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Lulu Dark Can See Through WallsLulu Dark Can See Through Walls by Bennett Madison

Just the thing to read when your brain needs a vacation. Which is not to say that it’s total brain candy – there’s actually a nicely puzzling mystery and some substance to the characters – but it’s the kind of book that pulls you into another world for some fun.

Since Lulu doesn’t want to play the girl detective, it’s understandable when it takes her a while to piece together the clues (I guessed a few things before she did, but not enough to make it annoying), but along the way she actually kind of maybe starts to enjoy the whole sleuthing business. The story deals nicely with the whole “why not just go to the police/tell an adult” question (although her parents are very conveniently absent just when she needs to do something like spend the night in a dumpster).

The characters are a whole lot of fun, and I particularly liked Lulu’s believably gradual transformation into someone who occasionally thinks before she speaks. There’s some light romance but it never takes over the mystery storyline, or from Lulu herself as the star of the show. Throw in some dry humor, and I’m a happy reader.

I’d recommend it for middle school readers on up – there’s a little underage drinking and maybe the occasional swear, but otherwise nothing objectionable for younger readers. And I’ll be looking for the sequel next time I need something funny and absorbing.

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What’s the best thing to do when you have 5 days left before you move?  And you really need to start packing up your kitchen?  Go on a cooking extravaganza, of course!  Last Friday I bought the ingredients for two Long Distance Kitchen recipes – Banoffi Pie and Dorie Greenspan’s Honey-Peach Ice Cream – thinking I would make them over the weekend (and what, go in to a sugar coma?)  And since I knew I would have a random quantity of cream leftover, I also bought ingredients for a second round of Butter Chicken (that stuff is amazing).

Of course, the weekend was busy and all I had time to do was the three-hour boil on the cans of condensed milk for the pie.  But I’m determined, and I didn’t want to pack up all the supplies, or have the various fruits spoil, so this afternoon I dove in.  The ice cream custard is cooling in the fridge, and the pie crust is ready to be filled.

In the meantime, I did manage to do some deep cleaning so that there won’t be as much to do when I finally get around to packing the kitchen.  I might miss the high ceilings and light, tree-filled view in the apartment, but I will not miss the Ugliest Cabinets in the World.  Once you start taking down pictures and clearing off the fridge, it’s amazing how much uglier they look.

Now, on to the pie!  It’s time to start the sugar rush.  Full reports later.

Back in May, Bronwen assigned this recipe for Green Beans & Zucchini with Sauce Verte, and even though I didn’t plan it this way, it’s an excellent recipe for this time of year.  I did actually make it in May, but it’s perfect for August when enormous zucchini are everywhere and you need a new way to make them tasty.

The recipe comes from Bon Appetit, and you can find it on epicurious.  You could also try it with other vegetables, but used the suggested green beans and zucchini.

Basically, you blend together basil, parsley, green onion, capers, lemon juice, mustard, garlic and oil into a delicious paste, sort of like a loose, zingy pesto.  Then you cook the vegetables and coat with the sauce before serving.  Easy, delicious, you can keep extra sauce in the fridge.

I went one step further and used some of the sauce as a marinade on chicken breasts.  Because I really just coated them, and didn’t let them actually marinate for a longer period, they had just a light flavor after broiled, while the vegetables carried most of the flavor.

chicken & vegetables in sauce verte

Remind me, why haven’t I made this again?  My only issue was that the vegetables really need to be eaten right away and don’t make good leftovers, but really that’s my problem with most vegetables and leftovers.  The zucchini was the worst, but the beans were edible.  Only make as much as you will eat with that first meal, and save the rest of the sauce for another meal, okay?

green beans and zucchini with sauce verte (from bon appetit june 2010)

sauce verte

1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1 green onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons packed fresh italian parsley
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound green beans, stem end trimmed
12 ounces zucchini, halved lengthwise, each half cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch wide strips
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons fresh italian parsley leaves for garnish

Blend first 7 ingredients in food processor until finally chopped. with machine running, gradually add olive oil. process until coarse puree forms. season to taste with salt and pepper. can be made 1 day ahead. cover and refrigerate.

heat oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. add timetables, stir until coated. sprinkle with salt and 3 tablespoons water. cover, cook until almost crisp-tender , stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. cook until just tender, about 2 minutes longer. stir in enough sauce to coat vegetables generously. add salt and pepper to taste. transfer to bowl. garnish with parsley and serve.

My bookshelves are looking a little bare…and no, it’s not because I managed to weed my collection (as if!) – it’s because they’re sitting in boxes waiting to be moved.  Yes, I’m up and moving next week and good lord, I didn’t realize how many boxes I would fill up with books.  All this time I’ve been thinking what a modest number of books I own – only two bookshelves – but the boxes filled up fast.  I guess it doesn’t help that both shelves were jam-packed.

Hopefully after I move, and get a look at my stuff in a new space, I can manage to fit in a third shelf.  I’m not moving too far – just a bit closer to work, and almost in my old, much-loved neighborhood.  There will be more walking and biking expeditions.  I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime, I’ve got to get back to cleaning out the clutter of my kitchen cabinets and try to figure out exactly how many pie plates and Pyrex baking dishes my lifestyle requires.  Apparently quite a few!

I’m also trying to use up a lot of my pantry items – I see a pot of chili in my future, to use up some of the stockpile of beans and canned tomatoes, and maybe a pie with a cookie crust, and something that involves lots of nuts.  I think some Long Distance Kitchen recipes will come in handy, like the granola I still haven’t made, and the banoffi pie.  But how can I cook and pack up my kitchen?  I can’t wait to get this moving nonsense over with and settle into the new place.  Nine days!

I think these two were my first try at Persephone Books – no, that’s not right.  I read The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher a while back.  I realized recently that another library in my county owns most of the Persephone books, if not all, so I’m slowly working my way through them.  So far the experiment is a success – I’ve liked all three.
Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Donnes (Persephone Classics)Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Donnes by Mollie Panter-Downes

I have a complicated relationship with short stories, mostly because I’m the kind of reader who prefers a continuous narrative, where I get to know characters and stick with them over a few hundred pages. Sometimes short stories leave me wanting more, even when they’re perfect little gems and just as long as they needed to be. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like anything was missing here.

The stories felt like snap-shots in the best way, and perhaps I was also pleasantly distracted by thinking about how Mollie Panter-Downes was writing about life in Britain during the war as it was happening around her. There’s a sense of immediacy and detail that you don’t necessary get from historical fiction, where the author knows the outcome even though the characters don’t. Even though the focus here is often on more domestic, everyday situations, they are often situations created by the war, and the characters feel the uncertainty of how long it will go on.

Definitely recommended to anyone who enjoys feeling immersed in a different time and to readers who love character-driven stories. And did I mention that there’s a wonderful humor to many of the stories?

Source: my library system

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MarianaMariana by Monica Dickens

Here, the story of a girl growing up is book-ended by World War II. We meet her as she waits for news of her husband, then follow her through her girlhood and the beginning of adulthood, until we meet her back where we began. There’s not much in the way of action, but this never stops the story from being fascinating. Mary is not always likable but somehow she manages to be sympathetic the whole way through. The characters are wonderfully drawn and the book never takes itself too seriously, make for a solid, leisurely read. This is the kind of book that doesn’t demand to be read, but once you pick it up, it’s easy to get stuck in its world.

Source: my library system.

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Princess of GlassPrincess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Although the dark magic at work isn’t quite as ominous as in Princess of the Midnight Ball, this is a completely fun follow-up that presents yet another look at the Cinderella story. The twist this time (well, one of them) is that our main character is not the Cinderella figure. Instead, she’s one of the younger sisters from the first book, and she’s been sent abroad for diplomatic reasons. The Cinderella figure is the incompetent maid of the family Princess Poppy stays with, which adds some humor to this retelling.

While this one could stand on its own, there are plenty of references to the situation in the first book that would make it better to read them in order. Here’s hoping that Jessica Day George has a few more fairy tales up her sleeve – these are good, light fun that are appropriate for younger readers but that should appeal to fairy tale fans of all ages.

Source: my library system

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August 2010

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