Monday, January 30, 2012

Tidbits: I'd like to hear Maurice Sendak's thoughts on these Disney Princes (and more)

  • It's a little embarrassing that I haven't gushed about Melina Marchetta in 2012.  It's almost February.  Clearly I'm letting myself go!  FEAR NOT.  An exciting review is in the works, but to tide you over until my next author-crush ramble, she's taken matters into her own hands and updated her website
  • As this month is sponsored by The Count of Monte Cristo, revenge, and the letter J for January, I bring you my new fake nemesis:  Paul Scharner, professional "footballer" (soccer, Americans) and fan of the very book I have sworn to seek revenge upon!  Psshhh.  How could I NOT declare him my nemesis, with hair like this?  Paul and his dastardly football buddies are taking part in the actually highly admirable Premier League literacy drive to help English children learn to read good, and have picked their favorite children's and adult books.  In all seriousness though, I think anything to encourage literacy is high admirable.  Even if you have stupid hair and like The Count of Monte Cristo (150 pages to go before February...).  Thank you Chris for the heads up!  
  • If you love Ezra Jack Keat's classic children's story, The Snowy Day, check out this NPR story.  I particularly love the photo series of the child that inspired the character Peter.  AND you can listen to Lavar Burton read it to you!  (Butterfly in the skkkkky...thanks to Julia for the heads up!)
  • Enjoy this ridiculously comprehensive guide to literary tattoos over at Publisher's Weekly. 
  • And also there, this run-down of movies based on books in the upcoming year.  I still fail to understand why Gatsby is going 3D. 
  • Did you see Maurice Sendak, brilliant and begrudging mega-children's literature star on the Colbert Report?  (Part 1, Part 2) I would pay cash monies for a Colbert/Sendak picture book.  I especially loved the censorship campaign on the nudity in In the Night Kitchen.  If only censorship were normally that amusing!  If you're looking to get weepy, I recommend listening to the most recent Fresh Air interview with Sendak
  • Annnnd finally, here is the greatest thing I've seen all day:  Disney princes do the cover of men's magazines.  I totally enjoy the related articles on the covers.  My favorite is totally this one:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tidbits: 2 for 5 on the Printz, Panem is a pretty map?

  • GUYS.  I gleefully report my excellent taste in books to you.  Since I've become lazy exclusive with my book reviews (only posting those that I love or hate), I am tickled to note that two of my favorite books of the year were named 2012 Printz Honor Books.  Plus, at work we totally just happened to have purchased a third.  2/5 personal reads and 3/5 titles at work is a darn good ratio, considering in certain years (I'm looking at you 2010) I've been rocking more of a 0/5 ratio.  But enough with me being an egomaniacal soothsayer.  The books this year either sound great, or are straight up great.   Perhaps if I ever finish Monte Cristo, I will pick up the other three!  If you want to know more about my two personal picks, here are the links to the reviews:
    • The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater: The book I set out to hate but fell in love with instead.  
    • Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey:  I retrospectively realize I haven't talked this one up enough, probably because I read it before leaving the country to speak Spanish for a month.  Do yourself a favor and read this gorgeous book.  Best sidekick of the year!  Same sleepy town on the brink of social changes vibes as to Kill a Mockinbird!  Hilarious and yet heartbreaking!  Get at it, team.  I like to think the Printz judges took my Printz dinner party advice...
  • Look you guys, a map of Panem!  To me, it looks like the NBC Peacock and a hurricane map had a baby over North America.  Here is more about the process of creating the map.  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dinner Train: The Count of Monte Cristo - Il Flottante

     Using my rudimentary and not at all dubious French translation skillz (honed in my undergrad years in Canada by listening to public service announcements at train stations) I knew I had a winner of a desert when flipping through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking desert section and discovering something called Il Flottante.  Loosely translated (using my aforementioned skillz), I deduced that this meant "The Floater."  Which obviously appetizingly means ISLAND.  And you know what is an island?  MONTE CRISTO.  My heart swelled two sizes when I realized it also had nothing in it to murder my allergic to dairy guests! 

     Now, I will caution you, this dish is delish.  But it is really two recipes in one, and you do need to leave yourself enough time to prepare the pralines, let them cool, and additionally to prepare your meringue, and to in turn let that cool.  It's an all day type of recipe, but well worth it.   The best way to describe it is as a French meringue flan.  A few other notes: I doubled the original praline recipe to meet the requirements of the desert.  I also did not use a souffle dish, because I don't have one, but the high sided casserole I used worked just fine.  An electric mixer, either hand or stand, is beyond necessary.  You will be beating eggs all day elsewise, and there are more fun things to beat, like, I dunno, your rugs if you are an extra in Aladdin.  Also, I do recommend pouring out the caramel and then using it as a garnish; I didn't because I thought it would end poorly for me with my notorious lack of motor skills.  I think it consequently became a bit soggy on the bottom.  Finally, good luck not sneaking bites of praline; you're a stronger person that I am! 

Il Flottante
(Translation: "The Floater")
via Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
serves 6-8

Il Flottante, unreliably translated to mean "the floater."
Perhaps more appetizingly described as an island of flavor that melts in your mouth. 
Kind of like the opiates the Count enjoys, but sans the hallucinogens (sorry to disappoint).

Dinner Train: The Count of Monte Cristo - Baked Salmon Mediterranean

Let me just start by saying that yes, I know that salmon is not a Mediterranean fish.  DUH.  I work in a library, I'm all kinds of smaht (but mostly a smartass, according to my Popstar), etc.  But I wanted to do something with fish and something Mediterranean, keeping with the setting of the book, and I did have some dietary restrictions to work around.   Salmon is a fish that fits almost all bills (except for fish haters, but they were not invited).  This recipe...was okay.  I can admit it wasn't my best work.  Then again, I am guilty of doing some stoopids, like forget to use the white wine the recipe suggests, or not really thinking about how much fish I'd need (I used wayyyy too much), or basically buying pre-frozen salmon because it was the only wild salmon at Whole Foods - kids, pre-frozen fish?  It is never as tasty.   Plus, salmon that has been frozen and thawed takes on a well, oddly dark salmon color.  Touche!  I also added spinach, which I'm not sure brought much to the dish. 

If you attempt to make this, do yourself a favor.  Go to an actual fish market, have some selection in your fish.  Also, use the wine.  Double also, use 4-6 oz salmon per guest, not 3 lbs. for 5 people.  Maybe even season it or remove the skin.  Also, follow the directions and make sure the vegetable base is hot like it is meant to be when you put it in the dish, and that you then put it immediately into your hot oven - I cheated, because my guests were arriving, put it in colder, and mine got all white salmon sweaty because it was taking forever to cook and I turned the heat up.  Putting it into a hot sauce and then a hot oven means it'll start cooking right away, reducing your cook time.  Maybe serve your spinach on the side (I didn't include it below, but used about a cup of thawed chopped frozen spinach in the third step), with some well seasoned rice.  I also wonder if this recipe would be better balanced with a white fish.  Perhaps some day I will attempt it again!  But for now, here is my meh main course.  It is Mediterranean by way of the Pacific Northwest.  Which perhaps explains why I keep accidentally typing Baked Salmon Alaska (confession: I am now grossly intrigued by this typo).

Baked Salmon Mediterranean
serves about 6


Dinner Train: The Count of Monte Cristo - Vichyssoise (aka Recipe 31)

     Boom: doubled my money on two New Year's resolutions in one with this "vicious" French soup.  Yes, the real name is vichyssoise, but we're talking revenge here, so vicious vichyssoise it was!  Plus, we all know revenge is a dish best served cold*.  This soup is served cold (and is easily veganized if need be).  No brainer!  Plus, my girl Julia Child put it in her classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I felt only appropriate to use for a classic book dinner party.

     I should also add that I have had, for years, and irrational distrust of this soup.  Potatoes in soup have always kind of turned me off.  But you know what?  That's stoopid.  This soup is easy to make and it is tasty, even if it does look like baby food.  Julia, however, let me down by leaving me and my potato hating prejudices a fish out of water in the potato aisle when I had to actually choose a potato.  I read the descriptions and settled on Russets.  They seem to work fine, but as I have no frame of reference...let me know if I failed lesson one in my Mastery of French cooking.  You can make it and serve it completely devoid of dairy, or stir in the cream at the last step.  Voila!  Enjoy:

(Translation: a vicious revenge-filled soup served cold)
via Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, with vegetarian adaptations
Serves approximately 6-8
Vichyssoise: a vicious revenge filled soup best served cold.  Or, more commonly, Cold Leek and Potato Soup

Dinner Train: The Count of Monte Cristo

His boots are so stylish,
but his beard says I'm coming for you.
With my pimp cane.
Mon frer, revenge is a dish best served on a cold and snowy day, with good friends, tasty food, wine, and people who think they can speak French when they've had a sip of said French wine.  Ahem.  Me.  Last night I embarked on challenge one of my 2012 Resolution.  Yes, it was The Count of Monte Cristo night.  Except...of the five of us who present, all whom had never read the book before, only two of us got more than a smidge into it, one of us read the Chaos Walking books instead (way better choice), and one of us found this book and got totally sidetracked.  I mean...who wouldn't.  I've taken to calling it the Mount of Monte Cristo, and I feel that it's got promise to be a far quicker read than The Count of Monte Cristo. 

Because you know what?  While the plot is not bad, Dumas is nothing if not a word fondler.  You heard me.  A dirty rotten word fondler!  He uses 1000 words where 10 will suffice.  I don't need to hear about yet another sailboat!  Or sitting room!  Or the growing quiverings of emotion inside everyone!  Get to the point, word fondler!  More importantly, get to the damn revenge!  I have been reading it for nigh on 21 days now, and I'm only at 575 of 1138 pages on my Nook, and no revenge has yet occurred  (that's another thing - all five of us chose to read it on devices, which is a whole other rumination in and of itself).  I'm going to attempt to finish it, because I can't quit on my first book of the year, right?  But I totally get why people give up on this one.  That said, I think I'm going to have to quit on Anna Karenina already - someone bit off more than she could chew reading-wise when she agreed to run a book a week book-club mini-course for 12th graders in the spring.  Oops!  More on that later, when I perhaps figure out how to post a poll to see what replacement book I should bring up to varsity from the JV book squad.  But I (as per usual) digress. 

I will post my Monte Cristo dinner recipes, of which there are three, but will hold off on the review until I actually, say, FINISH.   This one was a slight challenge, because there were a few dietary challenges that don't exactly fit into the French food friendly category: Vegetarian, Kosher, Dairy-free, Pregnant.  Not wanting to seek revenge, I had to alter my originally scheduled menu, which included swordfish, enemy of both observant Jews and their pregnant friends, and abandon my cheese souffle plans.  But friends, I assure you, I found a way to deliciously use my inner Julia Child for this one, and so can you!  For now, a big thank you to Dave, Lara, Sam, and Arianna for gamely attempting to read this book with me, and for showing up bearing dip, baguette, wine, and madelines to discuss what Dumas is a dumas!  With no further adieu (see, I speak French), il menu (is that Italian?); recipes posted and linked as soon as I type them up later today: 

Dinner Train Menu: The Count of Monte Cristo
Vichyssoise - Revenge is a soup best served cold
Baked Salmon Mediterranean - In which I forget to use the wine
Il Flottante - "The Floater" (how appetizing is my French, you guys?) aka Revenge Island


Il Flottante
Baked Salmon Mediterranean


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tidbits: "What do they expect us to do? Go to the...library?"

  • Salon has a piece about what the Occupy movement can learn from The Hunger Games.  WELL.  Sorry to be your Debby Downer, liberals and nonliberals alike.  Because frankly, I was intrigued.  But then kind of displeased.  This is a swiss cheese piece: full of holes.  I stopped giving much credence to this as anything other than a post designed to get a lot of hits and spoil a lot of books without warning when I read the following:
    Collins’ heroine, Katniss Everdeen, is an independent and even ornery 16-year-old who saves her younger sister by volunteering for, and then winning, a telecasted fight-to-the-death competition. Though her feats of derring-do have elements of escapist fantasy, her ultimate goal isn’t to win the Games, but to avoid exploitation: She wants to circumvent the rules and figure out a way to shut down the games for good.
    I'm sorry.  Did we read the same Hunger Games? You know, the one where Katniss had to have her act of major insubordination with the deathberries explained to her as such and then didn't get on board until 372 of 398 in Mockingjay, also known as the last book (yeah, I looked)?  Plus, now I'm going to have to work really hard on forgetting the plot of Matched and like...six other books.  Which might not be as hard as I think, because adult books take forever to read (looking at you, The Count of Monte Cristo), and people don't live forever!
  • Probably you have seen this mesmerizing video in a number of other places, because I've been hoarding these up while for nigh on two weeks now.  Whoops!  Enjoy the joy of books, which has me convinced I should line up my books by which ones would be good friends based on the premise that this actually happens when I leave the house in the am:
  • BUT OF COURSE.  The publishing industry is honing in on Downton Abbey's success!  (I'm totally nodding at a certain August pick on my 2012 Dinner Train classic book resolution, then, so who am I to judge, really?).  Also Lady Mary and Lady Grantham in concert?  Bring it. 
  • Double bring it, fitnerds.  NPR has an ultimate workout mix that I'm totally going to be streaming this weekend when I get my Monte Cristo cookfest on!   
  • Oh hey, John Stewart.  Thanks for backhanded library high five (about 1:10)!  You know you want a library card, even if you do have to hang out with...riff raff.  We're like Wikipedia in 3D, with slightly more verifiable facts a higher percentage of the time! PLUS, we have books, movies, brains, and we're happy to check you out.  BOOM.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Recipe 32: Rosemary Lentil Soup

I had been craving a big bowl of simple lentil soup for a few weeks before I finally got around to purchasing the most important ingredient: lentils.  But clearly I did, or I wouldn't be posting this, eh? This recipe was initially not what I signed on for; I did not anticipate there would be as much tomato.  As I was craving straight up lentil, I got a little fussy in the cooking, convinced the tomato would be completely overpowering.  And I was right, until I bumped up the spices and it didn't matter as much.  As I found, it's definitely a soup that gets richer as it sits longer.  Plus, you can hardly go wrong when there is bacon involved.  I determine this to not have been the lentil soup of my wildest peasant soup craving hopes and dreams, but darn good nonetheless.

These tomatoes are mocking me with their wholeness.
And also kind of look like eyeballs.
The recipe comes from The Soup Bible, which is great except for the directional to use a 14 oz. can of plum tomatoes.  Well, fine...but what are we talking here?  Whole tomatoes?  Diced?  Ground?  I went for whole, but then couldn't find a 14 oz. can, and had to use half a 28 oz. one.  To boot, as you can see, I found the whole tomatoes to be...ridiculous. While they may have broken apart in the cooking, I didn't want to count on it, so I hauled them out and showed them the sharp end of the knife.  Additionally, as with any dried beans you use, make sure to sort them and pull out any nasty clumps of rock, dirt, or frankenbeans.  As per, serve it with crusty bread and some sharp cheese or a salad on the side.  This soup is also quite good with your favorite red wine (I guess those tomatoes were good for something after all!).

Rosemary Lentil Soup
Adapted from Debra Mayhew's The Soup Bible
(Serves 4-6)
Guess who forgot to take a picture of the final product?  Oops. 
Click on for the recipe, chef:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Tibits: Fishing without bait, evil girl scout geniuses, Nook (is not a dirty word), books as art, etc.

  • Oh hey you guys. A super cute picture of the Perks of Being a Wallflower Christmas party scene.  Sure they look cute and all.  Sure, fashion today kind of mirrors that of when the book is set.  BUT.  I hope they still give each other mix tapes!
This house looks suspiciously modern.
  • Downton is (almost) BACK!  Which means my crush on myself is totally making sense after taking the Downton Abbey Quiz.   I'm Matthew Crawley.  Ladies, ladies, calm down.  There's enough of me to go around!  If you need a refresher, the FYA one is highly amusing.  It is the only thing I've ever seen in favor of Lady Edith, who, as a review I read yesterday alleges, "continues to fish without bait."  Oooh Lady Edith!  Incidentally, I'm looking pretty good in the picture used for that review.
  • Nook for sale?: I know this sounds dirty.  But get your mind out of the gutter for just one second and we can discuss seriousness.  Is it just me or does this article contradict itself?  All I took from it was that Nook is doing okay, so they want to sell it.  What? 
  • Carved Book Landscapes: These are SO COOL, also gorgeous.  I want them to be on display somewhere nearby so I can actually get up close and ogle them.  
  • My first thought on seeing this piece on Christopher Paolini's house: did Christopher Paolini start lifting?  My second thought: when did he become older than me?
  • Those little Girl Scout minx's are tempting me with their goodies again.  I'm totally going to buy me some Savannah Smiles.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Case of the Terribles: Facebook in the shower

Places Facebook doesn't belong?  A few choice places come to mind: bedrooms, hospital birthing rooms, bathrooms...which is curious because I've found something that may have changed my mind:

Yours for the low low prices of fifteen UK pounds (about 150 American dollars these days!).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Resolution 2012: The Year We All Get Classy and Ride the Dinner Train

2012Friends, countrymen, foreigners, frenemies,
Happy 2012!  Despite being the year the Mayan calendar predicts we will all die (though I’m slightly disinclined to believe the apocalyptic predictions of people who squished their own skulls with boards for fashion, but do admit that the Mayans and co were also responsible for chocolate…so I could be totally wrong here), 2012 is also rumored to be the year that awesome things happen round the world (even if the world ends), STARTING HERE.  Drum roll pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

I have set a lofty goal for myself in the new year, being 2012.  I resolve to become cultured! Well read! End my librarian secret shame and finally read a Dickins!  And, obviously, eat well while doing so. 
For each book, I will be creating an appropriately themed menu and hosting a dinner/brunch/tea party to debrief.  You may better recognize this concept by its pedestrian name: book club.   Obviously, I have recruited only the tastiest of tastemakers to these exclusive events (so if you want in, let me know).  At the end of the month I will post all recipes here, along with a summary of my/our thoughts about the books.  Thusly, even you, foreign friends (as in anyone who doesn’t live in the same city as moi), can also read along and eat with us (after the fact, but still!).  Outsourcing into your own home is welcome, especially if you live in far far places, and photographic evidence is encouraged! 

Titles and months are listed below:  

January - Count of Monte Cristo
February - Anne of Green Gables
March - Middlemarch
April - Anna Karenina*
May - Little Women
June- Catch 22
July - Moby Dick
August - House of Mirth
September - Phantom Tollbooth
October - Frankenstein
November - 1984
December - Great Expectations

If you do want to participate and ride the dinner train with us, I happen to know you will have the best year EVER, filled with chocolate, lottery wins, laughing babies, and my undying love.  If you don’t want to partake, I happen to know that you will have a year filled with chocolate and laughing babies, but also paper cuts (kidding, it’ll be a fab and happy 2012 for you too!).   BRING IT, 2012!

Dining on board the 'Southern Aurora'
I resolve to have twice as much fun reading classics while wearing twice as many pearls as this lady!
*This may be ambitious.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Recipe 33: Spicy Chickpea and Butternut Squash Soup

Recipe 33: Spicy Chickpea and Butternut Squash Soup
(adapted from the New England Soup Factory Cookbook)

Spicy Chickpea and Butternut Squash Soup
Also the moment I realized four more cups of liquid were NOT going in peacefully.

     Somehow, someway I made it to late December without having cooked butternut once.  I know, RIGHT?  I decided to remedy this late last week and restock my freezer with some soup in preparation to be lazy when I have to go back to work after two weeks of vacation and instantly turn into an under-napped toddler and whine about not wanting to cook when I get home.  I like to stay a step ahead of myself!  Thusly, I decided to try a new butternut recipe that had some spice and sweetness to it, and went for the New England Soup Factory cookbook's recipe.  Except remember how the recipes from here make massive amounts of food? Yeah.

     There was no way 12 cups of stock plus approximately 7 more cups of stuff were fitting into my 6.75 Qt Le Creuset pot an imminent and epic soup spill.  So I went rogue when I realized this (always halfway into the recipe; I'll never learn!) and switched it up a bit.  I was worried about it being too salty or too sweet, but it came out pretty well, so I feel pretty good about you being able to alter it without major repercussions.  Additionally, I'm not entirely sure why the recipe calls for as much stock as it version with full amounts of veggies and less stock still had an uneven stock to fixin's ratio, making me wonder how ridiculous the stock to fixin's ratio would be with four more cups of fluid to dilute it.  The flavors are good, and it even cutting back on the broth made enough for me to have four meals and freeze about 6-8 more servings.  I didn't get my ginger defrosted in time but would have loved to use fresh ginger in place of ground ginger spice here to enhance the flavor.  Personally, I like a decent amount of spice; the original recipe called for scotch bonnet but the grocery store only had adorable habaneros (I think that is what it was....).  Let me know if you try, enjoy!  If you prefer to try the original, I suggest you get a copy of the book: New England Soup Factory Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes from the Nation's Best Purveyor of Fine Soup


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