Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekend Cooking... The Perfect Chocolate Martini


Oh, it has been a bit warm here recently, and the warmth can make you a little thirsty!
So, I thought I would share with you another of my favorite drink recipes.
Like the last drink recipe I posted, the Sputnik, this drink is also from The Red Square. The Red Square is one of the restaurant in The Quarter, a sort of pedestrian mall inside the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City. As you can see in the photos above, it's like you are outside but that is just some artful sky painting..and it never rains and the temperature is always comfortable. Restaurant, stores, an Imax theater and such, but without question, our destination is often the Red Square, where they specialize in a wide variety of vodkas and some nice food ranging from caviar to pretty darn good cheeseburgers.

Now I am not much of a drinker..really.
But this version of the chocolate Martini is sort of like chocolate milk with a kick and sweet enough to make a nice dessert if you like.
Very good.
And I will have you know, that just for you, my dead reader, I forced myself to order one last time I was there just to be sure it was as good as I remembered. Happily, it was.

I got this recipe from our favorite bartender, Chris, and like all real bartenders, he never measures.  But, when pressured a tiny bit, he did his best to figure out the proportions. You can always play around with it a bit, adding a bit more vodka if you like it stronger.
But I think it is excellent just as it is.

The Red Square Chocolate Martini

In a shaker, with some ice, add..

3 parts Creme de Cocoa
1 part vanilla vodka
2 parts Godiva Original Chocolate Liqueur

Shake, strain into a chilled martini glass.

As you can see, at the Red Square they add a nice little chocolate floating on top. Theirs are custom made for them and look very nice but I think you could use your imagination and replace it with something else. Or make your own little custom chocolate decoration.
Melt some chocolate in the microwave, make a nice little shape on a piece of wax paper or a silicone pad, yet it dry and peal it off and  Ta Da!!



This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Giveaway for "I'd Know You Anywhere"

Hey, if you read my review of I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel by Laura Lippman and would love to have your very own copy, one of you will be in luck.
See, I totally forget I already owned a copy and foolishly requested an ARC of the soon to be released trade paperback. And as much as I liked the book, I really do not need two copies.
So win, and it will be yours.

Just leave a comment for one entry.
If you are a follower, leave a separate comment and mention how you follow. Or become a follower!

Either way, be sure that I can access your e-mail...because wouldn't it be awful to win and I couldn't tell you?

You have a week, until May 5th to enter, I will pick the winner that night and post the winner May 6th.
USA and Canada only folks. 
Good Luck!!


A Review of "I'd Know You Anywhere" [29]

I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel by Laura Lippman
William Morrow, ISBN 978-006-20705-3
May 3, 2011, 400 pages



"Of course, you are older, a woman now. You’ve been a woman for a while, obviously. Still, I’d know you anywhere.” 


When Eliza Bennett opens a letter sent to her home and reads those words, her blood runs cold and her hands shake. Because the man that wrote them is from a different time in her life. A time when she was known as Elizabeth, a time when living a life not filled with fear ended. A time she calls, to the few in her world that know about it, "the summer she was fifteen."
The summer she was kidnapped, raped and held by a serial killer for 39 days.

That man's name is Walter Bowman and he is in prison, on Death Row awaiting his long delayed execution for the murder of another girl, one of an unknown number of young teenage girls he killed. He would see them walking down the road as he drove around on his days off from working in his father's garage. He liked them very young, teenagers, tall and "well developed" with blond hair. He would offer them a ride in his truck and it would be the last ride they ever took. But Elizabeth was different.

He did not choose her but rather, in a way, she choose him, stumbling upon him in the woods as he was burying the body of one of his victims. He took her prisoner, telling her over and over how he will go back and kill her entire family if she does not do as she is told, and she is so afraid that she does not try to escape. There are some, including the mother of the last murdered girl, that believe she was an accomplice rather than a victim. It was her testimony that convicted him, but he suggests that her memory may not be totally reliable..and she fear that he might be correct. She knows that with these communications, this letter and the letters that follow, he is trying to use her, to manipulate her...but she has to find out the truth.

These stand alone books of Ms. Lippman are often not traditional mysteries or even suspense novels. Rather their emphasis is on the psychology of the people involved and this book excels at that. Eliza has made a life for herself with a very good marriage, supportive parents and two typical, not perfect children. But deep down she is damaged. She never sleeps with the windows opened, she has nightmares populated with the ghosts of the dead girls and has wondered all these years, filled with guilt, why she was the one allowed to live. 
Walter is a cold blooded killer and the glimpses into his mind, so banal, are rather chilling while the anger of the dead girls mother is anything but cold. Running through the book is a discussion of the death penalty, which is chasing Walter down, from the different characters very different points of view, but happily in such a way that we never feel the author forcing her own opinion.

This is a quite good novel that fans of Lippman previous books and fans of  psychological thriller will certainly enjoy. Lippman is an excellent writer and the structure of the book, on the one hand telling the present day story in a straight chronological way, then interspersing flashbacks to that fateful summer, works very well. From that letter at the beginning, through the book, as the contact with Walter escalates, the sense of terror and dread builds, finally concluding in a satisfying ending that happily answers all our questions.
A strong recommendation!

Now, if you are a regular reader here, this review might seem familiar. Well, that is because I posted it when I read the hardcover edition of this book. Then, recently, I saw an offer for a review copy of the new trade paperback, and thought, "Oh, I love her books.", totally forgetting I had read it. But my forgetfulness is you gain, because I really do not need two copies and so I am having a giveaway!!



My thanks to the publisher for supplying a ARC copy of this book.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday..We Are Not Done..

..with Longwood Gardens yet.



...as always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.















A Very Happy Penguin

For you penguin fans out there!
I know there are one..or two.
Be sure to watch to the end. It gets off to a slow start but the end is worth it!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Musing Monday... Nature or Nurture?

Ok folks, let's wander over to Should Be Reading and check out what MizB 's question for this week...

This week’s musing asks…
Do the members of your family read? Do you think it was passed down to you? ((or, if you want you can answer this: Who do you think influenced you as a reader?))



Awwww...the old nature vs. nurture question.
Well, as with some much of our personality, I think it is both.
I think we are born with certain proclivities, but the degree that they are enforced or discouraged as a child helps determine how we fell about these things as we grow up. I think that positive or negative can come from a lot of places..peers, teachers, even the media and such, but the greatest source is our parents and immediate family.

As I have discussed before, my mother was a reader, my father not so much. My father read the newspaper and that is about all I remember him reading. My mother read newspapers and magazines and books...lots of books. We have discussed my trips to the library with her and no doubt that help form my idea of the place reading and books should have in my life but so was the fact that she would take any bit of free time to open a book. Oh, I think she would have loved these new fangled e-books, or at least the chance to always have a book on hand.

My mother came from a family of readers. I don't remember my grandfather being a reader.. but according to my mom he was. I can remember my grandmother reading...my Aunt Mary, my Uncle Ed (oh, he liked non-fiction too, especially books about WWII) and my Aunt Grace is still reading right along. In fact, into her eighth decade and she has a Kindle.
My brother is a reader, although as I am sure he would agree, our tastes in book could not be more different. See there is that nature part! He has always liked to read non-fiction, history and such, huge, boring tomes. Oh, I think I have given my prejudice away...but I have always been about the fiction, with a distinct leaning towards death and mayhem. Happily my sister in law is also a big reader..and she and I have very similar tastes in books...makes for great sharing opportunities! And the niece, off to a slower start in showing her book reading love, seems to be coming along. ;-)
We can only hope!!
Because I am a firm believer that a love of reading is something that will provide a lifetime of pleasure, entertainment and enjoyment.

I can't say that I remember any other thing effected my love of reading. Sure, we had to read for school, especially as I got into high school. But by then my love of reading was already set. We had summer reading lists..the difference was I loved them and looked forward to seeing what they contain, where as many of my peers were not feeling the love. I wonder if my high school, if it is too lae, for many people at least, to have that love of reading instilled. No, I think not school, or any teacher, and certainly not the general culture were responsible for my attitude toward books. That was learned, as they say, at my mother's knee.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekend Cooking.. "One ha' penny, Two ha' penny, Hot Cross Buns"


Hot cross buns,
Hot cross buns,
one ha' penny,
two ha' penny,
hot cross buns.

If you have no daughters,
give them to your sons,
one ha' penny,
two ha' penny,
Hot Cross Buns

I am a person riddled with fears...and one of them is yeast! It is so mysterious, all bubbling and...alive! But we should try and overcomes our fears and so I struck out to make something yeasty, some Easter-y. Something that looks like it would be lovely with a cup of tea. So, off I went in search of a recipe. I could not find one from America's Test Kitchen (lol) so I went with one from my friends at King Arthur Flour, mostly because they were named Easy Hot Cross Buns.
They had me at the word easy.


Buns

  • 1/4 cup apple juice or rum
  • 1/2 cup mixed dried fruit
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried currants
  • 1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, 1 separated
  • 6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Topping

  • 1 large egg white, reserved from above
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Icing

  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 teaspoons milk, or enough to make a thick, pipeable icing

Directions

1) Lightly grease a 10" square pan or 9" x 13" pan.
2) Mix the rum or apple juice with the dried fruit and raisins, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave briefly, just till the fruit and liquid are very warm, and the plastic starts to "shrink wrap" itself over the top of the bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Note: If you worry about using plastic wrap in your microwave, simply cover the bowl with a glass lid.
3) When the fruit is cool, mix together all of the dough ingredients except the fruit, and knead, using an electric mixer or bread machine, till the dough is soft and elastic. Mix in the fruit and any liquid not absorbed.
4) Let the dough rise for 1 hour, covered. It should become puffy, though may not double in bulk.
5) Divide the dough into billiard ball-sized pieces, about 3 3/4 ounces each. A heaped muffin scoop (about 1/3 cup) makes about the right portion. You'll make 12 to 14 buns. Use your greased hands to round them into balls. Arrange them in the prepared pan.
6) Cover the pan, and let the buns rise for 1 hour, or until they've puffed up and are touching one another. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
7) Whisk together the reserved egg white and milk, and brush it over the buns.
8) Bake the buns for 20 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool.
9) Mix together the icing ingredients, and when the buns are completely cool, pipe it in a cross shape atop each bun.

I went with the rum to soak the fruit, because oddly I have a big bottle of rum on hand but not a drop of apple juice. Go figure!  I also added a bit more fruit than the recipe called for, maybe 1 1/2 in all and a bit more brown sugar, more than 1/4 but less than a full 1/2...whatever that would be. I made those changes based on some of the comments on the KAF site. Ok, I also added 1 tsp of vanilla extract and the zest of an orange and used some of the juice instead of milk in the icing...because I had that sad zested orange sitting there, just begging to be of use! 
Let me tell ya, these things smell WONDERFUL as they baked.
 


This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


Friday, April 22, 2011

This is Why They Call it Good...

He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, 
One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem. 
Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, 
While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, 
Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; 
But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all.
Isaiah 53

I will warn you that clips on this video, from The Passion of the Christ, are rather disturbing.
Strong and yes, upsetting, because they are true.

Happy Good Friday.




Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Review of "Red on Red" [28]

Red on Red by Edward Conlon
Spiegel & Grau, ISBN 978-0385519175
April 5, 2011, 464 pages


"Nature-or was it history?-sometimes intervened before the police could, when the killer was killed. "Exceptional clearances," as they were known. Nothing was righted, as such, but something was resolved. In the military, when the enemy turned on the enemy, they called it "red on red." Soldiers didn't have to pretend to be sad about it."
Who would be the best person to write a book that really captures the true feeling of what it is like to be a Big City cop, capture the stories that fill their days. Well, maybe a NY city police detective...and the author does indeed hold that job...who is a very good writer..and the author   previously wrote a memoir, Blue Blood, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a New York Times Notable Book, and a New York Times bestseller. Wow, that would seem ideal.
Then why did I not love this book more than I did?

But first, you might want to know what the book is about.
To quote the publisher's description of the book...
In Red on Red, Edward Conlon tells the electrifying and suspenseful story of two NYPD detectives, Meehan and Esposito: one damaged and introspective, the other ambitious and unscrupulous. Meehan is compelled by haunting and elusive stories that defy easy resolution, while Esposito is drawn to cases of rough and ordinary combat. A fierce and unlikely friendship develops between them and plays out against a tangle of mysteries: a lonely immigrant who hangs herself in Inwood Hill Park, a serial rapist preying on upper Manhattan, a troubled Catholic schoolgirl who appears in the wrong place with uncanny regularity, and a savage gang war that erupts over a case of mistaken identity.

A literary thriller about the twisted dynamic of a successful police partnership—the tests of loyalty, the necessary betrayals, the intersections of life and work—Red on Red tells an unrelenting and exciting story that captures the grittiness, complexity, ironies, and compromises of life on the job.
First, let me tell you what this book is not. It is not, no matter what that description says, a mystery or a crime thriller. A police procedural? Yes, I guess so, with the emphasis on the procedures.
We meet the two central characters, the two detectives Meehan and Esposito, as they open several new cases, a suicide, a gang shooting, and then follow them along over the next several months, as these and any number of other new cases, several connected in one way or another to each other, play out. We see events in their personal lives unfold, separations and deaths, new relationships and  old friendships that wax and wane, crimes solved and unsolved and all the shades of gray that accompany all these these things. We travel along on a very gritty, seemingly very realistic, trip through the city and yes, it is often a very interesting and engaging trip.

For me, the book got off to a slow start and for some reason I had a bit of a problem getting into the flow of the story. I probably put it down 4-5 times, started another book and then came back to it again. But I must say, after a bit..like 100 pages or so...as I got into the rhythm, I was liking the trip. Meehan and Esposito and a number of the others, especially some excellent 'bad guys' are very good characters and the view of NYC, the Inwood neighborhood, is often very interesting. But it is a trip that ultimately doesn't go anywhere.

There is no central story to hold it all together. Rather, it just sorts of meanders along, with a few bursts of excitement as a chase is on, then falling back to a regular, sometimes tedious pace, punctuated by some dark humor. And I must say, toward the end of the book, it almost lost me again. One, rather long involved storyline, involving a serial rapist, a Catholic school yard and a couple of inches of snow almost descended into something out of the Keystone cops and the ending left me a bit dissatisfied.

It times, the ride was a lot of fun and the view was engaging. And that seemed fine for awhile, until it just seemed like we have been in the car a bit too long, the view starts to look awfully familiar and we wonder what the point of this drive really was, what was the destination. For me, it never quite made it there.




My thanks to the Library Thing Early Reviewers program and the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Natural Bridge, Virginia

 



George Washington's initials?



 



..and another peek from the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway



...as always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Review of "Snow Angels" [27]

Snow Angels (An Inspector Vaara Novel) by James Thompson
Berkley Trade, ISBN 978-0425238837
February 1, 2011, 304 pages

"My worst fears are confirmed. This is a hate crime. It's hard to believe that anyone could have hated her so much. The question, despite the words carved on her stomach, is what could have inspired this kind of hatred? Was it her race, her beauty, or something else?"
In most places, Christmas is a festive time of year. But in the northern most region of Finland, above the Arctic Circle in Lapland, it is also Kaamos, a time of complete darkness and a degree of cold most of us can only imagine. It is also a time of a great deal of drunkenness, suicides and a very high homicide rate. As one character says in the book, as high as American cities.

When Inspector Kari Vaara gets called to the scene of a murder, a body found in a reindeer field, very near to the small group of houses where he grew up, that may be the sort of thing he expects, some drunken brawl that resulted in a death. But it is not what he finds. The victim is a young woman, a very beautiful Somali immigrant, an actress in some minor movies. Her body is horrible mutilated, probably sexually assaulted, with a racial epitaph carved in the skin of her stomach.
Quickly, suspicions fall very close to home, to the common law husband of Varra's ex-wife. He knows that he should recuse himself from the investigation, agree for a team to be flown in from Helsinki, but he does not and sets in motion a chain of events which will leave a swath of violence and stick very close to home.

Well, what to say about this book?
First, if I were on the Finnish tourist board, I would not want people to be reading this. The author, while American, has lived in Finland for over a decade, but you have to wonder how accurate his view is. If I skied, this would not be at the top of my list of winter destinations. The portrait it paints, of this area in particular and some aspect of the Finn culture in general, are not too pretty.  As Varra's American wife Kate, who is the manager of the local sky resort says,
"When I first arrived here, my picture of Finland was different. Nature and the environment seemed wild and beautiful, life seemed orderly. I thought people were happy...
No, I was wrong. This is an ugly place. The silence, the misery, the months of darkness. It's too extreme, like living in a desert made of snow instead of sand."
Maybe not an ideal place for most of us to live, but a great setting for a murder..or two!

I will warn you. This book is dark and violent, with several very graphic scenes and frequent repetitions of racist language. If you like your mysteries with a gritty edge, I think you will like this one very much. A cozy mystery this is not.  But in creating a certain mood, a certain bleak and desperate setting where these terrible events can unfold, it succeeds very well.  It's very well written, it's clean, direct style perfect for the setting. And at moments we get a brief glimpse of why Vaara loves his home.
Here the sky is arched, and there’s almost no pollution. In spring and fall the sky is a dark blue or violet, and sunsets last for hours. The sun turns into a dim orange ball that transforms clouds into silver-rimmed red and violet towers. In winter, twenty-four hours a day, uncountable stars outline the vaulted ceiling of the cathedral we live in. Finnish skies are the reason I believe in God.
As to the characters, Inspector Vaara is not he easiest man to like, or the easiest policeman to admire. Quite honestly, he seems way over his head, the investigation disorganized and the final solution as much of a surprise to him as it is to the reader. 
But...he gains points for be self aware enough to know that and his sincere affection for his wife Kate and their unborn twins is enough to give me hope in him. Tragic and flawed, with a good heart...the perfect noir hero.

This is the first book in a series, the second, Lucifer's Tears, just published this month, and I for one will be very interested in seeing if the good inspector and his pregnant wife make it though the bleak, long winter.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Musing Monday...Do You Want Another Steamed Dumpling?



This week’s musing
from MizB at Should Be Reading, asks...
What’s at the top of your must-buy list, right now? (or, if you don’t wait — if you’re more impulsive — what books have you recently purchased?)

I sometimes think I am a rather bad bookish blogger.
Yes, I love to read.
Yes, I love to share some knowledge about books I have read with others.

But my discovery of these books seem a little haphazard compared to many of my fellow bloggers.
I have no Big Plan. I have no idea what books are coming out next month..or this month for that matter. I have no books, except on the rare occasion, that I am looking forward to, at least in part because I have no idea what is coming out.

"But don't you have some favorite writers whose next book you are looking forward to?" Awww....not really. Don't get me wrong. There are a number of writers I love, whose previous books I have enjoyed. But you know, there are so many great writers out there, some of whose books I have read in the past and may well read more of in the future, and there are also so many I have not read yet and would like to. Sometimes I read something by an author and look forward to reading some more by them and may search out another they have out or maybe get excited about a new book they have coming out soon. But honestly..I don't usually keep track of things like that and then I read some reviews about another book 'everyone' is talking about...and I forget all about it. There I am, once again, distracted by the shiny object someone is dangling in front of my eyes.

Then there is the issue that I often don't like to read too many books by one author.
Is that weird?
Well, maybe but true.
You love one of their books, but often, in my experience, the others are not as good. Even with someone you really love, maybe a great series, it has a certain lifespan and then it starts to be not quite as good. Not bad maybe, but same old/same old. You love the first, look forward to the second, the third was pretty good but..and then I am off to something else. I think it is hard to keep a series interesting and really fresh. Maybe you have to be willing to kill some central characters off, make some drastic changes, shake things up and I guess authors get a bit scared readers will not like that and often don't...and I get a little bored.

There are just so many authors out there, great writers, whose books I have never read. It seems a week does not go by that I don't read about a new to me author who I would love to check out. It is like a Giant Buffet of Books and while the steamed dumpling may be great and I love the steamed dumplings, I should go over and try the garlic chicken! I like the smorgasbord of books...one of these...one of those...a little of this... and look, they are bringing out a new tray of something tasty looking that I need to check out!
Remember, you can always go back and get another dumpling!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Weekend Cooking...Kismet and Cake

It was all the Bundt pan's fault.

I was wandering around my favorite site, Cook's Illustrated...maybe it was the newsletter...maybe it was an old copy of the magazine...I am not sure...but I saw an article about Bundt pans and their rating for the very best one bundt pan on the market.
Sadly, I did not have a Bundt pan. I think I may have grown up Bundt free.
So, I decided to mosey over to my second favorite site, Amazon and see if they had the recommended one for sale.
You know they did!
The Nordic Ware Platinum Collection Original Bundt Pan/Model #50037.
I wanted a Bundt pan and I wanted the best, darn it!
In days it was mine.

Now, I needed a recipe.
On the back of the Bundt pan's cardboard collar was a recipe for Lady Bird Johnson' Lemon Bundt Cake. Now Lady Bird may have known her roadside wildflowers but this recipe calls for 10 egg yolks! What was I going to do with the ten egg whites? That seems excessive. So, I went looking for another idea.
In my array of recipes saved on my computer was one from a couple of years ago, a Lemon Bundt Cake from, yes, Cook's Illustrated. Also, on their latest newsletter was a video of them making the same cake. It was meant to be! It was kismet! It was cake...it was Lemon Bundt Kismet Cake.

Everyone at work seemed to like it!
It was very good, with a firm, pound cake texture and a lovely lemon flavor.

Lemon Bundt Cake
Serves 12 to 14.    
You will need between five and six tablespoons of lemon juice for this recipe. Because the amount of juice can vary from lemon to lemon, we suggest you first measure the juice from the three lemons you have zested, then juice a fourth lemon if necessary. Serve this cake as is or dress it up with lightly sweetened berries. The cake has a light, fluffy texture when eaten the day it is baked, but if well wrapped and held at room temperature overnight its texture becomes more dense -- like that of pound cake -- the following day. 

Ingredients

Cake
3 lemons , zest grated and saved, then juiced for 3 tablespoons juice (see note above)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking power
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk 
3 large eggs , at room temperature
1 large egg yolk , at room temperature
18 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 1/4 sticks), at room temperature
2 cups sugar (14 ounces)
Glaze
2 - 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (see note above)
1 tablespoon buttermilk
2 cups confectioners' sugar (8 ounces)

Instructions

  1. 1. FOR THE CAKE: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick baking spray with flour (alternatively, brush pan with mixture of 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon melted butter). Mince lemon zest to fine paste (you should have about 2 tablespoons). Combine zest and lemon juice in small bowl; set aside to soften, 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. 2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl. Combine lemon juice mixture, vanilla, and buttermilk in medium bowl. In small bowl, gently whisk eggs and yolk to combine. In standing mixer fitted with flat beater, cream butter and sugar at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes; scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Reduce to medium speed and add half of eggs, mixing until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Repeat with remaining eggs; scrape down bowl again. Reduce to low speed; add about one-third of flour mixture, followed by half of buttermilk mixture, mixing until just incorporated after each addition (about 5 seconds). Repeat using half of remaining flour mixture and all of remaining buttermilk mixture. Scrape bowl and add remaining flour mixture; mix at medium-low speed until batter is thoroughly combined, about 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer and fold batter once or twice with rubber spatula to incorporate any remaining flour. Scrape into prepared pan.
  3. 3. Bake until top is golden brown and wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into center comes out with no crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes.
  4. 4. FOR THE GLAZE: While cake is baking, whisk 2 tablespoons lemon juice, buttermilk, and confectioners' sugar until smooth, adding more lemon juice gradually as needed until glaze is thick but still pourable (mixture should leave faint trail across bottom of mixing bowl when drizzled from whisk). Cool cake in pan on wire rack set over baking sheet for 10 minutes, then invert cake directly onto rack. Pour half of glaze over warm cake and let cool for 1 hour; pour remaining glaze evenly over top of cake and continue to cool to room temperature, at least 2 hours. Cut into slices and serve.


This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


Friday, April 15, 2011

A Review of "gods in Alabama" [26]

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson
Hachette Audio, ISBN 978-1594832949
Unabridged edition (July 3, 2006)


"There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel's, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus. "
What in the heck was I doing, going to the library, to borrow the audio book of gods in Alabama?
See, first, I don't like audiobooks, right?.
Second, I have a huge number of books that I should be reading already. I do not need any more books at the moment. Or this year.
And third, and maybe worse, when I went to enter it into my Library Thing database, what did I discover but that I already own a copy of this book...here...somewhere.

Well, never mind. I borrowed it, I listened to it and I loved it.

Arlene Fleet, called Lena now, made a deal with God almost a dozen years ago. She promised that she would shop being a slut, fornicating with every guy in her high school class. She would stop lying. She would, upon her graduation, leave her hometown, never to return.
All she wanted from God in return was a miracle. Ok, it was a pretty big miracle, making a dead body disappear and all,  but when He seemed to have granted it, a deal was made.

Now, it is about 10 years after her graduation and she is living in Chicago, a university graduate student, teaching, with a boyfriend of two years, a lawyer named Burr. While she talks to her family every week, her aunt and uncle who took her and her mother in when her mom went off the deep end after her father's death, and her cousin Charline, who is like a sister to her, she has never been home since the day she graduated. Or told a lie..or had sex. A life not without it problems, but one she is willingly living. To keep her secret, to keep her deal with God.

Until a girl from her past shows up on Lena's front door, looking for an ex-boyfriend they went to school with, the high school quarterback named Jim Beverly. That is so not going to happen, because he is the dead body that was at the center of that deal she made with God. But with that visitor, Lena considers that God has broken His end of the bargain, and being push by her boyfriend to finally meet her family, and the need to get the story straight with her cousin before the secret comes bursting out, she and Burr are on the way to Alabama to meet the folks. Oh, did I mention that she is white and Burr is black? Oh, this is going to be interesting!

And it is.
At time this book is very funny, at times it is a mystery with enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes and at times it is very sweet and moving. Maybe half the book is told in the present and the rest in flashbacks, Arlene's recollections. Slowly, piece by piece, she tells us how she came to this point in her life, slowing revealing her story, as layered and as full of hidden secrets as the always present piles of kudzu that dot her Alabama landscape. We think we know what happened, and in a way we do, but we find it is much more complicated...and much more interesting.

The book is full of great characters, each written so well that they will become quite real for the reader and by the surprising ending we can not help but like them, with all their strengths and weaknesses. Arlene is a hoot, making us laugh one minute and breaking our heart the next. Burr is excellent, always having her back, but never letting her get away with anything. And then we have the Alabama relatives, who may end up surprising you and will always hold your attention. At the end of the book you will hate to say goodbye to them all I think.
Arlene reminds us that Jesus said that faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain, but by the end of the book we also discover that love can move mountains too and overcome obstacles that might seem to be unconquerable.

As I mentioned, I 'read' the audio version of this book and once again, it was a good experience. I am no great judge of audiobook readers, but in my opinion Catherine Taber did a fine job. Her accent, how she changes her voice for each characters, even subtly changing it when portraying the characters in the present and when younger, always seemed genuine and never overdone. My one complaint with this edition would be the short bursts of background music that appeared from time to time, unnecessary and rather distracting, but it is a very minor issue.

This was, when it was published, Ms. Jackson's debut novel, but it will certainly not be her last one I read.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Top Ten Favorite Discussible Books of 2010

In Wednesday edition of Shelf Awareness, a publication you certainly should be reading if you are not already, was the results of an interesting little survey.





The  following were the "favorite discussible books of 2010" as chosen by a  survey of thousands of reading groups representing more than 100,000  members conducted by Reading Group Choices:

1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
2. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
3. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
4. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
5. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
7. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
8. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
10. Little Bee by Chris Cleave


So, how many of those have you read?

I imagine a fair number of you may have read them all.
I am ashamed to say I have read exactly half of them, five.
The Help, Cutting For Stone, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. And I have Still Alice sitting in my TBR pile, calling at me from time to time.
Not bad, in the world at large, but amongst book bloggers, I feel like a bit of a slacker.
So many book, so little time....

Now I am sure these are all excellent books, and I know that I loved the ones from the list that I read, but what do you think makes these 10, as opposed to all the other best sellers of 2010, what makes these particularly discussable?
Is it the plot...or the characters or the setting or a certain style?  All the books on the list are fiction...is that an issue or did you read a non-fiction book last year that you would consider especially discussable?
What is it about one book that makes us want to run off and share it with our bookish friends and maybe not another?

I have never, sadly, belonged to a book club, but I know that many of you do. What makes one book ideal to share with your club and not another, even if it is a very good book?
Is there a book that you read last year that you think should be on that list and didn't make the cut?

Oh, I am just full of questions today and so very short of answers.
So I am really hoping that if some of you have some ideals, you might share them with us in the comments.
And so ahead, tell me how you have read them all. I can take it.
Come on..I know you have an opinion!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...More Sunrises..

What can I say...I love sunrises. At work or at home.
But it is Wordless Wednesday, so I should be saying nothing!








...as always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.


A Review of "One Was a Soldier" [25]

One Was a Soldier: A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery  by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur Books, ISBN 978-0312334895
April 12, 2011, 336 pages



When the Reverend Clare Fergusson's National Guard unit was called up, and off she went to fly combat helicopter missions, all Russ Van Alstyne hoped was that she would come back home alive, not terribly injured in some way as may do. And that is what seems to have happened when she returned after 18 months to Millers Kill, NY and once again took up her job as Rector of St. Albans parish. But looks can be deceiving, because while she won't admit it, even to herself, she is in fact very damaged.

Even when she join a veteran's counseling group, with four others from the town, she is still playing her role as the fixer, the reconciler, to the others whose injuries may be more obvious. There is one young man, not even 20, who lost both his legs. There is the police officer whose bouts anger and rage since he has returned becomes, at times, uncontrollable to the point that it is about to cost him everything that he cares about. There is the doctor, trying his best to hide the memory loss a brain injury has cost him and there is the young woman who seems haunted by the terrible things she admits that she has done. They may not be very forthcoming about their problems in their sessions, but they are comrades, so when one of them ends up dead, seemingly by their own hand, it pulls them even closer together. Clare  is insistent that it must be murder, no matter what the facts seem to show. Readers of previous books in the series will not be surprised when she rushes out into the face of danger and...with Russ, trying to protect her back as always...find themselves in the middle of a crime much bigger than they first suspected.

It is no secret that I have enjoyed the previous books in this series, and this, the seventh book, does not disappoint fans. Yes, you could read it as a stand alone I think, but really, it should be read in order for fullest enjoyment. Because at the heart of this series is the relationship between Russ and Clare and it has taken them, and us, years to get to this point, the point where they may finally get married. Or will they? And while that relationship is always central to Spencer-Fleming's books, there is a lot more of interest here too. The story of each of the troubled, damaged returning soldiers, and the whole subject of the challenges these returning warriors and their families face, is often very moving. Also, the subplots of some returning characters, like Hadley and Kevin, are interesting, and the reader will certainly hope to see more of that storyline in future installments. And of course, as always, there is a quite satisfying mystery at the center of the story for us to try and figure out.

Readers of my reviews of the previous Spencer-Fleming books will know that sometime Clare drives me a little nuts and this book is no exception. For someone in the counseling business, at least in part, she is sure reluctant to get help when she needs it...but this time I noticed a difference in my reaction to some of the less than reasonable things she does. Yes, she is flawed, and stubborn, and sometimes you just want to yell at her, never more so than in this book...but you want to because you consider her like someone you know, someone you care about, a friend. And really, what better reaction can an author hope for from a reader?

One thing that I did think odd in this book was what a small role her beliefs, her relationship with God, played in Clare's attempt to deal with the effects of her experiences in combat. I mean, she is a minister, right? Unlike in previous books, this time we see little of her role as a minister, which I missed a bit, but her lack of making any connection between her religious beliefs and dealing with her experiences seems a little out of  character. Still, a damaged Clare, not so self assured as she usually seems, not able to handle everything thrown her way, also makes for a very interesting change.
And, as she so often does, the author finishes off this installment in the series with a classic cliffhanger. I can't say I was totally surprised...but wow, it was a great way to entice us back to see what happens. We fans can only hope that we don't have to wait too long to find out how that turns out!
A very good series and this book is as good as any of the previous books.

By the way, the publisher has also made available, for a limited time, a short collection of some letters some of the characters in One Was a Soldier sent to each other while oversees. It is called Letters To a Soldier and is available free, as an e-book, from all your favorite sources for e-books, including Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Borders,  Indiebound, Kobo and Sony. Fans will certainly want to check that out I think!


My thanks to Library Thing Early Reviewers and the publisher for providing an ARC of this book for my enjoyment.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Musing Monday...Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum


Hey kids, let's wander over to Should Be Reading and check out what MIzB has for us to think about his week.

This week’s musing asks…
If you’re a mood reader, what (genre) do your moods usually call you to read?

Fee-fi-fo-fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he alive, or be he dead
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.

A little gruesome, but don't be scared. It's only make believe.
No secret that my go-to, all-the-time favorite genre is mysteries.
Day, night..or in my case...middle of the night, I always love a mystery.
No, I am not really a moody reader, except that I am almost always in the mood for a few dead bodies, the police knocking at the door and a killer lurking in the shadows..or behind a mask in plain sight. Yep, them I am a happy camper.
Except when I'm not.

Yes, even I can have enough of murder and mayhem and need to read something else on the rare occasion. But it is rare because the wonderful world of mysteries is so varied, offers go many different things to fit your mood. You can find something very complex, or something straight forward, some with a touch of romance, some even wandering into the world of science fiction or other strange places. You can find a light and fluffy cozy, or a very dark and deadly bit of noir...and I tend toward the dark end of the spectrum. But sometimes when the stars align, I need a little sunshine and light. Or at least something different, a bit of a change. Maybe a sweet doggie tale...but no sad animal stories, please. I don't mind people getting killed in books, but not animals. Did I ever mention that I have never seen the movie Bambi because I heard that Bambi's mom dies...{{sob}}

Sometimes I even go in search a bit of non-fiction, although I will admit that it unusual for me. I haven't gone back and done a count, but I think it would be a handful of books in a year. Even then, it really has to be about a subject that really interests me. Not memoirs, which about 95% of the time seem very self indulgent to me. Not history. I am sorry, but most of it just bores me, unless maybe it it is about a place I have some connection to. Not science, which brings back unhappy high school lab class memories. That poor fetal pig..and that frog! Finance...psychology...biography...bleh. You can see my problem.
I must admit, I feel a little guilty about my minimal non-fiction reading. It seems like a good thing to do, mind enhancing, resulting in personal growth and such...but I don't care. For me reading is not really about education. I think I know enough. My brain is almost full. No reading is about pleasure. Reading is about escape.

The fact that the place I like to escape to is full of murder and death and killers..well, that is another story.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Weekend Cooking..When in Doubt, Make Scones!

What  did Robert Burns say...""The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Go oft awry."
When I was considering my Weekend Cooking post for this weekend I had a couple of grand ideas in mind. One involved kikis..the fruit, not the people...the other used dried shitake mushrooms.
But don't get your hopes up, because I didn't make either one.
I had set yesterday aside to do some food shopping and some cooking, but I seemed to have gotten some sort of stomach upsetness..or a touch of food poisoning...so no cooking was on the menu.

So what to post?
Well, as I was making my tea this morning, I though a nice warm scone would be just the thing, easy on the tummy, so I decide to make a batch and share my basic scone recipe with you.

Ok, it is actually my mother's recipe. Easy, quick, light and tender.
My mother used to say that the quicker you made them and the less you handled them, the better they would be. The old saying goes "you should be able to see your neighbor heading across the field, coming to visit, and you should be able to have a plate of scones, warm from the oven, on the table, before they get to your door.

I always though it would depend on the size of the field.

In the spirit of experimentation, I though I would make them in my new food processor...just because.
How did that turn out? Well, it was very easy. Add all the dry ingredients and pulse. Add the cut up, very cold butter and pulse. Add the liquids and run a few seconds until it comes together. Dump out, pat into shape, cut, bake.
Of course, figure up the clean up time and realized, yes, a bowl and pastry cutter might have been just as good.
So here it is. Not fancy. No additions. Just basic yumminess.

Scones

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. double acting baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbs. sugar + 2 Tbs. sugar
6 Tbs. butter
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425ยบ. Grease cookie sheet. With a fork, mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut butter unto the flour mixture with a pastry cutter or two knives scissor fashion until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
In a cup beat eggs, reserving 1 Tbs.
Stir milk into the remaining beaten eggs, and stir into flour mixture just until well mixed.
Turn dough onto well floured surface rolling lightly into a 9” x 6” rectangle, ½ “ thick. Cut into 3” squares, then each square into 2 triangles. Place triangles 1” apart on cookie sheet, brushing with the retained egg and sprinkle with 2 Tbs. sugar.
Bake 10-15 minutes, until golden


15- 20  minutes from start to finish.
Someone drops in? Make scones!
Need a snack? Make scones!
Want to treat yourself? Make scones!
When in doubt...make scones!



This is my contribution this to this week's Weekend Cooking.
"Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend."
Be sure to check out the other entries this week. As always, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Review of "Secrets To The Grave" [24]

Secrets to the Grave By Tami Hoag
Random House Audio, ISBN 978-0739365830
December 28, 2010



In this, the sequel to Deeper Than the Dead, we are once again back in Oak Knoll, California in the late 1980's and once again police are pursuing the perpetrator of a horrible murder.
Marissa Fordham, a single mother and an artist, is found dead on the floor of her house by a neighbor, stabbed countless time and her body mutilated in a way that suggests both rage and a sexual component. And lying beside her is her four year old daughter, Haley, strangled and left for dead...but the killer did not quite complete the job and Haley has survived.

Also back from the first book are a number of the great characters Hoag introduced there, although after the events of that story, some have made some changes in their lives. Anne, almost the last victim of the See-No-Evil serial killer in the first book, is now married to former FBI profiler Vince Leone, both supporting each other in the repercussions they are dealing with from being victims of violence in the near past. Which makes them, especially Ann, the ideal candidates to understand the terror Haley is experiencing and to take her in while authorities search for any other family she might have, like a mysteriously missing father.
But caring for the only witness to the horrible murder may also put Anne and her little charge in the path of a killer who is not quite done killing yet.

I very much liked the first book in this series and I like this one even a bit more I think. The characters are very well developed, and while I guess you could read this as a standalone, it is a case where it would really be better to read them in order. Everything you need to know about everyone is here, but you will enjoy them more if you have read Deeper Than the Dead. And the characters, I think, are very much at the center of this story, including a number of great local residents that make some very good suspects. The subplots about a very troubled little boy from the first book and about the abduction of Melissa's friend were excellent..very creepy and very engaging.

Now, you know I can't help but point out a problem or two, right?
As in the first book, but thankfully to a lesser degree this time, we get these little discussions among the cops about how lacking is some of the technology available to them in the 80's, calling attention to what year it is, and talking about how much better it will be in the future. True...but totally unrealistic, that cops, or anyone really, would talk like that and it gets a bit annoying. Then there is the issue that always comes up in mysteries set in small towns. Just how many people can get killed before people start thinking it might be time to move? This is one dangerous little place! And once again Anne is personally in danger...again something that can get old very quickly in a series. If the killer has her in his sights in the next book, it will push me over the edge for sure.
But overall, these are small matters and take very little away from what is a very good book. Well written, fast paced, great characters, a good story with just enough red herrings to keep you thinking and guessing...most likely wrongly.

On a totally different matter, I just want to mention that this was the first audiobook that I actually finished and actually enjoyed. It took me awhile to get used to it, I will admit. I kept getting distracted by the accents the reader gave the characters, which often did not agree with how I "pictured" them in my head. Then, I would be distracted by the way she pronounced a certain word, wondering if I was saying it wrong all along..and have to replay the part I just missed.
Ok, maybe I am just too easily distracted. But I will give audios another try because it can be a great use of time, like when you are driving, and maybe I can get through some more books. Of course, since I don't have anymore audio books on hand, they would be new book from the library, which defeats the purpose, doesn't it? Oh well..it was an idea..lol



My thanks to my local library for this one..even if I meant to request the hardcover rather than the audiobook.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Longwood Gardens



Today, a little trip to the conservatory of  Pennsylvania's Longwood Gardens.

















...as always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.