Pathways

I’ve never been good at taking photos of trails or paths, so I decided to focus on them last week. The proportions always end up weird. I think these are better than my usual, though. Or maybe I’m just getting better at editing.

Stevens Creek Trail
The towers look tall and graceful here. They can be so ugly, contrasted with the plant life, but here they almost seem to fit.

 

Stevens Creek riverbed
A dry creekbed. There should be water flowing, but we’re in our third year of drought, no end in sight.

 

Side Path - Stevens Creek Trail
There’s a short interpretive area off the side of the main path. It educates people, but also serves as a rest stop.

 

Bridge to Stevens Creek Trail
A bridge into a local neighborhood. I was surprised at how well this one turned out – I thought the shadows would doom it…

 

A Spare Scandinavian Winter

black seconds by Karin Fossum

 

What’s it about?
Black Seconds is a mystery. At first, it might just be a disappearance. A young girl has left to ride her bike to the store for a magazine and some candy and never comes home. But as time goes on, it becomes more. It becomes about mistakes and her family and a particular friend she’s made who maybe isn’t entirely right in the head.

Why should you read it?
Black Seconds sounds like it should be about something horrible, but it really isn’t. Or maybe it is, and you just don’t realize it because Karin Fossum’s spare writing treats all her characters with dignity and respect. No one is a caricature, no one’s exaggerated to make a point. It’s very stereotypically Scandinavian – Fossum is Norse, and the book takes place in small-town Norway. I quite enjoyed it.

Tacos are messy

Beef Tacos

 

Tacos have long been a weeknight staple in our house. This particular recipe is from an old Cook’s Illustrated – I ended up taping that issue back together because there were so many good recipes in it that we used just infrequently enough that I didn’t memorize them. But I memorized this one. Easily.

Beef Tacos
1T veg oil
1 small onion chopped
2 minced cloves of garlic
2T chili powder
1t cumin
1t coriander
0.5t salt
0.5t mexican oregano
0.25t cayenne pepper
1lb ground beef
0.5c chicken stock
0.5c tomato sauce
2t brown sugar
1t apple cider vinegar

toppings:
taco shells
refried beans
cheese
lettuce
salsa
sour cream
diced avocado

Saute the onion in the vegetable oil. Add all the spices, stir till fragrant. Add beef, breaking up into pieces until it’s no longer pink. Then add stock, sauce, sugar, and vinegar. Bring to boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with whichever toppings you want.

Introducing a series: Women in History

Antony and Cleopatra
Cleopatra, seducing Marc Antony, like the powerful woman she was.

I listen to a lot of history podcasts. I enjoy history. I am also often frustrated with the lack of women at the center of the story. In some ways, that’s understandable: much of the world was run by men in the past, which means they wrote the histories. As a woman, though, it’s occasionally frustrating. As a mother looking to give her daughter more female role models, it’s downright infuriating. (Seriously, there’s The History Chicks – who do a great job – and that’s about it.)

So, I am starting to fill that void. I’m going to write a series of posts about royal historical women. That’s my niche: queens, princesses, pharaohs, tsarinas, empresses… If you’re a dead woman with a title, you’re eligible.

My plan is to eventually move this to its own website, but as I’m starting my research, I figured this would be a good place for a test run. There won’t be podcasts – not at first, anyway – but every Thursday there will be a short-ish post about a time period in a ruling woman’s life.

I’m starting with a series of posts about Cleopatra, who is not the original boss lady, but is one of the most famous. I’ve got my eye on Queen Christina of Sweden, Indira Ghandi, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Catherine the Great, Hatshepsut, and many, many others.

My knowledge is mainly European based, and this is a shortcoming. If you have suggestions for any rulers, particularly African, Asian or Native American, I’m all ears! Please tweet them to @katedp.

I hope you all enjoy reading these posts as much as I enjoy writing them.

 

 

Using up the vegetables

fennel soup

I came up with this recipe last winter, I think, when we got a CSA box with fennel and leeks, and I thought to myself: what on earth can I make with fennel? So I made up a fennel-leek-potato soup (since I love potato-leek soup). It’s light enough that it needs something else with it – bread (if you eat it), salad (like you see in the photo), or maybe it’s a starter for your main meal. Regardless, it’s a good winter soup.

Fennel-Leek-Potato Soup

Saute in olive oil:
2 leeks, cleaned and sliced, white and light green parts only
2 celery stalks, sliced
1 diced fennel bulb

Once they’re soft, add:
~6 yukon gold potatoes, diced (I had red potatoes on hand, so I used those instead this time – probably about a pound’s worth.)
2 minced garlic cloves
~0.25c minced parsley
3c chicken stock (I subbed in vegetable stock in this batch. Again, it was to hand.)
5c water

Bring to a boil, then simmer for ~45 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender, stir in 0.5c heavy cream, add salt & pepper to taste.

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.