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This is a preliminary review of Beth Bensperger’s “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Two”, as I haven’t made any of the recipes in it yet, but I have read the book and have some comments on it as an e-book. First, it loses a star for the index; it’s almost useless, lacking page numbers or active links. You’re better off highlighting things you want to refer back to. There are also an inordinate number of typos: words split into two, “1/2” rendered as “1.2,” and so forth. I found myself using the “Report an error” feature on my Kindle more than I liked. This is indicative of an OCR scan that wasn’t properly edited afterwards, which should be unacceptable with e-books. Thus, another star lost. And I believe her recommended internal temperatures for poultry were high at 180 (Kindle location 1940) as against USDA recommendations. This could reflect older practice, though.

On the other hand, many of the recipes do look good, particularly for someone who doesn’t want to spend all day in the kitchen or the weather is just too hot to be dealing with an oven. And this book is perfect for one or two people, a boon to those of us who live alone.

Recommended on a provisional basis. I look forward to actually making the recipes.

While Italian isn’t my favorite cuisine, I do enjoy it, and there’s nothing like a plate of pasta with a spicy tomato sauce on a cool night. (With wine, of course) “Laura in the Kitchen” by Laura Vitale presents recipes meant to be easy for the home cook, quick to prepare on weeknights, taking a little longer on weekends, but none of them hard to make or requiring obscure ingredients. The dishes are of a variety of cuisines: Italian, Italian-American (“Bring on the cheese!”), and a smattering of others. I haven’t made them all, but I particularly liked the “sauteed garlic & lemon zucchini, ” a very tasty side dish. I’ll have to toss it with pasta as the author suggests.

I also like her writing style: Laura doesn’t waste time with her philosophy of cooking, unlike some celebrity chefs who’ve let their egos get away with them. Instead, there’s a brief introduction, the obligatory pantry-stocking pages, and then it’s “Let’s get cooking!” This is a book by a woman living her dream and happy to share it with us. Highly recommended.

Blue Apron is a company that sends “meals in a box”: prepped ingredients and detailed instructions delivered weekly to your door, ready for you to finish on the stove or oven. I don’t subscribe to their service, but their menus looked intriguing enough that, when I saw they had a cookbook, I decided to give it a try.

As a self-taught cook, I need a lot of hand-holding – step by step instructions, lots of pictures of what things should look like at each stage of the process, and clear notes about what kind of equipment is needed. The Blue Apron Cookbook does all that, and I happily recommend it, especially to beginner-level home chefs like me who want to make fancier looking (but still easy) meals.

There’s the usual chapter on stocking your kitchen (equipment and staples), and thankfully it tells you something I wish more cookbooks did: define what a “medium” this or a “large” that really means. It’s annoying when a recipe says “use a medium pot” and you’re left wondering “okay, does your ‘medium” mean my ‘medium?’” So, points earned, here.

Recipes are divided into chapters both by type of methods (e.g., braises and roasts) and by type of meal (sandwiches and risottos). Directions are step-by-step and have plenty of pictures, and always tell you up front what equipment you need. There are helpful tips and sidebars, such as how to clean leeks or capers, and suggested variations.

None of the recipes are difficult, though I think sometimes some are aimed at higher than average budgets; how many of us have leftover roast lamb for sandwiches? Still, there aren’t any real budget-busters in here either, particularly if you ignore their constant admonitions to buy the “freshest, best ingredients.” Sometimes, the pack of Foster Farms breasts on-sale will have to do.

I’ve only made a few of the recipes so far, but they were delicious: for instance the white risotto with parmigiano-reggiano and the crispy-seared chicken thighs with mushrooms. I’m looking forward to cooking my way through the whole book.

I have two complaints about the book: one niggling and one serious. The minor criticism is their constant use of the word “flavorful.” Honestly guys, there are synonyms and you can look them up online.

More seriously, this Kindle version (I own both hardback and Kindle copies) commits the egregious sin of having a flat index – no tappable links. Page numbers in the index don’t match the page numbers in the e-book, so you have to search manually. That’s inexcusable for such a nice cookbook and this far into the age of e-books. So, one star deducted.

That aside, I do like the Blue Apron Cookbook quite a bit and recommend it for people looking for impressive, tasty yet easy to make recipes in a book that has instructional value.

Actually, a link to my review on Goodreads. If you’re a fan of either R.E. Howard’s “Conan the Barbarian” stories or the other writings of Poul Anderson, save yourself the trouble and read this, first. It commits the greatest sin a Conan story can: it’s tedious.

 

 

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a helluva party last night and that you have a helluva good year to come. 😀

Merry Christmas!

I hope Santa brought all that you could desire. 🙂

Leopold!

Just got back from a performance of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at Royce Hall at UCLA. The last of the series I bought, and it was great fun. I’m looking forward to future performances. Tonight we heard:

Sarah Gibson’s “Warp and Weft,” a Modernist piece composed specially for LACO. The best I can say for it was that it wasn’t nearly as painful as other commissioned pieces I’ve heard on earlier occasions. That itself was a moral victory.

Mozart: Piano Concerto #17. Very enjoyable, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this one before. The pianist was impressive. There’s something about Mozart, though. Maybe it’s all the Warner Bros. cartoons I watched growing up, but I kept expecting Elmer Fudd to chase Bugs Bunny onto the stage, shotgun blasting in counterpoint to the music. I would have paid extra for that.

(And if you haven’t seen “The Rabbit of Seville,” your life is a wasteland.)

Ruth Seeger: Andante for Strings. (1931) Let’s just say this was misnamed. I believe it should have been called “Flies buzzing around a dead cow by a placid lake.”

Beethoven: Fifth Symphony. My first time ever hearing this live, and it was magnificent. There are composers I like better than Beethoven (Haydn, Schubert), and there are Beethoven symphonies I like better than the Fifth (#s3 and 7). But the 5th symphony quite literally epitomizes Classical music. If you’ve seen “300,” it is the Leonidas of symphonies. Instead of screaming “This is Sparta!”, the opening grabs you by the collar, gets in your face, and yells “THIS! IS! MUSIC!!” before kicking you off the stage and into the cheap seats. I have rarely seen a work demand such sustained concentration and intensity from performers. It is exhausting and exhilarating for both performer and audience, and it is something everyone should see at least once.

Merry Christmas!

I hope Santa brought all that you could desire. 🙂

When Paul Johnson writes biography, the intent is not simply to recount the facts of someone’s life: it is didactic. Johnson is an historian who intends to teach a lesson with this writings, to show us what we should draw from the subject’s life, works, and thoughts to better our own lives.

Thus it is with Johnson’s biography of Socrates, the first and perhaps still the greatest of the moral philosophers. Rather than a dry recitation of what we know of Socrates’s life and works, Johnson looks at themes in Socrates’ life –bravery; his love for Athens; an absolute commitment to doing what was right and just; and irony– and uses them to illustrate those things that should be valuable in our own lives, and thus improve our lives for being valued. Johnson reads much into the texts and context, sometimes making assumptions and presenting them as facts because he’s sure they must be true, and there is the occasional odd error, but the broad lessons Johnson teaches (or, rather, relates what Socrates taught) and the beauty in his writing make them forgivable. The Kindle version is clean, with no typos that I could spot, though it is rather expensive for such a  short book.

Recommended as an introduction to the person, to help make the philosophy more accessible.

One of the time-honored genres of science fiction and fantasy literature involves men from Earth who suddenly find themselves on other worlds, whether through super-science, magic, or mysticism, rather than visiting as, say, a “normal” space traveler. The most famous early example would be Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” series, but among others are Lin Carter’s “Green Star” books and Andre Norton’s “Witch World” series. In the modern age, the popularity of games such as Dungeons and Dragons in the late 70s and 80s helped revive the genre, with books such as Norton’s “Quag Keep,” Joel Rosenberg’s “Guardians of the Flame” series (especially book 1), and Brian Daley’s “Coramonde” books.

“Starfollowers of Coramonde” is the second of two books, sequel to “Doomfarers of Coramonde,” which introduces us to Gil McDonald, an American soldier fighting in Vietnam. One moment, McDonald and his armored personnel carrier crew are fighting an enemy ambush, and the next they’re in combat with a dragon. (Spoiler: APCs beat dragons. Barely.) McDonald and his men learn they’ve been summoned by magic to Coramonde, a kingdom under grave threat from the evil wizard Yardiff Bey. McDonald chooses to remain behind in the world and helps to restore the rightful ruler, Prince Springbuck, to his throne, foiling Yardiff Bey’s plot. “Doomfarers” ends with Yardiff Bey escaping and taking with him as prisoner Dunstan the Berserker, Gil’s friend.

“Starfollowers” picks up soon thereafter, with Gil, Springbuck, and their friends and allies deciding to take the war to Yardiff Bey and his masters. McDonald and a small party head west to return a magic sword and an infant heir to the land of Vegana, currently under siege by the enemy, as well as to investigate what it is that Yardiff Bey seeks in a long-dead wizard’s writings. Meanwhile, Prince Springbuck forgoes responding to the attacks on his own land and instead leads an army to the lands of the enemy and the city of Shardisku-Salama, wherein reside Yardiff Bey’s masters.

And therein lies the problem with “Starfollowers of Coramonde.” After that set up, the book becomes one long pursuit and series of battles leading to a climactic confrontation in front of the city, itself. The large cast of new characters is thinly drawn, and it is assumed that the reader has all the background information he needs on existing characters from reading the first book. Thus there is little to capture one’s interest and give one a reason to care if one is reading “Starfollowers” first. Without the ground laid in “Doomfarers,” this becomes a rather standard fantasy quest.

But it is well done and enjoyable nonetheless. Mr. Daley showed promise as a writer, even with the occasional tendency toward a Gygaxian abuse of the thesaurus, and it’s a shame he died relatively early in his career. His setting in Coramonde is interesting, and I would like to have seen it developed further. And, similar to other books of that time, I have to wonder if this was the author’s home D&D setting. If so, I would have enjoyed playing there.

I read the book in Kindle format and was disappointed in the quality of the file. There are simply too many typos that could have been fixed with decent proofreading. Not enough to spoil the book or make it impossible to read, but enough to be an annoyance. The publisher should issued a copy-edited revision. There is also a paperback copy available.

On a scale of one to five, I give “Starfollowers of Coramonde” a straight three: enjoyable, but best read if one reads “Doomfarers” first. However, I recommend just that: buy both and sit back for a good late-summer’s read.

 

If you’re like me, the annual sight of blissfully happy couples on Valentine’s Day makes you ill. Not because of their cloying sweetness and dopey “eyes only for you” looks (though that’s part of it), but because you never get to join in. If your romantic life has stunk as badly as mine, you’ve often felt like that little kid looking in from outside the fence and wishing he could play, too, but never gets the chance.

Admit it: every Valentine’s Day is an annoying reminder of that. Don’t deny it, revel in it — wallow in the mire you yourself have created! Give in to the dark side…

And, while you’re at it, enjoy this Valentine’s Day report from The Onion.

You’re welcome.

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a helluva party last night and that you have a helluva good year to come. 😀

Merry Christmas!

I hope Santa brought all that you could desire. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a fine day today. And just to show that Turkey Day is a holiday for everyone, even the big cats of Big Cat Rescue get their helping of bird:

Somehow, I don’t think there will be many leftovers tomorrow. 🙂

 

If you’re like me, the annual sight of blissfully happy couples on Valentine’s Day makes you ill. Not because of their cloying sweetness and dopey “eyes only for you” looks (though that’s part of it), but because you never get to join in. If your romantic life has stunk as badly as mine, you’ve often felt like that little kid looking in from outside the fence and wishing he could play, too, but never gets the chance.

Admit it: you’re lonely and resentful, and every Valentine’s Day is an annoying reminder of that. Don’t deny it, revel in it — wallow in the mire you yourself have created! Give in to the dark side…

And, while you’re at it, enjoy this Valentine’s Day report from The Onion.

You’re welcome.

Merry Christmas!

I hope Santa brought all that you could desire. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving TurkeyI hope everyone has a fine day today. And just to show that Turkey Day is a holiday for everyone, even the big cats of Big Cat Rescue get their helping of bird:

Somehow, I don’t think there will be many leftovers tomorrow. 🙂

Flaming horse-poop!

Fire hazard?

No, someone did not feed old Dobbin jalapeños. But New York City is now known as a place where horse manure spontaneously combusts:

Environmental authorities in New York state hot and dry weather conditions caused a large pile of horse poop to spontaneously burst into flames.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said an officer responded to the town of Throop on July 5 to investigate complaints about a foul odor and smell coming from a large pile of burning horse manure.

The officer discovered the owners of a stable had been storing the horse feces in large piles. The owners said the piles had spontaneously combusted before, but previously the smells and smoke had been carried away from nearby residences by the wind.

Talk about a crappy neighborhood…

Not my tank, but you get the idea.

It’s been a little while since I’ve done an update, and that’s for a good reason: things are going swimmingly (ahem) with JJ&J’s Seafood Buffet. But I thought I’d post a couple of recent pictures.

The first is a full-tank shot. I’d done a major trimming of the Ludwigia Repens at the right rear: it had grown across the top almost to the front of the tank throwing shade. That was a couple of weeks ago, and I think it’s growing back quite nicely.

Here’s the left end. The Cardamine grows like a weed, always threatening to overshadow the Hygrophila Stricta:

And here’s the right. I think the amano shrimp like to molt within it, since I occasionally find castoff shells in front of it. You’ll also see one my (many) platy fry at the lower right:

I think I’m happiest over two things: the general health of the fish and plants, and the success I’ve had at developing the red in the alternanthera grove in the middle. Of the first part, I was afraid I’d make serious mistakes coming back to the hobby after several years away, but I seem to have avoided most. Even algae hasn’t been a major problem.

The success with the alternanthera I attribute to higher lighting thanks to the Finnex Planted+ and regular dosing with Seachem Iron. I think the only way I could do better would be to start injecting CO2.

Of the two mistakes I’ve made (that I know of), one is minor and the other is potentially serious.

The minor mistake was planting the Hygrophila in the back. I thought it would grow an inch or two higher. It’s fairly hidden where it is. I perhaps not have ordered it and just filled that whole back corner with Cardamine. Live and learn.

Potentially more serious is a decision that’s coming back to bite me: when I bought the five platys, I said “four females and one male.” Trust me, that one fry in the photo is not the only one in there. Intellectually I knew I’d get fry, but I didn’t realize just what a potential problem they’d become in a 20-gallon tank.

Oops.

So, since catching fry in a heavily planted tank is impossible without destroying the place, I’ve decided I have to give away the adult platys. I can raise the fry and remove any males that develop. Now I just have to find a local aquarist or store willing to take them. It’s a shame there isn’t an aquarium club in West Los Angeles (that I know of), since it would be nice to offer them to other members. Something has to be done soon, though.

That’s all for now!

science-clipart-life-science-clipart

Because… why not?

SCIENCE!!