Friday, April 30, 2010

a review of "The Digital Photography Book" [29-31]

The Digital Photography Book, Volume 1
The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2
The Digital Photography Book, Volume 3
by Scott Kelby (Peachpit Press)

I enjoy taking photographs. There really is something to that old phrase that a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes, maybe often, you take one that is only worth 500...and you want to figure out how to ramp that number up.
When I was planning my Great Alaskan/Yukon Adventure, I decided to buy a better camera than the little point and shoot I had. Not a great DSLR, although I may buy one right after I win the lottery. Rather I bought the more modest Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28, a camera in the middle of the spectrum. Because while great equipment make taking great pictures easier, I think a good eye and the ability to know how to use what you have is the key. So, I went to the library to look for some photography books. I took out several, looked through them all, but one rose to the top of the pile in terms of usefulness. Rose to the degree that I went out (ok, I actually went online) and bought the author's three volume set. And of course, these are the books, Scott Kelby's "The Digital Photography Book, Volume 1, 2, 3".

One thing I really like about these books are the format. Not page after page of dry technical data, but rather each page being one clear and practical explanation of one particular issue. As Kelby describes the approach...
"If you and I were out on a shoot, and you asked me, 'Hey, how do I get this flower to be in focus, but I want the background out of focus?' I wouldn't stand there and give you a lecture about aperture, exposure, and depth of field. In real life, I'd just say, 'Get out your telephoto lens, set your f/stop to f/2.8, focus on the flower, and fire away.' You would say, 'OK,' and you'd get the shot. That's what this book is all about. A book of you and I shooting, and I answer the questions, give you advice and share the secrets I've learned just like I would with a friend, without all the technical explanations and without all the techno-photo-speak."
Each of the three books contains over 200 of his "tricks of the trade", a good amount of information about different cameras and lens and filters and all sort of equipment..or as I like to think of them, "toys", and a great deal of practical advice and new ideas you will want to try out. A beginner or more advanced 'shooter' will both, without question, find a great deal of useful information in each volume, all presented in a very attractive and non-intimidating way..with a fair bit of humor. While he often give a good explanation of the theory behind a technique, the emphasis is on the practical, how to do a certain thing or get a certain effect.

While anyone interested in photography might be tempted to just go out and get the first volume, and that is a great book, I would really recommend you get all three nice paperbacks. This very nice boxed set would be something I would strongly recommend to anyone hoping to improve their picture taking skills.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

a review of "Exit Music" [28]

Exit Music by Ian Rankin
(Little, Brown and Company, ISBN 978-0-316-01887-6)

It seems that Detective Inspector John Rebus, the very popular protagonist of some 20 books by Rankin, is about to retire from the Edinburgh police department in just a little over a week. But he will not be sitting on his laurels in these last days. No, he and his partner, Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, are called to a crime scene of a man beaten to death in a small street, a man who turns out to be a rather well known Russian poet. Before you know it, Rebus finds himself in the midst of an investigation that includes Russian businessmen,  Scottish independence, crime bosses, Scottish bankers, politicians, and drugs.
As if that is not enough for one book, things get even more complicated when a second murder takes place, a man tied into the first investigation. To top it all off, one of Rebus's nemesis, the local crime boss Big Ger Cafferty, a man Rebus would love to take down before he retires, may be tied into the whole thing as well.

It is going to be a very busy week for Rebus.

As I said, this is the latest of many books in the Rebus series,  and I have not read any of the previous books in the series. But happily, it is not necessary to have done so to enjoy this one.
Now I will admit, not being familiar with the characters or the setting, it took a little while to get into the swing of the book. And even once you get into the book, I will warn you that it is complicated tale and it takes a bit of effort to keep the ins and outs of the various aspects of the plot all straight. But it is well worth the effort.

Rebus is a wonderful character, one that I will most certainly have to go back to the previous books to get to know better. He is a bit of a trouble maker in the force and many in power will not be unhappy to see him gone. He is a loner, enjoys his drink, has an interesting taste in music and a personal life we only get a hint of in this book. Now, there is some question whether Rankin will really retire him totally and the ending leaves open a few possibilities to see him in the future. But if he does, that leaves behind the also quite good character of Siobhan Clarke, someone who, one way or another, I hope we see again in the future as well as a few aspects of this story that could be wrapped up.

A very well written, if rather complex, police procedural, with some excellent characters, an interesting setting, strongly recommended for fans of police mysteries.

My thanks to Tutu's Two Cents, from whom I won a copy of this book.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Kathleen Lake, Kluane National Park, Yukon, Canada always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Babysitting Bandit Tuesday seems I was left a Bandit schedule. Didn't find that until our last day!

...and I don't think my "directions" included putting a sock on his head and seeing how long it took for him to get it off.... I thought it was funny.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Musing Monday...War and Peace and Books

It's Monday again...gosh they come let's check out this week's Musing Monday question..

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about the war books.

With yesterday being Anzac Day, I thought I’d ask a theme question this week. Are you a reader of war books? And if so, do you have any favourites?

Funny, when I thought about it, I can not think of any book, related to any war, that I have read. Ok, yes, I read The Dairy Of a Young Girl...about Anne Frank, when I was in school. But other than that, none. There may be, if I really thought about it, one or two set during a war, but really having anything to do with a war, no.

Is that a conscious decision. Well, I don't have any great interest on war as a subject, so yes, maybe it is. I am not really sure why. It is not the death and mayhem, it is not the evil, since I love murder mysteries, the creepier the better. So why?

I have said before that it is suggested that readers like mysteries because they like the battle of Good and Evil, where Good wins, the mystery is solved, the murderer caught and Order restored. I do think there is something to that suggestion. For me, it does not have to be all neatly wrapped up, all black and white, but I, like many readers, are not too happy with a book ends without the mystery being made clear.
War books, in a way, are the ultimate mystery not wrapped up. They are just to big, the motives too complicated, the moral of all the actions just too questionable. Looking at the Big Picture, they are never really completed, history showing us how one war leads into another..and another. War is simply the human condition, the worse motives and the attempts to defeat them. And there is never a complete solution.

I like my mysteries, my conflicts, smaller and, I will admit, more neatly tied up at the end.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Weekend Cooking... Drunken Chicken...On a Throne.

Ok, a bit of alcohol is involved in this recipe too, but let me assure you that Bandit did not drink any of it! ;-)

It is known by several name...Beer Butt Chicken, Chicken on a Throne and my personal favorite, Drunken Chicken. I don't know where I first heard of this recipe but it has become my favorite method of cooking a roast chicken. It is easy, it is tasty, all the fat drips off and it produces a lovely crispy skin. I also like that it is very adaptable. You can use it for wee little Cornish hens, smaller chickens, big roasters or even, although I have never tried it, a turkey. For a very little bird, you could use a smaller juice can, a normal 12 oz. for a small chicken and a big liter beer can for a big roaster or turkey. You can do it in the oven or, especially now that summer is on the way, you can do it or the grill.

Now, some folks who don't want to use beer, write about using soda or lemonade in the can, but from what I have read, there may be reasons, be it the alcohol or whatever, that the beer works better. But the choice is yours. The idea is that the liquid evaporates as the bird roasts, basting it from the inside and keeping it moist and juicy while allowing all the fat to drip off into the pan and letting the skin get nice and crispy.

The first thing you need to do is make the spice rub.

Start with a basic combination of salt, pepper and brown sugar and then let your imagination go from there. The brown sugar is really necessary to help the skin brown and crisp up and then you can take the rub in whatever flavor direction you like. Personally, I like some garlic, some smoky cumin, a little cayenne for a bit of heat...but you can add whatever you like.

Spice Rub

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Once you have the rub mixed, take about 1/3 and rub it inside the chicken. Then rub a little oil on the outside of the chicken and rub another 1/3 or a bit more on the outside. At this point, if you let the chicken sit for awhile in the frig, a couple of hours to even overnight, it is best, but you can ahead and cook it right away if time is an issue. The skin will still be great but the flavor will just not get into the chicken as well.

1 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) chicken
1 (12-ounce) can beer

When you are really to cook the chicken, take your can of beer, open it and remove about half the beer. I will leave it up to you what to do with that beer. :-) Using a can opener, poke a few more holes in the top of the can and pour the remaining spice rub in the can with the remaining beer. Now, take your poultry and slide it over the can, so the chicken is standing up and the can, along with the two legs, form a tripod. This can is a bit tall for the bird. Usually less of the can will be visible, but it will be fine.

Place the can/chicken, standing upright, in a foil lined pan and roast the chicken at 350 degrees until done, which was about 1 hour for a smaller 3-3 1/2 lb. chicken, up to 2-3 hours for a big roaster or longer for a turkey. An instant read thermometer is a cook's best friend. I will tell you from experience, it is hard to overcook and dry out the bird with this method.
Now, I will also admit it is a bit of an issue removing the can, now containing some boiling hot liquid, from the bird. It much easier with a helper, one to grab the can, one to grab the bird. But I can assure you it is doable alone, grabbing the hot can with a set of tongs and pulling the bird off with a fork.
Crispy, juicy...delicious.

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 22, 2010

a review of "Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy" [27]

Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser
Edited by William Irwin and Richard Brian Davis
(Wiley, ISBN 978-0-470-55836-2)

Certainly, Alice in Wonderland is a timeless, children's classic, right..or is it? Yes, I think it is, without question, a timeless classic but the question is whether is really is just a children's book. Personally, I always thought it was a bit too bizarre for many kids and is really one of those books perhaps best revisited as an adult. To quote the book's cover, in Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
"...introduces us to such oddities as a blue caterpillar who smoke a hookah, a cat whose grin remains after its head has faded away, and a White Queen who lives backward and remembers forward."
I know after reading this book of essays about the many questions of a philosophical nature that can be explored as they relate to Alice, I need to take another look at the original.

For example, have you ever though of little Alice as a feminist icon? Well if not, perhaps you should, as one of the 14 essays in the book, this one by Megan Lloyd, suggests.
"By rejecting daisy chains and following white rabbits, assertive Alice already sees the possibility in the real world she occupies. Alice offers another world for young women, one that need not be dull. Hers is a reality where women author their own tales, work out their own problems, expect the extraordinary, and speak their minds. Faced with continuing mistreatment and stereotypical expectations, today's young woman do well to ask themselves, what would Alice do?"
You can take a deeper look at Alice and her adventures, while at the same time learning a bit about some of the Big Questions. A number of your big name thinkers make an appearance, from Plato and Socrates to Kant and Nietzsche, but don't be too concerned if you eyes glaze over a bit when you hear those names. A number of big philosophical topics from logic, inductive reasoning and the meaning of language are explored as they relate to Wonderland, but again, fear not. Most of these essays are written in a clear, easily accessible way and you can ignore the endnotes if you wish. I admit, I wished. Also, a number of the essays are quite funny, my personal favorite being Mark White's "Jam Yesterday, Jam Tomorrow, But Never Jam Today: On Procrastination, Hiking, and...The Spice Girls?" As an admitted procrastinator, I think this one in particular spoke to me.

This book is part of the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series, a series of more than 20 books that has taken on subjects such as Battlestar Galactica, South Park, 24 and one I really need to check out, Mad Men, as they relate to a variety of philosophical issues. As they say on their site at , maybe a little sugar of the popular subjects make the medicine of a little deeper thinking go down easier...."the unexamined life is not worth living and the unexamined sitcom is not worth watching."

In large part, an entertaining book, part of an intriguing series and certainly a must read for any serious fans of Alice in Wonderland.

My thanks to FSB Associates for my copy of this book

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Stephen Creek, Estell Manor, NJ

Stephen Creek

Two, of Many, Canadian Geese

Four Black Swans at Low Tide

Floating Dock at Sunset always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bandit Writes a Letter To His Mom.

Dear Mom,

I know that while you are off in tropical places, frolicking in the ocean and such, you are still very worried about me, your dear little Bandit Baby.

So Auntie Caite thought I should drop you a line and tell you I am fine. I am eating, and playing in the grass, and having fun with my toys.

I miss you a whole lot and I hope you will be home soon. With a new toy for me!


P.S. Auntie Caite says I am her puppy now!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Musing Monday... Best Books/Big Screen

Let's go over to Just One More Page and check out the results of last weeks "Best Books" question and see how my five choices made out.
Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about the ‘best’ books'.

Last week I had you all to suggest your top 5 books – and I was surprised by just how different all your choices were! There’s no real question this week, except to look over the list and consider it. Do you agree with the choices? Is it more worthy of a “Best Book” title?

To Kill a Mockingbird- Harper Lee (6)
Pride and Prejudice- Jane Austen (3)
The Chronicles of Narnia- Lewis, C.S. (3)
The Time Traveler's Wife- Audrey Niffenegger (3)
Harry Potter (series)- J.K. Rowling (3)
The Book Thief- Markus Zusak (3)
Little Women- Louisa May Alcott (2)
Hunger Games (series)- Suzanne Collins (2)
The Shining- Stephen King (2)
Anne of Green Gables- L.M. Montgomery (2)
Lord of the Rings- J.R.R. Tolkien (2)

These are the books that got more than one vote, followed by a very long list of books that got only one pick. As Rebecca says, a surprisingly long list. Many of which, I must say, I have never heard of. Which I also found surprising.

Well, I do agree in that 2 of my 5 picks made the multiple list, Mockingbird and LoTR. And I would agree that several of the others should be on any best list. Pride and Prejudice..Narnia...Little Women. But I must say I have my doubts about a few too. Harry Potter for example.

Now I know many of you love this series. I am very happy that this is a series that brought the joy of reading to many young people, hopefully a love that will continue on for their lifetime. But one of the best books of all time? I read the first one. I did not really think it was that great. Ok, not my cup of tea but more than that, I did not think it was that well written. Popular...without doubt. Best...I think not.

Then we have the Hunger Game series. Now, unlike the Potter books, I love these books. Very entertaining, yes, but best of all, I can't say they are. Granted, these are all subjective judgments, as I think all these list are. But I think to make the best category, a book have to be more than entertaining. It has to have a certain timeless quality that I am not sure some of these books have. And without question, it has to be very well written, a quality I think a few of these books lack. But I will not be more specific, for fear of stoning.
Fans can be vicious.

I had another thought while thinking about the 'best' books again and that is how these great books translate into movies. Can a movie every capture that "greatness"?
It is a fearful thing when I hear that a book I love will be made into a movie. Very often it will be screwed up. But...sometimes, just sometimes, it happens. A great book becomes a great movie.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a perfect example. A wonderful movie. So good that, in my mind, I can not think of the book without thinking of the characters as portrayed in the film. Lord of The Rings is another case where I think the movie did the book justice. Extreme fans of the book have a few issues with the movie, I know, but I think it was a great movie, very faithful to the books in large. No easy task with a book as big, in so many ways, as Lord of The Rings.

But it is not always so easy. To take one example for the list above, how many film and TV versions of Pride and Prejudice have there been? Some good, some not so good, but at least in my opinion, none definitive. Not that it keeps the movie folk from trying again...and again... and again...
But on the other hand, you have a book like one of my top five favorites, Death Comes For The Archbishop. For whatever reason, no one has ever attempted a film version, which I think is a terrible shame. Yes, they might screw it up, but I would love to see the attempt.

Do you have a favorite book, a book you consider one of the 'best' that has been make into a great..or not so Or one that is still waiting, crying out for the Big Screen?

Friday, April 16, 2010

a review of "The Northern Exposure Cookbook" [26]

The Northern Exposure Cookbook: A Community Cookbook from the Heart of the Alaskan Riviera by Ellis Weiner
(Contemporary Books, ISBN 0-8092-3760-1)

A funny thing happen yesterday. I had posted a book review, a review of a rather creepy mystery. But if you look at the comments for that post, you will see that two of them are about this book, a collection of recipes from the wonderful, timeless TV series, Northern Exposure. See, I have that little Library Thing widgit that shows the books in my library on a certain rotation and it seems it was this book's time to shine. So, I thought I would take a look at it, something I admit I have not done in a long time. And that is a shame, because it is a nice book, especially if you are a fan of this show.

The book is set up as a fundraiser for the town of Cicely, to get enough money to raise a monument to the two women that really founded the town as we know it, Cicely and her beloved companion, Roslyn. The book is, of course, edited by Ruth-Ann with Maurice watching over her shoulder.

There are a wide variety of recipes, submitted by all your favorite NE folks, from Chris's Griddle Cakes, to Joel's Jell-o Surprise, with some stops along the way for the serious and not so serious. On the one hand you have Adam's Walnut Toast with Warm Goat Cheese and Pirozhki, Russian Meat Pies...on the other hand, you have Marilyn's Seasoned Potatoes, which consist of boiled potatoes. And salt.
But of course, for fans of the show, the best part may be introductions to each recipe by the 'character' that is submitting it and all the photos and stories and the wonderful indexes that allow you to search recipes by characters. I also loved the episode guide that reminds you, at least those with better memories that me, what episode the dishes came from.

Now I must admit that I have not made any of the least not that I can remember...but the reviews on Amazon and Abe's, all very good reviews, say the recipes are actually very good.
We will have to see about that.
In the meantime, I will share one that sounds easy and tasty, from the memorable and very odd Adam.

Adam's Cumin Noodles

(comments from Ruth Ann) Now this is wonderful. Don't tell Adam, but I went home and made this with just plain old linguine, and it was divine. It might be even better with Chinese water noodles, whatever they are. But it doesn't have to be.

This is the dish I taught that quack Fleischman when he shattered my solitude and dragged me back to this...this obscene riot of mass delusion that we're all agreeing to call contemporary civilization...Yes, I taught him to cook this recipe in my shack, are you deaf? What do you mean "I don't have to?" You see all this, Miller? You note that I'm standing here within reaching distance of this cleaver? How sharp do you think I keep my cutlery?

1/2 pound fresh Chinese water noodles
2 TBS. vegetable oil
1/2 pound boneless chicken breast, thinly sliced
1 TBS. soy sauce
1 TBS. sesame oil
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 cup homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth
2 green onions, cut into 1-inch pieces

1- Fill a 3 qt. saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add noodles, bring back to a boil, reduce heat top medium and cook for 5 minutes. Drain noodles in a colander and rinse under running water.

2- Heat oil in wok or medium sized frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add drained and rinsed noodles and all remaining ingredients. Raise heat to high and cook another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Serve immediately.

Makes 4-6 servings

Whether the recipes are any good, and many do sound good, I just love the comments and conversations! And all the great memories of the show it reminded me of.
I do warn you that this is not by any means a new book. It was published in 1993, but it seems there are a fair numbers of used copies available out there on the internet if you want to grab one. And if you are a Northern Exposure fan, you must..

"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.

a review of "The Water's Edge" [25]

The Water's Edge by Karin Fossum
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, IsBN 978-0-15-101421-7)

A young married couple are out in a secluded woods, on the edge of a lake, for their routine Sunday afternoon walk. As they are leaving the area where they have parked their car, they pass a rather suspicious looking man but don't think a great deal of it. That is until they find the dead body of a missing eight year boy, carefully placed by a tree, naked from the waist down. A horrible crime, made all the more awful for the wife of the couple when, as they wait for the police to arrive, her husband starts taking pictures of the boy with his cell phone camera. The cracks that have started to form in their marriage begin to widen at a very fast pace from that moment.

Inspector Konrad Sejer and his partner, Jacob Skarre, arrive to begin the investigation, which takes on an even more desperate tone when another young boy disappears and they fear a serial killer may be lurking in their seemingly peaceful, bucolic Norwegian community. The surface may be very calm, very polite, but there is a great deal of ugliness lurking just below the surface and we are privy to a view of it as the investigation continues. We see some of the turmoil of the Ris's marriage, the couple that found the body. We see the boy's mother being torn apart by the horrible death of her sweet son, and watch as another mother faces the fact of her missing son in a very different way. We see how the sins of the parents may one day visit their children. We listen as the policemen, perhaps to a degree that might be a bit annoying, wax philosophically about murder and crime and evil...and then we even see how pitiful that evil is as we explore the very thoughts of the murderer himself. Ms. Fossum, who is often referred to as Norway's "Queen of Crime", treats us to a healthy dose of clues, a few red herrings and a truly surprising twist at the end. All in all, the result is a very good, if not perfect book, a quite entertaining psychological mystery. And she does it all in a very sharp, clean, tightly written book. It is a book that was a pleasure to read, in contract to one too many books I have stumbled across recently that could have benefited from a good deal of editing. There are few wasted words in Fossum's books I think...and that can be a fine thing.

This is the first of Fossum's books that I have read, even if it is one of six of the Inspector Sejer mysteries that have been translated into English. Now I suspect that I will be forced to go back to the beginning of this series and explore the rest. I also suspect it will be an entertaining task, and I look forward to getting to know the good Inspector Sejer better.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

a review of "Nana Cracks the Case" [24]

Nana Cracks the Case by Kathleen Lane, illustrated by Sarah Horne
(Chronicle Books, ISBN-13: 978-0811862585)

Now, I must admit this is not my usual fare, since the reading age recommendation for this book is 4-8 and on most day, I am a bit beyond that. But I must say when I saw this one offered on Amazon Vine, I was taken with the idea of a mystery for young kids and wanted to check out this rather unusual grandmother.

Yes, Nana does not want to be the typical grandmother, losing her memory and napping the day away.
No, this grandmother is a bit unusual, getting jobs as a backhoe operator, or a circus performer or, as we read in this book, a detective. It may be because no one else applied for the job, but still she got it, and has the many wigs that every good detective needs and she is very sneaky, as the job ad requires, and is soon on the case of the missing Yumdums.
And before we know it, her two troublemaking grandkids, having broken out of the house where their mom left them while she went to work, are right there lending their own expertise to the hunt of the Great Yumdum Thief. Who would know candy better than these two and who better to help their grandmom than the only people who share the knowledge of her secret activities?

Now, some may objects to the behavior of the children, disobeying their mom and stealing money for candy from her, among some other naughty things. And it is not beyond understanding why her daughter does not want Nama to babysit because, as interesting as she may be, she does seem to forget a lot of things, like where she is going. But still, all in all it is a fun book. And I can see how kids would find some of these behaviors very funny and on a more serious note, parents could use them as the jumping off point for some discussion.

The illustrations are great and let me just say, I totally loved the reversible cover. Be sure not to miss it! So useful if you are trying to fool some nosy people. Now I might have liked it even more if at least some of the illustrations were in my mind, this is a book crying out for color. And it may also be crying out as a book that needs to be a series. I can see Nana and her grandchildren getting into a lot of fun misadventures, carrying on well into the future!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Self Portrait on the Boardwalk

A photo I took one day, very early in the morning, on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. And I am in it. Can you find me? always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Bandit Tuesday.."Leaving on a Jet Plane..."... Not!

Poor Bandit. It seems that several of His People are leaving for a week in a tropical destination, but Bandit will not be going. And neither am I Bandit, so it will be just you and me next week!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Musing Monday...The Best Books

What would I do without Musing Monday to let me know that it is the start of another week? Happily, we don't have to find out.
So let's wander over to Just One More Page and see what interesting question Rebecca has for us this week...

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about the ‘best’ books'.

There’s been some discussion on my blog this week about what should or shouldn’t make a ‘best' books’ list. What elements do you think lands a book in that ‘best’ category? Think of your top 5 best books and tune in next week to see the collated list.

Oh, this may take some thought...
I admit I like these "Best Books" lists. I don't always agree with them, but I still like them. I think they make for some interesting discussion. Now I must also admit, if the Da Vinci Code or the Twilight books or Harry Potter are on the list, I just disregard it. No doubt some fans are raising their voices in protest but come on folks...they may have sold a lot of copies and they may be popular, and they may be fun, but the Best Books of all time...please. Let's be honest, my dear reader. Sometimes we just like to read something that is a little junky or a little trashy or a little mindless, but just because a lot of us did that, does not make it "great".

What makes a book one of the best? Well, it must be well written, it must have great characters, an engaging plot and, maybe most of all, a timeless element. It must be a book that can speak to people today, a hundred years ago and a hundred years from now. It is a book that can speak to us on several levels, that has an element that is addressed to each of us, that we recognize regardless of our race or gender or age or nationality. It is a book that stands the test of time.
But I think perhaps that there is no perfect, objective criteria. In large part, it is a very subjective choice.

But what the hay, I will give it a go. As an aid, I will consider an imaginary scenario. Someone, an All Powerful Figure, comes to me and informs me that I am to be spirited away to some distant place and can take with me only 5 books to read. Those are the only books I will have for the year, so they better be books I will want to read again and again. Now I might be tempted to take very big books, or books I have never read, but that would be a dangerous choice I think. No, I will go with some of what I think are the very best. This is a hard choice and another day I might pick another 5, but The All Powerful Figure will not wait, so here we go.

For this exercise, I will stick to fiction...and I will not included the Bible, although if I only could take one book, that would be it.
  • Lord of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien- Long and great. It has it all.
  • Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather- I was tempted by my other Cather fav, My Antonia, but the Bishop Wins out.
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh- A classic story of love and family and faith...and some great dysfunctional characters.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- Simply a great story, great characters. The image of Gregory Peck in the movie will comfort me too.
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer- For something a little different. Another books that has it all..I laughed, I cried...I could read it over and over. And it sounds great read aloud, which may keep me company.
Ok, there are some off the top of my head. If I think about it more, I might change my mind, but the All Powerful Figure is waiting and I must grab them, so no time for too much thought. I would love to throw in a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare and maybe the Complete Sherlock Holmes if the APF does not notice...

But I am curious what you, my dear readers, might pick. 
Any of the 5 you agree with, any you totally hate?
Do tell!

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Congrads to our two lucky winner of a copy of One Amazing Thing....

drumroll please...

as chosen by the always random

Marjorie and

Debbie F.!

An e-mail will be on the way for your mailing information and then the books will be traveling just as fast as the USPS can.  Feel free to inset your own postal joke here.

Weekend Cooking...A Story About the Best Dessert in the World

My post, which ultimately will get to a recipe for the very best dessert I have ever had, starts with a story. Hopefully, you will enjoy one or the other.
Some years ago, I went on a spur of the moment trip to Ireland alone. I had a week or two off, no plans and before I knew it, I had an airplane ticket, a car rental and no plan at all for where to go.

I left Shannon airport and headed south, to the very beautiful southwest and southern coast of Ireland. Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, Kinsale and of course, a trip to the Dingle Peninsula. As to Dingle, I arrived well into the day, got a hotel room in town and set out by car to drive out along the beautiful coast and visit the fascinating Gallarus Oratory. But leaving, as the sun was starting to set, and trying to find my way back to town, I got lost. I admit I have a bad sense of direction. Not a house or a person in sight and, all alone, I was a bit concerned. Nowhere can get as dark as the Irish countryside..
Happily, after driving over many a hill and around many a dale, I came upon a small settlement. A few houses, a tavern and...thank goodness..a thriving restaurant. A lovely little spot where I had a wonderful meal (as I remember, fresh scallops, the roe still attached as the Irish do) and was able to get some directions to town.

The next day, after the adventure of the evening before, I decided to stay in town and explore. As sometimes happen in Ireland, after a few hours, a soft mist started to fall (translate...pouring rain) and so, now chilly, damp and hungry, I happened upon a cozy looking restaurant, The Beginish. Another great meal ensued. There was a delicious seafood chowder, an entree I can't remember and then it came time for dessert. Would I have dessert they asked? Yes, I would, thank you, and ordered the oddly named Sticky Toffee Pudding, something I had never had before. Now pudding to the Irish can mean any number of types of dessert and this was in fact a cake of sorts. A warm, extremely moist dark cake, seemingly soaked with caramel and topped with a softly whipped cream.
It was wonderful, without doubt, the very best dessert I have ever had. Ever.

The least I think it is funny...conclusion to the story. Years later, I was taking to my brother and somehow the topic of desserts came up. At the same time we both said, "The best dessert I have ever had was the sticky toffee pudding at the Beginish in Dingle". One little dessert, in one little restaurant, in the small town of Dingle, thousand of miles away and years apart.

So, the recipe. If you Google Sticky Toffee Pudding you will, in fact, find a number of references to this dessert and the recipe from the Beginish, that was printed in Bon Appétit some time ago. Sadly it seems that The Beginish no longer exists, but happily the recipe does.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

* 8 ounces dates, finely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups packed)
* 1 cup boiling water
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
* 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
* 4 large eggs
* 1 3/4 cups self-rising flour
* 2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* Powdered sugar
* Whipped cream
* Caramel Sauce

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter parchment. Place chopped dates in small bowl. Pour 1 cup boiling water over dates and let cool, about 1 hour.
Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl to blend. Add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add half of flour and beat to blend. Add remaining 2 eggs, 1 at a time, beating to blend after each addition. Add remaining flour and beat until blended. Combine instant coffee and baking soda in small bowl. Pour into date mixture, stirring to dissolve coffee granules. Add date mixture to batter and beat to blend. Pour batter into prepared pan. Place on rimmed baking sheet and bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

FYI..I bake mine in individual tart pans, for about 25 minutes, until a tester came out clean. DO NOT over baked or they will not be moist. Served with ice cream and a bit of a crushed Skor bar, an idea I read in a comment on the recipe site. 
Then, since I was alone, I was forced to eat it. 
Oddly, it does not taste of the coffee..or the dates. It tastes of extreme yummy-ness. 

Cool pudding until just warm. Unmold; sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges, top with warm caramel sauce and serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Caramel Sauce

* 2 cups whipping cream
* 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
* 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Bring cream, brown sugar and butter to boil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer sauce until reduced to 1 3/4 cups, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Before using, rewarm over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.)

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.