juvenile and most of these secondary characters were flat and indistinguishable. I only continued reading in order to learn more about the developing friendship between Iris and her new friend, but I would have been better off calling it quits when I first realized I was bored and annoyed with Berg's saccharine prose.

July 21, 2020

Women Rowing North



Women Rowing North by Mary Piper
Nonfiction
2019 Bloomsbury Publishing
Finished on July 10, 2020
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

The New York Times bestseller from the author of Reviving Ophelia--a guide to wisdom, authenticity, and bliss for women as they age.


Women growing older contend with ageism, misogyny, and loss. Yet as Mary Pipher shows, most older women are deeply happy and filled with gratitude for the gifts of life. Their struggles help them grow into the authentic, empathetic, and wise people they have always wanted to be.


In Women Rowing North, Pipher offers a timely examination of the cultural and developmental issues women face as they age. Drawing on her own experience as daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, caregiver, clinical psychologist, and cultural anthropologist, she explores ways women can cultivate resilient responses to the challenges they face. "If we can keep our wits about us, think clearly, and manage our emotions skillfully," Pipher writes, "we will experience a joyous time of our lives. If we have planned carefully and packed properly, if we have good maps and guides, the journey can be transcendent."


It's been over 25 years since I first read Mary Pipher's bestseller, Reviving Ophelia, which addresses 
the struggles of adolescent girls. At the time, my daughter was a preteen and I found the book informative and eye-opening, but it wasn't one I loved or kept on my shelf for a re-read. More recently, I went on to read Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders. Or should I say, attempted to read. I gave up on that book after a few chapters, finding it dull and full of repetitive anecdotes. When my book group selected Pipher's most recent work, Women Rowing North: Navigating Life's Currents and Flourishing as We Age, I thought maybe this one would suit me better than the other two and I looked forward to discussing it with my friends. I was encouraged after marking a few passages in the first chapter, but from there on, my interest waned. I read a chapter here and there, but the information wasn't illuminating and the abundant use of anecdotes became tiresome. I realized I wasn't enjoying the book when I found myself calculating how many chapters needed to be read each day in order to finish by my book group meeting. Women Rowing North is only 250 pages, so it shouldn't have taken me two weeks to complete. However, I did finish, unlike some of my fellow book group members.

So why did this book fail to elicit high praise from me? The main reason is that it didn't shed new light on issues I am facing. Although the author provides numerous stories to back up her ideas and beliefs, she tends to state the obvious. I grew bored with her message and tips on gratitude and on the need for friends to help weather life's storms and as a result, lost track of the various individuals referenced by Piper. They all blurred together and I had to flip back to earlier chapters to remind myself of who some were when a name was dropped into a paragraph three chapters later. 

I am 58 and am probably the correct target audience for the book and yet it still fell short of my expectations. The majority of readers in my book group are in their 70s and 80s and felt that they had already encountered all the issues presented by Pipher. As one reviewer stated on Goodreads, "If you’ve already figured out that exercise, healthy eating, community involvement, pursuit of a special interest and nurturing relationships with friends and families are the keys to happiness at any age, your time will be better spent in pursuing those activities than in reading this book." I couldn't agree more!

July 20, 2020

Music Monday #15 - The Way You Look Tonight

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

July 19, 2020

Simplest Spaghetti al Limone

Why, yes. I found another winning recipe from Smitten Kitchen that truly is the simplest! I love that there are only a few ingredients, most of which I have on hand at all times. It's quick and easy and a nice alternative to rice or potatoes. The first night I served it with grilled chicken. Later that week I decided to make it again to go with our grilled salmon. For lunch, I reheated the leftover pasta and ate it with leftover cold salmon. Delicious! 


Simplest Spaghetti al Limone
Smitten Kitchen



Coarse salt
1/2 lb. dried spaghetti
1 lemon
3 1/2 oz. parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Fresh basil leaves, torn (optional)

Boil spaghetti in well-salted water according to package directions. 

While the spaghetti is cooking, finely grate (with a rasp-style grater/Microplane) the zest of half the lemon into a large serving bowl. Add the juice of the whole lemon (approx. 4 tablespoons). Using the same rasp, grate the parmesan on top of the lemon juice. Add the olive oil and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, along with several grinds of black pepper. Combine ingredients with a whisk until very well-mixed and as smooth as possible.

When the pasta is finished cooking, ladle out 1 cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta and quickly pour it into the serving bowl with the lemon-parmesan mixture. Using tongs, toss until all of the strands are coated. Add 1-2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking water to the spaghetti until it looks glossy and lightly sauced. You may need more or less, but don't "wash" the sauce off the pasta. 

Add the torn basil leaves and toss to combine, then serve. Top each serving with a little extra olive oil, salt, pepper and parmesan.

My Notes:

I didn't have any fresh basil, but it was still incredibly delicious without the herb. 

I only used 2 tablespoons of the pasta water. I can't imagine using the entire cup.


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.

July 17, 2020

Looking Back - A Sweetness to the Soul

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.




A Sweetness to the Soul by Jane Kirkpatrick
Fiction
2008 Multnomah (first published in 1995)
Finished on October 31, 1999
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Based on historical characters and events, A Sweetness to the Soul recounts the captivating story of young, spirited Oregon pioneer Jane Herbert who at the age of twelve faces a tragedy that begins a life-long search for forgiveness and love. In the years that follow, young Jane finds herself involved in an unusual and touching romance with a dreamer sixteen years her senior, struggles to make peace with an emotionally distant mother, and fights to build a family of her own. Filled with heart-warming insight and glimpses of real-life pain, A Sweetness to the Soul paints a brilliant picture of love that conquers all obstacles and offers a powerful testimony to the miracle of God's healing power. 

My Original Thoughts (1999):

Pretty good, but nothing great. It took me a long time to get interested in the characters and want to continue reading. Not a spell-binding novel, but not completely boring. 

My Current Thoughts:

My original comments reflect a more positive reaction than my rating. Last year I tried to read another book by Kirkpatrick (The Daughter's Walk), but gave up after several chapters. I usually enjoy historical fiction, but this author is not for me.

July 14, 2020

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson


The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
Nonfiction - History
2011 Brilliance Audio
Read by Robin Miles
Finished on July 6, 2020
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.

With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.

Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.

I've had my eye on The Warmth of Other Suns for several years and finally decided to download the audiobook from Libro.fm. I was well aware that the print edition is very long, but I wasn't quite prepared to spend an entire month listening to this nonfiction work. It was just under 23 hours of listening time. Eek!

Wilkerson's research is extensive and I liked learning about the lives of the three main individuals represented in the book, but it took me quite a while to get used to the rhythm of the narrative. Each of three people (and their families) migrate to different areas of the country, experiencing unique and similar instances of racial injustice and acceptance. These biographies are interwoven during each time period and there were times when I wasn't sure if the narrative was focusing on George or Robert's life.

I wish I could say that I loved this book, and perhaps I would have enjoyed it more had I read the print copy, but that was not my experience. I appreciate the lessons learned about this time in our country's history, but I found the writing repetitive and was easily distracted as I listened. I am obviously in the minority, if one is to look at all the 5-star ratings on Goodreads. Robin Miles does a fine job with the audiobook narration, but my recommendation is to read the print edition.

July 13, 2020

Music Monday #14 - Can't Find My Way Home

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

July 10, 2020

Looking Back - When the Wind Blows

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.




When the Wind Blows by James Patterson
Fiction
1998 Little, Brown and Company
Read in October 1999
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Frannie O'Neill is a caring young veterinarian living in the Colorado Rockies, trying to erase the memory of her beloved husband's mysterious murder. It is not long before another neighbor suddenly dies, and FBI agent Kit Harrison arrives at Frannie's doorstep. Kit is hell-bent on solving the heinous case despite resounding protests from the FBI and the thrashing of his own internal demons.

Kit secretly pursues the investigation, yet witnesses keep turning up dead. Then Frannie stumbles upon an astonishing discovery in the nearby woods, and their lives are altered in ways they could never have imagined. Simply knowing the secret of Max -- the terrified 11-year-old girl with an amazing gift -- could mean death.

As more and more diabolical details are unearthed, the murderer's bloody trail ultimately leads the trio to an underground lab network, known as "the School." Here scientists conduct shockingly incomprehensible experiments involving children and genetic alteration.

My Original Thoughts (1999):

Quick, easy read. Mindless entertainment. Would make a great movie, if done right. Flying children (?!), romance, suspense.

My Current Thoughts:

Prior to this, I had only read two other books by Patterson (the first two books in his Alex Cross series) and as I remember, I enjoyed this one about the same as those. It sounds like something Dean Koontz would write and probably a good beach read.

July 7, 2020

State of Wonder



State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Fiction
2011 HarperCollins
Finished on July 3, 2020
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding!)

Publisher's Blurb:

Years ago, Marina Singh traded the hard decisions and intensity of medical practice for the quieter world of research at a phamaceutical company, a choice that has haunted her life. Enveloping herself in safety, limiting emotional risk, she shares a quiet intimacy with her widowed older boss, Mr. Fox, and a warm friendship with her colleague Anders Eckman. But Marina's security is shaken when she learns that Anders, sent to the Amazon to check on a field team, is dead--and Mr. Fox wants her to go into the jungle to discover what happened.

Plagued by trepidation, Marina embarks on an odyssey into the unknown, down into the Amazonian delta, deep into the dense, insect-infested jungle, to find answers from the company's research team. Led by the formidable Dr. Annick Swenson, the scientists are looking into the development of a new drug that could have a profound impact on Western society. But the team has been silent for two years, and Dr. Swenson does not like interlopers inserting themselves into her work, as Marina well knows. The eminent and fiercely uncompromising doctor was once her mentor, the woman she admired, emulated, and feared. To fulfill her mission, Marina must confront the ghosts of her past, as well as unfulfilled dreams and expectations--on a journey that will force her to make painful moral choices and take her to the depths of her own heart of darkness.

A rich narrative, lush with atmosphere and full of deeply realized characters, packed with amazing twists and surprises--encounters with an anaconda, cannibals, death, and birth--State of Wonder is Ann Patchett's most enthralling and confident novel, a tale that will leave readers in their own state of wonder, examining their own values and beliefs.

Bravo! Every reader knows the joy of discovering an outstanding read and State of Wonder is a literary gem. I have owned an ARC of Ann Patchett's novel since early 2011, but wasn't drawn to it until recently. Perhaps I hesitated due to the setting (I do not like spiders or snakes) and although there are a few scenes involving those, I only held my breath once or twice, anxiously awaiting the outcome of those encounters. I have two other books by Patchett (Commonwealth and The Dutch House) in my TBR stacks and it was this stockpile that inspired me to finally move this older work to my summer reading shelf.

State of Wonder is a slow burn and it wasn't until Marina reached the research facility in the jungle that I became fully invested in the story. As mentioned in the publisher's blurb, the characters are fully realized, many of whom I came to care about greatly and bringing to mind Mary Doria Russell's wonderful cast of characters in her exceptional novel, The Sparrow (another all-time favorite work of literary fiction). The acerbic Dr. Swenson and mute Easter, as well as helpful and protective Milton, stole my heart. Speaking of The Sparrow, I found myself reflecting on that narrative as I read State of Wonder, as both involve the interaction between scientists and doctors and an indigenous society in which the language and social mores are not shared. There are surprises and twists in both of these novels and the suspenseful plots keep the pages turning. 

Favorite Passages:
It was as if Dr. Swenson had vanished from the boat, as surely as Easter had vanished from it when he went over the side. Marina watched the hammock until its motion had settled. It was a magic trick: wrap her in a blanket and she's gone. The quiet that was left without her was layered, subtle: at first Marina heard it only as silence, the absence of human voices, but once her ear had settled into it the other sounds began to rise, the deeply forested chirping, the caw that came from the tops of trees, the chattering of lower primates, the incessant sawing of insect life. It was not unlike the overture of the opera in which the well-trained listener could draw forth the piccolos, the soft French horn, a single meaningful viola.
and
The question is whether or not you choose to disturb the world around you, or if you choose to let it go on as if you had never arrived. That is how one respects indigenous people. If you pay any attention at all you’ll realize that you could never convert them to your way of life anyway. They are an intractable race. Any progress you advance to them will be undone before your back is turned. You might as well come down here to unbend the river. The point, then, is to observe the life they themselves have put in place and learn from it.

I've read two other books by Patchett, but this may be my favorite, with Bel Canto in a close second place. I liked The Magician's Assistant, but didn't feel it had the same rich detail as the others.

If one were to review my annual top ten lists, literary fiction is undoubtedly the winner every time. Novels such as The Sparrow, The Help, Beach Music, All the Light We Cannot See, Atonement (at least the first time around), The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Cutting for Stone, Flight Behavior, Ordinary Grace and A Gentleman in Moscow are all richly descriptive and peopled with memorable characters. These are the sort of books that pull me in and stay with me for years, if not decades, after I finish the final page. They're the books that I long to read again in order to not only discover something I may have missed, but to return to the wonderful characters whom I miss as if they were actual friends. And, they're the books that I recommend to everyone who loves great literature. So, if by chance, you missed reading this novel, I urge you to get a copy. I'm already looking forward to my second read, which might be in the audio format rather than print. Highly recommend!

July 6, 2020

Music Monday #13 - Bartender's Blues

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

July 4, 2020

Corn Chowder with Chile, Lime and Cotija

Oh, my gosh. Smitten Kitchen has become my favorite source for recipes! I tried this chowder the other day and it was amazing. The lime and cheese flavors are perfect, so don't skip the finishing mixture.


Corn Chowder with Chile, Lime and Cotija
Photo Credit: Smitten Kitchen


Soup

8 medium/large ears corn, husks and silks removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, preferably Spanish, chopped fine
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
1 tablespoon mild chili powder or 1 teaspoon of a hotter one
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock or broth
2 15-ounce cans small red or black beans, drained and rinsed (or one of each) 
1 cup whole milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper or cayenne to taste
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream

Finish

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
1/2 cup finely crumbled Cotija, feta or ricotta salata cheese, plus more for serving
1 lime, divided
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
Chili powder or a chili-lime seasoning such as Tajín
Baked tortilla chips (optional)
Diced avocado (optional)

For the soup:

With a sharp knife, cut kernels from 8 ears corn (you should have about 6 cups); transfer half to a bowl. Chop the other half into pulpy bits on a cutting board or blend them in a food processor until half-pureed. Add to bowl. Firmly scrape any pulp remaining on cobs with back of knife into bowl with corn. Set corn aside.

In a large (5 quarts is ideal) heavy pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium. Add onion and cook until tender and beginning to brown at the edges, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño and chili powder and cook together for 2 minutes more. Add flour and stir into onion-garlic mixture until it disappears. Stirring constantly, gradually add stock. Add beans, corn, and 1 cup milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 13 minutes, until corn is tender. 

Add salt (about 1 tablespoon Diamond kosher salt) and freshly ground black pepper or cayenne to taste. Add cream to taste (1/2 cup sufficient, but it will be less creamy than traditional) and cook for 3 minutes more.

To finish: 

Combine mayonnaise, sour cream or crema, cheese, and juice of half a lime in a bowl; stir to combine. Cut second half of lime into wedges.

Ladle soup into bowls and dollop in center with 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) of mayo-cheese mixture. Squeeze lime juice over to taste, sprinkle with chili powder and chopped cilantro and serve, baked tortilla chips on the side if you wish.



My Notes:

This makes a lot of soup, so next time I'll cut it in half.

My corn cobs were very dry, so I didn't get a lot of corn "milk." Once I removed the kernels, I simmered the cobs in a pot with the chicken stock while finishing the rest of the preparations.

I used a Vidalia onion.

We don't care for spicy food, so I left out the jalapeno and only used 1 teaspoon of chili powder. That's why my photo shows a much whiter-looking soup.

I didn't have small red beans, so I substituted with navy beans.

For the finish, I used feta which I find to be less salty than the Cotija.

I didn't have any cilantro, but I did add diced avocado.

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.

July 3, 2020

Looking Back - The Orphan Game

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.




The Orphan Game by Ann Darby
Fiction
1999 William Morrow & Company
Read in October 1999
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Beautifully written, wonderfully observed, and deeply felt, Ann Darby's haunting first novel marks the debut of an important voice in women's fiction. The Orphan Game tells the story of a young woman's passage from the troubled family she's longing to escape to the "family" she struggles to create when she is forced into an early adulthood.

As the war in Vietnam escalates and as brush fires are blackening the California foothills, the Harris family shatters and its members are driven to find new ways to live with one another. With an intimacy immediate and true, The Orphan Game portrays the powerful love that not only can bind a family, but can also break it apart.

Set in a quiet Southern California town in 1965, a town where the rules of the fifties haven't quite departed and the new mores of the sixties are fast encroaching, this rueful tale is told in the intertwined voices of three women: Maggie, the young woman struggling to define herself; Marian, the mother who must relinquish her; and Mrs. Rumsen, the childless great-aunt who cares for Maggie when her mother can't. As each woman tells her tale, it becomes clear that each has, in her own way, played the orphan game--taken the risk to leave home, to claim her life, and, above all, to be loved.

My Original Thoughts (1999):

An ok read, but nothing special. Just enough to keep me interested and finish the book, but not by much.

My Current Thoughts:

I suspect it was the Southern California setting that appealed to me, but apparently that wasn't enough to make for a great read. I don't remember the plot or the characters and I'll bet it was something I stumbled upon at the library.

July 2, 2020

A Month in Summary - June 2020

Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
June 2020


I probably say this every year about this time, but I can't believe we are already halfway through the year. How is it possible that the days continue to fly by when we're not really doing much of anything?


My routine continues to be the same as it's been since we began sheltering-in-place a little over a hundred days ago. I try to get outside and walk 3-4 miles a day (the above photo shows one of the paths in our neighborhood) and I get together once a week with my girlfriends for a socially distanced visit. Other than that, I continue to go grocery shopping only twice a month (I used to go at least once a week), drive into Salem (90 minutes away) for my mom and husband's monthly eye appointments, help host my monthly book group Zoom meeting, work on puzzles and watch movies in the evening. I'm sure if I look back on the past three monthly summaries, not much has changed. I'm still trying out new recipes, but thankfully, my jeans still fit. ;) My hair has always been slow to grow, but my husband's is getting quite bushy. I think it looks great and he's not complaining about it, so he may hold off on a haircut for another month or two.

We did make reservations with a small campground in Washington and hope to get away in September for a couple of weeks. We'll wait and see how things go with the pandemic, but it should be relatively safe and maybe by Labor Day, folks will start heading home and the parks won't be quite so crowded.

I'm not sure how I wound up only reading three books in June, but my current audio is super long (almost 23 hours!), so that's slowing me down just a bit. It's probably no surprise that Glass Houses was my favorite this month. I do love that series!


Books Read (click on the title for my review):


The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson (4/5)


Glass Houses by Louise Penny (5/5)


The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (3/5)


First Lines:

"Hello there," she said.


I looked at the pale, freckled hand on the back of the empty bar seat next to me in the business class lounge at Heathrow Airport, then up into the stranger's face. (The Kind Worth Killing)


"State your name, please."


"Armand Gamache." (Glass Houses)


Even in death the boys were trouble. (The Nickel Boys)


Movies and TV Series:




The Next Three Days - Russell Crowe is very good in this suspenseful film. We enjoyed it.



No Offence - We watched one episode of this series and didn't care enough to continue.



The Laundromat - This was a odd movie. Based on a true story, I thought it was pretty good, but quirky!



The Bankers - Another movie based on a true story, which we enjoyed quite a bit. 



Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Cate Blanchett is great, but I didn't love the movie and I'm surprised my husband sat through the entire thing.



1917 - This was quite good, but very intense. 



Knives Out - This is probably our favorite of the month. We loved all the twists and the cast was fantastic.



New Tricks - We are just about finished with Season Two and have enjoyed this series, but not enough to continue with the remaining seasons.

Puzzlemania:









Social Distancing:

Gathering together with friends on a weekly basis makes this global pandemic just a little more tolerable. We just need to figure out a way to get back to our Mah Jong games. Outdoors with gloves and masks?? 


Friday Afternoon Club (formerly the Mah Jong Club)


Be sure to check out the sidebar links for Rod's music videos (posted each Monday) and the new recipes I sampled this past month. 


Have a safe and Happy Fourth and please, please, please wear your mask!