Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Buncha books

It's been a while since I've done a book review. In fact, my last one was in November. I've read several books since then, though not as many as usual over a similar span of time due to the holidays and such, and because one of them was kind of slow-moving for me. Instead of writing a review per book, I'm just going to tell you what I read and briefly what I thought.

First of all, though I had read Oh My Goth by Gena Showalter in November for the "Something About Me" reading challenge, I never posted anything. It's about a girl who dresses goth and hangs with the few other goth kids. She is always at odds with the most popular girl in school, one of the "Barbies." They finally do something that causes the principal to take them on a "field trip," which traps them in an alternate reality where goth is popular and the Barbies are shunned. Only one kid seems unaffected by this new reality. Will he help them escape and put the world back to normal? Along the way, the girls discover that everyone is essentially the same, how they look is just superficial, it's what's inside that counts, blah, blah, blah. The book was okay. It was a quick read, and was a fairly interesting twist on the same old inside-is-what-counts moral. Teenagers would probably like it, but I think adults would have more of a "meh" reaction.

The next book I read was another off the challenge list, Place Last Seen by Charlotte McGuinn Freeman. I was really looking forward to reading this novel. The premise sounded interesting, exciting - edge of your seat type stuff. It's about a family who loses their 6-year-old daughter in the wilderness while on a camping trip. They can't find her themselves, so they call in searchers. To complicate matters, the child has Down Syndrome, so it is not known if she will do what children usually do when lost. Sounds compelling, no? I was disappointed in this novel. It was difficult to identify with the characters; the story seemed to just plod along; when I had to put the book down, I was never compelled to get back to it to see what happens next. It took me a long time to read this book, around 3 weeks, and I usually read a book in 2-3 days. The only part I found interesting was the searching process itself.

Another book from the challenge list was The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I probably would have waited longer to read this, but Tessie told me that it was really good, so I went ahead and picked it up next. It's about a young woman who works in her father's antique bookstore. She is contacted by a famous author who is known for making up stories in interviews about who she is and her family. The time has come to tell the difficult truth. This novel was fantastic! I really enjoyed it. This is one I highly recommend.

Fool's Puzzle by Earlene Fowler was also from the challenge list. It's a murder mystery that takes place out west. The main character is a young woman who lost her husband in an accident and now works as the manager at an art studio co-op, which is where the murders take place. Good read. It's the first of more books with the same character, and I'm considering reading more of them. (The main consideration being the teetering pile of books on top of my dresser waiting to be read first.)

Moving away from challenge books, I read True Evil: A Novel by Greg Iles. I love Greg Iles. He consistently writes fast-moving, exciting thriller/mysteries. This one was no exception. It's basically about hiring hit men to off a spouse in such a way as to appear to be natural causes, such as fast moving cancers, strokes, etc. Alexandra Morse is an FBI agent whose sister is killed in such a way. She figures out what is going on and who the next victim will be. She has no way to prove anything, though, so she must enlist the help of the next victim to try to come up with a way to prove what is happening. The only part that I found ridiculous was that, after researching all the medical stuff, and having a mother dying of ovarian cancer, that Alex doesn't know what oncogenic means. Iles used her not knowing and having to have it explained by a doctor as a way to explain it to the reader. It was a clumsy and stupid way to go about the explanation, I thought. If a reader didn't know the meaning, he could go look it up for heaven's sake. I knew what it was, and I'm no doctor. Other than that stupidity (which I had a tough time getting over), I thought the book was really good.

Finally, my most recent read, as in I finished last night, wasCross by James Patterson. You've got to love James Patterson. He writes the shortest chapters EVER, making reading his books a BREEZE. A fairly fast reader can get through one of his books in a single day, and that's WITH doing other things too. Anyway, this was another of his novels featuring Dr. Alex Cross, and it reached back in time to give the reader a little more back story on just what happened when his wife was killed. In this novel, Cross quits his FBI job, but as usual gets sucked into a case because he thinks it may be related to his wife's killer. Good, quick read. Little unexpected twist at the end.

So there you go. Six quick book reviews. Last night I started The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. It's very stream-of-consciousness from the point of view of an autistic teenager (Asperger Syndrome, I think). I am completely enthralled with it so far.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The sauce

Friday, I posted about meatballs. But what good are meatballs without the sauce? (Well, they're still good, but I'm talking about sauce today.) Oh, but first a shout out to Dixie, just because I like saying her name. She's in Georgia, y'all. And I'm from South Carolina, so we're like next-door neighbors. Or were, before I moved to PA. And she's my new reader. AND, over on her blog, she punctuates "y'all" correctly, which we all know is EXTREMELY important to me. So everybody say, "Hi." [Hi, Dixie!] And HI to Jill, another lurker (we already met Katie). I have TWO lurkers!!!!! Exciting stuff! And bananafana, who is no longer a lurker, but a full-fledged participant, and who also has a name I like to say, that I say often when singing "The Name Game" to my kids. As CS pointed out, I could have had a bit more patience waiting for my lurkers to come out of the woodwork. True. But really, my impatience was all in jest. I don't care if you lurk and NEVER let me know you're here. That's okay. But it's better if you tell me I'm awesome, like Shelly did. Sometimes we, and by we I mean I, need that. So to all of you, my regular readers and commentors, my occasional commentors and my lurkers: YOU ARE ALL AWESOME!!!!!!!

But I digress. Yet again. Back to the sauce:

So this recipe came from another of my sister-in-laws, and my mother-in-law also uses it. They're all Italian, though, so wherever I got it, it's legit. It's just a very simple basic sauce. And totally simple to make. First, you go pick fresh red ripe Roma tomatoes off the vine... what? Okay, just do what I do, then. Go to the grocery store and buy 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes and 6oz cans (or, if you're willing to do math, the equivalent of what you need in bigger cans) of tomato paste. I make A LOT and freeze it in containers roughly the size of a jar of sauce you'd buy at the store, so I usually get 6 of the 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes and 2 18oz cans of tomato paste (because I'm willing to do the math - gotta use that degree for something).

**Edited to add -- Duh! You can't do the math if I don't give you something to work with, can you? For every 28oz can of crushed tomatoes, you use 6oz of tomato paste. **

[Aside: Is it commentErs or commentOrs? Probably neither. It's probably not even a word. But I've never let that stop me before. Google spell-check doesn't like either, yet it's okay with "gotta."]

Anyway, you'll also need olive oil, basil, oregano and garlic. Fresh is best, but I generally, like this time, end up using at least one dried herb. Here are all the ingredients:

So then you throw everything in a big pot and add the same amount of water as tomato paste. Stir it up and simmer it for a few hours. Then you're done. Freeze it in small batches and take it out whenever you want a quick meal. Throw some meatballs in for spaghetti and meatballs. Make chicken parmesan sandwiches. Whatever. Last night I made stuffed shells. Anyway, here's what the sauce looks like:

What's that? You want AMOUNTS of oil and spices to add? Just to taste, I guess. For that HUGE amount of sauce I make, I guess I add about 1/4 cup of olive oil and a couple tablespoons of each spice. I don't measure it, though, I just dump and pour. The amounts must not be crucial, since it always tastes good.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Pathetic with a side order of meatballs

I see [blah blah blah, stuff about a post I'm not transferring, blah blah blah] That is just pathetic. And sad. And did I mention pathetic? But we did meet Katie (our lurker). Hi Katie. :) And we met Alanna from Two Fat Als, who will now be focusing all of her energy (and that of the other Al, I assume) on figuring out how to get my kids to eat something.

Speaking of eating... (FABULOUS segue, that)

Last night I made meatballs. I do this every couple of months or so and freeze a bunch of them for quick meals. I make sauce, too, but I didn't do that last night. I'll do that over the weekend. Anyway, like I was saying, meatballs. You all want to know how to make homemade meatballs, Italian-style, right? Okay, then. I got this recipe from my sister-in-law, and it's damn good. I'll tell you the recipe, but I should add that I have NEVER followed it exactly. I ALWAYS add more garlic, because there's no such thing as too much garlic, and the meat mixture is always different, depending on what is available in the meat case at the grocery store the day I'm there. And probably a few other things that I'll remember as I'm typing this. And I ALWAYS double the recipe so as to have PLENTY in the freezer.

First, you want to gather your ingredients:

And those ingredients are (I'll list amounts for the single recipe, so use twice that if you want to double):
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground veal
3 eggs (I use large size, what the heck does anyone use small size eggs for anyway?)
3 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley (yes, you can use dry parsley if you insist, but it won't be as good)
1 large clove garlic, chopped fine (you'll notice my laziness has purchased ALREADY chopped garlic in a jar)
1/4 cup grated Locatelli cheese (just use grated Pecorino Romano, or an Italian blend of Romano and Parmesan)
3 pieces of bread (I've used white, whole wheat and this time potato bread - doesn't matter, though there are subtle differences in the taste of the finished meatballs)
Salt and pepper to taste (but don't go tasting the raw meat mixture, just guess; I always forget to put these in anyway)

You will not need the baby oatmeal, that was just there. Although, it could add an interesting twist. Feel free to try it. Anyway, it so happens that I went to the grocery store late at night (as usual) and had to take whatever ground meat was available (as usual). Usually, that means I end up with half beef and half pork, but this time there was actually ground veal on the shelf. There was only one package of pork and one package of my preferred 95% lean beef (I also had to get a package of 90% lean). So my meat mixture ended up being 1/2 beef, 1/3 veal and 1/6 pork. In any case, what you do is mix your meat and eggs. Add your chopped parsley, garlic and grated cheese and mix it up some more. Then wet the bread and squeeze out the water. Mix it into the meat mixture. If the mixture feels too soft (I don't KNOW, just use your judgment) add some dry bread crumbs. I've only ever added the bread crumbs once, and I don't really know that I needed them then. By the way, you are using your hands to mix. And it is dadgum cold. I have to keep stopping and rinsing my hands in warm water to stop the PAIN from the cold. Maybe if I had one of those fancy industrial sized mixers with a bowl... But I digress (I do that a lot). Your final mixture should look something like this:

Now, according to the recipe, you now shape into balls and either fry in very little oil with some garlic or place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Then you put into your sauce to finish cooking. I don't do that. Because it is a rare occasion indeed (in fact it has NEVER happened) that I am making my sauce and meatballs at the same time. What I do is this: I put my meatballs in a mini-muffin pan (isn't that an AWESOME idea?):

Then I bake them at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. The meatballs are done then (I guess mini-muffin size is smaller than whatever size the recipe assumes you'll make). Cool them off and store them in freezer bags in your freezer until you are ready to use. Then you can take them out and throw them in some sauce to heat up when you need a quick and easy meal (you can thaw them first, but that step is not required). The cooked meatballs look something like this (I didn't realize my picture was blurry until this morning, and the meatballs are already frozen, so you'll have to imagine what they'd look like in focus):

Oh, and by the way, my two picky eaters WILL NOT EAT these. But the rest of us will, and they are oh so delicious.

Friday, January 4, 2008

And so it is written...

If religious humor offends you, stop now. As for me, I feel that if God gave me this sick and twisted sense of humor, I should use it. So here we go...

God has revealed Herself to me. [Come on, we all secretly know God is a woman. Do you seriously think that a universe's worth of organized chaos could possibly be managed and maintained by a MAN?!?! Please.] I have been told by Her that Armageddon is near, and this story must be told, to be written as Her Holy Word as an appendix to The Bible. It should be noted that this account may be distinctly different from what may or may not be foretold in the Book of Revelation, as God may have decided to change things up a bit. I wouldn't know, as I have never read it. I should probably get on that. Anyway, back to God's Word...


1 - Let it be written that it shall come to pass, out of a land called Hollywood, that two babes shall be conceived out of wedlock and as third children to descendants of Abraham whose previous children art not flesh of their flesh.

2 - These children of Abraham, being unwed, shall nevertheless come to be known as single entities. The names bestowed upon these entities shall be Brangelina and Tomkat.

3 - The women, both heavy with child, shall be pursued relentlessly both by those who haveth good intent and those who haveth evil intent alike.

4 - One of the babes shall be born into silence; the other shall enter into a faraway land known as Namibia.

5 - The births of the babes shall be heralded across all lands, both near and far. And it shall come to pass that upon the births, it shall be known that the babes art not sons of descendants of Abraham, but daughters.

6 - And the children shall be named; one shall be named as like to a character in Japanese anime, and one shall be named in honor of a beloved dog in children's literature.

7 - And lo, to the great consternation of their singularly-named parents, they shall be equally relentlessly pursued as the mothers and fathers before them.

8 - Everywhere they shall be, there shall be great multitudes waiting to worship their great beauty, and out of these multitudes shall come a great many flashes of light, blinding them and making them as deer frozen in headlights.

9 - Lo, it shall be noted that the one called Shiloh rarely arranges her face to appear happy or to closeth that which is her mouth. Such hanging open of the mouth shall begin to concerneth the multitudes, who shall fear that insects known as flies doth fly into it, making it unclean.

10 - It shall come to pass that the one called Suri, shall be perceiveth by her father to be the reincarnation of one called L. Ron Hubbard. This shall please her father greatly.

11 - And it shall come to pass that these daughters of Abraham shall be forever linked in the eyes of the masses. For though they art not of the same flesh, they art of similar royal status, and each possesseth the combined powers of beauty and wealth.

12 - They shalt use the powers bestowed upon them. And the multitudes shalt oftentimes rejoice, yet sometimes cringe at the uses of the powers.

13 - And they shalt be compared every day of their lives, one unto the other. For that is how it shall be, as it was for their parents before them.

14 - A great animosity shalt take root and grow. it shalt grow ever stronger and larger, until the masses cower before it. And the wrath of one unto the other shalt have no equal.

15 - Amen, I say unto you, that it shall come to be known that one of these children art the Messiah; the other, the Antichrist.

16 - And a great battle shall be waged between them. Of this battle shall come a new Heaven and a new Earth.

So it was said, and so I have written.