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Here I am, in the land of red couch fever, where the couches are really beige and the real red couch is still sitting in your own living room, and I’m discovering some interesting things.  First of all, when you announce you’re visiting and your friend says, great, “maybe we’ll kill something in your honor,” this should be translated as “you really ought to remind me a few days before because I might go to a wedding that I forgot to tell you about.”  Don’t leave it till you arrive at the airport and call to say you’re on your way and no one answers.  Or you call when you’re a few minutes outside town and no one answers.  Or you’re driving around town trying to find their street and no one answers.

Whether or not anything has been killed in my honor, I’ve yet to find out.  Fortunately, the inlaws live next door and fed me pizza, and the door is unlocked and I’m making myself at home.  Kate’s never going to live this one down.

Okay, perhaps I’m enjoying this too much.  Otherwise, the first day of my trip has been uneventful.  I finished Songs Without Words on the plane, and as I said in a comment, I liked it and wanted to finish it, but I never fell in love.  There were moments and characters that struck me, but it never transcended.  But I think if you enjoyed her first book, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, you’d enjoy this one.  Similar in that they’re about people grappling with tough times and their relationships with others as they deal with things they never thought they’d have to deal with.

In the car (I accidentally took the wrong route but ended up with a nice touristy jaunt over the Golden Gate Bridge, so all was well) I started listening to A Certain Slant of Light.  I rewound it a few tracks in because I’d been so focused on driving that I’d missed a bunch, and when it started over it didn’t replay the bits I’d remembered, and the story was kind of confusing, and I rewound it again and then noticed that the CD player in the rental car had been set to random.  So no wonder it was confusing.  Once I finally got it playing in the correct order, I got into it.  I’m not really sure where it’s going, but I’m intrigued.

In other news, I’m annoyed that Kate has discs 4 and 5 of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, but not 1-3.  And as much as I don’t want to like GA, it’s an addicting little show and there’s a strong pull to just put in disc 4 and watch it.

I like how I came all this way to, um, blog.

Tired, tired, tired, and off to sunny (I checked the forecast) California tomorrow.  Tired from getting up at the (to me) ungodly hour of 6:30 am, sitting through two 4-hour classes, and driving home.  The horrific amount of licorice I ate tonight doesn’t seem to have helped.  In-between trips laundry must be done (I know the first trip was only two days, shut up).  Packing must be done.  Books must be decided on.

I went on a little book spree this week – at least one finished per day – and my library supply dwindled more quickly than I expected.  I’m already 3/4 of the way through Songs Without Words, which was going to be my plane book.  I might even have to
(gasp) take a book I own.  Or one of Kitri’s.

I’ll do some book summing-up later (The Dark is Rising; The Sphere of Secrets; Middlemarch; Millicent Min, Girl Genius) but for now it just feels like an accomplishment to still be awake and back from school in one piece.  Four hour classes are just wrong, but at least the rest of my ‘classes’ involve me sitting in my pjs on the couch, coffee in hand.

I left Middlemarch in my desk at work on Friday.  And no, it was not a subconscious desire to ditch it, because I’m less than 100 pages from the end and I’m looking forward to all the loose ends tying up, some happy couples and good grief do I want Rosamund to get what’s coming to her (although I can’t remember if she does).  I was planning on finishing it over the weekend – I was looking forward to it – but not enough to drive all the way to work on a Saturday off.

Instead, I finished Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life  – fun, and got me craving coconut cake and fried chicken and and and…

Last night I knitted my way through the first half of the Middlemarch movie – a perfect knitting movie, by the way.  The book is funnier, since most of the humor comes from what Eliot tells us and not what the characters themselves say.  The inner debates and turmoil are muffled, naturally.  But still quite enjoyable.

Then, I picked up Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree.  Which is awesome.  I haven’t kept up on new children’s books as well this year, but even without comparing it to many others, it’s a solid little book.  I love Emma-Jean and her logical mind, navigating the confusing hallways of middle school.  Not that she reminds me of myself AT ALL.  No, no, not one bit.

Contrary to what it might seem like, I don’t just read and cook and eat.  I, um, also go to work.  Okay, so I do just read and eat.

Yesterday I made:

  • Tomato sauce, recipe from Nourishing Traditions.  It called for an awful lot of oil, and is otherwise basic and smooth.  I froze it (not before splattering some on the floor, of course) so we’ll see later how it turned out.
  • Morning Glory Muffins (no morning glories were harmed in the making of these muffins) with three smallish apples, no carrot, lashings of coconut, raisins, walnuts, and a touch of molasses.  Delicious.
  • Roasted Tomato Soup.  I also just remembered that Bronwen had a slow roasted tomato soup recipe, which I’ll have to try another time.  This was a bit thin so I let it simmer down quite a bit and then strained it, but the flavor was excellent – the red pepper flakes and garlic add a nice kick.  Wonderful with garlic-toasted baguette for dinner.

Yesterday was a perfectly crisp and clear fall day.  Forget the calendar, if it looks like fall, smells like fall, and tastes like fall, it IS fall.  I’m mostly happy about this, except for the fact that it’s a slippery downhill slope to winter.  Already I’m wearing slippers around the house and huddling under blankets and making endless cups of tea.  I just want to curl up with Middlemarch and finish it, but not until I knock something off my to-do list.

This week’s recipe was borrowed from nerd’s eye viewmango tilapia from one of her Fish Wednesdays.

The first step was a reconnaissance mission to the store.  Instead of usual walk to the store, I decided to drive to TJ’s – I was out of honey and I could make a detour to the people who have a cabinet of honey outside their garage.  Put the money through the slot, take a jar.  Then, of course, TJ’s didn’t have rice noodles or ginger or an acceptable piece of tilapia.  They had exceedingly cheap, frozen tilapia from China.  In my head I heard a little voice, much like I expect Pam’s to sound, telling me, “tilapia is a fine fish to eat – if it’s US farmed. (US and Canada farmed fishes are often okay, it’s the SE Asia farming that’s not so great.)”  Oh, right, she did say that.  I just have no idea what her voice sounds like.  So I set down the $4/lb fish, make a quick detour next door for ginger, came home to unpack my loot, and headed to New Seasons.  As usual.

There I found a “good” farmed fillet from Ecuador and the all-important rice noodles.  I sautee my red onion, grated in some ginger, tossed in cubed mango, and sprinkled some chili oil.

Once this had cooked down a bit, I threw in the tilapia and sort of buried it under the mango and onion.  Once it started the flake, I tossed the lot over some rice noodles.

Despite the warning on the bottle, the chili oil wasn’t all that hot (and I’m a girl who buys mild salsa).  I started out cautiously, adding more and more until finally I had my plate in front of me and began dousing the finished product.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t add much ginger, but I couldn’t taste much beyond the mango.  Still, it was tasty and unlike any other fish dish I’ve made.

And, since today is all about the overhead shots (apparently), here’s a gratuitous picture of my latest round of garden tomatoes.

Oh, and I really recommend that you finish off the meal with a chocolate covered coconut fruit bar, to complete the tropical theme.

I’m swimming in library holds because I’m STILL READING MIDDLEMARCH.  I love it, though, I’ve got to tell you.  When Casaubon bit the dust, I literally cheered.  Sure, I knew it was coming based on a wintry viewing of the film version several years ago, but cheer I must.  Much of the book is hilarious, for one thing, if you’re awake enough to pay attention, but the emotional scenes also have this wonderful quality of describing how each character is misreading the other.  And, of course, contributing to their personal misery by it.  Also, can I say that I hate Rosamund?  I just hit the 600 page mark, so the end is in sight.

However, I  have made progress in the audio book department – I finished Gilead last night and discovered that I had really warmed to it.  For a story about father-son relationships, it really affected me.  It also dealt with spirituality without bashing me over the head.  The strength of it almost lay more in how it made me think about my own life than about the lives of the characters.  If that makes any sense.

Plus, I just realized that Gilead won the Pulitzer and hence qualifies for my third book in the Book Awards Challenge.  Which means, for those keeping track at home, that I’m on target for one a month (Kavalier and Clay in July, Roller Skates in August, Gilead in September).  I might have another award winner in my stack of holds at the library, but of course I can’t check because the entire system is down for two days.  I KNEW that there would be at least one moment where I was at home and needed to use the catalog, and it has arrived.  I’m so dependent.

Another belated Food Monday coming later…

Once again I’m a day late and a dollar short – although not so short on dollars that I couldn’t buy my fish and my bacon.

This week’s recipe was for Panfried Fish Sandwiches with Bacon Mayonnaise.  Just say that to yourself a few times, reverently.

Bronwen chose the recipe from The Improvisational Cook – which looks like something I ought to get my hands on.  Because lately I’m all about tweaking recipes.  This week I didn’t change much, though, and it was a thing of beauty as is.

First you cook your bacon, and perhaps nibble on it or save it for a BLT later.  Then you mix your warm bacon fat with some mayonnaise.  Which is a beautiful thing.  In the meantime, you can salt and pepper your fish and dredge it in flour.  The recipe recommended a meaty white fish such as striped or black bass, red snapper, or grouper, none of which were at the fish counter at NS.  So I went with a ling cod that was rated yellow on their scale, ie ‘good alternatives.’  I have no idea about ling vs other cods, but I figured since it was smothering it in fats and frying it, I didn’t need to worry about getting a fancy fish.

I put a few slices of leftover crusty potato bread under the broiler (on low) and then cooked the fish – in olive oil AND butter as recommended, plus I used the bacon pan so there was a bit of bacon fat left in there for good measure.  Medium high, a minute and a half per side and it looked perfectly done.  I forgot to pat it dry, so the bread got a trifle soggy, but that might have happened anyway.  When it was toasted, I sprinkled a little olive oil on the bread and rubbed it with a cut-open clove of garlic.  Do not skip this step, especially if you like garlic.  Not only does it smell heavenly when you’re rubbing the warm bread, but it really adds a lot of taste.  Then spread the bread with your bacon mayo (I used TJ’s mayo, but I bet homemade would be even more fabulous).  Top with the fish, plenty of lettuce, and a garden tomato is nice, too, if you have one.

I’m looking forward to a repeat for tomorrow’s lunch.  I bought 1/2 lb of fish and sliced it in half horizontally, perfect for two sandwiches.  I had this one for lunch while reading the New Yorker’s food issue.

First Lloyd Alexander, now Madeleine L’Engle:

“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

“I do my best thinking when I am peeling carrots, grating zucchini, or rolling out biscuit dough.”  So says Michael Lee West, author of Consuming Passions: a Food-Obsessed Life (who is, it turns out, a woman), as if in response to my earlier question of are we really capable of constructive thinking while cooking, or is that just something those crazy writers dream up?  But she is one of those crazy writers, and she admits to using cooking as an antidote to writer’s block.  So there.

I checked out this book because my latest favorite simple chocolate cake recipe apparently came from it (although I haven’t gotten that far yet) and I’ve succumbed to the danger of leaving library books lying around rather than shelving them promptly when I walk in the door – I can’t resist picking them up.  If it were safely on the shelve next to my eight other library books to read, everything would be okay and I might even be getting something done right now.  Instead I read a chapter, drank some tea, wanted to write down that quote, and got distracted looking up how my grocery store rates its fish.  They have a convenient color coded chart, and all seafood in the store has a color coded price tag, so you don’t have to remember whether or not you should be eating that farmed sturgeon caviar (the answer, apparently, is yes, although I doubt I ever will).  Spiffy, no?

Today will be another tomato sauce day – there’s a bowlful on the table, and with the exception of sliced on sandwiches, we’re not big raw tomato eaters in these parts.

I’m not quite sure what happened in August – or what happened to August, come to think of it – but I only read an unlucky 13 books.

Three non-fiction – essays, a travel/memoir thing, and a guide to organics.  One play.  One a Newbery winner.  Four fantasy.  One referencing Byron, one Jane Austen, one Greek mythology, one ancient Egypt, one Arthurian legend.

Farthing by Jo Walton and Arcadia by Tom Stoppard are probaby the cream of the crop.  The Off-Season and The Oracle Betrayed, plus the first two, were the hardest to put down.  None that I regret reading, but I was most underwhelmed by Theodosia and the Serpents of Choas and The Titan’s Curse – although both had commendable qualities.

I  have a feeling Middlemarch will consume much of September, but I’ve got quite a few lined up for dessert, as it were.  Right now I’m listening to Gilead, which I’ve been meaning to read for a while.  I’m not quite hooked by the whole thing, but there are bits that reel me in.

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