Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Foodless Food Tuesday

Will you all be horribly disappointed if I don't have a recipe to share today? What about a menu of sorts instead? See, my parents visited over the weekend, so I didn't need to cook anything. I've only eaten leftovers and frozen pierogi since then. Nothing really worth mentioning in detail.

I am, however, going to be putting on a pretty amazing food science program at my library tomorrow. Grade schoolers will get an appetizer activity having to do with taste; an entree about heat and how it affects food; and a chilly dessert. Have I piqued your scientific interest? Whetted your appetite? Check back in a few days for the details of my Leap Day Food Science program!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Reads: Short Stories

Sometimes I feel kind of ambivalent about short stories. There are those stories everyone had to read in high school, and while yes, they're well-constructed, and they're classics for a reason, sometimes the very act of studying The Short Story can suck the joy out of a beautiful and well-told tale. I much prefer my short stories with no strings attached, no threat of baggage. I love when a short story inhabits its own island of imagination, where its whole world is entirely self-sufficient and anything is possible. Where every perfect turn of phrase shimmers and echos.

During a bout of insomnia this past week, I started rereading my favorite short stories from Saki. Is there anything more perfect than "The Open Window"? I don't think so.

I've also started reading Ellen Klages's collection Portable Childhoods. I'm only a few pieces into the book, but already the strong characters and slightly-tainted landscapes are doing a number on me. I love when I read a story and I can feel its reality, see it playing out right in front of me. Thus far, that's Klages to a tee. Oh, and the best affirmation: Neil Gaiman agrees.

Try some great short stories this week, no strings attached. Just live someone else's tale for a few minutes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Food Tuesday: For When You're Under the Weather

Well, it happened. After months of coworkers and their kids dropping like flies due to particularly vicious bouts of flu, cold, and sinus infection, I got knocked down pretty hard by a head cold this weekend. One of the downsides of living alone: no one to make you food when you're sick. One of the upsides: no one eats your leftovers while you're napping.

I spent the better part of three days curled under blankets on my couch (thank you, reruns of Project Runway, The Librarian movies, and NCIS), and aside from milkshakes, nothing sounded very soothing to eat. Nothing, that is, until I thought about this delicious, creamy, subtly flavored polenta I first made a while back (the recipe is toward the bottom). I made it--very simple, even a sick person can handle five minutes at the stove--and what do you know, the world seemed just a little bit better. I highly recommend a bowl of something as smooth and comforting the next time you fall ill.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Reads: Tuesdays at the Castle

I ended this week with Jessica Day George's juvenile fantasy novel Tuesdays at the Castle. The story is about the royal family who reside in Castle Glower, a castle that has a mind and magic all its own. It's the castle that chooses the line of succession--oftentimes by physically expelling interlopers from its grounds--and the young princess Celie seems to have a particularly close connection with the castle. When Celie's parents are ambushed on their journey back to the castle, they are pronounced dead by the head of the royal council. Turns out, though, that despite acquiescing to crowning Celie's brother Rolf the new king, there are members of the council who seek to secure the throne for a cruel foreign prince. It falls to Rolf, Celie, their sister Lilah, and a few others loyal to the siblings' parents to defend the crown, and with it the castle.

The story in and of itself is a good, fairly exciting one. I do think the pacing was a bit lopsided: the buildup of action was lengthy compared to the quick resolution at the end. While that format and the more subdued action of the story might not suit young readers of high fantasy, though, I'm confident it will appeal to readers who appreciate quieter conflict and action. I'd suggest this book to young readers who may be hesitant to read anything with too much violence; who enjoy stories involving magic; and who may be looking to relate to the 11-year-old protagonist in her trying situations.

Also read this week: Music Was It: Young Leonard Bernstein by Susan Goldman Rubin. This juvenile/YA biography of the composer/conductor explores the boyhood and school years leading up to Bernstein's rather remarkable debut at Carnegie Hall at an historically young age. The book discusses Bernstein's father's criticism of music as a career path, Bernstein's dedication to music in every aspect of his life while growing up, and the instruction and support he received from musical greats. While I'd love to read more about what happens following that momentous concert at Carnegie Hall, I did enjoy getting to know more about the young man that became one of the most talented and recognizable figures in 20th century music.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Food Tuesday: Open-Faced Chicken Club Sandwich

I always enjoy the weekend that follows the delivery of my monthly Cooking Light magazine. Those lazy weekend mornings are spent flipping through lovely food photos with many delicious, healthy recipes. I have these nifty post-its that I keep by my cookbooks and magazines; they have labels like "Appetizers," "Meat," "Fish," "Vegetables," and "Dessert." Every time I find a recipe I want to try, I stick a post-it on the page for quick browsing later on when I'm menu planning. Simple as pie!

I browsed a recent issue just last weekend and settled on what seemed like a tasty, work lunch-friendly recipe: Open-Faced Chicken Club Sandwiches. The whole process of getting ingredients ready was simple and straightforward. Toast some bread; cook some chicken breasts with olive oil, salt, and pepper; cook up some bacon (I used turkey bacon); and mash some avocado, either alone (as I did) or with mayo, salt, and pepper (as per the recipe). The end result is a sandwich that combines all of the best textures and flavors--crunch from the toasted bread, creaminess from the avocado, salt from the bacon, savory tenderness from the chicken. The only thought I had about perhaps improving the still-warm, just-cooked version was to top it off with a poached egg. Assembling a cold sandwich from leftovers kept in the work fridge was just as tasty, too. I don't always do well making sandwiches, but I must say I'm pleased with this one.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Reads: More YA Fiction

Yesterday I finished reading Jenny Hubbard's Paper Covers Rock, a coming of age story about Alex, a junior at a boarding school in Georgia during the early eighties. Alex has spent the last few years of boarding school with three close friends. Suddenly, however, one friend is dead after an accident involving vodka and jumping from a rock; another friend takes the fall and is dismissed from school; and Alex is left to deal with his emotions with Glenn, a self-described Golden Boy hell-bent on making sure neither he nor Alex get caught for their part in the drinking that led to their friend's death.

Avoiding knowledge of their transgressions means figuring out just how much Miss Dovecott, the new English teacher, saw when she came to the boys' aid immediately following the accident. Alex has started to develop something of a crush on Miss Dovecott--it is the poetry in her class and her encouragement of his writing that helps Alex start to work through his grief. When Glenn's plan for self-preservation begins to involve sullying Miss Dovecott's reputation, however, Alex becomes conflicted. This story weaves together a very realistic story of the pressures on the bonds of friendship, the relationships between teachers and students, and the institutionalized homophobia of a conservative, all-male boarding school. I really started to feel for Alex and his feelings of conflict, even if I couldn't relate to his choices. This first novel very much deserves its Morris Award finalist nod.

Just started: Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins, tells the story of 17-year-old Lola Nolan, a girl in modern-day San Francisco who lives with her two dads, dresses in fashion confections of her own design, and dates a 22-year-old rock musician (much to the consternation of her family and friends). When the crush of her youth, Cricket Bell, moves back in next door, Lola's life seems suddenly so chaotic. She's with her rocker boyfriend, but she used to have such feelings for Cricket until he hurt her two years previously. What's a strong-willed, independent-minded girl to do? I'm only halfway through the book, so I'm not quite sure yet what's going to happen. So far, however, Lola and the Boy Next Door boasts the well-developed quirky characters, intriguing realistic storyline, and enjoyable dialogue that Perkins's earlier novel, Anna and the French Kiss, used to such positive reader reviews. I'm looking forward to seeing what Lola wants, and then, if Lola gets.

Also (re)read: Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Because even if my book club was only discussing The Hunger Games, I couldn't not read the entire series. Once again, I enjoyed it immensely.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Food Tuesday: Super Bowl Dips

I was planning to write about this deliciously savory hot caramelized onion dip with bacon and gruyere, which I serve with naked pita chips (that's what the bag says!). It's a great dip for parties; French-Canadian-themed Thanksgivings, for example, or more recently, Super Bowl parties. But then, as I was thinking about writing about this dip, the analogy of the Super Bowl helped me to realize something--my dip was the Patriots, and my friend Maggie's dip was the Giants. Obviously, her dip won.

Her dip was light and fresh and cool and, according to her, very simple to make. I haven't gotten her recipe yet, but I think I can narrate some differences from this linked recipe for black bean dip. Instead of lime juice, she uses lemon; instead of cutting vegetables herself, she uses the pico de gallo mix in the produce department of the grocery store; and she adds at least another avocado. The result, eaten on tortilla chips, is a great dip for pretty much any dip-worthy occasion I can think of. Try it the next time you need a dip or hors d'oeuvre!