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We’re having a lazy Labor Day around here. I always have aspirations of doing something exciting on three-day weekends, but I usually end up just taking the extra day to sleep in, maybe make something delicious to eat, and catch up on stuff around the house.
I’m hoping to go for a nice walk this afternoon, but at the moment I’m recovering from vacuuming and having glass after glass of sparkling water (it’s an addiction this summer). Why is it that vacuuming a tiny apartment is more exhausting than vacuuming a larger space? Answer: you have to move every single piece of furniture to reach even half the carpet. It’s like disassembling and reassembling a room-sized puzzle. I ignore the corners behind chairs for a while, but I just had to toss a vase of flowers and there were petals everywhere. Plus a nice layer of dust, I’m sure.
I made this blueberry tart over the weekend – the kind with crust, pastry cream, and berries on top. I never manage to get around to making the glaze, but I like the not-too-sweet result. Makes me feel better when I have a piece at breakfast.
I haven’t been baking much this summer – a combination of laziness and a few weeks of heat than made turning on the oven unbearable. But the temperatures have been back in the 70s and 80s and I’m finding my baking mojo again. I made the tart on Saturday, a Dutch baby pancake for brunch on Sunday, buttermilk biscuits to go with leftover soup on Sunday night, and another Dutch baby for breakfast this morning, this time with a nectarine sliced up in the skillet. YUM.
I got a deal on ten pounds of fruit at the farmer’s market on Sunday, so now we’re awash in apples, peaches, and nectarines. I have a recipe for a caramelized peach cobbler that I want to try, and maybe an apple pie after that. I can dream!
In the meantime, I’m not ready to let summer go yet. We’ve got a beach trip planned with my family, and then in the fall I have a girls’ weekend at another beach, and we’re still deciding what to do for our first anniversary.
Ah, finally the temperatures have slipped back down to the low 80s (the heat doesn’t usually last long in Oregon, but it’s always a shock to the system) and I feel human again. Part of the problem is that our whole, tiny apartment heats up if you turn on the stove for five minutes, so there’s been a lack of baking and real, balanced meals around here. Hopefully I’ll get in some serious baking time this fall!
As for books, I’ve been reading steadily but my numbers feel like they’ve slipped. I’ve been doing more ‘reading up on things’ and reading less fiction – boo! I’ll post some complete reviews soon, but here are a few recent reads that hit the spot:
The writing style felt very old-school – not dated, necessarily, but there was something about the book that gave me flashbacks to my fantasy-devouring adolescence. This was my first Mahy, and now I’d like to try more.
It’s been a while since I reread Persuasion, so I enjoyed the similarities without being distracted by any ways that this homage might not have lived up to the original. I particularly liked the ways that the futuristic setting allowed Peterfreund to explore social issues that often lurk in the background of Austen’s novels. Note: not set in space, and I’m not sure exactly why I thought it was (for a few chapters, actually).
Strangely enough, I didn’t love this on audio as much as I loved the print version. The narrators did a good job, but I think I appreciated the material more as ‘silent reading’ – I felt the mood of the story more strongly on my own. Plus, in the early, difficult sections, the audio version doesn’t let you skim over the horrors the way the print version does. I’d forgotten how the story wraps up (my poor memory makes for great rereading) and it was interesting to see which of my guesses were right.
While this was marketed as young adult in the US, I believe it was originally marketed to adults in Australia – and I think it could go either way. There are some aspects of the story that feel YA, and others that feel impossibly adult. I’d recommended it to older teens and adults.
Speaking of Jane Austen, this was a fun read-alike. It felt like something perfectly in between Austen and We Capture the Castle, and it won me over from the opening scene. Sure, there were some predictable elements, but it was sheer fun to read.
I always know it’s really summer in Oregon when I can go blueberry picking.
(Okay, so this picture is from 2007, but do blueberries really change? No.)
I went on Friday – I had the day off for working the weekend – and there’s nothing like a not-too-hot hour spent wandering between overgrown bushes, picking and eating and picking.
Now, to turn them into a blueberry tart! I’m thinking one of those ones with a sweet crust, pastry cream filling, and blueberries mounded on top. With leftovers for munching or freezing or turning into muffins.
Somehow I got it into my head that I should go berry picking today. It was the perfect opportunity – I have the day off since I worked the weekend, the weather is warm but not too hot, and here in Oregon it’s the tail end of the strawberry season and the beginning of raspberry and blueberry season. I almost went for the strawberries, but couldn’t resist the allure of raspberries – my parents have a few bushes, and raspberries have always been one of those fruits that I eat in small quantities straight from the bush. I almost never buy them, but I adore them. Blueberries I can get from the church property, and those might be getting close – they were still green last weekend when we went to check on them.
So, I went to Sauvie Island and picked 6 pounds of raspberries. It’s definitely the beginning of the season – there were hordes of red berries that weren’t quite ripe, which makes me want to go back in a week or two and load up again – as long as my freezer can take it. I was single-minded, and trying not to carry extra stuff through the fields, so no photos from the farm. Although, while I was waiting in line to pay for my loot, a girl from a group of arriving u-pickers snapped a picture of my box of berries, which kind of cracked me up. They were all wearing cute sundresses, and I would’ve liked to see what they looked like after an hour or two in the sun, crawling halfway into bushes to get at the ripe ones.
So then I came home with my haul and went into a recipe-hunting frenzy. I threw a bunch in the freezer on a cookie sheet, shifting them into ziploc bags once they hardened up, and right now I’ve got another sheet-full in the freezer – about 10 cups so far. Some I’ll leave for eating by the handful. But I also wanted to find a few recipes – those recipes that I always bypass because they call for fresh raspberries and are thusly prohibitively expensive when you haven’t just paid $10.50 for six pounds of raspberries.
I started with a batch of the super-simple raspberry jam from How to Be a Domestic Goddess – you just heat raspberries and sugar separately in the oven, then mix them together and let cool. Still cooling, so the verdict is out on consistency. I don’t have canning equipment, and I’ve never really made jam before, so this was a gentle start.
Then I made a chocolate cake. Yeah, I know, chocolate cake does not feature fresh raspberries. But I had two goals: I’ve been wanting to try this recipe from Orangette with the perhaps insane thought of maybe baking (and freezing, then defrosting) several for our wedding reception. I wanted to see how easy it was to execute and how it tasted. Plus, I love chocolate cake, especially dense fudgy ones. The second goal was to serve the cake with whipped cream and raspberries – either fresh or in the form of the aforementioned raspberry jam, especially if it ends up slightly runny. The cake is no thing of beauty, but that’s not the point.
Finally, I made a batch of raspberry sherbet from A Perfect Scoop – raspberries, milk, sugar, and lemon juice. Sweet, a little tart, and a little creamy. It’s also super easy (once you’ve picked the raspberries, of course) – you throw everything in the blender and puree it, then strain out the seeds and throw the rest in your ice cream maker (it’s a space-hog, but I do love mine).
And there you have it! A day completely taken up with raspberries. Now I just have to clean out the sink and remember what I was going to make for dinner…
It is upon us – the season of Summer Reading. Not to be confused with the actual season of summer, which doesn’t hit Portland until after July 4th. Summer Reading – the three months of the library year where the days slip away in a whirl of explaining the reading logs, handing out sign-up bags, asking families if they’ve signed up yet, handing out prizes, restocking the prizes, and wondering where the time went.
Yesterday was the first day of the summer reading program, and I we had around 90 sign-ups by the time I left work. The first kid to sign-up must have been waiting for the library doors to open, because I swear she was standing at my desk at 10 am sharp. The after-school rush saw a line of kids. If it’s like this while school’s in session, it’s going to be a madhouse in a week when the year ends early thanks to furlough days.
For some reason, I keep thinking summer = more free time. Not at work, obviously, but at least the evenings are longer and that means more time for after-dinner walks (the irises are out all over the neighborhood) and an increased desire to take road trips.
I haven’t made any plans for my own summer reading – no goals or lists to make and abandon – but my library shelf is awfully full these days and I’m going through audiobooks like nobody’s business. I listened to seven in May, up from four in April and one in March. As always, I keep track of what I’m reading on the annual lists – links just under the header. Although my “read these” list is sadly in need of updating – apparently I’m not as bossy as I used to be.
As always, there’s catch-up to do on my book reviews and what I’ve been cooking for Long Distance Kitchen. More to come.
Once upon a time, in an apartment on the other side of the river, I made Honey-Peach Ice Cream as a Long Distance Kitchen recipe. It was August, and I’m sure the weather was pretty much the opposite of a cold, rainy March day, and something cold and sweet and peach-flavored was just the thing. I made it at the same time as the Banoffi Pie, as you can see in the pictures.
Apparently I tend to make desserts in clusters. Feast or famine! The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking, and you can also see Bronwen’s results here.
Here’s the method: you chop up half of your peaches and cook them with honey, then puree them once they get soft. You do a pretty standard ice cream custard with milk, cream, sugar and egg yolks, then stir in your puree. Once the whole thing has chilled, you do the ice cream maker thing and you dice the remaining peaches. When the ice cream is just about done, toss in the peach chunks.
I used nectarines, which Dorie mentions in her “playing around” tips as not needing to be peeled (I’m lazy, and they might have been riper than the peaches when I went to the store). They were pretty tasty but they weren’t amazing, and that might make a difference. Another thing is your preference for smooth ice cream versus fruit chunks – I’m more of a smooth gal, so if I made this again I might puree ALL the fruit. As Bronwen noted, it did get a little frosty – there was a sort of distinct textural difference between the icier bits and the heavy feel of the cream on your tongue. Tasty, but not lick-your-bowl amazing.
(Please note that I have a bias towards chocolately ice creams and was trying to extend myself by introducing more fruit to my ice cream maker – I haven’t made one yet that won me over from the chocolate camp).
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.
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?
It finally feels like summer here in Portland. It’s supposed to be in the 90s today, and I’m still recovering from my air-conditioning-less car trip to pick up my new glasses (which I’m still adjusting to, thanks to the wonky depth-perception issues with a new prescription). The heat is a nice change from the rain and cloudy skies, but it also just makes me want to sit around and do nothing. Watch some TV, read a book, eat lots of ice cream. I want to be drinking iced coffee, but don’t want to wait 12 hours for cold-brewed iced coffee. I could walk to a coffee shop, but that defeats the whole laziness/staying cool agenda. Instead, I’ll present you with more catch-up book reviews while I make up my mind about the wisdom of ice cream for lunch.
In a beautiful turn of events, I finished listening to Masterpiece, popped the last disc out of my car’s CD player, and caught the end of an NPR news piece about the art heist in Paris. As much as I hate to hear about theft like that, the timing was just too perfect.
But back to Masterpiece – I picked it up since it’s a nominee for the inaugural Oregon Reader’s Choice Award (ORCA). The audio narration was nicely done, with good pacing and suspense and sense of characters, without calling too much attention to itself. The story requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, but was fun all the same. The story is combination of mystery/suspense for the younger crowd, art, and that always fascinating premise – life on a miniature scale.
Here, the scale is that of a family of beetles living in a NYC apartment, and we see them forage for food, go on a day trip to the solarium, and try to avoid detection by the humans. Marvin breaks all the rules by making contact with a human boy, and ends up involved in trying to track down an art thief. Entertaining and simply told with plenty of appeal, although not much depth.
Source: my library
Here’s a fairy story that’s not all sweetness and light, but rather a surprisingly complex little book that’s lovely on the surface – premise and illustrations – but underneath it deals with the realities of how we treat others and react to difficulties. Flory has lost her wings, and it hardens her in a way that makes me think of Mary in The Secret Garden – it takes gradual interactions with the other creatures in the garden to let herself be generous and kind. The book isn’t long, but it’s the kind of story that could be reread, where the illustrations could be looked at again and again. I think children will recognize something of themselves in Flory, in the way she’s both tough and in need of help, and the way it takes practice for her to make true friends.
Source: my library system
I was so thrilled to read this sequel to The Cabinet of Wonders that I had it on my “to-order” list months in advance. It didn’t disappoint, although I do think the first book is my favorite so far (and I would definitely read the books in order, both for plot and character development). Rutkoski does something wonderful with the series format: she gives you many of your favorite characters back, including Astrophil the tin spider; she maintains key plot elements, like the wonderful blend of history and fantasy; and she makes her villains as complex and ambiguous as before.
But she also isn’t afraid of throwing new things into the mix, like taking the action to a new country while still leaving us with questions about what’s going on back in Bohemia. She includes some of the fantasy elements from the first book, but develops them and adds in the globes, which I won’t spoil for you. She has you interested in the fate of the gypsies, in Petra’s father, in the Dee family, in how the globes will be used, and in what on earth will happen to the characters in their next destination.
I’d recommend this series to fans of both fantasy and historical fiction, anyone looking for strong female characters, and anyone looking for a strong, slightly out of the ordinary adventure.
Source: my library system
I’ve been off work for an hour and a half, and I wish I were still at the library. Not because I love my job that much (eight hours a day is enough for me) but because of the air conditioning – the delicious, delicious air conditioning. It’s apparently 99 degrees, although I heard it was 105 earlier. Either one is too hot. It’s probably 90 inside my apartment (okay, somewhere in the 80s). I’m about to abandon ship and spend the night at my parents’ – the couch is conveniently located next to the A/C.
I finished my first Georgette Heyer – These Old Shades – and I’m a convert. I wish I had quotations, but I left the book at work. I pretty much concur with Leila’s review – the improbable plot twists were hilarious, the characters delightful, the language a joy to read, the nature/nurture stuff hard to swallow, and the age difference a little weird, but I suppose no different than your typical Jane Austen Marianne/Brandon storyline. I’m happy there are more, and I’m happy that my library hasn’t discarded our lovingly worn copies yet.
I had Monday off work and went to the coast for the day with my mom and brother.
My sunburn is just now starting to fade and peel and not cause people to exclaim over it. It turns out that when you sit at the reference desk at the library, patrons like to tell you that you got some sun. And tell you how much it must hurt. And make sure that you’re “putting something on it.” Really? Oh, the joys of public service. At any rate, the beach was fantastic.
We started out in Seaside, where it was sunny and overcast and foggy all at once. Then we drove south to Hug Point (my favorite spot), which is a bit more classic Oregon Coast, but where I left my camera in the car. We stopped for dinner in Cannon Beach, at a place that I’ve been to twice before and never had a satisfactory experience – why can’t I remember that from one year to the next? But not bad enough to be truly disappointing. But what is a pub at the beach without fish and chips, I ask you?
In other news, I’ve been in my new job for a week and a half. I’ve already placed one order of children’s fiction, and my next list is even bigger. My to-read list is also enormous and it pains me to think of ordering all these books that I’ll never have time to read. I’m also spending more time working with other people, and less time alone, which is a pleasant change since I like the people I work with. And there are always entertaining questions/problems, like the patron who put his library card into the floppy drive at an internet station, and then asked why it hadn’t let him onto the computer. Hmm. Maybe because you were supposed to type in your card number?