Category Archives: books

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?

Witness

Not nearly as any books get recorded on CD these days as are recorded to Audiobooks that can be downloaded.  So every now and then, even though I have quite an impressive waiting list at the library, I find myself without a CD in the car (I know, horrors, right?) l When this happens I just peruse the CD shelves at my local library.  This is how I found Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie.

I’ve said here before that I read all of Agatha Christie’s books when I was in high school.  I need to amend that; I read all of Agatha Christie’s novels in high school.  And of course high school was a long time ago so when I first watched the movie version of Witness, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t one of her novels.  It’s one of her short stories. 

As I often enjoy books more than the movies made from them, when I pulled the CD off the shelf I was wondering how this dynamic would play out.  I adore the Witness for the Prosecution movie made in 1957 with Charles Laughton, Elsa Lancaster, Trevor Howard and Marlene Dietrich.  Great acting, good story, nice denouement and fabulous courtroom scenes.

If I’d had my wits about me I would have made the leap that a short story would need fleshing out to make a full movie.  But  I don’t always have my wits about me, so I was surprised to find that the movie had taken “fleshed out” to new levels.  The Charles Laughton and Else Lancaster characters and all their action and dialog were complete embellishments as was about half of the courtroom scenes.  And the short story ending was a little more open-ended than the movie.

So I’m sure you’re all saying “VS will never watch this movie again.  She’s outraged that Hollywood would take such liberties with one of her favorite authors.”  It’s what I thought I would be saying about now.  But I’m not.  The movie does not mess with the actual story – it’s completely intact – the additional characters, dialog and scenes actually support the story.  Apparently Agatha Christie did not mind the additions and, of course, the movie was released to international acclaim.

The rest of the stories are fascinating, very unlike her novels.  No suspicious deaths, no big long list of suspects with motives and opportunities.  But great stories that capture the imagination.  I’m about half way through the CDs and am manufacturing reasons to get in the car right now, so I can keep listening. 

Have you ever had to give testimony in court? Or been on a jury?

He Said She Said

I spent an hour or so at Urgent Care yesterday (not a big deal – just wanted to be reassured that my self care was OK and to get a tetanus booster.

While waiting I noticed a woman go in and out of the UC door a few times; she was wearing a Darth Vader smock.  Long gone are the days when everybody is required to wear white!  When it turned out that she was the nurse who was going to rewrap my hand and give me my shot, I was elated.  I told her how much I like her smock and she told me about her other Leia smock.  We traded our favorite quotes from Star Wars.  Since she is a Darth fan, hers is “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”   I like that one but I do gravitate to Yoda “ Do.  Or do not.  There is no try.”

On the way home I was thinking about this encounter (which was really the highlight of my day) and how many times I use quotes from my favorite movies.

  • “On the side.” When Harry Met Sally
  • “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”  Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  • “You know, assholes.” Blazing Saddles
  • “Candygram for Mongo.” Blazing Saddles (You’d be surprised how often you can make this work.)
  • “You overestimate both of us.” People Will Talk
  • “Snap out of it.” Moonstruck
  • “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”  The Fly
  • “There will be blood tonight.” Princess Bride
  • “We are men of action. Lies do not become us.”  Princess Bride  (Note: I say this to myself.  Not aloud.)
  • “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” Princess Bride   (Again, never said outloud.  And I say it to myself with Mandy Patinkin’s accent.)
  • “Now they’re practical.” Romancing the Stone
  • “Not exactly firing on all thrusters.” Star Trek IV
  • “Fun fun fun til her/your daddy takes the T-Bird away.” (yes, I know this a song not a movie, but, what the heck, it’s my blog post…..)

Any quotes from movies (or tv or book or songs) that you find yourself using in every life?

 

 

 

Door Stoppage

Photo credit:  The Avocado

On Friday Steve suggested a book be used for a doorstop that Clyde needed.  My very first thought was Ulysses.  I was an English major at Carleton and there were two infamous lists.  One was the short list – about 100 titles that you’d better have read before your comprehensives at the end of your senior year.  Then there was the long list – this was about 500 titles – that the English department thought you should read if you wanted to be truly well-read.  I know, I know, incredibly  presumptuous.  I got copies of these lists in my sophomore year and kept them for years.  As you can imagine, Ulysses was on that list and while most of my brain knows there is no reason I have to read this, a little bit still thinks that I should wade through Joyce.

Three years ago when I started getting rid of excess stuff, I realized I had THREE copies of Ulysses.  Unfortunately for Clyde’s needs, I got rid of all of them, along with most of the guilt that I never could get through the first chapter, much less any farther.

But it made me think about what other books I could imagine consigned to doorstop-hood.   I pulled up my reading list to look for 1-star titles that I wouldn’t mind using to keep a door open.  I started keeping this list in 2007 but didn’t start assigning stars until 2013.  I actually don’t have too many two-star titles, and next to no one-star ratings (it’s a 1-5 rating).  Life is too short – if a book isn’t shaping up, it goes back to the library (or if I actually purchased it, on a pile to be donated to the library).

I do have a few one-stars, but they bring up a secondary problem… I don’t actually remember all of them.  So here’s a short list of my one-star doorstop recommendations:

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (not even a whiff of memory about this one)
  • The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (I know that tim loved this one, but it didn’t have enough surrealism to support an unbelievable plot)
  • Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke. I kinda liked the first few and I do like the Hallmark movies made from the series, but this one stunk and the main character stepped over so many lines (moral AND legal) that I couldn’t believe it.
  • Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick. You all know I love alternate-reality future stories but this one did NOT satisfy.  Several concurrent stories, which did not ever intersect, did not wrap up  in any meaninful way and one that jut didn’t make sense.  (And in looking at the reviews of the tv series, they pretty much didn’t use 95% of the book.)
  • And then my one and only negative star title… Swamplandia by Karen Russell. I only finished this because it was a book club title.    Unbelievable set-up, unlike-able characters, tragic outcome and ending that could not happen in anybody’s reality.  There are actually good reviews of this book, but I can only say that hallucinogenics must have been involved.

Any nominees for a door stop?

52 Loaves

Clyde sent me a reading recommendation – 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by Wiliam Alexander.  It’s the year-long journey of a man trying to make the perfect loaf of bread.

I was a bit leery.  I’ve read quite a few of these “set yourself a journey” books in the last few years.  Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Julie & Julia by Julie Powell, Tolstoy & the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch – to name a few.  While mostly enjoyable, it started to feel like a fad to set yourself a year-long challenge and then write a book about it. And I was a little worried that after about 8 weeks of bread baking, I’d be ready to toss the book in a 550-degree oven.   But I’ve never gotten an unsatisfactory reading recommendation from Clyde (well, except for that Death by Rhubarb), so I picked up Loaves and read it through.

It was quite nice.  Just about the time you never wanted to hear about air holes and crumb texture again, the author would veer off on a related (or not so related) topic such as the history of pellagra, the maker of the Quik Lock – that little plastic bit that hold a bread bag closed, building an oven in his backyard, a trip through the streets of Morocco.  He does eventually make what he considers a perfect loaf; interestingly enough it’s when he ends up teaching some monks in France how to bake.  And then at the end of the year he realizes that his single-minded pursuit of that loaf of bread had really kept him from enjoying his kitchen and lets it go.  

I used to make more bread.  I have several bread cookbooks and even two bread machines (long story) but these days, bread just doesn’t get eaten fast enough around here.  One of my favorites is a thick, moist oatmeal bread but YA doesn’t like it much and I can’t eat it fast enough before it spoils.   Maybe I should just find a neighbor that I can foist a half loaf on every time I bake!

Any bread stories out there?  Make your own or have a favorite bread bakery?  Knead by hand or with a dough hook?

Crime Scene Investigators

Last Thursday in the late afternoon, Husband and I went to our church to water the vegetables that we and others have been growing there. All the produce is taken to the local food pantry. The veggies are grown in six, 3 ft. high raised beds that you can see below. The rest of the garden is taken up with flowers and shrubs, with walk ways and benches for rest and contemplation.

Thursday, everything looked good. There were six nice cantaloupes about the size of soccer balls but still needing to ripen. The squash bed had one hill of bush butternut squash with four nice but still ripening fruits. We had reseeded in the carrot and beet bed as well as the sugar snap pea bed after harvesting the first crops, and all those had germinated and were growing well.

Husband went back to the garden on Friday, and texted me at work to say that half of the cantaloupes were missing. I am sorry to say that when I got to the garden after work, the Lord’s name was taken in vain and a tool was thrown down in anger as we discovered that three of the butternuts were gone as well. You can see the remaining ones.

Nothing else was missing or damaged. I covered the cantaloupe bed with bird netting and stapled it onto the wooden bed so that it would be more difficult to abscond with the remaining melons. Then, we started to hypothesize.

The incident occurred Thursday night. It would be a lot for one person on foot to carry all the melons and squash, so we figured it was either more than one person on foot, or perhaps one or more persons in a vehicle. We drove around the surrounding streets and didn’t find the produce smashed.

Husband wondered if the fact that they didn’t take any cucumbers or green beans, both of which take time to pick, spoke to urgency, which to him suggested possible amphetamine addiction. It was also presumably dark, so that the beans and cucumbers would be harder to see. I wondered if they knew little of gardening, as they took produce that wasn’t ripe. We have two Little Free Pantries on the edge of the garden, I wondered if people availing themselves of the food there thought that the produce was for all to take. We continue to speculate.

We had beets and carrots disappear in the night at times this summer. They were ready to harvest. My reaction to that was “Bless you. You need it more than we do”. I think the reason this recent event made me so angry is that the melons and squash weren’t ripe, and so they were wasted. As James Crockett comments in his Crockett’s Victory Garden, there is no remedy for finger blight.

What have you investigated recently or in the past? What kind of detective work would you like to do? Who is your favorite literary detective?

Setting the Mood

Our daughter was excited to drive us around the Olympic Peninsula when we visited in July. She was equally excited to explore Olympic National Park, not only for the rain forest and the moss, but because of the podcast she chose for us to listen to as we drove.

Daughter thought that a podcast about true stories of people murdered by serial killers in National Parks would be entertaining. It really was, I must admit. There was very little traffic, and we were in pretty remote areas, and it seemed cozy, somehow, like listening to ghost stories in a nice warm room with a fire going and a storm raging outside.

How do you set the mood? What do you like to listen to when you drive or work around the house?

Aha!!

I love having “aha” moments and I’ve had three recently, all from reading.

#1.  99% Invisible City by Roman Mars details a lot of the infrastructure that surrounds us in the urban environment, much of which we don’t notice and definitely take for granted.  In discussing wireless towers, he writes: “As commercial cellular towers began to sprout up in the 1970s, diagrams depicting their coverage areas looked like blobby plant or animal cells pressed up against one another – hence the name ‘cell phones’.”   I had never stopped to think about why we say “cell phones” so this was an amazing discovery for me.  I stopped reading for a moment and reveled in the fun of it.

#2.  This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan.  This is the second book of Pollan’s that features discussion of hallucinogenics.  In writing about mescaline, he alludes to the song Mellow Yellow by Donavan and that the meaning of the song is about smoking banana skins, believed in the 60s to be hallucinogenic.  I can sing along to Mellow Yellow but never ever thought about the lyrics and what they might mean.  (Turns out Pollan was actually wrong – Donavan was writing about an electric vibrator that he had seen an ad for – the equipment was called the “mellow yellow”.)

#3.  A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor.  This is an older travel book; the author walked from England to Constantinople in the days before WWII.  After completely overdoing it in Munich at the Hofbrauhaus, he woke up with a “katzenjammer”.  Now I remember the old comic the Katzenjammer Kids, but had no idea that katzenjammer actually means hangover.  I’m not sure how “cat” and “distress” came to mean hangover, but it’s fascinating to know this tidbit!

Can’t wait to see what the next few books reveal!

Any “aha” moments for you recently?

Down Down Down

I like to think that I have a pretty good imagination.  After all, the fantasy genre is one of my favorites – give me a good dragon story any day.  So it wasn’t out of character that yesterday, when I stumbled upon a show called “Mythical Beasts”, I didn’t automatically change the channel.  I won’t go into the ethics of the Science Channel in airing this stuff, but suffice it to say the way they lay out these shows isn’t using exacting science.

It didn’t take long before I was down the rabbit hole.  I started looking for the iconic Loch Ness photo (which was debunked decades and decades ago).  This led me to the Lagarfljot Worm, an ice serpent in Iceland.  It’s supposedly been terrorizing the countryside for centuries, often cited as being responsible for harsh weather and crop failures.  This led me to Nahuelito, another lake-based monster in Argentina, similar to Nessie.  This led me to the Windigo, which I had heard of but didn’t know about.  Apparently it can influence people into greed, murder and cannibalism.  This led me to a book called “Abominable Science: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids” (yes, then I had to look up cryptids)!  Of course, I have requested the book from the library.  If I hadn’t decided to go downstairs for lunch, who knows how long I would have been trolling the internet for made-up beings.

If you had asked me last week if I would be looking up mythical beings this week I would have laughed out loud.  You can just never tell where my bring wants to go.

Any rabbit holes for you lately?

Let’s Go Right to Dessert!

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

I have spoken critically in this forum about my mother’s cooking. She was a typical 1950s Midwestern housewife cook, and I fear that isn’t a flattering standard. Unlike my classmates at college, many of whom grumbled bitterly about the food service, I thought I’d never eaten so well. But my mother took desserts seriously. I can forgive her those Jello desserts she served so often, for her cakes and pies were tasty. Relative to other areas of cooking, she did desserts well.

Her social world was centered on bridge clubs. The hostess of a bridge club meeting was expected to serve a dessert so special that club members would be talking about it for days. At one bridge club meeting, Mom’s chocolate devil’s food cake was a huge hit. Someone called out, “Charmion, this cake is wonderful! You have to share your recipe!” Mom didn’t have the nerve to admit that the cake began life as a Duncan Hines box mix. Her embarrassment doomed her to spend many hours one week researching library books for made-from-scratch chocolate cake recipes. She had to find a recipe that was both tasty and credible as the source of the cake she had served.

Each member of my family had a strong dessert preference. Dad thought nothing on earth could be better than apple pie. My mother loved her Graham Cracker Pie, a simple dish made from Eagle Brand Condensed Cream mixed with eggs and lemon, served in a crust that was smooshed graham crackers. My sister came to favor French silk chocolate pie. On my birthdays I always requested a white angle food cake that was heavily frosted with chocolate-flavored whipped cream.

When I tried to teach myself to cook I thought the logical thing would be to collect recipes. When a recipe appealed to me, I’d type it out and add it to my personal recipe book, kept on my computer’s hard drive. I see now that I collected about a hundred dessert recipes, of which I only ever used two. I’m actually not much of a dessert person. The really big sections of my cookbook are salads, chicken and soup dishes. My erstwife was a fine cook, but she too cared more about main dishes than desserts, so I failed to learn how to make good desserts from her.

While I’ve mostly ignored desserts most of my adult life, now and then something catches my fancy. When my erstwife and I traveled in the UK, we discovered a tiny London cafe that served crème brûlée, and I was totally smitten. Still am. I once won a writing contest whose reward was a free trip to the Florida Keys to flyfish for tarpon. While I never caught a tarpon, I sure made a pig of myself with Key Lime Pie, something I’d never encountered before. The dessert I’d now request on my birthday would be pecan pie served with a generous scoop of cinnamon ice cream.

What’s your favorite dessert? Which desserts do you remember most fondly? Do you have a recipe to share?