If there was a reading olymipcs, the triathlon would involve reading three Neal Stepehnson books in a year as their length, heft and girth are enough to test any reader's stamina. This year I completed just this challenge, having read Anathem, Quicksilver and Cryptonomicon.
The book that started this mania was Anathem, which I simply could not put down. Even at 900 pages, I devoured it in less than two weeks and if you are going to take on Stephenson, I suggest that you start with it.
Cryptonomicon was probably the second runner up. While it was another 900 page tome, it read much more quickly than I thought it would. The mathematics which pops up here and there throughout the book appealed to me in a deeply geeky way. And while I am quick to point out when a novel of this size could benefit from some serious editing -- I don't think that applies here. If you are going to read Stephenson, part of the appeal is the quirky, geeky, and sometime hilarious asides that crop up on a regular basis. While the main story could go on without them, something would be lost.
I think I'll stay away from Stephenson for a while and give myself time to recover, but I'm sure I'll be back. How can I resist?
As part of the garden project for this summer, I planted two varieties of pickles -- a pickler and a regular, fresh eating type. The picklers went crazy and before I could figure out if they were ripe, a bunch went from immature to overripe in a week. I salvaged about 3 of them, and while they appeared to be a bit seedy, I decided to forge ahead and can a couple pints. At least we'll know if the flavor is good and will be able to adjust future batches.
These are simple to make -- slice up your cukes and place them in a jar with a garlic clove and a tsp. of dill seeds (important -- last year I used plain dill and it wasn't right. You either need dill heads, which are dill that's going to seed, or just pick up a jar of dill seeds and use those.) Then bring a vinegar, water and salt (non-iodized) to a boil on the stove. Use one cup of water, one cup of vinegar and one Tbsp. of salt for each pint you'll be canning. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the pickles in the jars, screw on lids and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
I think you need to let these sit for several days so the brine can penetrate the pickles. Maybe we'll crack open the first jar this weekend and give them a taste. In the meantime, I'm keeping a close eye on the sneaky picklers, so I don't lose anymore to over ripeness.
Yesterday I made Vanilla Simple Syrup for use in my daily latte and you can make it too because it is ridiculously easy.
First you need something to store it in -- I used this awesome and cheap glass bottle that I purchased at IKEA. It was only $2.99 which makes me giggle because I just saw the same bottle in a fancy catalog for twice as much.
For flavoring I used a vanilla bean which could probably be replaced by vanilla extract, but I really recommend the bean. I purchased mine -- which came in this great test tube packaging -- at Penzeys Spices. These are the Mexican Vanilla Beans (as opposed to Madagascar) which are perfect paired with coffee.
Next you just want to cut that bean down the middle. Really, that's the hardest part of this whole process.
Then just throw that vanilla bean in the clean bottle and make sure you have a funnel standing by. You may want to set this on a towel because if you are like me, there will be some spillage.
Now just locate a saucepan, sugar and water. For beverages you want to use a 1:1 ratio. I used 2 c. sugar and 2 c. water. You'll notice that it looks brownish -- that's because I like organic sugar that hasn't been processed to within an inch of it's life so it has some color to it. Regular, white granulated sugar would work here too, as would brown sugar.
Now all you do is turn up the heat and cook the sugar-water mixture until it starts to boil gently. It's that easy. As you can see, it will change from being cloudy to clear as the sugar becomes fully dissolved. Once this happens, the sugar won't fall out of the solution, so no gritty bits on the bottom of your beverage!
I recommend that you let the simple syrup cool a bit in the pan before you pour it into the bottle so that you don't burn yourself or crack the bottle. After bottling mine, I left it out to cool overnight and put it in the fridge the next morning. I'm not sure if it is necessary, but I figure refrigerating it can't hurt. This morning I added it to my cofee and it was delicious! Sweet and mellow with a nice strong vanilla flavor. Why I never made this before, I have no idea.
I finally got a chance to finish trimming the pinwheel quilt blocks and I wanted to lay out a few of them to get an idea of how the finished quilt might look.
I started with four charm packs, using two to make blocks that are mixed up and two to make single fabric pinwheels. I decided early on that I would stagger these two types -- kinda an ordered chaos type of thing.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to finding a spot to lay out all 80 blocks, which I think I have to do if I want to get a good distribution of colors. While I'd love to be able to pick random blocks and just start sewing, I don't think I can do it. Perhaps it's my need for control or perfection (oldest sibling issues -- can't fight birth order). I'm not sure this week will give me much free time, but I'm really looking forward to finishing up this quilt top.
on Mark Bittman. In case you don't know who he is, let me first direct you to his blog -- Bitten -- which is in *no way* related to vampires (sorry to disappoint). No, he's a food writer for the NYTimes.
And he's awesome.
A few years ago when my love of food, cooking & health led me to an exploration of organic, local, and seasonal eating, I bumped into the writing of Mark Bittman. I purchased his award winning book, How To Cook Everything, started reading his blog and recently purchased his new book -- Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes. While you might call this a cookbook, there is an extensive discussion of food policy and it's affect on all of us in the first half of the book which flows almost seamlessly into the "recipe" section.
The discussion is thought provoking and just might change your eating habits. He makes an excellent argument for eating less meat and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you've been thinking about these things, as I have, I think you will enjoy reading this book.
Then there are the recipes. Bittman is the kind of no nonsense cook that I identify with. He gives you the feeling that cooking isn't some big, difficult task, but rather a simple, enjoyable part of life that need not be stressful. He encourages you to throw together the best, freshest ingredients you can find and relax. These aren't complex recipes that require you to go out and purchase fancy ingredients, instead he gives you a blueprint for making do with what you have.
For example, in the "basics" section he explains how to cook just about any veggie, any way -- in less than three pages. Then he teaches you how to make a basic vinaigrette, cook pretty much any grain without fuss, and make a pot of beans. He includes customizable recipes for salsa, tomato sauce, stock, bread and so much more.
So how did I come across this amazing book? Well, I'm a library patron -- one of those people who wander the isles plucking random books from the shelves. I occasionally look up a book in the catalog, but I find a good 90% of the books I check out by hunting and gathering. This week my interests leaned toward preserving, canning and cheese making, so I hit the 641.4 section. This book called out to me when I saw the beautiful cover -- a quick page through it revealed equally lovely photos, so I brought it home.
When I sat down I noticed the subtitle -- "and other cooking projects" -- and knew this was going to be good. I *love* food projects -- making bear, soda, jam, bread, pickles, and so on. When I opened to the first section I was super excited to see cracker recipes -- well, one basic recipe with a bunch of variations. Since I almost always alter recipes, a book with variations makes me happy. And since I've been wanting to get away from processed foods and Pete loves crackers -- this is one recipe I've been looking for.
Condiments are covered next -- infused oils, salad dressings, ketchup, mayo -- all things I want to try my hand at. Then comes pickles and olives, which is wonderful since I'm growing pickling cucumbers and some of them are nearing ripeness.
The next section made me think the author was writing the book just for me, as it includes basic pasta dough, tomato sauce and ravioli (and more). Since we are mostly vegetarian, we tend to eat a lot of pasta and I've been wanting to make fresh pasta with Maddie.
The next couple of sections are for the meat eaters -- cured, smoked, dried, etc. fish and meat. I have to admit, I'm tempted to try her recipe for homemade bacon.
Section 7 is all about butter and cheese. OMG! I was actually looking for this book when I stumbled upon Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. Recipes include butter and compound butters, queso blanco, ricotta and ricotta salata.
Section 8 is Preserves, curds and fruit butters. And section 9 is called "Sugar It". This section includes a recipe I've been meaning to make for ages -- marshmallows. She thoughtfully includes a recipe for graham crackers too, so you can get some smore action going. And I have to mention the fruit leather recipe because Maddie has been asking to make homemade fruit leathers for the last couple weeks. (Seriously, does the author know me?) In keeping with the sweet theme, section 10 include recipes for all sorts of popsicles, including chocolate fudge pops and burnt salted caramel icies.
Section 11 is all about candy making and includes some yummy looking peppermint patties, toffee and peanut butter cups -- Pete's favorite.
Since I've been meaning to try making flavored vodka, section 12 -- hard and soft beverages -- was well received. I also bookmarked limoncello, ginger beer, chai and winter solstice brew.
Okay, I know I've gone on and on about this book, but it is right up my alley and has me ridiculously excited. Check it out yourself if you have the chance! And I'll be sure to post my results as I work my way through this book.
Well, I tried writing a post using the "new" TypePad and it did not work at all. I was having problems inserting an image -- then my post was eaten. Ugh.
At any rate, here is a photo of the table and chairs I put together earlier this week. They are from IKEA and the table is perfect. It fits really well in the room and has a leaf on one side that extends over the radiator -- so we can now use that previously unusable space. This is so much better than the round table we had in here -- it just never fit comfortably.
Anyone else having trouble with the "new" TypePad? I played around with it a bit, before the crash, and didn't see al that much to be excited about. What am I missing?
I took this photo of the garden this morning from my office window which I think shows off the amazing amount of growth that has occurred in the last few weeks. And while we have enjoyed eating from the garden -- salads, fresh pesto, peas and the occasional strawberry so far -- the surprising thing is that just having the garden has been so entertaining.
Every day Maddie loves going out and just looking at the garden -- seeing what is blooming, what it starting to grow, what is ready to be harvested. She loves picking the peas and helping me to shuck them. I have caught Pete stopping to check out the garden as he returns from work on many days and recently we have all had fun counting the new green tomatoes as they begin to grow.
I still am unsure how to grow so many of the things I've planted -- when to sow, water or harvest them -- but I'm growing more confident as time passes. There have been successes and failures (the lettuce is going to seed), but all in all, I'm calling the garden a success -- even if we don't harvest another thing -- because the whole family has enjoyed just having the garden so much.
I may have mentioned that I received a Kindle 2 for my birthday this year -- and I absolutely love it. So I feel like I should mention that Amazon just dropped the price. No good for me, since I already have one, but if you've been thinking about getting one -- now may be the time!
I've been wanting to make granola for a while now, but for whatever reason, I didn't get around to it until yesterday. Let me just say that when you bake up a batch of this the house will smell ridiculously good.
So why homemade granola? Well, I'm a big cereal fan, but I've been trying to get away from processed foods. Seriously, I simply can't live without cereal -- so I figured I'd make my own. It was quick and easy and the results are quite tasty. In fact, every time I walk past the jar I sneak a handful.
BoogaJ's Homemade Granola Makes about 8 cups
6 c. Rolled Oats
2 c. nuts (use nuts or seeds or a mixture -- whatever you like)
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 tsp. Cardamom (so good if you have it -- if not, just skip it)
Salt to taste
3/4 c. Maple Syrup
1/2 c. Oil (like canola -- nothing strong tasting)
2 tsp. Vanilla
Preheat over to 275 degrees.
Toast oats and nuts in a big skillet for a few minutes, until it just starts to smell yummy! Turn off heat and sprinkle on cinnamon, cardamom and salt.
Combine maple syrup, oil and vanilla and pour this mixture over the oat mixture right in the skillet. Mix well.
Spread mixture on parchment lined, rimmed baking sheet -- the larger the better. Bake at 275 degrees for 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes or until golden brown. Stir several times while it is baking.
Cool and place in an airtight container -- should keep for a long time, but I'm guessing you'll eat it too quickly to find out how long!
I was recently sent a review copy of Wacky Baby Knits by Alison Jenkins and I have to say that there are some wacky designs in the book -- the cow suit you see on the cover, a frog costume and a robot costume, to name a few -- which is all very well and good if you feel like knitting something that involved for a baby who will quickly grow out of it. I however, preferred the slightly less involved and much more practical items which include some very cute booties, a bunch of hats -- some wacky and some adorable -- and several doable sweaters.
Check the book out for yourself -- even if you, like me, could not picture yourself knitting a full pirate outfit for a baby, I think you'll find some things you like in this book. Perhaps some Furry Bear Feet, or the whimsical Cupcake Hat.
One last note -- I like the fact that the beginning of the book includes quite detailed knitting instructions, so even the new mom or grandma who picks this up hoping to make one of the items despite little or no prior knitting experience will have lots of information to guide them along. I love that books are doing this these days!