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"

Friday, March 19, 2010

Two Sweet Breakfast Treats

And yes, I have to dig out my digital camera, which is currently lurking somewhere at the bottom of my purse. I am just not good at the photo aspect of blogging.

Anyway, a couple of recently tried recipes that I wanted to make a note of.

Cranberry Lemon Muffins
1/2 c butter
1 c sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp lemon extract (opt)
2 eggs
1/2 c buttermilk
2 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla
2 c cranberries, thawed if frozen, chopped in half
Demera sugar for topping, opt.

  1. Preheat oven to 350. 
  2. In a bowl, cream butter and sugar. 
  3. Add egss, buttermilk, 2 tbsp lemon juice mixed with lemon extract (if using). Batter will curdle. 
  4. Add 2 c flour through lemon zest. 
  5. Carefully stir in cranberries. 
  6. Divide batter among muffin tins. Sprinkle top with Demera sugar. 
  7. Bake 20-25 minutes.
I think this is probably good recipe, but I messed up by making them in jumbo muffin tins. I am used to quickbread-type muffins, and these are extremely delicate, cake-style -- most of them did not survive depanning. Next time I will use normal tins and liners, just in case, and there will be a next time, because these are quite good, worthy of any breakfast bread basket.

Lemon-Poppy Seed Scones

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup (or more) whole milk

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Position rack in top third of oven. 
  2. Mix flour, 1 cup sugar, poppy seeds, baking powder, lemon peel, and salt in processor. 
  3. Add butter and cut in, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse meal. 
  4. Whisk egg and lemon juice in medium bowl to blend. Add to flour mixture. Using on/off turns, process until moist clumps form. 
  5. Add 1/3 cup milk. Using on/off turns, process just until dough comes together, adding more milk if dough seems dry. 
  6. Using floured hands, gather dough into ball. Flatten into 8-inch round. Cut round into 8 wedges. 
  7. Transfer scones to large baking sheet; brush with milk. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
  8. Bake until scones are golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. 
  9. Transfer to rack and cool. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)
This is an old one I clipped out of a Bon Appetit about a thousand years ago and had only made once for some reason. I didn't add enough milk at first, and then I ended up overworking them a bit. I definitely need practice on my scone-making, but they're excellent. More of an afternoon tea thing than breakfast maybe, because they are relatively sweet.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

6. The Blade Itself

The first relatively new fantasy I have read in what feels like forever. I kept putting it down for some reason, but I finally finished it last night. Definitely an interesting book, though I didn't find it flawless.

The characters are the standout feature of this series for me so far. The setting is fine, the dialog is mostly very good, very occasionally slides into didacticism, the plot I'll get to later in this post. The action scenes are, as one of the blurbs promised, excellent. The people are occasionally frustrating, but on the whole they reward patience.

They are not uncomplicated, and that is a very good thing and, I think, difficult to pull off. Logen is easily the most sympathetic of the main characters--the barbarian warrior grown philosophical and somewhat ashamed of his life's path--but that past can't be disowned, and by the end of the book we've seen just how well-deserved is his epithet of "the Bloody-Nine." His little band are somewhat heavily painted with the Noble Savage palette--violent, dangerous men, but who at least live according to some code--and therefore rather show up most of the Union characters. Logen appears to be the only main character who possesses something like a normal sense of humor, which goes a long way toward making him likeable.

Jezal is the hardest for me to put up with; he's vain, shallow, and arrogant, and his only good quality seems to be that he's occasionally aware that he's lacking in quality, which gives one some hope that he'll improve over the series. (This morning I listened to a few chapters of Persuasion on the treadmill; he would have fit perfectly into the Austen milieu of petty, self-obsessed nobility.) Making his love interest a much more interesting character is a bit of a dangerous move, but it does give him something to strive for, and just when you thought his associate West was all Boy Scout, he goes and proves just how wrong that idea was. I'm hoping that Jezal will interact more productively with the other characters in the second book, perhaps grow a sense of perspective.

Glokta is downright fascinating. The smartest character in the cast (with the possible exception of Bayaz), he's an extremely ambiguous figure at this point. The slight softening of his character at the end of the first book was entirely surprising, but it's difficult to take him at face value, and one wonders whether emotion ever has a chance of trumping his survival instinct. His repeated wondering about his own motives got under my skin; for someone so keenly perceptive about humanity, and so evidently self-aware, to not be sure why he's doing what he's doing seems out of place to me. I expect that eventually we'll get an answer; I just hope that it lives up to the long tease. The deftly drawn internal politics of the Inquisition are one of the best parts of the book, I think. I also hope that at some point we get to see someone beat the living daylights out of Severard.

Maljinn is introduced later than the other viewpoint characters, and though it seems like she will have an important role, is something of a cypher at this point. I was surprised when she showed up, the book up to that point having a strongly male cast. I don't need female protagonists to enjoy a novel, and the society is reasonably realistic in its androcentrism, so I wouldn't have minded either way. I did find myself at one point wondering what GM allowed such a blatantly munchkined-out character into the campaign; so far her role has been to kick copious amounts of ass and be hinted about mysteriously.

There were a few things that niggled at me. Around 3/4 through I found myself thinking that he was being a bit too heavy-handed setting up the socio-political situation in the Union (see TV Tropes), to the point where at one point I sighed and went Yes, I remember that history class from my sophomore year. Get ON with it. Another niggle has to do with the map. There is no actual map in this book, but there is an extensive canvas and, as The Tough Guide to Fantasyland promises, we are obviously going to visit every. Last. Corner. of it. (The Tough Guide is hysterical, btw, and useful if you have ever thought about writing fantasy.)

The third problem is the plot. There is an insane amount of stuff going on here, and my fear as I finished up this volume is that it's all going to spin out of control. There's a double threat from the north in the form of Bethod and the Shanka, and from the south in the form of the Empire and this Prophet who is evidently their motivator. As presented so far, it's dubious as to whether the Union is worth saving; the lords are abusing the peasantry and oppressing the rising merchant class, the merchants are conniving against everyone, and the peasantry are being shipped off to be slaughtered by the northern aggressors. The Inqusition is running its own schemes. There are evil magic-users all over the place (I love the concept and portrayal of the Eaters), and they seem to know more about what's going on than we do.

Then at the end there's the whole mysterious business with Bayaz and the Seed, and suddenly most of the main characters are going off on a sea voyage that seems to be only loosely connected to what has happened so far. Half of this would have been enough to keep most people busy for three books. I'll have to pick up the next one and see where this goes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake

Must apologize for the neglect around here. I've spent most of the past couple of weeks engaged in yet another rewrite of the novel's first two chapters, following the latest set of crits, and for some reason it was a much more taxing project than normal. I have also been feeling under the weather, and haven't had a lot of energy left over for cooking; it's been a time of "tried and true and easy" recipes in our household.

Also, there's a strike going on at our local grocery store. Fun times.

Last weekend, however, I made a determined bid to return to my kitchen. I made two kinds of muffins, sandwich bread, meatballs, and a pound cake, in addition to calzones for dinner. It is the pound cake I will address here, since it was a new recipe.

Despite its pedigree (Cook's Illustrated by way of Ina Garten--which may explain the unusually finicky directions) I found this okay, but just that; it's not going to dethrone Rose Levy Berenbaum's as my go-to. Perhaps I just don't like the taste of honey all that much. The crust turned out a tiny bit sticky, too, which I found more off-putting than I would expect. A week later, some of it is still hanging around my kitchen, which is not the sign of a major success.

I suspect that this would pair well with fruit, once that's available, and would certainly be willing to give it another try to find out, but I won't be in any big rush.

1/2 lb unsalted butter at cool room temperature
1 1/4 c sugar
4 extra-large eggs, room temperature
2 Tbsp honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 c sifted cake flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease the bottom of an 8x4 loaf pan, line with parchment paper, grease again and flour. 
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light. Put the eggs, honey, vanilla, and lemon zest in a measuring cup but do not combine.
  3. With the mixer on medium speed, add the egg mixture one at a time, scraping down the bowl and allowing each egg to become incorporated before adding the next one. 
  4. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. With the mixer on low speed, add it slowly and mix until just combined. Finish mixing with a rubber spatula and pour into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake 50-60 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes, turn out onto a baking rack, and cool completely.