Ian McEwan is one of my absolute favorite writers. I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend Atonement, Amsterdam and Saturday; and now I can recommend another of his books -- a short novel entitled The Cement Garden.
The premise here is that a family of four children is left orphaned, but their circumstances are such that they are able to conceal this fact and live on their own. I found the story absolutely mesmerizing and was unable to put the book down, finishing it in a day. At the end, I looked up, muttered "disturbing" and went on to tell Pete what an excellent book it was.
I also recently read Cornelia Funke's Inkheart which I thought was fun and interesting, but most definitely a kids' book. While it was a good read and the plot kept things moving, I felt the characters were a bit flat.
The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson -- the sci fi streak continues -- was an interesting read exploring the idea of the warping of time and how events in the future can affect the past. It sounds a bit crazy, but it was done simply and isn't really all that mind twisting. I was a little disappointed with the ending, but unless he had done some massive thing (like Kim Stanley Robinson and the Mars Trilogy) it would be hard to cover the scope of the issue he presents without glossing over a few things. In the end, I'm glad he kept it short and focused on characters.
Here was the spare room as of Friday. Yes, there was a lot of stuff in there.
Another view. This past year we did a lot of culling -- especially in Maddie's room. All the toys from when she was younger as well as outgrown clothes were deposited here. In addition, an old computer desk, sewing table, twin bed and dresser took up a lot of space. I planned on having a yard sale this past summer, but the summer is gone now and it never happened.
Instead of leaving this room a mess until next summer, we took everything up to the attic. (A walk-up, full size attic is one bonus of living in an old house!)
This left things much more manageable and the floor was visible by Saturday night. Sunday morning there was much floor mopping & continued organization, as well as some IKEA assemblage.
Now we have a comfy place to sit, and a futon for overnight guests. I do have a bit more organizing to do in here, but now I have space to work with and it all seems less daunting.
The other night for some reason I decided I wanted to make egg rolls from scratch. I'd never done it before, so I went browsing on the web and cobbled together a recipe. This is the kind of thing that is completely customizable as far as ingredients go, so it's very flexible. Because it was super easy, and Pete ate 6 of them in one sitting, I'm sure I'll be making them again. In fact, I had extra ingredients so I made more the next day and froze them. (I haven't tried thawing and baking them yet, so I'm not sure what the results will be, but I'm hopeful!)
BoogaJ's Customizable Egg Rolls
1 package of egg roll wrappers I bag of slaw mix (cabbage and grated carrot -- you can cut this up yourself if you don't want to use bagged) fresh ginger (you can use powdered, but fresh is so good!) garlic soy sauce corn starch oil
Add ins: mushrooms, water chestnuts, bean sprouts, other veggies, shrimp, chicken, pork, etc. . .
Put about 1 Tbsp of oil in a pan and heat on medium heat. Add things that need to cook longest first -- meat, veggies, etc. Add finely minced or grated garlic and ginger to taste. For a full batch I recommend 2 cloves of garlic and at least a tsp. of fresh ginger. Next add the bag of slaw mix and drizzle with soy sauce (a few Tbsp. should be enough) and allow it to wilt down, stirring frequently to mix all ingredients. After about 5 minutes it should be wilted and you may have a bit of liquid in the bottom of the pan, so sprinkle on a little corn starch (maybe a tsp. or 2) and stir, cooking for another minute or two until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and let cool.
Once the mixture is cool enough to work with, get out your wrappers. Take one and spoon a couple heaping Tbsp. of filling onto the center.
Next, you want to fold up the corner closest to you and fold in the two sides. It will look like an envelope.
Than start rolling. Make sure you moisten the top corner so that the egg roll seals.
Once you do a couple, it is super simple and quite quick. After they are all wrapped, set them on a baking sheet -- I lined mine with parchment -- and brush them with a little oil. Bake at about 400 degrees for about 18-20 minutes, flipping them over halfway through cooking. Serve with your favorite sauce.
If you too love Trader Joe's, I highly recommend this book. I have a habit of marking recipes I want to make with little mini sticky notes and look at what happened after a first look through this book:
That is a lot of sticky notes! Some of the recipes I marked:
Peanutty Sesame Noodles
Pasta alla Checca
Black Bean Soup
California Fish Tacos
Dress to Impress Lobster Ravioli
Mushroom Basil Frittata
And that's just some of what I marked. The recipes don't use a ton of ingredients and look very simple to throw together. What a great resource for us TJ fans!
I hate buying mayo -- we almost never use it so most of the jar gets thrown away and I know the store stuff has crazy stabilizers in it (and who knows what else!) So yesterday when I needed some mayonnaise for the crab cakes I was making, I decided to whip some up from scratch.
I searched around on the internet and found lots of recipes and tips. I ended up using just 5 ingredients: egg yolk, lemon juice, water, salt and oil. Basically you just put the yolk, lemon juice (or another acid like vinegar) water and salt in a bowl and whisk it up, then *very* slowly add the oil while whisking.
It wasn't difficult at all and the taste is incredible -- so much better than the store bought stuff. There is raw egg yolk in there, so use those pasteurized eggs if you worry about such things.
Add this to the list of things I should have done ages ago. From now on it's fresh mayo for me!
Yet another pair of socks -- this one farther along and in colors that I love. I have a feeling that these will be completed quickly now that I've unearthed them. Check out my Ravelry page for all the details.
Today I discovered some socks (or rather 1/2 of one sock + a ball of yarn) that I started quite some time ago. This project lost momentum when I got to the heel, tried it on and decided it was too small despite being 64 stitches around. Today I had Maddie try it on and she loved it, so now I'm renewing this project for her.
I've made a vow. I'm going to get stuff finished and clear out the many WIP's I have. In order to keep myself honest, I'm posting things here as I come across them and all knitting WIP's will be uploaded to Ravelry too.
Seriously, that should be their town motto, or whatever. But I'll get to that in a minute.
As we arrived in Milwaukee on Friday for Pete's birthday getaway, we had a few destinations in mind -- bookshops, coffee places and eating establishments were high on the list. So we dropped off our stuff and our vehicle at the hotel and hit the pavement.
First up was a ridiculously wonderful used bookstore called Downtown Books (327 E. Wisconsin Avenue). I'm telling you, it was really well organized and they had a ton of stuff (two *huge* floors worth). So great that we went back the next day for more.
Next up was another bookstore that I forgot the name of. It looked to be in an old theater and simple said "BOOKS" in giant letters on the outside. I have to say that this shop fascinated me and if I was in the right frame of mind, I may have been able to find lots here, but it was too chaotic for me at the time. I mean, just look at it...
And I believe there were floors we never even made it to at this place. The last pic is the "magazine" section. Yikes! And the boxes were stacked up everywhere on the first floor. I feared for my life at times.
We worked up quite an appetite walking around town and hunting for books, so of course we had to go out for Friday night fish fry -- this was Wisconsin after all. Unfortunately we had a less than stellar experience at the Turner Hall. (Not to fear, food was much better on day two!)
The next morning began at Mocha, which was within walking distance of the hotel. It is a nice coffee shop with fresh baked goods, a descent latte and good music. Bright and comfy, we liked this place quite well.
After we fueled up on coffee and scones, we were off to the Milwaukee Zoo. where I took one picture of the elephants at Maddie's request. (The camera never reappeared.) I have to say that I was disappointed with the zoo. We paid for parking, but ended up parking in the grass way out by the highway after driving around for a long time looking for a spot -- ANY spot. And the zoo, while large, seemed outdated and not nearly shady enough. (I just went to Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago a couple weeks ago with Theresa and I was really impressed, so I'm sure it suffered by comparison.)
For lunch we headed over to the Milwaukee Public Market, which I would highly recommend! While it is a bit difficult to park in the area, it is well worth the effort. The public market is a bit like an upscale food court / gourmet food shop and includes a wine market, bakery, chocolate and candy shop, sushi station, casual seafood restaurant, smoothie bar, spice shop and more. We had an excellent shrimp poorboy and some great treats from the bakery.
After that we went back to the hotel so Pete & Maddie could swim and after getting cleaned up, it was back to Downtown Books and then out to a nice dinner at Joey Buona's. The service there was a bit slow, but the food was quite good.
We wanted to get some custard for dessert and Pete had heard good things about Leon's, so we jumped in the car and headed out. Now, I have navigation on the FIT, so we plugged in the address and off we went. Perhaps not such a good plan as it took us into a seedy part of town. I mean, you don't really want your daughter to see a guy passed out in the street on your way to get ice cream! Needless to say, we took the highway on the return trip. It was worth the drama though as the custard was very good and super cheap! The place was packed and I can see why.
The next morning it was back to Mocha and then we packed up the car and headed home, determined to stop at a few "tourist traps" along the way to break up the drive. First was Mars Cheese Castle. . .
You gotta love the Cheese Castle! Of course we picked up some fresh cheese curds -- super squeaky! (In case that makes no sense to you -- cheese curds, if fresh, make a squeaky noise when you chew them. Fun food!) But there was more than cheese to be had here. They had a nice selection of imported candy and chocolate, wines, bakery goods including kringles (Pete loves these, so we picked one up) and much more. Fun place to get out and stretch your legs.
Our final stop was Maddie's idea -- the Jelly Belly tour. I have to say, it was fun and free and you get a free bag of Jelly Belly candies at the end -- not bad. Now, this isn't where they make the candy, only a huge warehouse (impressive enough to see all that candy in one spot), but they had a little tram you ride and video screens to show you the history of the company and how the candies are made.
Some of the Jelly Belly art was on display, which was fun, and there was a giant shop at the end where you can purchase any flavor of Jelly Belly imaginable. There is even a nice little old lady who gave out free tastes at the sample bar.
The rest of the trip home went smoothly and it was fun sampling all the flavors of candy we got. (Jalapeno really does taste like jalapenos!) I'm glad Maddie talked us into stopping here.
And one final shot, in the driveway as we arrived home. . .
That's the MPG gauge showing that we got 41mpg round trip in the FIT. Can't beat that!
I've been slogging through books lately and can't seem to find one that will stick. I started Philip Roth's I Married a Communist and really gave it a good try. I think I managed almost 150 pages before I finally gave up on it. The story telling device was so convoluted that it made me cringe. Basically you have a story told by this middle aged guy about the brother of a 90 year old man in narration by that 90 year old man. And to top it off, the passages where this 90 year old speaks (which is a huge portion of the book) are nearly essays. So, I finally set it aside.
Next up was Axis by Robert Charles Wilson. I recently read and enjoyed Spin so I figured this was a safe bet. And it was good, but not nearly as good as Spin. Ah well.
Since Sci-Fi (NOT Sy-Fy, thank you very much) was working out a bit better for me, and since I loved his Mars Trilogy, I decided to pick up Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt. It seemed a bit slow at first, but I stuck with it for over 100 pages. Here again, the device used was odd. A couple of "souls" are being reincarnated over and over through an alternate history where Europe has pretty much been killed off by the plague and (up to the point I stopped) the traders, warlords and various other people of Asia are expanding westward. I would just start to identify with a character and they would be killed off. This broke up the book too much for me and I finally moved on.
To cleanse the palate, I picked up Cornelia Funke's Inkheart. Yes, it's a YA book, but I have to say that I found it immediately engaging and have been enjoying it more than anything else I've read in the last few weeks. Ah. . .
If there are any yarn shop owners out there who read my blog, I wanted to let you know that I am releasing a new pattern -- the Bigger & Biggest Booga Bag -- and starting my transition over to color patterns (instead of B&W with a photo glued to the front). Above you can see the first four patterns in the new format.
I'm placing the order with the printer on Friday, so if you are out of my patterns, or don't carry them yet and would like to start, please email me your order. That way I'll make sure I get enough in this first batch of printing. All 11 patterns can be seen at the Black Sheep Bags Website.
I love Trader Joe's. Unfortunately there isn't one in my town, so I travel a few towns over (usually at least 2 hours round trip) just so I can shop there. I love that so many of their products are free of HFCS and hydrogenated fats, they have wonderful seasonal produce, including many organics, and a good selection of naturally raised meat and dairy products.
A recent family favorite is the carnitas which we eat with beans, rice
and the TJ's Verde Salsa. And leftovers can be used in quesedillas or
mixed with bbq sauce for a delicious sandwich. I'm sure if you shop at Trader Joe's, you have some favorite produts. Please let me know what there are and how you use them!