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Yum yum yum!  Another recipe from Good to the Grain. I assigned this one back in June, and made and gobbled them up right away.  This was my first adventure with barley flour, if I remember correctly, and it adds an interesting flavor to scones.  While it’s a pain to keep lots of different kinds of flour around (and my cupboard space is suffering as a result), it’s worth it for the way it introduces slightly different flavors into baking – especially heartier things like scones.

While Bronwen opted to make her own strawberry jam, I used the store-bought stuff I had on hand.  Based on the pictures, her jam was juicier than mine and soaked into the dough more, while mine was thicker and  just oozed out the sides a little and hardened.  Basically, you make the scone dough, roll it into two discs, spread one disc with jam, and put the second disc on top.  Then you brush the top with butter and sprinkle it with sugar (for a little crunch) and slice the whole thing into wedges before baking.

As you can see, I was so busy eating them while they were still warm that I forgot to take a picture until later.  They were tasty and hearty, sweet but not too sweet to serve as breakfast or a snack.

When I first got into baking in middle school, I tried several scone recipes but found them all too dry – a scone sounded fantastically old-fashioned, English and tea-party-ish, but I couldn’t make one I liked.  Since then I’ve made several I liked, and I’ll be adding this one to the list of scone recipes to make again.  Maybe I should have a tea party and serve them…while dressed in my most old-fashioned outfit.

All Clear (Blackout, #2)All Clear by Connie Willis

As with Blackout, I couldn’t put the thing down. Even when I was standing in line to have my copy signed. And, like Willis said at the signing, it’s really hard to say anything about it without giving out spoilers for the first book, so I’ll just say that it was a pretty satisfying conclusion to the story. As to whether the whole thing is a comedy or a tragedy, as one character asks another, you’ll have to read it to find out.

I will say that if you like big, fast-paced novels with large doses of suspense (and a fair amount of humor), and stories that make history come alive, you should give Blackout a try. Don’t blame me if you can’t manage to get anything else done once you start reading.

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Adam & EveAdam & Eve by Sena Jeter Naslund

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So completely unsatisfying. I was ready to give up about two thirds of the way through, but figured I should finish since I’d already invested that much time in it. It reads like…nothing else I can think of. It’s intentionally over the top at points – a man killed by a falling piano, two Americans stranded in an Eden-esque garden in the Middle East, ancient cave paintings, plane crashes, you get the picture. But none of those elements ever really come together to create any meaningful whole. It’s just a bunch of pieces that could have been interesting if there was any real thread of connection, or if the characters had been more likable. Or maybe if they had been more unlikable, it would have worked. Some bits seemed like they were supposed to be realistic, other bits like fables, but all missing a moment of realization to bring them together.

As an added bonus, the Biblical commentary felt unsophisticated and distracted from any real storytelling that might have happened in its absence. The big reveal of the translated codex? Completely underwhelming, leaving me confused as to why any of the religious groups would have been so eager to destroy it. The end result felt sensationalistic and flat at the same time. Stay away, unless you’re in the mood to get annoyed.

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Here’s another June Long Distance Kitchen recipe – First-of-the-Season Succotash Salad from Sunday Suppers at Lucques. I’d never made a succotash salad before – in fact, when Bronwen assigned it I had no idea what to expect when I read the recipe, vaguely picturing some kind of grain-based salad.  In fact, it’s a vegetable salad.  Visit her blog for pictures, because I spaced out on this one.

You make a little dressing from shallot, lemon juice, salt, and olive oil.  Let it sit, and meanwhile you sauté red onion and thyme in some oil, then add diced summer squash, cooking until it’s tender and has a little color.  She tells you to salt it, but here’s my word of warning: there is WAY too much salt in this recipe.  I added the exact quantities called for, and even as I poured it in I had my doubts.  Instead, salt according to instinct.  You can always add more later.  Lesson learned.

Take the squash out of the pan and let it cool, and use the same pan to cook fresh corn that has been sliced off of the cob, in some olive oil and salt and pepper (the same salt warning applies here).  Cool the corn once it reaches the tender stage.

Halve some cherry tomatoes and season them with salt (or not – at this point, the recipe has called for 3 teaspoons of the stuff for a medium bowl’s worth of veggies).  Throw in the squash and corn along with a cup of cooked fresh lima beans and half the dressing.

I was bringing the recipe to my parents’ house for dinner (4th of July, if memory serves) and when I described it to my mom, she requested that I leave out the lima beans, so I did.  Hmm, maybe they would have absorbed some of that salt, although her recipe for them does include seasoning them with salt already.

Finally, taste and “adjust with more salt and lemon juice if you like.”  Yeah, no.  Then toss in some sliced parsley and basil and minced chives.  Serve on top of watercress and arugula that’s been tossed with the remaining dressing.  Since I wasn’t sure how much would get eaten, I just served the succotash in a bowl by itself, with mixed greens and the dressing handy in case anyone wanted them.

I found that I liked the succotash by itself better than with greens, although unfortunately I could only eat a few bites before becoming overwhelmed by the salt.  It was really overpowering, which was disappointing because I was really enjoying the underlying flavor of the vegetables.  I might try this one again next summer, using more a of a salt, taste, salt method.

The Other Half of My HeartThe Other Half of My Heart by Sundee T. Frazier

This is the kind of story about family and identity that I would recommend in a heartbeat to kids looking for that kind of story – one that takes childhood and sense of self seriously, adds in some humor and a reasonably compelling plot, and delivers a satisfying ending.

The story takes an interesting look at race by telling the story of twin girls, one who looks like their white father and the other who looks like their black mother. Whether or not these particular issues of race are ones that the reader can identify with, it’s the kind of story that sucks in preteen girls who are just starting to think about their place in the world and other people’s perception of them.

The sisters’ relationship felt natural, with its ups and downs, as did their relationship with their parents. The pacing is good, keeping the story moving with more thoughtful moments mixed in well. And the ending is sweet without being unrealistic.

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Just thinking about this coleslaw makes me feel like it’s summer again!  Actually, I think the weather this month has been better than the weather in June, when I assigned Smitten Kitchen’s Not Your Mama’s Coleslaw.  October is actually sunny so far, although a little chilly, while June was pretty gray.

For the record, my mom makes a yummy coleslaw, although it’s pretty different in flavor from SK’s.  Hers is more tangy and sweet, with cabbage, carrots, and pineapple, while SK’s isn’t sweet at all and has a sort of earthier flavor with the blue cheese.

I started with some absolutely delicious farmer’s market carrots – seriously, I just wanted to gnaw on them.  Since this recipe calls for 4 large carrots, I think it’s important to get ones that taste good on their own, since the flavor really comes through.  End of carrot lecture.

Then you take half a head of green cabbage and half a head of red, and slice them up as thinly as possible.  I don’t know why, but thin-sliced cabbage tastes better.  It doesn’t make any sense, but I found myself reluctant to eat the thicker pieces in the coleslaw.

Toss together the cabbage, shredded carrots, and some chopped parsley.  Stop to admire it:

Is it not a thing of beauty?

So then you make a dressing from mayo, mustard, apple cider vinegar, celery seed, salt and pepper, and crumbled blue cheese, and toss the dressing with the vegetables.  Unless you like a lot of dressing, you have enough to make two batches of coleslaw, or to just use the leftovers as salad dressing.

If you like blue cheese, throw it all in.  If you’re not sure, add it a little bit at a time.  I happen to know some major blue cheese fans, and I like the stuff myself, so in it went.  It makes a big bowl, so I served it up when we had a crowd over for dinner.  It went over well, and it’s the kind of coleslaw to convert people who’ve only tried the mushy, pale green kind.

Bronwen made her own mayonnaise, which makes sense considering she’s not a big mayo fan and wanted to make it as tasty as possible.  I’ve always been perfectly satisfied with Trader Joe’s mayonnaise, so I used that quite happily.  It’s not a very runny dressing, which helps for non-mayo fans, although there are always hold-outs.

I’ll definitely be pulling this recipe out again next summer – although probably only when there’s a crowd to feed.

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking, #3)Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Warning: no spoilers for Monsters of Men, but there are some mild spoilers for the earlier books in the series. If you haven’t already, go read The Knife of Never Letting Go and come back later.

I can’t imagine reading The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer and not being anxious to read the conclusion to the trilogy. Anxious is really the right word, since Ness has shown that he isn’t afraid to do the heart-breaking thing (“Ow, Todd?”) or leave friends on opposite sides of a war, or have them come face to face with their own faults and failures. But I also didn’t think that the ending would be hopeless – I knew it would be pretty grim, but I didn’t think he’d leave us in despair.

Whether or not I was overly optimistic wasn’t settled until almost the end, but despite the anxiety, this was a much faster read than The Ask and the Answer. The Knife was so fast-paced that The Ask felt glacial in comparison, and now things pick up a little bit. Part of it is that end-of-a-trilogy feeling, where you know there will be at least a little resolution. Everything was being set up in The Ask, and now we see the results. We see what war does to Todd and Viola, and it’s no spoiler to say that it brings out both the best and the worst in them.

The first book had one narrator, Todd. The second book added Viola’s point of view. And here, we get a completely different third perspective. Ness does a great job of making each voice distinct – Todd has particular speech patterns, Viola’s narrative is a little smoother, and that third narrator could never be mistaken for anyone else. The three perspectives work amazingly well, and of course they manage to create plenty of tension as we switch back and forth at an often rapid pace.

It’s a war story, and a story about growing up, and a science fiction story, and a story about family and friendships and first love and enemies and choices and cultural identity. It manages to be both entertaining and thoughtful, and although the series isn’t necessarily an easy read, it’s pretty damn compelling.

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Here’s another LDK recipe from June – Malted Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies, recipe from The Pioneer Woman (I love her step-by-step photos, even when I already know what a certain step should look like – I have been making chocolate chip cookies for an awfully large percentage of my life).

At any rate, this is pretty much a classic chocolate chip cookie with malted milk thrown in for a slightly different flavor.  My dad is a big fan of malt – whenever we’d get milkshakes at Mike’s Drive-In (pretty much the most exciting thing ever when we were little), my dad would get a chocolate malt shake.  After trying his a few times, I’m a convert (although I mostly get plain chocolate).  So I was excited to see how the malt flavor worked in cookies.

I headed off to Fred Meyer with a mental image of a powdered malted milk container.  I found the Ovaltine (“be sure…to drink…your Ovaltine”) and the powdered milk, but not malted milk.  I asked an employee where it was, and he said that they no longer carried it!  The horror!  I wasn’t in the mood to drive around to other stores, so I grabbed some original flavor Ovaltine and made do – I don’t think the flavor is quite as malty, perhaps, but it did add something.  (Anyone know who carries malted milk in Portland?)

After the hunt for malted milk, they were a breeze to put together, especially if you’ve already got the chocolate chip cookie routine down.  I neglected to take pictures, but don’t worry – Bronwen did (and of course Pioneer Woman, too).  Like Bronwen said, the malted flavor wasn’t super pronounced, although it may have been different with plain malted milk.  (What the heck is Ovaltine, anyway?)  It’s been a while, but I think I made them twice – once for me and once for Father’s Day.

Great, after writing this recap I’m craving chocolate chip cookies.  And it’s only 10 in the morning.

Let’s see if I can get through the rest of last month, shall we?  Because I’m already looking ahead to what I’ll be reading in November and December as I start digging into the Mock Newbery and Mock Printz lists for this year, plus I’d like to take a stab at the National Book Award nominees in the young people’s literature category (last year I read everything except Stitches, which I flipped through but never managed to finish).

  • The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork.  This one’s on the Mock Printz, and I think rightly so.  The characters are absolutely fascinating and drive the story in all their glorious complexity.  Plenty of issues at play, but a good amount of humor, too.  I wish I’d written about this one while it was still fresh in my mind.
  • Fat Vampire by Adam Rex.  This is the kind of funny book that begs to be read aloud – especially to someone nerdy who will get all the jokes.  The send-up of vampire fiction is a good antidote to all the overly dramatic stuff.  If the plot goes a little wonky, who cares – I was too busy enjoying the ride.
  • The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness.  I thought I’d reread this middle volume in the Chaos Walking trilogy before embarking on Monsters of Men, and I’m glad I did.  The first time I was anxious to see what would happen, and this time I was less concerned with plot (and pace – it’s much slower than The Knife of Never Letting Go) and could focus more on character and how Ness was setting things up for the final volume.  Intense stuff, but definitely recommended to fans of dystopian fiction.
  • Amulet: Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi.  It had been too long since I read a graphic novel, and this one is on this year’s ORCA list – another list that I’d like to hopefully maybe work my way through before voting in the spring (even though I’m not a “young reader” and therefore not eligible to vote, the list is a great resource for recommending books to kids and to suggest to my bookgroup, since we have multiple copies on hand already).  It’s fast-paced and fantastical, with rich full-color pictures.  It’s a story that could have been told as a regular novel, but the graphic format lets you soak in all the strange creatures and landscapes without slowing things down.  It’s the beginning of a series, and some issues are left hanging while others are resolved – a good compromise.
  • The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West.  I would’ve loved this book as a kid – a spooky old house, pictures that you can crawl through into a shadow world, a down-to-earth heroine who tries to stay out of trouble, and the kind of fantasy where the real and the magical mix in unexpected ways.  It bills itself as book one in the Books of Elsewhere, but things are pretty wrapped up at the end, so I’m curious to see where West goes next.
  • Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson.  Why on earth did I never read these books as a child?  I feel deprived.  I’d heard a few people mention them, and then I saw that they were being republished this year.  My library had one elderly copy of one of the books, so I decided to get the whole set.  Then I figured I should try one myself, and I’m glad I did.  Funny, in the sense that you often laugh at the characters, and fun in an old-fashioned adventurous sort of way.  I itched to read them aloud – they’d be great for a family read-aloud.

Ta-da!  Now I’d better start catching up on Long Distance Kitchen again – I’ve been cooking but not posting, and I’m actually about to run off and make some Roasted Vegetable Minestrone if anyone wants to join in.

I haven’t been writing about books much lately, so here’s a run-down of September in books:

  • The High King by Lloyd Alexander.  I wrapped up my re-reading of the Prydain Chronicles by listening to this.  When I read the series as a kid, I enjoyed the adventure and magic and humor.  As an adult, I can appreciate how Alexander takes Taran from an inexperienced boy, ready to take on the world, to someone who has matured and grown and is ready for his biggest responsibility yet – while still being a little  youthful and foolish.  I’d forgotten how the book ends, so I had the delicious fun of experiencing it along with the characters, with a little surprise even though it felt right.  And I can’t recommend the audio versions highly enough for getting the correct pronunciations finally stuck in my head.
  • Westmark and The Kestrel, by Lloyd Alexander.  It was a little bit of a Lloyd Alexander month – I read the first two in this trilogy after I noticed them languishing on the library shelves.  They have a very different feel than the Prydain books, although you still know you’re in the hands of a master storyteller.  The first is more of an adventure story, with schemes and deceptions and surprises, with political issues simmering in the background.  In the second, those political issues change a little and come to the forefront, and the depictions of what happen to a person in war were no less powerful than those in Mockingjay or The Ask and the Answer, although a little less intense (more on those later).  Characters in each book have to face the question of who they will choose to be and how violent they will become – an odd theme to have pop up in so many books in one month.
  • The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han (follow the link for my review).
  • Crunch by Leslie Connor (ditto).
  • Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis.  Curtis is always good for a laugh, and he doesn’t disappoint here, even though the subject matter is a little darker, in a gritty, realistic way, than his historical fiction.  Actually, I’m not sure if that’s true – his historical fiction can be a little dark and gritty, even when your sides are splitting from laughing, but I think the modern setting and the Sarge herself make this one feel heavier than the others.
  • The Hunger Games (audio) and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.  I wanted to reread The Hunger Games before diving into Mockingjay, and once I started listening to the audio version, I almost waited until I could listen to Catching Fire, too, and then Mockingjay, but I got the print version of the 3rd one in first and went straight to that.  I definitely recommend the audio versions, though, because they’re definitely engaging, and listening to the story (instead of speed-reading) forces you to pay attention to detail in a way that comes in handy when you’re trying to discuss the series articulately.  Like I said before, the series forces characters into awful situations that reveal how they act under pressure.  In the 3rd book, I was more interested in how Gale and Peeta both coped with the pressures of war, although Katniss also had to make some interesting choices.  The ending was partially satisfying – but I won’t get into spoilers here.

Part 2 to follow!

October 2010

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