Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thorsday Book Reviews

Our friend Hsin-Yi, whose long time companion was Honey the Great Dane, has been busy as an author since the passing of Honey.  She wrote a romantic mystery series set in Singapore, followed by a lighthearted romance series set in the fictional town of Summer Beach, Australia (5 books and counting!), both series under her own name.  Then, a few months back, she began releasing a Pride and Prejudice alternative series under the pen name Penelope Swan.  This was very interesting to me, because not too long before that, I"d read in the Wall Street Journal (of course) that P&P alternatives were a huge and booming business, both in books and films.  Naturally, I had to reread Pride and Prejudice, which caused my menfolk no end of amusement: "Wait, tell me the plot again? Girl meets rich man, likes him then hates him within 2 paragraphs and spends a couple hundred pages avoiding him while playing matchmaker for everyone else before agreeing to marry the rich man?"  Well, when you put it that way, guys, it doesn't sound that wonderful.

THE NETHERFIELD AFFAIR
Book 1 of the Dark Darcy Mysteries
by Penelope Swan

These books follow the basic plot of Pride and Prejudice; this one is set within the first quarter of the original book.  Elizabeth Bennet's sister Jane, having gone to visit the Bingley family, took ill and had to stay at their house, Netherfield, during her recovery. Their younger sisters had regaled the Bennet family with tales of the ghost at Netherfield, having heard such stories from their own servants, who had in turn learned them from Netherfield's servants; they also spoke of a highwayman, Handsome George. Elizabeth dismissed these stories as uneducated nonsense, and set off to walk the 3 miles to Netherfield to look in on her sister. Having undertaken this trip on a rainy day, Elizabeth ended up muddy, and ended up staying at Netherfield to keep her sister company, despite the disapproval of Mr. Bingham's sisters, one of whom had designs upon Bingley's best friend, Mr.Darcy. A couple of light mysteries involving a ghostly face at an attic window, bouquets of violets and missing jewelry make for entertaining fare. Written in the old style, mildly modernized for today's readers, but retaining all of the sensibilities of Jane Austen, this is a worthy endeavor.  5/5

INTRIGUE AT THE BALL
Book 2 of the Dark Darcy Mysteries
by Penelope Swan

 This is the second Pride and Prejudice spin-off written by Penelope Swan. This "alternate" takes place during the second quarter of P&P, when Mr. Bingley hosted a ball at Netherfield. In this version, it's a masquerade ball attended not only by the locals, but also by Gentleman George, a highwayman who is acquainted to Mr. Darcy since childhood, and claims to have been wronged by him (this character appeared in the original, but not as a highwayman). A theft occurs at the dinner portion of the ball, and it's all attributed to a "curse" on an item carried by one of Elizabeth Bennet's sisters. Elizabeth's behavior is a bit sillier than one would expect, and while that may be true, it's necessary in order to carry on the plot. Enough elements of the original story have been retained to make this a good read, although it did end abruptly.  4/5

THE POISONED PROPROSAL
Book 3 of the Dark Darcy Mysteries
by Penelope Swan

This book occurs in the third quarter of P&P, during the period in which Elizabeth has gone with her best friend Charlotte's father and sister to visit Charlotte and Charlotte's new husband, Mr. Collins, who live on Lady Catherine's estate, where Mr. Collins is the preacher. This book paints Lady Catherine as more overbearing and controlling than she was in the original, Mr. Collins as more cloying and kow-towing to Lady Catherine, and Lady Catherine's daughter, Anne, as more of a shrinking violet; all of those personality traits are just mild exaggerations of the ones they have in the original book, and it works. In this "Dark Darcy" mystery, Lady Catherine takes ill after a dinner at her estate; it is deemed poisoning. The village constable sets out to make an arrest, is stopped by Elizabeth, and she and Darcy subsequently solve the mystery. I had a hunch that the culprit was one of 3 people, which was correct, but the book was nevertheless enjoyable while it reached its ultimate conclusion.  5/5

SECRETS AT PEMBERLEY
Book 4 of the Dark Darcy Mysteries
by Penelope Swan

This is the final installment in Penelope Swan's Dark Darcy series. Referring to Pride & Prejudice, this covers the last fourth of the book, when Elizabeth Bennett and her aunt and uncle are visiting the region where Pemberley, Mr. Darcy's house, is located. In this version, Elizabeth and her aunt do indeed go to the town near Pemberley, staying at an inn in town. Upon arrival, they are warned that the highwayman Gentleman George has been seen in the area, and they shouldn't venture out at night. Soon, they go to see Pemberley, when Mr. Darcy is not supposed to be around, and enjoy a tour of the house. Mr. Darcy arrives, and invites them to visit the next day and meet his sister. When their inn burns in a fire, Mr. Darcy invites Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle as houseguests; Elizabeth becomes friendly with Georgiana Darcy; and the pianoforte which Mr. Darcy bought for Georgiana is believed by the servants to be haunted because they hear music at night, when everyone is asleep. Gentleman George is seen around the house; the Bingley sisters arrive to visit, and there is jealous conflict between them and Elizabeth. A well written and well executed variation on the end of P&P. 5/5

I read all of these on the Kindle, although they are now also available in paperback.

And, because there are no pictures of the covers, how about a picture of Jeffrey's dog Tank, gazing intently at his favorite store?

Happy Thorsday, everyone!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cookbook Wednesday: Pierre Franey, Encore!

You know that given how much I love my Pierre Franey Cookbook, featured a couple of weeks ago, that when I found his sequel I had to buy it: More 60-Minute Gourmet!

 There is some of everything in this book.
 Sauteed potatoes with your dinner!
I thought of Larry AKA Big Dude with this egg recipe.  And just in case you don't know how to poach a chicken breast, Pierre's got you covered.
 Need the side and the sauce recipe? Check.
 I love this potato recipe.  I might even try marinating my steaks some time.
 Desserts? Well, maybe some sauces, or add-ins to ice cream. It's all good.
 This is Cookbook Wednesday, Louise's tradition, which I'm carrying on while she is on sabbatical.
Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Garden Tuesday: Dirt

To grow new, fresh, green-carpet style grass, evidently you need to kill all the old grass and add dirt.

A lot of dirt.

A little baby backhoe helps, too.
 
 At least the flowers in the planters get to live.

 This is the archway for the wedding.  Not so pretty right now!
Let's hope the landscapers know what they are doing, and can obtain excellent grass in under 2 months!

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Cookbook Wednesday: Low Cholesterol Cuisine

Last Friday marked 18 months since my dearly beloved's surgery, and his recent EKG, blood work and visits to the specialist were all quite good.  Every day, I am happy that I took him to the doctor because he was just a little tired and out of breath.  Every day, I celebrate the fact that he's alive and well.  Every day, he moans about the fact that he's "not as healthy" as he was "before".  Yes? When? 1982? Bulletin, darling: I was younger, livelier and better looking in 1982, also.

But I digress: This is the first cookbook I bought when we were told that his cholesterol was somewhat high.  News flash: Doctors' offices are absolute crap at giving advice on how to eat when you have dietary restrictions.  If you're lucky, they have a pre-printed sheet telling you what foods to avoid (which is miles long), and what foods you can use (including water and fiber).  I really object to the terminology of "using" food.  What, is an apple like an illicit drug, which you "use"?  My nurse daughter said I was over-reacting; I told her I was linguistically right.  You "eat" food; you don't "use" it.  Still, I digress.  Let's just see the cookbook, shall we?

 I studied the tarnation out of this introduction, trying to learn the secrets of substitution, so I could just cook out of my head, which is pretty much what I've always done.  Ol' Mabel was much more helpful than anyone I had actually talked to, as long as you discount her acceptance of stick margarine, which we now know to be taboo, what with partially hydrogenated oils and all.


 At the beginning of every chapter, there's another section on substitutions to your own favorite recipes.  You can begin to see why I liked this cookbook.

 2 kinds of Chili made it into the meat section!
 Pizza sauce...not that any other similar recipe would be high fat if it didn't have meat...
 I do have to wonder about some of her choices.  Onion soup mix and salad dressing?  Sodium central.  Probably delicious nonetheless.
 Rice falls into the Potato (and Potato Substitute) section. Obviously. Again, not hard to adapt.
 Her husband must have a sweet tooth.  She included lots of cookie and dessert recipes.  That kind of thing separates impossible diets from realistic ones, in my opinion.
 Pie! Who doesn't love pie?
 This is Cookbook Wednesday, which I'm hosting while Louise is on hiatus.  Let me know if you want to be linked up!
Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Garden Tuesday

Miscellaney:

The problem with a mulberry tree is this: How does one go about picking the mulberries when they are all 6 feet or more off the ground?  (Not to mention the fact that ripe mulberries stain everything, especially when you walk on them.)


And this rhododendron has decided to bloom again.  I don't know why, but I'm pleased.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cookbook Wednesday: Pierre Franey

Surprisingly, I do not remember exactly where or when I got this cookbook.  I say surprisingly, because I like it very much.  Really, what's not to love about recipes for great food in under an hour?

 I've made this chicken many times (and once used ham, which was an inspired substitution).  It is simply wonderful.
 I like the fact that he suggests and supplies recipes for at least one side for every main dish.
 He also gives instruction for somewhat obscure things, like fish broth or croutons.
 Even if you don't like the main dish, the sides are great.
 And he can even make plain ol' hamburgers sound some kind of fancy.
No doubt, this is one of my favorite cookbooks.  And now you see why!

This is Cookbook Wednesday, which I'm hosting while its lovely creator, Louise, is on sabbatical.  Leave a comment to link up!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Garden Tuesday: I'm Back!

I didn't mean to be gone for 2 weeks.  But life and family happen while we are making other plans, don't they?

Shannon was here and touching up the wrought iron gates in the walled garden this weekend.  It is the planned site of the wedding (in just 3 months)!

This is outside the oak gate at the end, looking inward.
And peering over the gate, this is the view the happy couple will see.
 One of the gates.  If you biggify the picture, you'll see that the gate is composed of wrought iron flowers.  1928 craftsmanship never ceases to amaze me.
 This is a better picture of the inside of the garden, looking from the oak gate.

 This is the other gate.  The masonry arch is lined by a wrought iron arch, making the gate so small that the menfolk hereabouts complain that "real sized people" can't pass through it.
 And this is a look at the walled garden from where the guests will sit.  The burning bushes at the end will be turning red by the time of the wedding, which will make a beautiful framework for the ceremony!
The ground in here is all going to be covered with a fresh layer of dirt, which will be rolled out, and hydroseeded, so it will be tabletop level, like a green carpet.  Gah!  It's costing a fortune!

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Blueberry Shakes!

OK, some people call these "smoothies".  But, to me, that's not a word.  If you've been around here for a while, you know that I'm weird about words and things like that.  So, just roll with me, these are blueberry shakes, OK?
I found this recipe in French Women Don't Get Fat.  I've been making a batch a day for the last 10 days or so, and both my dearly beloved and I have lost 3 pounds.  No other changes, just this blueberry shake for breakfast instead of whatever else we might have had.

BLUEBERRY SHAKE

12 ounces frozen blueberries (about 2-1/2 cups)
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 cups nonfat milk
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 tbsp honey
2-3 tbsp stevia, optional

This is not exactly how the recipe was written, but this is how I make it.  Put the blueberries in the blender 20 to 30 minutes before you want your shake.  When you're ready, add the remaining ingredients in the order given.  Pulse to loosen the blueberries, then blend on low for 30 to 45 seconds.  Makes 2 very large shakes.
(When you look at this picture, remember: blurry is beautiful.)

Note that the book says this will serve 4.  But there are only about 400 calories in the entire blender, so I'll have half of that.  It's less caloric than almost any breakfast - cereal with milk, eggs and toast, waffles....you get the picture.  And it will carry me for 4 or 5 hours without a problem.  The original recipe called for lemon juice and cardamom; I deleted those and added almond extract, which I love.  I added the stevia because my dearly beloved didn't think it sweet enough with just the honey - remember, this is the man who says he doesn't like sweets!  Now, if his shake doesn't arrive within 20 minutes of his being up, he starts to complain: "I'm starving!"

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Cookbook Wednesday: French Women, Part Deux

When Jeffrey found last week's cookbook for me, he also found its sequel, French Women for all Seasons.
 This one is based on seasonal foods.  There is the conversational part at the beginning, 40 pages or so, which caused me to question whether this was a cookbook or a novel,
 But there are recipes.  Green pellets, anyone? (Did I tell you that one of my daughter's specifications for the caterer at her wedding was that there are to be no peas in any form at the reception?)
 Recipes are arranged by seasonal availability, and include salads, soups and main dishes.

 There are also a week's worth of menu suggestions for each season.  I like that.

 Lots and lots and more lots of verbiage about wine. Yawn. I know some folks love wine, beer and spirits, but my sweet tooth just says, "Why bother?"
 At last!  Here's my section!
 This is Cookbook Wednesday, which I'm hosting while Louise is on sabbatical until later this summer!
Let me know if you want to link up!  Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Edited to Add: 

Grannie's Pantries: Omelettes Take Manhattan!