Monday, May 31, 2010

Musing Monday...Is it snowing yet?

You may have noticed that Musing Monday was missing last week. Well, it seems Rebecca at Just One More Page has RL intruding on her time and can no longer host. So while we thank her for her service...{{insert applause}}...happily the meme has moved back to it's previous hosting blog at Should be Reading. So let's check out this week's question...

Do you ever read a word or phrase that sparks a specific place or setting in your mind and makes you crave to read a book with that type of place/setting in it?

As I sit here on this sunny, warm Memorial Day, I realize I am unusual. I hate the heat. I dislike summer. I am not that fond of the sun. A bright sunny day does not make me happy. In real life or in my books.
But set a book on a foggy, gray coast or in a snowstorm or in a damp, drizzling rain and I am there!

It happen just recently. Someone, a commentator on my blog, asked if I had read a book and thought I might like it. So I went off to Amazon or Library Thing to read what the book was about and there was mention of coastlines and the ocean and lighthouses...and you know I have to read it. If they had added cold, rain and a snowstorm and I would have paid for express shipping. Fog, rain, snow, coast, lighthouse, boats, crashing waves are all words that can provoke interest in a book for me.
Well, that and a serial killer.

Yes, part of it is personal preferences. I like those things myself and so I find books with those settings somehow comforting. But it is more than that. I like mysteries, suspense...thrillers, and atmospheric settings like that suit a good mystery. Dark, evil things can lurk in the fog easier than in the bright sun. But it is more than that. In my mind, any book, in just about any genre, is well served by being set in a place where the characters need a waterproof coat and mittens.

Yes, OK, it is not necessary and I have read many, many very good books set in far different places. And it is not a guarantee of success. I am sure I have read books set in a place like that which I did not enjoy, although I can't think of one at the moment. But I will admit that a setting like I describe predisposes me to go to that happy, comfy place in my mind where all books are wonderful.

If I am browsing, whether online or in a 'real' bookstore, and I see any of those words in the cover description, it is going to get a second, closer look and I can start to feel myself starting that journey to the place that an enjoyable book takes me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Weekend Cooking...Icebox Strawberry Pie

If you have noticed all the lovely strawberries at the supermarket or local produce stands recently...or if, even better, you grow your own...perhaps you are looking for a tasty, easy recipe. So here, from my friends at Cooks Illustrated, is a recipe for a Strawberry Pie, a pie that, as they say, "lives up to its looks", with a big berry taste. It combine both frozen and fresh strawberries, an ideal combination, each adding their own strengths. And they top it off with just not ordinary whipped cream...which is a very nice thing...but with a slightly tangy topping that contains both a bit of cream cheese and heavy cream.

Icebox Strawberry Pie

In step 1, it is imperative that the cooked strawberry mixture measures 2 cups; any more and the filling will be loose. If your fresh berries aren’t fully ripe, you may want to add extra sugar to taste in step 2. Use your favorite pie dough. Chill the heavy cream in step 4 to help it whip more quickly.

Fresh and cooked berries
  • 2 pounds frozen strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced thin
  • 1 (9-inch) pie shell, baked and cooled {ok, I used one of those nice easy roll out crusts}}

Pre-baked crust and berries
  • 4 ounces cream cheese , softened
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream
1. COOK FROZEN BERRIES- Cook frozen berries in large saucepan over medium-low heat until berries begin to release juice, about 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until thick and jamlike, about 25 minutes (mixture should measure 2 cups). {{note- it took 35 minutes for mine to reach that just keep it cooking}}

2. ADD GELATIN- Combine lemon juice, water, and gelatin in small bowl. Let stand until gelatin is softened and mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir gelatin mixture, sugar, and salt into cooked berry mixture and return to simmer, about 2 minutes. Transfer to bowl and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
Cream and cream cheese

3. ADD FRESH BERRIES- Fold fresh berries into filling. Spread evenly in pie shell and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours. (Filled pie can be refrigerated for 24 hours.)

4. MAKE TOPPING With electric mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until smooth, about 30 seconds. With mixer running, add cream and whip until stiff peaks form, about
2 minutes. Serve pie with whipped cream topping.

I felt that for you, my dear readers, I had to test this recipe. I only did it for you.
On the negative side, mine did not jell quite as much as I would have wished, which is why there is not a beautiful picture of a slice. I would consider adding an additional 1/2 TBS. of gelatin. However, I don't think it affected the taste one tiny bit and the taste was totally yummy. If you like strawberries, you will like this. Come over for a slightly misshapen slice.

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, May 28, 2010

a review of "Death in Blue Folders" [39]

Death in Blue Folders: A Sigrid Harald Mystery
by Margaret Maron
(Bantam Books, ISBN 0-553-29498-9)

From the books cover...
“A small caliber slug sends a prominent lawyer into permanent retirement amid a bonfire of blackmail papers- but the “respectable” practice hid a capricious, greed-driven attorney with more than one habeas corpus in the closet. Sigrid Harald finds a filing cabinet full of suspects brimming with motive...a snug 30's literatus with a wicked past and a pile of bills...a long-dead movie star...the drug addict who kidnapped a baby to replace a dead one...and a Cinderella story with a different twist...

Now Sigrid must wade through a flurry of forged documents, trust funds, and contested annuities to find the one missing file...the one marked “M” for murder.”
You will forgive me for the the book's own description, but rarely do I see someone who likes using “...” more than I do, so I had to.

I have only read one other book by Maron, Sand Sharks, which is one of the books in her Deborah Knott series set in North Carolina, and I must say that this book was so different in tone and feel that it was difficult to remember it was written by the same author. This time the series is set in NYC...which is a good thing... and our protagonist is police detective Sigrid Harald. A lawyer has been killed and the killer left behind a pile of half burned file, the blue files of the title. It seems he was doing a nasty little side business in blackmail, so there is no shortage of interesting suspects.

As to my comment about the tone of this book. This book was published in 1985, the third in this series...and it feels like it, which is not necessarily a great thing. Maron's style in this book seems much smaller, more quiet, less descriptive, almost a little dark somehow. On the plus side, Sigrid is an interesting character, even if we do not learn a great deal about her in this book, and as I said, I am always a fan of books set in NYC. The whole little sub-plot about her difficulties finding a new apartment in the city was quite nice.
Bottom line, a nice solid little mystery, well written, pretty interesting if not outstanding among books in the genre.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

a review of "The Indian Bride" [38]

The Indian Bride: An Inspector Sejer Mystery
by Karin Fossum
(Harcourt, ISBN 978-0-15-101182-7)

It is not very often when a mystery book begins with a love story, but The Indian Bride is an exception. Gunder Jomann is a rather dull, lonely, middle aged bachelor, a tractor salesman who live, quite comfortably, in the little Norwegian town of Elvestad. But at night, he looks at the photograph in a magazine of an exotic Indian woman, dressed in a beautiful sari, and dreams that maybe he could find someone. When he suddenly packs his bags, takes his vacation and flies to India to look for a bride, every one who knows him is surprised. When he returns home and tells people that he actually met someone, the waitress in a restaurant he frequented every day he was there, proposed and married her, they are amazed. He returns home to Norway to prepare things for Poona's arrival in a few weeks and his happiness and anticipation are touching.
But this is a murder mystery, so we know things are not going to turn out well.

On the day he is scheduled to pick her up at the airport, his married sister, with whom he is very close, is in a terrible car accident and hovers on the brink of death. Unable to locate her husband, he decides he can't leave her alone in the hospital and sends the town taxi driver to meet his bride. But the taxi driver says she never answered his page at the airport and returns to town without her. When she is not at his house when he makes it home the next morning, poor Gunder is beside himself when worry. When the brutally beaten body of an exotic looking woman is found in a field just a mile from his house, he knows that the worst has happen and Fossum's description of Gunder loss is simply heartbreaking.

Inspector Konrad Sejer arrives to investigate the horrible murder, a murder the residents of Elvestad can not believe anyone in there quiet little town could have committed. But Sejer has seen all to often the terrible things people can do to each other and as he begins his investigation, it seems many of the villagers have secrets they would prefer to remain unknown and reason to feel guilty.
“Whenever he caught a guilty person and obtained a genuine confession, he could close the case and file it. This time he was not so sure. Not only had the woman been killed, she had been beaten to a pulp. To kill was in itself extreme. To destroy a body afterward was bestial. He held many and frequently contradicting views about the concept of crime; primarily he was concerned with all the things they had yet to discover.”
Sejer is a rather odd policeman. As he says at one point, he hates “the ruthlessness of it, digging into other people's lives”, a rather different point of view for a detective. But dig he does, each in their turn, and it is soon believable that everyone connect to this case could be the murderer.

There are many things I love about Fossum's books. Her style is very clean and precise, without a lot of extra, unnecessary story. Her characters, the feeling of this small town are so wonderfully painted and rarely have I read an author who can so well express the reactions of the victims of a crime. As I said earlier, we the reader are heartbroken for Gunder and Poona, so close to finding happiness, even as we try to figure out who could have done this horrible thing and why they did it. This is a psychological mystery at it's best.

Now I will warn you about one thing. If you are a reader of mysteries where everything must be neatly wrapped up, all black and white, this book may upset you.
“You want the loose ends neatly tied at the end, “ Sejer said. “You want every last piece of the jigsaw in place. Because people are like that. Reality is different.”
No, this is not so easy a book....and to my mind the book is better for it, rising a bit above some of the more typical examples of the genre.

Strongly recommenced for fans of psychological mystery, police procedural and Scandinavian mysteries.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Lubec, Maine always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bandit Tuesday..Under the Bed.

Hiding? I'm not hiding under here...I'm....resting! Yep, just resting.
And I had nothing to do with that hole over there. Nothing at all!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Weekend Cooking...a review of "The Fishes and Dishes Cookbook" [37]

The Fishes and Dishes Cookbook: Seafood Recipes and Salty Stories from Alaska's Commercial Fisherwomen by Kiyo Marsh, Tomi March and Laura Cooper.
(Epicenter Press, ISBN 978-1-935347-07-1)

In recent months, I have neglected my posts about lighthouses and the sea, but now that summer is coming, we will have to grab our slickers and Xtratuf boots and pull up our

There is something so dramatic, so compelling, about the sea and the stories of those who go out to do battle with her, putting their very lives at risk to put food on our tables. Of course, I am an avid fan of the Deadliest Catch and I can never look at King Crab legs the same way again. But if you have ever watched that show, you might be under the impression that fishing in Alaska is a male only occupation. I think I saw one captain whose wife worked on their boat as the cook and another where the daughter of a captain worked as a deckhand. But women seem few and far between. I am not sure how many woman are involved in the fishing industry in Alaska, but this delightful book, Fishes and Dishes, as well at giving us 80 delicious seafood recipes, some beautiful photographs, and charming illustrations by one of the authors, gives the reader about 30 short essays..and a couple of haikus ..that are, as the title say, “Salty Stories from Alaska's Commercial Fisherwomen”.

There are stories about how Captain Tomi Marsh first bought her boat, the F/V Savage in Brooklyn NY, how she hired her sister Kiyo to work for her one summer, a summer that turned into five years as deckhand and cook, crabbing in the Bering Sea, longline fishing for cod and halibut and tendering salmon. There are stories of love found at sea, fighting 30 foot seas in their little 78 foot boat, and how a small black cat, who oddly shared the name of my imaginary Kitty, came to take up residence on the Savage. One thing they all have in common is giving a little perspective on a group of adventurous women working in the male-dominated fishing industry in Alaska, a “rugged environment, filled with the beauty and stunning fury that is Mother Nature...nothing if not invigorating.”

And I did mention the many beautiful photos and drawings, didn't I?

But best of all perhaps are all the wonderful sounding recipes, many with a Pan-Asian flavor.
There are items for breakfast and brunch like Sweet Corn Cakes with Shrimp, Crab Foo Young with Garvy and a Crab, Bacon and Asparagus Frittata. The Jade Dumpling sound delicious and being a great fan of clams, I will have to soon try the Sake Steamed Clams, with sake, ginger and soy. There are salads like Shrimp and Orzo Salad with pesto, Roasted Tomatoes and Snow Peas, soups like Thai Clam Chowder and Catch of the Day Main Courses like Mizo-Glazed Black Cod and Seafood Enchiladas. They even throw in a chapter on Libations like the Ancient Mariner and a Sea Breeze and an essay on how to pair wine and fish.

There is an introductory chapter on basic seafood preparation like how to debone a fish and debeard mussels which many who are a little scared of cooking seafood will find helpful and an explanation of some more unusual ingredients. Most of the seafood used in the recipes...and the authors would certainly suggest we buy Wild Alaskan and substantially fished seafood...are things most of us have access to, with the exception perhaps of a recipe or two for halibut cheeks and geoduck. No, the only place I have ever seen geoduck was on the TV show Dirty Jobs, another favorite.

This is a very nice book that I would recommend not only as a very nice cookbook but also an attractive and entertaining book about fisherwomen in Alaska.
For those who might like to take a little peak at the book before you buy it, there is a nice web site for it that allows you to look at some of the pages. Just click on the little [Peek Inside] under the picture of the book cover.
I will leave you with one recipe from the book. Bacon, cream, mussels, can that be bad?

Linguine with Mussels and Cider, Bacon, and Shallot Cream Sauce

This luscious dish strikes all the right notes for a cool fall evening. Plump mussels, smoky bacon, and spicy apple cider coat pasta for a toothsome dish.
3 slices smoky bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1/2 cup apple cider, or apple juice
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 pound mussels, debearded
1 pound linguine

Chopped fresh Italian parsley, for garnish
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the bacon and shallot until the bacon is crisp and the shallot is soft. Add the apple cider to the pan, and deglaze, scraping up the flavorful brown bits. Lower the heat to low, add the cream, and simmer the sauce until reduced by half.
While the sauce is reducing, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on high heat.
Add the mussels to the simmering cream sauce and cover the skillet, and steam the mussels for about 5 to 10 minutes.
While the mussels are steaming, add the pasta to the pot of boiling water. Decrease the heat to medium-high, and cook the pasta until just done. Drain the pasta but do not rinse.
After the mussels are cooked and open, discard any that have not opened. Remove the mussels to a separate bowl and keep warm.
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and mix to coat. Place the pasta and sauce in individual bowls, place the steamed mussels on top and garnish with parsley.
Makes 4 servings.

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, May 21, 2010

a review of "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest" [36]

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
(Knopf, ISBN-13: 978-0307269997)

Along with many fans of the first two books in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy, I have awaited the final book in the series with a bit of trepidation. As you may know, Larsson died of a massive heart attack after the completion of this third book, at the age of 50. But had he lived, it seems that he planned to write perhaps as many as 10 books and it is believed that there exist as much as 3/4 of a fourth books and parts of a fifth and sixth.
So where, we fans wondered, would this third book leave us? Would there be another cliffhanger, like the one that ended the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire? Would questions be left unanswered, loose ends dangling, never to be tied up? Would we ever know why Lisbeth Salander has such a fondness for those frozen pizzas?

Well, fear not. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest is a very worthy successor to the previous two books, and oddly, since he had no idea it would be his last book, a very good conclusion to the story of Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist. A darn good story with a riveting ending.

Now, if you are not familiar with these three books, I will warn you, do not try to start with this one. You will be hopelessly confused. No, in essence, these three books are really just one very large, very complicated story and you must start at the beginning with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Even then, I do not guarantee that you will not be a bit confused at times. The Swedish names, the Swedish places, are hard to keep straight for an English speaker. In fact, I know people that kept a list while reading to go back and consult. And this is a complicated story, this volume maybe even more so than the previous two. The wonder is, that even with these issues, these are three excellent books, real turn pagers, with perhaps one of the most unique and intriguing characters an author has ever created.
Yes, really these books are all about Lizbeth Salander.

In the first book we were introduced to her. Small, slight, often mistaken for a teenager, with dyed black hair and multiple piercings..and of course that tattoo.
She lives almost completely off the grid, is extremely anti-social, but also extremely intelligent, with a photographic memory, unsurpassed in her computer skills, making her living..and seeking her revenge...largely through her hacking skills. Oh yes, she is a young woman who has been terribly wronged and abused, as we learn in the second book, and she is after those responsible.

We left her at the end of that book with a bullet in her head and buried alive, at the hands of the evil Alexander Zalachenko, who himself ended up with an axe in his face. Well, while not giving away too much, they both survived, gravely wounded. But that is not Lizbeth's only problem. She is still considered to be responsible for three murders and the assault on Zalachenko, and if some very powerful people at the very heart of the Swedish government have their way, she will never be free to tell her story. In fact, they might prefer if she just disappeared completely. So while it is against her very nature, Lizbeth will be forced to trust a small band of people, led of course, by the crusading Blomkvist, who will try to get to the heart of this decades old conspiracy. It is a conspiracy whose tentacles reach to the highest places in the government, but if they fail, Lizabeth may never be free again and those responsible may never be brought to justice.

As I said, this is a big...almost 600 pages...and complex story, with perhaps a more detailed explanation of the Swedish government and it's history since WWII than I might have liked. There are also a number of sub-plots in the book, including a new, unexpected love interest for Mikael and the introduction of new characters, especially Mikael's sister Annika Giannini, Lizbeth excellent defense attorney. In these three books we have seen Nazis and serial killers, corporate corruption and secret government plots, mobsters and human trafficking, any number of confusing Swedish names that might make you think it is just a bit too over the top. And yet, somehow Larsson makes it all work and has been able to keep us on the edge of our seats, keep us turning those pages and rewarding us with a great tale. Happily in this volume, he has created another great chapter in Lizbeth's story, with a quite satisfying ending.
A very highly recommended book in a very highly recommended series.

My thanks to Amazon Vine for an ARC of this book.
The rest of you will have to waits a few days to get your hands on it, since the book will be published in the US on May 25.

...and now, for your entertainment, the trailer from the Swedish movie of the book.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

a review of "Broken" [35]

Broken: A Novel (Grant County) by Karin Slaughter
(Delacorte Press, ISBN 978-0-385-34197-4)

The police of a small college town in Grant County, Georgia receive an anonymous phone call that a young college student may have killed herself and when police first find her body in the lake, it does appear to be a suicide. There is a note, her shoes at the side of the water, but on a little further investigation, Officer Lena Adams discovers that the girl had been stabbed in the back of her neck and that they are dealing with a case of murder. Along with the temporary police chief, a veteran cop whose always seems to have a smell of alcohol on his breath these days, and a third officer, they go to check out the residence of the victim and through a combination of carelessness, incompetence, and bad luck, one person ends up dead and another perhaps fatally injured. Lena realize that if she is to save her career...let alone discover the murderer..a little creative explanation may be in order. But that is nothing new for Lena.

Called in to investigate what has happened, and try to break through the Blue Wall of Silence that arises very quickly, is Special Agent Will Trent from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. To add to the drama, the person who made the call for the outside investigator is Dr. Sara Linton, a woman with a history, a very checkered history, with this town and many of the people involved. She is home for a quick visit from Atlanta to see her family over Thanksgiving, but just a few years ago she lived in Grant County, was the local doctor and part time coroner and her now deceased husband was the very respected chief of police. The chief of police whose death was the fault of Officer Adams in Sara's mind. And she is determined that Lena will not get away with skirting responsibility for someone else's death.

Trent quickly realizes that the local police are covering up something, but when a second student turns up dead, a student who without question was killed with the same weapon as the first but this time in an even more horrible and bloody way, SA Trent has his hands filled with all the interconnected threads of this investigation. The local police are hostile and offering little help. He has the expertise of Sara to assist him, but she is not without her own biases that may obscure her view of the facts. She is clever enough though to rather quickly figure out Will's secret, a secret that may hamper his ability and could mean the end of his career if it comes known.
Oh, there are a lot of secrets here in Grant County!

This is the eighth  book in the Slaughter's Grant County series, a fact I did not realize until well into the book. These characters have all appeared before and previous books have explored their own histories and their previous interactions but this book is easily successful as a standalone. Slaughter is careful to explain the parts of the characters pasts that are relevant in this story, and little references to past incidents have me very curious to check out the earlier books in the series.

While the plot of this book is quite good, I think the real strength of the story lies in the characters.. and what a bunch they are. There is no easy black and white here. They are a flawed group, with sometimes complex motivations, that the author skillfully explores. As a reader, flawed and complex is very interesting. The dialogue is very well written and the characters act in a realistic and intelligent way. Now, I did have a few issues with the story, small issues. It is hard to believe that Will could have advanced to this point in his career without his secret being found out and I must say I found Sara a bit whiny. But part of that may be that I have not read the previous books in the series where their own stories have been explored more. Also, I must say I thought the ending was a bit rushed and not totally logical, but these are small flaws in what is, overall, a very good suspense novel.

This is the first of Karin Slaughters that I have read (yes, that is her real name, and yes, quite a name for a mystery writer, isn't it?), but I can assure you it will not be the last. Strongly recommended for mystery/police procedural fans.

My thanks to Amazon Vine for an ARC of this book.
It will be available for sale on 6/22/2010.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Pemaquid Point, Maine always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alex and Luke and Lucy

Have you heard of Alex and Luke?
I can't say that I have before today, but it seems they have a bit of a following on the social medias, especially Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. They have a plan...
"Restless with our current positions in our respective lives, we set out to see what would happen if we used the power of social media to enable an exploration of North America. Without a route or any preconceived idea of what we will see and do, we are calling on the communities behind the most popular social media websites to act as our compass (pointing us where to go) and our guidebook (telling us what to see).

Equipped with a small car and a trunk load of equipment, our goal is to travel through every state, province and territory while documenting and sharing the experience through web videos and other internet content available at our website,"
Quite cool...

But what is very, very cool is that they recently visited one of my very favorite NJ attractions, my beloved Lucy the Elephant. And they make a little music video about it! Ok, I didn't say it was good music.

Bandit Tuesday...Belly

"Come on, scratch my belly...come on, you know you want to. It is such a cute, soft little belly...come on!!"

Monday, May 17, 2010

Musing Monday...The Tarnished Silver Screen?

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about movies based on books…

What happens when you see a movie based on a book/story, especially one you’ve not read? Do you feel the need to track it down and read it?

Awww...the classic book vs. movie question.
Ok, let's be honest here folks. The book is always better than the movie.

Now, I admit I may be wrong. I thought and I thought (for a minute or two) and I could not come up with a case where the movie was better than the book, but if you have a suggestion, please, speak up.

Books can just contain so, so much more than a movie. Descriptions of setting, exploration of characters, emotions, motivations, thoughts can all be present in a book, but because of the very limits of time, are often only hinted at in the movie.
Now don't get me wrong. I love movies and will go to see movie based on a book, but if I have read the book, I admit I do it with a bit of fear. The recent case of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a perfect example. Loved the book, could not think the movie would ever live up to the book. And while the movie was quite good and I enjoyed it, honestly, it was no contest with the book.

Now, what if I see a movie based on a book, a book I have not read. Do I then want to read it? Yes, I have done that in the past. It is my preferred order, movie then book. The other way is often going to lead to disappointment in my experience. But if you love a movie, the book will only add more to the story in the vast majority of cases. I do not have the best imagination and sometimes, I like being able to picture things in the movie as I read the book. You can take the best of the movie, the visual material about the setting and the characters, and add that to the interior information the book supplies and that is a good thing.

Of course, then there is the all too common situation where the movie folks change things, very important things, from the book. I admit it, that drives me crazy. Move the setting from Iceland to a tropical jungle. Cast the scary hag as a beautiful, big name actress....That sort of thing is just totally unacceptable and makes me want to scream.
Unless you are in a scary horror movie, they don't really seem to encourage screaming in a movie theater.

Do you have a favorite movie/book combination? Maybe a great, beloved book that you found by seeing the movie first.
Or do you have one where you thought the movie was actually better than the book? That I would really like to hear about!

As is true every Monday, Musing Monday is hosted by Rebecca at Just One More Page.... Be sure to head over there and check out some of the other answers to this weeks question.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Weekend Cooking...Red Velvet Cupcakes

While I do bake from time to time, by no means do I consider myself a baker. Baking is too much like high school chemistry to be totally enjoyable for me. Red Velvet cake is the perfect example. It was the niece's birthday and the birthday girl wanted red velvet cupcakes, so red velvet cupcakes there would be. Off I went in search of a recipe. And then there arose the whole issue of Dutched vs. natural cocoa. I read recipe after recipe, extolling the virtue of each and the use of baking power vs. baking soda as a leavening agent, depending on which sort of cocoa you used. From the Joy of

"Dutch-Processed or Alkalized Unsweetened Cocoa Powder is treated with an alkali to neutralize its acids. Because it is neutral and does not react with baking soda, it must be used in recipes calling for baking powder, unless there are other acidic ingredients in sufficient quantities used. It has a reddish-brown color, mild flavor, and is easy to dissolve in liquids. Its delicate flavor makes it ideal in baked goods like European cakes and pastries where its subtle flavor complements other ingredients. 

Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder tastes very bitter and gives a deep chocolate flavor to baked goods. Its intense flavor makes it well suited for use in brownies, cookies and some chocolate cakes. When natural cocoa (an acid) is used in recipes calling for baking soda (an alkali), it creates a leavening action that causes the batter to rise when placed in the oven."

Well, it seems most red velvet recipe call for the use of Dutched cocoa...but I could not find any, without buying it online, and I left it too late for that. Natural cocoa it would be. But which leavening was I suppose to use? It was all so confusing! Finally, I happened upon this recipe, from the Pinch My Salt website. It seemed to cover all the bases, with both baking powder and soda, buttermilk and vinegar. I present it here, with a few changes of my own based on some other recipes I read around the WWW.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
  • 2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 oz. red food coloring  or 1 tsp gel food coloring
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with  cupcake papers.
2. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a  medium bowl; set aside. In a small bowl, mix food coloring and cocoa powder to form a thin paste without lumps; set aside.
3. In a large bowl, using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat butter  and sugar together until light and fluffy, about three minutes.  Beat in  eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla and the red cocoa paste,  scraping down the bowl with a spatula as you go. Add one third of the  flour mixture to the butter mixture, beat well, then beat in half of the  buttermilk. Beat in another third of flour mixture, then second half of  buttermilk. End with the last third of the flour mixture, beat until  well combined, making sure to scrape down the bowl with a spatula.
4. In a small bowl, mix vinegar and baking soda. It will fizz! Cool! Add the vinegar mixture to the cake batter and stir well to combine. Using an ice cream scoop or a scant 1/4 cup measure, fill cupcake cups with cake batter. They should be 1/2 to 2/3 filled. Place muffin tins on the middle rack of a preheated 350 degree oven. Bake for approximately 20-22 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. Cupcakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake.
5. Cool the cupcakes in the tins on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely before frosting with cream cheese icing.

Cream Cheese Icing
  • 16 oz. cream cheese (2 packages), softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

I applied the frosting using a piping bag with a star tip and added a few red sprinkles for a more festive look.

They were delicious if I do say so myself. A glass of cold milk, a cupcake, made by a fond aunt...perfection!

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, May 13, 2010

a review of "She-Rain" [34]

She-Rain: A Story of Hope by Michael Cogdill
(Morgan-James, ISBN 978-160037-702-0)
Growing up in the mountains of North Carolina in the 1920's is a hard life, even harder if your father is drug addicted and abusive and your family is quite literally dirt poor. Frank Locke Jr. hates the man for whom he is named, hates him so much that at many times he dreams of killing him. Especially the times his father, in a drug induced rage, becomes violent. It seems, if it weren't for the assistance of his grandparents, his beloved Granny and Pap, who live on a nearby farm scratching out their own living from the mountains, he and his mother would never have survived.
But he is not the only one in these mountains living a tragic life. In school as a young boy, he meets the woman who will be love of his life, Mary Lizbeth, who has her own even more difficult story to live.

As the years go on, Frank becomes a young man and, with his grandparents having died, he is the only support and sole defender of his mother. When a terrible act of violence occurs, hoping the blame will be cast on him and to protect those he loves, Frank flees from his home, leaving behind his mother and the beautiful Lizbeth. But the mountains into which he runs, while beautiful, are hard and dangerous and Frank soon finds himself in deadly danger, only to be saved by another woman, the mysterious Sophia. Brilliant and lovely, she lives in a world of books and music and education, but hidden from the world. As she starts to share this with Frank, he finds himself in the midst of a world he never really knew existed. He also finds himself in the middle of a mystery that is decades old and an injustice that goes back far longer.
Young Frank is torn between two worlds, between two women it might seem at first, but in realty, hr is part of something that will tie these people together for their entire lives.

She-Rains is a wonderful story, almost a magical story, and this book paints some wonderful characters in a wild and fantastic setting of the mountains of North Carolina. That's the good news.
But it is also a book that I found painfully slow to read.
The story is told by Frank, looking back on his life and written in the dialect of a mountain boy from the South. That I could have adjusted to. But the rest of the prose, beyond the dialogue, is also written in a very distinctive style. Much of it is very beautiful, poetic even, as you can see from this small quote about how his grandmother described these she-rains for which the book is named...
"In the rise of crickets and peep frogs, Granny spread out her mountain mystic view of things again, and the whole wagon treated it as sacred for a moment. She'd often speak of how a scrap of fog tears from a rain cloud. Floats on the waves of blur ridge as if a wisp off a bride. Granny and others call it she-rains, I suppose for its womanly drape, white as a wedding gown. Common legend, though Granny took the vision further. Said she-rain was like us all- little scraps torn off into the world, given to the wind, and meant to find a paradise. As she saw things, no scrap of this life is made for the trash. Even the most ragged are fit to beautify somewhere. Fit for some quilting into the finery of creation."
Beautiful, yes...but with some 350 pages of prose like this, it sadly becomes too much, overwhelming the story. It is so dense, it becomes rather tiring, never allowing this reader at least to really become lost in the story. And this is a story intriguing enough to deserve to be lost in. Can you have too many beautiful words? Yes.

But battle on I did...I don't think it has ever taken me longer to read a book, a few pages at a time...because I had to see how the story worked out, how it all ended. And a wonderful ending it was. I just wish the journey had been a bit easier, a bit more flowing down a lovely, cool stream and a little less climbing a mountain, that while impressive, plum wore me out.

My thanks to Caitlin at FSB Associates for my copy of this book

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wordless Wednesday...The Cloisters, NYC

"The Cloisters, the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, was assembled from architectural elements, both domestic and religious, that date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century. The building and its cloistered gardens—located in Fort Tryon Park in Northern Manhattan—are treasures in themselves, effectively part of the collection housed there. " always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner...Bandit!

"Yes, this is a baby's highchair, but she isn't using it, so why can't I?"

Monday, May 10, 2010

Musing Monday...What Would Betty White Say?

Wow, is it just me, or are these weeks just zipping by, faster and faster? It seems no sooner do I answer one MM post and find a charming picture of the world's cutest doggie for Bandit Tuesday, that Monday is here again. So lets check out this Monday's question, as always from the the cyber desk of Just One More Page.
Do you have to carve out time in your day for reading (due to work and other obligations), or does your reading just happen naturally?
I find that the time that I have available to read  is often based on the book I am reading at the moment.
If I love a book, if it is one of those rare and wonderful books that grabs you to such a degree that you hate to leave the delightful world it creates to return to the 'real' world and the sometime dull obligations of real life...I find a great deal of time. If it is a book that is just ok or one that I am not loving but feel an obligation to read...oddly enough I often do not find enough free time to get much read.

Yes, a great book can have an actually effect on the Nature of Time, creating more hours in the day and mondo amounts of uncommitted time. It is a fact!

Well, not really. The day is still 24 hours. I still need to go to work. I need to make something for dinner.
But adjustments can be made. That laundry will wait until I find out what happens to our hero. So what if the grass gets a little taller out in the front yard? I need to ferret out who the murderer is. Do I really need to go to the supermarket...or discover if 'happily ever after' is possible and justice will prevail. Really, which is more important? I am sure I can chip something out of the freezer that is still edible. Freeze burn, sneezer burn!

Now, a few qualifications. I do not have a spouse or little children pulling at my apron strings, crying in hunger. I don't even have a pet, although we all know that in his heart, Bandit is really mine. No one will chastise me if I never got to the post office to mail that package or forgot to call the plumber...except that little voice in my head. But that voice can be easily silenced by a really good book.
I also have a job that enables me to read from time to time. When I work weekends, especially when I work through the long, dark nights, there is some free time to read a page or two...or a hundred.

So, you may wonder, as I do, why I don't get more read than I actually do. I should be reading a half dozen books a week, instead of my average one or two.
Distractions! Evil, time wasting distractions.
And I am easily distracted.
The Evil Boob Tube, otherwise known as TV.
The lure of The World Wide Web, the internet.

This is where Betty White comes in. Did you see her on Saturday Night Live this week? No, I didn't, but I saw the clip from her opening monologue this past week, where she thanks her Facebook fans for getting her on the show and then admits she did not know what Facebook was before this happen. So, she checked it out and then said it seemed like a tremendous waste of time. While I am not a big fan of these social networks...maybe because I am not a very social person...I do find it very easy to waste time online or staring at a flickering screen. "I will just watch one more episode of the "Deadliest Catch" marathon..I must know who catches the most crab this season!" or "Let me just read a few more things on my Google Reader...I have a few hundred unread." Before you know it, the day is gone, and very little reading done.

But then, that book was not that great.
When it is, when the book is wonderful and captures my imagination, my unread Google Reader reaches into the stratosphere, Tivoed shows go unwatched and the grass gets as high as an elephants eye.
But a great book is worth it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Weekend Cooking...Two For One Couscous

As you may know, tomorrow, here in the USA, we celebrate Mother's Day. Now, many folks may be taking their mothers out to dinner, but we in the Caite Clan are having a BBQ. Well, it is a BBQ in that the grill will be used, if to a small degree. There will be chicken, Roasted Potato Salad, Spinach & Feta Pinwheels  and Bacon, Cheddar & Chive Pinwheels and Super Secret Brownies.
I will be working and miss the festivities, but still I am contributing several items to the feast. Individual Sticky Puddings will be available. A Bacon and Onion Dip. I am supplying Hot Italian and Pepper/Onion sausages that will be grilled and served with peppers and onions on delicious Italian rolls. And my final contribution will be a Couscous Salad.

Why the Two For One title? Well, this recipe, is originally from a Giada recipe for Scampi with Couscous, where, served hot,  it becomes a base for a nice shrimp dish. Delicious...

But I thought, what if I just took the couscous, made with it's very flavorful broth, added some veggies and served it cold or at room temperature. Also, since I was not serving it with the shrimp scampi, I replace the clam juice in Giada's recipe with chicken stock.
So there is the Two. Serve it hot, or add some veggies and make into a salad.

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 (15 ounce) cans chopped tomatoes in their juice
  • 1 (8ounce) bottle clam juice or 8 ounces of stock
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups plain couscous
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper


In a large pot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil. When almost smoking, add onion, carrot and 2 cloves smashed garlic and saute until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice, clam juice, white wine and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Carefully pour tomato mixture in the bowl of a food processor or blender and puree.  You want to end up with a broth. Check for seasoning.

Return broth to the pot. Add 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add 2 cups couscous. Cover pot and remove from heat. Let rest for 10 minutes, allowing the couscous to absorb all the
liquid. Fluff with a fork and season with salt and pepper.

While it was still warm, I add some veggies, that I marinated first in a little Roasted Red Pepper and Garlic Vinaigrette (from a bottle, thank you) for an hour or so... 

  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes,
  • 1 peeled and sliced cucumber,
  • 1 bunch sliced scallions
  • 1 very finely diced carrot
  • 1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers
  • some chopped flat leaf parsley
or whatever vegetables you fancy. You are limited only by your imagination and what you like.

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, May 7, 2010

a review of "Blood Lies" [33]

Blood Lies by Daniel Kalla
(Forge, ISBN 978-0-7653-1832-9)

Drug and alcohol addiction have had a huge effect in the life of Dr. Ben Dafoe. Not his own addiction. No, he is only addicted to riding his very expensive bicycles way too fast and in way too dangerous places. But his father was an alcoholic, his identical twin brother Aaron was a drug addict who disappeared two years ago and is believed dead due to the huge amount of his blood found in his abandoned car. And then there is his former fiance, Emily. It was her inability to kick the drugs for good that caused their breakup and now it seems it may have been the cause of her death.

Beside his job as an emergency room physician, from time to time, he has been called upon by the Seattle Police as a crime scene consultant. But this time, when he is called to a crime scene, he finds the body of the woman he once loved, horribly killed in her home and found with the dead body of another man. A man who turns out to be a drug dealer. Stupidly, it would seem, Benn decides not to admit his connection to the murdered woman, or the fact that just weeks ago, he had met her with the murdered man. Of course, they will find out shortly, as they always do and that does not paint Dr. Ben in the best light. As shocking as the bloody scene was to Ben, it is even more unbelievable when a swipe of blood on the wall of the crime scene turns out to be his. Is it possible that his twin brother is not dead and that the blood is Aaron's? When police seem about ready to arrest him, he flees the county to Vancouver to follow up a possible lead on his brother and attempt to clear his own name. Or is it possible Ben is being framed...if so, why and most of all how? Yes, it seems that blood can lie.

As readers know, I am always in search of the perfect mystery/thriller...and no, this is not it for me. The fatal flaw in my mind was one line...just one line...that allowed me to figure out the conclusion. More than that, it was if someone had plastered a Big Red Arrow on the killer's forehead with that line. Now, while I read a good number of mysteries, I am not that clever, so that is not a great sign. When something is said, when something appears, that apparently serves no other purpose, a light always goes on in my head. Is it unfair to judge a book by one "mistake"? Maybe, but it was that big of an issue for me.

That being said, otherwise it was a pretty good, entertaining book. The medical stuff and forensics are interesting, perhaps because it seems the author himself is a physician. It's pretty well written and the plot moves along quickly. Happily, unlike many mysteries, at least those where the main characters are not cops, in this book the police do not turn out to be idiots. And Ben and several of the secondary characters are likable enough and I always enjoy books set in the Pacific Northwest.

So, bottom line, a good, middle of the pack book, entertaining if not outstanding.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

a review of "The Cold Room" [32]

The Cold Room- A Taylor Jackson Novel by J.T.Ellison
(Mira Books, ISBN 978-0-7783-2714-1

They call him The Conductor. The name may sound classy, but there is nothing classy about the serial killer stalking Nashville, kidnapping and killing young women. He locks them in a glass box in his basement, starves them to death and to say this...has his way with them. Yes, after he kills them. Necrosadism is the official term for it.
Then, just to tie it up all neatly, he stages the body to recreate a work of art and leaves music playing in the background. Which is where he gets the name The Conductor.

Taylor Jackson is still reeling from her demotion and the shakeup that has taken place in the Nashville Police Department, a storyline you will need to go back and read about in the previous book in this series. But is weird as things are at work, and they are weird, the job is the job and she and her fiance FBI profiler, Dr. John Baldwin, are hot on the trail of the killer. In fact, Baldwin is stuck by many similarities between these murders and a serial killer he has been assisting the Italian and English police pursue. Which explains why the copper from the New Scotland Yard drops in to lend a hand. Is it a copy cat, has he moved to the US...or is something even odder going on?

Sadly, I did not like this book as much as I hoped.
First, I do like a bit of suspense in my 'mysteries', something almost totally lacking from this book. No, this is a thriller more than any sort of mystery. We know the killer, his name, his job, how he kills, why he kills...all in the first few pages. Granted, the murders are a bit more complicated than it appears at first, but the twist is hardly a huge surprise.

Second, there are a bit too many smoldering looks going around for my taste. Not to mention that one of the sources of said smoldering looks, the handsome New Scotland Yard detective James "Memphis" Highsmythe, is actually quite creepy. If that was the intent, the author was successful, but if we are to consider him as an actual romantic possibility for our heroine, it was totally unbelievable.

If you have a great interest in police procedurals, you may love this book, since that is really the emphasis of the story. And some of the characters are quite interesting. If you have read the previous three books in the series, which I have not, no doubt you will be more vested in them than I was. This is a book in a series that really cries out to be read in order. There are a number of references to incidents in past books that the reader will really not understand, not to mention the whole Pretender thread, which we can not appreciate not having read the first three books.

A well written book, based on a good idea, with some good characters, but one whose approach to a very creepy and fascinating crime did not really live up to my hopes.  

I received this book from Library Thing Early Reviewers.
My ER drought of over a year and a half is over! 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wordless Wednesday- Saxman Native Village, Ketchikan, Alaska

Beaver Clan House

Cape Fox Dance Group

Many generations... always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bandit ...Great Furry Hunter!

I am a great hunter, having captured this very dangerous sock and dragged it back to my throne atop the couch to subdue it!

Ok, this sock does not seem that dangerous....

Monday, May 3, 2010

Musing Monday...In Search of a Pirate Map.

I am feeling lazy today, even more than usual, which is why I am Musing my Monday so late in the day. But let's check out this week's question at Just One More Page..

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

Do you frequent second hand book stores? Have you ever bought a book home only to find anything interesting within their pages?

I am very lucky there are no good used book stores around here. Yes, lucky, because my overabundance of unread books is bad enough as it is. Between ARCs and library books and books I have bought, I am really not in the market for more books. is so hard to pass up a bargain and I am not really good with temptation. The niece and I have gone a few time to an Amish market some distance from home. A number of Amish vendors and some other stores as well. I love the great spice and bulk candy store...the meat market...all the sausages. Fresh eggs and produce and surprising nice crabcakes. But she actually had to drag me away from the used book store. It is cruel to allow things like that in public. 

But even with no good used book stores nearby, I do find ways to purchase a number of used books. The library is one source of my downfall. I have mentioned it before, but as you get off the elevator and go into the adult floor of our local branch, they have tables and bookshelves loaded with used books for sale. I mean 50 can you say no? I go to pick up one books and come home with three. Or four..
And then there is the wonderful Amazon marketplace. When a book is $4 with shipping for many, many books, it is a lot easier to click "purchase" than on a full priced new book.

But never, never have I found anything in any of these books. Not a note, a bookmark or a photograph. No money, lottery ticket or pirate map. Maybe these vendors online and the folks at the library are checking them first, but I have never seen as much as a slip of paper in one of them.

Rather disappointing, but as someone else answering this question said (sorry, but I forget who) the only thing I have found in these books are some good stories. Some great characters, beautiful ideas and hours and hours of entertainment and after all, that is the most important thing, isn't it?