Category Archives: books

Blogging for Books – Crap Taxidermy

9781607748205

If you’ve been to our house in the last few years, and entered through the front door, you would have been greeted by a raccoon mounted on the wall, along with a couple of fluffy squirrels. Some flea market deer and antelope mounts would be gazing at you from across the room. Plus, a couple of piñata heads.

I’m going to go ahead and blame it all on Disney and the now-defunct Country Bear Jamboree for my love of taxidermy animals. The talking mounted heads of Melvin Moose, Max Deer, and Buff Buffalo would introduce the Country Bears and engage in entertaining banter. I always wanted one for my house; in fact, I still would love a gorgeous moose mounted above our fireplace. [Fun fact: if you go on the Winnie-the-Pooh ride at Disneyland, after you go through the heffalump and woozle dream room, if you turn around and look up, you can see the moose, deer, and buffalo heads hanging above the archway!]
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I love getting mail

 

 

 

Look what showed up on my doorstep! I’ve heard a lot of people saying amazing things about Plate to Pixel, so when Lori held a giveaway for a copy, I entered and crossed every finger (and then I won!)  Can you tell from the photo that I totally need the help?

I flipped through it on my way from the front door to the kitchen and I swear I learned a bunch just from those few pages!  I can’t wait to really get into it and figure out how to make food look pretty.

Changing subjects, how cute are our cherry tomatoes?  I’m amused that they ripen here and there; sometimes I just snack on them straight from the vine and don’t have any to bring in.  Every year I make a note that I need to plant more cherry tomatoes, but I think I also need more room in the garden to do so efficiently.

Heh. Do you think I can convince Travis to help me cut and paint board “backdrops” after we finish the chicken coop?

Thanks for the giveaway, Lori!

 

Do you Kindle?

I’ve already admitted I have a bit of a shoe problem. Strangely, I don’t buy new purses as easily/frequently as I do shoes. Maybe it’s because a purse goes with every outfit so I don’t need as many. Actually, it’s probably because I don’t like moving all my stuff from one purse to another. I tend to stick with a single purse for a while, and I guess now I know it’s out of laziness! It’s much easier to change shoes from day to day, which makes it more fun to acquire more!

I also used to buy a lot of books, too. Usually at Costco, where I could collect a stack, flip through them, then assess which ones I really needed to bring home with me. Then I realized I was getting suckered into books that I either didn’t like or would never read again. They’d pile up in the house, then go into the donation pile. It seemed like a big waste of money. It’s been a while since I’ve purchased a book, aside from cookbooks I know I want or a paperback during desperate times at the airport. I have the library to thank for that! I discovered that you can put books on hold online and you’ll get an e-mail when that book is ready to be picked up. You usually have a week or two to retrieve your books, and they’re waiting for you on a bookshelf – it’s so convenient! I can’t even tell you how many books I’ve put on hold, picked up, flipped through, then decided I didn’t want to read past the first few pages. Back to the library they go, and I’m not out any hard-earned funds. Most cookbooks are at the library, too (even new ones), so I’ll try one out for a few weeks before deciding if I’d use it enough to actually warrant buying it. Some I do, some I find are not my style. I love it. It certainly helps that the library is kind of on my way home from work, which makes it easier to pick up and drop off books.

Because of this wonderful library system, I’d been wary about the Kindle or getting an e-reader. It seemed quite efficient to have all these books on one device, instead of packing a thick book into my purse or dealing with the weight of multiple books for a trip. But, I’d also gotten accustomed to not paying for books, and I wasn’t sure how many “classic literature” pieces I could deal with. I have the Kindle app on my iPhone, but the screen is small and it’s cumbersome to flip pages after only a paragraph or two. Then, Cami got a Kindle for Christmas and the whole wi-fi/free 3G piqued my interest. I was interested enough to put it on my Amazon.com wishlist and, being a good guy, Travis bought me one for my birthday. You really can access the internet on it, which is cool (I can Twitter and check Facebook, although in black and white) and it transferred all the books I downloaded through the iPhone app onto the Kindle. I started looking at e-books I wanted to read, but still couldn’t bring myself to pay for them (especially since sometimes the e-book is more expensive than the paperback version!) So, I downloaded free books and excerpts and blackjack games and sort of read through Alice in Wonderland, but I still put it aside in favor of the library books on my nightstand.

See, you can also “check out” audiobooks and e-books from the library’s website, but the e-books are in Adobe EPub format, which is not compatible with the Kindle. If you have a Sony e-reader or the Barnes & Noble Nook, you can actually read the e-books and then after a set lending period the book removes itself from the device (or something happens so you can’t read it anymore). I really, really wanted to be able to pick out e-books and read them on my Kindle; I probably only needed to read them once, anyway. There were even e-books available for the hard copy books currently on my library hold list! I was a little frustrated with this obstacle and resigned myself to reading the free Kindle books and possibly paying for a couple to load before we left for our next trip.

This is all to say, I have since discovered that there are ways to make library e-books readable on the Kindle. But, they involve steps that are a little not-legal and possibly unethical, depending on your stance on library books and lending periods (I mean, it’s all still not-legal; the unethical part is debatable). this is not to say I endorse taking not-legal steps or endeavors in order to save some money and read a library book on your Kindle… I’m just saying there are ways to do it and I may or may not be knowledgeable of such procedures.

But I still enjoy the hard copy books that I get from the library, too.

The New Portuguese Table Dinner Party

I know, I know… I’ve been promising this write up for ages, but now it’s here! I’ve been trying to get it put together to help promote the Food 4 Kids program and fundraising event, especially since David Leite has sent a signed copy of his cookbook, The New Portuguese Table, as a raffle prize (either donate online or at the collection event Saturday, December 12, 2009 to be entered in the raffle). David’s website, Leite’s Culinaria, is proud of the fact that posted recipes get put through the steps by the extensive network of recipe testers. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t get posted. If a recipe is posted, but readers are finding it really doesn’t work, it gets re-tested and often pulled. So, it stands to reason that his cookbook would undergo the same rigorous procedure.

If there’s one mantra cooks follow (or should follow), it’s “Don’t attempt a recipe for the first time in front of company.” When you are making dinner (lunch, dessert, food gifts, etc) for people, even if those people are good friends, you want to present a dish you’re familiar with, so you’re not left with some weird thing in a dish that requires a) pizza delivery and b) delayed eating. Granted, I’ve fudged that rule a few times, but only on Cami – mainly because I know if something goes wrong I can just whip up something else for us to eat and we’ll be happy. And I always warn in advance, “This is a new recipe so it might turn out terrible”. Luckily, I think that may have happened once. Or twice.

But! The New Portuguese Table has been put through the ringer. The recipes that ended up in the book were tested, retested, tweaked, and tested some more. Plus, there are dishes in there that I never even had the chance to test (or some that I passed on, due to a fear of handling whole squid). So, I thought it would be fun (so daring!) to throw a dinner party using only new recipes from the cookbook. I was a little wary (old habits die hard, you know), but I shouldn’t have been. It all turned out perfectly. Here’s what the menu looked like:

· Green Olive Dip

· Goat Cheese, Walnut, and Honey Triangles

· White Gazpacho with Crab Salad

· Momma Leite’s Braised Beef in Garlic

· Spinach with Breadcrumbs

· Orange Olive Oil Cake

· The best chocolate chip cookies you’ll ever eat

Okay, small confessions: I had made the green olive dip and goat cheese triangles before. And the chocolate chip cookies aren’t in the cookbook, but they are David’s recipe and they’re so good I had to make them. The green olive dip is really delicious: vibrant, tangy, creamy, and spreadable, it makes a good dip or spread. And, we had a beer that pairs perfectly with goat cheese, which is why the goat cheese triangles made it in. But the main course was all new to me! Which is what matters, right? Because if it fell flat or took longer to cook, we’d be in trouble!

This was designed as a sit-down dinner. We had appetizers ready to go when people arrived, but I had timed the beef so that it should be ready by the time we were finishing the soup. And it was.  So, here’s what we enjoyed at our Pre-Holiday Dinner, compliments of The New Portuguese Cookbook.

green olive dip... and other nibbles

The green olive dip is in the bowl towards the middle.  The rest of the nibbles were pretty much leftover things I had in the fridge.  In the front, I put out a platter of crackers and Manchego cheese (it’s what I had) and the rest of the green olives from the dip recipe.  I had also sliced a baguette, drizzled them with olive oil, and toasted them so people could spread the olive dip on them.  I had leftover crab from the gazpacho recipe, so I turned it into a crab salad that we ate for lunch.  What’s in the bowl is what was leftover from that.  In the back is a plate of more crackers and some goat cheese I had rolled in sweet paprika.  Not too shabby, huh?  For the green olive dip, I used Spanish olives from the bulk olive bar at Whole Foods.  The base of the dip is a milk “mayonnaise” (also in the cookbook) – instead of using egg yolks, you use milk and then emulsify oil into that.  The green olives add a salty tang and there’s a hint of garlic in there, too.  I love it and happily ate leftovers on everything for a couple of days after the party.

goat cheese "triangles"

Yes, you’ll notice those are rectangles.  That is completely due to my inability to cut straight lines, which left me with uneven squares.  Uneven squares don’t make good triangles, but they make decent rectangles.  These are filled with a mixture of goat cheese, walnuts, rosemary, and thyme, then brushed with an egg wash, baked, and drizzled with honey and sea salt.  You get crispy soft pastry, a creamy filling with a crunch (from the walnuts) and this salty sweetness on the outside.  I could eat a dozen of these, easily.

not a recipe

When we were in New York, we went to Newark, NJ to stroll through the Portuguese neighborhood.  When we stopped for lunch, we saw a table with a flaming sausage!  Since we had brought back some good linguica, we thought it fitting to see if we could set fire to a sausage without causing too much damage to the house.  I would recommend testing your liquors first to see what lights easily.  We ended up using some of Travis’ Scotch.  We also didn’t have the traditional vessel, so we used one of my stainless steel pans.  As you can see, it’s very visually appealing, and you end up with a crispy sausage that is slightly sweet from the burned off alcohol.

crab salad, pre-soup

gazpacho!

gazpacho!

I had never made a gazpacho before.  I think I was under the impression that I didn’t like cold, savory soups (cold, fruit soups are a different story).  I was also skeptical that all the bread and almonds would result in a soup that wasn’t grainy or clumpy.  And, yes, I realize this may be better suited for a summer meal rather than fall, but it was one of the few soups recipes that allowed us to plate the dish with the crab salad in, and then pour the liquid soup on top of it.  See, when we were in New York, treating ourselves to fancy-schmancy meals, we kept getting impressed by these soups that arrived with tasty morsels on the bottom and a silky liquid that surrounded them.  We wanted to do it at home, and this ended up being our choice.  The crab salad works well here, melding into the soup to give the dish a little more substance.  The gazpacho itself is light and not grainy at all.  Definitely make sure you add enough salt to bring out all the subtle flavors.  We ended up with no leftovers on this course, but I wish we had.

braised beef and chourico

spinach and "breadcrumbs"

The braised beef was delicious.  Meltingly tender and flavored from braising in wine, garlic, and alongside chourico.  By this time, we were all getting so full, but everyone agreed it was so good.  I would have eaten the leftovers for lunch, but Travis beat me to it.  You may notice the breadcrumbs on my spinach are a bit large and perfectly cubed.  I didn’t have time to make the cornbread in the cookbook (it’s like a yeasted bread made with cornmeal), but I did have cornbread stuffing mix and I think it worked in a pinch.  It gave a little crunch to the spinach and there wasn’t much left by the time dinner was done.

this only gets better with age

warm cookies...mmm...

Almost done… we’re at dessert!  The nice things about both these desserts is that you have to make them in advance.  The Orange Olive Oil cake needs to be baked at least a day before you plan to serve it.  Trust me… you may think you want a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven cake, but you don’t.  You want a room-temperature cake that has had at least a day to let the olive oil and orange flavors meld, soften, and seep into the moist cake.  It stays moist (probably due to the amounts of olive oil) and it just keeps getting better.  We kept slicing pieces off the cake for days until we finally sent it into work.  The cookies have made their rounds on the Internet and people keep posting about their famous/popular/best cookies, but these are my favorite.  You make the dough up to 3 days in advance and then bake them up into huge cookies.  The long rest lets the sugars and moisture meld into the flour (or something like that – go read about it) and because of the size, you get a cookie that is crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle layer, and then soft in the dead center.  Plus, there are these layers of chocolate interspersed into the cookie.  It’s heaven and definitely calls for a glass of cold milk.  Sometimes I freeze hunks of dough so I can bake up a couple of cookies on a whim.  They’re still good (as no warm cookie could be bad) but they aren’t as good as the ones made from “fresh” cookie dough.

So… I managed to convince myself that all the recipes in the cookbook work, which is comforting since, as I mentioned, there are quite a few that I haven’t tried yet.  Now I can just pick one at random and know it’ll end up tasty.

The New Portuguese Table

I would be completely remiss if I didn’t tell you about The New Portuguese Table.  David Leite runs Leite’s Culinaria, a comprehensive website full of recipes, many of which can be viewed as excerpts to some of the most touted cookbooks.  Not only does his site offer up these recipes, but each recipe posted is well-tested, ensuring that the recipe works as written and that everyone will be able to turn out a delicious final product.  Trust me on this, as I’ve been one of their (many, many) recipe testers for over 4 years.  I only know it’s been this long because when T and I first started dating, he found one of my reviews when he Googled me.

A quick look through my files shows that David started testing recipes for his cookbook well over 2 years ago.  I was honored (and thrilled) when he asked if I would be interested in being a tester for the book.  How often does that chance come along?

Dozens and dozens (and dozens) of recipes filtered through my kitchen, most of them sampled by T, sometimes presented to friends.  Some of them worked the first time, others got their tweaks and final touches before they were deemed finished.  We took pictures of our dishes to show each other, but none of them come close to the beauty of the cookbook photographer.  Those photos would make me drool even if I didn’t already know how delicious the food was.

David was gracious enough to let us pass on dishes that made us squirm – I still don’t think I can handle raw squid – and often asked for suggestions if we felt something just wasn’t right.

Now, all the hard work has paid off into a beautiful cookbook full of stories and wonderful food.  I’ve paged through it and it’s like a trip down memory lane for me.  If Portuguese cooking has at all intrigued you (the only way I can describe it is like Spanish cooking, with a twist), David’s book will step you through it. 

Do not fear the salt cod – it is far less scary once you soak it and incorporate it into a dish.  Then it becomes tasty!

Thank you, David, for letting me be a part of your journey.  It’s been a delicious path and I look forward to many return visits.

p.s. – if you read through his Acknowledgements page, you’ll find my name there.  It’s a bit exciting (for me, at least!)

books aren’t always good

T wonders how I have time to sit and read books when there are so many other things to do at home. He doesn’t even mean fun things, like sitting in the hammock or running around with the dogs. He’s talking about bill paying, checkbook balancing, laundry, putting dishes away, brushing the dogs, vacuuming… stuff like that. Sometimes, I put off laundry for a day. Sometimes I just take the dogs outside and pet them vigorously and hope their fur lands in a neighbor’s pool. Sometimes I cheat and just suck up the visible stuff off the floor with the hand vacuum. Usually, though, I read while I’m waiting for T to finish brushing his teeth. Or instead of taking a nap with him. Or while he’s puttering around doing something that doesn’t require me.

I love books. Total fiction, not-learning-anything books. I like having a few on the bookshelf so when I feel like reading, one’s available. Otherwise, I would consider getting them from the library. Instead, I go to Costco and browse their new arrivals. Now, books on things like building a chicken coop or how to raise chickens, those I request from the library and wait for them to show up. Sometimes, the books I read are coming out in movie form, but I don’t want to wait for the movie, so I go read the book. My Sister’s Keeper is coming out soon, with Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin. It looks like a sappy movie, so I figured I’d read the book and not have to wait for the movie to come out on DVD. It’s written by Jodi Picoult, who also wrote Handle With Care. Two books about a family with a really sick kid. Apparently, they also have a crazy one-track-mind mother, too. It’s almost like she wrote the same story twice (using the same one-chapter-per-character rotation) but with a different illness. Really, that’s the only difference I could see. There’s a kid; she’s sick. The mom is so focused on caring for/curing the sick kid that she kind of overlooks the other kid(s). Other kid(s) feel like they deserve some individual attention, but also guilt because, you know, they’re not sick. Dad kind of just works to a) try to get away from the mom-crazy and b) try and keep up with the huge medical bills. At some point, there is a lawsuit. Household erupts in more emotional craziness (with mom trying to keep it all from the sick kid) and then mom and not-sick kid are on opposite sides of the lawsuit. Just when you think the not-sick kid will cave into the mom’s dominating pressure, Dad decides that Mom is not thinking clearly and perhaps not-sick kid has a point. Now the parents are on opposite sides of the lawsuit, each wondering how they got to this point and missing the easy, loving relationship they once had. Lots of emotional back and forth happens, then the lawsuit ends. And then, when the lawsuit ends and the family comes back together and they all love each other and are now looking forward to moving on with their happy lives, Jodi Picoult decides that the only way to write a really good book novel is to take the ending and slam it into your heart while laughing fiendly. Ha ha! You thought you might get a nice ending but real life isn’t nice and so I have thrown your emotions into the garbage disposal and now you can tell people that I write really touching and heart-wrenching stories novels.

So, my recommendation to you is to stay away from her books. Or, if you’ve read one, you’ve probably read them all. Unless you like reading about the same story with different character (names) and thinking the story will wrap up nicely but then having the tragedy shoved in your face all of a sudden.

While we’re talking about similarities, let me also tell you that we went to see The Proposal on our “date night”. And it was cute. It was a total romantic comedy, but we like Ryan Reynolds and think he’s funny and there was a really cute puppy in the movie that made us think of Cassie. So, I was enjoying watching this silly movie, eating my overpriced Reese’s Pieces (because you should always buy your date expensive theater candy if you want to show her how cool you are), and then Sandra Bullock starts her I-love-you-all-so-much-I-can’t-lie-anymore speech. And, if you’ve seen While You Were Sleeping, you will recognize this speech and marvel how she managed to do two separate movies that have such similar speeches! What luck!

In all honesty, though, it was a cute movie. Maybe not theater-price worthy, but definitely rentable.

I suppose if I want to be thorough in my warnings and/or announcements, I should also tell you that Luc’s Bistro is not open on Sundays. Don’t forget this! They have very good food (my mom thinks they don’t give you enough food for the money; I say it’s plenty of food and along the lines of Urban Solace in portion size, if that helps you) and delicious cupcakes and you should definitely go there so they can pay their rent and not get evicted like Miami Grille. But don’t go on Sunday. If you go on Sunday when you are hungry and looking forward to some braised chicken or gooey mac ‘n cheese or perfectly moist salmon and a cupcake, you will be sorely disappointed and then you’ll have to go to Poway Sushi Lounge and spend more money than you ever planned on spending at Luc’s Bistro. I’m just saying. Continue reading

Vampires are the new Harry Potter

So, we went on “vacation” and I even took pictures of most of the things we did because I felt like that’s what people do on vacation.  I only took one picture of food, though, as my habit of digging into delicious dishes before thinking about pictures is kind of ingrained into my brain.  Sorry.  The point is, I have pictures on the camera and had the best intentions of getting them posted here, but I got sidetracked.

As usual, I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve been sucked into the Twilight series, no pun intended.  I’ve seen that a lot of people have been mesmerized by the books, stealing them from their teenage kids, coveting them in secret, and whipping through them at breakneck speed.  And I thought, “Meh. Like I need more books to read. I have a shelf full of books that need reading.”  But then my curiosity got the best of me and I kept seeing Breaking Dawn at Costco, so I went ahead and ordered the whole series (and The Host) from Amazon.  T saw the stack of books and asked if I really liked the author.  I had to tell him I’ve never read any of her books, but I know how I am and if I get into the first book I’m going to want to know how it all ends.  That’s why I just ordered all the books all at once.  So when I finish the first one, the next one will be right there.  And I’m almost done with the first one, after just 2 nights of reading.  I actually stopped at the Epilogue last night because it was really late, even though I was so close to finishing the book.

I like the story.  I can see why it’s a young adult book – the main characters are teenagers (more or less) who don’t really fit in with the high school crowd, find forbidden love with each other in that heart-pounding fashion that teenage girls like to dream about, and form a bond that (I’m guessing) lasts a lifetime on their first try.  I read books like that in high school, dreaming of falling fast and hard in love with some dreamboat.  Except my books didn’t involve vampires.  Honestly, if the characters were 5-10 years older, it wouldn’t be any different than the adult fiction novels around.  Well, the tension between people probably wouldn’t be over something as small as a kiss. 

Having said that, I started watching True Blood on HBO.  I don’t know if I like it.  I hear a lot of raving about it, maybe from fans of the books?  Maybe the people in the books are being well portrayed on screen, but they kind of annoy me.  I watch it and it annoys me, yet I keep watching.  It’s like I feel I’m supposed to enjoy it and I’m just waiting to figure out when that will happen. 

Anyway.  That’s why you haven’t been told about what we did on our vacation.  Because I’ve been swept up by vampires.