Thursday, October 30, 2008

books first today.

Between the Rivers, by Harry Turtledove - great historical concept - a fictional ancient city called Gibil(Ur, perhaps?) that has just discovered metal smithing and writing. Each local city has it's own patron God who lives in the city, and has the opportunity to control the people. Engibil allows his people to do what they want, so long as they bring him tribute. The other Gods think he is lazy, and doing dangerous things, allows smithing and writing. all actions have a patron god (give thanks to the god of libations before drinking, the goddess of growth before eating bread, etc), but smithing and writing are such new technologies, they don't have any patron gods. what's a smith or a scribe to give thanks to before smithing or scribing? his own brain or ingenuity? couldn't that be taken as an insult to the Gods?

as I mentioned in my last post, what God would want stupid followers? long story short, the book has a great concept, but the execution is sluggish and bordering on boring, and the dialogue is awful. I'm assuming Turtledove did what he did in an attempt at imersion in ancient languages and styles of speech, but the novelty wore off in the first 10 pages. Would I recommend this book? if you don't mind slow and sluggish, you'll enjoy it, but expect anything earth shattering.

New from the Library:
The Stone Gods, by Jeannette Winterson. robots? spaceship? it must belong in Sci Fi! checking out the authors website, i find that she does a lot of contemporary literature exploring gender, non traditional relationships, artistic stuff, etc. ahh, that would explain the lesbian robot sex scene right at the beginning of Stone Gods. Before you scream "bigot!" please understand i've got nothing against lesbian robots, i'm just not in the mood for that right now. especially after reading Stross's Saturn's Children, where the main character (a hot female robot) screws anything that speaks binary. it wasn't the hot lesbian robot that turned me off to Stone Gods, it was the contemporary, surreal, dream state, exploration style of the literature. all good things, just not what i go for. is there any way to say "i hated this book" without looking like an anti-feminist xenophobic bigot?

currently reading (and enjoying!) Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, by Gregory Maguire. Far better than I expected. After the murder of their father, Iris, her slow sister (retarded?) Ruth, and their mother Margerethe flee to Holland, in search of Margerethe's estranged family, who have all since died. homeless, Margerethe takes work as a housekeeper. the small family moves in with her employer, a wealthy business man and his wife, and their beautiful cloistered daughter. Ok, so if this is giong to be a Cinderella tale, Iris needs to be come a stepsister, how are they going to get rid of Heer Van den Meer's wife, and then convince him to marry an ugly, widowed Englishwoman? oh. Oohhhhh.. i am highly entertained, and it's a fun, easy read. and one of these days, Iris is going to realize the boy she has a major crush on isn't interested in girls.

food - made the first beef stew of my life earlier this week. i don't eat a lot of beef, it doesn't taste like antyhing to me. and beef stew doesn't have a recipe! you just toss stuff into a slow cooker and make it! well, i didn't know what i was doing, and i used a recipe, and it was very good. and it didn't have no stinkin' potatoes in it! maybe later, if i don't feel so stupid about needing a recipe for something so easy, i'll psot it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

i love apples.

have you been to your local apple orchard yet? no? why not? apple orchards are fun, and filled with apple trees, which are in turn, filled with apples and soon to be apple cider. and all sorts of other yummy things you can make with apples. and when the weather starts to turn cold, and you get your winter coat out of the closet for the first time in 6 months, and you put your sandals away for the winter, what's better than warm apple anything? hmmm. . . not much.

Mom's Apple Crisp (with minor modifications made by yours truly)

5 crisp apples (I like Gala)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) cold butter
1/3 cup oatmeal (not the instant kind)
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

preheat oven to 350. peel and core apples, then slice thinly. layer the apple slices with half the nuts in a greased 8x8 baking dish or other caserole of similar volume. sprinkle lemon juice on the apple slices as you are layering them. the layers should come about 3/4 up the sides of the dish.

in a bowl mix the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger. cut the cold butter into small peices, then cut it into the flour mixture with a pastry blender. cut until coarse crumbs form. gently mix in oatmeal and remaining nuts. sprinkle mixture over apples. bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes, until apples are tender, and topping is crisp.

apple crisp, like many other foods, go well with a good books. goes even better with books, plural.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay - not at all what I expected, but incredible, and well, amazing. Teenaged cousins Joe and Sammy start out as many teenagers do - convinced that they are invincible, and that their dreams will come true. well, dreams do come true, just not the way you expected. and what you thought you wanted isn't really what you want. This happens to be a book about two Jewish cousins in New York City in the 1930s, and the next 15 years of their lives. but that's not what it's about at all. I don't mean to be vague, and any readers who enjoy the surface story for what it is will enjoy their time, but if you can see just a little deeper in the kaliedescope, you'll get knocked on your ass before you know what hit you.
i need to write a better review. . . . something more substantial.

these next two are MUCH easier:

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman - very cute, very quick. the "we only have time for a short bedtime story because my TV show is starting" version of Meiville's Un Lun Dun (which I enjoyed more). I give Gaiman credit for the buttons thing, that was beautifully creepy. . . but the rest? I've seen him do better, so this kind of felt cheap and lazy.

Deathnote volume I, by Tsugumi Ohba - this series has been out for a few years ago, so i was happily surprised to find it in the library. Basic plot is creepy, but fun - a death god accidentally drops his notebook, his "Deathnote" on earth, where it ends up in the hands of Light Yagami, a typical high school student (Ok, what's with all the Japanese characters named "Light"?). Light now has the power of the book - if he writes a name in the book and thinks of a person, the person dies. Excited about the idea of a new world order, Light goes about killing criminals and terrorists. When the police catch on that something funny is happening, famed Detective L is put on the case. Light is oddly nonchalant about his killing spree abilities, and Ryuk, the original owner of the deathnote is entertained and amused by the whole situation. Seriously, something this freaky should not be this entertaining.

Currently reading Between the Rivers, by Harry Turtledove. I was sitting in on a Sunday School class the other week, and the teacher was talking about the Garden of Eden. God made Adam, Adam was lonely, so God made Eve. He told them they could eat of any tree in the Garden of Eden except the tree of Knowledge. they could do anything but seek knowledge? What kind of a God wants stupid followers? that's when my husband put this Harry Turtledove book in my hands.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The first step towards awesome Focaccia

the first step towards awesome Focaccia is to make almost awesome Focaccia, and then try to improve it. done!!

adapted from Paul Hollywood's 100 Great Breads:

Focaccia, makes one loaf.
2 cups flour
1/2 tbsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 packages active dry yeast (each pkg is 15g)
1/2 cup water + some
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained of oil/brine but not rinsed
3 tbsp dried basil, or a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn in half

salt water - 1 tsp salt dissolved in 1/4 cup of water
oil for brushing

1/4 cup thinly sliced onion
small palm full of pine nuts (how much is a palm full? i dunno, do you like a lot of pine nuts, or a little?)

put flour, salt, half the oil, and 1/2 cup water into a bowl and mix well. be prepared to add another tbsp or two of water if the dough is wet enough to pick up all the flour. flour your hands, and knead the dough for 6-8 minutes. you can add more flour if it's too sticky, but you want it to stay as sticky as possible. put a few drops oil into the bowl, turn the dough to cover, and let rise at room temp for 2 hours.

grease a baking sheet, then mix the olives and basil into the dough. flatten the dough out into a round on the baking sheet, about 14" across. brush the dough with olive oil, and make little indentations all over it with your fingertip. let rise one hour.

when the hour is nearly up, sautee the sliced onion in some oil. when the onions are nearly done, turn the heat down to low and toss in some pine nuts so they get covered in a bit of oil. preheat oven to 450.

brush the top of the dough with the salt water, then with oil. put the onions and pine nuts on top of the dough, and brush again with oil. bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden around the edges.

OK, so the original recipe didn't call for any onions or pine nuts, but it sounded so good! how to make this bread one step closer to awesome focaccia? don't cook the onions so much on the stove. . . they got so dried out in the oven that they all burnt to a crisp. also, next time i will flatten my dough out more, and maybe blend the pine nuts right into the dough, because like the onions, they didn't stick to the top of the bread very well.

a note on Mr. Hollywood's cookbook: lots of beautiful pictures and inspriring recipes, but too many ingredients that my local grocery store has never heard of. maybe i'm not as much of a foodie as i thought.

the focaccia might not have been perfect, but it was better than the books:
Saturn's Children, by Charles Stross. Even more rediculous than the cover image. i'm really hoping this was satire, and that I just didn't get it.

Startide Rising, by David Brin. Not as good as i'd hoped. Superb over arching ideas, detailed execution, not so much. also, dolphin TMI.

currently reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. You know, the Yiddish Policeman's Union dude? I'm enjoying the snippets of yiddish in the story, reminds me of my Bubbie and Zayde

Sunday, October 5, 2008

long time no blog.

Looks like it's been a while since I posted anything here. Sorry about that. Means we've got plenty to catch up on!

A handful of new book reviews up:
SunDiver by David Brin
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
January Dancer by Michael Flynn

I wrote the January Dancer review for SFRevu. . and I need to decide if I'm going to continue writing reviews for them. The editors strongly prefer to only publish positive reviews, which puts me in a bad position when I choose a book from the shopping list that turns out to suck. my reviews just end up flat and superficial.

reviews in the works include Startide Rising, by David Brin, and Saturn's Children, by Charlie Stross. I have major issues with both novels, so i promise those reviews will be neither flat, nor superficial, although perhaps biting and just plain mean, due to dissapointment.

the last few weeks have had plenty of food adventures, both good and bad. i'm not going to subject you to the failures, the internet isn't that big. but here's some yummy stuff, and it's seasonally appropriate, at least where i live!

Zucchini bread, make 2 loaves
adapted from The Breadwinner's Cookbook

3 cups flour
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 butter, melted and cooled (or you can use one cup butter, melted and cooled, and skip the olive oil)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups shredded raw zucchini
1/2 cup chopped pecans or 1/2 cup raisins, or 1/4 cup of each (I don't suggest going over 1/2 cup of added fruit or nut extras)

preheat oven to 350, and grease 2 loaf pans. mix flour, honey, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a big bowl. Add everything else except the nuts and/or raisins, and mix well. when well blended, mix in the nuts/raisins. pour into loaf pans and bake at 350 for about 50 minutes. the bread will still be raw in the center, and will continue to bake as the bread cools, but be very, very careful when removing the loaves from the loaf tins.

i still have one more zucchini in the fridge, so i think later this week i'm going to cut this recipe in half and make zucchini muffins.

Yet again, i've managed to catch whatever crud is going around town, making everyone sick. if the Food and Drug administration was watching our city, they would think that everyone is making meth in their basements, due to all the cold remedies being sold in the drugstores. it's just a cold, i swear! and the magic over the counter medicine is. . . Mucinex! disgusting commercials, miracle medicine. so i've been sick the last few days, and wanting soup. nothing chowdery, and i made mushroom barley soup a few weeks ago. Chicken noodle soup is kind of boring, and I need something with more nutritional value than the lemon tea i've been living on for the last few days. that in mind, i give you Sick Soup! if i can make this while sick, then anyone can.

Sick Soup
adapted from a minestrone recipe off
2 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
one baby zucchini, quartered and sliced thin
a few red new potatoes, cubed
2-3 celery stalked, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
48 oz chicken broth
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp dried basil
salt & pepper
one can northern white beans
about one cup elbow macaroni

sautee onion and garlic in butter for a few minutes. add zucchini, potatoes, celery and carrots, and saute over low/medium heat until veggies have started a soften just a little. Stir in the parsley and basil, and add the broth and at least 3 cups water. salt and pepper to taste. simmer until the veggies (especially those potatoes!) are nearly done, about 15 minutes. add the pasta, and boil for 6-8 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. let sit off the heat for a few minutes before serving. be careful not to overcook the pasta, because it's just going to get squishier and squishier as the leftovers sit in the fridge.

makes a good, easy to digest "sick soup". nice and squishy. In fact, i'm going to go have some right now, which i try to survive a few more pages of Stross's Saturn's Children. this won't be the first Stross book that i returned to the library unfinished. i either love his stuff, or think it sucks.