Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ketchup Clouds, by Annabel Pritcher: In which love triangles are proven bad buisness

Ketchup Clouds
Annabel Pritcher
Little Brown: New York, 2013.
ISBN: 9780316246767

Zoe has a secret that she's only able to share with her pen pal, Mr. Stuart Harris, a death row prisoner in a Texas prisoner.  He's the only one that she feels can understand, and time is running out to share her story with him.  She's drowning under the weight of her guilt, and writing to him in the dead of the night in her parents garden shed is the only thing that helps her keep treading water.  She fell for one brother, won the heart of two, betrayed them both, and killed one.  Her family is struggling with their own load of guilt, in-fighting, and bitterness, and fraying at the edges.  This epistolary tale is initially bleak, yet it is gripping and hopeful.  The emotions are real, as are the problems.  Though sometimes our protagonist can come across as a little self involved, it is recommended and will be an easy sell with girls ages 13-16.  

Despite the hugely depressing premise, and my natural inclination to be like, "Okay, teenage drama queen, you unreliable protagonist you - let's not blow this confession out of proportion, but DUH. Love triangles are never a good idea," I grew to really enjoy reading this book.  Sure, Zoe totally meets this description.  But there's enough redemption and understanding that builds through the story to understand why she feels terribly responsible.  Any sophisticated reader will figure this one out, but it's not so much the story as the exploration of how things can go so wrong and how we can find redemption and forgiveness that makes me want to recommend this title.  I'd say go for it, even though Zoe is kind of thoughtlessly cruel to Mr. Harris with her blunt statements like:
"I'm less brave than you, so don't feel too bad when you go for the lethal injection, which I wouldn't worry about, because when my dog was put to sleep it really was peaceful" (5)
Or this one, which I'm having a lot of trouble swallowing, to be honest:
"All I can hope is that I'm wrong about Death Row and there's a friendly inmate in the cell next to yours.  I'm crossing my fingers that he's a chatty rapist who knows a few jokes as well." (57)

Maybe it's gallows humor...but it's a little tasteless, especially that second line.  It does prove a point later though, when Zoe become more attached to and supportive of Mr. Harris, increasingly familiar (addressing him as Stu), voicing her dismay over his imminent expiration date, etc.  
There are other redeeming qualities, like Dot, who is Zoe's deaf 5 year-old sister. It's kind of great to both acknowledge the difficulties therein, but to show that Dot is totally healthy, happy, delightful, and thriving. I also loved the descriptions of a culture similar to but different from American culture; Guy Fawkes day you guys! If you can stomach my earlier quibbles about Zoe's initial callousness and are okay with the appearance of teenage drinking (remember, this is an English import, and it's a slightly more socially acceptable behavior with our colonial masters), check this one out.  
If you've read this and are in need of a warming hug, and/or a book club recipe, I did some cooking inspired by the title/cover art, which I'm calling Cloud Soup, but which is actually probably better dubbed Roasted Cauliflower and Eggplant Soup. It's making miso hungry (recipe joke, self low five).

Roasted Cauliflower and Eggplant Soup
aka Cloup Soup for Ketchup Clouds

Monday, November 25, 2013

Roasted Cauliflower and Eggplant Soup aka Cloud Soup (Recipe 8)

Roasted Eggplant and Cauliflower Soup (aka Cloud Soup)
I've been wanting to try to learn to cook with new ingredients that I don't really understand the whoseit whatits of, other than that they taste awesome when other people do.   I'm looking at you, restaurants of the Japanese/Indian persuasion!  We also know that when I get an idea in my head to do something, Ima do it.  I have been digging roasted cauliflower (is cauliflower is totally the darling of the foodie blogs/magazines/restaurants this fall-winter season or is it just me?) and am always partial to roasted eggplant, but if you remember, I wasn't totally sold on the recipe I adapted from Smitten Kitchen.  It's also North Pole cold in Boston, with a windchill of snot freezing in your nose (seriously, that's a real science term.  But wind gusts of like 30 mph in 24 degrees?  No thanks.  Guess who was grumpy for ten miles on the treadmill today as a consequence?). 

I digress, as usual.  Miso has always been something I've enjoyed, and attempting the combination of all these great things seemed a worthy pursuit.  PLUS, I just finished Ketchup Clouds, a new to us, but not new to the UK title (review to come), and thought this would be a respectful homage (or to any other book involving clouds - I'm drawing a blank)...but really, I didn't need any more excuses besides my belly.  I also really love the cover (and maybe want that dress).  So this afternoon, off I trudged to the grocery store to get some vitals after said terrible treadmill ten, bundled up to my eyeballs.  The first grocery store failed to have miso.  The second grocery store failed to have miso, which was just insulting as I'd walked a mile there in windgusts that whipped my bag off my shoulder.  At this point, I became embittered by the hardships I was facing (and also the wind), nutted it up, got a Zip Car, and done what I should have done in the first place instead of gambling on my local (insert choice explictative here) grocery store: rented a Zip Car to go to a far away place known as Whole Foods where they would have all the things and will make you pay double for them.  Oh, they didn't just have one kind of miso.  They had like EIGHT for me to choose from.  Take note, local grocery stores!  
At this stage, this soup may be the most unattractive,
unappealing thing you'll see all day.  Seriously, are those frog eggs?
Brains? Diced octopus in red mud or blood? Gross. 
Stick with it. 

Anyways.  Rant over.  The soup was totally worth the crazy $20 for miso odyssey, and it's surprisingly quick and low maintenance to prepare.  Pop the things in the oven, pop the things in a pot, blend away, enjoy.  Not too much cleanup, unless you get overzealous with your blending like moi and Pollock your wall!  I will say that I  hoped it'd be a more...white shade of cloudy, for the effect!  I don't know if it's the roasting, the eggplant seeds, or the broth (the broth I used was rather brown, though I suspect other brands may be more light in color).  I think the garnish of sesame seeds really helps complete the cloudy look though; they're like tiny raindrops all over the soup!  I'd strongly recommend this recipe for a terribly bitter day or a meeting of your book club when your book is either Ketchup Clouds, or say, a cloud themed book.  Seriously drawing an embarrassing blank...feel like I'm missing an obvious choice!

Roasted Cauliflower and Eggplant Soup
(aka Cloud Soup)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tidbits: Are you Hungry for the Divergent trailer or just drooling over butterbeer and Hobbit pancakes?

Movies and adaptations
  • In case you've been camped out under a rock or working out your daddy issues on a deserted island like the stud my new favorite brain vacation show, The Arrow, the new  Hunger Games movie is about to drop, with the requisite frenzy and hooplah.  Here are some things:
Misc and nonsense

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Things I Ate: A Hershey's Dark Chocolate Mint Truffle Kiss

Hershey's is like eighteen times more excited about the holidays than you guys are.  I bought some super special Kisses for my candy drawer at work.  I am generally grossed out by white chocolate and have students with nut allergies, so I chose the Hershey's Mint Truffle Kiss.  I just ate one.  Let me paint you a word picture.
It tastes just like an Andes Mint candy, but less flat.  Those candies always remind me of retirement homes, but that's besides the point.  It even suspiciously has the exact same aftertaste (although the Googles tell me that Andes is owned by Tootsie ending my chocolate conspiracy) and mouthfeel. Yes, I just said mouthfeel about a Hershey's Kiss.  Minty, chocolately, but not waxy chocolately like your regular, un-super special Kisses can be, perhaps because of the use of dark chocolate.   It melts in your mouth, but also probably your pocket or hand.

The verdict:  

Ultimately, it is not bad for super special Hershey's Kiss, if you like Andes Mint candies that are shaped like what they are named for.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reality Boy, by A.S. King: Reality Bites

Reality Boy

A.S. King
New York: Little Brown, 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-316-22270-9
ARC copy reviewed

Do you ever what happens to the kids whose lives are televised for the world to see in the booming age of exploitative reality television?  A.S. King certainly does.  In her latest novel, protagonist Gerald Faust can tell you from personal experience that it is not a burden you wish on anyone, especially a child.  Now a teenager, he is still known and mocked for his fecal exploits on the reality TV show SuperNanny, and the subsequent and unwanted Internet replay stardom.  Not surprisingly, he has some serious anger management issues.  He boxes, has regular sessions with a therapist, attends special ed classes, and holds a job as he strives to get through his day, despite the bullying that makes him want to explode, and his rather dysfunctional family.  He is on the brink, either of collapse or major change.  This title is an engagingly and thoughtfully crafted alternative coming of age title.  It is strongly recommended to high school aged teens and adults.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

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