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Gerard's Reading and Recipes in 2020

75 Books Challenge for 2020

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Jan 2, 8:03am Top

Hi all -- I've been away for a while, but I'm trying to make another go of it here in the 75ers. I'm an avid home cook, so you'll also get quite a few recipes from me here through the year.

Hope everyone has a great 2020!

Edited: Jan 2, 9:13am Top

In an effort to compensate for what will definitely be less than 75 books this year, I hope to make up for that in recipes. First up:

New Year's Lechon

The day before, whisk a mixture of 1.5 cups mojo criollo, 1 T cumin, 8 cloves pressed garlic, and 1 t salt into a marinade. Cut 6-8 slits into a very large (6ish lbs) pork shoulder and place a whole peeled garlic clove (be sure to get 2 whole heads for this recipe) into each slit. Place pork shoulder into a large resealable bag and pour marinade into bag with pork. Place in refrigerator and allow to marinate overnight.

The morning of, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a large roasting pan with foil, place a rack inside, remove pork from bag and onto the rack. Pour marinade from bag onto pork. Roast pork uncovered for 1-2 hrs. Tent pan with foil and allow to roast for another 6 hrs.

Meanwhile, before serving, prepare sides.

In a small pot, make a batch of whatever rice you like, adding minced cilantro, lime juice, and salt liberally when done.

In a skillet, bring 2 cans of black beans (with can juices) to medium heat. Stir in 4 t taco seasoning, 2 t cumin, 2 t onion powder, and 2 t oregano, and salt to taste. Simmer 10 minutes.

When the pork is done, remove from heat and shred (cleaning away any fat you don't want).

To serve, place equal portions pork, beans, and rice in a bowl. Top with either plain avocado slices or guacamole and extra cilantro if desired.

Jan 2, 9:06am Top

Best wishes for 2020!

Jan 2, 10:10am Top

Another resolution is to keep up in 2020 with all my friends on LT. Happy New Year!

Jan 2, 12:41pm Top

Welcome back! The lechon sounds great!

Jan 2, 3:08pm Top

Happy reading in 2020, Gerard!

Jan 3, 7:01am Top

1. The Four Trials of Henry Ford (LT Early Reviewers)

This book was underwhelming, as I was expecting a little more historical story-telling. While all the legal analysis of the cases are mildly interesting, I found myself drifting off in thought while reading it. However, if you are looking into the minutiae of Ford's legal battles and the vagaries of early US patent law, you'll find some fun nuggets in this one.

Jan 3, 7:14am Top

Nice to see you back Gerard. You were missed by me at the very least last year.

Have a great weekend.

Jan 5, 9:27pm Top

Hope your 2020 reading is great!

Jan 6, 6:55am Top


Hosted a lively (read: wine-soaked) dinner party on Friday and now that the hangover has worn away, I am pleased to offer the following reviews of the cheese on our board:

Tennessee Whiskey BellaVitano: Did not live up to the name. There's a bit of barrel in the background, but the standard nuttiness was all I got.
Port Salut: My wife's favorite cheese and a staple on all our boards. Imagine the creamiest Muenster you've ever had.
Murray's Havarti Dill: Packs the maximum allowable amount dill possible into a block of Havarti. Very soft with the expected bit of pickle flavor on the aftertaste.
Reading: A newcomer to the board, this one has a very footy nose, but mellows to a subtle grassiness on the palate. Better when melted.
Robiola Bosina: A cow/sheep milk blend cheese that wants to be a Brie, but without all the barnyard funk. Mellow tanginess.
Alisios: A cow/goat milk cheese covered with paprika, which gives the semi-hard cheese a little much-needed sweetness.

Jan 6, 7:48am Top

To start off the week right, last night's dinner was our semi-monthly favorite:

Skillet Hash:

In a pot, boil 1 c jasmine rice in 1.25 cups of water until fluffy. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 2 T olive oil until hot. Add 1 lb sliced kielbasa and saute until crisp. Add 5-6 roughly chopped green onions and 3 cloves sliced garlic. Stir frequently to keep from burning. Add 2 crowns trimmed broccoli, cover and cook until tender. Add cooked rice and salt/pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Add 3 diced roma tomatoes and stir. Serve in a bowl topped with a fried egg.

Note: this recipe can be modified without complication if you want to switch out the meat (any non-breakfast non-crumbly sausage will do) and the green veggies (brussels sprouts/green peppers/etc.)

Jan 6, 2:30pm Top

Wow, those cheeses look great! I need to plan a tasting soon, so these are some great ideas.

Edited: Jan 7, 7:37am Top

Continuing what has oddly become Hispanic heritage week for me (currently reading The Spanish Press, 1470-1966):

Mojo Tenderloin with Spanish Rice:

In a large resealable bag, place a whole pork tenderloin and add 2 cups mojo criollo (I had some left over from last week). Let marinate for at least 6 hrs or overnight if possible.

At dinner time:

Remove pork from bag and allow to drip clean. Season liberally with ground cumin, salt, and coarse cracked black pepper to taste. Get a large skillet to medium high with 2-3 T olive oil. Once hot, sear pork on all sides, then reduce heat and allow pork to cook through to desired doneness.

Strain 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes into a measuring cup. Add enough water to fill to up 1 cup.

Meanwhile, get two pots ready. In a small pot, boil 1 cup rice in 1.25 c water until fluffy. In another (larger) pot, heat 1 T oil until shimmering. Add 6 cloves minced garlic and 1 finely diced jalapeno. Saute 1 minute. Add 1 can rinsed and drained pinto beans, 1 T cumin, 1/2 T chili powder, and 1/2 T salt. Stir to combine and warm through. Add tomato water and simmer for 5 mins. When rice is done, add rice and drained tomatoes. Cook through until very warm.

Serve rice with sliced pork. Enjoy.

Jan 8, 6:58am Top

Last night's dinner was a classic staple. I can make it in my sleep:

Brown Butter Gnocchi and Sausage:

In a large pot, bring heavily-salted water to a boil. While waiting, bring 1 T oil to medium heat in a skillet. Add 1 lb whole cased flavored sausage (any kind you like, if it has a caramelizable element in it, better--I used Maple Bacon Sausage last night) and sear the outside until well-browned. While that's browning, heat 4 T butter over medium heat in a larger skillet until melted. It will start to brown throughout this process. When sausage is seared, remove from pan, slice and put it back in the pan to continue cooking through. If the butter begins to brown too soon, simply move away from heat for a while. When water is boiling, add 12 oz gnocchi and cook until it floats. Make sure the butter is over heat at this point. Once floating, remove gnocchi from water with a slotted spoon and add to brown butter. Make sure to toss occasionally to prevent sticking. Once gnocchi is fully transferred and coated in butter, add cooked sausage to the mix and toss to combine.

Serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan and enjoy.

Jan 8, 9:52am Top

>13 NielsenGW: Hi! I'm Judy. Your simple pork tenderloin sounds wonderful. I'm struggling to get back to cooking (not a traditional pastime for me) and this sounds pretty straightforward. Thanks.

Jan 9, 8:19am Top

>15 ffortsa: Thanks -- don't worry if it doesn't cook all the way through. I always end up slicing it and searing it off to finish the process. Tenderloins in a pan only are finicky.

Edited: Jan 9, 8:43am Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Jan 13, 8:36am Top

Spent all day at home on Saturday preparing this lovely dish:

Beef Marsala Stew:

In a very large skillet, heat 2 T oil over medium-high heat. Add 2.5 lbs of cubed, trimmed beef chuck roast and allow to sear all over. Remove from pan and set aside in a 6 qt slow cooker. To the skillet, add 12 oz. peeled, halved cipollini onions and brown for 2-3 mins. Remove from skillet and place with beef. To the skillet, add 4 cloves of minced garlic and 2 T tomato paste and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Deglaze skillet with 1/2 c marsala wine and scrape up brown bits. Reduce by half, then add 1.5 c beef stock and bring to a simmer. Carefully pour skillet contents into slow cooker. Top slow cooker mixture with 3 sprigs of fresh thyme then with 8 oz. quartered whole mushrooms and 4 thickly sliced carrots. Cook on low for 7 hrs.

When done, strain mixture over a large pot, keeping the solids except the thyme stalks. Heat liquids over medium-high heat and add a whisked slurry of 1 T flour and 1/4 c water. Cook until thickened, then whisk in 1 T butter to finish the gravy.

Serve stew mix over mashed potatoes and top with gravy. Enjoy.

Jan 15, 8:52am Top

Still working through The Spanish Press, but made a tasty soup last night:

Sausage and Red Bean Soup:

In a large pot, heat 2 T oil over medium-high heat. Add 3 chopped slices of bacon and render until crisp. Add 1 diced onion, 1 diced red bell pepper, and 4 bay leaves. Stir and saute for 3 minutes. Add 1 lb sliced smoked sausage. Cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 cans of drained and rinsed red beans. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 T Cajun seasoning, 1 T Worcestershire sauce, and 1 bundle of 5 fresh thyme sprigs. Add 8 cups chicken stock and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, then down to a simmer for 1 hour.

In a small pot, boil 1 cup dry rice in 1.5 cups water. Bring to a simmer and cook until fluffy, approximately 15 minutes.

When done, serve soup with rice and top with freshly sliced scallions and a dash of hot sauce. Enjoy.

Edited: Jan 27, 8:37am Top

2. Schulte, Henry F. The Spanish Press, 1470 - 1966: Print, Power, and Politics. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1968. 247 pp.

The breadth of Henry Schulte’s The Spanish Press is a little daunting. Trying to take in nearly 600 years of a country’s journalistic history is exhausting. That said, there are nice bits of information here about the formation and iteration of free press laws in a country as it moves (sluggishly) from a pure monarchy to a constitutional monarchy to a democracy.

Many of the country’s early newspapers were periodic collections of events from around the country and the continent packaged in a few different gazettes by Fabro Bresmundan in the late 1400s. Over time, these transformed into more editorial style newspapers, and thus begins the cycle of governmental pressure versus free press. Each new regime, in either a show of power or benevolence, tweaks the press laws to suit their own position. Throughout it all, though, a few figures rise above the torrent of everyday journalism. After Bresmundan, comes Francisco Nipho in the mid-1700s. His singular goal of educating and moralizing create the modern Spanish newspaper.

All in all, this book was just okay. Written in 1968, there is not so much an emphasis on popular history as there is on getting the facts in front of the reader. If you want a basic primer on the history and politics of journalism in Spain of the last 600 years, this would be a good place to start.

Jan 27, 7:48am Top

>18 NielsenGW: That one looks just my bag, Gerard!

Jan 27, 8:30am Top

>21 PaulCranswick:: Enjoy it -- it's very amenable to a lot of different spice and herb personalization. I like my stews slightly sweet and thickly earthy, so I just stuck with marsala and thyme.

Jan 27, 8:36am Top

Little, Charles T., ed. Set in Stone: The Face in Medieval Sculpture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006. 197 pp.

During the 2006/2007 winter season, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held an exhibition of sculpted heads from the late Roman Empire to the European Middle Ages. Editor Charles Little oversees the exhibition catalog and takes the reader on a virtual walk through the museum. All 81 heads are captured here, and with each, comes an in-depth description of the history and findings gleaned there-from.

Peppered throughout the catalog are short essays on various facets of art history, from scientific sculpture dating to the intersection of politics and art to the use of certain motifs and techniques. Each of these palate cleansers offers a new way of looking at medieval sculpture and creates an additional lens for each of the catalogued pieces. The pieces were once a part of either cathedral facades or interior decoration, but for a number of reasons became dislodged from their original places. A lot of the writing focuses on trying to find the sources of the broken heads, and through a combination of technique and limestone analysis, there are quite a few homes found.

Oddly enough, I have been to a few of the source museums listed with the pieces, but have never really thought about them in these ways (one of the myriad reasons I am not an art historian). I hope now, when I return to them, I’ll give them more than the slow shuffled steps that we all do in museums. Overall, this was an interesting look into medieval sculpture.

Edited: Jan 27, 9:26am Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

Jan 27, 8:38am Top

>22 NielsenGW: Marsala and thyme is a great combination!

Jan 30, 10:34am Top

Made a fun off-the-cuff recipe last night with stuff in the pantry and the freezer:

Gnocchi with Bratwurst and Onions

Start a large pot of salted water boiling. Meanwhile, in a large high-sided skillet, heat 3 T oil over medium-high heat. Once heated, add four whole bratwurst (whatever flavor you have -- I had honey dijon in the freezer) and sear well on both sides, leaving the fond in the pan. Move the bratwurst to the outer edges and add 4 T cubed butter. Allow to soften a bit, then add 2 sliced white onions, scraping up browned bits to get some initial color on the onions. Once slightly softened, add 1/4 c water, and allow to simmer, reduce, and caramelize the onions. Remove the bratwurst from the pan, slice into rounds, and add back to skillet to allow to cook through. Add 12 oz. gnocchi to the boiling water. Once floating (about 3 mins), remove from water with a slotted spoon and add to skillet. When all the gnocchi are transferred, carefully toss the mixture to ensure even coating.

Serve immediately. Enjoy.

Feb 3, 7:21am Top

Sunday is my day to have some fun with dishes that make leftovers:

Slow Cooker Beef Ragu with Polenta

Early in the day, combine 1 cup dry polenta and 4 cups chicken stock in a large pot. Place in fridge to soak all day.

Then, in a small pan, heat 2 T olive oil over medium high heat. Add 6 cloves knife-smashed garlic and cook until browned. Remove from heat. In a 6-quart slow cooker add 28 oz crushed tomatoes and 1 T crushed red pepper flakes. Cut 1.5 lbs flank steak against the grain into four large chunks, season with salt and pepper, and add to slow cooker. Top with cooked garlic and remaining oil, 1 chopped carrot, 4 sprigs fresh thyme, 1/3 cup dry red wine, 2 bay leaves. Cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Thirty minutes before serving, bring polenta pot out of fridge and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick, about 20-30 minutes. Add 2 T cubed butter and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. Take off heat and allow to sit for a few minutes to thicken. While that's happening, remove thyme stalks and bay leaves from slow cooker, and slowly break apart the beef into strands and combine with cooked sauce.

Serve beef ragu over polenta in bowls. Enjoy.

Also, drink the rest of the wine you opened.

Feb 3, 8:28am Top

4. Ginsburg, Seymour B. Gurdjieff Unveiled: An Overview and Introduction to the Teaching. Lighthouse Editions, 2005. 158 pp.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff was an early 20th century mystic and philosopher who pioneered an ideology called The Work based on elements of eastern Christianity, dervish mysticism, yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, and parts of Zoroastrianism. It relies on inward reflection and the principle that one needs to “wake up” and see past the veils of modern society. Seymour Ginsburg, a member of the Gurdjieff Foundation, distills his teaching into a slim volume to help the reader through the bulk of The Work.

Truthfully, I had a hard time getting through this mumbo-jumbo. I was with it when Ginsburg talks about understanding your inner self and walking the reader through some guided meditation lessons. But once they get into renaming things, such as the obligolnian strivings, the martfotai, and the tetartocosmos, I’m out. If you can’t use the existing words at our disposal (there’s over a million to choose from), then “the masses” aren’t going to come into your fold.

Most of this book reads like a catalogue of mystical philosophy. There are the seven brains, the seven worlds each with an order of laws, the aforementioned strivings, the sacred forces (or triamazikamno), so on and so forth. It’s all a big mess. I’m sure there are quite a few people practicing this system, and to them I say, carry on. I won’t get in your way. Just don’t make me read this book again.

Feb 4, 7:31am Top

Still reading through Colossus, but made a tasty soup to shake away the winter chill:

Lasagna Soup

Start a large pot of heavily salted water boiling.

In another large pot, heat 1 T olive oil over medium high heat. Add 1.5 lbs of uncased hot Italian sausage and brown while crumbling. Add 1 diced onion and saute for 4 minutes. Add 4 cloves pressed garlic, stir and saute for 1 minute. Add 1 t crushed red pepper flakes, 2 t dried oregano, and 2 T tomato paste. Stir and cook until dark red. Add 2 cans of fire roasted tomatoes, 6 cups chicken stock, and 2 bay leaves. Bring to a steady simmer.

While simmering, add 16 oz. of any short noodle pasta you want (you can even break up lasagna noodles) to the boiling water. When almost done, drain and add to soup. When done, remove from heat. In a bowl, mix together 8 oz ricotta, 1 cup shredded mozzarella, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 T salt.

Serve soup in bowls topped with cheese mixture. Sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper and sliced basil.

Feb 5, 7:24am Top

Colossus is 400 pages of engineering history, so it's not getting finished any time soon. In the meantime, last night's dinner was an oldie but goodie:

Hushwee Pitza

At 375F, warm 4 flatbreads until soft. Meanwhile, heat 1 t ghee over medium-high heat and add 1/2 finely diced onion. Saute until translucent. Add 1 lb lean ground beef. While browning, add a mixture of 1 T cinnamon, 1.5 t salt, 1 t ground nutmeg, 1/2 t pepper, and 1/4 t ground allspice. When the flatbreads are done, remove from oven and toast 1/4 cup pine nuts at the same heat until golden. When toasted, add pine nuts to beef mixture, heat through, and set aside.

To assemble, spread hummus in a layer on each flatbread, then top with beef mixture. Enjoy.

Feb 5, 7:26am Top

>30 NielsenGW: Looks a nice recipe. Will ask Erni, my maid to give it a try!

Feb 6, 6:49am Top

>31 PaulCranswick:: Thanks, Paul. I'm eager to hear how it turns out.

Feb 10, 8:39am Top

The first of two yummy meals we made this weekend:

Paprika Butter Poached Lobster Risotto

Start a large pot of salted water boiling.

In a separate pot, heat 6 cups of chicken stock to a steaming simmer.

In a large skillet, heat 2 T butter over medium-high heat. Once melted, add 1 minced shallot and saute for 2 minutes. Add 1 cup arborio rice and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium. One ladle at a time, add stock, stir in, and wait for it to absorb into the rice. Repeat until rice is creamy and tender.

Meanwhile, in a small pot, melt two sticks of butter with 2 T smoked paprika.

Add 6 lobster tails to the boiling water and cook until bright red and meat is opaque, no more than 3 minutes. Remove from water and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Remove meat from tails. Chop 2 tails in bite-sized pieces and add to risotto. Add the remaining 4 whole, shelled tails to paprika butter, heating and basting for 2-3 minutes.

Serve risotto in bowls divided into four servings and top each with a poached tail, then drizzle remaining paprika butter over top as desired.

Feb 10, 9:06am Top

Spicy Chicken and Sausage Over Creamy Polenta

Earlier in the day, combine 4.5 c chicken stock and 1 cup dry polenta meal in a pot and store in fridge to soak during the day.

Come dinner time, heat 1.5 T olive oil in a large skillet. Add 1 small diced onion and 3 minced garlic cloves and saute until tender, stirring frequently. Add 1 lb diced chicken and 1 lb uncased hot Italian sausage and season with salt, pepper, and dried oregano to taste. When browned and crumbled, add 1/2 cup chicken broth, 16 oz tomato sauce, and 2 T hot sauce. Stir to combine, and set to a medium simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes to reduce. When done, stir in 2 T cubed butter.

Meanwhile, get polenta pot and heat over medium-high heat to a simmer, whisking very frequently. After 20-30 minutes, then polenta should be thickened properly. Remove from heat, and add 1 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese and 3 T cubed butter. Stir to combine thoroughly.

Serve polenta topped with sauce mixture. Enjoy.

Feb 11, 7:13am Top

On track to finish Colossus by the end of next week, but until then, more tasty treats:

Asian Pork Meatballs with Coconut Rice

Earlier in the day, combine 1 lb ground pork, 1/4 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg, 1 T grated ginger, 1 T minced garlic, 1/4 c chopped cilantro, and 1/4 t salt in a large bowl. Separate into 16-ish portions and roll each portion into equal sized meatballs. Store on a lined baking sheet in the fridge until dinner.

At dinner time, preheat oven to 425F. Place meatballs on a baking rack in a sheet pan and cook for 20 minutes. You can bring this up to a broil for the last 2-3 minutes.

While those are cooking, in a large pan, bring 2 cups rice, 1.5 c water, 1 c unsweetened coconut milk, and 1 t salt to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15-20 minutes until tender and fluffy.

In a small pot, whisk together and heat 1/2 c coconut balsamic reduction, 1 T soy sauce, 1 t ground ginger, 1 finely minced chili pepper, and 1/4 t salt over medium heat until slightly simmering (Note: Alessi's makes the reduction if you can find it).

Serve meatballs over rice drizzled with sauce. Enjoy.

Feb 19, 7:53am Top

On pace to finish Colossus by the end of the week, but I tried a new tasty dish on Monday:

Casablanca Chicken

In a large bowl, combine 1.5 lbs diced chicken with a mixture of 2 t Italian seasoning, 2 minced garlic cloves, .5 t turmeric, .5 t smoked paprika, 3 T chopped parsley, 1 t salt, and .5 t cracked pepper. Make sure everything is coated evenly. In a large skillet, heat 3 T ghee over high heat. Add chicken, then drop temperature to medium-high. When chicken is browned, add 1 large sliced onion and 1 diced jalapeno and saute until tender. Add 1/4 c chicken broth and simmer until slightly thickened.

Serve over your favorite grain (I used quinoa). Enjoy.

Feb 22, 12:11pm Top

>36 NielsenGW: I like my chicken, Gerard, whether it is from Casablanca or Kuala Lumpur!

Have a great weekend.

Feb 24, 9:31am Top

5. Hiltzik, Michael. Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century. New York: Free Press, 2010. 407 pp.

Hoover Dam (or Boulder Dam, whichever you prefer) is indeed an engineering marvel. To get a complete history of the structure, you need to know about machinery—the machinery built to construct the dam, the political machinery involved in getting it funded, and the internal machinery of the men and women who risked their lives at the site itself. Michael Hiltzik’s Colossus is an attempt to chronicle both the construction and the consequences of Hoover Dam.

First off, if you’re going to write about engineering problems or tactics, it’s helpful to have diagrams or schematics for the reader to reference. The plates in the middle are paltry and mostly portraits, and for all the praise that Reclamation photographer Ben Glaha got early in the book, there is only a middling effort to show off his work at the site. I would have really liked more illustrations, particularly of the technical issues and their solutions.

Aside from that, the book was thoroughly informative, if a little biased against corporate officers and President Hoover himself. From the first expeditions to the site to the last crisis of the dam, you get a sense of the history and grandeur involved. The amount of references and endnotes are worthy of a history of this magnitude. All in all, I found myself wanting to finish it faster than expected. At over 400 pages, this isn’t an afternoon read, but it is a good read.

Feb 24, 9:58am Top

>37 PaulCranswick: Chicken (in its various forms) is a staple in our recipe rotation, but up next -- bacon and cream!

Gnocchi with Bacon Parmesan Cream Sauce

Start a large pot of salted water boiling.

In a skillet, render and crisp 5 pre-diced slices of smoked bacon over medium-high heat. When done, remove bacon from drippings with a slotted spoon. Add 3 cloves minced garlic and saute in the bacon fat, stirring constantly. When golden, drop heat to medium-low and slowly whisk in a pre-whisked mixture of 2 egg yolks, 1/4 c heavy cream, and 1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan. (Note: Make sure to drizzle this in slowly and that the heat is properly set, or else you'll get scrambled eggs and not a cream emulsion). Next, drizzle and whisk in a pre-whisked mixture of 1/4 c chicken broth and 1.5 t cornstarch. Mix well, adding half the crispy bacon, remove from heat, and set aside. Add gnocchi to boiling water and cook until most of them are floating at the surface. Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon and add to sauce mixture. Toss to coat and warm through over low heat.

Serve gnocchi with remaining bacon and sliced green onions as a topping. Enjoy.

Mar 23, 7:31am Top

6. Hoban, Mary. An Unconventional Wife: The Life of Julia Sorell Arnold. Melbourne, Australia: Scribe, 2019. 233 pp.

Warning: This book will make you angry. If it doesn’t, then you may need a serious bout of self-reflection. Mary Hoban’s Unconventional Wife is a look into the life of Julia Sorell Arnold, citizen of Tasmania and the world, and in effect, marital prisoner of Tom Arnold the Younger. Much like many people born in the early 19th century, Julia had a growing curiosity of the world as new sciences and philosophies were being pieced together. She was a notorious social butterfly, but made deep and meaningful connections with those around her.

After meeting and falling in love with Tom Arnold, a lot of that inquisitiveness turned into anger. Tom, throughout his life, moved between hard Anglicanism and stubborn Catholicism and demanded that Julia be subject to both his whims and demands. This, combined with Tom’s absolute inability to hold down a well-paying job and keep up with the family’s finances, led to disastrous ends. When you couple that with the nine children they eventually had to take care of throughout all this, their marriage became a cesspool of torrid exchanges and insurmountable stress, leading in part to years of debilitating illness for Julia.

Hoban’s look at Julia’s life is maddening to say the least. Julia’s victories were hard-fought, but at least her children and extended family made great impacts on the world. Hoban’s work is as researched as it can be. Every once in a while, there is a piece of supporting evidence for one of her conjectures that comes from a contemporary fictional work that left me skeptical as to how accurate this biography was, but it’s the letters between the two of them that keep the narrative tight.

Mar 23, 10:59am Top

Nice time to stay inside and try a classic:

Chicken Piccata

Start 3 T of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Completely butterfly 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts into cutlets. Season them with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour. Add 2 lemon halves, cut side down to the oil, then add chicken. Fry for 3-5 minutes per side, until golden brown and cooked through. Remove everything from the pan and set in a warm oven. Add 1/3 cup of dry white wine to the skillet, scraping up browned bits, and reduce by half. Add 1/2 cup chicken stock, juice from 1/2 a lemon, 2 t capers to skillet and reduce by half again, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in 2 T butter to finish.

Spoon sauce over chicken and serve with your favorite vegetables. Enjoy.

Mar 26, 7:32am Top

Put together a really nice one last night:

Garlic Scampi Chicken and Rice

In a large skillet, heat 2 T oil over medium-high heat. Add 2 lbs of chicken cutlets seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and cook until done. Remove chicken from pan and set aside in a warm oven. Add 1 stick of butter, 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes, 3 sliced garlic cloves, and 1 t salt and heat until melted and fully mixed. Add 1/2 c dry white wine and stir vigorously to emulsify, then reduce by half. Add 1.5 cups uncooked rice and stir into sauce for 2 minutes. Add 3 cups chicken broth, and bit more salt to taste. Bring to a boil, then to a simmer. Cover and cook until done, about 20 minutes. When done, sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on top of the rice, then top with chicken.


Mar 26, 6:01pm Top

>42 NielsenGW: That looks good!

Mar 30, 11:25am Top

>43 thornton37814: Thanks! I'm actually looking forward to the leftovers I have to today's lunch!

Mar 30, 11:26am Top

7. Wilson, Erin. at Home with Disquiet: Poems. Richmond, VA: Circling Rivers, 2019. 124 pp.

Erin Wilson’s at Home with Disquiet is a tricky journey through the poet’s life—through adolescence, through marriage, through pain, through joy. At times viscerally maternal, at times quietly introspective, this thin volume hits many of the right notes of poetry. We find many of the poems’ initial subjects slip away to shed more universal lights on the reader’s thoughts and life. Wilson’s verses are of course deeply personal and biographical, with many references to Canadian life, but overall, there is something for everyone here. There are pastoral moments, cringy family moments, angry moments, etc.

The books arrangement is ostensibly chronological, going from Wilson’s early life to her current years, highlighting the growth and changes that age and family beget. However, the perspective of the poems can change around a bit, sometimes the poem is more contemporaneous, sometimes they are a look back at this period, creating a nice meta-parallel throughout the volume. Sometimes it’s about what she felt, sometimes it’s about how she feels about what she felt.

There is a stand out verse here about the complicated feelings of contempt, peace, and fatigue at the end of a long day of taking care of the household:

“The mother is alone.
The house stands still for a moment
in its terrible shock of silence.
Then shakes off its cold blanket.
The mother leans into herself like tilted kindling,
a neanderthal, or philosopher returned to her cave.
She begins to make the fire.
It doesn’t matter what she makes the fire with.
The mother burns.”

If that gets you going, go ahead and read this book. If not, read it anyway.

Apr 1, 7:27am Top

Made a delicious and easy meal last night:

Boursin and Prosciutto Chicken Rolls

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts into butterfly cutlets. Season with salt and pepper. Place a dollop of Boursin spread at the end of each cutlet. Top Boursin with a pinch of shredded mozzarella. Roll cutlets into a tight spiral, then wrap each roll with a slice of prosciutto each. Place rolls in a greased baking dish, seam side down, and bake for 35 minutes.

Serve with your favorite veggies. Enjoy.

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