Saturday, December 31, 2011

Weekend Cooking...New Years Foods

So, what are you doing New Years Eve, as the song asks?
Ok, that had nothing to do with food but I just liked it and wanted to share. So, on to  the actual question, what are you doing New Years, Eve and and New Years Day, food wise?

So what is traditional to eat at New Years? Well, according to an Epicurious article, here are a few suggestions... Grapes (does wines counts?), cooked greens, pork...
"Legumes including beans, peas, and lentils are also symbolic of money. Their small, seedlike appearance resembles coins that swell when cooked so they are consumed with financial rewards in mind.In the Southern United States, it's traditional to eat black-eyed peas or cowpeas in a dish called hoppin' john. There are even those who believe in eating one pea for every day in the new year. This all traces back to the legend that during the Civil War, the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, ran out of food while under attack. The residents fortunately discovered black-eyed peas and the legume was thereafter considered lucky."
Now I celebrated a bit early, because I am working today, New Years Eve and it seems Sunday, New Years Day, will be devoted to watching football and eating traditional football foods. So, Friday night, we had my New Years dinner. the pork thing is covered. Mac and Cheese, because I love it and corn fritters because nothing in my opinion goes better with ham than corn fritters. I have spared the recipe before, but I used a slightly different one this time and I must say they were delicious.

We did better with the dessert, tradition wise.
"Cakes and other baked goods are commonly served from Christmas to New Year's around the world, with a special emphasis placed on round or ring-shaped items...Mexico's rosca de reyes is a ring-shaped cake decorated with candied fruit and baked with one or more surprises inside....In Scotland, {New Years guests}often brings symbolic gifts like coal to keep the house warm or baked goods such as shortbread, oat cakes, and a fruit caked called black bun, to make sure the household always has food."
We had some more of that Christmas fruitcake and the Niece made her own, slightly alcoholic take, on Pineapple Upside Down Cake. It's round, it has rings and it has fruit, round, ringed fruit.

Adult Pineapple Upside Down Cake

1 package Pineapple Supreme Duncan Hines cake mix
1 large can pineapple rings, reserve 1 cup juice
rum for soaking pineapple rings and for cake
3 large eggs
1/3 vegetable oil
4 TBS. butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
Maraschino cherries

Drain pineapple rings and reserve juice. Place in a large shallow pan and cover with dark rum. Allow in sit overnight if frig. Reserve run

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a 10”cast iron pan melt butter. Add brown sugar to make a thick mixture and spread over bottom of pan. Place pineapple rings, each with a cherry in center hole, in pan.
In a mixing bowl combine cake mix, 1 cup pineapple juice, oil, eggs and 1/3 cup reserved rum. Mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Grease side of pan with Pam and then pour in mixture over pineapple rings.
Cook cake for 50-55 minutes. When removed from oven, while still warm, pokes holes in cake and pour 1/4-1/3 cup of rum in holes.When partially cooled but still warm, flip and unmold on a plate.
Very moist and rather rummy!

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, December 29, 2011

A Review of "The Hitman's Guide to House Cleaning" [86]

The Hitman's Guide to House Cleaning by Hallgrimur Helgason
Amazon Crossings, ISBN 978-1611091397
January 24, 2012, 256 pages

You might figure that a guy whose nickname is Toxic might not be the nicest guy and, in fact, Tomislav Bokšić starts off as not the most likable of guys. After all, he is a professional hitman for the Croatian mob in NYC, with some 60 'jobs' on his resume. And that does not take into consideration the additional 60+ people he killed during the Bosnian war. But even though he is at times a bit haunted by his past, he is very good at his job and rather content in it.
Until he kills the wrong man.

the waterfront in Split
Well, it was not his fault. He killed the man he was suppose to but it seems the man was in fact working for the FBI and now Tomislav must go on the run. He intends to return home to Split (hey, I have actually been there) but through a comedy of errors ends up on a plane to Iceland, posing as an American televangelist, Father Friendly. Iceland is unlike anywhere he has ever been, with it's season of endless days..and then months of endless nights, names he can not even begin to pronounce and no one gun in the entire country that he can get his hands on and sometimes not even one murder in the whole country in a year. What kind of place is this? One that is going to cause this professional killer to come to terms with his past and try and create a new future in his new home. But as funny as this book is, as any good professional killer knows, maybe it is not possible to escape your past.
Can a hitman find forgiveness..can a hitman find love?

I was a little concerned when I started this book, because the main character, the one we are suppose to identify with, is a man who kills people for a living and seems to have little problem with it. If you can't like the main character...well, that can be a problem.

But don't worry, because the whole professional killer thing aside, Tommy, as he comes to be called, is a great character. First of all, this is a very funny book, at times laugh out loud funny. I will not let on what happens to him, but let's just says he gets involves with quite a cast of characters and some situations that he never would have foreseen when he was in NYC. And Iceland, the author's home is a fascinating, and slightly bizarre, place especially as seem through the author's eyes. Maybe this is not quite the view the Tourist Board would have us see, but it is funny and interesting and you have to love a nice volcanic landscape.
Yet it is not all fun and games and Tommy has to deal with some serious issues from both the past and present if he has any hope of any future, let alone a good future. And before long, we, the reader, will be pulling for him.

A very good entertaining book, quite funny yet with a serious undercurrent, a smart book that caught me by surprise and that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Some Christmas Treasures

Welcome...come on in and see...

...Russian nesting Santas...


...some lighthouses and a lobster...

..a little horsie I make with wine corks...

...gosh, even the beer got dressed up! always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Musing Monday..When Pigs Fly

"On the second day of Christmas...."
To those of you who celebrate Christmas, I hope you had a lovely weekend..and don't forget, the season of Christmas is, like the song says, a twelve day feast, so don't stop now. Sings those songs, sit by that tree, eat those leftovers, visit with friends and maybe enjoy a gift or two.
Speaking of gifts, let's check out this weeks Musing Monday question from MizB...
This week’s musing asks…
Did you get any books for Christmas? If so, what were they?
If you didn’t, what books are you most looking forward to reading (and/or buying) in the new year?

Well, even though I have expressed a few concerns about books as Christmas gifts, being as they are a very difficult thing to buy for someone else, this year I both gave and received books.
I myself received three, a series by Joseph Caldwell. There is The Pig Did It, The Pig Comes To Dinner and The Pig Goes To Hog Heaven and I must say I have never heard of them but am anxious to check them out.
Just to look at the description of the first book...
"A pig escapes from its pen and roots up the garden of Kitty McCloud, a bestselling novelist who “corrects” the classics. What the obstreperous little pig unearths is evidence of a possible transgression that the novel’s three Irish characters—the plagiarizing Kitty, her blood-feud rival Kieran, and a sexy swineherd named Lolly—are convinced the other has probably benefited from.

How this hilarious mystery is resolved inspires both comic eloquence and a theatrically colorful canvas depicting the brooding Irish land and seascape."

So it contains a couple of things I love. They are set in Ireland..there is a mystery, there is humor...and there are PIGS! And really, who doesn't love a cute pig. Maybe, this the one in my photo, a flying pig.

For the new year my plan is to not buy one more book. Work on that TBR pile, only borrow from the library is it is totally necessary. Yes, that is my New Year resolution.
I figure it will last about two weeks.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wishing You a Happy and Holy Christmas

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, 
keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, 
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
And the angel said to them, 
"Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 
for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: 
you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host 
praising God and saying, 

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"


Weekend Cooking...Christmas Eve

Contrary to the recipes you see here, I am not a huge fan of desserts.

Except cookies.

I love cookies. Not store bought cookies which I don't buy, but homemade cookies and the king of cookies are Christmas cookies. So many cookies..

So, what is my favorite cookie?
Well, it might have to be a chocolate chip..with nuts. But somehow I don't think of that as a Christmas cookie. What is another favorite and the perfect Christmas cookie?
Pignoli Nut Cookies!

Why? Well first, they are delicious. If you like almond flavor, and I do, they are perhaps the most almond-ish of cookies. They are chewy and topped with those creamy delicious pignoli nuts.
And they are rather expensive. The almond paste is not cheap and the nuts are not cheap, so they are the special perfect occasion cookie.
And they freeze perfectly.

Just four ingredients, five with the nuts...

Pignoli Cookies


12 ounces almond paste
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup confectioners' sugar
4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups pine nuts

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Line 2 cookie sheets with foil; lightly grease foil.
2. Mix almond paste and granulated sugar in food processor until smooth. Add confectioners' sugar and 2 egg whites; process until smooth.
3. Whisk remaining 2 egg whites in small bowl. Place pine nuts on shallow plate. With lightly floured hands roll dough into 1 inch balls. Coat balls in egg whites, shaking off excess, then roll in pine nuts, pressing lightly to stick. Arrange balls on cookie sheets, and flatten slightly to form a 1 1/2 inch round.
4. Bake 15 to 18 minutes in the preheated oven, or until lightly browned. Let stand on cookie sheet 1 minute. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

The Christmas cake is decorated and ready to go. 
The presents are wrapped.
The cookies are baked.
The tree is decorated.

I will be at my brother's for Christmas Eve. Last year we did a Seven Fish Dinner, but this year we are going a little easier, with baked ziti and meatballs and sausage and a substantial variety of other delicious things.

And of course, a cute doggie or two will be in attendance, wearing their Christmas bells.

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, December 22, 2011

A Review of "The Whisperer" [85]

The Whisperer by Donato Carrisi
Mulholland Books, ISBN 978-0316194723
January 5, 2012, 432 pages.

From the product description..
"Six buried arms. Six missing girls. A team led by Captain Roche and internationally renowned criminologist Goran Gavila are on the trail of a serial killer whose ferocity seems to have no limits. And he seems to be taunting them, leading them to discover each small corpse in turn; but the clues on the bodies point to several different killers. Roche and Gavila bring in Mila Vasquez, a specialist in cases involving children, and Mila discovers that the real killer is one who has never lifted a finger against the girls - but merely psychologically instructs others to do his work: a 'subliminal killer' - the hardest to catch... "

Well, actually, it is six arms but five missing girls, which is why they call in a missing child expert to help. To try and discover who the sixth girl is..and determine if they might be able to rescue her while she is still alive. Good start.
I must say reading the description I thought this was right up my alley, even though comparisons to Stieg Larsson made me a little concerned.
And there are some positive things about the book. The idea that the killer is using the murder of each girl to lead the police to uncover another hidden crime is rather clever. And I must say that the ending was quite a surprise, always a great thing in my book...quite a surprise.

But, from there on I have quite a few problems with this book.
First, is the basic premise that there are such thing as "whisperers", evil people who can somehow influence others to do bad things, people who otherwise may not have been bad people. Interesting, but the case is never really made by the author, and at least one of the examples just seems totally unbelievable.
Then there is the writing. This is a translation, so I am not sure if the issue is with the original or the translation, but either way it comes across as very awkward. I have read a couple of reviews that thought that gave it a "European charm". I just though it kept me from getting totally involved in the book, always jolting me out of the story to reread yet another awkward phrase that just felt wrong.

And a final issue..I could list a few that the book has no setting. I am not sure that I have ever read a book before that was set in no specific place.
You know it is not the US because there are too many metric references for us metric challenged Americans. The character's names are of a variety of ethic sources, so that is no help and no specific reference is ever made to a real place. So is it Europe? Germany..Italy...England...who knows? And I wanted to! I must say I do not understand that decision of the author at all and found it annoying. The setting can be a huge plus to a story and the lack here was just another thing to grate on me as I read this book.

There are a lot of great mysteries and thrillers out there, including the above mentioned Stieg Larsson, but too little time to waste on a just fair book like this one.

My thanks to the publisher and Library Thing Early Reviewers for providing a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday..Longwood Gardens at Christmas

...let me share from a recent trip the Niece and I made to one of my favorite places.





 always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

A Review of "Maman's Homesick Pie" [84]

Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan
Algonquin Books,ISBN 978-1565129573
October 11, 2011, 272 pages

In the past, I have mentioned my dislike of memoirs. I find most of them whiny and self indulgent and usually pass them up. Happily, due to a number of positive reviews, I made an exception with this book and I am very happy that I did, because I must admit, I just loved this book. Loved it.

Ms. Bijan grew up in Iran, her father a successful and prestigious doctor who had built his own hospital and her mother, a nurse who had trained in England and was later involved in a number of political movements in the country, especially related to woman's rights. Theirs was a rather Westernized lifestyle, sending their daughters to international schools, holding elaborate parties and spending their weekends with fellow doctors in the country, reading poetry and plays, full of music and an endless buffet of food...delicious, exotic Persian food, rich meats and grains full of spices and fruits and nuts.

But when the Iranian Revolution happened, that life came to an end for her family. Her family was on vacation on a Spanish island at the time, but soon learned from friends at home that their property, the hospital that was their life's work and family home, had been taken, most of their money confiscated. And worse, because of her political involvement, if her mother ever returned to Iran, she would most likely be arrested and shot. So ultimately, they all ended up in California, where they had some family living. But it was a very different life. Bijan's mother was able to get her license and get work as a registered nurse, but her father, because of language issues, was never able to pass the medical boards and practice as a doctor. No longer was he a man of prestige, no longer was he the bread winner, no longer could he do the work he loved, being a doctor.

Then, as if that is not bad enough, he finds out that his youngest, Donia, was not going to become a doctor as he had always hoped, but a chef. And while he loved food, in his mind being a cook was no better than being a servant, something that estranged father and daughter for years.
Now, in lesser hands, all this could be very negative and yes, whiny, but in Bijan's, while it is important to her, it is not dwelled on. No, she is so caught up in her passion, her calling if you will, to be a chef, that the reader can't help but also be caught up in her enthusiasm. When she is working endless hours in a small, hot restaurant kitchen and yet has never been happier, we understand why. When she agrees to work for free in some of the best restaurants in Europe for the experience, she makes it seem so reasonable, a great adventure. When she talks about opening her own restaurant, we share the joy of her dream.

And along the way she shares with us, at the end of each chapter, some thirty recipes, from the simple cardamom tea that would great every visitor to a home in her youth to the Duck a la Orange of her Cordon Bleu training and finally ending the book with her Mother's Apple Pie and the Cherry Slushy she now makes for her own son. Every one of them sounds delicious and I have already had to buy some cardamom pods and check my spices to see what I will make.

And speaking of Bijan's mother..what a woman. Honesty, her husband, Bijan's father was not the easiest man in the world to live with, especially after the move to the US, but she seemed to just deal with it all and carry on, working hard, swimming her laps in the pool and taking her long walks. Not only did she pass on her love of food and cooking to her daughter but I am not sure a child could have had a more supportive parent. Here was a woman who, at an age when most people would be retired, volunteered to go to Bosnia during the war there to train nurses, as significant danger to her own life. Happily, before her tragic death, hit by a car on one of her morning walks, she lived long enough to see her daughter do the one thing her mother thought might never happen, get married and provide her with another grandchild. Hey it is hard to meet someone if you are in a kitchen 16 hours a day!

So, why is this memoir different from the ones I so often dislike?
Well, because it tell a very interesting story, exposes the reader to a different view of a country, Iran, about which many of us only have a negative image, a country that as seem through the author's eyes as a young girl, was almost magical. Then, it moves on to tell the story of a family that lost almost everything and had to take refuge in a new country, starting over and did it quite successfully.  While they suffered some real difficulties, overall it is a story of a close and loving family, supportive of their children, even a daughter who took up a career they had serious issues with. And lastly, it is the author's own story of become the chef she wanted to be, finally being able to tie together her Persian origins, her American upbringing and her classical French training, being true to each. I don't know that I can remember ever reading a writer who could better describe food, it's aromas, it's textures, the process of creating it..simply lovely.

This is an excellent book that I can not recommend highly enough.
In fact, unusual for me, I can not find one flaw with it.
It is a delightful book, very well written, and I read it straight through in one day. You will meet some fascinating people and visit, from a different perspective, some fascinating places. If you are a foodie you will love it and if you are not, this book may make you one. And there are those great recipes...I challenge you not to want grab the pots and start making at least one.

My thanks to Algonquin Books for providing me with a copy of this book. Now the idea was that I was going to take part in the Book Club hosted by Devourer of Books and Linus's Blanket that started on 12/10. Of course, I was on vacation last week and missed the whole thing...bad, bad blogger.
But better late than never!!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Musing Monday...You Can't Please Everyone

Monday, time to, what is this week's question from MizB at Should Be Reading?...

This week’s musing asks…
What’s one book you always recommend to just about anyone?

Wow, that is a hard one.
I will have to muse and get back to you.

OK, I am back.
And it is still a hard one.
Is there one book that every reader will like? I am not sure there is.
Books are very personal and what appeals to one person will most likely not appeal to someone else. I read a lot of book blogs and quite honestly there are many that contain reviews of books I have no interest in reading and let the blogger waxes on about them. Which is wonderful. I am always happy when people love to read, whatever their taste.

And also, quite honestly, I often hesitate to recommend books to people unless I really know their taste. OK, isn't that a strange thing for a blogger who write book reviews to say? Sort of. Every book blogger puts their personal taste out there and if you are reading it I have to assume there is something of interest for you there. Also, I assume we bloggers are speaking to an audience of serious regular readers. We read dozens and dozens of books a year, as opposed to most people (and yes, I still find this sad and shocking) who go a year reading one or two...on no...books. So if I recommend a book to a BIG reader and they read it and don't love it, no great loss. There will soon be the next one. But if I get most other people to read a book and they dislike it, I have probably turned them off books for years.

OK, do I actually have an answer?
I must say the first book that comes to mind, and yes, I have said this before, is Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. I think it would appeal to men and women, which is not easy, it can appeals to people who have an interest in history of the West, it appeals to people who love great characters. It makes all those 100 Best Books of all time lists as my friends at Wikipedia point out, "The novel was included on Time's 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005 and Modern Library's list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, and was chosen by the Western Writers of America to be the 7th-best "Western Novel" of the 20th century." Not sure what happened to take it off Time's list from 2005 on, because it is still a great book. So, it must be a pretty good book right, standing the test of time
And bottom line, it is just a great story.

After a bit more musing, I am editing this to add another book. Yes, actually two, I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This and Lena by Jacqueline Woodson, but I think they need to be read as a pair. I am not sure why, but for some reason these books just grabbed me and have held on for all this time since I have read it. At times they can be a bit difficult to read because of what they are about, but they are so beautiful written, so powerful, I would love for everyone to read them

So I throw these out there for your consideration.
If you love it, I am happy.
If you do not...well, you can't please everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Santa Sammy Sunday

Have you been Naughty or Nice?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Weekend Cooking...The World's Best Chicken Soup

When the weather turns chilly..if it ever does here in NJ...there is nothing as warming as some soup and in my mind the King of Soups is Chicken Noodle.

And if I do say so myself, I make a very good chicken soup. Perhaps, the World's Best.

So what is my secret?
And should I share it?

Well, it is Christmastime, so it will be my gift to you, my dear readers.
It is all about the stock.
And my stock is very easy, and very cheap and takes days.
Yes, days.
But days when you do nothing to it, just let it bubble away.

I have tried many thing to make chicken stock. Necks, wings, even chicken feet which was rather creepy. And the best thing to make stock are the carcasses from rotisserie chickens. Ever so often I get one from Sam's Club and when I have eaten all the meat, I crush the carcass a bit, put it in a gallon freezer bag and stick it in the freezer. When I have three frozen ones, perfect for my stock pot, it is stock time!

I put the bones in a 10 gallon stock pot, with several roughly chopped onions, carrots, celery. Add a handful of whole peppercorns, a few bay leaves and fill to cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cover and leave it simmering, very low, two or three days. Yes, days.

At that point, I get another big pot and put a colander on top of it and using a big skimmer, scoop out all the bones and depleted veggies. Then I strain the liquid into that same smaller pot through a fine mesh stainer to catch any solids. You have a  gallon or two of very rich stock to use or freeze.

One final, very important step. Got this tip from an old Jewish grandmother. You have very hot stock and you want to put it in the frig. If you just put it in the frig hot, it will actually lower the temperature of the whole frig. Not good. If you let it set out to cool, it reaches a temp when it is the perfect temperature for bacteria to grow, which can give it a sour, off taste. At best.
So...fill your sink 1/2 way with cold water, add some ice, put the hot pot in the cold water and stir. In about 5 minutes it will be cool and you can put it in the frig overnight. All the grease will rise to the top overnight where you can skim it off. I then pour it into freezer bags to put in the deep freeze, if I am not using it at one.

Ok, so where is the soup?
Just 15 minutes or so away!
When you want to make the soup, I take a bag of stock out of the freezer and put it in a pot, frozen, over low heat to defrost. Meanwhile, I prepare what I will add. I chop a couple of carrots, some onion and celery and when the stock is hot, I add then to the stock to cook, about 10 minutes. It is at this point that I add salt to taste and adjust the stock. It may actually be too strong and you need to add a bit of water. I also start a pot of boiling water and add wide noodles (they cook in 10 minutes), tri-color tortellini (6 minutes), thin noodles (3 minutes), so in 10 minutes they are all perfectly cooked in the one pot.
Now, personally, I usually keep the noodles separate from the stock until shorty before I serve it so they do not overcook and get mushy.
Then I put it all together.
Stock with veggies.
Add pre-cooked noodles.
Add shredded roasted or poached chicken and at the last minute, a good amount of baby will wilt down a great deal

Top with a little grated Parmesan cheese and serve!

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

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What I Want for Christmas!

From Animal Planet, a... "Trailer for upcoming documentary filmed at the world's only sloth orphanage in Costa Rica."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wordless Wednesday...Christmas Trees, Far and Near.

From Maine, one covered with lobster buoys

...and Disney again.


Cashal House, Ireland

Rockefeller Center..from a few years ago. always, for more Wordless Wednesday, check these out.

A Review of "Trespasser" [83]

Trespasser by Paul Doiron
Minotaur Books, ISBN 978-0312558475
June 21, 2011, 320 pages

The Maine woods are huge and when something bad happens, the men and woman who are charged to respond are sometimes spread a little thin. So when a call comes in that a woman has hit a deer and wrecked her car, it is no surprise that game warden Mike Bowditch is tied up with another call, a case of ATV riders trespassing and destroying property. But Mike responds, even when he is told that the state police are sending a trooper. When he gets there the scene he finds is a bit of a mystery. No woman with the wrecked car...just some blood on the road. He thinks he should search the woods, but the trooper dismisses him, saying he will handle it. And it is not like Mike doesn't have a lot of other things on his plate but what happened to this woman nags at Mike and when she is found dead, murdered in a neighboring house, Mike can't help but feel that if he had pursued the matter more forcefully, he might have saved her.

As usual, Mike gets pulled into the matter deeper and deeper. It seems there are a number of similarities between this murder and one that occurred in the same area years ago and for which a man is serving life in prison. Could an innocent man have been convicted..and why does everyone seem to want to stop Mike from finding out the truth?

This is the second Mike Bowditch book, after Mr. Doiron's excellent The Poacher's Son and as usual, I had to wonder of the author had it in him to turn out another great book. Oh, the fear! So many fail. But good new! He did.

Mike is a great character, one that in a way makes me break my rule about hating stupid characters. Mike is not stupid, but as even he will admit, sometimes he does some things he should not do. Yep, even stupid things. It doesn't make him too popular with his bosses, even if he gets results. And it often does not go over too big with his girlfriend Sarah, who has a secret of her own, but it makes for great reading.

And of course there is the setting, in this case mid-coast Maine. Have I mentioned that I like Maine? Yes, I think I may have and Mr. Doiron, who is also  the editor of DownEast magazine, does a great job of taking me back there as I was reading. While it is spring, mud season, between that and the constant fog and a peek into some of the poverty that populates rural Maine, there is a rather dark feel to this book which is a very good thing. It is a murder mystery after all.
Pull on your boots, because it is mud season in Maine, and things are getting deep!
A good plot, complicated enough to keep you guessing yet all clearly worked out by the end, good characters and a good setting all make for a very good read.

As I said, this is the second book in the series and while you could read this as a standalone, I do really think you will enjoy this one better if you read The Poacher's Son first and get to understand the background of Mike and Sarah, Mike's mentor Charley and his wife and Mike's personal history that has brought him to this point.
I think if you do, you will join me in anxiously awaiting the third book, hopefully in the not too distant future.
There will be a third, won't there Mr. Doiron?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Musing Monday...It's a Mystery!

Can MizB at Should Be Reading possibly have come up with another Musing MOnday question this week? I bet she has...

What kind of books do you like to read?
Why? Provide specific examples.

Oh, such a difficult question.
How can I possibly answer this one?

Ok, I am just fooling around.
Just glance around at my last few reviews and I think you may figure the answer out.

Yes, I am a fan of mysteries.
A hopeless, over the top follower of the who-done-it in all it’s various forms. I like thrillers and police procedurals, noir and cozies, crime and psychological..I like them all. I like series and stand-alones, classic and contemporary..yep, I like them all.

Now I have tried to expand my genres, especially since I started the wee blog, and to some limited degree I have succeeded. Really! I went from 100% mysteries to maybe 90%. :-)
I read a bit of YA fiction, something I did not read when I was a YA since I was reading mysteries, and I read some of what might be called literary fiction, a name I always find rather odd. What, as opposed to non-literary fiction? But nevertheless, I read some. I have always read a bit of science fiction and have added some dystopian books in the last few years..even though they tend to depress me, and I have long enjoyed a bit of horror, at least the not too horrible horror of Dean Koontz.
But push come to shove, the one genre I always return to are mysteries.

They are my comfort read. Which is, I admit, rather odd.
Give me death and mayhem, violence and crime and I am relaxed and happy and enthralled. Why?

my childhood public library branch, Newark, NJ
Well, I wrote about this once before. What I concluded is that I think I and many readers are attracted to mysteries because, for all the bad things that may happen in one, they paint a world where there is order and goodness. Yes, there is a battle between good and evil and yes, it is not all black and white but rather filled with shades of gray but the mystery will be solved and truth will be revealed and order will be restored. If not perfectly, at least to some degree. Even in an imperfect world, people who do bad things will be punished.

And maybe best of all, we the readers get to play along, exercise our brain, and see if we can figure it out too. In a good mystery, what I consider a 'fair' mystery, we, the reader, will have the facts to solve it and will usually fail. And hopefully be amazed that once again a little sleight of hand led us to the wrong conclusions. Great fun.

Examples? Oh, where could I possibly start? There are so many author I love. Slaughter comes to mind as a favorite series and Ann Cleeves' Shetland Island Quartet is another. Laurie R. Kings' Martinelli books are very good, and I loved Cody McFadyen books...he is very, very creepy. And speaking of creepy, let me just mention Mr. Koontz again. He has written a huge number of books and while some of them are just good, many of them are really excellent.
And hey, they are not even mysteries!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Weekend Cooking... Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Italian Sausage and Fennel

We all want to eat a little healthier if we can, don't we?
And while I am not willing to give up my pasta, I have considered that a switch to whole wheat pasta might be an improvement. But as my friends at America's Test Kitchen point out, whole wheat pasta has a firmer texture and a more forceful flavor that the regular variety and not every sauce may work as well with it. So, I decided to give one of ATK recipes with the whole wheat variety a try.
First, I took advantage of a recent taste test of various brands that they published and bought the brand that was the winner, Bionaturae Organic 100 Percent Whole-Wheat Spaghetti. I did not even bother looking for it at my supermarket but instead bought some online at Amazon.

And I must say, I was very happy with the results.
This is a VERY flavorful, VERY fragrant dish..
Now, I did make one changed and double the sausage, because the pack I bought had about a pound in it and I figured I would use it all and I would use that much again. Otherwise I stuck to the recipe. The pasta is excellent. I must see what other shapes they sell because where as I have never been a big whole wheat pasta fan, I really like this one and I think this recipe would be excellent with other short shapes. Maybe some orecchiette...
I will warn you this dish is a little spicy. That red pepper really blooms in the oil, so if you like things a little milder you may want to cut that back a bit. And being a fan of fennel, I think I might use two bulbs, or at least a bigger one than I had. But otherwise, a delicious, rather hearty pasta dish.

"We wanted to create a whole wheat pasta sauce recipe that would provide just the right complement to the hearty flavor and firm texture of whole-wheat spaghetti. We found that a boldly flavored sauce made with sausage and chunks of sautéed fennel provides a nice counterpoint to the whole-wheat pasta’s hearty texture. Starch from some added pasta liquid thickens the sauce and helps it cling to the spaghetti. A sprinkling of freshly grated Pecorino Romano, which our tasters preferred to the more subtle Parmesan, adds a salty tang to a simply sauced whole-wheat spaghetti recipe."

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, minced and pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Table salt
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage , removed from casing
1 medium fennel bulb , halved, cored, and sliced thin
1/2 cup pine nuts , toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
1 ounce grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1/2 cup)


1. Combine oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.
2. Heat sausage in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; cook, stirring to break sausage into ½-inch pieces, until browned and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to paper towel-lined plate, leaving rendered fat in skillet. (
my sausage was so lean I has virtually no oil, so I added a bit of the one I had soaking with the red pepper) Return skillet to medium-high heat, add fennel and ¼ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until fennel is tender, about 5 minutes.
3. Push fennel to sides of skillet to create 3-inch clearing; add oil-garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, (
Ok, this smells so good) about 1 minute. Stir to combine garlic mixture with fennel and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove skillet from heat and stir in sausage, pine nuts, basil, and lemon juice.(Wow, now it smells even better!)
4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water; cook until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup pasta cooking water, drain pasta, and return pasta to Dutch oven.
5. Add sauce and reserved cooking water to pasta and toss to coat. Season with salt to taste. Transfer to serving bowl, sprinkle with cheese, and serve.

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