Saturday, June 29, 2013

Book Review: Horns by Joe Hill

I Have Read a lot of Books but Nothing Quite Like This Before. . . 

This book brings humor to the macabre, the gospel to evil, and was a fun little ride. Ig waked up from a drunken binge and finds he now has horns growing out of his head. This is a culmination of a very very bad year. At one time Ig had it all, or so it seemed. On the eve of a promising future (he's in love with a girl and he's about to embark on a dream job at Amnesty International) the world comes crashing down. His girlfriend is dead and he's suspected of savagely murdering her. He is barely getting by in life and he's the town's paraih.

Ig has some new superpowers that come along with the horns and is slowly transforming into a devil. It's time to figure out what really happened to his girlfriend and find who is responsible. When you can make people tell you their innermost thoughts and secret desires, you can find things out.

What a wild ride! The book transports you back and forth, from when Ig was on top of the world and a popular guy, to his descent, as well as his redemption. I really liked this book and found it very unique and fun.

Book Review: I'd Know you Anywhere by Laura Lippman

The Past will Catch up to You

Elizabeth Benedict has come far from the summer she was kidnapped by a serial killer. She has married and has two children, the epitome of a suburban housewife. She has left Elizabeth, her former identity before that fateful summer, behind. But her carefully constructed normal life is about to be disrupted when she receives a letter from Walter.

Walter is looking at his upcoming execution and contacts Eliza through a third party after discovering her photo is a magazine. He wants to talk to her before his life is over from his position on Death Row in Virginia.

Eliza has shielded her children from her past and will do whatever she can to protect them. She must decide if communication with Walter is better than them finding out about what happened. It also turns out that Eliza just may have some questions herself about that summer and how she ended up being the only one of the girls that Walter abducted that he did not kill.

This is a story that is full of suspense even if you know that Eliza will survive in the segments that take place in the past. What is most fascinating to me was how Eliza's perspective often ended up guiding the events of her life, even at times when she was passive. The impact of that summer on everyone, her parents and sister, and even her children later on, as well as herself was intriguing. I found this a very fun read despite some of the details of the activities of Walter.

Book Review: His Illegal Self by Peter Carey

Think of this as a Public Service Announcement

Don't read this book. 


Simple as that. I will save you the time and unsatisfying ending. Spoiler Alert!


Che is a seven year old boy, living with his rich grandmother in New York. Apparently the boy is shielded from TV and any media, circa 1972. Why you may ask? Well because his parents are political activists and his grandmother doesn't want him to know anything about them or their lives. Seems that they may have a habit of blowing things up. To hippies they are admirable folk. To people like Che's grandmother, they are a little less desirable.

One day a woman shows up and Che assumes that it is his mother who has arranged to spend the day with her son without any advance notice or introduction. Grandma lets them go off by themselves. Within a couple of hours Che and Dial (the name she goes by) are on the run . . . You see it turns out that Dial is NOT Che's mother (shocker) and she was just assigned by the group to fetch Che to take to his mother. But somehow Che's mother blew up in an unfortunate explosion.

I would think at this point Dial would take Che back to his grandmother and call it a day. But she doesn't. For some reason she turns her back on her academic career (she had a life and a future) to run half way across the world with Che in tow. They end up in a deplorable hippie commune in Australia. These hippies do not seem very nice either.

The story goes on for what seems like forever and it doesn't get better. Che loves a cat. The hippies do not like the cat. The cat ends up being killed. It's hot and harsh in the commune. Dial struggles with telling the boy who she really is. Che wants his father and thinks he will come for him.

Ugh. I could go on and on but it just doesn't get better. I did not like any of these people and felt Che was a pawn for all of them.

Cherry Coke and Hoisin BBQ Tofu

Okay I didn't really grill these but these flavors remind me of BBQ. . . 

I did it all in a Frying Pan

Fried Tofu Bites with a Final Sauce in the Skillet
I was getting ready to start a pot roast today and found a little pack of tofu that was going to go bad. You might wonder what the pot roast has to do with the tofu, it might even seem contradictory to put a meat dish and a vegetarian dish in the same sentence. But as I contemplated what to to do with this little package of tofu that had a flashing red expiration day (earlier this week), I thought that the Cherry Coke and the hoisin that I was planning on using in my pot roast would also be delicious. Sometimes it's all on the fly and I was hungry for a quick lunch!

First I cubed the tofu. Super firm tofu (well all tofu actually) is really a blank canvas, pretty boring and plain without a little help. We are going to add some pizzazz with color and flavor to this stuff.

First I made a coating for the tofu, I mixed about 2 parts Panko crumbs to 1 part corn starch, adding some ground rainbow colored peppercorns and some sea salt. I gave this a light little stir.

I took an egg and gave it a quick little beating to make an egg wash. I think placed half of the cubed tofu in that bowl and gave it a quick dunk. I then transferred those cubes to the coating we made above and tossed them around. I hate dipping each piece individually - it gets old. I repeated this until all the tofu was coated.

In two batches, I fried the tofu in a skillet with canola oil, flipping them ocassionaly so they were evenly golden brown.

I drained the tofu on a paper lined plate and rinsed out the pan. Now these tofu are really good just like this but for more of a barbeque feel you would want to complete the next step.

Mix equal parts Cherry Coke and Hoisin. Add a little corn starch to thicken. Place in the rinsed out pan and add the tofu, tossing on a medium heat. The sauce will thicken onto the cubes and make them extra delicious.

Now, I could have plated them on a bed of arugala but honestly this wasn't planned and I just dumped them in a bowl. Good stuff!

Cherry Coke and Hoisin BBQ Tofu


1 15 oz. pack of super firm tofu, cut into cubes
1 egg
1/2 cup of Panko crumbs
1/4 cup of cornstarch
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup Hoisin Sauce
1/4 cup Cherry Coke
1 tsp cornstarch


Cut tofu into cubes, set aside.

Beat egg in bowl for wash, set aside.

Mix Panko, cornstarch and seasonings.

Dip cubes into egg and follow with toss in the crumb coating.

Fry in batches in a skillet with canola oil, heated to medium high heat. Toss to make sure the cubes are evenly browned.

Drain finished tofu on a paper lined plate. Rinse out pan.

Mix Hoisin and Cherry Coke with cornstarch, place in the rinsed out pan and heat on medium. Toss tofu into mixture until thickened.

Crockpot Cherry Coke and Hoisin Pot Roast

Admitting You Have a Problem is the First Step. . . 

Okay, I'm going to admit it. I look at an intriguing recipe on Pinterest and I say to myself, this time I'm going to make it exactly like the poster instructed. No deviations. I put all the items on the shopping list and have every intention to at least make it identical the first time I try it. After all, I have never even made a pot roast like this before.

Here is the original recipe that I found on Pinterest: Pot Roast from Pinterest The title even says "The Best Pot Roast. . . Ever!

But my mind starts planning, even if I tell it (very nicely) to be quiet. I think about the braised pork belly I had at Baconfest a couple of weeks back that was braised in Cherry Coke, and I think to myself, I bet that would be better than a cap of Pepsi. . . I read in the comments of the original recipe that the Au Jus packet made the recipe kind of salty and I think about adding some Hoisin with the Cherry Coke right in the beginning. Then I think about how nice some vegetables would be with this roast since I'm taking the time to cook it all day. Carrots, onions and some small little potatoes.

So here is my version, based on the original post I have referenced above.

Crock Pot Cherry Coke and Hoisin Pot Roast


2 1/4 lbs. Chuck Roast
The butcher told me this would get very tender and to approximate about .5 lbs per person you are serving
1 Sweet Onion, cut into wedges
3 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
3/4 lbs. small Dutch Yellow Potatoes, quartered
1 packet of McCormick's Slow Cooker Savory Pot Roast seasonings packet
1 cup water
12 oz Cherry Coke
2 Tbsp Hoisin Sauce


Prepare vegetables and lay on the bottom of the crock pot. Place the roast on top. 

Mix the seasoning packet with 1 cup of water. Pour into crock pot.

Measure out 12 ounces of cherry coke (or use a can), stir in the hoisin sauce. Pour over the roast.

Cook on low for 8 hours (or high for 4 hours). I found several warnings online, as well as on the seasoning packet to NOT lift the lid during cooking. You know I really want to. . . I want to flip the meat, smell the sauce, etc. I'm not going to do it!

8 hours later. . . 

So this is how the meat looked, undisturbed, after 8 hours. Tender, fall off the one (if there had been one) and tender veggies.
It was delicious and the liquids really tasted good poured over the top of the meat and vegetables. Leftovers the next day were even better!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Two Tarts with One Tart Shell Recipe

Perhaps I should invest in a tart pan? 

Apparently a pie plate uses less of the dough. . .

I found this wonderful looking recipe on Pinterest the other day for a Ricotta Lime Tart that really sounded like a perfect taste of summer. I followed the recipe and found that when I made the dough for the tart, I was able to make two shells. The first was the "main" one I intended, a white Corningware dish that was about 11 inches in diameter and I had enough to also line an 8 inch glass pie plate.

Again, I probably should invest in a tart pan but that wasn't happening today. When I made the filling I found that I had just enough for the larger tart shell so what's a girl to do? Two tart shells require two fillings I guess. I quickly went on line to find something else to make another tart and found this Strawberry and Ricotta Tart recipe to use an alternate with some slight modifications (I didn't have orange flower water but I do have almond and vanilla extracts!) since I had fresh strawberries already sliced from this morning's grocery store run.

So my recipes are based on the two links, with little modifications. One tart shell recipe and two fillings. I added vanilla and almond extracts to both (I couldn't resist, the aroma is just as important as the taste). Because they both were baked in 350 degree ovens I was able to stagger and use the same oven. However, because I didn't realize that I would not have enough filling for two shells, I did waste some egg whites and yolks. Next time I can plan ahead!

Crust (made two shells when using pie pans)

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup diced butter, chilled
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Lime zest from one lime
  • 5 Tbsp ice water

Filling One: Ricotta Lime Tart

  • 1 15 oz package of  whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 2 egg whites 
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 3/4 cup ground almonds
  • grated zest from 2 limes 

Filling Two: Strawberry Ricotta Tart

  • 1 15 oz package of  whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3 whole egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 pint of strawberries, sliced


    Tart crust:

    In a food processor add the flour, sugar, butter, egg yolks and lime zest. Pulse a few times until it resembles fine crumbs. Add the water and pulse until evenly mixed.

    Using your fingers, press the dough into the tin. As I have mentioned I do not have a tart tin so I used two different dishes and ended up with enough for two, lining both the bottoms and sides of each dish.

    Cover the tart shells with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about a half hour.

Filling One: Ricotta Lime Tart Instructions

In  mixing bowl, mix the ricotta cheese and sugar until combined.

Add the eggs and egg whites, a bit at a time, making sure to incorporate each time. Add the vanilla and almond extracts.

Add the ground almonds and lime zest, stir to combine.

Pour into the chilled crust and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 55 minutes.

Cool on a baking rack and then garnish with powdered sugar.

Filling Two: Strawberry Ricotta Tart Instructions

In  mixing bowl, mix the ricotta cheese and sugar until combined.

Add the egg yolks, making sure to incorporate well. Add the vanilla and almond extracts.

Pour the filling into the chilled tart shell and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Take out of oven and let cool completely on wire rack.

Place sliced strawberries on the top of the tart in a decorative pattern. Garnish with powdered sugar. 

So there you have it, two tarts. Reviews? I liked the lime one better - I really liked the ground almonds in it. Kids liked the strawberry one - how can you go wrong with strawberries?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Review: Far to Go by Alison Pick

An Intimate View of One Family in War Torn Czechoslovakia

Past and Present Collide 

I have read a lot of stories that take place during World War II and the Holocaust but this was my first time reading about Czechoslovakia specifically. I had no idea that due to a treaty, the country was just basically handed to Hitler. I also was not fully aware of the Kindertransport program where a British man made arrangements for trains full of children to escape this community to be placed on ships to England to live with gentile families.

This story comes together with alternating letters and narratives, both present and future to tell the story of one extended family and the struggles during that historic time, as well as the lasting impact those events caused long term. Pepik is a six year old boy who loves trains and is an average little boy until Hitler influences changes to what he knows which includes isolation in his community and school, the loss of his father's factory, and the need to try and escape the country. While Pepik is not necessarily aware of the full impact of what is going on, he can sense the stress and discourse in those he trusts, including his father Pavel, his mother Annaliese, and most importantly his nanny Marta.

In varying degrees, each adult family member knows that the situation will soon get worse and it is necessary to plan an escape. For Pavel, he becomes recommitted to his heritage as the persecution of those who are Jewish spreads. For Annaliese, she looks for ways for them to survive as her social network in the secular world crumbles. For Marta, she is worried about her displacement if the family does indeed escape and is devoted to this little boy who she serves as a surrogate mother. 

Through this story, we learn about their struggles and how the love for this one little boy unites them in so many ways as they focus on getting him out of the country. This leads to a chain of events beyond their control that will impact him into his adulthood.

While this story is a work of fiction the author really conducted intensive research and also pulled historical events from her own family to write this intensive tale. Recommend!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: Away by Amy Bloom

A Beautiful Book that Spans Worlds and Cultures


What will a mother do to find her daughter?

Lillian Leyb fled Russia after the pogroms that took away her entire family to start a new life. The book opens with her trying to assimilate in America, specifically in the Lower East Side, and find work as a seamstress at the Yiddish Theater to begin to pay her own way. What she finds there is opportunity, not just with a job, but as a mistress. She is battered and still numb from her past experiences and is just trying to find her way.

All this changes when a cousin from her old life finds her and tells her that she knows Lillian's daughter is still alive and was not killed as Lillian thought. Lillian immediately begins a desperate plan to find her which will involve getting back into Russia, specifically Siberia.

So begins Lillian's long difficult journey across the United States from New York to Seattle, and then up north to Alaska to try and cross the waters into Siberia. For a young woman just getting acclimated she must learn to continue to change in so many ways and comes across so many different types of people and cultures. Having a mission in mind Lillian must also constantly challenge herself to see things differently and to engage in behaviors that she never imagined.

This book is really amazing, watching everything Lillian is willing to endure. Without spoiling the ending, I can tell you it doesn't go exactly like I thought it would but was no less wonderful. . . I really enjoyed this book and will look for more by this author.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Book Review: Bastard Out of Carolina

A Harsh but Beautiful Look at Gritty Life Down South

Ruth Ann, known as "Bone", lives in the rural south and it's not a romantic tale. This book is brutal and honest and you can't help to root for both Bone and her entire family. The book starts with the tale of Bone's mother repeatedly trying to get the red stamp of "bastard" off Bone's birth certificate. She is determined that her daughter will not grow up with labels and is her biggest advocate. Anney Boatwright is a young idealistic woman at that time and demonstrates a tenacity that she instills in her daughter.

The circumstance of the Boatwright family's existence makes life challenging as the years go on. Anney becomes a woman that is continually presented with obstacles that change her, hardening her and forcing her to make decisions in what she thinks is the best interest of her family. For Bone, these decisions have some very significant impacts and she struggles to find her own way through life's tragedies while relying on the love of family to get there.

This book was really wonderful. . . Bone narrates the entire story with spunky wisdom and a completely honest portrayal of her feelings of those around her. I really loved this book.

Book Review: Caribou Island by David Vann

I definitely do not want to live in rural Alaska after reading this book


This will not go on the "recommend list"

Gary and Irene are going to build their dream home, on a remote island off the Kenai Peninsula. They are going to build it the old fashioned way, taking boat loads of supplies across the water to the deserted island, setting up camp in a tent, and constructing a small log cabin without any neighbors in sight. Unfortunately, they are really at two very different places in life, with their children grown and out of the home. Gary wants to be a true Frontiersman, continuing to escape from his past academic life that started in California. Irene really wants to hold on to what's left, staying in their old family home (although she didn't want to live in Alaska in the first place), mourning the loss of her job as a teacher after retiring, and trying to keep a grasp on the failing marriage.

Depressing? Well yes, yes it is. Add a couple of kids to the mix. . . a son that works when he has to as a fisherman to support his relaxed drug filled lifestyle for the rest of the year, and a daughter who is living with a dentist and dreaming of her wedding to him, not really visualizing the life she will share with him if he marries him.

The book was really well written and the descriptions of both the landscape and the people felt intimate. Unfortunately I did not care for any of them and the whole thing was just too depressing. I felt some kind of investment to finish it to the end and that made it even more disappointing.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Baconfest 2013 - Oh Yummy!

Last night was the long anticipated 2nd Annual Baconfest at the Farmer's Market in Royal Oak, Michigan. About 30 vendors showcasing delectables that all feature bacon. If you love bacon, or even maybe just like bacon, how can you go wrong?

It was a wonderful event, with both tried and true favorites along with come more experimental or conceptual dishes. At some point in the evening, I went from trying everything to being more selective (I know what pizza with bacon tastes like, I might was well save some room for a doughnut fried in bacon fat with a bourbon cream).

The lighting was dim (really very nice - little Christmas style lights were strung across the ceilings, bringing a nice warmth to the venue) so my photos on the IPod are not really stellar quality. The notion of carrying around a huge camera while balancing little plates of food as I strolled about did not seem ideal. At this type of event you really have to be ready to jostle and negotiate to make sure you get to try all the tasty treasures. I'm apologizing for the lack of good photos but I'm going to be okay with it.

Mac Shack "Bacon Made Me Do It"
Mac and Cheese
When you try so many different types of food you have to have highlights. I have learned from this event that you find new restaurants and food products to try in the coming year while you wait for another event like this. For instance, at the first annual event last year, I discovered both One Eyed Betty's (which became a favorite restaurant in our house) and Treat Dreams Ice Cream (another local haunt for us). This year was no different and I think I have a short list of places to try.




1. Hands down, the best booth of the night was from Ocean Prime with two(!) wonderful samples. There was a pork belly braised with coca-cola, over a bed of white beans. The juice from the meat made those little beans taste delicious and that was some of the most tender pork belly I have ever had with a sweet smoky taste that can't be beat. I already have ideas for my next pork belly adventure at home (I'm thinking cherry coke and hoisin). I will definitely be visiting Ocean Prime for some upcoming special occasion as this is another excuse to try them (I am very interested in their truffled deviled eggs which I tried to celebrate in a previous blog). Ocean Prime also had this wonderful little dessert - a petite round of bacon buttercake with a scoop of bourbon bacon ice cream. This was such a wonderful balance of flavors.

2. The Produce Station in Ann Arbor made a baklava with bacon, apricots and pecans.
Pork Liver Pate with Aspic
You had to like baklava to like it (which I do) and ti gave it a really interesting taste without being overpowering, kind of adding a savory to the sweetness. They also had a pork liver pate nestled on an aspic jelly concoction that I loved.

Begniettes from Gastronomy
3. Gastronomy in Southfield featured Bacon Begniettes with a Bacon Maple Cream. The pastry was a wonderful light and eggy dough and the addition of the bacon (more was crumbled on top) was so delicious without being overpowering. This was a favorite of all of our group.

4. Green Lantern Pizzeria's Bacon on a Stick. This is a tried and true favorite that I can get anytime even when it's not Baconfest but it's still delicious. Skewers of bacon, candied with a little heat. Mmmmm good. That I can get them any time I want should not diminish the tastiness of this dish!

5. The Meeting House in Rochester served a beautiful little strip of Focaccia flavored with rosemary and bacon, topped with whipped ricotta cheese and peach bacon chutney. It was delightful.

6. Rock City Eatery in Hamtramack made these elaborate sandwiches that were really works of art
Lamb Belly Sandwich
with lamb belly with glaze and a creamed cheese of some sort. They were beautiful and oh is lamb belly worth a try!!!

7. One Eyed Betty's served little Pork Belly Bahn Mini. I will definitely try the full size one at the restaurant (although I'm in love with their seafood po boy).They were wrapped like little treasures in aluminum foil.

8. Treat Dreams featured two flavors with extra bacon goodness in honor of this event. Nuttin' Better than Bacon, with Peanut Butter Ice Cream, Nutella and Bacon and Maple Bourbon Bacon. Both delicious and available on a rotating basis at the store.

There were other delicious items too and I could go on an on although there was plenty I didn't like either. When there are so many choices you can be picky!

Book Review: Annabel: A Novel by Kathleen Winter

Great Writing Style and Intriguing Story

A baby is born in a remote village in Labrador attended by the women in the town. The baby is healthy but has both female and male characteristics. Only three people know about this discovery. . . the parents, Jacinta and Treadway, and a close family friend  who serves as the midwife, Thomasina.

Jacinta does not know how to choose between raising the baby as a son or a daughter but Treadway makes the difficult choice on behalf of the whole family, to raise the baby as Wayne, a son. Living in a small town the three decide to make this decision a secret and pretend that nothing is different; not even Wayne knows the truth.

Difficult decisions need to be made which really were fascinating as they unfolded and the consequences that came from those choices that were made. A hermaphrodite is rare and the methods to decide which to pick the gender seemed obscure and non scientific. The reader watches on as the procedures are taken to make the baby a boy visually and the efforts to maintain this over the course of the years as Wayne grows. A mother mourns for the daughter she feels she may have lost. A father stoically teaches his child to be the son he needs to be to be successful in their hard way of life. There is a lesson that changing one's outer appearance does not really change who the person truly is and who they will become.

Living in the small remote town, the townsfolk have very defined roles by gender. The men spend months away on the trap lines and the women stay home and care for the family. Wayne is an anomaly that challenges the way that Treadway has perceived as his own existence.

This book was extremely enjoyable and while the subject matter may put off some folks I have to say it was a wonderful story and written so well. The author has a really nice writing style, it's lyrical but very basic, no extra words, a real direct tone.