Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Garden Tuesday: Hydrangea

My two hydrangea have started to turn pink.


I don't know why, since we haven't fed any of the trees around them recently, but I'm a fan!

Happy Garden Tuesday, everyone!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tilapia in Parchment

When we took Ryan to college, we went out for an early dinner after setting up his dorm room.  While proceeding down a major road, Ryan spotted a Red Lobster and exclaimed that he'd always wanted to try one, so in we turned.  He enjoyed visiting with the tank of lobsters (which are high in cholesterol), but we all chose something else for our meals.  I had a tilapia dish which was very nice, and proceeded to attempt to replicate it at home.  Here's my approximation:

TILAPIA IN PARCHMENT

Carrots, sliced and simmered for a few minutes
mushrooms
tilapia
artichoke hearts, quartered
scallions, chopped
grape tomatoes, cut in half
lemon juice
lemon pepper
lemon slices
butter or margarine

Simmer the carrots until they are about half cooked, or else they'll still be raw when everything else is done.  Cut a piece of parchment or foil about 12"x18" for each serving, and layer carrots, mushrooms (if desired) and tilapia.  Sprinkle the tilapia with lemon pepper and chopped scallions.  Top with grape tomatoes and artichoke hearts, drizzle a little lemon juice over the top, add 2 or 3 lemon slices, and add several pats of butter or margarine.  Seal the packets up, and bake at 375F until done, 20 to 30 minutes depending upon the amount of food in each packet.  Serve on a bed of rice (white or wild grain mix).



I enjoyed this because I could leave out whatever each of us doesn't like, and size each packet to the person for whom it was being prepared.  The downside is that it takes a little while to layer and seal each one, but that's the price you pay for not having to cook all the side dishes, right?  Everyone enjoyed it, so much so that I've cooked it twice in the past month.

Hope you all had a wonderful weekend!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Thorsday Book Review: The Yellow Room

Mary Roberts Rinehart would have been a remarkable woman, indeed, a remarkable man, at any time.  She was the wife of a wealthy doctor who lost most of his net worth in the stock market crash of 1903.  She began writing, publishing 45 short stories in the next few years, and her first novel in 1908, which earned her the amount her husband had lost, about $100,000, in the next year.  She was considered the "American Agatha Christie", and wrote many books and plays.  One of the interesting things about her books is that they are all written at the time in which they are set, providing us with interesting glimpses of life in a time long gone.




(It's the top book; I bought it back in May, at a used book sale.)


THE YELLOW ROOM
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
copyright 1945

Carol Spencer, polished young lady from New York, is aboard a train for Newport, Rhode Island, with her mother.  They will be visiting with Carol's sister and her family for a few days, after which Carol will leave to open the family's summer house in Maine a few weeks before everyone else joins her.  Carol had not expected to return to Maine again, since her fiance had been killed in the war, but her mother urged her to carry on.  So off to Maine Carol went with her maid in tow.  The housekeeper and groundskeeper seemed to be otherwise occupied, and the house wasn't ready for her.  After she got into the house, Carol discovered that the yellow bedroom was locked; inside it was the body of a young woman.  Who was she, and why was she in Carol's house?  The townsfolk were behaving strangely; why?  And her late fiance's father was also acting peculiarly; again, why?  Set in the midst of World War II, this was a fine mystery.  5/5

As a side note, I wonder if we don't remember Mrs. Rinehart's name the way we remember Agatha Christie because she didn't have recurring detectives such as Poirot or Miss Marple.  Each of her stories has its own distinct cast of characters and settings, making it harder for her to remain in the public eye for nearly 100 years, as Agatha Christie has.  Interesting.

Now, in case anyone is interested, I have two copies of the book.  I'll send one to someone!  Tell me why you want it, and I'll choose a name next Thorsday!

Happy Friday, everyone!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Honey Bunches

I found this recipe in the Winthrop College cookbook my (then future) daughter in law gave me a couple of years back.  It seemed like an easy and good recipe, and given that Louise just finished posting that September is National Honey Month (I think she's told us that before, but I always forget; I count on her to keep track of food holidays), this seemed like a great way to celebrate.

HONEY BUNCHES

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2/3 cup honey
1-1/2 cups quick oats
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

In a pan, melt the butter.  Stir in the honey (spray your measuring cup to avoid having all the honey stick to it), bring to a boil, and simmer for one minute.  Meanwhile, stir together all of the dry ingredients.  Pour the butter/honey mixture over it, stir together until well combined, and drop by the rounded spoonful into a well greased mini muffin pan.  Bake at 350F for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven, and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before attempting to remove from the pan (otherwise, they will break - trust me on this).  Store tightly wrapped to keep them soft.  Makes about 36.


I used my smallest cookie scoop to fill the muffin pans.  I also topped with some melted chocolate chips I happened to have (from another project).  Next time, I'd line the muffin pan with mini muffin papers, and spray those, to make it easier to remove them from the pans, and so I don't have to worry about eating the ones that break and don't look pretty.

My dearly beloved really liked these, and even Mark managed to compliment me, after a fashion: "These aren't half bad."  Trust me, that's high praise from that kid.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Thorsday Book Review: Tender Treachery

I know it's Friday, but Thursday happened too fast for me.

This is the new book by H. Y. Hanna, second in her "First Love" series.

TENDER TREACHERY
by H. Y. Hanna

This is the follow-up book to Tender Deceit, which I reviewed a couple of months back, written by H. Y. Hanna (also author of the Honey the Great Dane mysteries).  It's pure chick-lit, a light romantic mystery.  Leah has returned to England from Singapore, having tended to her father's funeral, reconnected with her first love, Toran James.  After about 2 months back at her job and life, but still distracted by the thought of Toran, Leah, when offered a promotion at her job, instead quit, packed up and returned to Singapore.  After all, she does have her father's villa, now her own; her childhood best friend Julie is still there, and Toran has been in frequent contact with her, including sending her 2 dozen red roses the day she quit her job.  While it's better to read the first book first, there's enough of a recap in the first couple of chapters to catch you up on what happened in that book.  In the first few days Leah's back in Singapore, she has a quarrel with Julie when she learns the truth about something Julia did (or did not do) 12 years earlier, when Leah's father sent her back to England to finish her schooling.  Then she goes to Toran's apartment, only to find Toran's ex-fiancee, Angela, living there.  She and Angela talk, and Angela confides that she's going to a retreat which she had been investigating for a newspaper article.  The next day, when Leah and Toran are returning to his apartment, Angela's parents are waiting in the hallway for him, distraught that Angela has disappeared.  Leah feels guilty for encouraging Angela to go, gets accepted to this retreat (which, of course, is a cult with nefarious undertones), with the intention of bringing Angela back.  It's a very light mystery, and it's not difficult to see where it's going, but the characters are engaging, and there's enough suspense to keep the reader interested.  And, at the end, there's a hook which will lead into the next book in the series.  Hsin-Yi has proven herself to be an imaginative author, and versatile, moving from her children's books into adult books seamlessly.  If you're looking for light and easy reading, this is a good series.  Only available in Kindle format.  5/5

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wonder Bars

About 5 years ago, before we had even met her, my oldest son's then-girlfriend, now wife, bought a cookbook published by her college, and told him to give it to me.  I thought that was really nice, and I've used it a couple of times.  Well, in August, after Ryan took up complaining about how boring it was to have cake all the time (and I had to discard the last quarter of a cake, because it went stale when no one ate it!), I returned to Ashleigh's cookbook for a few desserts.  This was one that everyone particularly enjoyed.

WONDER BARS:

CRUST:
1 stick butter or margarine, melted
1 box yellow or vanilla cake mix
1 egg at room temperature (drop it in a cup of very warm water for 5 minutes)
FILLING:
2 eggs at room templerature
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 ounces cream cheese (regular or low fat)
3 cups confectioners sugar
3/4 cup flaked coconut
3/4 cup chopped nuts(I used walnuts)

Generously grease or spray a 15"x10" jelly roll pan.  Stir together the yellow cake mix, butter and 1 egg, and press into the pan (the mixture will be fairly dry).  Beat the eggs, vanilla and cream cheese for a minute, then add the confectioner's sugar, and beat until very smooth.  Stir in the coconut and nuts, and pour over the crust.  Bake at 350F for 45 to 50 minutes until lightly browned.

These are very rich.  They are very delicious.  Even my nut-hater and coconut-haters enjoyed them immensely.  I suspect that Ryan would like me to put some in a care package to college one of these days!  (Yes, I send him baked goods, because I can.  And because on Tuesday he commented that he always thought I was a good cook, but he especially appreciates my food now.)

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Book Review: The Big Fat Surprise

If you've stopped by at all in the past year, you know that my dearly beloved is now on a heart-friendly diet.  That is a lot harder than it sounds, salads notwithstanding.  Example: There just plain is no good substitute for real, good old fashioned butter.  There might be a tub margarine that has a close enough flavor, but nothing works quite the same for sauteeing, or for baking.

So, one fine Saturday I was reading my Weekend Wall Street Journal, and on the front of the Review section there was an enormous article about the debate between animal fats and other fats, etc.  A week or 2 later, there was a similar article in Time Magazine, stating that fat is not such a villain.  Given both of these articles, I ordered this book, and have spent a couple of months reading it.

THE BIG FAT SURPRISE
By Nina Teicholz

Ancel Keys is the father of the American Heart Association's accepted diet.  This book traces the beginnings of that diet, from his research (which was flawed) through the acceptance of the premise that people should not consume cholesterol from animals.  This was a reversal of his earlier research, which had concluded that consumption of 3000 mg of cholesterol per day didn't significantly raise serum cholesterol, although his reasons for that were not made clear.  The author traces this recommendation from its beginnings through the changes that have come about in commercial food preparation as a result.

I can't begin to do justice to a summary of this book.  I spent 2 months reading it, because there were many studies cited, and I tried to at least look up every one of them, despite the fact that I'm not qualified to properly analyze them.  One thing that I did take away from this book is that the "Obesity Sextette" as it was called in the early 1900s - heart disease, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, gallstones and diabetes - rose dramatically starting around 1900, when people started using more plant based fats, sugars and carbohydrates.  Actually, I'm now cooking in a state of confusion.

I wasn't certain how qualified Nina Teicholz was to write this book, which evidently began as a research assignment by Gourmet Magazine, for which she was a writer, into trans fats (which raise triglyceride levels in the blood, a big indicator of heart problems), starting in 2004.  But she studied biology at Yale and Stanford, and earned a graduate degree from Oxford, thus I'd conclude that she is probably pretty qualified to analyze this subject.

If food, fats and/or heart disease are of interest to you, I'd highly recommend this book.  It's not difficult or highly technical reading, despite the fact that I made it more complex than it needed to be.We'll see, through my dearly beloved's required many-times-per-year blood testing, how some of my moderate changes in his AHA recommended diet affect him.

This delayed Thorsday book review is brought to you by Natasha, who comes to visit every 2 to 4 weeks, and loves lounging on the lawn!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2001

The morning looked just like this, but the news reports said it was anything but a beautiful September day.

We should never forget.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Chicken French

For the past 2 summers, Ryan worked in the bag room, cleaning golf clubs and bags, at a country club just down the street.  I was thrilled; it's the only job available within a mile of my house, so his commute was really easy - a big plus when work and school had to be balanced.  Anyway, one of the things he loves about this job (besides good pay, meeting the pretty girls who work at the snack shack near the pool, and meeting important people from the area) is that there's an "Employee Meal" at 5PM or so each day.  Evidently, the kitchen brought out whatever the chef felt like serving - be it an experiment, a mistake ("fish parmesan" anyone?) or just too much of the lunch special.

So, one night, Ryan came home and announced the the Employee Meal had been Chicken French, and I should make that.  Soon.  I told him that I never heard of such a thing; it sounded made up, and Ryan took great upset at my statement.  So I did some research, and discovered that it is evidently an upstate New York thing; I then set about making my son happy.

CHICKEN FRENCH
(Inspired by Ryan)

Chicken, cut into strips (I used 3 pounds of boneless, skinless thighs)
Olive oil
1/4 cup of flour
1/4 tsp salt
10 turns of black pepper
2 eggs, beaten with 2 extra egg whites and 1 tsp water
1 tbsp white sugar
4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup butter
4 tbsp (4 cloves) minced garlic
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp low-sodium chicken base
1 cup water
1/4 cup cold water whisked with 2 tbsp cornstarch
Lemon slices

In one shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and pepper.  In another shallow bowl, beat together the 2 eggs, 2 egg whites and 1 tsp water until smooth.  Add the sugar and Parmesan cheese.  Heat the olive oil in a large skilled.  Dredge the chicken strips in flour, then coat thoroughly with the egg mixture, and saute in the skillet for about 4 minutes per side.  (It took me 2 batches to do this; I removed the cooked strips to a plate, covered with my pan lid, and repeated the above.)  Remove the chicken to a plate and cover it to keep warm, then melt the butter in the same skillet.  Add the sherry, lemon juice, chicken base, and stir together.  Whisk the cornstarch into the cold water, add to the skillet, and bring to a simmer, cooking for a minute after it simmers, until the sauce thickens.  Return the chicken to the pan and cook for another few minutes, covered, until it's cooked through.

  Top with lemon slices, let them heat in the pan for a minute, and serve with rice.

I made this twice in August, because Ryan loved it.  Actually, everyone liked it, even Mark, our resident fussbudget.  This recipe isn't exactly the ones I found online; to start with, they called for whole chicken breast, and didn't add the water, so there was almost no sauce.  Still, my variation was well received, and that's what matters.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Garden Tuesday: Plums

Late last week, my lawn service guy mentioned that he'd been eating plums from the trees in our orchard.  So after the work day was finished, I took my basket, wandered down to our little orchard, and picked some plums.

They were sweet; they were perfect.  They were gone later that night.

Of course, I didn't take a picture of the plum trees because (a) it was dusk and (b) they aren't that easy to see, being backed up to our property line fence and the trees between our house and the neighbor's.  That's ok; the plums were pretty enough.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Friday, September 5, 2014

James Beard's Oatmeal Carrot Cookies

Ryan found this one, too, after he had located the meatloaf recipe.  He told me that his father likes cookies, everyone likes oatmeal cookies, and making them would be good amusement for a Friday night.  I made a couple of minor changes, and here they are!

JAMES BEARD'S OATMEAL CARROT COOKIES

3/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup grated carrot
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup oats (quick, steel cut or rolled)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream the butter until fluffy; add the sugar and blend well.  Beat in the vanilla and egg, then add the carrot.  Sift together the flour, powder and salt and beat into the creamed mixture, then stir in the oats and walnuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets and bake at 375F for 10 to 12 minutes.

The cookbook says this makes 2 dozen.  I think it made about 5 dozen, and here's why:  While I was making them, friends of Ryan started arriving at the house, around 10PM, for an all night Risk (board game) marathon.  The first two arrived about a minute after the first 2 sheets came out of the oven, and so I offered them cookies: they're teenaged boys, and that species likes cookies, right?  And then another boy arrived and had cookies, and I think the last 2 boys had cookies after they'd all consumed the pizza the last 2 boys had brought.  And there were still cookies for my dearly beloved.  So 2 dozen is just not the right count.

These cookies stayed soft and moist, and were well received by adult men and teenaged boys.  It's proof positive that the incomparable Mr. Beard knew what he was doing!

Happy Weekending, everyone!



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Thorsday Book Review: Chasing the Sun

It turns out that the "magical book fairy" is none other than our friend Pam at Sidewalk Shoes!  I didn't even know she had my address, so I never knew I'd won her book giveaway.  It was a wonderful time to win, since Ryan was leaving home in August, making it a sad month.

CHASING THE SUN
by Natalia Sylvester

Andres is a successful, self made businessman in Lima, Peru in the 1970s.  He and his wife, Mirabel, have a son and daughter, but their marriage is tense.  About 4 months ago, Mirabel left Andres, but ultimately she returned.  So, after an argument over the phone, Mirabel didn't come home one night.  His anxiety became fear the next day, when he received a telephone call stating that she'd been kidnapped, and the ransom was $1,000,000 - a sum Andres didn't even come close to having.

The first half of the book is told entirely from Andres' point of view, while he's working with a hostage negotiator to secure her release.  During that time, he recalls for us their recent history, along with remembering when and how they met and married.  It all felt really sad, all the more so because during this time he went to visit an old family friend, who had at one time been his girlfriend, who had been kidnapped a couple of years back and was now hospitalized for mental health reasons.  It was enough detail for me to get a sense of the entire history of their relationship, and conclude that Andres and Mirabel should never have married.

This was a very moving and sad book.  It's also scary to think that this sort of thing could have been a common occurrence in a nearby country like Peru (the author notes that this book is based on an event which actually happened in her family).  4/5