Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Monday, March 30, 2009

Implied Spaces

After finally finishing Storm Front I wanted to keep going, but wasn't ready to face the second in the Dresden series*, so I picked up a book I had started reading months ago and then put down for some reason, Walter Jon Williams' Implied Spaces. This time I read it straight through in the course of the weekend, and it left me refreshed, thrilled, and eager for more.

Williams is one of the most philosophically-minded writers I have encountered. In that (and no other way, mind you) he reminds me considerably of Terry Pratchett. He can't seem to stop writing about death, for one thing. Knight Moves is primarily a dialog between chosen immortal and chosen mortal, with a supporting chorus of those who do not have the choice; in Aristoi the human lifespan has been incredibly extended, though that extended body is liable to catastrophic breakdown at some unpredictable point, lending a certain tension to existence; and in Implied Spaces a combination of memory backups and nanotech-based regeneration have rendered the entire issue moot: if you die, a new you can be created, your memories (since the last backup) and identity intact.

That this would in no way solve the fundamental problem of humanness is a large part of the point.

Despite its extistentialist backdrop, this is not a meditative novel--Williams handwaves a lot of things he's not interested in right now, such as why there would still be money, or jobs for that matter, in this future, and whether an identical copy of you is really, well, you. He's got places to go and neat stuff to do; I kept thinking about Steven Brust's inspirational maxim, now I'm going to show you something really cool. And he does, in spades. This book is some of the best of what science fiction can be--imaginative, thought-provoking, laugh-out-loud funny in places, a fast-paced adventure with moments of brilliant beauty and a number of unexpected twists. It brightened the weekend (which was otherwise mostly spent with a sick little kid) considerably.

Oh, and I looked it up, and squinch is in fact a word. I wonder if that was the germ of the entire book?

* Fool Moon, which I have since started reading. Though there were several places in the first chapter that made me cringe outright, it picked up a bit after that. It suffers from the curse of all not-exactly-series novels, in that it has to repeat a fair amount of background and description in every book, since readers can start anywhere; I'm not sure how many times I'll be able to stand the description of Harry's apartment, and find it more than a little annoying when secondary characters are forced to spout bits of canned background.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Three-Cheese Drop Biscuits

I made these to go along with the soup, and alone of the week's experiments, I will probably make these again. They are quick and easy enough to put together on a weeknight, and pretty darn tasty to boot. I would advise watching the amount of liquid carefully -- my biscuits spread out a great deal -- but even if they come out a bit flat they're perfectly yummy.

Three-Cheese Drop Biscuits

Hearty Bean and Barley Soup

Not been a stellar week of new recipes around here. We had this on Monday, just now getting around to recording it. Again, it was okay, but just not that interesting. Admittedly, it being a weeknight, I skipped the broth intensification step, and maybe it would be worthwhile giving it another shot, but... eh. Probably won't get around to it.

Hearty Bean and Barley Soup

Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Last night was pizza-and-a-movie night at Chez Moi, and the Netflix delivery was something I've been meaning to see for ages, having liked everything they've ever done. I was mildly apprehensive about how well W&G would take to the longer timespan, but the movie was sans filler and, as hoped, an absolute delight in just about every way.

My only teensy tiny quibble was that the beginning reused (albeit in expanded form) some of the gadget stuff from A Close Shave, which I've never seen them do before. Well, that and Hutch parrotting, "I do like a bit of gorgonzola!" when he has clearly just eaten a Swiss-type cheese, but I admit that's verging on lunacy.

Anyway. It was an excellent film, funny and enjoyable even for those (like me) who have only the briefest prior experience with classic horror. Grommit should have an animation school named after him, or something, since as usual his expressions were worth more than most people's dialog.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Vietnamese-Spiced Pork Chops

I'm a little behind with blogging this week, but I have been working hard to get new recipes back into our weekly planning. This one made the cut because it was quick and easy, requiring no unusual ingredients. Which is actually part of the problem, I think--what on earth about this ingredient list is supposed to be Vietnamese? The bigger problem is that all the sugar in the spice rub smoked the place up something awful.

I thought it was pretty good, D's judgement was "meh." So, probably not something I'll make again.

Vietnamese-Spiced Pork Chops

True-Life Nature Adventure

We use that phrase for any unusual wildlife encounters, and even for those that aren't that unusual. Yesterday as I crossed the bus lane to the pedestrian underpass at Lechmere, headed for the commuter parking lot, I happened to look across the street and saw a bird coming in for a landing. It took me a moment to realize that it was much bigger than a pigeon. A moment later, a second came along, and the first one swooped off--I was too slow to get a shot of that one flying, but managed to snap a couple of pictures of the one still perched on the corner of the Monitor building.

I'm not sure anyone else on the street even noticed them. And was anyone having a meeting in that room...?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pancakes at Overlook Farm (Again)

We don't have too many things I can bring to mind and call a "tradition"--Fourth of July up at the lake, my mom's broccoli quiche whenever we visit, much about Christmas--but I think that Overlook Farm is now part of that small collection. I guess a big part of the definition is "things you do with your kids."

The second day of spring was barely above freezing, but bright and sunny. We drove up to Rutland, where now that the snow has melted, people are finally getting a chance to clean up from the winter's ice storms. Huge piles of cut branches wait by the roadside, and the woods are full of snapped and sagging trees, still showing raw at the breaks.

We had a 10 a.m. reservation, got there a little early and looked around the gift shop, which appears to have been redone. They're selling their own grass-fed beef and lamb now, but I didn't get a chance to look into that, as we were ushered into the crowded eating area. We picked up our pancakes, sausage, and bacon, and set to--a fairly rushed meal, since JJ was unhappy with his confinement to a high chair and made this known to all in earshot.

Afterward, we went outside and took a look around. The stars of the day were a flock of dwarf goats and their kids, none of them more than a week old, about the size of my larger cats and just about the cutest things on four feet.

D and L toured the sugar shack (though apparently the farm did no sugaring this year, opting to let their trees recover a bit after the storms), and JJ and I wandered around outside, his toddler attention gripped by pebbles, chickens, and the (fortunately fenced) duckpond. Then we went to look at the cows--unexpectedly interesting, as two of them started to get aggressive with each other, only to have the scuffle broken up by a four-horned sheep we've noticed before, which then trotted around butting everything in the pasture for good measure.

In the afternoon I made foccaccia, and later got to sit down and enjoy a slice of it with a glass of wine while JJ took his nap--something close to heaven. For dinner, I put together a dish I usually make for parties, the Spanish egg and potato tortilla, which is better than it has any right to be with only four ingredients. With it we had a simple salad of baby greens and balsamic vinaigrette, and for dessert, some mint cookie ice cream.

Life has seemed somewhat less hectic this past week than it was for a while there. A very good thing.

Storm Front

So about, um, six months ago now one of my co-workers loaned me the first three of the Dresden File books. I just finally got through the first one, Storm Front. Overall rating: meh.

His action scenes are good, and some of the magic was entertainingly inventive. Some of it, of course, was blatantly cribbed from urban fantasists of yore (there's a fairy summoning almost straight from War for the Oaks), and from Harry Potter (potions and dog Latin, for pity's sake... I find very difficult to forgive--is the real thing that difficult?).

But then, the entire book feels like it was written after spending much time in careful study of Glen Cook's Garrett books, which is kind of depressing, since while Garrett has his moments, Cook has written a lot of other things that are much better. And even if he hadn't, what was refreshing and interesting in Sweet Silver Blues now just comes across as if Butcher had it open on the table while he wrote. The dialog is downright painful in places ("are you a good guy?" seriously?), the secondary characters are simplistic--there is Good Cop, Sloppy Cop, Cool Mob Boss, and in the end, Villain, all straight out of the box. The only one who seems to have an inner life and some potential to be interesting gets killed off.

And finally, Harry spends way too much page time thinking variations on, "I'm screwed." We know that; Harry starts the book screwed, in so many different ways that when the actual plot shows up it feels like piling on. It's not fun when a first-person narrator spends much, if any, amount of time feeling sorry for himself; the rest of us would like to get on with it, please.

I've got two more to go through, so I'll see if he improves with practice.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Menagerie Notes: Midsummer Day Wrap-Up

We are bringing the first adventure of the "new" D&D play-by-email to a close (I use the quotes because it's been going on for more than three months now), slightly faster than I expected. The PCs have succeeded in their initial adventure (retrieve the crown of the King of Birds, which has been stolen by a lizardman, in time for the holiday and the coronation), and are enjoying their safe return to the village. We are in the midst of a lovely little country celebration/dance scene, which is giving everyone a chance to explore their character's inner lives a bit, and how they interact with people outside the party. Players are grasping onto the romance theme I'd like to nurture in this first arc with fair enthusiasm.

We'll spend a few weeks doing interim stuff--divvying up treasure, buying new equipment, developing some background events--before we jump into the second adventure. If we can keep the fights moving at the relatively snappy pace we managed for the first, I expect this one will take around six months.

One thing I'm taking away to work on as I plan, is making sure to include opportunities for everyone to show off, since some players are more reluctant than others to put themselves forward.

Goat Cheese and Roasted Corn Quesadillas

This was part of last night's dinner. I don't really want to review this now, but did want to leave something of a placeholder for a later repeat. Not that there was anything wrong with the recipe, but there's no fresh corn to be had at this time of year, and you can't char frozen corn, it's got too much water in it. So I would really like to try it again when good ear corn is available, because I suspect that it'll make a decent recipe really good.

Goat Cheese and Roasted Corn Quesadillas

Fennel-Rubbed Pork with Shallot-Pomegranate Reduction

This may be the first legitimate "OMG" recipe of the year. The unique zing of the fennel, the pungency of the cracked pepper, and the sweetness of the pomegranate all come together and you close your eyes and hum.

It's that good. And just to ice the cake, it's easy.

Fennel-Rubbed Pork with Shallot-Pomegranate Reduction

The only question is, what to serve with it. We had a spinach salad, which was fine, and a simple rice pilaf (I didn't make the walnut couscous the link suggests), which was "meh." Maybe the couscous would have been better.

The reduction does tend to run all over the plate, which makes presentation a tad tricky. I'd love to make this for a dinner party someday, and if I did, I think I'd serve in courses, give this the messy run of the plate and maybe have a little risotto or something separately (ooh, an excuse to make lemon risotto again!).

Friday, March 13, 2009

Moroccan-Style Vegetable Stew with Harissa Yogurt Sauce

Sometimes I don't even make it all the way through the first read of a recipe before I'm starting to make changes. "Blanching the root vegetables shortens the stew's cooking time." Um... right. Because the blanching doesn't take any time, and another pot? And I'm not making a special trip to some other store in hopes they have harissa when the recipe only wants a teaspoon.

See the recipe here

Those quibbles aside, we stay vegetarian on Fridays in Lent (mind you, we generally have at least a couple of meatless meals per week for no particular reason), and this recipe came in a recent magazine, and seemed ideal for a day I'd be working at home and had some time to fuss around.

This, in fact, turned out to be the case. A bit of chopping, a bit of simmering, and there was an appallingly healthy dinner. It was perfectly okay, but I'm not sure it's worthy of becoming a regular dish. I'll have to give it a bit of thought.

The most astonishing thing about the meal was that L did not have hysterics when faced with her bowl of "carrot stew." Instead she delicately removed and dissected a chickpea, ate it, then pushed her bowl away (she ended up eating raw baby carrots for dinner; at least she's getting a vegetable...). JJ, on the other hand, spent most of the time trying to unplug the telephone until finally I put him in the playpen, which he hates. He has a cold and is generally being a grumpy little guy in the evenings this week.

Trying to get back into the blogging thing....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sauteéd Chicken Cutlets with Asparagus, Spring Onions, and Parsley-Tarragon Gremolata

Another mile-long recipe name from Bon Appetit. No pictures from me, but there's one after the link.

Sauteéd Chicken Cutlets with Asparagus, Spring Onions, and Parsley-Tarragon Gremolata

This was a very nice spring meal, light and satisfying, and of course anything that gives me an excuse to eat asparagus is good. It wasn't much work at all once the gremolata was put together, and the flavor combination was... I want to say sprightly, but that sounds precious. It was tasty, leave it at that.

We have been insanely busy lately, but I wanted to mention two important kid milestones: L is finally and completely potty-trained, and JJ is sleeping through the night. Hooray!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Yes, I am Still Here

Busy, busy, busy, but I do have a couple of new recipes on the menu this week, so I hope to have time to write them up.

Monday, March 2, 2009

We'll miss you, Pam

Last Tuesday I found out that Pam C., the founder and organizer of our supper club and a woman I have been pleased to consider a friend, passed away. Saturday we attended her funeral. There's been no discussion as yet of whether we'll continue to meet.

Goal Roundup - February

Continuing the year's self-examination....
  • Buy a house - We went out and looked at one yesterday. It had some nice features, but like so many we've seen, needs a lot of work. We also drove around another town we've got on our list of possibles and deemed it worth keeping. B
  • Decluttering - Got rid of the old futon, four boxes of kids' clothes, and a bunch of broken toys. A+!
  • Finance - Excuses, excuses. Did not meet target. D
  • Health/Fitness - I lifted weights... once. C
  • Food-Related - I did finally make soup with dried beans, and you can tell the difference. Have not been trying too many new things, though, and my tracking has suffered as other projects eat into precious free time. C
  • Wish list control - Given how much we spent on other stuff this month, I am going to give myself a pass on this one.
I think that works out to a C.

Toujours Provence

This is the book that I picked up while we were in Providence on Valentine's Day. I hate to leave a used book store without buying something--it's so hard to keep these stores going--and I figured that even with my schedule of late, I should be able to get through this.

I've read three of his other collections, and found myself disappointed by this one. Without any sort of organizing theme, it's really just a collection of anecdotes that didn't make the cut previously, and probably shouldn't have this time; some are amusing, but too many of them touch on subjects we already know without adding luster. A "gotta get paid" book if ever I saw one. I'll keep rereading French Lessons regularly, and probably give this one a miss.