It’s an overcast, chilly morning that just begs for coffee.  And I never thought this would come to pass, but I’m drinking my coffee black.  Yeah, that’s right – no cream (Lent), no fake cream (yuck), no generous helping of sugar to try to make me forget that there’s no cream.  Just a cup of French press.  What next?  What is the world coming to?

I’ve been on a little marathon lately – in between baking squash and roasting beets and concocting the heaven that is pistachio butter and eating avocados like you wouldn’t believe, which I’ll tell you about later.  My marathon has not been exercise (ha) but rereading Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia) in preparation for getting my hands on the new book, A Conspiracy of Kings (released today).

If you’re familiar with these books, you know why I wanted to have just reread them.  If you’re not familiar with them, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?  First of all, they take place in a world of complex political negotiations, tangled personal histories, and complex, real characters (if you met Eugenides on the street (heaven help you) you’d know it was him).  So it’s good to have all that history fresh in your mind – if I hadn’t reread the books, I know I’d be reading the new one and thinking, “wait, what exactly did Gen get that character to do?”  “How was X involved in Y?”  “Who is Z again?”  You get the picture.  Fresh in my memory = greater enjoyment, because I’m awful at remembering plot points.

Second, and just as important, is the fact that I love spending time with these characters.  Sure, it can be difficult and painful, but it’s oh so rewarding.  A new book is just a big excuse to reread one of my favorite series.  Although series is a slightly misleading term for these books.  Each one as a unique flavor, a slightly different point of view.  They aren’t formulaic and they aren’t predictable, and while plot is key in each story, and the setting is handled magnificently, the characters really do grow and change between books and within each book.  I’d forgotten, for example, how Eugenides is basically a kid in the first book, and he starts out the second book like a headstrong teenager, and by the end of The Queen he’s really done a lot of maturing.  I think he finally turns into an adult in the third book.

I initially read the series in a big rush, devouring each book as I got my hands on it.  I reread The King for a class – to practice writing a book review (I was totally going to say book report at first) – and then of course that made me reread the rest of the series.  This time I read them through in order.  As with all rereading, you bring something different to each reading, and as with all good books, the book offers something fresh to readers who are willing to come back again and again.  As I wrote last time,

These are books that bear rereading.  I found myself flipping pages back thinking “she foreshadowed this, didn’t she?” or “wasn’t that an odd comment?  Will it matter…OH.”  Lots of light-bulb moments.  Lots of clever foreshadowing and hints about what the characters aren’t telling you.  In fact, that might be my favorite aspect of the series.  How much the characters keep hidden.  With clues, of course, for the reader.

“‘We might someday attain a relationship of mutual respect,’ [the magus] said softly. First, I thought, I will see gods walking the earth.”

I still get a little chill reading that.

The post title is a quote from The King, and it was a toss-up between that and “I love stupid plans” from The Queen:

“‘This is the stupidest plan I have ever in my career participated in,’ Xenophon said.
‘I love stupid plans,’ said Eugenides.”

Or “What kind of man refers to himself as safely dead?”

And I’ll shut up now if you’ll just go read the books.

Avocado Salad with Ginger and Peanuts

1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
salt
2 tablespoon minced or grated peeled fresh ginger
sprigs of cilantro
2 medium or large avocados, pitted, peeled, and sliced
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Watercress, mâche, or other greens
(I might also add some jicama or sliced mango)

Put the vinegar, sugar, a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Add the ginger and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, as the dressing bubbles gently and thickens, about 5 minutes. When it gets noticeably syrupy, remove from heat, cool, cover tightly or put in a jar and refrigerate until very cold, at least an hour or so.

To serve, put the greens on a small platter, arrange the avocado on top, and drizzle with dressing. Garnish with chopped cilantro and peanuts.

and,

Beets with Pistachio Butter

4 large or 8 medium beets (about 1.5 pounds), trimmed
1/2 cup neutral oil like grapeseed or corn,
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
1 cup shelled pistachios
salt and freshly ground black pepper
chopped pistachios for garnish

Bake the beets in foil (over at 400F, wash them, wrap them individually in foil, put on cookie sheet, roast for 45 to 90 minutes, until tender). Meanwhile, put half the oil in a skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and cook for about a minute, then add the pistachios; cook, stirring often for about 3 minutes.

Remove from heat, let cool a bit, and transfer to food processor. Purée until smooth, adding more oil as necessary. The consistency should be thinner than that of peanut butter, just pourable. Taste and adjust seasoning (this can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Slip the skins of the beets and cut them into large chunks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put in a serving dish and spoon the pistachio butter over the top; garnish with chopped pistachios. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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