Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Books and Libraries

Monday, January 28, 2013

Recipe 15: Coconut Curry Lentils

Coconut Curry Lentils
I've been creeping on this recipe for a while.  Coconut? Curry? Lentils? Count me in.  I originally spotted this recipe on Sprouted Kitchen and the recipe it was based on, but explored a bit more via the Moosewood New Classics Cookbook.  What struck me about all of the recipes is that they all require more than one pot.  Guys, I am lazy. And to add insult to injury, I have a tiny doll-sized sink.  Even Barbie doesn't want to do a lot of dishes in it.  So I decided the only reasonable thing to do would be to see if I couldn't make this a one pot dish of delish.  And it was!  It was, that is, until I royally messed it up by muddling it with wayyyy too much lime and sriracha, thus killing the coconut undertones.  Thus, follow the directions below, and season each bowl to taste past this point.

The verdict: when it is cold outside, and you don't want to feel cold inside, you should eat this soup. 

Coconut Curry Lentils
Serves about 4-6
Coconut Curry Lentils in my Le Creuset
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, pressed
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp red pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 Lentils (I used a combo of red and regular.  Always rinse and check for rocks!)
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
14 oz coconut milk (1 can, and don't be afraid of the fat in regular one - the taste is way better)
8 oz fresh spinach, chard, or kale in pieces
3 Tbsp lime or lemon juice
Salt/Pepper to taste

1.  In a large Le Creuset or Dutch Oven, heat your olive oil on medium, and saute the onion, garlic, and coconut for about five minutes, or until the onions get very translucent and the coconut is nice and browned.  The coconut will brown quickly, so stir often to prevent scorching.

 2.  Add in all the spices through nutmeg, and stir to coat and evenly incorporate it. You may need to add a bit more oil if you feel it is a little too dry at this point.  Add in the lentils, and stir to coat.  Let them saute for a minute or two.

3.  Add in the broth, bring to a low boil/simmer, and let cook for approximately 30 minutes until the lentils are mostly soft.
4.  Add the coconut milk and greens, and cook for around ten more minutes, basically until the lentils are thoroughly cooked and soft.

5.  Stir in the lemon or lime juice, taste, and then season to taste.  Serve hot with extra lemon/lime wedges, hot sauce, and rice, crusty bread, or a tasty salad...feel warm and cozy!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers, by Kirsten Miller: Sisterhood of theTraveling Underworld Explorers

Kiki Strike: The Darkness Dwellers
Kristen Miller

Bloomsbury: New York, 2013
ISBN: 9781599907369
ARC via NetGalley - now available in print and digitally

The Irregulars have finally returned and they are as smart, empowered, and adventurous in their all-female crime-thwarting efforts as they’ve always been.  Kiki Strike has left New York and the leadership of the Irregulars in Ananka Fishbein’s hands as she heads to Paris to claim her rightful throne as the displaced Pokrovian princess.  When she and her guardian disappear somewhere over the Atlantic, Ananka is faced with the task of finding Kiki and keeping the Irregulars in check.  A solution presents itself when Betty Bent, master of disguise, is offered a position in Paris as the personal assistant to a mysterious woman who runs a finishing school, and who has taken an interest in the challenge of the irascible Molly Dent (who naturally decides to stage a revolution in the school!).  Meanwhile, Ananka is working on keeping her crush on Betty’s boyfriend Kasper in check, Oona is tracking down her evil twin, and the others are working on an untested cure for female baldness that has garnered some pharmaceutical attention.  When Kiki makes contact via a cute French boy who just happens to be part of the secret society protecting the Parisian Catacombs known as the Darkness Dwellers, things begin to come together.  With bits of romance, history, humor, charm, danger, and lots of smart, loyal, and courageous young women, The Darkness Dwellers is a welcome, long anticipated addition to Kirsten Miller’s series.   It is strongly recommended for girls (and boys cool enough to pick it up) grades 6-10, and both middle school and public libraries.  

I first read Kiki Strike: In the Shadow City nigh on five or so years ago.  I was working at an all-girls school, and took the recommendation from the middle school librarian, she of the Parantheticals.  Guys - I loved it!  Kiki Strike and the Irregulars are everything we should want for our middle-school and young high-schoolers to be reading for fun!  Sure, it is fun fiction with action and slightly unrealistic things like kids stopping major crime syndicates.  But it’s really a lot more than that.  It is slyly smart, encourages creativity and thinking outside the box, and reminds kids that while it may be a little unrealistic to expect to stop said crime syndicates, even little people can make a difference.  What I think is really notable about this series, however, is the fact that it showcases many different types of intelligence - science, engineering, mapping, history, politics, art, etc.  Even more remarkable?  It so in the form of young girls - likeable, young girls (for the most part.  Kirsten Miller needs to work on a few of them)!  While for the obvious reason, girls will probably turn to this more than boys,  I do wish boys of the middle school ages would pick these up.  Seriously, little dudes.  If you like Katniss and Alex Rider, you’ll probably also like Kiki and the other Irregulars.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Case of the Terribles: Lives Cut Short Series

Librarians of the world, if you are looking for the most depressing thing to add to your youth collections, let me introduce you to the Lives Cut Short series.

Don't worry about the life-span of these books; there is reinforced library binding option.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dinner Train Book Club: The Phantom Tollbooth

 Hey friends...remember when I had a goal of reading 12 books I hadn't read ever, and writing recipes for all of them for your, my, our book club enjoyment?  Well...I have made it through 10.  And am slowly making my way through creating recipes for the rest!  Today, I give you the September pick: the Phantom Tollhouse.  Big, huge, resounding high-five to Hannah, who was willing to participate, even if it meant we didn't talk about the book, and instead she was forced to help cook and do my dishes.  Thanks, Hannah! Enjoy the recipe for The Phantom Tollbooth Synonym Buns (aka Pumpkin Cinnamon Sticky Buns), and my nonsense review of the book, below. 

Due to the fact that I might be the only person I know to have never read this, I'm going to do away with summarizing something you all pretty much know about.  Okay, well for those weirdos like me, it's about a boy named Milo, who is very bored.  When he discovers a magic tollbooth in his bedroom, he drives his toy car through to stave of said boredom, and finds himself on a great adventure, jumping around from the Island of Conclusions to the country of Dictionopolis, to the Doldrums, and to the country of Digitopolis, among others.  He meets a cast of unusual yet wise characters, saves Rhyme and Reason, and staves off his boredom, in under 256 partially illustrated pages.

Well, my friends, I really wanted to love this one.  I didn't not like it - in fact, I did like it.  I think it is possible I'm too much of a grownup cynic for the Phantom Tollbooth.  There were, however, moments, I did love!  I thought the book was overall, rather smart, clever, and at times, wry, in considering the youthful target audience.  It did feel a little, ahem, obvious as an adult, but hey - I see what you did there, Norton Juster (Seriously, is that a name or what?).  I loved the ample illustration, dispersed throughout the text.  There was a plethora of food to choose from, so I was torn between Digitopolis Alphabet Soup or Synonym Buns (mwaha!).  But mostly, I loved that despite the outlandish cast of characters, this is ultimately a story of simplicity - a exploratory journey that starts and ends in Milo's bedroom.  Is that a spoiler?  Whatever.  Truthfully though, I love this line:
Whether or not you find your own way, you're bound to find some way. (p. 20)
Hear, hear, Norton Juster!

And while we're at it, I recommend you find your way to at least three of these Synonym Buns (Pumpkin Cinnamon Sticky Buns):

What is a synonym for delicious?


Dinner Train: The Phantom Tollbooth Synonym Buns (Pumpkin Cinnamon Sticky Buns)

Pumpkin Cinnamon Sticky Buns
aka Phantom Tollbooth Synonym Buns

Pumpkin Cinnamon Sticky Buns or Synonym Buns?
I've been thinking about making the synonym buns in Phantom Tollbooth come to life since I read the sentence, while sitting outside on the grass with a cup of coffee, back in the fall when everything is pumpkin flavored and smells of fall.  If you haven't been paying attention, I live in Boston, where there is a fairly well-known bakery I've a little embarrassingly somehow never visited, named Flour, which is known for having the best sticky buns this side of the sun (aka, in the universe, since the Mars rover has, as yet, failed to discover traces of stick bun in the soil).   Since it has taken nearly 5 months to make this happen, I've had plenty of time to find out if there are riffs on Joanne Chang's original Flour recipe, specifically in the pumpkin area.  And there are, especially the one from With Fork and Knife!  Smitten Kitchen also had a great recipe, but it was more in the cinnamon buns family, and I wanted to make them as sinfully syn-y as possible.  Hence, I married the two recipes, added some bourbon, and now need to go for a five mile run so I don't feel guilty when I eat four more...
Pumpkin Cinnamon Sticky Buns
aka Synonym Buns

Some notes: 
I used a combo of bread and cake flour because I was very low on all-purpose flour, which was a moot point when my first two yeast packets were duds.  Smitten Kitchen recommends that you test it by adding it to your warmed milk, waiting a few minutes, and checking to see if its a bit foamy.  Frankly, my first two packets did nothing.  I had to go back out to the grocery store to get a whole new batch, which then proceeded to basically do almost the same thing, except be a little more putty colored.  I proceeded, and it was fine.  Basically, just make sure you get fresh yeast to be on the safe side.  Because this is a book club for grown ups, I thought we could handle a little bourbon in the topping.  I have doubled the portion in the recipe below, as I used one Tbsp, and there was not even a hint of it in the complete batch.  I recommend serving this with a strong cup of coffee, some yogurt or eggs, and some good friends!  Or, say, on a great adventure to Dictionopolis in your toy car. 

Adapted from both Smitten Kitchen and With Fork and Knife
Makes approximately 16 buns
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup warmed whole milk
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (aka one .25 oz packet)
3 1/2 cups flour (all purpose, or bread)
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp table salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg at room temperature

1/4 cup pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 cup crushed walnuts

6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 stick of cinnamon
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp heavy cream
2 Tbsp bourbon
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup crushed walnuts


1. Let's start with the dough!  Melt your butter over medium-low on a burner, waiting until it turns a nice chestnut brown.  Let it cool to a liquid, but it is okay if it is warm enough to keep it in a liquid state.
2.  Meanwhile, slightly warm your milk so it is warm, not hot.  You're not making a latte here!  Add the packet of yeast, stir to incorporate and let sit for 5-7 minutes, at which time it should be theoretically a little frothy.  If it is the same color, and there is limited to no action going on (ie, hasn't even turned a very light shade of putty), pour it out and try again with a newer packet of yeast.
3.  In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugars, and spices, and add in the butter, milk, pumpkin, and egg.  Combine with either a dough hook in a stand mixer, or get in there with your hands, getting the mix as combined as you can and into one ball.  Place it in a separated bowl that has been oiled, cover, and let rest in a warm, draft free place for at least an hour, until it has doubled in size.  Knead very briefly, recover, and refrigerate overnight or for at least six hours.  It will grow even more!

After 1 hour

10ish hours later!
4.  Remove the dough from the oven to get to a comfortable room temperature as you begin to prepare the topping and filling.
5.  Let's start your topping.  In a saucepan over medium-low, melt your butter with a cinnamon stick.  When it reaches a liquid state, whisk in brown sugar until combined (you may need to take out the stick and then put it back in).  When combined, whisk in honey, cream, bourbon, and salt until combined, and let rest.  Reserve the nuts for later.
6.  In yet another bowl let's do some filling mixture, combine all topping ingredients except for nuts.  Done.
7.  When you are done with all this, your dough should probably have reached a decent temperature, andsothen it is time to roll it out.  Sprinkle your rolling surface liberally with flour, grab a rolling pin, and work out your aggression on the dough.  It should be about a quarter of an inch think, and somewhat rectangular in shape for ease in rolling.

8.  Schmear your filling all over that piece, and then sprinkle your crushed nuts liberally across the surface.  Please don't judge me for that sentence.

9.  Let me see your tootsie roll!  Get a firm, but gentle roll going, pressing lightly at the end to quasi-seal it.  Then, gently slice your roll into approximately 16 similarly sized pieces.
Rolling the buns

Slice with a firm, but gentle hand
They won't all be perfectly sized, but at least they'll taste the same!
10.  Butter the sides of your baking vessel, remembering there needs to be space for the rolls to continue to rise - as in, you may need more than one pan (I used two circular cake pans).  Now you can pour your slightly cooled but still liquid topping in, and sprinkle with the remaining crushed walnuts.  Place your buns in the pan, leaving enough room for them to expand.  Let rest for at least 45 minutes.  Patience is hard, I know.  Sometime in there, preheat your oven to 350.  

Preparing the topping in the baking pans
Make sure to leave room between the buns when you place them in the pan - they will grow!
Resting for 45 minutes on the pre-heating stove
I told you they'd grow!
11.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until buns are firm to the touch.  Let cool for approximately five minutes, and serve hot.  If you have a dish that fits, I'd recommend just turning the pan upside down to let the liquid topping drip down.
Pumpkin Cinnamon Sticky Buns
aka Synomyn Buns
12.  Serve with good friends, strong coffee, maybe some protein, but mostly, with fellow adult nerds who enjoy children's books...methinks this one will also be a big hit with children of the real live variety as well (who probably don't need that coffee as much as you will if they have it).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers: Coming to a High School classroom near you (to devastate you)

The Yellow Birds
by Kevin Powers
Little Brown and Company: New York, 2012.
ISBN: 9780316219365

War is not an easy thing to understand, nor is it an easy thing to survive.   In Kevin Powers masterful first novel, Private Bartle has returned from Iraq.  He has not returned unscathed; in fact, he is still in Al Tafar, battling for the city and for his friend, Private Murphy.  Bartle, it turns out, made a promise to Murphy’s mother he could not keep to bring him home.  Under the leadership of the hardened and doubtful guidance of staff sergeant Sterling, the twenty-one and eighteen year-old inseparable privates struggle with the dangers and inhumanity they face in an active war zone.   They are obsessed with the death tally, hoping not to be the 1000th casualty.  Murphy begins to show signs of mental strain, eventually making himself scarce.  What follows is as haunting as the writing is lyrical.  This is a simple, tragic, hugely moving story.  Powers writes of Bartle’s experience with an urgency and truth of that can only be conveyed by someone who knows what it is to live the life of a soldier in combat and under fire.  The words sing with simplicity, sincerity, and a lyricism that makes the heart ache with the vivid detail experienced through Bartle’s eyes, skin, and thoughts.  It is easy to see why this debut novel is receiving as much critical acclaim as it is.  The short length makes it accessible, but the content (and salty solider dialogue if the war related deaths don’t do it for you, hypocritical book banners) places this novel firmly in the for adults/mature readers category.  There is no doubt it will become a staple in advanced high school  English classrooms and summer reading lists  - so high schoolers, brace yoselves!  (And fear not, it’s wayyyyy less all over the place than The Things They Carried.) 
Seriously, high school kids.  You will be reading this.  And adults of the world who like great writing but don’t want to spend fifteen weeks reading a book that you need to start bodybuilding in order to physically lift, well…this is a doozy.  I mean, words do not do the words of Kevin Powers justice.  This guy – well lets just say it was not surprising to turn to the back flap and discover that someone has an MFA in poetry.  Did you see the adjectives I used above?  Haunting? Lyical? Simple?  Sincere? Hardened? Urgent?  Truth?  Are those all adjectives?  I don’t even know.  That’s okay, because I’m not writing important, moving books ala Mr. Powers.   Consider the following excerpt:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cinders and Sapphire, by Leila Rasheed: Fishing with (recycled) bait

Cinders and Sapphires (at Somerton series)
Leila Rasheed
Hyperion: New York, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-42317891-0
ARC through NetGalley, available 1/22/13

A landed English noble family and their servants struggle to keep the estate running, marry the daughters off, and avoid ruinous social scandal, amidst new turn of the century inventions, ideals, and international political concerns.  Gay valets, inappropriate romances with radical foreign men, the Season, calculating ladies maids, spendthrift heirs, and secret illegitimate children abound at  Somerton Court, an English country estate.  Sound familiar?  Riding off the wave of Downton Abbey furvor, Leila Rasheed’s first book in the anticipated At Somerton series liberally reuses plot-points from the TV series, but does surprise with some new ones.  Lord Averley has returned home from India with his two daughters, Ada and Georgiana in scandal after abruptly leaving his post.  Ada, the elder daughter, struggles with matching her progressive thoughts on women’s rights with the world she lives in, including the necessity to marry a man she does not love, instead of the one she does, to save her family estate.  Meanwhile, below-stairs, a surprise arrival throws the estate into arrears when it is announced there will be a wedding that will bring a new family to the house, along new servants who threaten to expose long-hidden staff secrets.   Rasheed’s writing is engaging and incorporates much of the language of the time, though the big reveal (no spoiler here) seems to be slightly unrealistic, and optimistic for the time.  Recommended for fans of Downton Abbey, aged 12-112 who’d rather read Jane  of the “You Pierce My Soul” Austen’s than Edith of the nothing ever ends well Wharton’s. 

A few quick thoughts on this one.  In things not at all shocking, judging from the slightly cheesey title and definitely cheese cover (sorry cover designer, except not, because you have eyes – you had to know), this was never going to be heavy lifting.  It wasn’t!  It was, however, surprisingly better written than I assumed it would be.  Kudos to Rasheed for not phoning it in…even if 9 out of 10 plot points are so, so clearly recycled from Downton, though they are repackaged.  (Ahem: Branson is now Ravi, Ireland is now India, Mary+Sybil=Ada, Thomas+Bates=....you get the idea) Some characters are hugely two dimensional, but this could be something fleshed out in later entries to the series.  Things seem to be a little more upstairs skewed; we don’t get as much of a look downstairs as I’d like; we primarily experience downstairs in interactions with the upstairs world.  

Despite my earlier grumblings about style, I did enjoy the font and chapter headings.   I enjoyed the historical look at Indian autonomy as a hot political topic for the Empire, through the character of Branson ahem, Ravi, exploring Oxford, and the shout out to Charles Worth’s dominance in the ladies fashion game.  Still want a dress!  In short, this is a fun, light read (appropriate for younger readers too - nobody gets Pamuked), especially if you’re in the market for a fun Downtonesque book and made it all the way through season two without throwing in the towel – and I’ll probably pick up the rest when they come out!  Methinks they’d make a great fireside OR beach book.  AKA, vacation! 

Friday, January 11, 2013




"People are just worried that I'm not going to be as sex god enough as Finnick should be. I've literally had four months of eating nothing but chicken and asparagus. I just want a burger and a beer."
He's hungry behind the eyes, guys.  (Incidentally, does this picture remind you of anyone else? A certain pasty, Civil War era YA vampire, perhaps?)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Recipe 16: Chocolate Chorizo Chili

Chocolate Chorizo Chili
Ladies und Gentlemen.  When you are having a bunch of lady nerds over for the Ladies World Series* (aka, the Downton Abbey season 3 USA premiere), there is no choice but to opt for decadence.   The dowager would have it no other way!  After having an unforgettable dark chocolate and chorizo tapa a few years back at some mysterious tapas restaurant in Manhattan at a friend's birthday party,  I hit up the Googles and came across a Cooking Light recipe I promptly bookmarked.

I've been circling this recipe for a longggg while now, and thought this would be a totally appropriate locale.  Because really - beer, chocolate, spicy hot British man servants?  There really is no recipe more appropriate for this event.  I combed over about three very, very different recipes, pilfered them for things I liked, and decided not to use things I didn't like (Cooking Light, Nigella Lawson via Baking with Bree, Feasting at Home).  What came of this?  Sheer deliciousness, boys and girls.  I've been shockingly positive in the new year, but this may, just may, be the best chili I have ever had, ever.  I kind of want to enter a chili cook-off with it (dudes, if you do, tell me about it!).

A few notes: 
Definitely splurge on the chorizo.  Most grocery stores will have some, but make sure it is the kind that oozes orange oil all over your hands.
Definitely use a chocolate stout.  I think a general stout will work, but if you can find it, roll with it.  It's well worth the extra burst of flavor you get.  Sidebar note, I used a local beer (Night Shift's Taza beer), which had in turn used a local chocolate company's chocolate (Taza) to brew this.  Even better?  It was bottled four days before I cracked it open - this vital information was handwritten on the label.  Yay local!  Holy guacamole.  A beautiful Slumerville marriage just happened in my Le Creuset, and in your mouth. 

*Oscars has the lock on the Ladies Superbowl title.

Chocolate Chorizo Chili
Serves 8

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Nothing to Envy, by Barbara Demick: True story, title.

Nothing to Envy: ordinary lives in North Korea
Barbara Demick
Spiegel and Grau: New York, 2010
Nook Book copy, eISBN: 978-0-385-52961-7
Guys – I just read the best nonfiction book I’ve ever read, ever.  
I know I say that about all the books, but this one really is exceptional, so naturally I strongly think you should all read it too.   I’m a) not feeling formal today (last day of vacation) and b) feel a little inaprop being witty about things like…err humongous and egregious North Korean human rights violations, so bear with.  I strongly recommend this title to adults and older YA's who can follow a historial and political account - you'll all have trouble putting this down once you get started.
Did you guys know that Panem is a real place?  Also, Oceania? And basically any other fictional dystopian society you can name.  They all exist, in a country far, far away (unless you live in South Korea, China, Mongolia, Russia, or Japan, and then…well different story for you guys), a real country that we western interlopers call North Korea, which currently can pretty much only boast having the sexiest man alive as dictatorfor life.  So…something!  But in all seriousness, what I have learned about North Korean life from Barbara Demick’s extensively researched and meticulously recorded Nothing to Envy, I wish on nobody but really horrible people.  Because, holy guacamole – that place basically is an honest to goodness, real dystopian society. 
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