Friday, March 30, 2012

March Review

I should be packing my suitcase right now for vacation, but I'm thinking about books instead. I've been thinking about books a lot lately. They seem to have taken over my house - The Spawn has been obsessing over books. He managed to pick up all three of The Hunger Games series and The Grimm Legacy for his birthday. All of which I want to read. I woke up the other morning thinking about books... I guess there are worse things in life.

As I mentioned, I'm supposed to be packing for vacation. The Boyfriend and I leave Monday morning for a week in Las Vegas. No work. No kids. No work. No housework. No work.... Seriously, I'm at the point where The Boyfriend could take me to the South Pole for a week and it would be fine with me. I just.need.to.get.away. I'm expecting that I'll have a bit of down time in Vegas during the mornings. By habit I've become an early riser and The Boyfriend, well, he's not. And I'm going to enjoy having those mornings to myself. I fully plan on using that time to sit by the pool and read.

With that thought in mind, I'm switching up the Book Challenge genre a little bit. April is supposed to be Trashy Romance (or as a friend calls them: Bodice Rippers), but due to traveling I'm going to switch it with May which is Oddo (my Nook). This makes it alot easier to pack.

So, onto the books. March turned out well despite the slow start. I read three of four. April, I haven't quite selected the books I'm going to read although I have started Pride and Prejudice - and seriously, why have I never read this book before? It's funny! The other books will be randomly selected from my Nook library. We'll both be surprised.

The one book that won't be on the Nook will be the Book Club read. It was my turn to pick and I chose The Thirteenth Tale. It's a re-read for me (about 300 books ago) so I'm excited to see if I enjoy it as much as I remember.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Behavior Mismatch

Behavior Mismatch: How To Manage Behavior Mismatch: How To Manage "Problem" Employees Whose Actions Don't Match Your Expectations by Rebecca B. Mann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had originally picked up this book to help me when I was managing a difficult employee... and never got around to reading the book. I'm no longer managing employees, but I thought it might give me some insight into dealing with difficult co-workers. The information in this book is a bit dated (written for the 90's), but I still found much of it to be relevant.

This book covers a nice range of topics, everything from personality types, managerial styles and dealing with personal issues. I really felt that this book covers both angles - the manager perspective and the employee perspective - very nicely. I also really liked how the book addresses bad managers as well as problem employees.

I did some skimming during the last two chapters as I felt I didn't need to read in-depth about counseling and terminating employees. It was still good information to have available and some of it I did find interesting.

My one disappointment with the book was that it ended abruptly. I would have liked a recap chapter with a summary of all the chapters. It was a lot of information to remember and I think a summary would have brought it all together for the reader.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How To Write A Great Book And Get It Published

How to Write a Great Book and Get It PublishedHow to Write a Great Book and Get It Published by Tom Evans
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a fast read (it's less than 50 pages). In some aspects there was good information - especially regarding self-publishing - but in other aspects the information wasn't really information at all, but just plain old common sense. I felt this was more an advertisement for the author's business and website than an actual "how to" book.

Synopsis: Now it is easier than ever to publish a book - especially with great sites like Smashwords - it makes sense to write a great book. This free guide from author, poet & mentor, Tom Evans, has loads of useful tips to take you into the Written & Published section of the population.           

Recommended Reading:
Write That Book Already by Sam Berry
The Hands Of The Buddha by Susan Brassfield Cogan
Write Good Or Die by Scott Nicholson

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Burgandy Steak

Another recipe that turned out fast and easy! Everyone liked this recipe alot, it will probably make another appearance as a freezer meal. I did make a change to the recipe because I don't care for the taste of wine and substitued beef broth. Apple juice would make a nice substitution as well. There weren't enough noodles, so I would increase the noodles for next time.

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp paprika
1lb beef top sirloin steak, cut into 1" strips
1 tbsp canola oil [I did use a little more during frying to keep my pan from drying out]
10-1/2 oz can condensed French onion soup, undiluted
1/2 cup burgandy wine or beef broth
3 cups hot cooked egg noodles [my family needs more than this]

In a large resealable plastic bag, combine flour and paprika. Add beef, a few pieces at a time, and shake to coat.

In a large skillet, brown beef in oil. Add soup and wine [broth]; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10-12 minutes or until meat is no longer pink and sauce is thickened.

Serve with noodles.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Grass Dancer

The Grass DancerThe Grass Dancer by Susan Power
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book I would have never picked out for myself. It was chosen for book club. It's a well-written collection of short stories centered around central characters who have stories woven around each other and lives layered over lives. Despite the short stories in a novel format, I found this to be a quick and intriguing read. Be warned though, it isn't a happy book. The stories are dark and sad - as one of the club members put it "in each story someone either dies or gets laid, or both".

It did bring an awareness of cultural differences between Native Americans and whites that I didn't really think of before.

Synopsis: Power has produced an authentic portrait of Native American culture and characters who are as resilient and tangible as the grass moving over the Great Plains. In interconnected stories that begin in 1981 and range back to 1864, the residents of a Sioux reservation endure poverty, epidemic illness, injustice and--no less importantly--jealousy, greed, anger and unrequited love. The tales begin and end with Harley Wind Soldier, a 17-year-old whose soul is a ``black, empty hole'' because his mother has not spoken a word since the accident 17 years earlier in which Harley's father and brother died. Eventually we discover the true circumstances surrounding that event and other secrets--of clandestine love affairs, of childrens' paternity--that stretch back several generations but hold a grip on the present. Meanwhile, Harley falls in love with enchanting Pumpkin, an amazingly adept grass dancer whose fate will make readers gasp. Mercury Thunder and her grand-daughter Charlene use magic in a sinister way, and tragedy results. Herod Small War, a Yuwipi (interpreter of dreams), tries to bring his community into harmony with the spiritual world. The existence of ghosts in the real world is accepted with calm belief by the characters, who know the old legends and understand that the direction of their lives is determined by their gods and ancestors. Power weaves historical events--the Apollo Moon landing; the 19th-century Great Plains drought--into her narrative, reinforcing the seamless coexistence of the real and the spirit realm. A consummate storyteller whose graceful prose is plangent with lyrical metaphor and sensuous detail, she deftly uses suspense, humor, irony and the gradual revelation of dramatic disclosures to compose a tapestry of human life. Seduced by her humane vision and its convincing depiction, one absorbs the traditions and lore of the Sioux community with a sense of wonder reflecting that with which the characters view the natural world. This is a book that begs to be read at one sitting, and then again.

Recommended Reading:
Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
Little by David Treuer
The May Trees by Annie Dillard

I've Done A Bad Bad Thing

Once upon a time there was a girl who wanted an eReader. She grew up, got tired of her fairy godmother acting like a jerk so the girl went out and bought her own eReader. But like all fairy tales, there's a story behind "The End".

I love my Nook. Alot. I wish I would have waited so I didn't have to do an upgrade. I've been thinking about it for 3+ months and last night I finally did it. I bought a Nook Tablet. It's main function for me is still going to be as an eReader, but I couldn't turn away from the bonus features as I will be traveling a bit through the rest of the year. And it's in color! Perfect for kids books!

So what am I going to do with my old Nook? It's being re-gifted to The Spawn for his 10th birthday.

I feel like I've done a bad thing. A waste of money considering how little I've been reading lately. Maybe this is the jump start that I need.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Apple Glazed Porkchops

This is one of the fastest and easiest recipes I've made in a long time - and possibly the best thing I've ever made on my George-Forman-Wannabe-Grill. The Diva has asked for this TWICE since I made it.

2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp pepper [I skipped]
4 boneless pork loin chops, roughly 1" thick and 6 oz each
2 tbsp apple jelly

Combine brown sugar and seasonings; rub over both sides of pork chops. Cook in batches [if necessary, it wasn't for me] on an indoor grill coated with cooking spray [I skipped] for 5 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160 degs.

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat jelly until warmed; brush over pork chops.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

February Review

I promise that I am not going to complain about how much Life is kicking my butt these days. But it is. It's kicking me so hard, I have a broken tail bone. Or that could have been from being my usual "graceful" self and sliding down the basement steps... Moving on!

The 2012 Book Challenge is not going well. I'll see if I can turn it around in the next few months. So let's talk about February. You know. Now that March is almost half over...

I read... two books (kind of). Hold your applause.

So let's talk about March... yeah. If I read two books, I'm counting it as a good month. Seriously kids, some times success can only be measured in baby steps. The genre is Self-Help (really wishing I had kept that copy of Cloning For Dummies, right now) and the goal is 4 books in March. Who are we kidding? It's not going to happen (trying out a little reverse psychology). Anyways... here's what I'd like to read this month:
  1. The Grass Dancer by Susan Power (book club)
  2. Behavior Mismatch: How to Manage "Problem" Employees Whose Actions Don't Match Your Expectations by Rebecca B. Mann
  3. How to Write a Book and Get It Published by Tom Evans
  4. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
Wish me luck!

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two CitiesA Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is still one of my favorite books. I read it my Senior year of high school and this book still thrills me. The characters are still funny, lovable, and yes, I still have a crush on Sydney Carton. Some parts of the book are a struggle to read - it's OLD - but those passages are few and far between. The story and dialogue make this book a great read.

Synopsis: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” With these famous words, Charles Dickens plunges the reader into one of history’s most explosive eras—the French Revolution. From the storming of the Bastille to the relentless drop of the guillotine, Dickens vividly captures the terror and upheaval of that tumultuous period. At the center is the novel’s hero, Sydney Carton, a lazy, alcoholic attorney who, inspired by a woman, makes the supreme sacrifice on the bloodstained streets of Paris.

One of Dickens’s most exciting novels, A Tale of Two Cities is a stirring classic of love, revenge, and resurrection.

Chicken Pot Pie Soup (Chowder)

This recipe was given to me last fall by a friend. Over the course of the winter I have had the time to tinker with it. The first thing I learned: do NOT substitute AP flour with wheat flour. The soup never got "chowdery". The other thing that I learned is that this is a very versatile chowder, inexpensive to make and a great way to use up leftovers. I've used different veggie mixes, but a basic mix works best (California mix is my personal favorite, but the larger veggies need to be chopped before adding or you'll be eating your chowder with a fork.). Leftover roast chicken works great in this recipe - but you can use canned (I haven't yet). An addition I made on this particular day was I had two slices of bacon that needed to be used in my fridge, so I cooked them up crisp and crumbled them into the chowder. Next time, I'd add a little more... This recipe has been a great additon to stock the freezer with.

1/4 cup flour (to make gluten-free use 2 tbsp cornstarch instead)
2 cups water
4 cups milk, can use fat-free [I only use 3 cups milk]
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1/2 medium chopped onion
8 oz sliced baby portabella mushrooms [I omit]
10 oz frozen classic mixed vegetables - peas, carrots, green beans, corn [I use a full 16 oz bag]
2 cubes chicken bouillon
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed small
16 oz. cooked chicken breast, diced small (I use leftover roast chicken, anywhere from 1-2 cups)
salt [I omit because usually my roast chicken is already seasoned]
fresh ground pepper
pinch of thyme

Create a slurry by combining 1/2 cup of the cold water [I do it with 1/2 cup milk instead] with flour in a medium bowl and whisk until well blended. Set aside.

Pour [remaining] water and [remaining] milk into a large pot and slowly bring to a boil.

Add celery, onion, mushrooms, chicken bouillon, thyme, fresh pepper, and frozen vegetables and return to a boil. Partially cover and simmer on low until vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.

Remove lid, add potatoes and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. [Mine usually need 10-15 minutes.]

Add chicken, and slowly whisk in slurry, stirring well as you add.

Cook another 2-3 minutes, until soup thickens, adjust salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Recipe from The Captain (via email October 28, 2011)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Carrot-Ginger Wheat Bread (ABM)

Just when I think I have things figured out... The Universe proves me wrong. When I bought my bread machine (some 5 years ago) I picked up a bunch of used recipe books. All but two of them have gone by the wayside: Better Home & Gardens, and Betty Crocker. Two trusted names in my kitchen.

The BHG cookbook is occasionally disappointing as the bread taste tends to be weak, so I decided that for this recipe I would make the spice a little stronger... and of course it turned out the recipe is probably just fine. The dough did mix up a little dry so I added an additional 1 tbsp milk during one of the mixing cycles. The only change I would consider making is next time cooking the carrots slightly before using as the taste was very strong. On the plus side, this loaf had great texture and a rustic appearance. This recipe is for 1-1/2lb loaf.

1 cup finely shredded carrot
1 cup milk
2 tbsp shortening
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
3 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp brown sugar
3/4 tsp grated gingerroot or 1/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp salt
1-2 tsp active dry yeast

Add ingredients to machine according to manufacturer's directions, adding the carrot with the milk. For my machine, the order is liquid ingredients, followed by dry with yeast added last.

I set my machine to the whole wheat setting with a light crust.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Gruyere-Rosemary Beer Bread

I made this so long ago... the picture was taken at the apartment! I also can't remember where I got the recipe(s) from to give credit back. But look at the cute little Diva hand in the picture!

I like this bread alot. ALOT. I didn't really like that the cheese alone cost $5. [I've mentioned that I'm cheap, right?] I'd like to play with this recipe a little bit to see if I could find a less expensive substitution, but I haven't gotten around to it. But then I guess it would just be cheese-rosemary bread... Also, the original recipe recommended New Belgium's Blue Paddle Pilsner-Lager, but I used regular ole Miller Lite. The next time I head into Dempsey's, I'm picking up a few of their micro-brews and giving these bread recipes another go.

3 cups self-rising flour
3 tbsp sugar
12 oz. room temperature beer [recommended New Belgium's Blue Paddle Pilsner-Lager]
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese and 1 tbsp fresh rosemary
melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5" loaf pan with shortening.

Stir together flour and sugar. Add the beer and stir until combined. Add cheese and rosemary, gently mixing until combined.

Spoon into prepared loaf pan and bake 1 hour. Remove immediately from pan and place on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet. Brush the top with melted butter.

Other Variations Include:
Plain
Orange Nutmeg
Cinnamon Chocolate Chip

Found the source! Bake @350