Sunday, March 30, 2008

Finding Jane/John Does and other Sunday news

This article really had an impact on me. The people involved in trying to find out the identities of Jane Does is amazing. I'd love to be involved. One reason it has such an impact on me is that while I was working in Chicago, riding the EL train back to Oak Park, a lady sat next to me & started talking to me. She told me that her nephew had left to go on a road trip & never came back. She believed him dead, but they just didn't know. He'd been gone for over 15 years. I don't know if they ever filed a missing person report, but if they did, it was some years after he'd left. He gradually stopped sending them mail and.... they just never heard from him again. She cried & said that if only they at least knew what had happened, it would be a comfort. I've never forgotten her or her story.

Here's a short clip from the story:

"He spends the next seven to eight hours at his desk, beneath shelves lined with miniature plastic skulls, immersed in a very different world.

Their faces seem to float from his computer — morgue photographs, artist sketches, forensic reconstructions — thousands of dead eyes staring from endless websites as though crying out for recognition. John and Jane and Baby "Does" whose nameless bodies have never been identified. ... He wants to give the Does back their names."

I liked this quote also & thought I would put it here: "Suffering is the tuition one pays for a character degree. - Richard M. Rayner, M.D., SparkPeople member. Rayner goes on to comment that one has a choice when confronted with difficult situations. You can be bitter & die a long, slow death, or you can take courage, and, as in Rayner's words, "The ones who chose character truly live."

My take (and rephrasing) on that one is that you can chose to be a victim, or you can chose to be someone to whom unfair things have sometimes happened... but you're going to continue to be the person you want to be. Idealistic? Maybe. But being more positive about living & life events works for me. And I'd much rather live filled with hope than filled with despair.

Went for a walk, and yes, I looked for that Scottie & was much disappointed that it wasn't outside. Awww! But I did have a good one hour long walk.

Still reading Austen's letters. They're best taken in small doses, so you can get the full impact of them. Also reading Sheep, Goats, Soap by John Malcolm. I love the main character, Tim Simpson, who is a former rugby player & a very unlikely looking art fancier & financier (we would call him a banker in the USA, I think).

Also made the World Peace Cookies, (recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen) and the Austrian Raspberry shortbread. But all I did was make the dough & freeze it. Feels good to get that out of the way, and to get a jump start on the impending frenzy of cooking for the family reunion.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Loren Estleman, Jane Austen, and my Annie update

This is Loren Estleman at the2006 Night of Notables, held at the Library of Michigan. In the very background, you can see a silver haired man in a grey suit, and this is former Governor Milliken. Since I've been talking about Loren Estleman's books in previous posts, I thought I would include his picture here.

Loren was great, and I loved talking to him. In fact, at the earlier reception just a few moments ago, I had walked by his truck and said to him, "Hey, I love your truck!" and he smiled & waved, said "Thank you. The truck was beautiful, a clear bright cherry red, and of course, he is a pretty cool guy. The book he was being honored for is in the Amos Walker series, and is called Nicotine Kiss. Do read it if you can, as nobody does dialog better than he does. And his plots are fun.

Back to Jane Austen, whose letters I am still reading & whose various biographies I'm still reading. Her letters really convey the sheer fun, humor, and wittiness of Jane. She would've been a fun correspondent, had she condescended to write to me. Her biographer comments that one of the things that keeps Jane's novels so timeless is that she does not put many details about food or clothing into the books. The books are very much about the people and the houses they live in, but descriptions are usually relatively cursory, consisting of "how elegant your furnishings are!" and such, rather than lengthy descriptions of what people wore or how their houses were arranged. This writer (the Double Life author, by the way) also talks a bit about how much thins were changing for Jane's culture & society & describes in great detail all the class consciousness that exists then. This helps a lot in putting her tart remarks into perspective and also is explaining a lot about British culture to me, especially at that particular date in history. There's one part of the book where the biographer comments on the things Jane would not have heard on her walks... things like cars, airplanes overhead, etc. I'm learning a lot, and best of all, enjoying the writing as well.

Back to Annie, she is continuing to eat her bubble-gum antibiotic in tuna fish. I even splurged & brought her some canned Salmon as a special treat. Here's hoping I can continue to fake her out! I just have to get to Monday after next. I am also hoping this round of antibiotics will do the trick, but if they make me give her pills, I plan to crush them in the tuna fish. (bleah! better her than me). She is currently yelling at me about the fact that she wants to go out. She gets particularly bad in the spring & in early fall about this. I do take her out & watch her & walk around after her, to make sure she'll be ok, but I can't do this every day or for very long. It is an indulgence, but I can't help spoiling her. I wonder if Jane Austen would approve. ;)

Speaking of which, Masterpiece will have Sense & Sensibility on, on Sunday at 9. I am looking forward to it very much. It is a new movie, and it'll be interesting to see how it compares to the one with Emma Thompson & Hugh Grant. It is also longer, so they are showing it in two parts. Goody!

Last, but not least, I made my first ever quinoa salad. It went pretty well, I think. Recipe is linked here and I understand that the salad improves if it stands overnight. I am hoping to make this for the family reunion & since my family (extended ones too) are adventurous eaters, I think they'll at least try it.

Question of the day : I've been growing my hair out for a while, because I didn't want to spend the money for a haircut. Shall I grow it out & cut it for Locks of Love? Saw a program about it & wondered..... but I'm not sure I have the patience to have my wild curly hair long and in my eyes for however long it takes to grow my hair out to seven cuttable inches.

Friday, March 28, 2008

back again

Had to post my little sweetie's face here. if you wonder what she's thinking, she's thinking, "Can I come out too?" She tended to break out of the back gate (my burglar dog!) and come find me, which ws not a good thing. Not very safe.
In case this turns out to be helpful to anyone else, if you have a cat that doesn't like bubble gum flavored antibiotics, these can be nicely hidden in tuna fish. I know vets don't recommend this as a steady diet, but for the sake of getting the antibiotic down her and for my sanity (Annie was terrified by the whole process of forcing meds down her throat) this will work for two weeks.

Am reading Jane Austen-related books. We have some old books in the library where I work, and one of that was a woman who talked about the little that was known about Jane Austen's life. She mentions that Jane Austen's brother George was thought to be mentally disabled, and that he was basically put away. Turns out he had fits (epilepsy) and she speculates that Jane learned to talk on her fingers (her expression) for his sake, so that they could communicate. Interesting book & full of lots of information. She also comments that Cassandra, Jane's older sister, burned all her letters so that family information couldn't get out & heavily blacked out parts that they didn't want outsiders to find out, which is why we know so little about her life & her own opinions.

I should list the books here, before I forget. Only a Novel : the Double Life of Jane Austen by Jane Aiken Hodge. (Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc, NY, 1972).

The two I mentioned in an earlier blog : Jane Austen by Margret Kennedy. (Alan Swallow, Denver, 1950), which talks about the period that Jane Austen lived in, the novels, etc. Very tiny book. Speaking of Jane Austen by Sheila Kaye-Smith and GB Stern. (Harper & Brothers publishers, NY, 1944. Verso says that this book was published in England under the title Talking of Jane Austen. The book is lighthearted, pokes fun at popular concepts of Jane Austen, and is a little snotty. Both women are authors, writing around the very early 1900s.

The other really tiny book is: Jane Austen: Selected Letters -- 1796-1817, Selected & edited by R.W. Chapman (Oxford University Press/Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1955). Let's see if I can cook all the food for the family reunion (first week in April) AND finish all the books.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Battles with Annie & a new Austen book

This is Annie, when she weighed three pounds at six months of age. She was small enough to sleep on the edge of the cat condo, as you can see here. Neither position looks comfortable, does it? But three pound cats do what they want to do, right? I am happy to report a small advance in the antibiotic-giving regime, which, I have to say, smells repulsively sweet. I used to clamp 18 pound Cooky-the-Cat between my knees, so that I had two hands free for the head part. Despite the fact that Annie weighs 11 pounds less than he did, this technique works well on her too, just a little less "big" cat to hold on to.

Am reading two small books, Jane Austen's letters and another book which is a commentary written by people who were publishing books around 1900s or so. The current chapter is a commentary on what one woman calls the chumps in Jane Austen's books. It is amusing, and they do have some interesting things to say about what books people in general like & why. I'll report back the exact titles tomorrow, when I have the books in hand again.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Annie, Persuasion, and Conrad's Fate

Just picked up Annie's antibiotic for her UTI (infection) and remarkably enough, it is bubble-gum flavored. If it isn't enough that this thing is disgusting shade of pink, it is also bubble-gum flavored. Yuck. Surely there's a small child out there that would rather have chicken flavored antibiotic? It would certainly make things easier for the cats of America if the pharmaceutical company would not cater to the children of America. (yes, that's a joke. Sort of.)

Needless to say, I have pink stains on my brown trousers, and Annie refused to be near me for the next ten minutes. (she forgives quickly, but is still wary of being picked up). If you are wondering about this picture, this particular posture is the "Don't Touch My Tail!" look, but it works for the "Don't give Me Antibiotics" look too.

Forgot to add in this quote from Persuasion, which I really liked:

"Yet, in spite of all this, Anne had reason to believe that she (Mrs Smith) had moments only of languor and depression... How could it be? She watched -- observed -- reflected -- and finally determined that this was not a case of fortitude or of resignation only. -- A submissive spirit might be patient, a strong understanding would supply resolution, but here was something more ; here was that elasticity of mind, that disposition to be comforted, that power of turning readily from evil to good, and of finding employment which carried her out of herself, which was from Nature alone. It was the choicest gift of Heaven ; and Anne viewed her friend as one of those instances in which, by a merciful appointment, it seems designed to counterbalance almost every other want."

I love this quote because it gives a wonderful word picture of a woman who has lost nearly everything, but still manages to be cheerful, to look forward to life, and to enjoy what she can. Austen has some very poor people in her books (people in reduced circumstances) and very often, they bear their misfortunes so very well. She does contrast this with complainers & people who talk too much. ;) Another thought about Persuasion follows.

Much later on, toward the end of the book, Anne & Captain Harville discourse on marriage, love, and the differences (based on gender) in attitude toward both situations. It finishes with Anne saying, basically that women love longest even past all hope. Whether you agree with Anne or Harville, this section really sets the stage for Anne's speaking more openly than she ever has, and her own beloved Captain takes the hint & proposes again. Really beautifully done here. Wish I could write something so well fitted together.

Finished Diana Wynne Jones' Conrad's Fate : A Chrestomanci Book. I love Diana's imagination and her varied characters. Definitely fantasy, probably for the mid-teens & up. Basic summary of the beginning is that Conrad is just a kid when he discovers the magical world of books (he lives above a bookshop, what a dream life!) and also that he has terrible karma. It would ruin the book to say too much more, suffice it to say that Diana's books are that rarity, books that actually make me smile while I'm reading them, and upon occasion she's actually made me laugh. Very few books tickle my funny bone like hers do. She has a marvelously sly sense of humor.

More later....

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Viets, Spiderwick, and herbs, colds and recipes

Went to B&N, and picked up a few books. Sadly, I've already finished two, and scanned through another. This is why I do not have a TBR (To Be Read) pile, although I do have a TBF/R list.

Before I list the books I've just finished, I should mention that Annie's fifth birthday was today, so I went to the pet store & picked up some cat toys for her. Da Bird was a hit, but the other toys were treated with great catly suspicion. She'll come around. ;) Annie has Bridie's birthday, since all I knew about her when I adopted her at six months of age was that and nothing else.

Ok, so Accessory to Murder by Elaine Viets (Penquin, Obsidian Mystery) is as always fun to read. I wouldn't class this as a cozy, exactly, but it is not a hard-boiled book either. This is one from her mystery shopper series, and Josie is as fun as ever; quirky, sarcastic, hardworking, and a single mom. This particular book takes Josie to an high end boutique where a scarf costs $1,000 and two very different shoplifters (one caught in the act, one suspected) are arrested. This is just the start as all sorts of mayhem, murders, etc. take place. At the end, there are always shopping tips, especially on how to find high quality designer items at not-so-designer prices. What I liked best about this book was the interplay between characters, the underlying theme of friendship (what's real and what's not). Viets has a good plotting mind and a good eye for people & their foibles. (p278, including a forthcoming chapter for the next book)

Up next, the 2nd book in the Spiderwick Chronicles. This one is called the Seeing Stones and DiTerlizzi and Black are the two co authors. The books are very brief & are small books, strongly plot driven, with a good fantasy blend. This one concerns a disappearing cat, goblins that are raiding the house, some derring-do on the part of Mallory & Jared, who have to rescue Simon. As for the Seeing Stones, all is revealed in the book. (p.108)

Last but not least, The Herb & Spice Companion, which I got for under 7 dollars. It is by Marcus Webb, and is a beautifully illustrated guide to herbs; how to grow, what they're used for in cooking, and also lists spices. In the very end, it lists some teas & such to make with spices, one of which is exactly the same as my Grandma's Ginger Tea, for digestive complaints. Hers was one teaspoon ground ginger with 3 tablespoons of sugar. Believe me, you need the sugar, for Ginger tea is pretty fierce and you will also get very hot after drinking it. Webb's book says "1/2 tsp dried ginger powder into hot milk, and hadd 1 tsp honey. This is a warming drink to reduce the symptoms of a cold." This will be useful as an overall resource for herbs, herb growing, and use of thereof. Or therefore? :)

The Oven Roasted Almond Chicken recipe is fun to make (and I'm making another set for the week ahead... handy to have on hand for salads, etc.)

2 pounds chicken breast, and grind together some natural almonds, a slice of whole grain bread (I used Ak Mak crackers & used two slices of that only), a good dash of garlic powder, 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper, plenty of black pepper, a tsp of crushed rosemary, dash of parsley & dash of basil (to taste), and a 1/2 c. of parmesan cheese, grated.

Grind all that together (I use my Magic Bullet, which is handy for small jobs like this one), and after defrosting your chicken breasts, dab them into olive oil, rub well into the ground up almonds (etcs), plop into a baking pan and put into a 400 degree oven for 1/2 hour. This is a South Beach recipe & I really like it. Could probably give it even more zip by putting some lemon zest in the ground almonds and possibly marinating it in lemon juice for a bit.

Happy Easter everyone.

Dead Heat, Mrs. Pollifax, and Carl Sandberg

Finished Dead Heat last night and it is every bit as suspenseful as any of his books. The chef makes a fine showing, and like other Dick Francis protagonists, is intelligent, inspiring, and an all-around good guy. Some really wonderful moments in this book, which I won't ruin for you by describing here.

Read Mrs. Pollifax on the China Station by Dorothy Gilman this morning. She's another one of my favorite authors and as always, her books have a nice blend of philosophy of life, suspenseful plots, wonderful bits of derring-do, and great descriptions of foreign places. I loved her descriptions of China, and admired her adroit explanation of what to eat & what NOT to eat in foreign countries. Well worth reading, if only for the fact that she believes no matter what age you are, you can still live life to the fullest. I've read Gilman's memoir & it is an excellent one, all about her life in Nova Scotia (I think that's where she was?) and the pace & healing she got there.

Third & last book I read this morning is a picture book, called A Love Poem by Carl Sandburg, pictures by Anita Lobel. Anita is a Caldecott Honor Book artist & her illustrations are wonderful. She has an interesting back history as well. The poem in question is something Carl wrote for his wife Lena, and is about 6the aurora borealis. Wonderful blend of poetry & illustrations in this one. I picked up the book at the Sandburg's place in Flat Rock, North Carolina, where they retired so Lena could raise goats. The descendants of those goats are still there (I patted them), and the place is lovely, full of books on every single wall (including the staircases). The joke told by the Park Service Ranger was something about Biltmore being down the road & how different the two places were. Would love to have the Sandburg's house & start reading my way through all of Mr. Sandburg's books. Picture above is from the NPS website.

Have to head out now to buy Annie her replacement Da Bird feather toy, since she's succeeded in annihilating her latest one. Am going to look for Panic Mouse too, because I think she would love it, although I admit that the little plastic toy that does backflips, causes her to sit down & glare at it intensely. I think she is either a little afraid of it or offended by it, perhaps both.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

March 23rd

March 23rd would have been Bridie's 15th birthday. Hard to believe my little sweetie passed away just a short time ago, on February 8th.

Yesterday I finished Agatha Christie's The Golden Ball & Other Stories. This is the St. Martin's Minotaur Mystery edition. I like her short stories & think Christie had a remarkable talent for the short stories. Some of these are supernatural in tone, and really send the chills down your spine. Others are just about normal people trying to make their way through life, but who encounter surprising events or surprising people. Not all of them are criminal in nature, although all are quite surprising. Well worth reading, and because they're short stories, you can read one before bedtime and not be kept awake by the pressing need to finish the whole book before going to sleep. ;) Yes, I suffer from this compulsion. The book is 279 pages.

The 2nd book I'm now reading is Dead Heat by Dick and Felix Francis. This came out last year, and I am enjoying it as much this time as I did the first time I read it. It is set in a restaurant, and the main character is the chef. Francis' mysteries are among my favorites and I'm glad he's back to writing again. He certainly has not lost his touch. This one is 342 pages long.

On the menu for this weekend, oven fried almond chicken (delicious & easy) and sour cream black cherry muffins. Yum!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Finishing Persuasion by Austen (and Gas City)

I have to admit that Persuasion by Jane Austen is probably my least favorite, in part because the character of Anne Elliot is so calm, withdrawn, and reserved. She lacks a certain ardent spirit, which most of (many of?) Jane Austen heroines seem to have.

Yet in this book, there's a great deal of insight into character, personality, and yet again the inconstancy of people (in general) who are so quick to say, "they always knew the bad in someone" even when the previous day, they were talking about how great that someone was. That perception in Jane Austen's writing is probably one of her greatest strengths as an author for me. She is compassionate, but wryly understanding of the foibles of human behavior.

Gas City by Loren Estleman : I've read the beginning & the ending of the book. I find much to admire about Estleman's writing & his cleanly written prose. His plotlines are consistently interesting and hard driven, as benefits a book which is very much centered around hard crime.. The strength of Gas City lies in its clear tally of the evil that can lie underneath a corrupt city government and how truly sick at heart people can become. Some of the changes in one man's heart because of the loss of his wife precipitates a lot of changes in this city, and yet, at the ending of Gas City, you're left with an awareness that there is a certain inertia in the city itself that will be very hard to change.

I am looking forward to Frames, which is Estleman's next book out, and which should be out this coming April, if I recall rightly. It is the start of a new series.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gas City by Loren Estleman

Published by Forge Books in 2007, Loren D. Estleman's novel, Gas City, is a stand-alone. The jacket flap says, "Beneath the surface of a blue-collar Midwestern city roil dark undercurrents of lust, power, revenge, and madness... exposes the black heart of the Gas City..."

Estleman has a gift for dialog and for capturing nuances in relationships. I nearly always like his beginning lines & Gas City begins with, "A couple of days before Arch Killian's seventy-eight birthday, he mentioned to his son that he'd outlived all his old friends and no one was left to serve as his pallbearer." Turns old Arch Killian was a surveyor, which of course, is a time-honored profession in Michigan. In fact, we have a Museum of Surveying in Lansing. Should be interesting to see if surveying becomes a dominant element in this book.

Looking at page 123, "Work was another thing. She suspected she owed her gold shield to the two years and three months she'd spent married to Billy Boyle, and the bureaucratic inconvenience involved in resuming her maiden name after the divorce; she'd just decided to keep it. When Rice-Hippert was in office, Chief Russell ahd responded to the mayor's push to promote female members of the department to positions of responsibility by pulling a half a dozen personnel files and greenlighting the Dugans and Callahans."

And that's as far as I've gotten. Will finish this later, as I'm only on page 25.


Just in case people haven't noticed, I do have a poll at the bottom of the screen. I also notice the color is a little hard to read, so I'm going to try to fix that. The first poll respondent asked if I could put more details about the books in here, and I will try to do that. I don't normally put in full bibliographic information about the books in here, so I would like to know if that's useful for people or not. If people would like me to say more about the plot, or my opinions on the books... I can try to do that too.

More feedback welcome (and do feel free to write to me directly) if you have ideas about what you would like to see. I can't promise to do it, of course, but since this blog is very much an learning experience, I'm open to trying out different things.

I'll write a more coherent review of both Alden B. Dow : Midwestern Modern and Connecting The Dots here in the next few days. I would also like to write a longer review of Karen Tintori's Unto the Daughters, which is definitely a must read.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

if you need a pick-me-up

Just go here to Patry Francis' blog. She reminds me very much of what the sparkpeople group I talk to every day. Each day, we mention five things we're grateful for. And sometimes, the day is so hard that all we can do is say, "I'm grateful just to be alive. I'm grateful that I have people in my life who love me." Her post is wonderful and I'm glad to hear from her.

And a fun link that Kate shared with me that is a really nice site. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie!

Just finished Northanger Abbey (283 pages) and started Persuasion. I really liked Northanger Abbey, which is very witty. Persuasion is very different in tone & a tad more melancholy. I'll be interested in seeing if the notorious Bath chase scene (from the movie) shows up in this one. Somehow, I don't think ladies made mad dashes through Bath on a regular basis, unless they were being chased or offended by people. ;)

Just a theory. After Persuasion, I want to read Gas City by Loren Estleman. More later!

my first Tagged!

Thanks to Rachel Jagareski, Old Saratoga Books, I have just been tagged with my first meme.
In this meme, tagged bloggers are invited to share the contents of the whatever books they are currently dipping into and divulge lines 8 through 10 of page 123. Thanks, Rachel & nice to meet you.

The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen : Northanger Abbey:

" -- but I never sing. Well, I wish you a good journey. I dine with Miss Tilney to-day, and must now be going home."

"Nay, but there is no such confounded hurry.--Who knows when we may be together again? -- Not but that I shall be down again by the end of a fortnight..." (Catherine & John Thorpe)

Such a funny passage between the two of them, full of misunderstandings!

Let's see what Alden B. Dow by Diane Maddex provides : Two very large pictures of the Alden B. Dow home & studio (this is a gorgeous studio) .... from the captions ... "he used Homasote sheets with wood battens on a wood frame to clad the first drafting room. Birdlike copper details with red "tails" channel water away from the building." (the earlier part of the caption says that in the 1930s, only the rare architect would dare use pressed-wood panels outside, especially in a climate as harsh as Michigan's... )

From Connecting the Dots by Tyree Guyton, and skipping to page 124, since page 123 is an photograph : "Aku Kadogo, a native Detroiter who lived in Sydney, sought Guyton's help in easing racial tension in the aftermath of riots in several aboriginal communities. Together they developed a project called Singing for the Country, which included the Aboriginal community and others from the general public in creating visual art, installation art, and peformance art... "

This is for Kate

Just because! The picture is of Misty & Mandy, curled up together in the sunshine.
I have just asked for review copies of Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. This is apparently a free-verse novel about werewolves. Should be fun to read! Toby is a Detroit resident & this is his first novel. Another requested review book is a more sobering story about the car accident in Michigan, where two young women were confused with each other for several weeks.

My mother has confirmed that they would like me to bring my family favorite recipes of "The World's Best Green Bean Casserole" and Austrian Raspberry Shortbread (recipe from the Smitten Kitchen). Links above will take you to the original recipes & I'll also mention my variations.
For the Green Bean casserole, my variations included adding in red bell pepper, mostly because I like the color & because I think this dish can use a little extra punch. I also added in water chestnuts, because I love the crunch. You can do the same, or follow the recipe exactly. She's right that the French fried onions on top add exactly the right topping. This recipe is actually quite fun to make & adds that extra fillip of green vegetables to the dinner table.
The Austrian Raspberry Shortbread is quite fun to make, but I will admit that having a food processor to grate the shortbread will save you some time. I hand grated this & it is well worth it. The first time I made the recipe, I thought it was short on the wonderful raspberry fruit spread I used, so I doubled it for the 2nd time. This made the interior of the shortbread a little soggy & The Smitten Kitchen is absolutely right in the amount of time it takes to bake the shortbread. So what I think I will do is split the recipe between two pans and cut the amount of raspberry spread to one & a half small jars, rather than my two jars from last time. It is delicious anyway you make it, even if Annie-the-cat leaves the kitchen while the mixer is running.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Northanger Abbey by Austen

Have to admit that my interest in this book was piqued by seeing the Masterpiece version of the book a few weeks ago. And then, someone, somewhere mentioned that Jane's humor here is quite sly... "She wasn't much of a heroine" vein is immensely funny here, and yet has the wonderful effect of making you see what a simple, appealing, & just plain nice & wonderful character Catherine is.

I'm having fun reading all the Austens. They're alike in tone (to some degree) but more & more I'm beginning to realize how witty, gentle, and fun they can be as well. I've always enjoyed her work, but never more than now, when I have the chance to read all of them at once.

No time to cook tonight, but I did eat some more of that guacamole & am planning on how to make it better. And it is a really good thing that the Obedience Trial I belong to is having their tracking test in about a month. That will give me the excuse I so badly need to make that wonderful Austrian Raspberry Shortbread recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It is really fabulous. Wait, I can make it for the reunion too! We have a family reunion coming up shortly (beginning of April) and the family should adore this one. I may even make those World Peace Cookies (Korova Cookies) too.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More cooking & more books

Made my first ever guacamole (recipe from Jenny's Use Real Butter blog) and vegetable Frittata, and feel well prepared for the week ahead, at least in terms of food & sticking to plan. The guacamole probably needed another pepper and I can see now that I needed to have prepared my avocado within a day after picking them up. Those things just don't last long around here. And I needed to put the lemon juice on pronto, as in making them the first ingredient into the bowl, instead of one of the last, because the avocados turned brown so quickly. Still tasted fine, and it is nice to have another recipe in my repertoire' and will make a good one to take to staff get-togethers.

Tried to finish Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know and unfortunately it isn't working for me. She's a good writer, but the main character is a bit depressed & whiny, and not what I wanted to mingle with at present. Just a case of the wrong book for me at this time. I read half the book and about 30 pages or more at the end and am done with it. So I looked into my bookstore bag & found.... Aunt Dimity Goes West! It is by Nancy Atherton, and is a cozy with a bit of the paranormal element, but done in a very nice way. I love Atherton's writing & her books are positive books, in spite of any mayhem that happens within them. I'm zipping through this one nicely. I love spending time in Nancy Atherton's world.

I'm saving the avocado pits to grow 'em. Wonder if I can start al three pits at once in the same pot & have a really big plant?

cooking, cleaning, and books too

I wanted to find some thing new to make for breakfast & found an interesting looking omelet in the South Beach Diet' Cookbook. It was an Asparagus & Goat Cheese omelet. I had some already steamed asparagus in the refrigerator, so the dish really was easy to put together, except for the tarragon, which I had to skip. It is probably a good twenty years old or more and was probably inherited from my grandmother. Oops!

But the omelet turned out lovely, and it really was quick & easy. I replaced the tarragon with basil (fresh! and just lovely) and will follow up with some tea made with PG Tips.
Annie, of course, is begging for the goat cheese. Why is it that she can't jump up to her counter when there's a treat up there, but must be lifted up there? Part of the routine I guess. She's a very silly cat.

On my agenda for reading today: The Golden Ball & Other Stories by Agatha Christie, What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman, Northanger Abbey & Persuasion (they're in the same volume, both are by Austen), I've started the last two.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Results of bookstore trip

It was a little hard to cut back, but I managed to whittle down the 12 books to just a few. I picked up the first Spiderwick Chronicles book : The Field Guide by DiTerlizzi and Black. Only 107 pages, and the book is small, so this was quick reading. This is another series like The Edge Chronicles that I will enjoy reading. Unlike The Edge, Spiderwick is definitely set in the 'real world' with just a tinge of fantasy.

The next book is by Patricia Reilly Giff. She's fabulous and I really enjoyed finding the earlier book by her that was set in WWII, back when Willow Run was first set up for people who built the war planes. That book was called Willow Run & was so well done on a number of levels, first that of a Southerner, a young girl who is trying to get used to the differences between South & North, in having her uncle gone, and in having to find a place to make new friends.

But this new book is equally terrific in its own way. It is the story of Hollis Woods, a girl who was abandoned as a baby & her wishes. Very beautiful book & the people in it are vividly displayed. The book won the Newberry Honor & that was an honor well deserved & the title is Pictures of Hollis Woods. (166pp)

Next on my list, a book by Laura Lippman.

Adventures with Brussel Sprouts

I think the recipe itself turned out pretty well although the blogger I got it from is right that the sprouts started turning a little black. I suspect the oven heat is turned up too high. Can't say I really liked the brussel sprouts too much, since soft vegetables are not my favorite. And the slightly sulphric smell of the sprouts as they cooked is also not my favorite. My off-hand impression is that far more women like this dish than men do.

But I'm glad I tried it. I would like to try it out on my parents, because I think they would really like this recipe. Next trial will be to eat some Kohlrabi, which sounds interesting. The recipe I tried for the sprouts is below:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

- serves 6 -

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. (Kim's notes here: I have a gas oven, that may account for the difference, but in retrospect, I would drop the heat to 350. Also, I started the sprouts in a sauteing pan, which can also go into the oven).

Cut off the ends of the Brussels sprouts and pull off any outer leaves. (someone suggested cutting the sprouts in half. I did this & I like this much better)

Toss them in a bowl (or right on the baking sheet) to coat evenly with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Turn them onto a baking sheet and roast for 35-40 minutes, until crisp
outside and tender inside. Shake the pan from time to time for even browning. Sprinkle with more kosher salt and serve. (Can also sprinkle with parmesan cheese to dress it up a little.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Alden B. Dow and other posts

Just so I don't forget it, here's a link to Henry Kisor's blog & geocaching

Have to say that the Alden B. Dow book is gorgeous. I'm still reading it, but never thought when I first saw it that I would read this all the way through. It looks like a coffee table book (which it is in a way, since the pictures are beautiful) but that very first line grabs your attention & makes you want to read the whole book all the way through. What a fabulous man & what an interesting mind he had.

And that first line? "Alden B. Dow was born.... and for want of an incubator, he was put in an oven." Just a fabulous beginning line.

On the agenda for reading now are Northanger Abbey & Persuasion, plus finishing Alden B. Dow. I also plan to go to our local independent bookseller to .... browse. If I'm smart, I won't buy much, but the temptation is hard to bear.

Friday the PI day update

Finished The Expeditions by Iagnemma yesterday & really liked the whole experience. He does a really nice job of portraying a realistic experience in a very different culture. It is remarkable how very different people just a century away from us were, and how hard their lives were. I also loved the father-son portrayal in this book. Two different (yet alike) people. I can't say a lot without ruining the experience for you, but I do recommend this book & I think anyone should give it a try.

Also finished Emma by Austen and had the pleasure of sharing the 123 page, fifth sentence & two sentences after meme with Sarah the Maine Bookseller. The excerpt actually captured the essence of Emma fairly well & was about Emma & Mrs. Weston talkig to each other about relationships & of course, if you've read it before or even seen the movie, you already know how so very wrong they both were. Again a very nice capsule picture of people from a very different time than ours, although in Emma, you feel tired of Mr. Woodhouse's constant health complaints, while when you read The Expeditions, you get tired just thinking about all the work people had to do just to survive. Imagine catching your food each day or finding it somehow. Imagine the poor cooking, unless you have a good guide

Yet another contrast to Emma's going picking strawberries at Mr. Knightley's place. Pretty cool set of books to read together.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Maple Syrup!

(still reading Expeditions, more about it tomorrow when I have finished)

Every year I swear I'll go to the sugaring at Fenner Nature Center & every year I don't. But maybe this year. And this year, I defnitely want to go to Vermontville for their festival.

And here's a couple others that I'm interested in attending:

Takes place June 5-8th and is in honor of Owosso's native son, James Curwood, who wrote 33 popular adventure novels. St. John's Mint Festival is held the 2nd weekend in August. Scroll down to the Mint Festival part.

how to make your own hitty doll:

About the Newbery winning novel Hitty (

And a link to a book review written about an acquaintance's book (Henry Kisor) He writes wonderful mysteries set in the UP.

Liked this quote:

Alexander Graham Bell said, "When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us."

Monday, March 10, 2008

More reading in Expeditions

Sure do like Iagnemma's writing style. He gives a nice description of what the 1800s were like, complete with a bit of the sensory feeling, without going overboard on the description. I'm also reminded of Karl Bohnak (who wrote So Cold a Sky, a wonderful book on the UP's weather history) talking about how hard it was for the early people just to survive, get enough food to eat, what kind of food was available, etc. I'm surprised anyone survived. Our ancestors were sure tough people.

Below, some random links & interesting things I found out:

Because of the lab in this blog!

Everyone's favorite dish:

(and I never think about macaroni & cheese without thinking of the ... I can't remember where she was from, Greece, maybe?, at the UM Graduate library, who asked me if I had a recipe for baked macaloni and cheese. She was SO cute. I wish I had remembered to go back with my mom's recipe, but I never did.... I graduated & left for my new job in Chicago within a week of that conversation. I think) (a good way to use up junk mail) Lois Lowry recollects her favorite childhood books. I haven't read Humphrey, but have read the others.

Stuart Brent's Bookstore

I used to go to Stuart Brent's whenever I could. Living in Chicago for four & a half years gave me the chance to find some wonderful bookstores. I even saw Mr. Brent in the store once, but didn't dare go up & fawn all over him. Nearly always went straight to the children's book section in the lower level & loved reading Mr. Brent's book about his golden retriever. And I purchased it too. ;)

Here's a link to an obituary that was written for a former employee at Brent's. Mae Goodman was 101 years old, and Adam Brent is quoted in the article as saying she read two books at night. That's my goal too. Forget the housekeeping, read a book!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Expeditions by Iagnemma and several Austen books.

The Expeditions by Karl Iagnemma is set in the early days of Michigan's frontier. I'm up to page 89 and am really enjoying it. It rings true in so many ways. A friend was commenting to me a few weks ago that back in the "good old days" that people didn't smell very good, simply because water was not as readily available. Much of that sort of flavor is coming through in this novel in a very wonderful way... how people travelled with little simply because what you have, you had to carry for the most part, unless you were quite wealthy. The basic beginning to the plotline is that a young man who wants to be a naturalist (I think that's the correct term) is heading out into the wilderness with two men who are the leaders of the expedition. What happens to them as they head out is what I'm finding out now.

Really a beautifully written book.

Two other books that I'm reading for Masterpiece Theater's current series on Austen's books are Mansfield Park (which has already shown) and Emma, which I believe is coming up soon. I'm finding that I really enjoy all of Austen's work, possibly even more than I did because of seeing the recent biographical books about her. I am half way through Emma & about 3/4s of the way through Mansfield Park. I ho pe to finish Mansfield Park today.

It is a start!

For right now, I think I'll start out by doing two things here on this blog : record my reading & my thoughts on that reading and also put together reading lists & things I want to look at more closely on the web. Today I have finished two books : Winter Study by Nevada Barr and Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. Both were good books.

I found Winter Study disturbing because it has some pretty sick people in it. But the mention of the Wolf Winter Study and the details of life on Isle Royale were very moving. I'd like to try winter camping, despite the ordeal the various rangers go through while winter camping. Some very mysterious twists & turns in this novel. 370 pages

Elijah of Buxton is a Newberry honor winner and a Coretta Scott King winner, plus the book is also on the 2008 Michigan Notable Books. Just as fabulous I I remember it, and the description is compelling. The times & thoughts of that age are displayed well here. I loved that my grandfather's Tall Tales of the Catskills came through so clearly here. He also had the hoop snake story in his book, as Curtis does in Elijah. I don't think anyone writes young male characters better than Curtis does. He's also an engaging speaker, so if you have a chance to hear him.... go.

More later, as always.