Category Archives: books

True Grit

I usually consider myself a good cook but every now and then I think maybe I shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen.

This adventure started when I looked to see if there were any Instant Pot recipes for one or two for Clyde and found an actual cook book: I Love My Instant Pot For One.  You know me, I promptly checked it out from library.  As is my habit, I flipped through and marked a few recipes that appealed to me.  One of them was for Sweet Breakfast Grits.  Believe it or not, I’ve never had grits; I don’t have anything against grits, it just has never come up.  So I thought maybe it was time to try.  Ordered grits from the store, picked them up.  Printed off a copy of the recipe from the internet (I don’t EVER cook from library books with those books in the kitchen) and waited for a good morning to try out yet another hot cereal.

Mixed the ingredients, set the Instant Pot and 10 minutes later I was looking forward to my nice warm breakfast.  In order to get the little pan out of the Instant Pot, I grabbed my rubber-tipped kitchen tongs.  These are made to withstand heat but as I pulled the pan out, they seemed too pliable and in trying to hurry the pan to the counter, of course I spilled it.  Not too much, but I completely ruined the recipe which was sitting there (which is why I don’t EVER cook with a library book in the kitchen).  I scooped the spill into a bowl and when I went to scoop the rest of the grits to the bowl, I realized they were overcooked on the bottom.  I tried to break up the lumps, but not very successfully. 

As I ate my extremely lumpy grits, I decided to look up how people normally cook grits; there are TONS of these videos online.  Apparently how to cook grits is on a lot of people’s minds.  It took about ten seconds to find out that there are regular grits and instant grits.  (Grit purists detest instant grits it turns out.)  A quick check of my grits container told me where part of my mistake originated – I had instant grits – my recipe was meant for regular grits.  However, after watching a couple of quick videos, I realized that my biggest mistake was using my Instant Pot to make grits.  What a waste of time and electricity when you can just whisk grits into milk and water on the stove top and “voila”.. breakfast!

So Clyde, if you do find this cookbook, you can skip the Sweet Breakfast Grits recipe.

Do you make a mess when you cook? (Or do you have a favorite grits recipe?)

Nostalgia

I’m not sure if it’s a pandemic thing but during the last year, I’ve had a greater yearning for tv shows and movies that I haven’t seen for years/decades. 

It started with two movies starring Gene Wilder as Cash Carter: Murder in a Small Town and The Lady in Question.  Gene plays a theatre director who helps the local police solve crimes.  Even though I’ve read that he was kind of a stinker in real life, I adore him on the screen.

Then there were both of the older Death on the Niles, one from the 70s with Peter Ustinov and the David Suchet version.  This is my absolute favorite Agatha Christie and both these versions are pretty true to the book.

Next up came The Girl From Uncle with Stephanie Powers.  It’s very dated but I did love it at the time and am always glad when there is a woman in a leading role, especially where spy/detective stories are concerned.

I’ve looked for years for The Scarecrow.  I hardly remember it except for the song and the shots of Patrick McGoohan with his Scarecrow mask.  It was a short Disney series but for some reason it has stuck in my memory.

And as soon as I started thinking about Patrick McGoohan, I started thinking about The Three Lives of Thomasina.  I talked my parents into taking me to see this three times while it was at the local move theatre.  In addition to the cat and Patrick McGoohan (I had a thing for him early on), I loved the “witch” who lived outside the town who cured the cat.

The latest of my obsessions is Flambards.  It played on PBS in 1980 – I was a young married and I still remember the haunting musical score.  I only saw it that once, but I loved the story of a young girl coming of age in turn of the century (20th) England.  I didn’t realize for many years that it was based on a trilogy of books by K.M. Peyton; I have just recently read the first one.

I searched for all of these movies/shows and didn’t have much luck (David Suchet’s Nile and the first episode of Flambards were available on the internet for a bit).  And I didn’t have much luck with interlibrary loan either – a lot of libraries don’t really want to lend out their DVDs; they show as available but then I get a “sorry” email.  I’m still waiting to hear about Flambards, but for all the others, I eventually went online and purchased them one by one.  This may not seem too remarkable but purchasing DVDs hasn’t been something I do very often and it’s hard not to feel like I’ve been behaving fiscally irresponsible purchasing so many over the course of a year.  But I have truly enjoyed them (over and over again I admit).  I have a friend who weighs purchases by how often they are used – she calls this calculation PPU (price per use) – the more often something is used, the cheaper it gets in her eyes.  By this calculation, I’m practically saving money!

Anything you’ve been nostalgic about lately?

Baking with Oma

We spent yesterday anxiously watching the weather and spending our last day with our grandson. Daughter in law made Spritz cookie dough, and grandson and I sprinkled them with colored sugars. We only had pastels, and no Christmas colors, but he certainly didn’t mind. The dog hung out under our stools and gobbled up what ever we dropped. A good time was had by all.

Grandson likes doing things with us. He is a champion builder and train operator, shaping his wooden train tracks into interesting shapes and making up stories about the train trip with himself as the conductor. Many books were read, especially “We’re going on a Bear Hunt” by Helen Oxenbury. It was read multiple times, and was a sure bet for getting him all revved up.

I had good experiences with both sets of my grandparents, and I feel very fortunate to have had them around into my adult years. I am grateful that our grandson isn’t allowed to watch much TV or videos, and is always eager to do things with us instead of sitting around, exhausting as it may be.

What do you remember about your grandparents or older adults in your life? What did you like to do with them? What do you like to do with small children? What are your favorite holiday cookies?

Never Enough Dragons

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned dragon books.  Right after that, one of them came up for check-out at the library – Here, There be Dragons by James Owens.  It’s part of a series called Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica and true to it’s title, we had imaginary creatures (dragons) on the first page. 

As the story unfolded we also got references to King Arthur, Captain Nemo, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, trolls, dwarves, centaurs, Pandora’s box, Stonehenge and, of course, talking badgers.  Although the story starts out in WWI London, almost all of the story takes places in the “archipelago of dreams”, a world which is apparently one of many alternative realities. 

As the first in a series, this one was a little bogged down by all the explanatory bits related by various characters, but the fascinating weaving of all kinds of myths and stories into the plot was just enough to keep me going as well as the quote: “Did he now?” said Charles as a smile began to cheshire over his face.”  That alone was enough to make me want to pick up the next volume.  And no spoiler alerts but the last chapter was worth its weight in gold, in terms of pulling together the strands of the story and leaving you with a tingling feeling that you should have known it all along.

If you could make one fantasy/imaginary place come alive, what would it be?

That Crazy Minnesota Weather

Today’s post comes from Ben.

Last week this time we were preparing for a blizzard, and this week we had record high temperatures and tornadoes and extreme winds. If you’re smart enough to pay attention to the weather extremes going on you would call it global warming. Or you could just shake your head and say, well that’s different. Oh, it was different all right. I’d rather not have to go through that again.

I was glad the snow melted, I really just wanted the banks to melt down on the sides of the road. Guess I should be more specific about what I wish for. White Christmas or brown Christmas won’t bother me.

From the winds, we have a lot of branches down. We have an old maple tree in the front yard. A branch falls off if you look at it funny so it lost several in the winds. I have some trees down around the fields, some minor damage to some of the buildings, and most of the snowfence is gone. None of that is serious. I spent a few hours out with the Townboard guys clearing trees off township roads. I saw a couple trampolines folded in half, I saw metal roofing of a house peeled up over the top. You know if it’s windy down in our valley, it’s really windy out in the open.

I was supposed to have a choir concert at the college last Friday night. We postponed it to Monday. It was a very nice concert. The photo up top is my view from the booth with the Lighting Console as I programmed.
It was nice of Santa to stop in at the concert on Monday.

End of the financial year here so I am settling up with the neighbors. I mentioned a week or two ago about pre-paying some fertilizer and doing tax planning for next year. My neighbors that do the combining and hauling of my crops sent their bill. Combining soybeans is $38 per acre. Corn is $39 per acre. And it’s eight cents per bushel to haul. They also made some round bales of straw at $13 per bale and I sold them 200 bushels of oats at $3.58 per bushel. I’ll be writing them a check for $7310. It’s a lot of money, but it’s cheaper than owning my own equipment and having the time to do it. And the neighbors with the cattle here, they pay rent on the pasture, I pay them to combine the oats, and they will buy the round bales of straw. I did some work for them and we pretty much balance out at the end of the year.

The chickens appreciate the snow melting. You can see them here gathered in a bare spot last week.

They don’t like the snow, they’ll walk over a little, but nothing deep. Except one white chicken. Evidently her feet don’t get cold. There were a few days last week when she was the only one out. Maybe she just doesn’t get along well with the others. She is kind of ornery, biting Kelly twice when she tried to collect eggs. Bad move chicken, bad move.

The MRI on my shoulder last week showed massive tears. Still waiting on the surgery consultation. Some days it hurts more than others. If I’m going to have surgery done, I’d really like it sooner than later. In the meantime, I wait. I remember reading in a John Irving book a phrase something like, “Does anyone in love ever want to ‘wait and see?’ “

How do you feel about waiting? How many other heteronyms do you know? 

Light My Fire

In searching for something on my laptop last week, I came across a list of books about dragons.  Looks like I made this list six or seven years ago (last time it was saved was six years back) and I’ve read a few of the books on the list since then.  I’d completely forgotten that I had this list.

Dragons, of course, are widely varied in literature.  My least favorite kind are the mindless, evil dragons (think Smaug in The Hobbit).  I prefer intelligent dragons who can communicate if they choose (like Ramoth in Dragonflight or Temeraire in the Novik series).  My current car is named after a dragonrider of Pern (Brekke – one of the rare dragonriders who can communicate with all dragons, not just their own). 

I also like dragons who adore treasure – not sure why, maybe because it’s such a longstanding bit of dragonlore that it feels right when it is included.  It’s interesting that the Greek dragons who were set to guarding treasure have morphed into beings who lust after gold, diamonds and jewels.  Of course I also read somewhere once that gold is a good conductor of magical energy and that dragons NEED it to exist. 

The biggest problem with this list is that I have already reached the limit of books that I can have on hold at the library – with probably be at least a week before that changes.  Hopefully in a week, I’ll remember I have this list of books I want to read! Maybe I’ll start yet another tab on my reading spreadsheet.

Tell me about a mythical animal that you think might improve our world if it existed!  Or just if you have a favorite mythical animal.

We’re Not Bleeding

I have a babysitting gig tonight.

I was doing a quick scroll on Facebook (that’s about all I can handle on FB) and noticed my neighbor two doors up looking for a last-minute sitter since the scheduled sitter has come down sick.  It’s my neighbors anniversary and apparently the reservations have been made for months.  This is a newish neighbor; they moved in last May in the middle of pandemic and I don’t know them terribly well, but I thought “what the heck… I don’t have any plans on Friday night” and volunteered. 

The last time I did any child-minding was two Easters ago.  As part of the most over-engineered-egg-hunt in history, adults go out and hide the eggs for one assigned child (13 kids 13 and under).  Normally I am part of the egg-hiding crowd but that year there was snow on the ground and I was the lone voice of reason that maybe we should do something different.  So I rebelled and stayed with the kids in the house while all the other adults traipsed out.  Big jokes were made about whether I could handle this.  I told all the kids that as long as there was no bleeding, we would be fine.  The kids thought this was very funny and it’s still a running joke; I expect to hear that no one is bleeding on Thanksgiving.,

My neighbor is not a baker so I thought I might take some cookie dough to their house and bake cookies with the girls.  Or maybe we could make caramel popcorn to have if we watch tv.  Other than that no plans; I’m assuming from their ages (5 and 8) that they will be in bed before their folks get home, so a good book is on the docket a well.  YA thinks I’m in for a hard evening despite me reminding her that I was HER babysitter for years and she’s not bleeding.

Any advice for tonight?

Jumping In

Al the discussion about gardening on Mars and The Martian by Andy Weir made me think.  If I were sure I could get back, would I want to try Mars?  And better yet, if I could beam to Mars and back, instead of spending more than a year on a spaceship each way, would I want to try Mars?  I might, since my biggest issue is the travel part.  And the getting home part.

By now, of course, I’m pretty far down Fantasy Road and I found myself thinking about whether I would want to change places with any other movie character, or tv character or character in a book. 

Again, part of my decision is based on the absolutely certainy that I am not putting my life in danger and I would be able to get back home.  Kinda like the holodeck in Star Trek where you just say “computer, end program” and the door to the ship’s hallways opens right up.

That being said, I can think of LOTS of characters I’d like to be for a week or so.  Scarlett O’Hara from Gone w/ the Wind, Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, Ren-Marie from any of the Three Pines mysteries, Frodo from Lord of the Rings, Lawrence from any of the Temeraire stories (except Australia – that one stunk)…. I could go on and on.  Of course there are a lot of stories I prefer from a reading distance – pretty much anything during WWII and Vietnam, anything where the character is scared/threatened/blackmailed through the book or movie. Anything that is too gory or gruesome.  And if it’s a book I really didn’t like then I definitely don’t need to swap with those characters ever.

So what about you?  Any character you’d like to be for a week?

Hello – Goodbye

I had a hard decision last week.

Even though the last thing I really need in my life is another dessert cookbook, I could not resist Frosted by Bernice Beren.  It presents some more complicated techniques than the usual sweets cookbook but in a way that made it seem like I could take them on. 

But you know my rule.  The cookbook shelves are full – if a new cookbook comes in, something has to go.  This has been easier in the past but it took me a few days to finally choose.  I have a handful of cookbooks that I have never used (not even once) but because they are cookbooks from my travels, they have always been protected by the “something has to go” rule.  For many years I would pick up a cookbook while on trips but most of them have just sat on the shelf for all these years as a testament to where I’ve been.  The Hawaii cookbook is a case in point.  It wasn’t very expensive and had a pretty little cover, but I’ve never made one darn thing out of it.  Hawaiian food isn’t one of my favorites and this particular little cookbook is mostly meat and fish recipes. 

When selecting a “to-go” cookbook in the past I’ve always felt like I shouldn’t oust a travel cookbook.  Having them felt like a statement.  But last week when trying to decide I realized that nobody stands back there in the breakfast room reading through all these titles.  I’m not making a statement to anybody but myself.  And I certainly don’t need an unused cookbook to do that.  Even if I don’t remember where I’ve been, I actually have a world map (in the very same room) with push pins of all the places I’ve visited around the globe!  (This is not the first time I’ve had a revelation about keeping books around for the statement I think they make, but the first time I’ve applied it to my cookbook collection)

So the Hawaii cookbook is going to a new home in my friend’s Little Library.  I expect some of the other travel cookbooks will also make an exit one of these days, although Scandinavian Cooking (from my Baltic cruise) and The Africa Café (from my first trip to Capetown) will stay, since I have used them repeatedly!

Anything you’re hanging onto because of a statement it makes?

Beautiful Soup

Daughter likes to give herself cooking challenges. Last year she made a different kind of Mac and Cheese from scratch every month. A few weeks ago she began a weekly soup challenge. The first was a roasted tomato, which she said was quite a production. Her efforts paid off though, when she shared it with a friend who said it was the best soup he’d ever had, and that it was better even than the soup at the Metropolitan Market, a fancy Tacoma food store.

Next was a Creamy Chicken Gnocchi, similar to a soup at the Olive Garden.

Roasted Red Pepper Gouda was on the menu the following week. She only took a photo of the peppers being roasted. She said it was so good she had to have it for breakfast.

Last weekend was Tomato Mac soup, a local soup from The Cowboy Café in Medora, ND. We got the recipe from her best friend’s aunt, who owns the Café. The soup ends up much creamier than it appears in the photo. This early in the process.

We have a large tureen with platter given to us as a wedding present.

It seems like so much work to heat up the soup and put it in the tureen and then have to wash the tureen, so we don’t use it much. It all seems very Victorian, and makes the soup the main focus of the meal, which put me in mind of this:

What is your favorite soup?  What character from  Alice In Wonderland? would you like to be?