Meet the meat

chinese chicken wraps

 

In truth, this weekend was all about celery. I had some in the fridge, and it was wilting. I made tuna salad and potato-leek-fennel soup (which also uses celery) and this lovely little stir fry from Cook’s Illustrated known as Chinese Chicken Wraps. The kid, of course, still eats around the vegetables, but she does eat it. It’s intended to be an appetizer (if you spoon the filling into each lettuce leaf, rather than pile it all on top like I did), but add some rice and it’s a robust meal.

Chicken
1lb chicken thighs, cut into 1″ cubes
2t sherry
2t tamari
2t sesame oil
2t cornstarch

Place chicken on large plate, freeze until edges are getting hard. About 20 minutes. Mix all other ingredients in medium bowl. Pulse meat in food processor for 10-1 sec pulses. Transfer meat to medium bowl with sauce. Let rest for 15 minutes.

Sauce
3T oyster sauce
1T sherry
2t tamari
2t sesame oil
0.5t sugar
0.25t red pepper flakes

Whisk all ingredients together. Set aside.

Stir fry
2T veg oil
2 celery ribs, diced
6oz shitake mushrooms, stemmed & sliced thin
0.5c water chestnuts, cut into 1/4″ pieces
2 scallions, white parts minced, green parts sliced thin
2 garlic cloves
8 leaves bibb lettuce

Heat 1T oil in 12″ non-stick skillet over high heat till smoking. Cook chicken. Move to separate bowl. Wipe out skillet. Heat remaining 1T oil (high heat, till smoking). Add celery & mushrooms; cook, stirring constantly, until mushrooms are about half the size, 3-4 minutes. Add water chestnuts, scallion whites, and garlic. Cook till fragrant, about 1 minute. Whisk sauce to recombine. Add chicken to skillet, then add sauce. Stir to combine. Serve over lettuce leaves.

Surrealism is alive and well

Strange Library by Haruki MurakamWhat’s it about?
The Strange Library, I think, pretty solidly qualifies as surreal. There’s a shepherd who goes to the library, and he’s directed to the basement. He makes his book request to an elderly man in room 107, who brings him his books and then directs him to the reading room, through a maze and eventually to a jail cell. Once there, he’s told to memorize the books in 30 days or else. There’s a man who wears a sheep costume and a beautiful woman with no voice who bring him his meals. It’s odd.

Why should you read it?
If you’re getting shades of Kafka, I wouldn’t be surprised. Naked Lunch also popped into my head whilst reading it. There’s a hero, and he’s going on a quest, but he’s not really sure what’s going on and neither are you. Furthermore, there are some things said that make you question your narrator’s reliability. Could this all potentially be a dream? Yes. Could the hero be crazy? Abso-freaking-lutely. I wouldn’t call The Strange Library entertaining, but it gave my brain a nice little workout.

 

Cleopatra shouldn’t be boring

Hand of Isis

What’s it about?
Honestly, Hand of Isis was a did-not-finish for me. So, this is a summary to the point I finished. There are three daughters of the Pharaoh Ptolemy Auletes: Iras, Charmaine, and Cleopatra. Yes, that Cleopatra. She’s legitimate, the other two are daughters of slaves. They’re all half-sisters, rather than full. The two illegitimate daughters become Cleopatra’s handmaidens and we follow their education and exploits as Pompey the Great first defeats Egypt to take over Cyprus which leads to the downfall of the Pharaoh, which leads to various of Cleopatra’s siblings to take over the throne – she’s the third daughter and fifth child – which leads to a lot of moving around and power struggles.

Why should you read it?
I picked it up because I’m starting a side project about Cleopatra and I thought a fun historical novel would be a good way to get into the subject. However, even though I got about 100 pages into Hand of Isis, once I set it down, I never felt the pull to pick it up again. So it turned into a did-not-finish book because I have so many other books to read. Your milage might vary – it is the third in a series, so you might enjoy it for other reasons. But for me, it was just sort of meh.

Getting into the meat of the mystery

Waistcoats and Weaponry

What’s it about?
Waistcoats & Weaponry follows up on Etiquette & Espionage and Curtsies & Conspiracies by furthering the plot of what exactly the macguffin is for. The macguffin in the series allows machines to transmit signals to other machines – something that could be used for either good or evil in a steampunk society. The mystery is which group is driving its production and what it will use it for. Waistcoats & Weaponry is diving into these questions as well as providing its usual fare of strong girls having adventures.

Why should you read it?
You should read it because the series continues to be a fun piece of work. Some of the class issues in Victorian England are brought to the forefront. Our heroine is flirting with both a viscount and a “sootie” – someone who feeds coal into the steam engines that everything needs to run in a steampunk world. She clearly prefers the sootie, but he knows that they cannot be together precisely because of his station in life. It’s handled very practically, I thought, for something that could be terribly dramatic. Overall, another good read.

Chicken Soup for Lunch

Chicken Soup with Kale & Carrots

This recipe – Chicken Soup with Kale and Carrots – is all right. It’s certainly easy, if a little time consuming, just because you’re making the stock from scratch. However, it’s a little bland. I made it a week ago and have been heating up the leftovers for lunch. I should have added more salt & pepper when I made it, I think. Overall, though, it’s a filling, healthy lunch.

Chicken Soup with Kale & Carrots (from It’s All Good)

1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
1 large leek (I used 2) roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped + 2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs thyme
0.5t black peppercorns
2t salt
1 bunch kale, leaves stripped off stems in bite-sized pieces
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the chicken, leek, celery, roughly chopped carrot, onion, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns and salt in a large soup pot and cover with water (~10c). Bring the soup to boil over high heat, then reduce to simmer for about 2 hours. Strain the stock and pull out the white meat (I used both the white and dark meat, you can use just the white and reserve the dark for another use. However, pulling just the meat out wasn’t the easiest thing in the world and further separating light from dark just wasn’t going to happen.) Dice the chicken meat. Add to soup along with remaining carrots and the kale (I also threw in a handful of brown rice.) Simmer for an additional 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Breakfast quinoa, now with kale

breakfast quinoa

 

I’ve dubbed this Breakfast Quinoa. The recipe is from It’s All Good, and it’s a filling, simple, delicious start to my day. I actually don’t mind eating Kale!

1T olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 leaves kale, sliced thinly, stem removed
0.5c cooked quinoa (I often cook up a batch of quinoa on Sunday and leave it in the fridge through the week for this and for salads)
salt & pepper

Heat olive oil and garlic in a small skillet over medium heat until oil is shimmering. Add kale and cook until just slightly wilted – it should look to be a really bright green. Add quinoa and cook until just warmed through. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Serve with an egg in some form: hard-boiled, scrambled, poached, whatever. I prefer hard-boiled because it’s easy when I’m bleary-eyed in the morning. This recipe makes just enough for one.

It’s not about the running

What I Talk about When I Talk About Running

What’s it about?
Haruki Murakami is a novelist who also runs marathons. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running are his thoughts about amateur long-distance running as they relate to fitness, writing, and life. His prose is careful and elegant and is a delight to read.

Why should you read it?
You should read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running because of its elegance. I would be a runner if my left foot would just heal from plantar fasciitis already; his thoughts about getting older and continuing to run are inspiring. He writes a lot about focus and acceptance that you don’t have the energy that you used to – there’s a whole meditation about talent vs focus and concentration. It applies to more than just running. That said, I think you’ll like the book more if you’re also a runner. It’s definitely worth your time.

Sometimes a strong heroine having an adventure is enough

curtsies & conspiracies

What’s it about?
Curtsies and Conspiracies is about nothing, but that’s ok. I mean, there was a plot – the macguffin from Etiquette & Espionage is elaborated on and there are some interesting embellishments on  vampire culture in alternate steampunk Victorian Britain. But otherwise? It’s still about the setting: a young girl at a finishing school, having adventures.

Why should you read it?
Because it’s the sequel to Etiquette & Espionage and you didn’t want that one to end. That’s why you should read it. You do also learn the identity of the handsome rake the main character danced with at her sister’s coming out ball. That said, this book is definitely a sequel – it doesn’t stand on its own. But it’s a good continuation.

It’s never as black and white as you think it is

beautiful creatures

What’s it about?
Beautiful Creatures is about a very weird girl, Lena Duchannes, in a very conformist small town. It’s told from the perspective of Ethan Wate, a local boy who is instantly taken with her. Lena is magical and will be chosen to be either Light/Good or Dark/Evil on her sixteenth birthday. It’s all or nothing in this particular world. Lena and Ethan use their cunning and her powers to attempt to ensure that she will not go Dark.

Why should you read it?
Honestly, I wouldn’t. It wasn’t a do-not-finish for me, but it’s heavy-handed. Making your main character an instant outsider (like Lena) or an insider-who’s-hiding-his-outsiderness (like Ethan) is a great way to make your literary reader identify with them. It feels like a cliche. And then there’s the whole dark-light magical thing. The world only feels like it’s black and white; it’s really full of gray. The grayness is not as revolutionary as Beautiful Creatures wants it to be. It’s the first in a series I won’t be continuing.