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Yesterday was the last lake day of the summer, and I never ever not once brought my camera to capture the fact that I was returning to the lake of my childhood, the lake where Jen and I once let ourselves drift in an inner tube until we were in the far, reedy corner and refused to put our legs in a paddle because it was too gross so someone had to fetch us.  Besides, the lake isn’t all that photogenic.  There’s a lot of shallow water, and some ducks, and lovely shade trees, and picnic tables.  But there, that spot on the way out is where we once stopped to pick some kind of berry that must not have been poisonous because we’re still alive.  And there are the paddleboats we begged our mothers to rent, probably the very same paddleboats, and the little shack selling sweets.

The people who run the park have not updated their website to say what will happen to the park – drained, filled, allowed to turn into a West Nile haven – now that the dam that created it is removed/being removed.   There are no signs at the park itself.  But, chances are, that was the last lake day ever.  People with kids are starting school, and that means that I have to get ready to start school at the end of September.  My warning signal.

Fortunately, the weather is finally summery again.  The tomatoes keep ripening.  The sunflowers won’t stop growing taller.  I could still go play badminton in my parents’ back yard.

This week’s recipe was for onigiri, Japanese rice balls. I’d never attempted anything like this before, and I couldn’t really manage to take pictures during the process (except the part where the rice was cooking, but that’s just boring). However, follow that little link and there are step by step photos and instructions. They were really fairly simple – the only time consuming part was all that rice washing and then waiting for the rice to cook. I used the rice instructions found here, following the directions for sushi rice except for the special broth part – I just used water. But I did go all out and actually bought the proper kind of rice, and rinsed like I was supposed to, and bought nori and a rice vinegar that was already sushi flavored. Or whatever.

The rice instructions involve a lot of one minute at this temp, 4 minutes at that temp, cool with a cloth over the pot kind of things, and mine ended up sticking to the bottom a tiny bit, and there were little chunks that were perhaps overcooked. The hazards of an electric stove. I even used the suggestion about drying with a hair dryer to make the rice glossy, or somesuch. At any rate, just a bit of drying and fluffing and tossing with the vinegar and it was plenty cool to handle.

I used my smallest rounded teacup, which holds about 1 cup, so I think my rice balls were a bit larger than suggested. I had cut the rice recipe in half, thinking that it would make mondo quantities of rice, as always seems to happen, but when your final product is 90% rice, the full batch of rice wouldn’t make all that much. I mixed half a can of albacore tuna with some soy sauce marinade to flavor it, and used that to stuff into the middles. I bought a package of little ‘spicy nori strips’ that came in a package reminiscent of fruit leather. Perfect size to, um, stick onto the side of a rice ball.

I ended up with 3 generous sized onigiri. I liked the ‘leave them wrapped in plastic if you’re going on a picnic’ suggestion so much that I’m taking 2 to the lake tomorrow. The other I devoured for lunch with the flavored tuna that wouldn’t fit in. It fell apart a bit halfway through so I bandaged it with a second strip of nori. It would be fun to try more fillings, but only if you were making a ton, because you’d only use up a speck of each type of filling.

I’m still reading Middlemarch, chugging along and enjoying myself as long as I’m alert enough to really pay attention.  It’s no beach book, Middlemarch, which is why I cheated on it and brought The Off-Season with me to Hug Point on Saturday.  It was all lovely lovely let’s spread our blankets in the warm sand and apply some sunscreen and munch down on a delicious picnic, running back and forth from the waves to the blanket when we needed cooling down.  Until, of course, ominous drops of rain starting falling.  Okay, it was just a mist for a while, and I thought “I can handle this” and kept on reading, but then it reached the point where I had to decide whether or not to preserve the integrity of my library book, plus the blankets were wet, plus we were all starting to look like drowned rats, plus it was raining a lot harder.  So we packed up and drove into Cannon Beach for a couple of pints.  And some fish and chips.

Anyway, The Off-Season had much the same feel of Dairy Queen, to which it is the sequel, but the plot was no copycat and the ending was not what I expected in one department, in a completely realistic and character-growth sort of way.  I totally want another sequel.   Perfect for laying on the couch and trying to read away a headache, perhaps a result of two much beach or not enough water or not eating until after church.   It was not a result of too much birthday, because that was still to come (the two much part, as the actual birthday was long past), and too much birthday will result in me running around using coffee cards and Powell’s cards and cash gifts for a new bookshelf.



I really need one.  Kitri really needs one, too, given the way books sort of spill off the one in her room.  Hopefully we won’t, between us, fill this one up and then think we need yet another.

Sunday was all barbecues and cake and ice cream and badminton and more picnic, I even have two cupcakes left, waiting patiently for me, and chocolate bar that made its way into my bag in the course of the beach trip.

Having an actual weekend off is just too exhausting.

Last week, when I chose Chicken Soup with Rice as the next Monday recipe, I was a little trepidatious that it would turn out to be a blazing hot day on which I would loathe keeping the stove on for hours while the soup simmered.  Never fear!  I live in Oregon.  It poured all day.   Poured while I had to go buy a new tire.  Poured while I picked up rice and chicken and celery and carrots (and more figs).  Poured while I set my broth a simmering.

I loosely followed this recipe – the main alteration was cooking up a pound of chicken thighs instead of using a rotisserie chicken.   The broth simmered – mostly organic chicken broth plus a veggie bullion cube – the Rapunzel brand has a very nice herb/sea salt thing going on.  A handful of chopped parsely.  A rib of celery.  Part of a giant Walla Walla onion.

That simmered for about an hour, and in the meantime I chopped up another celery rib and 3 carrots and pulled apart the chicken.  I left all the fat on, because shouldn’t chicken soup have a nice portion of chicken fat?  Hence the thighs instead of breasts, also because they were cheaper.

Then it poured while I took a break and went to donate blood.  It was at the hospital, and let me tell you, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to a hospital.  And never, if I remember correctly, as the patient.  Anyway, so I gave blood and ate my juice and cookies and drove home.  In the rain – did I mention it was still pouring?

Then into the pot went the chicken, veggies, and half a cup of rice.  Since I was starting from cold again, it took 45 minutes for the rice to cook through.

Then I enjoyed.

Delicious.  Last time I made chicken soup, I used my mom’s homemade broth, which was to die for.  Next time, I’m stealing her broth again.  Still, this was tasty and reasonably hearty with the big chunks of chicken.  Today I’ll have to go get a good loaf of bread to eat with the leftovers.

I’m no longer banned from donating (ie, they believe I don’t have mad cow).  My iron levels are excellent.  My blood moves sluggishly.  I’m afraid to take off the bandage and look at the bruise (I’ll take their word that it bruised).   And I feel incrediby drained.  So tired, in fact, that I think being punny is a good idea.  And I’ll wait until tomorrow to elaborate on the joys of chicken soup with rice.

Sipping once

Sipping twice

Sipping chicken soup

with rice.

Yesterday I zipped through The Oracle Betrayed, and now I’m doing my best to work on other books from my library pile before I snap up the sequel and devour it, too.   It was indeed pleasantly like Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief,
minus Eugenides.  But it has the setting that feels historical, a blend of ancient Greece and ancient Egypt, but with an imagined mythology and culture.  It has intrigue and betrayal and hidden motives.  It has characters who are shocked to discover that the gods they pay lip service to are, in fact, real and present.  It feels complex without being too cpmplex.  There are elements of the culture that are distasteful – and the characters often find them distasteful along with the reader – but the masks must stay on, the tombs must be sealed, and the inevitability of the last page hits you across the face.

Which is why I’m itching for the sequel – because things are by no means tidily wrapped up.  Instead, I’m moving on to MiddlemarchSophie mentioned wanting to read it, and I have such fond memories of watching the Masterpiece Theater version on a cold January night with her and Bronwen, that we seized upon a vague plan of reading it together.  So I dove in, and had to adjust my brain to 19th century prose, but now things are going along nicely.  I’d forgotten how funny it is – or rather, I wasn’t sure if the funny was from the process of adapting it to screen or if it really was that funny.  And it is.  I already loathe Casaubon from the depths of my being, and he’s barely done anything yet.  Eliot’s tone with Dorothea (“Dodo”) has me cracking up.

Riding was an indulgence which she allowed herself in spite of conscientious qualms; she felt that she enjoyed it in a pagan sensuous way, and always looked forward to renouncing it.

Oh boy.  If she keeps that up, I’ll be sailing through this 799 page puppy.

I’m supposed to make chicken soup with rice today.  Appropriately, it’s raining.

(George Orwell) (Can you believe I’ve never read him?)

Food and books, books and food, the story of my life. Or at least it’s all I write about lately. This morning I was overwhelmed by the number of tomatoes gathering on my table, and decided it was time to make a tomato sauce. Which I’ve never done before. I let Betty Crocker be my guide, and figured with the next round I can try something more, oh, authentic. I cooked onion and garlic (twice as much garlic as Betty recommended, I’m not daft) in olive oil. Threw that in the crock pot. Added all my ripe tomatoes, chopped, plus a can of tomato sauce. Generous lashings of basil, oregano and parsley. If I’d been thinking, I would’ve blanched and skinned the tomatoes, but as Betty called for canned whole tomatoes (blasphemy) I forgot until it was too late. Oh, and fennel. It’s currently doing whatever it is things do in the crock pot.

Then, of course, the next order of business was to bake a chocolate cake. Last week, for a coworker’s birthday, I tried this sheet cake from BabelBabe (I want to call her BabelBake when I refer to her recipes) and it was a hit – gooey frosting, hint of cinnamon in the batter. And easy – no mixer or extreme arm strength required. But of course I only ate my one piece at the birthday interlude, and have been drooling over the thought of it ever since. So I made another today, but split the batter into two 9×9 pans (instead of one 13×9) figuring I can take one into work and keep the other. Any minute now I’m going to go cut into one and devour it.

This morning I finished reading At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays by Anne Fadiman, she of Ex Libris and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down fame. Quite pleasant. I made sure to drink my morning coffee while I read the coffee essay. Sadly, I didn’t manage to time a bowl of ice cream to the ice cream chapter. And lest you think it’s all delicious comestibles, there’s a dose of Arctic explorers and Romantic scandals as well.

Now I’m finally on to Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer of The Way of the Storyteller fame. Okay, at least in my circles that amounts to fame. It’s a lovely hardcover copy that cost my library all of $3.77 in 1967. Ah, library binding. Nothing lasts quite like you do. I’m reasonably sure I read this as a child, but I have no recollection of it. It will serve as the next installment on the Book Awards Reading Challenge – Newbery.

I also did some more work on my LibraryThing, until I tired of typing ISBNs. I’m forever ten-keying at work (both jobs) but my laptop only has the annoying row of numbers across the top. Also, the day is fast approaching when a paid account will sound like a wise way to spend money. Curse this desire to organize…

This week’s recipe was red beans and rice, as laid out by Bronwen:

medium grain inexpensive rice
saffron (not too expensive at trader joe’s)
chicken bullion cube
olive oil
1 onion
corn (either frozen or cut off the cob if you can get it)

canned black beans (preferably goya or another cheap brand that has plenty of salt)
medium/hot salsa
sour cream
cheddar or monterey jack cheese


Begin by sauteeing the sliced/chopped onion in the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Precise proportions aren’t important. When the onion is tender and translucent, add the rice, saffron, and bullion cube and stir it around a bit, breaking up the bullion cube until the rice starts to crackle a bit. Add the water and cook as directed on rice package. Stir occasionally to be sure that the bullion and saffron flavor is evenly distributed. When the rice is almost done cooking, stir in the corn and steam briefly.

Meanwhile, heat up the beans. You can drain them if you wish, but it’s good if you leave them a bit juicy/soupy. Also, grate cheese, and slice avocado.

Scoop some rice into a bowl. Put beans on top on one side, avocados, salsa, sour cream on the other. Sprinkle grated cheese all over.  Eat, crafting your bites as you go.

I had a cob leftover from last week’s farmer’s market visit, so I set that to boil while I began the rice.

I used some remarkably pungent tiny red onions – I think a few tears dropped in as I sauteed them.  Just a little extra salt.

Once tender, I added about 3/4 cup of Bob’s short grain white rice (sorry, recipe, the options at my house or short or long.  We do not know this medium of which you speak.  At any rate, the rice was well suited to the recipe.)

It pretty much sizzled right from the beginning, so I just gave it a couple minutes before I added chicken broth.  Bronwen recommended the bouillon for saltiness, but using the broth I didn’t find it lacking in saltiness.  I also didn’t buy any saffron, not wanting to drive to Trader Joe’s just to pick it up.  And the saffron at New Season’s cost $854/ounce.  I’m not making that up.  It came in an $8 container.  I didn’t actually see any saffron in the container; perhaps it was just filled with saffron dust?  At any rate, my splurge on figs was making me feel cheap.

Meanwhile, the rice is simmering with 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth and a good dash of cajun seasoning.

Let’s take a look at our bean options.

Don’t let the brand names mislead you, the only difference between these beans is the size of the can.  Both companies are divisions of The Hain Celestial Group.  Huh?  I went with the smaller can, heating them in a pan with a dash of salt (I felt like I’d ignored all of the salt directives in the recipe, so I threw in some sea salt to make it up.)

I sliced avocado, cut a tiny garden tomato into chunks, and grated some Tillamook cheddar.  As the rice was almost done, I sliced the corn off the cob and threw it in.  Then I used way too many dishes making it look pretty.

Then I made it messy and, as Bronwen said, crafted my bites as I went.  Hearty, tasty, filling.  Should make good leftovers, which is one of my main food criteria these days.

I’m taking a break from my to-do list (it was getting out of control) to eat pie and drink tea and catch up.  Next on the list is making this week’s rice and beans for lunch.  Mmm.

I know I have way too many ways to keep track of all the books I’m reading/have read/want to read, and that some days I veer towards spending more time keeping track than I do actually reading, but I’ve found yet another way and I couldn’t resist it.  First, there’s ye olde paper and pen – all titles and authors get recorded the day they are finished in my journal.  It’s nice to have titles juxtaposed with all the stuff that’s on my mind.  Then I keep the booklist page here, because, well, who knows why.  I like the numbered list, it’s easy to compare months.  Then I started using Revish, because I wanted the to-read list and to try and actually review something on occasion.  But the site is fairly clunky and the lists are occasionally wonky and half the time I search it doesn’t come up with anything.

Then just the other day I saw a link to Goodreads, which I think has edged out Revish as my online track-keeping tool.  And I did the mildly obnoxious pull up your address book and send invites to all your friends thing, and if I didn’t send one to you and you want to be my friend, well go ahead.  It feels a little slicker, I like keeping an eye on friends’ lists, easy to comment, etc.   You can judge my list and I can judge yours, right?  Oh, and you can get little condensed emails listing all the recent updates to your friends’ lists.   The next question is…how much time will I waste adding my already-read titles?

In other news, what’s with the cool weather?  Where is the August we know and loathe?  I haven’t even missed having air conditioning as I trundle around in my mom’s little old car.  I ought to be miserable and longing for fall and being able to wear sweaters and socks again.  Instead, I am wearing sweaters and socks.

At least my tomatoes are still ripening.

This post at Chasing Ray made me pick up Jo Walton’s Farthing, and not only is it all the things Colleen said it is (I’m nearly done but not quite, so I’ll take her word on the ending, and I won’t repeat all the things she said about it) but it fits perfectly into the whole Food and Books theme (and please, keep the suggestions coming).  Most of the food scenes fit into the “food defines character” category – strong vs. weak tea (the main characters prefer it weak, but please make mine strong), a six course meal vs. nursery tea.  Of course, some of these meals end up being served up to the reader, as well, notably the pancake devouring scene.  Our narrator (alternating chapters with omniscient) has a hearty appetite and occasionally feels dumpy, but this doesn’t stop her from having a slice of fruitcake after the pancakes and caviar.  It makes me hungry.
This is not quite the same as girls being sent away to the country to eat good food and recover their health and vitality, the lack of which in contemporary fiction was pointed out by BabelBabe, but it is in the same general arena (boy was that a convoluted sentence).  Lucy seems to be one of the more healthy, balanced individuals in the story.  She tries to see beyond the strict class and race notions she was raised with.  She doubts the honor in “Peace with Honor” and tries to defy her nasty mother.  And she eats good, solid food.

But what, really, is the modern equivalent of Eight Cousins or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, the girl brought back to health by real meals and activity?  We may not have the corsets and bustles that Louisa May Alcott let Uncle Alec rail against, and girls are no longer expected to sit around and simper and do needlework (nothing against needlework, K), but I’d like to do an Uncle Alec on most adolescent girls I see.  Feed them oatmeal and dress them sensibly and put a real bloom in their cheeks.  Where are today’s books where this happens?

August 2007

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