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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Saag Aloo

Saag Aloo!

Sounds like something Tigger would shout across the 100 acre woods. It's pronounced sog ah-LOO. What it is is delicious.

Saag Aloo is an Indian dish that is basically fried spiced potatoes with creamed greens. Saag is the creamed greens part. There are various versions of this around. Any Indian restaurant you go to will have a different blend of greens and spices in it. Saag Paneer is the creamed greens with breaded and fried goat cheese chunks. It's really tasty, but I finally figured out why I get sick every time I eat it. I'm allergic to goat milk.

Aloo is the Indian word for potatoes. I think I'm going to start calling them that all the time. Aloo. Aloo. A-loo-oo. It's too much fun to say.

I'm still in the process of figuring out how I like this the best. You can mix and match the greens using everything from spinach to mustard greens to other greens. I'm not sure lettuce would work but you could try it if you wanted. I'm going with chopped chard this time because that's what I've got handy. I think the local stores carry collard greens so I could try it with that. Feel free to use what you've got growing or what your local store carries. Beet greens would probably work in this as well.

Here's recipe #1, based loosely on this one:

Saag Aloo (Indian Fried Potatoes and Creamed Greens)

2 T. oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced (about 1/2 c.)
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 t. ginger OR 1 T. fresh ginger, grated
1/2 t. ground mustard
1/2 t. cumin
1 t. turmeric
1 t. salt
2 medium potatoes, scrubbed and cut into large chunks (about 3 c.)
1/4 c. water
2 c. spinach leaves, washed
2 c. mustard greens OR chard OR collard greens

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and cook over medium-low heat until onion is soft and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the potato chunks, spices, and water, cook for another 10-15 minutes until the potatoes are almost done.

Stir in the greens. Add the water. Cover and cook on medium-low for 3-4 minutes, until the greens are soft. Remove the cover and cook until the liquid is gone.

Salt to taste and serve.

Monday, April 24, 2017

More Book Reviews - The Hunger Games

I finally read the Hunger Games trilogy. After watching all four movies and getting caught up in the story, I wanted to see how the books held up. I wasn't disappointed.

In the movie, Peeta is a whiner. I could not understand how Katniss could ever have a moment's hesitation about picking Gale over him when she finally had a free choice. In the books, Peeta is noble, brave, and a whole lot better than in the movies.

Katniss is much more likable in the books. Since they are written first person from her point of view, you get a window into what she's thinking, her logic behind her choices. She's still not the nicest person ever, but she's at least sympathetic. The movies fail on this point.

The story is a pretty standard YA dystopian story but it's so much more than a twisted love triangle story. The books are more about getting caught up in a revolution, fighting for what you believe, and searching for enough faith in that belief to keep fighting when things go wrong. Katniss is an accidental hero. She's fairly selfish and self-centered when you start poking holes through her logic. She's doing it for her family, yes, but only her family. Even towards the end, when she's become the Mockingjay, the face of the rebellion, she's still more concerned with her family and her own love interests than anyone else. But she also comes across as human. She's not a larger-than-life hero. She's just a girl caught up by circumstances in a war she doesn't want. She wants comfort and security.  Even at the end, when Katniss is free, she's still making the "safe" choice, the selfish choice, because it's comfortable for her. She doesn't want to emerge from her shell or grow into what she could have been.

The writing is solid, too. Suzanne Collins knows how to put words together to tell a compelling story.

The books are pretty dark. There isn't any humor anywhere and hope only makes very rare, brief cameos, usually for someone other than Katniss. Grim is a good word for the story, but then, it is about watching kids kill each other gladiator style. It's about repression and abuse and all sorts of grim things.

The books are worth reading, at least once, but I don't think they'll stick with me. Katniss was not the hero I wanted. No one in the books really was, except maybe Cinna.

If there's a market out there for hopeful YA stories with heroes who actually step up and stand for something other than themselves, I have yet to find it. I want hope in the stories I read. I want characters that, while flawed, are still trying to be good people who do things for good reasons. I want characters I like and can respect.

While Hunger Games has good writing and a compelling storyline, I wasn't a fan of Katniss. Am I sorry I read it? No, I did enjoy reading it and the books added much more depth and nuance to the story. Would I recommend it? Yes, but only if you enjoy dark, moody, grim stories.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Creamed Eggs

This is one of my favorite reasons to make Easter eggs - you get to use them to make creamed eggs a few days later.

The recipe was originally one my sister brought home from her home ec class in junior high. I've sort of done my thing and changed it up. It's great over toast or rice or biscuits. If you want a dairy-free option, use shortening and coconut milk instead of butter and milk. If you want it gluten-free, check out the second version below.

Creamed Eggs

6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 c. butter
2 T. finely chopped onion
1/4 c. flour
3 c. milk
1 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
several drops of tabasco sauce
chopped chives, optional garnish

Peel eggs, chop into chunks. Set aside.

Melt butter in a 2-qt saucepan over med-low heat. Add onion. Cook until soft, 2-3 minutes. Stir in flour. Cook and stir until smooth and bubbly. Stir in milk, salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture thickens and boils. Remove from heat. Stir in chopped eggs. Cover and let it sit for 2-3 minutes to let eggs heat up.

Stir again and serve over toast, hot cooked rice, or biscuits. Garnish with chopped chives.

Also good to stir in with the eggs:
1/2 c. frozen baby peas, thawed
1/2 c. chopped cooked asparagus
3 T. bacon bits or crumbled cooked bacon
1/3 c. ham, cut into very small cubes
1/2 c. shredded asiago, parmesan, or romano cheese

Gluten-Free Creamed Eggs

Instead of flour, use 3 T. cornstarch. Stir into the cold milk and set aside.

Cook onion in butter. When soft, stir in milk mixture, salt, pepper, and tabasco sauce. Cook and stir until mixture thickens and boils.

Continue cooking as directed above.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Basket of Book Reviews

I told you I was reading a lot again. My daughter convinced me to go to the library with her a couple of times. And I discovered the discarded book sale.

Our library is awesome, but it's a little hard to just browse unless you're looking for really popular or brand-new books. The branches are pretty small and only have a limited selection of books on the shelves. But you can go online and find anything you want from any branch and request it. They will contact you when it's at your local branch waiting for you to pick it up. Really nice, if you know what you want.

So here's what I found to read:

Red Queen
Victoria Aveyard

Not my usual type of book, but my daughter had read it a few months earlier and I sort of starting reading it then. It's a YA post-apocalyptic dystopian, similar to Hunger Games. Very dark, very violent, very depressing in a lot of ways, but so beautifully written I couldn't stop reading.

Betrayal, power games, blood feuds, mystic powers, revolution—this book has all that, plus love triangles, people trying to escape their destiny, and a main character who gets railroaded into most of the plot. She's a pawn with no real power. She makes very few decisions and the ones she does make all go wrong. She mostly goes where she's pushed and does what she's told, even when she's inwardly rebelling.

The book is told in first-person present tense, which usually bothers me, but Aveyard's writing is so flowing that I didn't care.

4 stars for beautiful writing, PG-13+ for violence and just being really really dark.

The Man Who Fell From the Sky
Margaret Coel

This is a murder mystery similar to Tony Hillerman's Navajo series. The plot and story are as much about Wild West history, ala Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Indian culture, mostly Arapaho with a little Shoshone thrown in, as it is about a murder.

I've read a couple other books by the author and enjoyed them. This one didn't disappoint. Not entirely my cup of tea, but still an interesting read.

3 solid stars, PG because it is a murder mystery but it was nice to not run into profanity or graphic violence or graphic sex scenes that seem to fill most other non-cozy mysteries I've tried to read.

Bad Unicorn
Platte F. Clark

Yeah, it's a middle-grade fantasy story aimed at boys. It's silly. It has several fart jokes and at least one poop joke. But it's also really fun to read. Killer unicorn named Princess who likes to eat people? Oh, yeah. Grumpy dwarf who owns a comic book/game store? Check. Clueless boy who is the only living heir of a great wizard who also happens to be the only one who can read the super-magical book? Yep. Two sidekicks, male and female, who exist mostly to be comic relief (boy) and actually competent at anything (girl)? That, too. So except for the unicorn, everything else is pretty standard middle-grade quest fiction.

But the book also involves time travel and squirrels and so what if some of it is pretty standard tropes? It's a lot of fun to read.

4 stars, G mostly. Not super violent and stays pretty light in tone, so unless you get very offended at fart jokes, it's pretty tame.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Gluten-Free Easy Sponge Cake

I never thought Gluten-free and Easy could be in the same title, especially not for cake. Most of the recipes I looked at required weird ingredients or special mixes or something else strange or a tricky baking method. This one is fairly simple. It does take almond flour and rice flour, but both of those are pretty easy to find these days. It's based off one I found in an old cookbook that used ground almonds and lemon zest and had really bad directions. The first time I tried to do this, I ended up with a burnt on the bottom, flat, giant hockey puck. I changed things up and made a much more delicious cake the second time around.

The cake makes one 10-inch round thick enough to split and use for a 2-layer cake. We filled it with a couple of different things, but feel free to go hog wild and do whatever you like in your cake. This would make an awesome strawberry shortcake dessert. Just sayin'.

Gluten Free Easy Sponge Cake

7 eggs, separated
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 c. almond flour
1/2 c. rice flour
1 t. vanilla or almond flavoring

Pre-heat oven to 325°. Spray a 10-inch spring-form pan or 2 8-inch cake pans. Make sure you get the corners and bottom really well. Set aside.

Separate the eggs. Be careful not to get egg yolk in with the whites. Set the whites aside.

Beat the egg yolks until they are very light yellow and fluffy and thick, this takes about 3-5 minutes. Don't underbeat at this stage. Add sugar and salt and beat again. Stir in flours and flavorings. Set aside.

Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form, 3-5 minutes. Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the egg whites. You want to keep as much air as you can. Stir gently just until you can't see large puffs of egg white. I use a rubber scraper to stir, lifting up from the bottom to the top. The thicker egg yolk mixture tends to settle to the bottom while the whites are on top. You want to get them mixed evenly throughout but don't go overboard on stirring or you will lose your air, which is what makes this cake rise.

Scoop batter gently into the prepared pan. Smooth out the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, just until set and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Use a thin knife to loosen the cake from the sides, then turn out onto a serving platter and let cool completely.

Frost and decorate like any other cake.

Note: this cake is more chewy and sponge-y than a normal cake, more like an angel-food cake. Use a sharp serrated knife to cut it.

If you want to fill the cake - 
After it is completely cool, use a long serrated knife to split it into two layers. Carefully remove the top layer, spread on the filling, then replace with the top layer.

Suggestions for fillings:
peach-rhubarb jam (homemade and delicious!)
berry pie filling (raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, etc)
lemon curd
chocolate mousse
pretty much anything you'd fill a regular cake with

Monday, April 10, 2017

Cover Reveal!

Remember when I said I was working on new stuff? And remember that first chapter teaser for a middle-grade fantasy adventure? Well, it's finally done! I'm hoping to have the final draft published in May. I just have to wait for my co-author to finish her edits.

And to whet your appetite, here is the lovely cover. It still needs a few tweaks, but I'm really liking it.

And BTW, if you followed the link to the first chapter and saw the lovely fingerless gloves and want a pair, just let me know. $20/pair plus shipping. Just let me know what color...

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thursday Recipe - Newari Spice Mix

I ran across the recipe for Newari spice on a blog. It's a Nepalese blend of spices that is very similar to curry powder, but less strong. My kids prefer this blend.

Here is the original post.

This is my version of it:

Newari Spice Mix

1/4 c. dried chopped onions
2 T. garlic powder
2 T. ginger
2 t. cumin
2 t. turmeric
1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/4 t. anise or fennel seeds

Place everything in a spice grinder. Pulse until powdered.

Store in an airtight container. Use the same way you would use Curry powder.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Some Days You Just Want to Quit

I've had a lot going on lately, most of it depressing and frustrating. It's to the point I just want to give up and live in a cave somewhere for a while. Too much pressure to do things. Too many things on my schedule. Too many people needing too much of my time. And all I want to do is hide in my closet and pretend I'm not home.

This is what depression and anxiety look like for me. I retreat farther into my private shell. I can be myself in there, without fear of judgment or reprisal. I can express those thoughts and feelings without anyone telling me I'm wrong. Without anyone criticizing me.

Except I have this inner voice that constantly whispers, "You're a failure. You're inept. You're worthless. You'll never be any good."

And I fight back. I stand up to it. I tell myself that I am enough. I am of infinite worth because I am a child of God. If I stumble and mess up, it's okay. I can stand back up and keep trying. I can look forward, not back.

Most of the time it works.

But some days I am so tired and exhausted I just can't do it. Those are the days that I'm tempted to hide in my closet. Those are the days my anxiety spikes and I can't function. Those are the days that every judgmental comment and post on Facebook feels like it was written about me. Those are the days when nothing I do is good enough, when it will never be good enough.

But there are also days when the sun is shining and life is good and I can conquer anything.

I just have to hold on to my memory of sunshine and pray that it will guide me through the darkness. That it will be enough and trust that I will be enough.