Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Random Cookbook of the Week: Roots

One of the things I was most looking forward to about finishing my manuscript was having time to cook again, including rebooting my Random Cookbook of the Week feature. I love to cook. There's something so satisfying about transforming ingredients into dinner with my handy knife, cutting board, whisk, stove, etc. 

I've included every cookbook I own in this round of random cooking, including ones that I consider beyond my skills--the French Laundry Cookbook and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to name two--and those I keep around for sentimental reasons but rarely cook from because they're just not how a 21st century foodie cooks. Think fundraiser cookbooks with lots of casseroles heavy on the cream of mushroom soup. That's 64 cookbooks. I just can't seem to stop collecting more of the things.

For this first week, I drew one of my newest volumes: Diane Morgan's Roots.

(I need to get better about taking pictures of what I cook, but for this week I'll make do with the book cover.)

It's an encyclopedic cookbook of edible roots, from the common (carrots, potatoes, turnips, etc.) to the exotic (salsify, burdock, crosne, etc.). It's fascinating to page through just for the sheer variety of root vegetables and ways to cook them.

But because I'm just easing back into cooking a lot and trying new recipes again, I didn't go looking for crosnes or decide it was finally time to embrace the Jerusalem artichoke. No, I picked a nice, straightforward carrot recipe, and one that's unusual for this cookbook in using some shortcut ingredients:

Moroccan Carrot and Chickpea Salad with Dried Plums and Toasted Cumin Vinaigrette

- 1 T cumin seeds
- 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 T fresh lemon juice
- 1 T honey
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- freshly ground black pepper

- 1 10-oz package shredded carrots
- 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2/3 c. dried plums (prunes), chopped into chickpea-sized pieces
- 1/2 c. coarsely chopped fresh mint

1. To make the dressing, first toast and grind the cumin seeds. Place a small, heavy frying pan, preferably cast iron, over high heat, add the cumin seeds, and toast, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. Using a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle, grind the seeds to a powder.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, honey, ground cumin, salt, and cayenne pepper. Season with black pepper.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the carrots, chickpeas, dried plums, and mint. Add the dressing and toss gently to coat evenly. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. (The salad can be made up to 8 hours in advance. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.)

I recommend this one highly. It's quick, the only remotely challenging technique is toasting and grinding the cumin, and it's colorful with lovely bright flavors to match. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 55-57

FYI, I've at long last turned in the manuscript for my January 2015 historical romance (title and exact release date TBD), so I hope to resume a more regular blogging schedule from here.

55) Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge

I'd hoped based on the title that there would be a lot more of the 19th century in this book. Since I write the Regency, that's my primary area of interest, after all. But this book is basically about how the role of domestic servants in British society declined from its Edwardian peak, with special attention to how the wars of the 20th century shook up the British class system. Fascinating, but not quite what I was hoping for. If you're a big Downton Abbey fan, you'd probably love this.

56) The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson

A YA novel about a 15-year-old girl living with her mother and little brother as refugees near Washington DC after her father is overthrown in a coup in her unnamed Middle Eastern native country. We watch her deal with PTSD and culture shock and try to navigate her mother's ongoing political scheming. Above all, she has to come to terms with the fact her beloved, doting father was in fact an oppressive tyrant. Very well-written and compelling, though those who hate first person and/or present tense narration should stay away.

57) What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton.

This book is a compilation of author Jo Walton's blog posts at tor.com, mostly on her experiences re-reading classic science fiction and fantasy. (Though "classic" is a relative term--many of the books she discusses are from the 90's or the first decade of this century, so they haven't stood the test of much time yet.)

I read the book because I greatly enjoy Walton's posts about Lois McMaster Bujold and the Vorkosigan Saga--i.e. my favorite books by my current favorite author--even if we don't read them in quite the same way. E.g. I found the Miles-Ekaterin romance entirely convincing and moving, but I couldn't connect as well to Mark and Kareen. We're not total Vorkosigan-opposites, though. Like me, she's most interested in the Barrayar-focused parts of the series. I once ran across a reviewer whose rankings for the series was almost exactly the opposite of mine--he preferred the more space-operatic entries, while I prefer the Barrayar books.

Anyway. Walton's discussions of Bujold made her someone whose opinions on books I take notice of, even knowing her tastes don't entirely overlap mine. I saw a recent thread on tor.com where she was asking for recommendations, but very politely asked people to stop suggesting she read Naomi Novik's Temeraire books or Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy, because they're just not her thing. I adore both of those series, and for me that adoration inhabits a similar region of my reader-brain as my love for Bujold, or for Walton's own Tooth and Claw. So color me baffled. It's not like I'd expect someone who shares my taste in, say, historical romance, to also like the same nonfiction popular science I'm into, but I'm used to a bit more within-genre overlap. OTOH, there are authors out there you'd think I adore who leave me cold--I can think of one whose characters spend too much time feeling sorry for themselves and wallowing in self-abasement, and another whose heroines are too passive, and WHY ARE THOSE BOOKS SO POPULAR?! and WHY CAN'T ANYONE ELSE *SEE*?!...so Walton is allowed to have a similar reaction to authors I love.

All that said, I think the best way I can review this book is to list all the "book bullets" that got added to my TBR as I read along:

Random Acts of Senseless Violence - Jack Womack
Biting the Sun - Tanith Lee
Janissaries - Jerry Pournelle
Tam Lin - Pamela Dean (this one I've read before, but it's been years)
Kalpa Imperial - Angélica Gorodischer
A Shadow in Summer - Daniel Abraham
Kindred - Octavia Butler
Fire on the Mountain - Terry Bisson
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula LeGuin
Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
Midshipman's Hope - David Feintuch
The Dragon Waiting - John M. Ford
Jhereg - Steven Brust
The Interior Life - Katherine Blake
The Discovery of France - Graham Robb (nonfiction, but sounds fascinating and relevant to some of my research interests)
Planet of Exile - Ursula LeGuin
The Chronoliths - Robert Charles Wilson

The good news is that most of these seem to be available either as reasonably-priced ebooks or at my local library. Unfortunately, I couldn't find The Dragon Waiting or The Interior Life at either place, and Planet of Exile seems to be only available as an audiobook. I don't do audiobooks, at least not for fiction. I listen to nonfiction podcasts all the time, but for fiction I want to dive in, and I can't do that just listening to something. That said, it looks like I could get all three as used mass market paperbacks. Back when Amazon, eBay, and the like were newer things, I used to order used paperbacks all the time, but I've gotten out of the habit since so many authors started putting their backlists out as ebooks.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 49-54

49. Secrets of a Bollywood Marriage by Susanna Carr.

A quick, relaxing read that hit the spot during a stressful, busy time. That said, it's definitely a "fight-fight-kiss" romance, and the last fight came so close to the end of the book I wasn't sure I believed they'd learned how to communicate well enough for the kissing to be more frequent than the fighting in their future.

50) Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception by Claudia Hammond

If you like popular science or psychology books, I recommend this exploration of how we experience time. It's fun and readable without feeling dumbed down, and it closes with a practical chapter on how to better manage your experience of time, if not time itself.

51) Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear.

Epic fantasy (which I love) with a twist (something I also generally love). The setting is recognizably similar to our world--something like Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series in that the map will look really familiar, though the fantastical elements are more forward. However, rather than being set in an alternate Europe, this story centers on an alternate central Asia. It ranges across a large chunk of its globe through the eyes of multiple characters, but its focus is a young man named Temur, grandson of a Genghis Khan-like figure, though he's surrounded by a cast of strong women. I enjoyed it very much and plan to read the sequels.

52) Only Human by Gareth Roberts.

A Doctor Who novel, and one that felt like reading an average episode of the show...in a good way. Another fun, relaxing read as I fight my way through my current writing deadline.

53) Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale.

The fourth in this series of graphic novels about American history manages, at least in my opinion, to make WWI palatable and understandable for its middle grade audience without dumbing down the material or treating the war lightly. FWIW, my 10-year-old pronounced it good, though not as funny as the previous three. If you've got a child in the right age group, get them these books. Schools don't teach enough history these days, in my not at all humble opinion, and this series strikes the perfect balance of informative and fun.

54) The Marathon Conspiracy by Gary Corby.

This must be my week for just-released Books 4. I enjoyed this latest entry in Corby's series about Nicolaos, a fictional elder brother of Socrates solving crime in Periclean Athens. Especially recommended for fans of Lindsey Davis's Falco series, since it has a similar combination of humor and modern tone with rich historical detail.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

2014 Reading, Books 46-48

46) Katie's Redemption by Patricia Davids.

Amish romance fiction is one of those things I thought I'd never be interested in, but I happened across one of this author's other books earlier and enjoyed it enough to want to try her again. And while I don't know if it's an accurate portrayal of Amish life, I found it worked surprisingly well for me. For one thing, it reminds me of my mother. She passed away four years ago, and she loved gentle, sweet inspirational romances. Our reading tastes diverged more than they converged as I grew up, but I miss her, and reading something she would love feels good, you know?

Also, I don't read a lot of inspirational romance for the same reason I'm not a big fan of small-town contemporary romance--I'm a city-dwelling Episcopalian who grew up a rural Southern Baptist. I don't necessarily want to read books set in a world I chose to walk away from because they so often condemn people who've made such choices, whether overtly or covertly. But I was never anything close to Amish. It's not my world, so when, as in this book, a heroine chooses to return to the Amish church after some time in the "English" world, I don't react to it personally.

And finally, it's nice every once in awhile to read a gentle, quiet story where the stakes and characters aren't so over-the-top. Don't get me wrong. I like the big, the epic, the superlative. But sometimes I enjoy a story like this where the hero and heroine are just striving for a happy ordinary life. It's relaxing, and that's exactly what I needed this weekend.

47) His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik.

I read this book when it first came out--in fact, my reaction upon hearing someone had written a book reminiscent of the Aubrey-Maturin series, but with dragons, was, "Someone wrote a book just for ME?!?" I love it, and I've given it to someone almost every year in SantaThing, but this is the first time I've re-read it from cover to cover, and it's even better than I remembered. Reading it from the vantage of having read all its sequels, I can see how well Novik set up Temeraire's intelligence and independence and hinted at all the change and disruption he'll cause just by being himself. Wonderful, wonderful book.

48) On the Map by Simon Garfield.

A history of maps, mapmaking, and exploration. Interesting, but episodic, with brief chapters that almost stand alone--it would be the perfect book to have around in the bathroom, of if you want to read for 15-20 minutes at bedtime, without the fear of getting so hooked you'll be up at 3 AM before you know it.