Sunday, November 29, 2009

Progressive thanksgiving

Ever been to a progressive dinner, where you go to a different person's house for each course of the meal? Well we did a sort of progressive thanksgiving. Due to illness, our travel plans got cancelled at the last minute, and suddenly we had 4 days to ourselves, and we could cook whatever we wanted.

Thursday: big pot of soup
Friday: Turkey and stuffing
Saturday: pumpkin pie with a graham cracker crust
Sunday: Sweet potatoes and Apples and Corn Pudding
Monday: Pumpkin cookies

I've been in love with the Apricot Glazed Turkey from BitchinCamaro since the first time I had it, and each time i adapt it a little based on the ingredients I have on hand and how many people I need to feed. This year, it was just the two of us, so I vastly simplified the recipe.

This year's Apricot glazed turkey

two skinless turkey breast halves (or even better, one whole boneless one!)
olive oil
salt & pepper
half an onion, diced
1/4 cup Italian flavored bread crumbs
1/2 cup currants
1/2 cup chopped pecans
4-6 oz feta cheese
3 tbsp chopped parsley
3/4 apricot jam

these instructions are for two breast halves. if you have a large whole breast, you'll figure it out. Mix all filling ingredient in a bowl. Season breasts all over with salt & pepper. Lay out skin side down (Yes, I know these are skinless breasts, but you know what side I'm talking about), and you'll see that one part is quite a bit larger than the other. with a very sharp knife, cut a pocket into the larger part. Stuff each pocket with as much filling. grease your baking dish with some olive oil, and lay one breast down, skin side down, pocket side up. place remaining filling on top, and very carefully lay second breast on top of this, skin side up, pocket side down. If some of the filling falls out, that's Ok, and if you have filling left over, just put it in the baking dish around the meat. Brush the Apricot jam all over the meat. Cover loosly with tin foil, and bake at 375 for about 75 minutes. Your baking time may be different depending on how much meat and filling you have. Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

And it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie! I was curious to try a graham cracker crust, hoping maybe it would have a little bit less butter in it than a traditional one-stick-of-butter crust that I usually make. Well, it had a little less butter. Not much.

Graham cracker crust for a 9" pie
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
6 tbsp butter
pinch of salt

whisk together crackers, sugar and salt. melt butter in the microwave and let cool a bit. mix it into the crumb mixture with a fork, and blend very well. With the back of a spoon, or your fingers, press the mixture into a pie plate. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes, and let cool before filling with pie filling.

What's the recipe for sweet potatoes & apples? My husband guards that secret very carefully! all I know is that it has apples, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, butter and cinammon, and that it's delicious!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Freakonomics is not a gateway drug to the Twili ght series.

although I'm sure the Freakonomics boys could find some kind of connection between people who enjoy vampire fiction and something interesting and useless. Without a glance at the first freakonomics book, I finished their second book, Superfreakonomics. the book was somewhat funny, interesting, but ultimately kind of useless. The chapter on global climate change was the only area that kept my interest. as far as books go, it was nothing special, but it would be great airport/airplane reading.

and you never know, it could be a gateway drug to the Twilight series.

speaking of vampires, finished Soulless. it started out a fun little gaslight action book with a little bit of cute attemps at flirting between Miss Tarrabotti (who has no soul and is therefore immune to all supernatural creatures) and Lord Maccon (who is a werewolf). They both like each other, but are too stubborn to admit it, and too Victoriana proper to tell each other how they feel. So plenty of social faux pas humor and machinations by Maccon to get the two of them in a room alone together. There is some what of a plot - registered vampires are dissapearing and unregistered vampires are showing up out of nowhere, and it's up to Lord Maccon to figure out what's going on, possibly with Miss Tarrabotti's help. about half way through the novel, the action and mystery style plot line takes a backseat to the romance.

and i'm not really a fan of romance novels, and this got too close to that for me.

two Meringue disasters = kitchen mad science!

I attemped to make my Mom's famous Forgotten Cookies the other day, and had multiple egg disasters.

(why do you call them forgotten cookies? Cuz you put 'em in the oven and forget about them until the next morning. seriously).

Attempt one: made meringue with egg whites, waited too long to add sugar, so i added sugar fairly quickly, and it didn't all disolve, and the meringue fell. looked like the texture of frosting. air bubbles were floating to the top and popping. this is bad, but I didn't know it yet. Oh, and I wanted to make mint flavored Forgotten cookies, so i added some Peppermint Oil. If you've ever worked with peppermint oil,you know you only need a drop to flavor a weeks worth of food. well, there was only a few drops left in the bottle, so i just dumped it all in. the peppermint cloud nearly took my head off. and the oils made the meringue fall even more. But hey, I've got an electric mixer! 40 minutes later, i could smell the engine in my mixer over heating. and the texture of the fallen meringue hadn't changed one bit. not one stinkin bit!

time to try again.

two more eggs. an 1/8 tsp cream of tartar. now for the sugar. granulated or confectioners? during the last hour of holding a mixer over a bowl, I'd had plenty of opportunity to read every single article in The Joy of Cooking about eggs and meringue, and there was some mention of using superfine sugar, because it dissolves easier. Superfine sugar is confectioners sugar, right? original recipe called for 2/3 cup sugar, let's try 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar, and added it approximately one tablespoon at a time.

and baby, it was perfect. ok, nearly perfect. the texture was a little, umm, chewier than usual, but maybe that was just the differnet kind of sugar? i also added a handful of chocolate chips and a drop of red food coloring to make pink cookies. into the oven those babies went!

next morning i went to take them out, and they all stuck to the tin foil. Meringue cookies will dry out in the oven, and although there is a little peeling involved in taking them off a lined cookie sheet, they shouldn't stick at all. these stuck. i tasted one.

I'd made taffy. Thank God i don't having any fillings. I made the husband taste one. he laughed. We agreen to throw the entire batch into the garbage.

So what went wrong?

first, the granuated sugar - I added it too much at a time, and it never dissolved properly. because it didn't dissolve right, it couldn't bond to the air bubbles in the foam and keep the bubbles from moving around (like to the surface) and popping.

second, the peppermint oil - not only did i add about 10 times more than i needed, but oil = fat, and fat + meringue = doesn't work. Next time i have a craving for pepperming meringue cookies, i think i'll make unflavored cookies, and after they come out of the oven i'll spray them with a mix of water and a teensy bit of peppermint or other flavors. A bit of chocolate chips doesn't usually hurt, becuase they have very little oils/fats in the surface, and never really get hot enough in the oven to melt and release the oils.

third, the confectioners sugar - I haven't quite figured out that one yet.

for a while I was really cranky that my cookies didn't turn out, but it was some sweet kitchen chemistry. and the husband did help me with dishes after.

if you've read this far, you deserve some fun articles on the science of of meringue.

and now i know why you can buy "meringue fragrances" online. it's oil/fat free flavoring for your meringue. kitchen science rocks.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables

The chef who wrote this cookbook published some other books and is on the Food Network. Her books are not vegetarian, but the vegetarian dishes that I've made so far from her pasta cookbook have been very good.

This book also has some very useful pasta cooking tips and information on pasta in general.

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch strips
2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 summer squash, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch strips
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon dried Italian herb blend
1 pound penne pasta
3 cups marinara sauce
1 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated smoked mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/3 cup for topping
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

On a baking sheet, toss the bell peppers, zucchini, squash, mushrooms, and onion with the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper, and the herbs. Bake until tender, about 15 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for about 6 minutes. Since you will be cooking the pasta a second time in the oven, you want to make sure it is not completely cooked. Drain in a colander.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta with the roasted vegetables, marinara sauce, fontina, mozzarella, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, the peas, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Gently mix using a wooden spoon until all the pasta is coated with the sauce and the ingredients are combined.

Pour the pasta into a greased 9 X 13 X 2-inch baking dish. Top with the remaining 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese and the butter pieces. Bake until the top is golden and the cheese melts, about 25 minutes.

Everyday Pasta, Giada DeLaurentiis, 2007

My own mashed potatoes

I now make my own version of mashed potatoes. It comes out a little different each time, and unlike anything else I make, I don't measure anything out.

I use regular potatoes, and sometimes also sweet potatoes. This last time, I also put in a little canned pumpkin and low-fat cream. I peal the potatoes (or sometimes not), and cook them in small chunks until soft. I mash them with some milk, margarine, and a little of all my spices I have that go good with potatoes.

Even though it takes a little different each time, each version is very tasty.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lasagnette with Cauliflower and Broccoli

3/4 lb dried plain and tomato lasagnette (ruffle-edged ribbons)
dash of olive oil, plus 1/4 cup
1/2 lb small cauliflower florets
1/2 lb small broccoli florets
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese *can alternatively use Parmesan cheese
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tbsp chopped, fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large saucepan of water to boil, and add the lasagnette with a dash of olive oil. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until tender. Drain and set aside, covered.

Bring two saucepans of water to boil, and add the cauliflower and broccoli florets. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, and saute the garlic and about 1 minutes. Add the cauliflower, broccoli, lasagnette, and about two-thirds of the Pecorino cheese, nutmeg, and parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well, then transfer to a warm serving dish and sprinkle with the remaining Pecorino cheese. Serve immediately.

Vegetarian Pasta Cookbook, Sarah Maxwell, 1998

Cheesy Pepper Supper

2 1/4 cups dried macaroni
1/2 red pepper, deseeded and finely diced
1/2 yellow pepper, deseeded and finally diced
dash of olive oil

For the sauce:

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 tsp French mustard
1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the topping:

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3/4 cup grated Cheddar cheese

Bring a large saucepan of water to boil, and add the macaroni with the diced peppers and a dash of olive oil. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Drain and transfer to a shallow, ovenproof dish. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan, then stir in the flour to make a paste. Gradually stir in the milk, a little at a time, until evenly blended, with no lumps.

Gently bring the sauce to a boil, sitrring constantly, until thickened. Stir in the mustard and cheese and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook for a further 1-2 minutes, until the cheese has melted.

Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and pepper mixture, and mix it in with a spoon. When the sauce and pasta are evenly combined, sprinkle with the topping ingredients and bake for 25-30 minutes, until crisp and golden.

Vegetarian Pasta Cookbook, Sarah Maxwell, 1998

Fusilli with Roasted Peppers

1 lb dried long fusilli
dash of olive oil
2 yellow peppers, deseeded and cut into chunks
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
chopped, fresh parsley, to garnish

Bring a large saucepan of water to boil, and add the fusilli with a dash of olive oil. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Drain, return to the saucepan, and set aside.

Arrange the chucks of pepper on a baking sheet, and place in a broiler for about 5 minutes, or until slightly charred. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the pepper into the pasta with the remaining ingredients, and toss together to combine. Transfer to the ovenproof dish and bake for about 15 minutes, or until heated through and cheese has melted. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and serve.

Note: To prevent the pasta from sticking together, wash off the starchy cooking liquid by rinsing the pasta under boiling water from the kettle. Continue as directed in the recipe.

Vegetarian Pasta Cookbook, Sarah Maxwell, 1998

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pinwheel Pasta Bake

1 1/2 lb dried rotelle (pinwheels)
dash of olive oil
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 lb mushrooms, quartered
1/4 lb zucchini, chopped
3 tbsp chopped, fresh parsley
2/3 cup vegetable broth
2 1/4 cups grated mature Cheddar cheese

Bring a large saucepan of water to boil, and add the rotelle with a dash of olive oil. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Drain, and set aside.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan, and saute the garlic for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and zucchini, and cook, covered, for 5 minutes, or until softened.

Stir the chopped parsley and vegetable broth into the mushroom mixture, and continue to cook, covered, for a further 10 minutes. Add the rotelle, and stir in the grated cheese.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Transfer the pasta mixture to a deep casserole dish, and bake for about 20 minutes.

Vegetarian Pasta Cookbook, Sarah Maxwell, 1998

Tagliatelle with Mushrooms

I love making pasta dishes. Here are some of my favorites from one of my vegetarian pasta cookbooks.

1 lb tagliatelle
dash of olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2 tbsp chopped, fresh parsley
1/2 lb button or cup mushrooms, sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups light cream
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Can also use spaghetti or linguini.

Bring a large saucepan of water to boil, and add the tagliatelle with a dash of olive oil. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large frying pan, and saute the garlic and chopped parsley for 2-3 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for 5-8 minutes, or until softened and slightly browned.

Season the mushroom mixture with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then stir in the cream. Cook the sauce for 1-2 minutes, then stir in the tagliatelle. Continue to cook while stirring to coat the tagliatelle in the sauce. Serve with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Vegetarian Pasta Cookbook, Sarah Maxwell, 1998

Cranberry Couscous

This is great for Thanksgiving, or for any time. This is an amazing couscous dish! I usually use only half an onion. A frying pan was too small for this recipe.

1 large onion
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. butter
salt as needed
3 3/4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 cups couscous

Peel the onion, cut it lengthwise into 8 wedges, then slice the wedges very thinly crosswise. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large non-stick saute pan and saute the onion, with a little salt, until it is lightly browned.

Add the vegetable broth and the dried cranberries and bring the broth to a boil. Lower the heat to a mere simmer, add the couscous, cover the pan, and leave it to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave covered for another 2-3 minutes, then fluff up the couscous with a fork and serve.

The New Vegetarian Epicure, Anna Thomas, 2007

Honey-Sweetened Buttermilk Cornbread

A really good cornbread.

1 c. white flour
1 1/2 c. cornmeal
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
1 1/3 c. buttermilk
3 Tbs honey
2 Tbs melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour, cornmeal, soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, honey, and melted butter. Combine the wet and the dry mixtures, stirring gently just until the lumps are gone.

Pour the batter into a buttered 12-by-15-inch baking dish and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a straw inserted in the center of the cornbread comes out clean. Cut into squares and serve hot or warm.

The New Vegetarian Epicure, Anna Thomas, 2007

Friday, November 13, 2009


according to Wikipedia, Harira is the national traditional food of Morocco, and is a traditional break-the-fast food for Ramadan. I've found recipes for Harira in my Jewish cookbooks, and my Mediterannean cookbooks. Somewhat of a hodgepodge stew of chicken, beef, or lamb, it includes north african spices, tomatoes, chickpeas, lentils, noodles, and sometimes hard boiled eggs. We skipped the eggs, but i can't wait to make this again. A super easy one pot dish, you'll wish you had doubled the recipe.

Moroccan Harira
adapted from Mediterranean:a taste of the sun, by Jaqueline Clark

1 lb Chunked chicken, beef, or lamb (we used chicken sausages)
1/2 tsp ground cinamon
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 onion, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup green or brown lentils
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
small package pearl onions (usually has 12-20 onions in package)
1/2 cup vermicelli or soup noodles
salt & pepper
lemon slices

put meal, cinnamon, butter, coridander, parsley and onions into a large heavy bottomed pan, and cook over medium heat until meat is browned and onions are soft, 5-10 minutes. add the tomatoes, cook another 50 minutes. rinse the lentils under running water, then add them to the pot along with the chickpeas and 3 cups water. bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 45 min or until meat is cooked (if using beef or lamb, you will need to simmer longer).
near the end of this cooking time, prepare the pearl onions - bring a small pot of water to a boil, add onions. let them boil for 2-3 minutes, then remove and put the onions in a bowl of cold water. with a very sharp knife, cut the end off the onion, and push out the insides, and throw away the outer skins.
add the onions to the pot, and simmer uncovered for another 20 min. add noodles, and continue simmering until noodles are cooked, maybe 10 more minutes. season to taste with salt & peper. serve hot, and garnish with lemon slices.

You can control how "stewy" or how "soupy" this is by changing the amount of water added. stewy is nice, but soupy is nice too, because you get more leftovers. with the above recipe, we got about about 6 large servings.

in the last few years, I have truly learned that cinammon and meat is a match made in heaven.

Soulless, but very witty.

For how much I struggled through Quicksilver, I'm surprised at how quick I'm getting through The Confusion. As I mentioned before, perhaps it's easier because I know what I'm getting myself into, and I know what to expect. Or maybe it's just plain a better book? Stephenson can skip all the character, location, and political introductions, and get right to the action. Talk about action! So far Jack and his crew of ex-slave pirates have stolen a ship full of silver pigs, with the hopes of making a profit in Cairo. When they check the holds, they find absolutely zero silver, but nearly a metric ton of gold. Nice. Too bad their investor is expecting the pigs and has no legitimate use for gold. When Jack learns the investor is none other than Duc d'Archacon, he comes up with some specific plans of his own. Meanwhile, Eliza and her baby are trying to avoid intrugue, blackmail and poverty, and failing miserably at all three. Being blackmailed into a marriage with Etienne d'Archacon might not be the worst thing that ever happened, after all, he believes he is the father of Eliza's child, and it will keep them alive and out of the poor house. Provided she can keep Etienne alive, that is.

And major big plus, the book has maps in the front. I loves me a good map.

On a lighter side, we picked up Soulless, by Gail Carriger. It's a lovely, amusing, witty vampire novel with a twist. Carriger implies this is just the beginning of a casual series, and that is just fine by me. Alexia Tarabotti is under no danger of being bitten by a vampire, as she was born without a soul. When supernatural creatures touch her, they lose all their supernatural powers – fangs recess, werewolves are no longer hungry, things like that. I've only read a few chapters, and the gaslight environs and Alexia's obsession with her wardrobe is entertaining. A nice light read, perhaps this will be my gateway drug to Twilight? Was talking with a friend a work who is nuts over the Twilight books. . . sounds like things easy to read while you're babysitting a counter.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Soup & Stephenson

Ever bought a cookbook for one specific recipe? I do it all the time, especially at garage sales. I'm always on the look out for the "HP The Book of" series of cookbooks, they are these little skinny things, with simple recipes, easy instruction, and good photos. When I saw "The Book of Regional American Cooking Heartland" cookbook at a garage sale for 50 cents, I tell you it was love at first sight. especially since it had a Corn Chowder recipe in it. I've been making little changes to my Mom's old fashioned corn chowder over the years, and this one looked good. and the cookbook has tons of wild rice recipes, yummy stuff!

I tried to find a link on Amazon for this cookbook. The title didn't bring anything up, but the Author, BEatrice Ojakangas? She's got pages of Finnish and Norwegian and bread cookbooks. That's pretty cool!

I made a few modifications to her recipe, as I was trying to blend it with my Mom's recipe, which is my favorite corn soup ever, but really simple.

Corn Chowder, improved.
(adapted from The Book of Regional American Cooking Heartland, by Beatrice Ojakangas)
4 slices turkey bacon
one onion, chopped
1 cup chopped carrot
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tbsp paprika
4-5 cups chicken broth
5-6 red potatoes diced
1 cup milk (I had some cream in the fridge, so i used that up, and the rest was milk)
1 lb bag frozen corn, thawed
3 green onions, sliced thin
1 tbsp chopped cilantro

cook bacon in some oil in a large non-stick pot. when cooked, remove and dice. cook onion and carrot in grease, till soft, about 10 minutes. stir in flour, and cook, stiring, another few minutes. don't stop stiring, you don't want the flour to burn! stir in paprika and potatoes. stir well, then pour in chicken stock. simmer over medium heat until potatoes are tender. add chopped bacon, milk, corn, and green onions, and cook another 10 minutes or until all is hot. season with salt and pepper, garnish with cilantro.

This was the first corn soup that my husband finished. Usually he has a bowl or two, and I pig out on the rest, but this time he kept beating me to the leftovers!

vegetarian/kosher version? Omit meat, use vegetable broth. I don't suggest using straight water, it would be too bland.

so onto Neal Stephenson, who I'm sure you're sick of hearing me bitch about.

Which means of course when I saw The Confusion, the sequel to Quicksilver, I had to buy it. come on, it was on the clearance rack! And you know what? It's better than Quicksilver. A Lot better. Or maybe it's an easier read because I know who these characters are, and I'm kind of expecting the wild goose chases? regardless, it should keep me busy for a while.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Makes that Mediocre stuff so hard to enjoy.

I finally finished Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose, and I'm happy to add it to the “Books I want to read again the moment I finish them” list. For an Eco, it's surprisingly readable, and layered in such a way that readers of any interest level will get a lot out of it.

At its most basic level, this is a murder mystery. In Eco's afterward, he mentions the idea of the novel was born when he played with the idea of poisoning a monk. He also mentions that he wrote the prose in a specifically open manner to encourage readers to form their own interpretation of events and conversations. Is that person being sarcastic? Is there some kind of secrecy going on? If you interpret it that way, then he is, and there is.

Brother William and novice Adso are traveling to a Benedictine Monastery in Italy, for the purpose of meeting up with other monks in the area. They are hoping to devise a plan of attack for an upcoming meeting between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, at which heresy will be the main topic. When William and Adso arrive, they are informed of the recent death of a young monk, and asked to investigate. To protect the reputation of his monastery, the Abbot wishes for William to find out what's going on before the other Catholic representatives arrive.

And, as this is a murder mystery, the bodies start piling up. As a friend of Sir Francis Bacon and William of Occam, brother William goes about his investigation in a very scientific way. Ask questions, find out where people were at the times of death, look for people with fishy alibies, look for footprints in the snow by the bodies. Piece by piece, Williams puts together his hypotheses, with minimal help from the secretive monks. He even sneaks into their famous labyrinth library after the abbot forbids him from doing so. There is something in that library that people are dying for. Like myself, William is a lover of books and knowledge – no learning is heretical, it is all important. Libraries of that time were literally banks of information, scrolls and books that existed no where else in the world. The philosophical idea of a library that exists to keep knowledge away from people and keep secrets was beyond fascinating for me.

The days go by, there are more deaths, the other Catholic representatives arrive, along with the Inquisition. Eco says he put the Inquisition in the story because you can't have a 14th century story take place in a monastery without them. And yes, that chapter made me queasy, had me biting my nails, and nearly gave me an anxiety attack.

There is so much more I could say about this novel, so I'll say just one more thing: read it. Make sure you get a copy with Eco's afterword (because that's the best part), and read it. Eco hits everything just right: style of prose, action, descriptions, dialogue, I can't find a single thing to complain about. Because this is Eco we're talking about, of course the novel has a handful of untranslated German, Latin, and Spanish. So of course I'm waiting for my Spanish-English dictionary to show up in the mail (Mom, I'm looking at you!), am pulling my Latin books down from the shelf (Mom, if you're looking for your Latin books, I'm holding them hostage), and contemplating getting a German English dictionary. The beauty of transliterations, and mistransliterations is that two people will often come up with three differnt ways to translate something. There's another level for you.

It's books like this that make those mediocre novels so hard to enjoy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sandman Slim Review

first things first, check out all those awesome super easy recipes from the other redhead in the kitchen! Rockin!

on a slighty darker note, i wasn't a fan of Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim:

Sandman Slim isn't so much a novel as it is a revenge genre graphic novel with no pictures – plenty of action, violence, some flirtation, and not much else. A bastard child ofThe Crow, Constantine, Spawn and Sin City, it's all the grit and action of a first person shooter adventure video game, with a less intelligent script.

When James Stark was 19 years old, he was a talented magician, in love with the beautiful Alice, and running with the wrong crowd. After a ritual gone horribly wrong (or right?) he ends up in hell. Alive and kicking, but in hell. An obvious novelty, Stark spends the next eleven years as a slave pit warrior, killing monsters left and right, and generally becoming a hellion himself. He eventually finds the magic key that gets him out of hell and back to earth. None of this is really explained, the reader learns of it through Stark's scattered flashbacks.

He's missed eleven years of current events, but is thrilled to be back on earth to track down Mason, Parker, and the rest of the guys who sent him to hell and then killed Alice. Kasabian is easy to find – the dumbest of the lot, he's been holing up in a junky video store, which while in a bad area of Los Angeles is of course surrounded by Beamers, Lexusi, and other fancy cars for Stark to steal whenever he needs to get somewhere. The manager of the video store is the beautiful Allegra, who offers to help Stark merge back into society because she thinks he's right out of prison. She helps him buy a cell phone, he tells her magic is real. Next thing we know, Allegra is apprenticing with the mysterious Dr. Kinski, alchemist extraordinaire. Stark's only goal in life is to avenge Alice's death by killing Mason very slowly.

Like leveling up in an MMORPG, as the novel progresses, the bad guys get tougher, but Stark gets stronger. Convenient how that works. Kadrey should have hired an artist and an inker, because this would have made a decent graphic novel.

Stark spends most of the next few hundred pages getting the crap beaten out of him while trying to find Mason and rest of his minions. Did I mention Angels get involved? And the Department of Homeland Security? And a brothel? And lots of porno dvds? It's not that this book is over the top, it's that this book is so over the top it that it starts to come off as rediculous. Kadrey seems to be competing with himself to see which he can do more often – remind us that Stark is beyond stronger than the strongest person ever, or that everything MacGuyer could ever need is found in the porn section of Kasabian's video store.

This is where the “revenge novel and nothing else” got most annoying for me. Stark was sent to hell during a magical ritual gone horribly wrong. What were they trying to do? Maybe it didn't go wrong, maybe Mason had planned to send him to hell? What did Mason get out of the whole thing? I want to know more about Alice. I want to know more about Kinski, I want to know more about the Jades and all the other creatures in this dark fantasy world. I want to know how Stark managed to trick and kill the Devil's generals and I want to know how he got the key to the Room of Thirteen Doors and embed it in his own body. Kadrey had every opportunity to flesh out his characters, story, and universe by giving the reader some information about how this whole disaster started, but all he could was give Stark some weapons and start him running. Makes me wonder if this is the second book in a series, and I missed the first one?

I probably shouldn't have finished this book. The more I read it, the angrier it made me. It made me angry that Kadrey would make Stark so naïve and stupid. It made me angry that the most interesting character, Kinski, got minimal screen time, and that other characters were so undeveloped as to be embarrasing. It made me angry that reading this made me feel like a prude, as I'd reached my limit of violence, carjacking, blow job jokes and video store porn by page 75. It made me angry that everytime I put the book down I felt the need to bath in Clorox.

All that said, I'm sure this novel has some redeeming points. I picked up a ton of great insults that I hope never to have the opportunity to use. Change the names and place, and you'd have a great novel adaptation of your favorite first person shooter video game. I hope when they make the movie Kinski is played by Peter Stormare and Aelita is played by Tinda Swinton.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Yellow Squash Bake

Another simple, good recipe for Passover.

4 lbs. yellow squash
3 eggs
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. orange juice
1 c. matzah meal
1/2 stick margarine
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash and slice the squash. Steam it with the salt until it is tender. Drain well and mash in food processor or by hand. Add the eggs, sugar, orange juice, matzah meal and melted margarine. Place the mixture in a greased Pyrex pan and bake for an hour in the preheated oven.

Congregation Beth El Sisterhood cookbook (2003), Bethesda, MD

Matzah Cheese Kugal

We have made this each year as a Passover tradition. This recipe comes from my in-laws. We have it either at dinner, or for breakfast! From the Second Redhead in the Kitchen.

5 eggs
1 c. milk
1 lb cottage cheese
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
3 T. margarine
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 c. nondairy creamer
1/2 c. raisins
6 sheets matzah

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, milk, cottage cheese, sugar, cinnamon, margarine, vanilla extract, lemon juice, nondairy creamer and raisins in large bowl and mix well. Layer matzah in a large casserole dish, pouring liquid mixture on the matzah between each layer. Some matzah may be broken into smaller pieces and used to fill in gaps. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Serves 8.

Congregation Beth El Sisterhood cookbook (2003), Bethesda, MD

Baked Squash Casserole

I made this with the matzah meal for Passover. From the Second Redhead in the Kitchen.

3 lbs. yellow squash
1 T. sugar
1/2 c .matzah meal or cornflakes crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 stick margarine
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 c. chopped onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook squash until tender. Drain. Mash squash. Add margarine, sugar, salt, pepper, onions and matzah meal or cornflakes crumbs. Add eggs and pour into a small, deep glass casserole dish. Sprinkle a few more crumbs or matzah meal on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 3/4 hour or until lightly brown. Serves 8.

Congregation Beth El Sisterhood cookbook (2003), Bethesda, MD