Monday, October 31, 2011

A Halloween Treat

You are probably expecting something chocolate or something pumpkin, not what I ended up making for supper tonight. It was the ultimate of comfort food - Chicken a la King.

This is the result of a recipe "train of thought." It started when I pulled a bag of pumpkin out of the freezer over the weekend and began looking for a recipe to make some kind of muffin or coffee cake I could have with my faux coffee (I found a REALLY good one, btw). In the same magazine (actually on the same page), I found a recipe for potato scones, and the description said the scones would be good "with creamed dishes," which led me to remember I had once seen the recipe for Chicken a la King in my old Betty Crocker cookbook and thought, "I ought to make that sometime." It was good. The whole family approved. And it's really easy, which is definitely a plus.

But the real star of the evening was those potato scones. I know, sounds weird. The recipe calls for one cup of leftover mashed potatoes. I just happened to have one cup of leftover mashed potatoes in the refrigerator which I needed to use up before they started growing fuzzy green spots.

Again, the recipe was an easy one, actually no harder than making biscuits. And they were so good! They were light and yet had body. They were moist, not dry like biscuits. They made a perfect base for the Chicken a la King, and yet I believe they will also be quite tasty in the morning with a dab of homemade strawberry jam. Yum...that will make a nice side for the faux coffee...

Friday, October 28, 2011

It's Not You, It's Me

I read something not long ago that suggested writers should read something outside their preferred genre once in a while, as a tool to help hone their eye for techniques such as characterization and plot development. That advice came at a time when I was open to hearing it, for one of my husband's former students (D.L. Atha) had written a novel, and although the novel is in a genre (horror/paranormal) that is totally not my thing, I wanted to support her. So I bought the novel, Blood Reaction, for my Kindle and intended to pick it up as soon as I finished Ivanhoe.

The story is about a woman who battles a vampire to save her life and the life of her daughter. I have to admit, I really felt some apprehension when I thought about reading it. For one thing, the reviews I saw said the vampire in Atha's book is a departure from the current mold of vampires and harks back to the evil roots of the creatures. For another, Atha is a doctor, and the promotional materials also pointed out that she used her knowledge of the body and medicine to create the protagonist's way to overcome the vampire. A bit squeamish, I am.  A few years ago, I quit reading Allen Eckert's The Frontiersmen--even though I'm really into that genre and time period--when I got to the part describing the torture the Indians inflicted on their captives. The little bit I read of that description still bothers me, as does a student speech I heard YEARS ago about various means of torture people have used throughout history.

Not only am I squeamish, I also have quite an active imagination and am rather easily spooked. Yes, I'm one of those people who checks behind the shower curtain if I come home and find I've accidentally left the door unlocked. Heck, I got spooked the other night just listening to my son tell about the movie Insidious. My friends in college took great advantage of this, including the time I (because of social pressure) went to see Poltergeist with a group of friends. My roommate Beth hid under the bunk beds after we got back and grabbed my ankle as I walked past--let's just say it's a good thing I was returning from the bathroom, not on my way to the bathroom!

So I started Blood Reaction last night. Although I have a three-chapter rule (I give a book three chapters to capture me before I give up on it), I think I'm going to make an exception this time. The book starts with Annalice, the protagonist, preparing to spend a week totally alone in her big, old, two-story house in the middle of nowhere, eight miles down a one-lane country road. Her daughter has gone to spend the week with Annalice's mother, and Annalice takes advantage of her alone time to go for a horse ride in the woods. But she loses track of time, and it gets dark before she gets back home. And she can't shake the feeling someone is watching her....Then when she is finally inside and "safe," she hears thumps upstairs. No one is there, but one window is unlocked....

Shivers!!! I kept telling myself not to let my mind go too deeply into it because I really didn't want to start thinking about Annalice's situation when I woke up at 2:00 a.m. So, while I do want to be supportive of Atha's book, I just don't want to have her scary, evil vampire roaming around in the cocktail party going on in my brain (see this post to understand that analogy).  Maybe someone reading this blog is braver than I am, and maybe that someone will give the book a read. I'll put a link to the Amazon page below. If you are one of those people who like to be scared (and apparently there are plenty of you, given the earnings of horror movies!), here's your chance to discover a new author. To help you decide, here are a couple of reviews:

A review from Fabulosity Nouveau
Review by Bunnycates

As for me, I think I'll find something nice and definitely non-scary to read - maybe it's time to revisit Winnie-the-Pooh! : )

Amazon page for Blood Reaction (Kindle version)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

May I Have a Word with You, Sir Walter Scott?

Dear Sir Walter Scott,

For the past several months I've been reading your Robin Hood/Richard the Lion-Hearted adventure, Ivanhoe. I read it when I was in high school and had positive memories, so since it was a free classic for Kindle, I thought I'd check it out again. It was still a fun adventure story, but I have a few points of contention to discuss with you. 

First, for a book named Ivanhoe, the character of Ivanhoe certainly wasn't in the story very much. I first noticed this when he was injured in the tournament at Ashby. There was the dramatic moment in which he fainted from his wounds at Rowena's feet, and then.....he disappeared for a great many chapters. The same thing happened again later, when the castle at Torquilstone was captured and burned. Ivanhoe was rescued by the Black Knight, and then.....he disappeared again for several chapters. This was disappointing to me, because I liked Ivanhoe (just as you wanted me to). He had a very interesting conflict - he has (in the past) turned his back on his Saxon heritage to fight with King Richard and now he's back. Will he be reconciled to his father? Then there is also the love triangle with Ivanhoe, Rowena, and Rebecca. Will Ivanhoe marry his long-time but forbidden love interest Rowena, or will he fall in love with the beautiful, talented, kind, and brave--but most definitely forbidden--Jewess Rebecca? Those are questions packed with dramatic possibility, and while they are answered in the story, they don't get the play they could have, because so much of the story is taken up by the story of Locksley/Robin Hood and by the treachery of Prince John and his coterie of knight conspirators. That's too bad, because Ivanhoe is a very (potentially) appealing character who should have been a much bigger part of this whole story.

Second, you certainly took the long way around in your descriptions of the action at times. Including the lyrics to the death song of Ulrica?  Was that really necessary? There were several times you interrupted the story to give the lyrics of some song a character was singing. OK, I know you were writing in the nineteenth century and there was no such thing as television and the internet, so people needed a different kind of entertainment than we have today. I suppose there was a great deal more patience for such departures from the plot in your day. But I have to confess -- it made me have irritated feelings toward your book by the time Rowena was singing the death song for Athelstane....

But perhaps my biggest point of contention is your total sell-out at the climax of the novel. Brian de Bois-Gilbert was a fascinating character; although he is despicable early on, at some point I found myself actually feeling some sympathy for him. I suppose that happened when he was trying to convince Rebecca to accept him after he had kidnapped her and brought her to Torquilstone. Granted, that's a pretty dastardly thing to do; so why did I end up sort of liking him? (Or does that just make me weird?) When he visited Rebecca after sentence had been pronounced on her, I felt great sympathy for the conflict he found himself in - does he give up ambition and power to save the woman he loves, or does he keep quiet and watch her burn as a witch? Wow, what a struggle! While it appears he's choosing ambition, even at the point of no return, so to speak, he's still battling himself. When he rides up to Rebecca as she's sitting by the stake where they plan to burn her and proposes that she jump on the back of his horse and ride away with him, I found myself almost hoping she would do it.

But then, how does all this great conflict end? (Spoiler alert, if you care) He has a heart attack and dies while he's riding against the still-wounded and weak Ivanhoe, who has come forward to be Rebecca's champion. A heart attack????? Really, that is just too coincidental. It's not even satisfying. I mean, sure, he's dead and Ivanhoe won and Rebecca is vindicated and free, but.....a heart attack? It was just a real letdown.

I'm not sorry I went back and re-read your book, but I must say I'm glad to be finished. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

It's a Keeper

We had our first frost/freeze this week. This time, I took the weatherman's warnings to heart and went out to strip the tomatoes off the only garden plant that survived the difficult summer -- a grape tomato plant that had been an "extra" and went in a large flower pot beside the swimming pool. The plant grew to be HUGE and was covered with tomatoes about the size of my thumb or smaller. Unfortunately, most of those tomatoes were green. I say "unfortunately" because the only things I knew to do with green tomatoes are make relish (which my family just doesn't eat) or fry them (which I've never had success doing). But unwilling to let them go to waste, I picked them all and got two 5-quart buckets full of a mix of ripe, nearly ripe, and green tomatoes.

Then I consulted "The Google" (as my sister calls it) and found a recipe for green tomato soup. Now, allow me a little side story here. We all have those days when we're tired of our jobs and fantasize about what else we might be doing, right? Unlikely as it might seem, my husband and I have a fantasy that we could run a restaurant that specializes in soup. I can see it in my head - we would buy an old house with "character" and fill it with flea market furniture so it has an eclectic atmosphere. The menu would be nothing but soup and the stuff one might like to eat with soup - cornbread, breadsticks, crackers. Maybe very simple sandwiches and cookies. And coffee drinks (although neither of us drinks real coffee - but this is a fantasy, right! Ha ha).  There would be some soups that would be staples of the menu, but one of the attractions of this restaurant would be the "daily special" - some kind of soup that is different. So I'm always on the lookout for recipes I could use in my fantasy soup kitchen someday.

Enough of that. I tried the green tomato soup recipe with a little apprehension as to whether the family would like it - I mean, green tomatoes? Soup?  But it turned out to be excellent! It was also very simple to make. It has ham, a mix of green and red tomatoes, and a jalapeno pepper, and that's about it.  (The red stripes in the picture are skins from the red grape tomatoes - I probably should have peeled them, although they didn't detract from the flavor or texture of the soup, and hey, they add that fiber we all need....) It was just perfect with a big chunk of fresh cornbread crumbled in.  Even my daughter declared the recipe to be a "keeper." So this weekend I'm going to chop and freeze all the additional green tomatoes so we can have another batch (or three) this winter.

Maybe someday you can stop by the fantasy soup kitchen and have yourself a big bowl of hot green tomato soup!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Update on Dobby

Here's the scene I found Saturday evening a week ago:

Two complete wash loads of jeans had been pulled off the line, and I knew immediately who was to blame -- Dobby. Fortunately, none of the jeans were damaged; he apparently didn't chew on them, he just pulled them off the line. I guess he couldn't resist the legs that were gently kicking in the breeze.  At least he was appropriately contrite.

Last Saturday, I tried again. I mean, the weather is perfect right now for drying stuff on the clothesline, and why should I have to use the electricity and spend the money to run the jeans through the dryer because of a dog? So I hung out the first load and then went in the house, determined to keep an eye on them and to teach Dobby a lesson if he pulled them down.

I was opening a window to let in the wonderful fresh air when I saw Dobby coming toward the clothesline, and I knew by the look on his face he was getting ready to have some fun. So I yelled at him out the window, in one of those horribly threatening "Mom" voices. Of course, there was nothing I could do - I was in the house and he was outside; if he wanted to jerk the jeans down, he could have done it before I got out there.

But he didn't. He gave me a guilty look, then went off in the other direction. And he hasn't touched anything on the clothesline since. He may be an annoying puppy, but he's not dumb!

By the way, some of you may be wondering why I call this "The Musing Reader," and then talk about nothing but dogs and food instead of books. I am reading, just not what I would prefer to read. I'm on the committee that is preparing the accreditation self-study report for my school, and that means I'm looking at all kinds of annual reports and such.  Bleah.  I'm also teaching News Writing this semester, and wow, what a lot of grading if it's going to be done right.  By the time I get in bed to read, it's either too late or I'm too tired. I am trying to plow through Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. I don't mean to imply that Ivanhoe is dull. I'm enjoying it. But it certainly is different to read something in nineteenth-century prose (which has LOTS of telling) than to read the fast-paced prose of the 21st century. I'm about 70% finished, according to my Kindle, and I'm really anxious to move on to a couple of books I've acquired in the past month. But it may take me the rest of the year to get through this one book....