Saturday, April 27, 2013

Weekend Cooking...These Are a Few of My Favorite Things..

I am sure all of us that enjoy cooking, like spending time in the kitchen, have our favorite tools, that favorite knife we good to, a spoon we just love.
Well do you?
What if someone gave you a box, just a medium sized box, and said you could fill it up with the thinks you want to keep and the rest would disappear.
What would you take?
I just though I would share a few things, a couple that I feel very strongly about.

OK, these are not tools, per se, just mugs for my tea and coffee that I love. I love the shape, they are so nice to hold and I love the colors.

OK, this little orange number is something I acquired recently, a citrus squeezer. They come in different sizes, often with matching colors. Green for limes, yellow for lemons and orange for..Yes! Oranges. But just buy the biggest and trust me it works great for them all. It does an outstanding job!

I will be honest. As much as I like this ProAccurate Quick Read thermometer by CDN, the second best rated one by America's Test Kitchen, I have a secret craving for the top rated one, the Thermapen. But it cost $93, as opposed to about $17, and that is just silly.
This one is swell, fast and accurate.
And $17. little silicone bowls.
This set of Le Creuset prep bowls are multipurpose and so cute.
They are measuring cups..1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/ can bake in them, freeze them, microwave in them, you can prep your ingredients and have them waiting in these cups. Since you can squeeze them, it make pouring into another container neat and they are dishwasher safe.
and so cute! And about $15.

My favorite wooden spoon. I have a pile of them I never use but this stubby little fellow is my go to spoon. Very strong feeling, great for a thick batter, stirring those chips into the cookies.

I have a big metal colander and a smaller fine strainer. But when I want to strain something, most time, this is my choice. It was a flat bottom to sit is a bowl or in the sink and best of all, I think it was $2 at Ikea. and it is red!
Or maybe orange. It looks more red in my kitchen...
OK, I just like this fellow and wanted to put him in the lineup. He is actually a twist his little bottom...but mostly he just looks cute.

Now we are at my favorites! 
Above, we have my Oxo Good Grips Locking Tongs with Nylon Heads. I love these, so many uses. Yes, you can flip a steak or turn that chicken. But, you can also grab a hot pan, use it when you stir fry, get those ears of corn out of the boiling is just an extension of your hand.

Then below, we have perhaps my very, very favorite, the Rubbermaid Commercial Products 9 1/2-Inch High Heat Spoon Scraper. It is great to stir with, great to scrape a bowl or pot. The handle does not get hot, but whatever it is made of is very heat resistant and goes in the dishwasher like a charm. It does not least not for a long, long time...and lasts forever, despite countless rides in the dishwasher. OK, mine that are several years old have a few nicks on the edges. So I bought a couple of new ones. But I kept the older one too. Because the little nicks are not a big deals. So I have about 4 now, all in rotation. The center is thick and firm yet about 1/2-3/4 inches along the edges is soft and bendable. Perfect!


Do you have some favorites, something you just could not cook without?
Or one tool that is just a pleasure to use?

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

Friday, April 26, 2013

Review of "Murder Below Montparnasse" [32]

Murder Below Montparnasse by Cara Black 
Soho Crime, ISBN 978-1616952150
March 5, 2013, 319 pages

"A long-lost Modigliani portrait, a grieving brother’s blood vendetta, a Soviet secret that’s been buried for 80 years—Parisian private investigator Aimée Leduc’s current case is her most exciting one yet.

When Aimée’s long-term partner and best friend Rene leaves their detective agency for a new job in Silicon Valley, Aimée knows she can handle the extra workload. At least, that what she tells herself. Repeatedly.

But all bets are off when Yuri Volodya, a mysterious old Russian man, hires Aimée to protect a painting. By the time she gets to his Montparnasse atelier, the precious painting has already been stolen, leaving Aimée smelling a rat. The next day, Yuri is found tortured to death in his kitchen. To top it all off, it looks like Aimée isn’t the only one looking for the painting. Some very dangerous people are threatening her and her coworkers, and witnesses are dropping like flies. Now Aimée has to find the painting, stop her attackers, and figure out what her long-missing mother, who is on Interpol’s most wanted list, has to do with all this—fingers crossed she wasn’t Yuri’s murderer, despite clues pointing in that direction.

Obviously, Rene doesn’t need to worry. Aimee has things under control."

But, of course, she doesn't, which if you are familiar with the series is part of the appeal.
And one of the things I find annoying.

On the good side, Aimée and Rene are good characters. Sadly Rene, who usually keeps his friend under control, is off on his own little adventure that goes bad in the US, so Aimée is even a little more flighty than usual. Yes, that is her, but is gets a bit tiring. Am I wrong to want a detective who actually detects, not just falling into event after event? It is all react, little thoughtful action.

Then there is the setting. Awww...Paris, City of Lights, Aimée zipping around on her little Vespa, changing outfits out of her bag to create disguise after cute. And the so common French phases add a lot of atmosphere. And become more than a little annoying.
See, I don't speak French. And I would bet most of the readers don't speak French.
I read one of these phases and the story comes to a halt for a moment as I try to figure it out. Is there some explanation in the following dialogue? Can I figure it out? Does it say something important, something that would add to the story? I have no idea, and worse of all, I have stepped out of reality of the story because of it.

This is, I believe the 13th book in this series, not something to be sneezed at. Obviously it has a lot of fans.
But while there are some appealing aspects to the book...the characters, the is not enough for me to save it from a confusing, meandering plot and those annoying, mysterious French bits most of the readers are, no doubt, missing out on.
Although that little surprise at the end of the book...and no, I will not tell you what it is even if careful readers will figure it out themselves before  Aimée...does make me slightly curious about that the future will hold for Aimée. I seriously doubt I will find out though.

My thanks to the publisher and Amazon Vine for providing a review copy.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review of "Evil Water" [31]

Evil Water by Inger Wolf
Black Cat Edition
December 15, 2012, 269 pages

"Two women disappear without a trace, and the same autumn a farmer on the outskirts of Århus finds them murdered in suitcases under a heap of stone. The skin of one woman is filled with the letter Y and the other has a rare flower in her hair. Inspector Daniel Trokic is leading the case which goes in several directions: to a tribal population in Africa, religious insanity and a horrifying meeting with leeches. When a third woman disappears, Trokic is under pressure to find out what the killer wants to say with his macabre scenery and rituals."

The missing women seem to have no connection to each other, no people, no places, no activities in common. But they do share one important thing, their long auburn hair. In fact, they look so similar, they could be sisters. It seems their killer, their sick, very twisted killer has a very specific type. And a particularly horrible way of killing them.

a leech..uugh
I will warn you, this is a story about a twisted, psychologically damaged serial killer...and the killer is not the only one in this book with a few issues. From the opening chapter, told from a victims point of view, we know we are in for a creepy ride.
The plot is clever, the discoveries about the identity of the killer and their motivation building up in a realistic way with a nice twist at the end that took me by surprise. That is the good news.

But the news is not all good.
I am not sure who translated the book from the author's native Danish, but it seems to cause a few problems. Sometimes a sentence seems oddly structured and much of the dialogue is very awkward, honestly not the way policemen would talk. It is not a deal breaker but still a noticeable issue and rather distracting.

Also the characters are not as well developed as I might like, not least of all the lead police detective Daniel Trokic. On more than one occasion I got him and his second in command confused with each other, not a great sign. Again, while not a deal breaker, it is something that keeps the book from moving from the good to the very good level. This is Wolf's first book to be translated into English, but not the first in the series. Perhaps that is part of the problem because I never felt like I knew Trokic's story. The setting in Arhus, Denmark adds some interest. I always find it interesting to see the differences in how the police departments of other countries operate and some of the differences in their daily lives.

Overall, Evil Water is a nice addition to the list of Scandinavian mysteries out there, if not the very best.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy for review.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Wordless Wednesday...They Call me Mellow Yellow

They have nothing in common, except some yellow... 
and a bit of gold.

Made of Legos!

St. Marks, Venice

 always, for more Wordless Wednesday, 
check these out.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Musing Monday...On the Road Again...


 These Mondays come so quick!! Well,
 let's check out the questions at Should Be Reading...

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!

• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

If you have been reading my rants..I mean my musings... here for awhile..a few years perhaps, you might know that I have had a few issues with e books.
Well, then I got a Nook.
And then an iPad.
And a smartphone.
And I stopped going on about them quite as much, as I bought into their more positive aspects.
But what about one particular sub-set?

Travel guides.
Yes, it is time for caite to plan her next trip!

Now, on the surface, if ever there were any category of books that seemed to called for e-books, it would be travels guides. They tend to be big, awkward and heavy to carry in your luggage. They need to be updated frequently. They ideally are searchable and easy to take notes in. In all these ways, the e-book would seem to have the advantage.
In reality, it is not as clear.

I must admit this topic was suggested by the Bro this week. When the SIL and he and I are traveling together, he is the Big researcher. But I still like to do some reading, get ready for a destination.

And for that, I tend to fall back, at least at first, on a dead tree book. For an overview, for flipping around in a giant book to the parts that are relevant to your specific trip, a paper book is just easier. Then I think, when you actually get down to the trip and a lot of the big decisions have been made, an e-book or an app can be useful. And a lot lighter in your suitcase. Of course, there is also the time tested but rather painful method of tearing the needed chapters out of your giant travel guide to take with you. Yes, you read that correctly..tear chapter from a book.
People do it, I have done it...and while not ideal, it may have to do for now.

I think part of the problem is that maybe publishers have not quite gotten their travel e-books up to snuff yet. I am not sure what percentage of all books in general travel guides are, but it is a part if their business they do not seem to be taking too seriously yet in the new format.
If you look at what travelers online say, people posting on boards on travel sites and such, they all seem to feel that in reality e-books have a number of issues when it comes to travel guides.
They are, oddly, very bad at being searched on a specific topic or place, and also oddly, they tend to be out of date. One guy said how he ended up buying the almost 900 page paper guide for Germany when he say the e-version the publisher was selling online was 3 years old. 3 years? In travel terms, that can be an eternity. Hotels, restaurants, visitor sites open and close and old info is often bad info.

Another complaint is the maps in e-books tend to be rather unreadable. Again, I have to think that is an issue the publisher needs to address, could address. You can't tell me, with all the technology we have these days that you can provide a good map in an e-book. Really.

So at least for the time being, it seems that even the greatest fan of e-books is going to have to settle for a mix of formats. Buy the giant hulking paper travel guide..then buy an e-version to carry with you along with those torn out chapters...then buy an app or two for your smart phone......wait...wait one minute...

May those publishers know what they are doing after all!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Weekend Cooking...Chicken Fit for a King

Last week I shared this new-to-me velveting technique for cooking chicken. I had cooked several big chicken breasts and I had a fair bit left over.
So what to make with that lovely tender chicken?
Well, it popped into my mind, a favorite dinner from my youth and something I have not made in forever, Chicken a la King.
A creamy, rich white sauce with peppers and mushrooms and some tender chicken, perfect over rice or some warm, split biscuits.... Yum.

So, where did this dish come from and how did it get that royal name?
Time to head over to Wikipedia!!

"The most likely account is that Chicken à la King was created in the 1890s by hotel cook William "Bill" King of the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia. Several obituaries in early March 1915 credited King after he died on March 4, 1915. A New York Tribune editorial at the time of King's death stated:
'The name of William King is not listed among the great ones of the earth. No monuments will ever be erected to his memory, for he was only a cook. Yet what a cook! In him blazed the fire of genius which, at the white heat of inspiration, drove him one day, in the old Bellevue, in Philadelphia, to combine bits of chicken, mushrooms, truffles, red and green peppers and cream in that delight-some mixture which ever after has been known as "Chicken a la King.'"

Chicken a la King 

  • 3/4 cup heavy cream 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice 
  • Salt 
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 
  • 1 onion, chopped fine 
  • 1 cup sliced baby bella mushrooms 
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped fine 
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper 
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons flour 
  • 1/4 cup sherry wine 
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth   


Whisk 1/2 cup cream, lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl. 
Add chicken, cover, and refrigerate 30 minutes. 

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook onion until golden, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, bell peppers, 1/4 teaspoon salt, nutmeg,  and pepper and cook until vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. 

Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Add sherry, scraping up browned bits with wooden spoon, and cook until thickened, about 1 minute. Add broth and remaining cream and cook until sauce is very thick and spatula leaves trail when dragged through sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken mixture and reduce heat to medium-low. Add in parsley.
Simmer, stirring frequently, until chicken is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. 

OK, this recipe is based on America's Test Kitchen's recipe and  you know how highly I think of them. They do that little soaking thing with the chichen, a sort or brine, something ATK always recommends with chichen and pork, to keep it moist and tender when cooked.
But, of course, I had my left over 'velveted' chicken, so I skipped that. I would be interested to try it in the future though.

And a few other changes. As usual.
I had no cream, so I just used milk. I am sure cream would have been very rich, very nice, just what a King needs, but I am only a Princess, so milk was fine.
Then there are the peppers. I had some roasted red peppers in the fridge, so in they went. I added the parsley and the nutmeg. Ever cream sauce benefits from some FRESHLY grated nutmeg in my humble opinion.

And finally, the wine.
The original ATK recipe  called for Marsala, but my mom always used sherry, Harveys Bristol Cream Sherry in fact. For me, that distinct sherry taste is required in Chicken a la King.

And a wee glass of Harveys makes a lovely pre-dinner aperitif.

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

Friday, April 19, 2013

Review of "Deeply Odd" [30]

Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz
Bantam, ISBN 978-0553807738
May 28, 2013, 352 pages

How do you make sure a crime that hasn’t happened yet, never does? That’s the critical question facing Odd Thomas, the young man with a unique ability to commune with restless spirits and help them find justice and peace. But this time, it’s the living who desperately need Odd on their side. Three helpless innocents will be brutally executed unless Odd can intervene in time. Who the potential victims are and where they can be found remain a mystery. The only thing Odd knows for sure is who the killer will be: the homicidal stranger who tried to shoot him dead in a small-town parking lot. 
With the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock riding shotgun and a network of unlikely allies providing help along the way, Odd embarks on an interstate game of cat and mouse with his sinister quarry. He will soon learn that his adversary possesses abilities that may surpass his own and operates in service to infinitely more formidable foes, with murder a mere prelude to much deeper designs. Traveling across a landscape haunted by portents of impending catastrophe, Odd will do what he must and go where his path leads him, drawing ever closer to the dark heart of his long journey—and, perhaps, to the bright light beyond.

Yes, Odd Thomas does see dead people, has his whole life.
But other than that, he is a pretty normal young man.
A fry cook by profession, but it has been awhile since he has been able to practice his chosen occupation, one at which he excels. He is called to greater things, things he doesn't always understand, things he and we, the readers, have learned about as we go in the previous Odd Thomas books.

Odd can feel evil, he can sense when bad people are about to do bad things and he knows he must act to stop them, that he is the only one in a position act. Well...sort of, because as we start to see in this book, Odd is not nearly as alone as he once thought. There are other involved in this battle, including a very little old woman with a very big car and a group of very useful friends, and even others who might share his gift. Very interesting...

"However you disguise it, this thing does not change/ 
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil."
Odd is, of course, on the side of Good and representing Evil in this book will be...well, I will let you find that out on your own. But let's say it does not get much more evil, in who is involved and in what their plan is for a group of abducted children.

The world Koontz paints in this series is a very dark one at times.."the appearance of ordinariness is an illusion, and just below the placid surface, the world is seething." But it is also a world of good people, like Odd and the many people he has run into, trying to fight the good fight. Odd is our hero, if a slightly reluctant one. He has lost the love of his life, Stormy Llewellyn, in a previous episode, but he believes without question that they will be together forever again in the future.

But still, these books, and this one is no exception, are not all dark and grim.
Koontz loves dogs and once again that beautiful white lab, Boo, is back and as useful as ever. Yes, ok, Boo is a ghost dog, but still an outstanding canine.  A love a great dog character and Koontz has some great ones.
Odd is a smart young man, and at time a very amusing, witty young man, who is not blind to the absurdity of the situation he finds himself in. And this time we have the addition of his partner in the phase of the journey, 86 year old Edie Fischer.
Edie is a pistol...both figuratively and literally...a great addition to Odd's mission in this book.

And in this book we also have Alfred Hitchcock. Usually these dead people are looking for Odd's help, but this time around, Odd's otherworldly visitor is a source of great help, and the cause of some amusing incidents.

Followers of this series will want to grab this one up. I think it gets off to a bit of a slow start but once it gets going and especially as it races toward the!
But honestly, if you are not familiar with the series, really, don't start here. You will be confused. Yes, you could, and a fair bit of the back story is explained, but really you have to go back to book one and experience how this journey started.
This is the sixth book in the series and at one point I remember reading that Koontz planned for seven Odd Thomas books. I am not sure if that is still the plan but in a way I hope it is. I like the books but we learn a good deal in this book and I can almost see the big wrap up coming. And I hate a series that hangs around too long and doesn't go out on high note.
And as Odd knows, his soul mate Stormy is waiting for him.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wordless Wednesday...In Bloom

A sad day, after the horrible events in Boston yesterday, 
but the re-birth of Spring is always a symbol of hope.


 always, for more Wordless Wednesday, 
check these out.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Musing Monday...I See Dead People..


 Monday already? Well,
 let's check out the questions at Should Be Reading...

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!

• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

I have another bookish rant.
Why is that I tend to lean toward the rants here?
Well, maybe if I don't rant my head would explode and that would be very messy.

This weeks rant was brought on by a conversation I had with one of my bosses yesterday. He stopped by the office and saw I was reading a book, a book by Dean Koontz. He asked if he could borrow it when I finished it..which he certainly can...and said that he was once a great fan of Koontz's books, but had not read one in years. Which reminded that years ago, decades in fact, I was a big fan of Koontz. It is hard to pin down but he was written at least 70+ books and I imagine I have read at least half. But the rant is about why I stopped.

When I read reading his books, I started with his most recent books and worked back, which is fine because these were all standalones. But at some point I picked up one, thinking I had not read it, only to find that I had, under A DIFFERENT TITLE!
What in the world is with that? And then I was discussing this issue today with a coworker and she reminded me of it happening with another author, a suspense author we both read.
That is crazy!

Bad enough when publishers issue them in different countries under different titles, but the same book in the USA issued under different names...unforgivable.
It is a scam?
Are they trying to drive readers insane?
I will tell you the second or third time it happened, I gave up on Koontz.
Which is a shame.

This book by Mr. Koontz I am reading now is part of a series, his Odd Thomas series. It is a series about a young man, a former fry cook, with unique talents that make him a valuable as a champion of the good and a force against evil.
Not like Superhero, but more like Supernatural Hero.
He see the dead as well, who seem to seek him out when they need a little help moving on. Hard to be sure because they don't actually speak. And on occasion he is graced with the help of a famous dead person, like Elvis, or Frank Sinatra or, in this case, Alfred Hitchcock and a cast of interesting people who come into his path when most needed.

This is the sixth in the series..but I must admit that it seems I missed 4 and 5. If it sounds interesting, you MUST read the first in the series, Odd Thomas... and maybe the second...and then you should be good to go. But if they start reissuing these with differ titles..I find the novella and graphic novels issued in the Odd series confusing enough...I will have to say goodbye to Dean once again.
So cut it out!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Weekend Cooking...The Velveteen Chicken

In an attempt to use up some things that have been sitting in the freeze a bit too long, I dug in there and found a pack of 'fresh' lo mein noodle I bought at some point, so lo mein it is!
But I have never made lo mein, as much as I love it.
OK, let's Google lo mein and look for some recipes...

Noodles..have them
Sauce...have all the ingredients on hand.
Veggies...let's see what is in the crisper.
Protein..well, I have some chicken breasts.

But..hey, I want tender chicken. Like the take-out chicken lo mein.
How do they do that? So back to Google I went.
It seems that they use a technique called 'velveting' where the meat is marinated in cornstarch and some liquid before cooking. And I will tell you, I am not sure why, but it works.
So how does one 'velvet'?

For 1 lb. need..
  • 1 TBS sherry
  • 1 egg white 
  • 1 TBS cornstarch 

Marinate the chicken..
Slice the chicken thinly, against the grain. (easier if it is just a little frozen.)
Mix the sherry, egg white and cornstarch in a small bowl and then add to the chicken, coating all the pieces. Let the meat marinate for 30 minutes.

Velveting the chicken..using the water method.
Start this process by bringing a pot of water to a boil.
Once the water boils, lower the heat to maintain a very gentle simmer. Scatter in the chicken, stir to separate and keep stirring gently until the pieces turn white. This should take 1-2 minutes.
Remove the chicken pieces quickly with a slotted spoon (or drain using a colander). Set the chicken aside. Try not to get any of the egg that may have floated to the top in with the chicken....which did not really happen for me.
The chicken can be refrigerated for later or let's go on and make some Lo Mein!!

Chicken Lo Mein 

Marinade the chicken as detailed above. 

Prepare the noodles
Add 12 oz. fresh lo main noodles to boiling water and cook until just done according to package instructions, 1-2 minutes. Drain and toss with 1 tsp. sesame oil and 1 TBS. oyster sauce in a bowl and set aside. 

Prepare the sauce and set aside. 
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock 
  • 2 TBS. oyster sauce 
  • 2 TBS. soy sauce 
  • 1 TBS. sherry 
  • 1/2 TBS. spicy Szechuan stir fry sauce (or chili sauce, hot sauce, red pepper flakes to taste)
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch 
Next, prepared the vegetables. 
  • 1 TBS. minced garlic 
  • 1 TBS. grated fresh ginger 
  • 1 small onion, cut in large dice 
  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced or shredded 
  • 1 cup broccoli 
  • 1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 scallions, sliced 
  • 1 small red pepper, cut in dice or julienned 
Cook the chicken as explained above and set aside. 
OK, now we have everything ready, the noodles waiting, the chicken waiting, the sauce waiting and the veggies ready to go. Now it is time to put it all together and in just a few minutes dinner will be ready.!

Heat 1-2 TBS. oil in wok or large frying pan. When hot, add ginger and garlic and saute for a minute, being careful not to burn. Add the rest of the vegetables and saute, stirring constantly until crunchy tender, 3-4 minutes. Add the chicken, stir to heat, then add in the sauce and finally the noodles. Toss to combine. 

This might seem a little complicated but it is just several small steps, preparing each part separately and then combining the parts. Noodles+Sauce+Meat or other protein if desired+Veggies=Lo Mein.

The winner with this recipe is the incredibly tender chicken. I always wondered how Chinese restaurants did it and now I know. This is the first time I tried this technique and it is one that I will use again in various chicken recipes.
I used the water method, but you could also take the marinate chicken and stir fry it in some oil, but honestly, I like the more neutral, un-browned chicken and I can do without the oil. Which is another reason to make it yourself rather than get the sometimes greasy take-out version.

As to the vegetables, the choice is yours! I think the garlic and ginger and onion are required and then just go from there, with what you like and what you have on hand. Snow peas..fresh bean sprouts...celery...water corn...napa cabbage..whatever you love to make up several cups. As to the protein, you could use chicken, shrimp, pork, tofu..or some lovely flat iron steak like in the pic above. Oh my, where has this cut of beef been. Tender and delicious and it was on sale!
And if there are no fresh lo mein noodles in your neighborhood, just use spaghetti. No problem.

This is a recipe with a lot of flexibility.

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

Friday, April 12, 2013

Review of "Black Irish" [29]

Black Irish by Stephan Talty
Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0345538062
February 26, 2013, 336 pages.

Absalom “Abbie” Kearney never expected to move back home. She grew up in Buffalo, in an insular Irish-American community on the south side called "the County", “a patch of Ireland in the wilds of America”.
But plans change.

She left home and went to Harvard, then off to a successful career as a police detective in Miami. But when her adopted father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she returned to care for him, returned to a bleak Buffalo, a city that is even more depressed than the city she left. Especially, she has returned to "the County", an Irish- American enclave in south Buffalo, that like the city at large, has seen better days. The factories and plants that once lined the waterfront are closed, houses boarded up, drugs and crime all too common, the highways, built for workers and commuters, now empty
"When she told her partner Z about how odd she felt driving Buffalo highways, he’d asked her why. She’d brushed it off then, but now she knew why. It’s the emptiness. The enormous emptiness. Or the loneliness, that was it, the feeling of being alone in a place that should be filled with other people, cars full of families headed to the supermarket, to the restaurant on the lake, to the hockey game. Buffalo had built miles of highways during the book years, enough for a million people. The people that were going to come, but didn’t. Why not? Where’d they disappear to? What happened to them?" 
A good place perhaps for Abbie to again make her name as a first rate homicide detective though, because murders are not rare.

It started as just a routine missing person case, when Jimmy Ryan disappeared from his meter reading route. As usual, his friends and family will have little to say to an outsider like Abbie, even though she suspects they have some idea what happened. Even though she grew up in the County, the adopted daughter of a respected cop, she is not really one of them. She attended the weddings and funeral receptions at the Gaelic Club, the heart of the community, when she was a girl, but knew she was only grudgingly accepted because of who her father was. No, they will keep their secrets, even when Jimmy's body turns up, terribly beaten and tortured. The strange little plastic toy monkey left at the scene, especially when another turns up at the next grisly murder, left them know they have something different on their hands his time. A serial killer that appears to be targeting men from the "County".
Then one of these strange little monkeys turn up on the apartment of Abbie and her father. Will one of them be the next intended victim, and what happened in the past that may have caused this very disturbed, very angry kill to seek his revenge?

Although the author has written several best selling non-fiction books, this is his first fiction work and a very worthy effort it is. The plot is clever and fast paced, with a few twists as the story progresses that I never saw coming. A good sign. And the characters, especially Abbie, are quite good, even if Abbie is not the most sympathetic person. Actually, maybe she is better for that.

But for me the real winner of this book was the setting. First we have the weather. It is winter and it is oh so cold and snowy and icy and gray. Then we have the city, both declining the Buffalo itself and the declining Irish-American neighborhood. It is grim and realistic, and I say this as one who grew up in my own declining city and declining Irish-American neighborhood. I remember those first generation Irish immigrants, with there Irish flags and their love of the angry rebel songs. Talty nails the feeling. The murders are gruesome, I will warn you, but if you enjoy a good psychological police procedural this is one you will want to check out.

My thanks to Amazon Vine and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Wordless Wednesday...A Day with Sock Monkeys

Be Happy! 
..and nothing is happier than Sock Monkeys!

Rise and Shine! Get up from your Sock Monkey bed.

Have some Sock Monkeys with your coffee..

..then get some work done with a Sock Monkey mouse pad...

Be quiet guys, I am trying to work!

Then take a nap with my Sock monkey quilt. A gift The Niece made for me!

Yes, Sock Monkey, it is dinner time.

Then off to beddie, a Sock Monkey light to keep the monsters away! always, for more Wordless Wednesday, 
check these out.

Review of "The Sound of Broken Glass" [28]

The Sound of Broken Glass: A Novel by Deborah Crombie
William Morrow, ISBN  978-0061990632
 (February 19, 2013, 368 pages

The Crystal Palace, a glass building originally built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, was once a glorious site, a world famous landmark. Now, the building is long gone, burned in a memorable fire, leaving just a park and a name for a neighborhood of London that has seen better days. The sort of neighborhood where finding a dead body in a rather seedy hotel is not that unusual. Still, the way this body is trussed up, the circumstances of his death, is not something police often see and the fact that the victim is a prominent lawyer raises the bar. Is it some sort of kinky sex game gone bad, especially since the lawyer was last seen leaving a neighbor bar with a woman?

It is not clear at first just what they have here. That is until the second victim, another lawyer, turns up killed in the exactly the same way, this time in his home. What ties these men together..and who might be the next victim?

Investigating the crimes will be Scotland Yard DCI Gemma James, with a little input from her husband, also a Scotland Yard detective. Duncan Kincaid, in this, the 15th book in the series, is manning the home front, on leave from work until they can get the latest member of their household, foster child Charlotte, settled in preschool. With Charlotte's history, which is briefly mentioned, that is not too easy. But Duncan is a resourceful man, able to give some unofficial help in the case, while working things out at home as well. Even if he is getting a little desperate to get back to work.

Wait, did I say 15th book?
Do you have to go back and read the previous 14 first?
No, although it is an excellent series and once you read one you will want to read more. Personally, I have not read them all and the ones I have read have been out of order and oddly, that has not been a problem.
The Crystal Palace

I say oddly because while James and Kincaid and a reoccurring cast of characters are key to the success of these books, the author is able to fill us in quickly with what we need to know about their history. And oddly because a character they have met before, in connection with another murder, guitarist Andy Monahan, is a key player (no pun intended) this time around. His sad and moving backstory, growing up right in the middle of Crystal Palace, the fact that he may have gotten in a fight with one of the victims in a pub the night he died, not to mention his romance with James' second in command, Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot, will keep him front and center. Oh, I don't think DS Talbot should be involved with someone who might be the next victim..or even worse, the murderer.

The plot is solid and interesting and how it all weaves together, with the introductory paragraphs about the history of the Crystal Place and several sub-plots, is all very clever. Read those parts about the Crystal Palace carefully and you might pick up a clue to two to the present day mystery. At worst, they are interesting all on their own. And of course, we have the relationship of James and Kincaid and their blended family, always worth reading. They are very likable, with a realistic marriage, trying to balance home and work, and some great co-workers and friends. Poor Duncan plays a bit of a secondary role in this book perhaps, but he still makes his presence known. And someone has to work out wee, sweet Charlotte's future while his wife is out catching killers.

Unlike some series that might be running out of gas by the 15th installment,  this one, without question, is still going strong. This one is as good as any in the series and, as I am sure fans will agree, I hope Crombie keeps turning out these excellent and very enjoyable reads.

My thanks to Amazon Vine and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Musing Monday...Order in the Court!


 Woohoo, another week is starting,
so let's check out the questions at Should Be Reading...

Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• What book are you currently desperate to get your hands on? Tell us about it!

• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.
• Do you have a bookish rant? Something about books or reading (or the industry) that gets your ire up? Share it with us!
• Instead of the above questions, maybe you just want to ramble on about something else pertaining to books — let’s hear it, then!

I have a rant today, brought on by a book I just finished, and one I am going to read shortly. But both suffer from the same issue. They are part of a series, but book in that series that are bring translated and released in the US out of order.
Really, what are publisher thinking??

The first example, the book I just finished is Blessed Are Those Who Thirst: A Hanne Wilhelmsen Novel by Anne Holt.
A good book and a series I like.
But... the first book in the series that I read, and I believe the first published in English in the US, was the last in the series, 1222. Now, you see, the problem here is that by the time 1222  takes places, a HUGE event has occurred in our heroine Hanne's life, and we have missed what happened.

Then I went back and read the first book, Blind Goddess, at that time the only other one in English. Reading it and having read the last book, you can not help but think about what you know will happen to Hanne in the future, although it has nothing to do with this book. It is almost like reading the ending of a book, something I know most of you would never do. But, in this case, what else can you do? I believe there are 10 book in the series, only three which have been translated and are available in the US. So we meet Hanne in the beginning, then many years later, a changed woman, with a BIG gap in the middle.

Another confusing example is the books of Jo Nesbo.
Worse yet, it appears that some were translated into English, published in the UK, but not available at the same time in the US. I tired (OK, not too hard) to make a list of his Harry Hole series, the order they were written in and when they became available in the US..and I got totally screwed us. Some are available in the UK, or Canada but not in the US, so I lost track of which edition the date published referred to and gave up.

Maybe this is why, while I have read a couple in this series and liked them, I do not love them. I read somewhere that the first, The Bat, presents a young Harry Hole. I would love to meet that young Harry Hole and follow his story. After searching around a bit, I see I could get a Canadian edition from a third party..but it is all a bit too complicated.

Now I just got a review copy of The Redeemer, which will be published in May, the 6th in the series. At least I think it is the 6th...or the 4th..
Which might be fine if they have not already translated the 9th, and I read that.
And found out some rather shocking events.Which I would rather not know when I read the earlier books.
Honestly, it all makes my head spin a bit.

Both of these are examples of series that I think should be read in order. The life of the main characters, their development, is important to the series. That is not always true in a series, but with these two it is. But they are also, sadly, for some unknown reason examples of books published in the U.S. all out of order.
Really why?
For a reader, it drives me nuts. 
For a publisher, I think it is very bad business.
The whole appeal of a series is getting to know the characters, watch them as they develop, as their lives change. Jumping all around that is very difficult, if not impossible.
And bad for business.