Thursday, October 20, 2016

Brisket, Whole Wheat Bread, & Hand Pies

I wrote the below entry a few weeks ago and then when I went to post it I had computer issues which are ongoing and are preventing me from adding pictures.  Alas!  So for the next couple of weeks, there will be no pictures of a cute boy or cute pets pasted throughout.    My laptop is now twelve years old, so I cannot really complain.

Now that Owen is 4, I am finally able to do a bit of cooking on the weekends.  I had forgotten that it is actually fun for me to try new recipes when I do not have a crying toddler attached to my leg or hip.  I organized all my cookbooks and looseleaf recipes and have been very slowly making my way through them.

I decided though to create a fall cooking goal, and it is to become proficient in the random trio of brisket, whole wheat bread, and hand pies.  We’ve been buying brisket on occasion from the smokery that is set up outside of our Whole Foods on the weekends, and it is divine.  I found a recipe for cooking brisket and onions in a slow cooker all day, and shall attempt it soon.

I’ve also been wanting to learn how to make a good loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread.  About eight years ago I decided to learn how to cook sourdough bread, which is my favorite, and after about four failures I finally was able to make a respectable loaf.  However, I was living alone at the time and didn’t feel like I could eat enough bread to keep the sourdough starter going, so my breadmaking fell by the wayside.  So I figured this time I would just do whole wheat without the sourdough part of it.

My first attempt this past Saturday was with a Steakhouse-style bread recipe which I got from the good blog Girl Versus Dough.  I got special rye flour from King Arthur and was all ready to go.  And all went well at first.  The dough rose beautifully the first time and Owen got to punch it down.

Then it rose beautifully the second time, and I put it in the oven to cook.  This is where the problems started, because it did not rise during cooking.  I did some google troubleshooting and discovered that this was probably due to the dough forming a bit of a crust during the second rising (it did), and the crust kept it from rising while baking.  To fix this, I could have a) put a pan of water in the oven and/or b) sliced down the top of the loaf.

The bread was good—just very very dense.  And I did like the recipe, which called for rye flour, whole wheat flour, bread flour, a cup of dark coffee, and two tablespoons of cocoa!  I would try it again.  My next loaf will be a King Arthur recipe, though, which people rave about on the website.

And then I want to become proficient in the making of handpies – both sweet and savory – because whenever I see pictures of them on Instagram or blogs, they look like the most wonderful thing in the world.  Yet where can one buy a handpie?!  Seemingly nowhere.  So I plan to learn how to make them myself, little red hen me.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book Reviews September 2016

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.  I had mixed feelings about this book.  It is a modern day rewrite of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and for the first third of it I was basically just grumpy that I wasn’t reading the original.  But then I discovered that if I pictured the main characters as Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, then I could enjoy the book a little more!  Some of the updates are interesting – Lydia elopes with a transsexual, for example, and Mrs. Bennet is a compulsive shopper – but some of the story just doesn’t translate into modern times, particularly the family constraints.  It doesn’t matter today if you have tacky sisters and a stupid mother – that is no longer going to affect your own opportunities.  Sittenfeld is clever though, and the writing isn’t bad.  It’s an entertaining but not mind-blowing read.

Adnan’s Story: The Search For Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry.  If you listened to the podcast, Serial, and enjoyed it, then you should definitely read this book.  Actually even if you didn’t, it is a fascinating – if long – read.  Rabia’s brother, Saad, was Adnan’s good friend, and when Adnan got arrested in 1999, Rabia, who was then in law school, became his advocate.  It was Rabia who brought the case to the attention of Sarah Koenig, who then made theSerial podcast.  Anyway, Rabia puts all the very, very extensive evidence that Adnan Syed is innocent into her book.  I thought he was innocent before I read the book, but I definitely think so after.  She leaves no stone unturned, and once Serial becomes so popular, she gets a lot of help from professionals and others to sift through the transcripts and evidence and follow old leads, etc.  It was one of these helpers who discovered the fax page that has led to the case being reopened.  She shows how the police very early on came up with the theory that it was Adnan and some kind of a Muslim honor killing, and she goes on to prove how very silly and unfounded that theory was.  The police then bent all evidence into fitting that story line, however, and Adnan’s attorney was having major medical problems that people didn’t know about at the time.  Her illnesses made her incompetent.  It’s an often times stressful read – I had to put my kindle down and rage a bit from time to time, and Sean got very tired of me filling him in on outrageous details.  Adnan Syed has been in prison since the age of 17 for a crime he clearly didn’t commit.  Free Adnan!  And please find the real killer of Hae Min Lee.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner.  This was an excellent novel and I look forward to reading more books about DS Manon Bradshaw in the future.  Manon is a detective assigned to a missing persons case in Cambridge, England.  Edith Hind, a 22 year-old student, is reported missing by her boyfriend who returns home from a weekend away to find the door to their apartment open and Edith gone, although her purse and phone and coat are all still there.  He calls her parents and the police.  The majority of the book is through the viewpoint of Manon, a 39 year-old woman who is good at her job and not as good in her personal life.  She is in the midst of internet dating and finding the pickings slim.  We also get chapters from the viewpoint of Miriam, Edith’s mother, and also Davy, Manon’s work partner.  The characters are all very well-written and developed and believable, and Steiner does a good job of telling just what is needed without getting overblown in the process.  The case unfolds slowly, and as more time passes, of course, there is less of a chance that Edith will be found safe.  I recommend it!

You’ll Grow Out Of It by Jessi Klein.  This is a hilarious book of essays, and I often found myself laughing so hard on the train while reading it, that I think I caused a fellow passenger or two to move a few seats farther away from me.  But it is so funny!  Klein is a comedian, and also a writer for Amy Schumer, so of course she is funny, but her writing is quite good too.  She concentrates in this book on her dating experiences, and then once she meets the man she goes on to marry in her late thirties, she writes about their relationship and infertility problems etc.  She has a great eye for detail and is also really adept at the interesting turn of phrase:  I laughed for several days at her description of herself trying on French lingerie in a high-end boutique in Manhattan, looking in the mirror while wearing a thong and saying that she looks like a groundhog wearing a tiny belt.  She pokes fun at herself constantly, yet she also finds the right balance of making serious commentary about relationships and what people go through to find good ones.  I knew she would be funny, but it is seriously an excellent book.

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich.  I didn’t like this as much as I thought I would, although I think a lot of my problems with it had to do with the fact that it is a work of fiction, yet I kept forgetting that and thinking it was a graphic memoir.  I’m not sure why that caused me irritation, except that it did.  Lena is a woman in her late thirties with two daughters, who has just gotten a divorce and is on her own for the first time ever.  Lena and Anya are Russian immigrants, and Anya writes well about what it is like to have dual identities.  In the course of the book, too, Lena Finkle travels back to Moscow for book tours, and realizes that she cannot truly return.  Much of the first two-thirds of the book are about the different men she meets on an internet dating site.  I feel like the book hit its stride more when she starts dating “The Orphan,” a wealthy heir who lives like a homeless hipster.  One sees that the relationship is not going to last, but Ulinich does a good job of portraying Finkle’s devastation when it ends.  How she does so is also a good example of how graphic novels can perhaps show certain emotions better than words alone:  each time Lena returns to The Orphan to go over why he broke up with her, Ulinich draws her as a duck quacking “But I love you” over and over.

The Woman In Cabin Ten by Ruth Ware.  In general it is a pet peeve of mine when I’m reading a book in which the main character cannot a) sleep, or b) sober up.  It stresses me to the point where I don’t enjoy the book, and it also seems like an easy way out. I’m not saying it isn’t effective in plot advancement, as a sleep-deprived person of course makes bad decisions, but it just is unpleasant being dragged down that path.  Having said that, however, whereas I began being grumpy at this book for precisely the above reasons, I was grudgingly won over by the suspense and the plot.  Lo Blacklock is a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, and has the opportunity to go on a small luxury cruise for copy.  The first night on the boat, she borrows mascara from a woman in the cabin next to hers, and then when she tries to return it, realizes that there is no trace of the woman.  The crew denies that anyone was ever in that room, and the readers and the people in charge on the boat aren’t sure if Lo is telling the truth or if she was muddled from lack of sleep and too much drink.  Lo is stubborn, though, and keeps up her search for this mysterious woman, even when she begins to get frightening threats left in the steam on the mirror while she showers!  The suspense does not let up, and our curiosity and worry is piqued even further by between-section emails Lo’s boyfriend writes about Lo having disappeared herself from the ship.  It’s an excellent read!

Thursday, September 15, 2016


When Owen and I go for a walk, we often cross a bridge going over a little brook, so I started telling him about the three billy goats gruff and the troll under the bridge.  When we were at my parents’ house in Maine, my mother had a picture book of the tale, which apparently is Norwegian.  Owen was very interested in the book and the tale, and so then we started incorporating it into our playdough play.  We made a bridge out of the playdough cans and Owen made a troll and then I would make animals that would then cross the bridge at their peril.  Owen’s troll almost always let them pass with a gruff, “Be off with you!”  At one point, though, I realized that Owen was calling it a Control instead of a troll.  Ha!  So we played the control under the bridge.  Rather fitting.

My father is named Leighton, and my mother was calling to him one day and Owen leaned over to me and whispered:  “Why does Gee keep calling Pa ‘Plankton?’”

I am finding that four is a pretty enthusiastic age, although one has to do some maneuvering every now and then.  We can never be sure how he will react to something.  One day in Maine when we were going to the beach, we stopped at two stores that we wanted to check out, and told Owen – afraid he would have a fit – that we were just going to peek into two stores on the way.  Owen unexpectedly exclaimed, “Two stores!! That’s AMAZING!!”  Well okay then.

We found a yellow plastic construction hat of Owen’s that had been missing for long enough that he had forgotten about it.  Sean gave it to him and said he could wear it while he was using his tools and doing construction.  Owen replied:  “Yes!  I can wear it when I’m using my tools and I want to look fancy!”  J  As construction workers are wont to do.

Owen and Sean got a pair of walkie talkies to use when they are playing space ship, and it has taken Owen awhile to learn that he needs to hold it up to his ear when he is listening and to his mouth when he is talking.  He tends to do the opposite.  And then he also has to push the button on it when he talks, which is also a bit difficult to remember.  Sean’s been teaching him walkie talkie jargon, like ten four, and Owen, playing a game of one-upmanship, always responds with a ten five.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Back To School

Owen started his 4-Day 4’s class this week, after attending orientation last week.  Here he is before attending orientation:

His class is in the mornings Monday through Thursday, and he seems to have a very nice and very organized teacher!  He also has seven out of twenty kids in the class who were in his class last year, so there are many familiar faces.  Next week we have to bring in 6 red delicious (ugh) apples for Fruit & Veggie Tuesday (it actually has a name that is more clever than that, but I can’t remember it.)  Anyway on Tuesdays one child will bring in assigned fruit or veggies and then as a class they will learn about the fruit/veggie and learn how to prepare it.  I’m hoping this will get Owen to eat vegetables!  My only success so far has been with the occasional sugar snap pea.

They are also focusing on one letter per week, and this week of course it is A.  Owen is just beginning to be interested in trying to write his letters, and he was very, very proud of these two A’s he wrote:

After those two, however, he started going down up instead of up down, so his A’s were like little sleeping vampire bats.  After writing two upside-down A’s he said, “womp, womp.”  I laughed and asked him where he had learned to say that?  And he told me, “Womp womp is what you say when you make a mistake, Mom.”  Indeed.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Book Reviews August 2016

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty.  Liane Moriarty is one of my favorite novelists writing today, and her newest novel does not disappoint.  She’s such a good story teller, and what always impresses me the most about her books is that all of the characters are interesting and multi-dimensional.  She never just has a character that serves to advance the plot; rather, she is able to reveal usually through small but pertinent details just what makes that character tick.  There is no one completely bad or completely good or wrong or right—they are people who you inevitably become quite fond of.  This novel focuses on three couples, and we know right from the beginning that something horrible happens to them at a barbecue.  Indeed the chapters are labeled, one day before the barbecue, two days after the barbecue, etc., so the reader is immediately aware of – and rather dreading – that event.  Clementine is a cellist who is married with two young daughters, Holly and Ruby.  She has a childhood friend, Erika, who was raised by a hoarder and neglectful mother, and so Clementine’s mother took Erika in and sort of forced  Clementine to be friends with her.  Their friendship is rather fraught, and made more so by the fact that Erika is more or less on the spectrum.  Erika and her husband, Oliver, live next door to another couple, the wonderful Tiffany and Vid.  The first half of the book is spent leading up to the reveal of what happened at the barbecue, and I do admit to wondering from time to time if it wasn’t too manipulative.  At some point I just wanted to know what happened and be done with it.  Once we find out what happened, however, Moriarty does an excellent job of showing how all the characters work through it.  It’s a really good, compassionate read and I think one of her best novels.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott.  I think Megan Abbott is a good writer, but I also think her books are not for me.  This is the second one I have read, and whereas I can recognize as I read that what she is doing is skillfull, I still end up feeling claustrophobic and stressed.  Like in her mystery, The Fever, Abbott takes a small group of people and has something run amok – in this case it’s a group of elite gymnasts and one of the coaches boyfriend gets killed by a hit and run driver.  The main character here is Kate, the mother of the best gymnast at the gym, Devon Knox.  The problem I have is that Kate doesn’t get much of what is going on, and her viewpoint is mainly the only one we experience.  So as a reader, we can see and sense that so much is happening that Kate isn’t privy to, yet we are forced to remain in the dark with Kate.   It’s the kind of scenario that stresses me out as I read and isn’t enjoyable to me.  I don’t generally mind a character with limitations, but it just is tiresome to be so closely tethered to a limited viewpoint.  Anyway, Kate begins to suspect that her daughter and her husband and one of the other gymnast’s mother knows much more about what is going on than she does, and starts piecing things together.  It was an interesting peek into the world of intense gymnastics, and Abbott also does a good job of raising questions about the pressures and restraints of having a whole family hitch to the star of one child.  I don’t think I will be in a hurry to read her other books, however.

We’ll Always Have Paris: Trying and Failing to be French by Emma Beddington.  This is an excellent memoir – funny and sad and well written and full of fine cake.  What more can one ask for?  It was so good that once I was a third of the way into it, I started reading it slowly and doling out a chapter a night so I wouldn’t reach the end of it too soon.  Beddington, who is the blogger Belgian Waffle, grew up in York, England while loving everything French.  She went to Normandy after high school and started dating while there a Frenchman, Olivier.  She writes a lot of how her conceptions of France via movies and literature collided with the real place while there.  She then attends Oxford while still dating Olivier long distance.  Cut to when she is in her mid-twenties and living with Olivier in London with one small son and another on the way:  she learns that her mother, to whom she is very close, has been killed in a freak accident in Rome.  Her grief proceeds to take many forms and all entertwined with her experience of Paris.  Beddington is very smart and witty and does a really good job of writing about weighty topics while not taking herself too seriously.  She and her family leave Paris and eventually end up settling in Brussels, where the whirlwind of her grief finally catches up with her.  Whether you have francophone leadings or not (I don’t, particularly, but I do have cake leanings), her memoir is superb.

City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin.  This is the third book in his vampire (of sorts) trilogy that began with The Passage and continued with The Twelve.  I really liked the first book, and liked the second until its ending, which I thought veered towards the silly.  This third book is a bit of a mishmash.  He is a good story teller, and I really liked reading about how people had continued to survive what was basically an apocalypse that ended life as we know it.  However, when you finally find out some of the main impetus for what has ended the world, it just is a bit ridiculous and thin.  Without giving too much away, there is a kind of evil genius who continues the evil just because the woman whom he loved died while he was awaiting her arrival at Grand Central Station via train.  Although a painful experience, it seems a rather flimsy reason to end the world – especially since the rest of the three books have been so serious.  It just came across as being too cartoony or superhero villainy to me.  However, it IS possible to just sort of ignore that part of the plot and still enjoy all that is going on with the characters and the descendants of the characters that we got to know in the first two books.  And much of the accompanying mythology is interesting and well done.  I’m glad I read the trilogy, but feel like it didn’t quite hold up to the promise of the first book.

Still Midnight by Denise Mina.  This is the first book in Mina's "Alex Morrow" series, and it was as good as I was expecting.  Like with her Paddy Meehan series, Mina's writing is excellent and her main character nuanced and strong.  She very much hits the ground running -- it almost seems like it's the second book in a series, as she doesn't load the beginning with any obvious back-story.  This is a good thing:  you learn things here and there about detective Alex Morrow as she works to solve a case that has been taken away from her control and given to her career-savvy partner.  We switch back and forth from Alex's point of view to the point of view of Pat, a man who against his better judgment gets caught up in a kidnapping for ransom.  Pat knows better, and knows that his partners are volatile, and from the beginning tries to get out of what is going on, albeit ineptly.  It takes place in Glasgow and seems like a good first mystery in a series, in that we are introduced to many items of interest that I imagine will appear in future books -- the crime family Tait, Alex's background, her half-brother, who has problems with the law, etc.  I shall read on.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Maine 2016

I am back from our lovely two-week vacation visiting my parents in Maine, and to make the transition harder, I have come down with a miserable cold.  Alas and o woe!  But I wanted to include a few photos of what we were up to for two weeks, besides enjoying the incredible view and wishing we could live there.

Owen was up to a lot of berrypicking!  In addition to the cultivated blueberry bushes my parents have in their garden, the rest of their property – not to be outdone – decided to bedeck itself with wild blackberries.  Owen and his Granny went out pretty much daily to pick these berries, both blue and black.  I’d say that was Owen’s favorite part of the trip – being able to make a beeline run to the berry bushes to pick a fresh snack.  Now if only we could get him to eat blueberries at home!

Since we don’t live close to my parents, it is important to me that Owen have time in the summer to get to know his grandparents and vice versa.  My parents were very nice in also spending time with Owen and allowing Sean and I to escape for a walk with a beautiful view that was not accompanying by the refrain of “Carry you me!” that Owen tends to “sing” while on a walk.  Owen did all sorts of chores with his Granny, and artwork, and playing ball outside, and even had a few playdough sessions with his Grandfather.

We took Owen on his first canoe ride, which he enjoyed very much, although we probably could have cut it a bit shorter than we did.  It was a turtle-packed ride, and we even came across six turtles sharing a log in a line with each turtle resting its head on the back of the one in front.

We went to L.L. Bean, ate our weight in lobster, and even went out the five of us to Pemaquid Lobster Pound for dinner one night.  Owen had a grilled cheese.

Owen at L. L. Bean, or as he calls it:
the store with the Giant Boot!

We went swimming often at the beach – cold, but lovely! – and would go to another beach to find some seaglass.  Sean has the best method of finding sea glass, and I was surprised that Owen too was quite good (and quite proud) at spotting a few blue bits here and there.

Sean brought his banjo and got a lot of banjo practicing in, not to mention some good stickers for his banjo case.

Needless to say we are already ready for next year’s visit!

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Owen:  I think we should move.
Me:  Well, we’d have to get new jobs first.
Owen:  Like shucking corn?
Me: --

 We’ve told Owen stories about our previous pets, my Tulip and Sean’s cat, Kilman.  Of course Owen then wants to meet these pets, so I’ve told him that they had long lives and then died, and then because I am sappy that way, I tell him that they are waiting for us across the rainbow bridge.  Owen finds this very curious and will ask why we can’t go get them.  And then every once in a while he will blurt out, like he did in the car the other day, “Kilman’s dead!  He’s waiting for you on the rainbow bridge!”  Sean enjoyed having this pointed out to him.  J

I realized that I set the scene for a lot of my stories with a “Before you were born and when I lived in an apartment…”  Because now Owen’s stories to me will begin, “Before you were born I lived in a cottage with an ephelant (or some other animal).  He’s dead now, but we used to do such and such.”

I gave Owen two hardboiled eggs for him to peel for me for breakfast the other day.  In the meantime I was getting the pets’ breakfasts and meds ready.  He gave me the first egg peppered here and there with bits of shell.  Then he set to peeling the second.  After a minute or two I heard him mutter something about finding the golden treasure, and then when I looked he handed me the yolk on his outstretched palm.  The white was scattered in bits with the shell.  Oh well!  I ate the golden treasure on its own.

Owen was reading an alphabet book to himself and had reached Q.  There was a picture of a queen, so Owen said, “Q is for queen and…. (Here he paused and thought a bit) …croissant!”  I didn’t correct him.